Preventive war and the killing of the innocent

The United Nations Charter prohibits states to use force against other states except in ‘individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs’.1 In the past, it may have seemed reasonable to insist that permissible defence must await the actual occurrence of an armed attack. Because war is usually disastrous for all concerned and to be avoided if at all possible, and because successful defence has often been at least possible against a military attack, it may not be imprudent for a state threatened with attack by another state to make every effort to avoid war by diplomatic means and thus to defer military action until its adversary actually strikes the first blow. It is also possible to deter the attack by threatening the potential aggressor both with military defeat and with the destruction, if war occurs, of assets that the aggressor values – for example, in the case of a tyrannical regime, military assets on which it depends for control of its own population.
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