Scott Sagan and Allen Weiner counter John Bolton’s dishonest case for preventive war against North Korea:
However, if America attacked because President Trump was worried that continued North Korean missile and nuclear weapons development would ultimately increase Pyongyang’s ability to hold American cities at risk, the strike would no longer be “anticipatory” or “pre-emptive.” It would clearly be preventive — in legal terms, no different from a North Korean first strike against America motivated by Kim Jong-un’s fear that America might one day attack North Korea.
Preventive strikes are not legal under international law or the United Nations Charter. Indeed, the charter has a name for such an operation. It is “aggression.”
The authors are correct that Bolton advocates preventive war against North Korea, and they are right to note that he tries to hide this by pretending that the attack he supports can be justified as “pre-emption.” Bolton has to do this because there is no legal defense for preventive war. Preventive war is a flagrant violation of international law, so supporters of such illegal warfare need to dress it up as some form of self-defense to make it seem as if they aren’t agitating for aggression against another state. They have no problem with waging illegal warfare, but for political reasons they have to keep up the appearance of respecting the law.
Preventive war is completely unjustified and immoral. Indeed, it is impossible for it to be anything else when it is being waged long before all other alternatives have been exhausted. Bismarck famously said, “Preventive war is like committing suicide for fear of death,” but in this case Bolton is calling for something even stupider than that. Bolton thinks it is appropriate to initiate a war because of a fear that another state might simply acquire the means to strike you at some point in the future. This more like committing suicide for fear of one day feeling threatened by someone else. To “prevent” the possibility of feeling threatened by North Korea, Bolton thinks it makes sense to initiate a war that would certainly kill hundreds of thousands of people and would significantly increase the likelihood of a nuclear exchange that would kill untold millions more. That by itself ought to have been enough to disqualify him from consideration for any position in the government, much less National Security Advisor. Bolton’s support for preventive war against North Korea shows just how horrible his judgment still is, and his appointment at National Security Advisor is proof that Trump’s judgment is equally abysmal.