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Iran’s Unhidden Plan for Genocide: A Legal Right to Prevent Genocide? (Second of Three Parts)

There have been no recognized examples of anticipatory self-defense as a specifically preventative anti-genocide measure under international law.

Louis Rene Beres

Louis Rene Beres

In this case, perhaps more conspicuously than anywhere else in the past half-century, bloodless geopolitics easily trumped both human rights and corresponding international law.

There are other glaring examples of post-Holocaust genocides, all of which further underscore how little civilizational progress has actually been made in world law. These examples include the Indonesian Genocide (1965-66), and the Darfur Genocide, which began in 2003. Additionally, there are, of course, more recent examples of humanitarian intervention in domestic war zones, such as last year’s multilateral Libya operation to shield Muammar Khaddafi’s domestic noncombatant targets from indiscriminate attacks.

Still, there have been no recognized examples of anticipatory self-defense as a specifically preventative anti-genocide measure under international law. The anti-genocide interventions in the above cases were directed toward the protection of imperiled human populations in other states. They were not the preemptive expressions of any state seeking to protect itself in whole or in part from anticipated genocide.

The recently-ended Iraq war provides an example of an American preemption for national self-defense against terrorism, but not against an expected genocide. Moreover, from the standpoint of permissibility under international law, even this restricted example of preemption is exceedingly problematic. Today, the pertinent history of fabrication and contrivance in this theatre is widely-known.

Early on, the George W. Bush administration had gone on record in favor of a substantially broadened concept of anticipatory self-defense. This very sweeping American doctrine had asserted that traditional notions of deterrence could not be expected to work against a new kind of enemy. “We must,” stated The National Security Strategy for the United States of America (September 20, 2002), “adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries.”

Across the board, this adaptation meant nothing less than striking first against presumptively dangerous adversaries whenever necessary. In any reasonable comparison to Israel’s current dangers from Tehran, however, the alleged risks from Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad in the wake of 9/11 must always appear vague and uncertain. In other words, when it is understood in terms of Israel’s present concerns about an overtly genocidal Iran, any Israeli strategy of anticipatory self-defense should now be less subject to proper jurisprudential doubt than was America’s Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Continued Next Week

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.


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