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Full text of "Nuclear Non-Proliferation by Elli Louka"







© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

Precautionary Self-Defense : Preempting Nuclear 


Elli Louka* 

Copyright by © Elli Louka 

All Rights Reserved by the Author 

Table of Contents 

I. The Al Kibar Incident 2 

II. 1981 to 2007: From Osiraq to Al Kibar 6 

A. Nature of Facility 6 

B. Threshold of Imminent Threat: Technology and Secrecy 7 

C. Methods of Execution 8 

D. International Reaction 9 

III. Anticipatory Self-Defense and Preemption 12 

A. The Osiraq Incident and Anticipatory Self-Defense 14 

B. Appraisal of the Al Kibar Incident 17 

C. Covert Operations versus Overt Operations 20 

D. The NPT Regime's Fairness and Effectiveness 24 

IV. Precautionary Self-Defense 27 

© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

I. The Al Kibar Incident 

On September 6, 2007, Israel bombed a target in Eastern Syria located in the Al 
Kibar area 1 close to the Iraqi border. 2 The attack and the reasons for it were covered 
in secrecy and there was wild speculation in the media that the target might have been 
a nuclear reactor. 3 Information about the incident was restricted to some officials, and 
the Israeli press was prevented from publishing information about the incident. 4 After 
Israel's raid, satellite images showed the site being bulldozed clear in an alleged 
attempt by Syria to destroy evidence regarding the facility. 5 In late October 2007, a 
nongovernmental organization successfully located the site through satellite imagery 
and claimed that it was an nuclear reactor that was under-construction; others, 
however, disputed this claim. 6 

*Elli Louka is the founder of Alphabetics Development and Investment . The 
book Elli Louka "Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation, Use of Force, Justice and the Law" is forthcoming 
in 2010. Other publications by Dr. Louka include "International Environmental Law: Fairness, 
Effectiveness and World Order (Cambridge University, 2006). The books of Elli Louka can be found 
at ss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field- 
keywords=elli+louka&x=2 1 &y~ 1 8 and 
http ://www. google. com/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz= 1 G 1 GGLQ ENUS345 &q=elli+louka 

1 The Al Kibar facility was located in an isolated desert region of eastern Syria called Dayr az Zawr 
close to the Euphrates River. 

2 CNN first reported the strike as an attack targeting Hezbollah militants. See Syria Complains to UN 
About Israeli Airstrike, CNN.COM, Sept. 11, 2007, (last visited Aug. 23, 2009). In a letter 
to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Syria called the raid "a breach of air space of the Syrian Arab 
Republic." There was speculation that about ten North Koreans working at the facility died but these 
reports remained unverified. See Tak Kumakura, North Koreans May Have Died in Israel Attack on 
Syria, NHKSays, BLOOMBERG.COM, Apr. 28, 2008, (last visited 
Aug. 23, 2009); see also Uzi Mahnaimi & Sarah Baxter, Israelis Seized Nuclear Material in Syrian 
Raid, Times Online, Sept. 23, 2007, east/article2512380.ece (last visited Aug. 23, 

Mark Mazzetti & Helene Cooper, Israeli Nuclear Suspicions Linked to Raid in Syria, N.Y. TIMES, 
Sept. 18, 2007, http://www.nvtimes.eom/2007/09/l 8/world/asia/l 8korea.html# (last visited Aug. 23, 

4 David E. Sanger & Mark Mazzetti, Israel Struck Syrian Nuclear Project, Analysts Say, N.Y. TIMES, 
Oct. 14, 2007, at Al. 

5 Jonathan Marcus, US Syria Claims Raise Wider Doubts, BBC, Apr. 25, 2008, east/7366868. stm (last visited Aug. 23, 2009). 

Syrian Nuke Site Images Claim Scrutinized, CBS NEWS, Oct. 24, 2007, (last 
visited Aug. 23, 2009). The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) obtained the satellite 
imagery from DigitalGlobe, a commercial provider of satellite imagery. See DAVID ALBRIGHT & PAUL 
Brannan, Inst. forSci. & Int'l Sec, The Al Kibar Reactor: Extraordinary Camouflage, 
Troubling Implications 2 (2008), available at http://www.isis- 

© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

The media saw the attack on the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor as a reaffirmation 
of Israel's deterrent capability in the Middle East 7 and as a reiteration of the Begin 
doctrine, named after Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Based on that 
doctrine, Israel is not to tolerate its enemies' acquisition of nuclear weapons. Israel 
applied the Begin doctrine in 1981 when it attacked Iraq's nuclear reactor, Osiraq, 8 a 
few months before it became operational. "Begin referred to the [Osiraq] strike as an 
act of 'anticipatory self-defense at its best.'" ' The day after the Osiraq attack, Israel 
presented a letter to the UN Security Council describing the rationale for the attack. 
The message transmitted was that the attack was not an ad hoc response to a threat but 
a long-term national commitment. 10 

Based on the precedent of Osiraq, the Al Kibar attack was viewed as a 
reaffirmation of Israel's commitment to the Begin doctrine and its deterrent 
capability. The attack was meant to send a clear message to Syria, and potentially 
Iran, that Israel would not tolerate nuclear weapons, other than its own, in the 
region. 11 While Syria must have chemical and biological weapon programs, the 
acquisition of nuclear weapons is the "real red line" that other states in the region are 
not to cross. In contrast to what it had done after the Osiraq attack, Israel kept silent 
after the Al Kibar attack 12 - probably because of concerns of potential retaliatory 
strikes by Syria. 13 Israel did not provide an account of the strike and never formally 
confirmed that the strike even happened. 

There was speculation that Israel's Al Kibar attack was launched with the United 
States' approval, though the United States denies giving advance approval for the 
attack. 14 The United States must have at least collaborated 15 with Israel on the 
corroboration of intelligence information before the raid. 16 According to news 
sources, the United States administration was internally divided and concerned about 
the ramifications of a preemptive strike in the absence of an imminent threat. 17 The 

7 See, e.g., Israel Says Deterrent Ability Recovered After Syria Strike, AGENCE France Press, Sept. 
16, 2007, (last visited Aug. 
23, 2009). 

8 Bret Stephens, Op-Ed, Osiraq II?, WALL St. J., Sept. 18, 2007, available at 1 1 00 1 06 1 9 ; see Leonard S. Spector & 
Avner Cohen, Israel 's Airstrike on Syria 's Reactor: Implications for the Nonproliferation Regime, 38 
Arms Cont. Today (July/ August 2008), available at 

9 Spector & Cohen, supra note 8. 

10 See generally Ministry of Foreign Aff. & Atomic Energy Comm'n (Off. of the Prime 
Minister), Gov't of Israel, The Iraqi Nuclear Threat- Why Israel Had to Act (1981). 

11 Sanger & Mazzetti, supra note 4. 

12 Israelis Upset U.S. Divulged Strike Details, WASH. TIMES, Apr. 25, 2008, (last 
visited Aug. 23, 2009). 

13 Korea and Syria: Oh What a Tangled Web They Weave, ECONOMIST, May 1, 2008, at 68. 

14 Id. 

15 The close collaboration between the United States and Israel has led some to claim that Israel often 
acts as a surrogate for the United States, See Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton Gauges Global 
Impact of Gaza Crisis, FoxNEWS.COM, Dec. 30, 2008,,2933,473968,00.html (last visited Aug. 23, 2009). 

16 Glenn Kessler & Robin Wright, Israel, U.S., Shared Data on Suspected Nuclear Site, WASH. POST, 
Sept. 21,2007, at A01. 

17 Sanger & Mazzetti, supra note 4. 

© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

air raid was so highly classified that the United States refused to publicly 
acknowledge it after it happened. 18 

On April 24, 2008 - eight months after the attack - United States intelligence 
agents briefed the United States Congress and the International Atomic Energy 
Agency (IAEA) about the nature of the Syrian facility attacked by Israeli forces. The 
building bombed by the Israeli forces on September 6, 2007 was a gas-graphite 
reactor based on a North-Korean design 19 that was similar to, but not an exact copy 
of, the Yongbyon reactor of North Korea. 20 When operating at full power, such 
reactors can produce enough plutonium to produce a nuclear weapon every one or two 
years. While the full extent of North Korea's assistance in building the reactor was 
unknown, North Korea was suspected of providing engineering assistance and reactor 
components, but not a turnkey facility. The reactor building was camouflaged using a 
fake roof and surrounded by walls to make it appear like a regular building. Ground 
photos claimed to have been taken on site between 2002 and 2003 seemed to prove 
that camouflage had been used. 21 Satellite photos taken just after the site's 
destruction identified three components of a graphite reactor: the reactor core, the 
spent fuel pond and the heat exchange system. 22 There was no evidence, however, of 
the presence of nuclear fuel in the reactor. The building had neither the electrical 
supply system nor ventilation and the cooling system to help officials ascertain 
beyond doubt that it was a nuclear reactor. 23 

The international community barely reacted to the attack. In his first public 
comments after the raid, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad acknowledged that Israel 
dropped bombs on a building that was related to the military but not in use. 24 
Nevertheless, the fact that Syria rushed to bulldoze earth over the building after the 
attack intensified suspicions that the building could not have been merely a retired 
military facility. Syria claimed that the United States' allegations about the facility 
being a clandestine nuclear reactor were aimed at generating another Middle East 
crisis. 25 Syria further accused the United States of complicity in the raid. 26 Neither 
Iran nor any Arab state condemned the raid; only North Korea issued a protest. 

High Level Debate Stalled Syria Air Strike: US was Concerned over Intelligence, Stability to Region, 
Officials Tell ABC News, ABC NEWS, Oct. 5, 2007,\r/storv?id=3695754&page=l (last visited Aug. 23, 2009). 

19 Off. of Dir. of Nat'l Intelligence, Background Briefing with Senior U.S. Officials on Syria's Covert 
Nuclear Reactor and North Korea's Involvement, at 5, Apr. 24, 2008, available at interview.pdf [hereinafter Background Briefing]. Based on 
the briefing, North Korea's and Syria's cooperation dated as early as 1997. 

20 Id. at 4. 

21 Id. at 5. 

22 The purpose of the heat exchange system is to transfer heated carbon dioxide gas from the reactor 
core to water drawn from the river close-by. See Albright & Brannan, supra note 6, at 26. 

23 Background Briefing, supra note 19, at 2; see also id. at 20. 

24 Sanger & Mazzetti, supra note 4. 

Syria: U.S. Nuclear Reactor Allegations Aim to Create Mideast Crisis, HARARETZ.COM, May 3, 
2008, (last visited Aug. 23, 2009). 
26 Ewen MacAskill & David Batty, UN Censures US and Israel over Syria Nuclear Row, GUARDIAN, 
Apr. 25, 2008, (last visited Aug. 23, 2009). 

© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

The belated release of information about the event, and the nature of the facility 
attacked, elicited a response from the IAEA. The IAEA released a statement that 
mentioned, inter alia, that: 

The Director General deplores the fact that this information was not 
provided to the Agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the 
Agency's responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 
(NPT), to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts .... In 
light of the above, the Director General views the unilateral use of force by 
Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of 
the non-proliferation regime. 27 

On May 28, 2008, the United States asked the IAEA to broaden its search for 
secret nuclear facilities in Syria and provided the agency with intelligence information 
about three other sites to investigate. 28 The IAEA visited Syria between June 22 and 
June 24, 2008. The IAEA experts came back to the IAEA headquarters with 
environmental samples from the Al Kibar site, but they were not allowed to visit the 
other three sites. The inspection's purpose was to collect environmental samples to 
verify whether, as a result of Israel's attack, radioactive materials or graphite had been 
dispersed into the environment; evidence that the facility destroyed was indeed a 
nuclear reactor. 29 Analyses of the environmental samples taken at Al Kibar have 
revealed a significant number of anthropogenic uranium particles, but have not 
clarified what the human source of the uranium might be. Uranium particles by 
themselves do not irrefutably demonstrate the existence of a nuclear reactor in the 
area, and Syria claimed that the Israeli missiles that destroyed the building might have 
been the source. 30 Moreover, the layout and dimensions of the building's containment 
structure appear similar to those required for a nuclear reactor's biological shield, and 
the building's overall size was sufficient to conceal a 25 MWth reactor. The IAEA 
conducted an assessment of the water-pumping infrastructure and concluded that the 
pumping capacity was adequate for a 25 MWth reactor, and that there was sufficient 
electrical capacity to operate the pumping system. 31 

The IAEA has repeatedly requested access to three other facilities related to the 
alleged Al Kibar; requests that Syria has denied. Based on satellite imagery and 
landscaping activities, the removal of large containers has taken place following the 
agency's requested access to these facilities. 32 

27 Press Release, Int'l Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], Statement by Mohamed El Baradei, IAEA 
Director General (Apr. 25, 2008). 

28 Joby Warrick & Robin Wright, Search is Urged for Syrian Nuclear Sites : U.S. Presses UN. on 3 
Alleged Facilities, WASH. POST, May 29, 2008, at A14. 

29 George Jahn, Diplomats: Syria Passes First Test of Nuclear Probe, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Sept. 20, 

See IAEA, Report by the Director General, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the 
Syrian Arab Republic, 1 12, IAEA Doc. GOV/2009/9 (Nov. 19, 2008) [hereinafter Syria NPT Report]. 

31 Id. 1ft 10-11. 

32 Id. | 14. In the meantime, the Director General of the IAEA told the Board of Directors that IAEA' s 
main contact in Syria had been killed and that this would slow down the IAEA's work in Syria. The 
person killed facilitated the IAEA's access to Syria's alleged nuclear facilities. It has been speculated 
that the Director General implied the assassination of Brigadier General Mohammad Suleiman, a senior 
security adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, at a beach resort, in the city of Tartous in Syria. 

© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

Based on the information provided to the agency by November 2008 (the 
building's characteristics and the connectivity to adequate pumping capacity of 
cooling water similar to those required for a nuclear reactor), it could not be excluded 
that the building destroyed by Israeli forces on September 2007 was a nuclear reactor 
given. The IAEA has asked Syria to produce documentation about the building's 
function and the nature of the three other facilities to which the IAEA has requested a 
visit. The agency has called on all states to produce any information they may have, 
including satellite imagery, and allow the agency to share that information with 
Syria. 33 

II. 1981 to 2007: From Osiraq to Al Kibar 

The attack on Syria's reactor was Israel's second attack at a would-be nuclear 
reactor. More than a quarter of a century prior, Israel attacked a reactor in Iraq. On 
June 7, 1981, Israeli aircraft attacked and destroyed a Tammuz 70 MWth reactor, the 
so-called Osiraq reactor, which France had built for Iraq in the Tuwaitha research 
center south of Baghdad, just before nuclear fuel was introduced to enable the 
commencement of the reactor's operations. Israel suspected that the reactor would be 
used to produce nuclear weapons and had attempted to dissuade France from 
providing Iraq with the reactor. 34 

There are many commonalities between the Osiraq and Al Kibar incidents. Both 
attacks were planned so as to minimize collateral damage and neither provoked an 
immediate retaliation by the attacked state, which made them appear, at least in the 
short-term, successful. There are, however, differences between the two incidents as 
explained below. 

A. Nature of Facility 

The Osiraq attack involved a facility constructed openly and placed under the 
IAEA safeguards system. 35 On other hand, the Syrian facility was allegedly a 

Suleiman was viewed by the intelligence sources as in charge of Syria's nuclear and chemical weapons 
program. See Mark Heinrich & Sylvia Westall, Assad Aide Killing Hurts U.N. Probe in Syria: 
Diplomats, REUTERS, Sept. 25, 2008, (last visited Aug. 23, 

33 Syria NPT Report, supra note 30, Iflf 16-19. 

34 Israel had engaged in a number of overt and covert actions in order to prevent the building of Iraqi 
reactor. It was speculated, for instance, that Israeli agents destroyed the reactor's core when it was still 
located in Toulon waiting to be shipped to Iraq, and that Israeli agents might have been involved in the 
assassination of key scientists. At the instigation of the Israeli government, the Israeli press launched a 
crusade against the building of the reactor. See Amos Perlmutter et al., Two Minutes over 
Baghdad 68-71, 73-75 (1982). 

35 The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime's inspection system is based on a safeguards system 
that gives significant latitude to sovereign states regarding verification that their nuclear programs are 
not used for weapons proliferation. States may, for instance, determine the extent of inspections they 
will allow within their territory. See IAEA, SAFEGUARDS SYSTEM OF THE INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC 

© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

clandestine nuclear reactor. If the facility was indeed a nuclear reactor, Syria should 
have notified the IAEA about its construction in accordance with its safeguard 
agreement with the agency. 36 

B. Threshold of Imminent Threat: Technology and Secrecy 

The facility attacked by Israeli forces in Syria was much further from completion 
than the Osiraq facility. It would have been years before Syria could use the reactor to 
produce spent nuclear fuel that could then be reprocessed into bomb-grade plutonium 
at a separate facility. But the Osiraq reactor was not a ready-made nuclear weapon 
either. The reactor was a light-water moderated reactor - meaning that it was not 
designed for plutonium production. Iraq was dependent on France to provide fuel for 
the reactor and, given the France's conditions and the IAEA safeguards, it would have 
been difficult for Iraq to divert nuclear fuel for the secret production of plutonium. 37 

Launching a defensive attack on a weapons proliferation activity requires that an 
attack from that activity be imminent. 38 Crossing a technological threshold could be 

Energy Agency, available at; IAEA, 
The Structure and Content of Agreements between the Agency and States Required in Connection with 
the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, IAEA Doc. INFCIRC/153 (June 1972) 
THE GAME 19 (July 2007); IAEA, Model Protocol Additional to the Agreement (s) between State(s) and 
the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards , IAEA Doc. INFCIRC/540 
(Sept. 1 997); see also IAEA, Plan of Action to Promote the Conclusion of Safeguards 
Agreements and Additional Protocols (2008). 

36 The agreement that Syria signed with the IAEA was the initial safeguards agreement based on 
INFCIRC/153. See INFCIRC/153, supra note 35. According to article 41 of that agreement, Syria is to 
provide the IAEA with design information regarding new facilities "as early as possible before nuclear 
material is introduced into a new facility." See IAEA, Agreement of 25 February 1992 between the 
government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the 
Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 
IAEA Doc. INFCIRC/407 (July 1992). Before 1992, the phrase "as early as possible before nuclear 
material is introduced into a new facility" was interpreted to mean that design information on new 
facilities should be provided to the IAEA no later than six months before the introduction of nuclear 
material into a new facility. This interpretation was included in the General Parts of the Subsidiary 
Arrangements that were attached to each safeguards agreement. In 1992, however, the IAEA's Board 
adopted a new interpretation of this provision. According to this new interpretation, the design 
information on new facilities is to be provided to the agency as soon as the decision to construct or 
authorize construction of a new facility is made - that is, before construction actually begins. See 
IAEA, Strengthening of Agency Safeguards: The Provision and Use of Design Information, IAEA Doc. 
GOV/2554/Attachment 2/Rev.2 (Apr. 1, 1992). This new interpretation was adopted as a confidence 
measure to safeguard the peaceful character of new facilities. Providing information before 
construction takes place should give the IAEA enough time for the application of its safeguards system. 
All non-nuclear weapon state parties to the NPT were required to adapt their related Subsidiary 
Arrangements to take into account this new interpretation. Based on this new interpretation on the 
provision of information on the design of new facilities before even construction begins, Syria was in 
violation of its safeguard agreement with the IAEA assuming it was building a nuclear reactor without 
notifying the IAEA, something that to this current date Syria denies. 

Dan Reiter, Preventive Attacks Against Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons Programs: The 
Track Record 8 (Ctr. for Int'l Sec. Stud, at the Univ. of Pitt., Working Paper, 2006), available at 

See infra Part 3. 

© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

used as evidence that an attack may be imminent. 39 If Osiraq offers an indication, the 
technological threshold for nuclear weapons programs seems to be quite low, reached 
even before a nuclear weapons program is in the works. The threshold seems to be 
from the moment a country is finalizing a nuclear reactor if, simultaneously, there are 
strong suspicions that such a reactor could be used to produce nuclear weapons. For 
example, the primary consideration in launching the Osiraq attack was intelligence 
that the nuclear reactor was about to become operational and that Iraq would no 
longer be dependent on France for operating the reactor. At the same time, Israeli 
action could not have taken place after the fuel was loaded in the reactor. After 
loading the fuel, an attack would have been prohibitive because of the catastrophic 
potential of radiological fallout. Therefore, there was a window of opportunity - after 
the reactor's completion but before the loading of the nuclear fuel into the reactor - 
where Israel's attack could have taken place. Israel took advantage of this window of 

The technological threshold assumed for the Osiraq reactor had not been reached 
in the case of the alleged Al Kibar reactor in Syria. According to United States' 
intelligence sources, the Al Kibar reactor lacked the pipes and other necessary 
equipment that would connect it to an electricity grid. Therefore, it was not clear how 
the reactor would be fueled. 40 Because the reactor was far from technological 
completion, one could claim that Israel's attack on a nuclear reactor before its 
finalization simply widened the window of opportunity during which an attack on a 
nuclear reactor may be launched. Given that the technological threshold for the 
operation of the reactor was not reached, a claim that the attack was imminent could 
not have been persuasive. On the other hand, looking only at the technological 
threshold may be insufficient. If the Al Kibar facility was indeed a clandestine 
reactor built outside the IAEA safeguards, and in violation of the safeguards 
agreement between Syria and the IAEA, one could not remain naive about the 
reactor's potential use. In other words, if a nuclear reactor is built in secrecy, the 
presumption that such a reactor would be used for military purposes is not 
unreasonable. If a country knows about a clandestine reactor's existence, the question 
is whether it should wait for the reactor's completion or attack while the reactor is 
being built. From the point of view of military necessity, choosing the first option 
may seem like an inefficient way to take down clandestine nuclear weapons programs 
at their inception. 

C. Methods of Execution 

The Osiraq attack was executed openly and generated a number of international 
reactions. In contrast, the Al Kibar attack was carried out covertly, to the point of 
creating intense speculation about whether the facility struck was indeed a nuclear 
reactor. Israel has neither acknowledged nor commented on the raid since its 

39 See, e.g., Robert S. Litwak, The New Calculus of Pre-emption, 44 SURVIVAL 53, 67 (2002), available 
See supra notes 19-23. 

© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

occurrence. In contrast, in the case of Osiraq, Israel was quick to claim responsibility 
for the attack, which it presented as an implementation of the Begin doctrine. 41 

Although the Al Kibar attack was to remain covert, especially with regard to the 
nature of the target, maintaining the attack's secrecy proved difficult. It was an NGO 
that, through the purchase of commercial satellite imagery, first argued with some 
credibility that the facility might have been a nuclear reactor. While the interpretation 
of the satellite imagery was intensely disputed, it demonstrates that it is becoming 
difficult for states to hide their activities from what is becoming a transparent earth. 

