"The Ethics of Preventive War" edited by Deen K. Chatterjee

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 29.3 (Fall 2015)

September 10, 2015

Detail from book cover

The Ethics of Preventive War, Deen K. Chatterjee, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 255 pp., $29.99 paper.

Review by Mark Rigstad

From the perspective of black-letter international law, warfare is illegal unless it is a defensive response to ongoing or imminent military aggression perpetrated by a foreign power. While the line between standard defensive war and ongoing aggression is chiefly marked by international boundaries, the line that separates preemptive self-defense from an imminent threat of aggression is captured by the customary international legal standard of the Caroline test. According to this standard, states have a right to use force to repel an anticipated attack that creates a "necessity of self-defense" that is "instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation." Preventive wars that are waged in anticipation of more remote future threats, no matter how probable, are by definition illegal acts of aggression, the ongoing mobilization for or imminent threat of which triggers the defensive rights of other states.

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