Archive for March 2013

When is “Pre-Emptive Strike” Terrorism?

March 26, 2013

Two weeks ago, North Korea declared its right to conduct a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.  What surprises me is that it took 11 years after President George W. Bush forwarded the U.S. doctrine of pre-emptive strike—we will hit you before you can hit us—for this ideological basis to be so publicly echoed back at the United States.  Further, by failing to explicitly bind this policy to specific means of military force, it is not unreasonable for the policy’s potential targets to adopt a similar stance using any means available to them.

This oversight threatens established international norms.  While the United States may not use nuclear weapons in a tactical pre-emptive manner, this was not explicitly clarified or excluded.  Further clarification on what force may be used in this manner could help diffuse rhetoric, real threats and reckless use of force by nations, rogue individuals and organizations intent on forwarding a specific message.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the DRPK’s official KCNA news agency on Thursday March 7, 2013:

“Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest.” [emphasis added] 1

This is an amplified echo from President George W. Bush’s June 1, 2002 Graduation Speech at West Point.  Here he introduced the policy of pre-emptive strike thus reversing the prevailing United States Cold War era military policy of deterrence:

“Our security will require the best intelligence, to reveal threats hidden in caves and growing in laboratories. Our security will require modernizing domestic agencies such as the FBI, so they’re prepared to act, and act quickly, against danger. Our security will require transforming the military you will lead — a military that must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives. [emphasis added]2

The media firestorm that erupted continued for much of his presidency.  It focused on the administration’s cowboy-esque culture that lacked the patient international consensus building of past administrations.  Yet the press failed to adequately review the fundamental implications of this strategic shift.  It was further codified as policy in September 2002 with the President’s congressionally mandated annual report: “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America.”

“The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction—and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression. [emphasis added] 3

By forwarding a strategy of pre-emptive strike without caveating what force this doctrine applies too, the President opened Pandora’s Box.  Notwithstanding the technical capability (or inability) of North Korea to execute its threat, it had an ideological basis upon which to establish it.  The poorly focused policy of the United States gives justification for the use of this doctrine by countries and organizations as well.

This has an immediate bearing as civil unrest and civil war rages across north Africa and the Middle East.  Similar fears gripped the world with the fall of the USSR and its loss of positive control of some weapons in the former Soviet republics.  How far are organizations willing to go to forward their own agendas?  This is particularly acute in the developing world which sometimes chafes at accepting international norms and laws it did not create.  There are questions as to who now possesses previously government-held weapons.  What are their ideological drives and do they differ from historic international norms?

  • Are they willing to utilize conventional or non- conventional weapons in a pre-emptive fashion?
  • When the enemy is non-secular in nature, are other religions “fair” targets?
  • Do civilians constitute legitimate targets?
  • Is this exacerbated in countries with non-secular governments?

This asymmetrical warfare could take form as a dirty bomb or a biological attack, both aimed at high-profile sporting events, as eerily depicted by Tom Clancy.  But is also underscores other less sophisticated and foiled attacks: igniting an SUV filled with propane tanks and gasoline containers in New York City.  Then there are the successful attacks: the bombings of the London public transit system in 2005; the biological attack in 1995 when sarin gas was released on the Tokyo subway.

We see further expansion of the justification of pre-emptive strikes today with Israel.  Fearing a specific existential threat from Iran, whose stated intention is to remove Israel from the world’s map, Israel has issued a pre-emptive ultimatum to Iran.  It has announced an intended pre-emptive strike should Iran not cease nuclear weapon development work.  The lines between pre-emptive strike, terrorism, and war seems to be graying.  The conventional agreements on use of force do not seem to be abided by.

Pre-emptive strike seems more settled in the prevue of specialized covert actions than with overt force.  Indeed in recent years covert military forces involved in low-intensity surgical conflicts have increasingly received unwanted publicity in international media, especially in the Middle East.  Yet why drag this shadowy world, which once had stricter norms of behavior to specifically avoid mutual nuclear destruction, into the public spotlight?  Every tool has its place and use.

The expansion of pre-emptive strike outside of this covert world seems wrought with perils and little gain.  Further it seems counter to effective diplomatic policy.  With just a bit of policy specificity by the United States, it seems there would be stronger diplomatic ground upon which to contain the overt use of military force and nuclear weapons.  By clarifying what forms of force or vectors under which a pre-emptive doctrine may be utilized, this establishes a defined framework that still accomplishes similar ends and clearly articulates justifiable force.  Otherwise, it becomes a slippery slope as one man’s pre-emptive strike is another man’s terrorism in this electronic age.



1. Jack Kim and Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, “North Korea threatens nuclear strike, U.N. expands sanctions”, March 7, 2013, Retrieved from:

2. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary,  “President Bush Delivers Graduation Speech at West Point” Full text Press Release, Retrieved from:

3. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America 2002 , Sept 2002, Page 12, Retrieved from:

Political Disconnect

March 11, 2013

With a mixture of bewilderment and disdain, I read the following article on November 30, 2012.  At least one politician has already announced his U.S. Senate Campaign for 2014.