D. International Reaction 

The attack at the Osiraq nuclear reactor provoked an international reaction. The 
UN Security Council issued a resolution that condemned Israel's attack but stopped 
short from calling it an aggression. 42 The international community was critical of 
Israel's actions. Israel's attack against a nuclear reactor was the first such attack and 
was widely viewed as setting a dangerous precedent. The Director General of the 
IAEA made clear that he viewed the attack as an assault on the IAEA safeguards 
system. In its meeting between June 9 and June 12, 1981, the IAEA's Board 
condemned Israel's action and asked the General Conference to consider all the 
implications of the Osiraq attack, including suspending Israel's privileges and rights 
of membership. The Board recommended that the General Conference suspended any 
provision of assistance to Israel under the IAEA technical assistance program. 
Unlike the 2007 IAEA General Conference, during which the Al Kibar incident was 
not even mentioned, the General Conference that convened on September 21, 1981 
became the venue where IAEA member states expressed their anger at the Osiraq 
attack and requested that technical assistance to Israel be suspended, including 
suspending Israel's rights and privileges in the IAEA. A number of Arab states 
introduced a draft resolution to expel Israel from the IAEA for violating article XIX 
(B) of the agency's Statute. 43 

41 During a press conference given after the Osiraq attack, Begin mentioned the non-tolerance for 
nuclear weapons applied to the "enemy" (not necessarily all Middle East countries). It was further 
mentioned that for Israel to sign the NPT the Arab states had to make peace with Israel. See Press 
Conference with Prime Minister Begin, I.D.F. Chief of Staff Eitan, I.A.F. Commander Irvi and 
Director of Military Intelligence Saguy, June 9, 1982. 

42 S.C. Res. 487, U.N. Doc. S/RES/487 (June 19, 1981). 

43 A proposition that was eventually defeated. Article XIX(B) of the Statute of the IAEA states that a 
member of the IAEA can have its rights and privileges suspended if found in persistent violation of the 
provisions of the statute of the IAEA. The United States argued that article XIX(B) could be invoked if 
there is a persistent violation of the statute of the IAEA. According to the United States, the attack on 
Iraq's nuclear research facility was not a violation of the IAEA statute because the statute contains no 
provision regarding the use of force against member states' nuclear facilities. Therefore, article 
XIX(B) did not provide legal grounds for suspending Israel's membership rights. Furthermore, the 
United States argued that punitive action against Israel would do great harm to the IAEA and the non- 
proliferation regime. On September 26, 1981, the IAEA Conference condemned Israel for the attack 
and voted to suspend all technical assistance to Israel. The Conference deferred for its next session 
(which was held in 1982) the suspension of Israel from the exercise of privileges and rights of 
membership in the IAEA in case Israel had not yet complied with the Security Council's resolution. 
S.C. Res. 487, supra note 42. 

© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

In 1982, Arab countries proceeded to use the credentials committee (which 
examines the delegates' credentials) to, in effect, exclude Israel from participating in 
the IAEA. More specifically, Saudi Arabia objected to the recognition of Israel's 
credentials on the grounds that Israel violated both the IAEA Statute and the Charter 
of the United Nations, and that it was in non-compliance with the resolutions of the 
General Conference and the Security Council. 44 In 1982, the General Conference 
refused to accept the Israeli delegation's credentials, thereby effectively banning 
Israel from participating in the IAEA. In response, the United States, the United 
Kingdom and several other western delegations walked out of the conference. The 
United States claimed that abusing the United Nations system to carry on political 
vendettas was corrosively dangerous. The United States suspended its membership in 
the IAEA for five months and froze its funding to the IAEA until the IAEA's Board 
of Governors certified that Israel could participate fully. Two months later, the 
IAEA's new Director General stated that if the United States extended its suspension 
into the following year the IAEA's operations could be crippled. In 1982, the IAEA 
provided the assurances the United States required regarding Israel's participation, 
leading the United States to resume its cooperation with the IAEA in 1983. 45 

In contrast, in the Al Kibar incident, Arab governments refrained from 
commenting on Israel's raid and did not ask for retaliation against Israel. One could 
surmise that many Arab governments are content that a clandestine nuclear attempt by 
Syria has been aborted for the time being. Iran, Syria's closest ally in the Middle East, 
did not issue any comment regarding the raid. North Korea was the only state to 
condemn the attack. The matter was not brought to the UN Security Council or to the 
First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and 
international security. The attack was not criticized at an IAEA international meeting 
held from April 28 to May 9, 2008 to prepare for the 2010 Nonproliferation Review 
Conference. The IAEA's Director General, however, condemned the attack. 46 

The muted international reaction has been attributed to the lack of official 
information sources about the event. The international community, however, 
remained passive even after the United States provided a video, which became 
publicly available through the internet, about the nature of the Syrian facility and the 
extensive briefing given to the United States Congress and to the IAEA. 47 

Certainly the specifics of the Al Kibar incident differentiate it from the Osiraq 
incident. In contrast with Osiraq, Al Kibar was a clandestine nuclear facility and the 
alleged nature of the reactor (a graphite reactor) rendered it a more credible candidate 
for the production of nuclear weapons. Regional politics may have played a role in 
the lack of Arab reaction since Syria is an isolated state with close ties to Iran. 

44 Id. 

45 David Fischer, History of the International Atomic Energy Agency: The First Forty 
Years 107-08(1997). 

46 Press Release, IAEA, Statement by Mohamed El Baradei, IAEA Director General (Apr. 25, 2008). 

47 See Background Briefing, supra note 19. 


© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
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to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

The tepid international reaction may be attributed to fears of undesirable 
repercussions. Learning a lesson from the Osiraq incident, 48 the IAEA refrained from 
bringing the item to the Board because it knew that costly repercussions might follow 
any condemnation of Israel's actions. It is also possible that the international 
community is increasingly desensitized to incidents that do not involve collateral 
damage and may quickly accomplish a desirable international objective - namely, 
promoting nonproliferation of nuclear weapons by neutralizing nuclear weapon 
threats at their inception. 

In other words, a more somber interpretation of the lack of international reaction 
regarding the Al Kibar attack may be a realization that these types of attacks 49 are 
increasingly viewed as a legitimate means to surgically eliminate undesirable targets 
without generating civilian casualties and all the media attention that such casualties 
entail. 50 It has been argued that Iraq's gross violations of the Nuclear Non- 
Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, 51 along with potential violations by Iran and North 
Korea, have led traditional theories regarding the legitimacy of unilateral preemptive 
action to be revised. Revised, at least, in the case of clandestine nuclear facilities 
whose clandestine character points to their potential use for the production of nuclear 
weapons. In this light, the lack of international reaction could be seen as a silent 
endorsement of the raid, despite the fact that Israel was clearly not acting within a 
strict definition of anticipatory self-defense. The muted international response is, 
therefore, a tacit admission that the nonproliferation regime has been eroded to such 
an extent that the international community "breathes easier" when a state can play 

48 The United States walked out of the agency and suspended its financial contribution. FISCHER, supra 
note 45. 

49 A similar attack was executed against a chemical factory in Sudan. On August 20, 1998, United 
States Tomahawk missiles destroyed the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. The 
attack was launched thirteen days after the bombing of the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya 
and Dares Salam, Tanzania killed 224 people, including United States citizens. The United States 
claimed that the plant was linked to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and was producing a 
precursor chemical for VX nerve gas. The attack destroyed the factory, though the evidence that the 
factory produced chemical weapons and had links to the bin Laden's network was assessed as weak. 
The United States blocked Sudan's efforts to launch a Security Council fact-finding investigation on 
whether the El Shifa plant produced lethal VX gas. The United States claimed self-defense under 
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The attack generated mixed responses and there was no clear 
consensus that the violation of Sudan's sovereignty was illegal. States expressed concerns mostly with 
regard to the use of the factory for terrorist purposes and there did not seem to be much debate about 
the violation of Sudan's sovereignty. Commentary concentrated on whether the United States 
possessed sufficient evidence to attack the pharmaceutical plant that would support the claim that it 
was used in terrorist activities. See Jules Lobel, The Use of Force to Respond to Terrorist Attacks : the 
Bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan, 24 YALE J. Int'l L. 537 (1999); see also Ruth Wedgwood, 
Responding to Terrorism: the Strike Against bin Laden, 24 YALE J. INT'L L. 559 (1 999). 

50 Spector & Cohen, supra note 8. 

51 The non-proliferation regime is nested in the Nuclear Non-Pro liferation Treaty and a number of 
export controls on 'sensitive proliferation material' - that is, material that can be used potentially for 
the production of nuclear weapons. See Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, July 1, 
1968, 21 U.S.T. 483, 729 U.N.T.S. 161. The Nuclear Suppliers Group establishes controls on the 
export of proliferation-prone equipment and material. See Nuclear Suppliers Group Home Page, 
http://www.nuclearsuppliers (last visited Aug. 23, 2009); see also IAN ANTHONY ET AL., 
Reforming Nuclear Export Controls: The Future of the Nuclear Suppliers Group 
(Stockholm Int'l Peace Res. Inst. 2007); Christopher A. Ford, The Nonproliferation Bestiary: A 
Typology and Analysis of Nonproliferation Regimes, 39 N.Y.U. J. Int'L L. & Pol. 937, 944-46 (2007). 


© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
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to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

policeman by engaging in the unilateral and surgical removal of potential threats to 
international peace. 52 

III. Anticipatory Self-Defense and Preemption 

While Israel remained silent following the Al Kibar attack, which appeared to be a 
preemptive use of force, it openly invoked the doctrine of anticipatory self-defense in 
defending the Osiraq attack. Legal scholars have correctly differentiated between 
anticipatory self-defense (against imminent threats) and the doctrine of preemption 
(against future, contingent threats). As Michael Reisman & Andrea Armstrong note: 

The claim to preemptive self-defense is a claim to entitlement to use 
unilaterally, without international authorization, high levels of violence to 
arrest an incipient development that is not yet operational or directly 
threatening, but that, if permitted to mature, could be seen by the potential 
preemptor as susceptible to neutralization only at a higher and possibly 
unacceptable cost to itself 53 

Preemptive action is different from anticipatory self-defense in that the latter is 
meant to address an imminent and manifest threat. Thus, one can confidently claim 
that preemptive action refers to a hypothetical and uncertain threat, while anticipatory 
self-defense refers to a clear and imminent threat. 54 But universal, clear and 
unambiguous thresholds that would define the point of transition from a conjectural 
threat to an imminent danger are hard to factor. Clear-cut cases should exist, but they 
are exceptions. 

52 The attacks at Osiraq and Al Kibar are not the only attacks contemplated or executed against nuclear 
facilities. Such attacks were contemplated against the North Korean nuclear program but were not 
undertaken because of fears that they may provoke retaliation that could escalate into a full-scale war 
in the Korean peninsula. In addition, in the case of North Korea there was concern that the lack of 
accurate intelligence would increase the probabilities that not all the right targets would be hit. An 
attack was contemplated against the nascent Chinese nuclear program in the 1950s but the attack was 
not undertaken because the strategic threat of acquisition of nuclear weapons by China ceased to be 
that relevant. See Robert S. Litwak, The New Calculus of Pre-emption, 44 SURVIVAL 53, 61, 64-65 
(2002). Further attacks have been launched against facilities of weapons of mass destruction within the 
context of regular warfare. Five separate allied attacks were launched against Germany's nuclear 
weapon programs during World War II. The goal of operation Desert Storm in 1991 was not only to 
liberate Kuwait from Iraq but to disrupt the weapons of mass destruction program of Iraq. Further, 
Operation Iraqi Freedom was ostensibly carried out based on fears that Iraq was in possession of means 
of mass destruction. During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Iraq launched seven separate air strikes on 
Bushehr, the Iranian nuclear reactor. See Reiter, supra note 37, at 8; see also supra text accompanying 
note 49. 

53 W. Michael Reisman & Andrea Armstrong, The Past and Future of the Claim of Preemptive Self- 
Defense, 100 Am. J. Int'lL. 525, 526 (2006). 

54 Id. According to historians, preemptive self-defense, as the term is currently used, refers more 
accurately to the concept of preventive war - war initiated on the basis that, while military conflict is 
not imminent, to delay taking action now against a threat would involve greater risk. See Lawrence 
Freedman, Prevention, Not Preemption, 26 WASH. Q. 1095 (2003); see also JOINT CHIEFS OF Staff, 
U.S. Dep't of Def., Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms 
439, 435 (2008) (defining "preventive war" as a "war initiated in the belief that military conflict, while 
not imminent, is inevitable, and that to delay would involve greater risk," while a "preemptive attack" 
is conceived as an "attack initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is 
imminent.") [emphasis added]. 


© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

Countries that wish to launch a unilateral attack in an overt fashion, and with the 
blessing of international law, have no other option but to couch such an attack in 
terms of self-defense, since a unilateral war must be conducted in self-defense to be a 
just war under the post- World War II United Nations Charter. 55 Unilateral actions 
taken in the name of anticipatory self-defense must meet the criteria first proposed in 
the 1842 Caroline case. 56 Anticipatory self-defense finds its origins in the Caroline 
case and United States Secretary of State Daniel Webster's pronouncement that a state 
need not suffer an actual armed attack before taking defensive action. Instead, a state 
can engage in anticipatory self-defense (defense in anticipation of an attack) if the 
circumstances leading to the use of force are instantaneous, overwhelming, and 
leaving no choice of means and no moment to deliberate. 57 The criteria for launching 
an anticipatory self-defense are: 1) necessity, 2) immediacy and 3) proportionality. 
Necessity entails the use of military force that must be restricted to attain a legitimate 
military objective. Proportionality has to do with the avoidance of destruction, 
especially civilian casualties that are disproportionate to the military goal sought. The 
factor of immediacy of an attack, however, remains perplexing because most states 
would not wait to see an opponent's army marching against them as a demonstration 
that an armed attack is on the way. In the nuclear era, the imminent nature of an 
attack that would allow for self-defense may include credible threats of an attack that 
make anticipatory self-defense a necessity. It has been argued persuasively that the 
concept of self-defense will lose its bite in the nuclear age if a nation has to wait until 
a nuclear attack, which would ensure its destruction, has already been launched in 
order to engage in self-defense. 5 

On the other hand, the wording chosen for Article 51 of the UN Charter regarding 
the threshold of military offensive needed to trigger a self-defense action could be 
read restrictively 59 to limit prescriptions of anticipatory self-defense: "Nothing in the 

55 According to Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter: "All Members shall refrain in their international 
relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any 
state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations." In addition to the 
exception of unilateral use of force in self-defense, the only other exception provided for in the Charter 
for the use of force is under Chapter VII, where the Security Council can use force to preserve the 
peace — what has been called collective self-defense. That said, countries have engaged in reprisals to 
the point that some scholars have developed a framework under which states may engage in lawful 
reprisals. See Richard A. Falk, The Beirut Raid and the International Law of Retaliation, 63 Am. J. 
Int'lL. 415 (1969); see also W. Michael Reisman, Self-Defence or Reprisals? The Raid on Baghdad: 
Some Reflections on its Lawfulness and Implications , 5 EUR. J. INT'L L. 120 (1994). 

56 The facts of the Caroline case: During a 1837 rebellion against British occupation in Canada, rebels 
were assisted by United States sympathizers and the steamer Caroline was used to transport supplies 
between the United States and Canada. The British protested the transfer of supplies from the United 
States to Canada to no avail. Subsequently, British forces entered the United States took over the 
Caroline and sent it ablaze over the Niagara Falls. As a result of this action, several United States 
citizens were killed and injured. The United States launched a formal complaint with the British 
government which claimed self-defense. In response, the United States Secretary of State Daniel 
Webster wrote that for a self-defense claim to be valid, the British had to demonstrate a "necessity of 
self-defence, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." See 
Robert Yewdall Jennings, The Caroline and McLeod Cases, 32 AM. J. Int'lL. 82,89(1938). 

57 Id. 

58 Myres S. McDougal & Florentino P. Feliciano, Law and Minimum World Public Order: 
The Legal Regulation of International Coercion 67, 184 (1961). 

59 It has been argued, for instance, that annoyance actions, which do not involve offensive operations 
by the forces of a state, do not constitute an armed attack. However, a "coordinated and general 


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Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

present Charter shall impair the inherent 60 right of individual or collective self- 
defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations . . . ." 

The attack, it has been argued, has to be an ongoing attack, and anticipatory self- 
defense is not provided verbatim the Charter. The International Court of Justice has 
read the term "armed attack" under Article 51 restrictively, in a way that would 
exclude low-level prolonged paramilitary warfare not sponsored by a state. 61 This 
restrictive interpretation of Article 5 1 has generated concerns about the functionality 
of the Charter in the age of state-sponsored terrorism and loosely-located aggression 
by hard to identify, yet potent, actors. 62 

A. The Osiraq Incident and Anticipatory Self-Defense 

In the case of the Osiraq attack, the Security Council was skeptical about Israel's 
claims that the attack was justified under the general rubric of anticipatory self- 
defense. The resolution adopted by the Security Council 63 was, however, essentially 
an innocuous slap on Israel's wrist since no punishment was delivered, and Israel 
correctly interpreted it as a license to operate in this field. 

A number of factors unique to the Osiraq case have led observers to view the 


attack as more or less justified from the point of view of anticipatory self-defense. 
These factors include the requirement of necessity: a state must have exhausted the 


peaceful process of dispute resolution before launching an attack on another state. 
In the case of the Osiraq attack, from Israel's viewpoint, the process of peaceful 
settlement had been concluded. 66 Other factors include the realities brought by the 
nuclear age, 67 and Iraq's verbiage regarding the annihilation of the Israeli state in the 
context of what some have correctly called a constant para-war in the region. 68 Years 

campaign by powerful bands of irregulars" with the "easily proven" complicity of a state would 
constitute an armed attack especially if the objective is the forcible settlement of a dispute or the 
acquisition of a territory. See Ian Brownlie, The Use of Force in Self-Defense, 37 BRIT. Y.B. Int'l L. 

60 The use of the word "inherent" has been interpreted to mean that the Charter left largely unchanged 
the law on self-defense as it existed before the adoption of the Charter. It has been argued that Article 
51 has not "extinguished" the right to self-defense as developed by customary international law and 
that that right is wider than the right to self-defense under Article 5 1 . 

61 Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (DRC v. Uganda), 2005 I.C.J. 53, fflf 146-47 (Dec. 
19); Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, 2004 I.C.J. 136, 

62 (July 9); Oil Platforms (Iran v. U.S.), 1996 I.C.J. 161 (Nov. 6); Military and Paramilitary Activities 
(Nicar. v. U.S.), 1986 I.C.J. 14, 93-94 (June 27). 

62 Reisman & Armstrong, supra note 53, at 525. 

63 S.C. Res. 487, supra note 42. 

64 See generally Timothy L.H. McCormack, Self-Defense in International Law: The Israeli 
Raid on the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor (1 996). 

65 Peaceful dispute resolution is restricted by the imagination and the will of states to find 

66 Before the finalization of the reactor, Israel had used various covert and overt methods to dissuade 
France from proceeding with the reactor. See generally PERLMUTTER ET AL., supra note 34. 

67 McDoUGAL & FELICIANO, supra note 58. 

68 Yoram Dinstein, The Legal Issues of "Para-War" and Peace in the Middle East, 44 St. JOHN'S L. 
Rev. 466, 469-70 (1970); see also The Hundred Years' War, ECONOMIST, Jan. 10, 2009, at 9. 


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to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

after the attack, commentators have become even more celebratory. 69 They evaluate 
the attack, from an ex-post-facto perspective, as a necessary action that decisively 
trimmed Iraq's nuclear capabilities and, thus, made Iraq's expulsion from Kuwait 
possible and reduced the risks of engaging in the 1991 war. Professor Michael 
Reisman has argued that the Osiraq incident points to an amalgamation of a more 
permissive norm regarding unilateral preemptive actions against a state that is 
engaging in a program that could lead to the production of weapons of mass 
destruction, especially if that state has indicated its intention to use such weapons in 
an aggressive fashion. 70 

Overall, the appraisal of unilateral claims of self- defense must be contextual, and 
the circumstances of each case must be taken into account when assessing self- 
defense actions of an anticipatory nature. Such circumstances may involve situations 
of serial conflicts - that is, continuing conflicts characterized by "intermittent 
explosions of violence" that are followed by periods of relative calm (unprovoked by 
a formal peace process), that are interrupted by new flares of violence. 71 In the case 
of serial conflicts, the right to preemptive self-defense should be evaluated through 
the lens of the right to use force in ongoing conflicts without waiting for an 
opponent's specific provocation. Israel's explanation of the Osiraq attack contained 
these exact contextual elements, including the fact that Iraq was the only Arab state 
that had not even concluded an armistice agreement with Israel. 72 Since an armistice 
agreement was not concluded, Israel and Iraq were still formally in a state of war 
despite the fact that publicized, overt cases of violence had not occurred in the 
interim. When combined with Iraq's verbiage of Israel's annihilation, this was not 
conducive to the creation of an ambiance that would render a defensive action of a 
preemptive nature totally unjustifiable. 

Iraq's subsequent behavior, however, of cooperating with the United States for the 
promulgation of a resolution acceptable to both countries, and the fact that Iraq did 
not engage in an immediate retaliatory act, 73 may also demonstrate that with the right 
carrots, Iraq could have been subjected to "reformation." It has been pointed out that 
Saddam Hussein, while often miscalculating, was not unreasonable and, thus, he 
could be deterred. Therefore, the fact that he sought to develop nuclear weapons did 
not necessarily mean that he was planning to use them. 74 Furthermore, at the time of 

See, e.g., Anthony D'Amato, Israel's Air Strike against the Osiraq Reactor: A Retrospective, 10 
TEMP. Int'l & Comp. L.J. 259 (1996); see also Charles Pierson, Preemptive Self-Defense in an Age of 
Weapons of Mass Destruction: Operation Iraqi Freedom, 33 DENV. J. INT'L L. & POL'Y 150, 168 

70 W. Michael Reisman, International Legal Responses to Terrorism, 22 Hous. J. Int'lL. 3, at 18-19 

71 Reisman & Armstrong, supra note 53, at 548. 

72 "Iraq has always insisted that a state of war exists with Israel. It follows that since aggression cannot 
be committed against a state with which a country is already at war, Jerusalem could not possibly have 
been guilty for a 'crime against peace.'" Louis Rene Beres & Col. Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, 
Reconsidering Israel's Destruction of Iraq's Osiraq Nuclear Reactor , 9 TEMP. INT'L& CompL.J. 437, 

73 See Interagency Intelligence Assessment, Implications of Israeli Attack on Iraq 2, 8 (July 1 , 1981). 

74 See, e.g,, Ted A. Pierson, Saddam Hussein: Operational Artist or Madman? (1998). 
Anticipatory self-defense based on the aggressive intentions of a country's government is hard to 
justify since evaluating intentions is by itself a tricky exercise. See Brownlie, supra note 59, at 227 
("As a matter of principle and policy, anticipatory self-defence is open to certain objections. It 


© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

the Osiraq attack, Iraq was not a pariah in the international system and it cooperated 
with France and Italy, who, in turn, had responded to some of Israel's nonproliferation 
concerns. After all, the Osiraq facility was a declared nuclear facility, functioning 
under the IAEA safeguards. 75 

In other words, correctly interpreting the context of a case that would legitimize a 
preemptive strike is difficult, especially for regimes that are not open and offer mixed 
signals about their intentions. Therefore, with regard to these regimes, one may wish 
to err on the side of precaution. 76 Depending on the circumstances, this may entail a 
precautionary strike of a preemptive nature rather than a wait-and-see attitude. A 
precautionary strike of a preemptive nature is more likely when the target is clear and 
can be removed with a clean (surgical) attack that would leave minimal or zero 
casualties. A wait-and-see attitude is probably well advised when a country has 
already developed a number of nuclear facilities dispersed all over its territory, some 
of which are underground. For example, the Iranian and North Korean nuclear 
programs are not conducive to clean (surgical) strikes like those executed in Iraq and 
Syria and, therefore, they do not meet the element of proportionality required for such 

Professor Michael Reisman has argued that the deterioration of the Charter 
security regime, to which we may add the serious inadequacies of the nuclear 
nonproliferation regime resulting, unfortunately, from the design and practice of its 
creators, 77 stimulates "a partial revival of a type of unilateral jus ad bellum." N The 
appraisal of such unilateral acts must not be executed in abstracto but in the context 
of each individual case. In other words, the inquirer must examine whether such 
attacks have advanced the goal of minimum order in the international system 79 and 

involves a determination of the certainty of attack, which is extremely difficult to make and 
necessitates an attempt to ascertain the intention of a government. This process may lead to a serious 
conflict if there is a mistaken assessment of a situation."); see also Miriam Shapiro, Preempting 
Prevention, Lessons Learned, 37 N.Y.U. J. Int'l L. & POL. 357, 367 (2005). 