What fascinates me is the apparent disconnect between what a politician says, what is done and his responsibilities.  Whether it is the stated intention or “playing politics and posturing to one’s constituency,” to me it is a question of priorities.  Given the issues facing the country and that the election in question is two years away, a Congressman thinking this is a good use of his time as entrusted by his citizens is astonishing.

A Congressman earns at least $174,000 per year or ~$1,000 in salary per each ~170 legislative days per year.   Are we as a constituency holding our Congressmen responsible for their results?  This is more than six times the national poverty level.  Are they acting with the degree of professionalism they are being compensated for?

For me I expect a result other than “my way or no way” from individual politicians.  I expect tough compromises since inaction is worse than compromised action for the citizens as a whole.  I believe this selfish focus on one’s campaign is detrimental to the honored position of government service.

Leon Panetta, the outgoing Secretary of Defense, sums it up neatly on a visit to American troops in Italy in January 2013:

“This is not an unsolvable problem,” he said. “People have just got to suck it up and take on some of the risk and … challenges that are required by people in leadership.

“All we’re asking of our elected leaders is to take a small part of the risk that maybe they’ll piss off some constituents. But the fact is that they’ll be doing what is right for the country.1


1. Alexander, David. January 17, 2013, “U.S. troops in Italy quiz Panetta about looming budget cuts.” Reuters.  Retrieved from

The Value of Integrity for Generation X: The Catholic Church, Business and American Government

March 10, 2013

With the papal resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, there are the inevitable attempts to summarize his tenure.  (Under his care, most poignant are the worldwide accusations of pastoral impropriety, having moved beyond just that of the United States.)  What is intriguing to me is the reaction of Generation X, those born in the early 1960s to the early 1980s, to such institutional “Moments of Truth”.

The Catholic Church requires that priests take a vow of chastity and strongly denounces homosexuality.  Yet when it came to light that priests were raping young boys, the Church reacted not with pious humility seeking forgiveness for these gross violations, but rather with silence, denial and assertions the accusers were lying.  It took years for Pope Benedict XVI to issue an initial apology on behalf of the Church; yet, controversy remains as accountability is muddled, trust is damaged and healing is incomplete.  It was not a case of the pastoral shepherds failing to defend their flocks; rather, some of the shepherds were wolves.

Generation X was taught to be distrustful of institutions who violate the principals and values taught to them by their grandparents, Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation.  Their parents, the Baby Boomers, lived through the civil unrest that heralded in women’s rights, racial equality, and the Vietnam War.  The Baby Boomers instilled a collective mistrust of institutions bred by that war and the boldfaced deceptions of Watergate.  It seems natural that this blended history yields a Generation X skeptical of the Catholic Church’s honesty and authenticity given its actions.  It is disingenuous to scold the flock during homilies when one’s own house is in disarray.

This generation was further shaped by their parents’ exuberances that fueled the stock market crash of 2000.  Financial markets have further eroded trust with a decade of misfeasance, malfeasance, non-feasance and excessive risk-taking: WorldCom, Arthur Anderson, Enron, Lehman Brothers, Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs), Bernie Maldoff, UBS, Peregrine Financial Group.  Americans are promised “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.  Only the naïve will believe that everyone will abide by the rules and play fair.  Just as not all priests are pedophiles, not all company executives are compulsively-lying fraudsters driven by self-interests.  While there are always those that will bend (or exceed) the rules and seek an advantage, the breadth and depth of the recent fraud and deceit is stunning.  Again, these negative actions are yielding a strong negative perception by Generation X.  It does offer an interesting question:

How much should one trust a person who has already has lied?  What if he claims he really is not lying this time?

Further the irrationality now gripping Congress is degrading their faith in the people running the institution of American government.  Our forefathers had the foresight for us to pledge allegiance to the flag and the Republic for which it stands, not the politicians themselves.  As George Washington’s declination of a second term shows, the institution and essence of government is larger than any individual.

The generation’s distrust, again, is not in the institution itself, but those who are leading it.  Generation X formed the first generation of “latch-key kids” who came home alone after-school and were responsible for younger siblings as both parents worked.  It is mind boggling to many that politicians have a teenage “my way or no way” sense of negotiation that seemingly prefers no-solution to a partial, compromised one.  This chafes with Generation X who was expected to accept responsibility by the very Baby Boomers who are seemingly unwilling to do the same.  What will be interesting is how social security is handled and will hard, fair choices be made?  Will the Baby Boomers stand with integrity as their parents, The Greatest Generation, did and be a positive role model for their children, Generation X?  Will American government follow the example of the Vatican and American Business and fail their children in this Moment of Truth?  Parents, the children are watching.