See Kristen E. Eichensehr, Targeting Tehran: Assessing the Lawfulness of Preemptive Strikes 
Against Nuclear Facilities, 1 1 UCLA J. Int'l L. FOREIGN Aff. 59 (2007) (arguing that although states 
may plan to develop nuclear weapons, those embedded in the international system are unlikely to use 

76 Great Britain's legal advisors in the Caroline case included a footnote in their report to the British 
government that deserves to be mentioned. Regarding the notion of precaution and its use in claiming 
self-defense, the footnote read: "We feel bound to suggest to your Lordship that the grounds on which 
we consider the conduct of the British Authorities to be justified is that it was absolutely necessary as a 
measure of precaution for the future and not as a measure of retaliation for the past." See Jennings, 
supra note 56, at 87 (emphasis in original). 

77 Despite official statements and admonishments against nuclear weapons proliferation, the attitude of 
states is marred by fatalism that nuclear technology will spread, bringing with it the spreading of 
nuclear weapons. Some have contended that states are simply not proliferation-serious. Stopping the 
spread of nuclear weapons is a priority for the United States policymaking but often not at the expense 
of other interests that loom more urgent. See, e.g., KENNETH WALTZ, THE SPREAD OF NUCLEAR 
Weapons: More May be Better (Int'l Inst, for Strategic Stud. 1981), available at ; see also Albert Wohlstetter, Spreading the Bomb 
Without Quite Breaking the Rules, 25 FOREIGN POL'Y 88-94, 145-79 (1976). 

78 W. Michael Reisman, Criteria for the Lawful Use of Force in International Law, 10 YALE J. INT'L L. 

W. Michael Reisman, Article 2(4): The Use of Force in Contemporary International Law, 78 Am. 
Soc'y Int'l Proc. 74, 85 (1984). 


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Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

whether furtherance of such a goal was done in a way that minimizes the violation of 
the formal system's norms. 80 Taking these two parameters as our yardstick, the 
Osiraq attack favored the maintenance of the minimum order, at least from the 
perspective of states wishing to check the imperialistic desires of a murderous - even 
of its own citizens - regime. Moreover, the attack could potentially be justified as 
anticipatory self-defense given the realities of the nuclear age. 81 Jus in bello was 
strictly followed given that the necessity of the target was justified, and also the 
requirements of proportionality and discrimination with regard to the target were 
strictly observed. Israel understood that the rules of proportionality and 
discrimination could be met only in the small window of opportunity provided after 
the finalization of the nuclear reactor, which established the independence of the Iraqi 
nuclear program, and before the introduction of nuclear fuel into the reactor. 

Some have claimed that the long-term effect of the Osiraq attack is to strengthen 
the Arab states' resolve to acquire nuclear weapons and to do so all the more 
secretively, as the construction of the alleged Al Kibar reactor demonstrates. One 
could claim, however, that the constant para-war in the region has already generated 
plenty of destructive capacities among all of the parties involved, and that Osiraq may 
have not tipped that balance that much anyway. If one appreciates Osiraq as an action 
in a continuum of actions that ended up with the destruction of the state of Iraq, as it 
understood itself pre -2003, then, from a military perspective, the attack at Osiraq was 
an ingenious tactical attack that alleviated the pain till the administration of the 
curative remedy. Maybe that curative remedy was not completely in sight in 1981 but 
it could have been construed as a potential future scenario. 

B. Appraisal of the Al Kibar Incident 

In today's decentralized international system, law is a process of communication, 
through which those who have the role of authoritative policy-making need to 
generate signals about what counts as law and appropriate behavior among various 
international actors. This is a process of communication occurring in many different 
and overlapping directions. In this constant stream of communication, through words 
and actions, it is often difficult to distinguish between law and immaterial posturing 
under the pretext of generating or applying a norm. 82 Through this incessant 
communication and, inevitably, a considerable amount of miscommunication, 83 a 
number of lessons are learned, or best practices of behavior deciphered, by those who 
would like to be perceived as belonging to the class of international "responsible" 
actors. 84 

W. Michael Reisman, Old Wine in New Bottles: The Reagan and Brezhnev Doctrines in 
Contemporary International Law and Practice, 13 YALE J. Int'lL. 171, 184 (1988). 

81 See McDoUGAL & FELICIANO, supra note 58. 

82 What pointedly has been called "legislatistic babble." See W. Michael Reisman, Nuclear Weapons 
in International Law, 4 N.Y.L. Sch. J. Int'l & Comp. L. 339 (1983). 

83 Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics 135-36 (1976) 
(sometimes miscommunication is generated by the failure to recognize openly the conflict between 
ideals and self-interests). For instance, the rhetoric of spreading democratic ideals is often confounded 
with need to secure energy resources. 

See, e.g., Karthika Sasikumar, India's Emergence as a "Responsible" Nuclear Power, 62 INT'L J. 825, 
834 (2007). 


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Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

If Israel learned a lesson by generating a process of communication through its 
1981 Osiraq attack, it is that communication through explicit statements about what is 
or is not justified under international law as anticipatory self-defense is not always 
productive. The Al Kibar attack, which was followed by complete silence on Israel's 
part, demonstrates that what Israel learned from the Osiraq attack is that while it could 
continue to attack non-fueled nuclear reactors, it could dispense with the legal 
sideshow of explaining its behaviour. 

"Silence is eloquently ambiguous" 85 and can be interpreted as a sign of silent 
consent or simply as a sign of indifference toward an incident, which does not meet 
the threshold of a neutral state response. Unprotested acts that take place in the 
international sphere, however, generate new legal expectations independent of 
whether states that failed to protest intended them to do so. 86 The Al Kibar attack and 
the silence that followed need to be evaluated in terms of their potential to provide 
future guidance about the survivability of the norm of self-defense as delineated in 
Article 5 1 of the United Nations Charter. One possible interpretation is that Israel, 
viewing its actions as hard to reconcile even with the notion of anticipatory self- 
defense, dropped any such argument alluding to preserving the potency of its 
deterrent force. 87 Since Israel's action was tolerated, we are in essence faced with 
circumstances in which a precautionary use of force will be illegal de jure (based on 
Article 51) but will be tolerated de facto based on considerations of what is 
reasonable, and thus legitimate, expected behaviour. One could claim that it is 
reasonable and, thus, legitimate to strike at an enemy that harbors clandestine nuclear 
facilities in contravention of its international obligations. The easy digestion of the Al 
Kibar incident points to the development of a norm that surgical strikes against 
clandestine reactors, which are likely to be used to produce nuclear weapons, are 

If this is the international norm established, the international community will 
refrain from condemning reasonable, zero-civilian casualty strikes that surgically 
remove an undesirable nuclear proliferation facility. The review executed when such 
strikes take place would not have to do with the lawfulness of the attack per se but 
with the proportionality of the attack - namely, whether the means with which the 
target was hit were proportional to the perceived threat. 

If the target at Al Kibar was indeed a nascent nuclear reactor, the attack could be 
considered a more legitimate articulation of anticipatory self-defense than was the 
Osiraq attack. If the facility attacked were a clandestine nuclear reactor, Syria would 
have been in violation of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA 88 and in 
contravention of emerging international norms regarding the transparency of nuclear 
programs, 89 which shift the burden of proof to states suspected of harboring secret 

85 W. Michael Reisman & James E. Baker, Regulating Covert Action: Practices, Contexts, 
and Policies of Covert Coercion Abroad in International and American Law 1 1 3 (1 992). 

87 M 

See Israel Says Deterrent Ability Recovered After Syria Strike, supra note 7. 

88 See supra note 36 and accompanying text. 

89 The resolutions addressing Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons program established the requirement 
of total transparency about a country's nuclear weapons program while the country is under suspicion 
of developing weapons of mass destruction in 1991. See S.C. Res 1441, U.N. Doc. S/RES/1441 (Nov. 


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to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

nuclear weapons programs. These states now have the burden of proving that they do 
not support such programs by providing total transparency about their nuclear 
operations. 90 Based on these norms, the burden of proof is on Syria to demonstrate 
that it is not working on a secret nuclear weapons program. Syria, who was the victim 
of Israel's attack, is now the country that is under intense investigation because of its 
potential nuclear proliferation activities. Syria allowed belated access to the Al Kibar 
site; but this has not been considered sufficient enough to meet the IAEA's 
transparency standards given that Syria is now suspected of nuclear proliferation 
activities. Syria's legalistic arguments - that providing restricted access to the Al 
Kibar puts it in compliance with its safeguard agreement - have not been persuasive. 
The IAEA is proceeding with its investigation based on a complete transparency 
standard: "The Director General [of the IAEA] has called on Syria to provide the 
necessary transparency, including allowing visits to the requested locations and 
access to all available information, for the Agency to complete its assessment." 91 

If Syria was indeed building a hidden nuclear facility capable of producing 
nuclear material suitable for nuclear weapons, pointing out the target of such weapons 
does not require an active sort of imagination. The threat from the Al Kibar reactor 
cannot in good faith be defined as an 'imminent" armed attack even under a broad 
interpretation of anticipatory self-defense since, from the evidence presented, the 
reactor was far from completion. From a strategic/military perspective, however, 
Israel's choice was between a "why-not-nip-in-the-bud" attitude and a "wait and see" 
posture. Given the facility's clandestine nature, which left not much doubt about its 

8, 2002); S.C. Res 715, U.N. Doc. S/RES/715 (Oct. 11, 1991); S.C. Res. 687, U.N. Doc. S/RES/687 
(Apr. 3, 1991). On the "normative ripples" of these resolutions, see JoseE. Alvarez, International 
Organizations as Law-Makers 422-23 (2005); see also S.C. Res. 1540, U.N. Doc. S/RES/1540 
(Apr. 28, 2004). Based on Security Council resolutions that address Iran's nuclear program, the 
standard for nuclear non-proliferation goes beyond what is articulated in the IAEA's safeguards 
agreements. In a 2006 resolution, the Security Council called on Iran to take steps (as required by the 
IAEA Board of Governors) toward making the international community confident that Iran's nuclear 
program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. This requirement shifts the burden of proof to the state 
suspected of proliferation activities, which now has to provide evidence that it is not involved in 
weapons proliferation activities. In other words, while under the safeguards agreements a state is 
innocent until the IAEA proves it guilty, under the new regime developing through the Security 
Council resolutions, a state under suspicion of producing nuclear weapons is presumed guilty until it 
proves itself innocent by allowing a total access to its nuclear program. In essence, the state must 
provide what the IAEA is asking it to provide, and must do what the IAEA is asking it to do, based on 
the presumption that unless it has something to hide there is no reason not to. See S.C. Res. 1696, J6, 
U.N. Doc. S/RES/1696 (July 31, 2006); see also S.C. Res. 1803, 11, U.N. Doc. S/RES/1803 (Mar. 3, 
2008) (reaffirming that "Iran shall without further delay take the steps required by the IAEA Board of 
Governors in its resolution GOV/2006/14, which are essential to build confidence in the exclusively 
peaceful purpose of its nuclear programme and to resolve outstanding questions . . . .") 
90 See S.C. Res. 1718, |6, U.N. Doc. S/RES/1718 (Oct. 14, 2006) ("DPRK [Democratic Peoples 
Republic of Korea] shall abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, 
verifiable and irreversible manner, shall act strictly in accordance with the obligations applicable to 
parties under the Treaty on the Non-Pro liferation of Nuclear Weapons and the terms and conditions of 
its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards Agreement... and shall provide the IAEA 
transparency measures extending beyond these requirements, including such access to individuals, 
documentation, equipments and facilities as may be required and deemed necessary by the IAEA.") 
(emphasis added). 

IAEA, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic, ^19, IAEA 
Doc. GOV/2008/60 (Nov. 19, 2008) (emphasis added). 


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Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

potential use, a "wait-and-see" posture would be a potentially disastrous military 


A contextual examination of the Al Kibar attack could classify this action as 
preemptive self-defense, especially given the state of relations between the two states. 
In contrast with Iraq, Syria had at least signed an armistice agreement with Israel; 92 
but this has not prevented the two countries from engaging in protracted warfare 
through a series of proxies and sub-proxies. 93 From Israel's perspective, allowing 
Syria to acquire nuclear weapons during this constant state of war, when it can 
effectively be stopped from such acquisition as early as possible, because a legalistic 
threshold of self-defense may not be quite met, did not make much sense. Under 
Israel's rationale, it is better to extinguish a nuclear proliferation danger, even in a 
nascent form, before it takes roots and grows; this could be seen as the most 
prophylactic and precautionary articulation of anticipatory self-defense. Furthermore, 
Israel could not have followed a potentially well-trodden path to communicate Syria's 
allegedly clandestine activities to the Security Council or the IAEA. Extensive 
discussion in international fora about the authorization of collective action or 
unilateral self-defense is implausible in situations similar to Al Kibar. This is simply 
because the discussion itself will alert the rogue state and allow it time to take 
"evasive action," which would prohibitively increase the risks of subsequent 
violations of jus in bello and the risks of casualties to the state considering taking the 


preemptive action. 

The fact that Israel decided to take action at Al Kibar in a semi-covert fashion by 
successfully imposing a media blackout based on national security purposes is very 
telling about the future of warfare, but it leaves international law's role in regulating 
such warfare much more obscure. For example, if it were not for the United States' 
revelations of April 2008, the incident could have remained shrouded in secrecy, 
buried in blogs about potential conspiracies. 

C. Covert Operations versus Overt Operations 

There is an element of force in international relations, and while it can be 
controlled it cannot be eliminated. 95 In this respect, "[l]aw acknowledges the utility 
and the inescapability of the use of coercion in social processes, but seeks to organize, 

92 See Israel and Syria Armistice Agreement, July 20, 1949, 42 U.N.T.S. 327. An armistice agreement 
means that the parties put down the arms, but it does not necessarily mean the end of the war. 
Accordingly, "belligerent parties may resume operations at any time, provided always that the enemy is 
warned within the time agreed upon, in accordance with the terms of the armistice." Convention 
Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land art. 36, Oct. 18, 1907, 36 Stat. 2277, 1 BEVANS 631. 

93 The 2006 war in Lebanon is a case in point. The conflict lasted thirty-three days and ended through 
a cease-fire brokered by the United Nations Security Council on August 14, 2006. The conflict was 
between the Israeli military and Hezbollah paramilitary forces that were armed with advanced weapons 
including UAVs. Syria and Iran supplied arms to Hezbollah during the conflict. See, e.g., Conal 
Urquhart, Computerized Weaponry and High Morale, GUARDIAN, Aug. 1 1 , 2006, (last visited Aug. 23, 2009). 

94 Reisman, supra note 70, at 17. 

95 Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy 459 (2003); see also John 
Keegan, A History of Warfare 384 (2003) (arguing that a world without disciplined armies would 
be uninhabitable). 


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monopolize, and economize it." 96 The law governing the regulation of international 
coercion needs to be updated in many ways considering the nasty but also insidious 
means of warfare currently available. 

Conventional weapons are acquiring the potency of nuclear weapons, space is 
heavily militarized, and people are transforming themselves into bombs - all under 
intense media coverage. At the same time, a virus attack on a country's computer 
network, or infiltration of its power grid, can lead to a societal collapse. One 
wonders, therefore, how to begin to control the mix of technology, aggression and 
self-destruction. A prudent course of action is not to regulate war after it has broken 
out but to prevent war by taking precautionary/prophylactic measures. 

States are offered two basic choices when they deem they need to defend 
themselves against real or imagined enemies or threats: 

1. They could conduct an open war couched in terms of self-defense or 
anticipatory self-defense hoping to place their actions under the blessing of 
international law; or 

2. They could engage in covert or semi-covert action so that, if they are lucky 
and any covert action does not come to light, they do not need to justify their 

The truth of the matter is that the more difficult it is for states to believably couch 
their wars in terms of self-defense, the more prone they will be to conduct covert 
actions. If we assume that a claim of self-defense will not be credited, the nature of 
conflict in the future will likely involve the toleration of a significant amount of 
covert activity, 97 especially if such activity is less likely to escalate into a full-blown 

Covert actions present some advantages. For example, covert actions are not 
meant to attract publicity. Therefore, they are unlikely to embarrass an adversary into 
retaliating. Contrarily, overt attacks can escalate into full-blown wars for the sole 
purpose of avenging the attacked state's offended honor. 98 Furthermore, a covert 
action will usually be executed so as to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties, 
which may generate unwanted media scrutiny. One of the goals of covert action is to 
minimize publicity and, thus, scrutiny. Therefore, surgical attacks that remove 
unwanted targets are preferable by definition to large scale events that invite nosey 
interference. A covert attack also further economizes on the means of communication 
because states do not have to justify their actions in terms of doctrines stretched 
hopelessly out of shape under traditional posturing about what is lawful and unlawful 
under international law. Covert actions, however, also entail costs, especially if they 
are revealed, and governments should be able to live with the consequences of their 
covert activity in case such activity becomes known. 99 Certain covert operations 

96 Reisman, supra note 78, at 279. 

97 Reisman & Baker, supra note 85, at 16. 

98 See Ernle Bradford, Thermopylae: The Battle for The West 148 (1980) (often overt attacks 
create common bonds of pride and honour and generate a larger national identity). 

99 Reisman & Baker, supra note 85, at 141. A useful guideline for covert actions is that "an act 
accomplished covertly should be overtly lawful." 


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could entail more casualties than cleaner overt operations. 100 Covert operations collide 
with the principles of democratic and open societies. 101 Covert action decisions are 
made in settings prone to groupthink and, thus, are likely to be executed 
erroneously. 102 An overt operation makes a statement about a target's undesirability, 
thereby reinforcing potentially desirable norms that should govern international 
relations and thus having an educative and informative function. 103 For instance, the 
Begin doctrine regarding Israel's intolerance toward its adversaries' acquisition of 
nuclear weapons could become operational only through an overt operation. 

One could argue that covert action is unlawful since states should conduct their 
affairs transparently, and that the age of secret dealings and covert operations is long 
gone. For those who like to remain in touch with reality, covert action is far from a 
sanctioned behavior in international dealings and, while it could be punished when it 
is uncovered, it is generally a well-tolerated behavior. According to Michael 
Reisman, a variety of covert actions are conducted today through the use of military, 
economic, diplomatic, propaganda and cyberspace instruments. Often, the use of 
overt action is preceded by covert action. While it initially appears that covert 
operations should be unlawful, closer investigation reveals "a much more complex 
operational code" than a strict prohibition would entail. 104 While international law 
does not acknowledge covert action, the process of communication among states, 
most of which publicize their secret services, 105 demonstrates that, no matter how 
offensive covert action is to our democratic instincts, we are far from the creation of a 
transparent international system. Since terrorism is the preferred type of covert action 
by weaker states, an instinctive means to prevent terrorist actions is through covert 
counteractions. 106 Assuming that covert action is a legitimate and effective strategy, 
the international community's efforts must be oriented towards defining and 
developing a "clearly prescribed and applied law governing covert action and the 
institutions for regulating it." 107 

The good news is that as states are launching their covert operations, more eyes 
are watching them through what is becoming a transparent earth. Google Earth and 
commercial satellites have brought the technology that was the prerogative of states 
into contact with the masses. And while not everybody can look everywhere all the 
time, enough vigilantes exist, which could make states self-conscious that someone is 
watching them, either inadvertently or intentionally. States are adopting the same 
attitude for satellite technology that they have for nuclear weapons. It is hopeless to 
try to stop the spread of technology. Therefore, the strategy should be to amass even 

100 Before attacking Osiraq openly, Israel evaluated the possibilities of covert action to conclude that a 
secret raid, with the goal of disguising the identity of the attacker, would be more costly in terms of its 
own casualties and Iraq's casualties and likely to attract more attention than an overt operation. See 
Perlmutter et al., supra note 34, at 88-100. Covert actions must meet the standards for armed 
conflict namely proportionality and discrimination regarding the target. See REISMAN & BAKER supra 
note 85, at 77. 

101 Reisman & Baker, supra note 85, at 15. 

102 Id. at 76. 

103 Id. at 16, 142. 

104 W. Michael Reisman, Covert Action, 20 YALE J. Int'l L. 419, 419-20 (1995). 

105 Id. at 421. 

106 Id. at 424. 

107 Id. at 425. 


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more accurate information than others, through better means, and even more quickly, 
while simultaneously requesting that Google Earth blind some of its eyes looking at 
the Earth. 108 For example, the IAEA has had difficulties obtaining commercial 
satellite images that showed the Al Kibar facility immediately after it was bombed by 
Israel, which has lead to intensive speculation that the states involved in the cover up 
had bought out all the commercial satellite imagery available including intellectually 
property rights to it. 109 

Given that there is a choice between overt and covert action within the limitations 
of the new translucent earth, states have to decide how to go about in pursuing their 
interests. The more costly overt actions become in terms of publicity, prickly 
international lawyers offering strict interpretations of self-defense, and the prerogative 
to avoid attrition of one's own forces, the more desirable the prospect of covert 
actions with the added advantage of an unwanted target's surgical removal becomes. 
On the other hand, if covert action is to be avoided, one would need to construct a 
notion of self-defense that is much more expansive than even today's concepts of 
anticipatory self-defense. In this respect, a notion of precautionary self-defense may 
even be propagated. The proposition of such a precautionary notion of self-defense is 
in line with the practice of international actors. Today, precautionary self-defense is 
widely practiced and often unrestrained, in many areas of the world, especially within 
failed states. 110 

International lawyers have agonized over the concept of self-defense and its 
different offshoots - presented as either anticipatory 111 or preemptive self-defense. It 

108 Group Asks Google to Stop Map Image Service, REUTERS, Dec. 19, 2008, (Google Earth has 
"drawn criticism from a variety of countries for providing images of sensitive locations, such as 
military bases or potential targets of terror attacks.") (last visited Aug. 23, 2009); see also Rina 
Chandran, Mumbai Attacks Show Up India's Technology Shortcomings, REUTERS, Dec. 11, 2008, (after the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 
2008, a ban was sought on Google Earth for providing easy access to defense and civilian 
establishments creating security hazards) (last visited Aug. 23, 2009). 

109 George Jahn, IAEA Chief Baffled Over Lack of Syria Nuclear Info, ABC NEWS, Nov. 27, 2008, (Aug. 23, 2009). 

110 According to certain accounts, failed states like Somalia are the best places to combat terrorists 
because, given the absence of local sovereignty and the lack of media attention, virtually unrestricted 
Western counterterrorism efforts can take place. See Paul Salopek, U.S. Appears to be Losing its Secret 
War in Somalia, SEATTLE TIMES, Nov. 29, 2008, somalia29.html (last visited Aug. 23, 

111 See Philip C. Jessup, A Modern Law of Nations 166 (1948); Ian Brownlie, The Use of Force in 
Self-Defence, 37 Brit. Y.B. Int'lL. 183, 225-28, 244 (1961); Thomas M. Franck, Who Killed Article 
2(4)? or: Changing Norms Governing the Use of Force by States, 64 AM. J. Int'lL. 809 (1970); 
Michael J. Glennon, The Fog of Law: Self-Defense, Inherence, and Incoherence in Article 51 of the 
United Nations Charter, 25 Harv. J.L. & PUB. Pol'y 539 (2002); see also Louis HENKIN, How 
Nations Behave: Law and Foreign Policy 295 (1979)("[T]he Charter intended to permit unilateral 
use of force only in a very narrow and clear circumstance, in self-defense if an armed attack occurs."); 
Quincy Wright, The Cuban Quarantine, 57 AM. J. Int'lL. 546, at 560 (1963). But see MCDOUGAL& 
FELICIANO, supra note 58, at 67, 184, 234 (1961); Derek Bowett, Reprisals Involving Recourse to 
Armed Force, 66 Am. J. Int'l L. 1, 4 (1972) (mentioning that rejecting an anticipatory right is 'in this 
day and age, totally unrealistic and inconsistent with state practice'); Oscar Schachter, The Right of 
States to Use Armed Force, 82 MICH. L. Rev. 1620 (1984). For an insightful discussion on the concept 
of self-defense and its evolution in international law, see Emmanuel Roucounas, Self-defense: Present 


© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

has been correctly argued that while the context within which self-defense is evoked 
should be evaluated, the state launching the act of self-defense should not be left as 
the sole judge of its actions, and that the fact-finding ability of international 
organizations should be strengthened. International organizations should be 
empowered to appraise the legitimacy of claims of self-defense under some form of 
community review. 112 

D. The NPT Regime 's Fairness and Effectiveness 

Tolerating attacks on non- fueled nuclear reactors owned by "rogue states" 113 
based on reasonable suspicions that such reactors will be used to produce nuclear 
weapons widens the contours of the meaning of anticipatory self-defense. The 
tolerance of such attacks has been attributed to the NPT regime's ineffectiveness, in 
that it is unable, by design, to detect clandestine nuclear programs. 114 A theory of 
precautionary self-defense that is able to legitimize attacks against nuclear programs 
that are tainted by their potential for enabling weapons proliferation will be favored 
by Western states but denigrated by other, so-called "anti-elite," states. 115 These anti- 
elite states challenge the essence of the international system in terms of the 
distribution of current entitlements. 

The NPT regime's ineffectiveness is due to more than just the IAEA's verification 
mechanisms' shortcomings. 116 Objections against the nuclear non-proliferation 
regime, as shaped by the NPT and concomitant export control regimes, 117 have deep 
ideological roots. Certain countries resent United States-led globalization and believe 
that if some circumstances were changed they could be world leaders. 118 For these 
countries, possessing nuclear weapons has a psychological component. For them, 
having weapons entails the ability to use force and to thus alter the balance of power 
both regionally and internationally. Given that the nuclear club includes the most 
powerful nations in the world, these countries believe that they have been made 
second-class citizens through their exclusion from that club. 119 

Iran's views regarding the division of the world into "nuclear rich" and "nuclear 
poor" - through the application of what has been called "nuclear apartheid" - are 
demonstrative of the mentality of those who refuse to accept a world where only five 
(now de facto nine) states have an oligopoly on nuclear weapons. 120 According to 

Problems of the Use of Force in International Law , Institut de Droit International, 10th Commission 
(2007), available at 

112 Schachter, supra note 111. 

113 Rogue states are states considered threatening to international peace and security. They are ruled by 
authoritarian governments, which restrict human rights. They also support terrorism and are interested 
in acquiring and proliferating weapons of mass destruction. 

114 See supra notes 35, 77. 

115 David Rothkopf, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making 

See supra note 35. 
See supra note 5 1 . 

118 Rothkopf, supra note 115. 

119 Id. 

120 According to article VI of the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, states 
undertake "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the 


© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
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Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

Iran, today's international system is unacceptably defined by Western states' pre- 
eminence and unilateralism, and the increased role of nuclear weapons as a means to 
coerce political compromises. These policies are understood as increasing the 
insecurity and vulnerability of states that do not posses nuclear weapons. Iran resents 
the "double standards" propagated by the NPT regime. Iran's nuclear program is 
associated with its national pride. Iran's nuclear capabilities are a way for Iran to 
operate at a level equal to the world's most powerful countries. 121 

Given that there are multiple reasons why a country may wish to acquire nuclear 
weapons, 122 it would be difficult for a country like Iran to permanently refrain from 
acquiring the technologies to produce nuclear weapons. If other countries in the 
region have nuclear weapons, Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would at least 
provide it with a hedge strategy. Countries rejecting calls for them to "de-nuclearize" 
have, at their heart, an ingrained belief that giving up the nuclear option, and the 
technology to produce nuclear weapons, will increase their likelihood of becoming 
embroiled in local conflicts and becoming a "military basket case" like Afghanistan, 
Iraq and many of Africa's failed states. 123 

Overall, a state's decision to acquire nuclear weapons involves a complex calculus 
that combines issues of security, self-perception and economic costs. The IAEA 
safeguards 124 and existing export control regimes 125 hope to increase the costs of 

nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete 
disarmament under strict and effective international control." Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of 
Nuclear Weapons, supra note 51, art. 6. The subsequent review conferences were rife with 
recriminations for the non-fulfilment of promises of nuclear disarmament perpetuating concerns 
regarding the regime's inherent inequity. The fact that the NPT regime is not really geared toward the 
reduction of existing nuclear weapons stocks deepens perceptions that the bargain struck in 1968 was 
not really fair. 

121 See, e.g., Kaveh L. Afrasiabi & Mustafa Kibaroglu, Negotiating Iran 's Nuclear Populism, 12 
Brown J. World Aff. 255 (2005). Furthermore, Iran may honestly want to reduce its internal 
consumption of oil and gas in order to increase the export of its energy sources. Iran has projected 
nuclear power as a way to modernize its economy and provide jobs for a rapidly growing workforce. 
See Amir Azaran, NPT, Where Art Thou? The Nonproliferation Treaty and Bargaining: Iran as a Case 
Study, 6 Chi. J. Int'l. L. 415, 417 (2005). 

122 States develop and maintain nuclear arsenals for various purposes: great powers like to match 
weapons of other great powers as a guarantee of their uniqueness and superiority; some states view 
nuclear weapons as an insurance policy in case there are doubts that a great ally will provide assistance 
during conflict; a country with adversaries would like to develop nuclear weapons if its adversaries 
have them (China, India, Pakistan); a country may acquire nuclear weapons to offset what it conceives 
to be a strength in conventional weaponry of an adversary; nuclear weapons could be considered a 
cheaper arms option than engaging in a conventional weapons arms race; a country may hope to 
strengthen its international standing though the acquisition of nuclear weapons; a country may want 
nuclear weapons for offensive purposes (but this is unlikely to happen because of fears of catastrophic 
calamities resulting from the use of such weapons). See Scott D. Sagan, How to Keep the Bomb from 
Iran, 85 FOREIGN Aff. 45, 47 (2006); Kenneth Waltz, supra note 77. 

123 Similar concerns were prevalent in Europe during the Cold War under an understanding that if 
Europe were to "de-nuclearize" it would be reduced to the level of countries with local conflicts. See 
Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy 286 (2003). 

See supra note 35. 
See supra note 5 1 . 


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developing nuclear weapons programs, but they cannot successfully address states' 
preoccupation with the incentives behind this complex calculus. 126 

A correct appraisal of the attacks at Osiraq and Al Kibar cannot be performed 
outside the context of what is perceived as a fair international system. If the NPT 
regime is conceived as a just regime, which nevertheless lacks implementation 
effectiveness, the attacks at Osiraq and Al Kibar are more easily identifiable as 
lawful. But if the regime is identified as outdated and unjust, unfairly dividing the 
world into nuclear-weapon-haves and have-nots, then the attacks seem to be the 
biased imposition of self-perceptions of national security onto the construct of 
international stability while the former is not necessarily a pre-condition of the latter. 
For instance, one could ask (with a certain dose of cynicism): in a world where a 
number of states have latent nuclear capacity, 127 what is the harm of two additional 
states acquiring that capacity as a countervailing measure to a perceived threat? The 
answer has essentially to do with our preferred, and admittedly biased, sense of a 
future world order that is based on the asymmetrical acquisition of the nastiest 
weapons, which will allow, inter alia, for control of resources and the making or 
breaking great powers. 

Another approach to the NPT regime is to not see it as a distributional agreement 
of weapons and, thus, of power; but to see it as a fair bargain in a world in which the 
constitutive element is the inequality among states. 128 This is a world where elites are 
not treated (nor is it expected that they will be treated) the same as non-elites, and 
where it is in the benefit of all to control the spread of some of the most deadly 
weapons - even under undesirable and passe, yet useful, notions of paternalism. 
Today, one could fairly claim that most states have acquiesced to an international 
order where there are great powers, 129 second-rated powers, states in the name only 
and failed states. Under this understanding of the international order, while it is true 

See Daniel C. Rislove, Global Warming v. Non-Proliferation: The Time has Come for Nations to 
Reassert Their Right to Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy, 24 Wis. Int'lL.J. 1069, 1091 (2006). 

127 The technical capacity to manufacture a relative simple nuclear device is within the reach of forty to 
fifty countries. Given the "nuclear renaissance," based on hopes that nuclear energy is a means to 
decarbonize the economy, countries' technical capability to produce nuclear weapons will grow. See 
Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr., The Future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 30 FLETCHER F. 
World Aff. 65, 70 (2006). As a matter of fact, once a country has mastered either the front or back 
end of the nuclear fuel cycle, the production of nuclear weapons, assuming the political will exists, is 
merely a matter of time. All countries that have fuel cycle capacity simultaneously have "virtual" 
weapons capability - that is, the capability to produce nuclear weapons. States, in other words, are 
exploring a hedge strategy regarding nuclear weapons. By building a technological and industrial base, 
through the development of enrichment and reprocessing facilities, they keep the option of acquiring 
nuclear weapons in the future open. See Ian Anthony et al., supra note 5 1 , at 92. Argentina, South 
Africa, Brazil and Japan could be considered virtual nuclear weapon states because they have nuclear 
technological know-how. See William Choong, Chipping Away the Nuclear Taboo, THE STRAITS 
Times, Aug. 3, 2008. 

128 The Security Council, the most powerful organ of the United Nations system, is comprised of the 
victors of World War II, and as such is not an expression of a new kind of sovereign equality among 
nations. The asymmetries of power in the Security Council "were neither a mistake nor an oversight. 
The whole idea was to marshal effective power in pursuit of peace." See Michael Reisman, Amending 
the UN Charter: The Art of the Feasible, 88 Am. Soc'YlNT'LL. PROC. 108 (1994). 

129 A great power is "a state with a resource base and an internal political organization that enables its 
elite to clarify its global interests and, if necessary, to deploy significant force to protect them." Id. at 


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to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

that the control of nuclear weapons is probably an exercise in futility, making an open 
admission of that futility by deleting all international constraints would become too 
risky. Policymakers often prefer to put a mask of effectiveness and control on an 
international regime, despite the self-defeating reality. This is simply because doing 
otherwise would unbuckle any moral constraint imposed by the various societal 
taboos and, in this case, by the nuclear taboo. While the NPT does not do much to 
constrain superpowers, it could have normative influence as weaker states are trying 
to constrain their counterparts' potential nuclear ambitions. The NPT is based on the 
nuclear taboo — that is, an urge to resist rationalistic arguments that nuclear deterrence 
can work for all under a notion of universal nuclear deterrence and that efforts must 
be undertaken to control the bad genie that has come out of the bottle. For most 
people, even the sound of the word "nuclear weapons" generates a heart-sinking 
feeling, which is an advantage that the arms control movement does not enjoy for 
other weapons. 

The problem is that the NPT regime has oscillated between two extremes. On the 
one hand there is a general fatalism, which views the spread of nuclear technology 
and weaponry as inevitable 130 and, thereby, generates a sense of futility in the mission 
of international institutions. On the other hand, there is an oedipal attachment to the 
nuclear taboo when those rogue elites are close to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. 
This suspended indecision between these diametrically opposed poles has dented the 
NPT regime's normativity, generating despondency in all those who believe in a 
world that is free of nuclear weapons (or at least with fewer nuclear weapons). Given 
this indecision, it is not paradoxical that states, for which nuclear weapons are deemed 
part of their national security apparatus, have adopted the view that a pain reliever is 
better when a curative remedy does not exist. In this respect, sporadic attacks at non- 
fueled nuclear reactors seem to be the appropriate pain reliever until a curative 
remedy is found in terms of restoring a coherent multilateral response. 

States will have to gauge the costs and benefits of covert action versus those of 
overt hostilities and will be tempted frequently by the advantages offered by covert 
warfare. The evolution of warfare will stretch the notion of self-defense out of the 
currently acceptable legal bounds, making the possibilities of covert action even more 
tantalizing. For this reason, the Al Kibar attack may provide some solace to counter- 
proliferators because the attack was largely absorbed in the international arena 
without many hitches, which is tantamount to a tacit acceptance. It seems that the 
majority of states were relieved that this action was taken in a surgical manner by 
someone after contemplating, through the Iranian case, the nightmare that a Security 
Council engagement may entail. 131 

IV. Precautionary Self-Defense 

Precautionary self-defense is defined here as a neighboring concept to anticipatory 
self-defense (imminent threat) and preemptive attack (future contingent threats), but it 

130 See Reisman, supra note 77. 

See IAEA, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security 
Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of 
Iran, IAEA Doc. GOV/2008/59 (Nov. 19, 2008); see also PaulK. Kerr, Cong. Res. Serv., Iran's 
Nuclear Program: Status (2008), available at ?rid=65920. 


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is distinguished from them. A central element of the attacks at Osiraq and Al Kibar 
was that they were undertaken under a presumption that a "rogue country," under 
suspicion of developing nuclear energy for the production of nuclear weapons, has the 
burden of proving that it is not engaging in weapons production by providing 
complete access to its nuclear program. As long as it is perceived that such 
transparency is not provided, the presumption of weapons production will hold, and 
an attack on that country's nuclear facilities will be tacitly tolerated and eventually 

In other words, precautionary attacks on nuclear facilities involve the reversal of 
the burden of proof from the attacker to the (potential) victim, 132 because the victim 
must demonstrate that it is indeed not engaging in nuclear weapons production to 
prevent such an attack or demand a sort of relief after it happens. This proof can 
come ex ante, as the UN Security Council is now requesting of Iran, or still could 
come after a precautionary attack has taken place. Syria, as demonstrated by the Al 
Kibar incident, while the victim of an attack, is now the country that is under intense 
investigation about potentially harboring a secret nuclear weapons program. 133 
Similarly, even after the Osiraq attack, Iraq never quite got rid of the stigma of 
engaging in clandestine weapons production; a stigma skillfully used to eventually 
destroy that state. This application of preemptive self-defense of a precautionary 
nature has to do with the application in the security arena, of what could be called the 
"risk management paradigm," in which the aim is to control and manage risk 134 so 
that it does not get out hand and result in the worst calamity. 135 In this respect, rogue 

132 This differentiates a precautionary attack from a preventive war. Traditionally, the burden of proof 
rests with the state that claims self-defense. Both a precautionary attack and a preventive war have to 
do with the risk management of adversaries; but, in the case of precautionary attacks, the burden of 
proof shifts to the victim (or the potential victim) of such an attack, thereby requiring it to demonstrate 
that it does not present a security risk. It does so by allowing total access of its nuclear programs. For 
the traditional version of the burden of proof when a state claims self-defense, see Oil Platforms (Iran 
v. U.S.), 1996 I.C.J. 161, 189 (Nov. 6) ("the Court has simply to determine whether the United States 
has demonstrated that it was the victim of an "armed attack by Iran such as to justify it using armed 
force in self-defence; and the burden of proof of the facts showing the existence of such an attack rests 
on the United States.") 

See IAEA, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic, IAEA 
Doc. GOV/2008/60 (Nov. 19, 2008). 

134 The risk management paradigm is prevalent not only in the military but also in the finance and 
economic sectors. See George Cooper, The Origin of Financial Crisis: Central Banks, Credit 
Bubbles and the Efficient Market Fallacy 4 (2008) ("In recent years this lopsided approach to 
monetary and fiscal policy has been further refined into what has been described as a "a risk 
management paradigm," where policy makers attempt to get their retaliation in early by easing policy 
in anticipation of an economic slowdown, even before firm evidence of the slowdown has been 
accumulated. This strategy is best described as pre-emptive asymmetric monetary policy.") (emphasis 
added). On the global financial crisis and how precautionary reserves contributed to it, see Global 
Economic Imbalances: When a Flow Becomes a Flood, ECONOMIST, Jan. 22, 2009: "The self-insurance 
against financial fragility is part of a more general bent towards precautionary saving in the developing 
world." While the vast precautionary reserves of developing countries, a reaction to the painful 
memories of the Asian crisis, are a prudent safeguard against a sudden crisis in foreign finance and a 
protection against the sudden flight of domestic savers, they contribute to global financial instability. 

135 See U.S. Dep't of Def. [DOD], National Defense Strategy (2008) (mentioning the word "risk" 
over thirty times). According to DOD, the United States faces operational risk, future challenges risk, 
force management risk and institutional risk. "Implementing the National Defense Strategy and its 
objectives require balancing risks, and understanding the choices those risk imply .... Here we define 
risk in terms of potential for damage to national security combined with the probability of occurrence 


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states are viewed as risks that the prevalent powers would rather control, in 
anticipation of the worst-case scenario, rather than having to deal with them after the 
worst-case scenario materializes. 136 

In the wake of 9/1 1, the Security Council seems to have endorsed a more assertive 
approach with regard to actions that can be taken to combat terrorism. 137 The right to 
self-defense under United States preemption strategies has been expanded to address 
the global war on terror (GWOT). After the 9/1 1 attacks, the United States National 
Security Strategy expanded the notion of anticipatory self-defense, which, as 
traditionally understood in international law, has to do with a credible threat of an 
attack, to include notions that have to do with the mere capabilities, objectives and 
means of adversaries. 138 This occurred because these adversaries are no longer 
rational states that are likely to be deterred, but rogue states or terrorists who are not 
to succumb to traditional notions of deterrence. Thus, their actions must be 

Unilateral surgical attacks like those at Osiraq and Al Kibar may have become a 
better (possibly optimal) way to deal with an enemy, rather than an all-out armed 
attack. Emphasis must be placed on the surgical ("clean") nature of such unilateral 
acts, which meet the requirements of proportionality that should guide self-defense 
actions and, in general, jus in hello. Although counterintuitive, from civil society's 
perspective, surgical operations of a precautionary nature may be an optimal way to 
launch an attack because of the low or zero number of civilian casualties. This 
feature, in addition to the silence and secrecy that surrounds such incidents, makes 

and a measurement of the consequences should the underlying risk remain unaddressed." Id. at 20; see 
also DOD, Quadrennial Defense Review Report 1 12 (2006) ("We cannot accurately characterize 
the security environment of 2025; therefore, we must hedge against this uncertainty by identifying and 
developing a broad range of capabilities. Further, we must organize and arrange our forces to create the 
agility and flexibility to deal with unknowns and surprises in the coming decades. This review has 
carefully balanced those areas where risk might best be taken in order to provide the needed resources 
for areas requiring new or additional investment."). 

136 For the precautionary approach as articulated in the Caroline case, see supra note 76. 

137 See S.C. Res. 1368, U.N. Doc. S/RES/1368 (Sept. 12, 2001)(recognizing "the inherent right of 
individual or collective self-defence in accordance with the Charter" for the cause of combating "by all 
means threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts."); see also S.C. Res. 1373, 
U.N. Doc. S/RES/1373 (Sept. 28. 2001). 

138 Nat'l Sec. Council [NSC], The National Security Strategy of the United States of 
America 15 (2002) ("For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack 
before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent 
danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of 
preemption on the existence of an imminent threat — most often a visible mobilization of armies, 
navies, and air forces preparing to attack. We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the 
capabilities and objectives of today 's adversaries . Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us 
using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, 
potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction — weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered 
covertly, and used without warning.") (emphasis added); see also NSC, NATIONAL SECURITY 
Strategy of the United States of America 28 (2006) ("If necessary, however, under long- 
standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if 
uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. When the consequences of an 
attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers 
materialize. This is the principle and logic of preemption. The place of preemption in our national 
security strategy remains the same") (emphasis added). 


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Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

them unlikely to provoke a retaliatory action from the enemy or, at least, they are 
unlikely to compel opponents to take such action, thus minimizing the likelihood of 
an all-out war. 

Since care for one's own forces overrides concerns about the deaths of the 
opponent's civilians, 139 and given that civilian casualties tend to generate public 
opprobrium, launching a semi-covert, surgical attack may be the way of future 
warfare. 140 Decision-makers may resolve to rely heavily on unilateral, covert, 
surgical strikes because: 

(1) they limit harm to one's own forces and entail minimal civil casualties 
reducing the opprobrium that such casualties generate; and 

(2) they remove the attack from the public eye allowing some relative freedom 
of action under modern effective constraints put in place by the 
transparency offered by Google Earth. 

The goal of international law is to achieve a public order of human dignity, which 
has been defined as one in which all human beings have access to all the things they 
cherish: power, wealth, entitlement, skill, well-being, affection, respect and 
rectitude. 141 No matter what the arguments are that can be made for precautionary 
surgical strikes, they certainly do not comprise an ideal, optimum world order, 
especially since the necessity for conducting such strikes is currently left each 
individual state's discretion. One is entitled to feel quizzical about the creation of 
international regimes in which action is based on individual states' judgments, free 
from the intervention of a multilateral mechanism that is able to somewhat objectively 
judge claims of lawfulness. One could only imagine the fate of a world where a 
number of emerging powers 142 assert their claims by launching semi-covert, surgical, 
unilateral strikes without any restraint. It has been argued that the United States 
should not propagate the development of an international order where every state can 
use force against potential adversaries in preemptive self-defense. It is not in a great 
power's interests to establish preemption of a precautionary nature as a universal 
principle available to every nation. As Louis Henkin warns: "Extending the meaning 

139 Diminishing the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, for instance, will mean putting more 
Western soldiers on the ground and at risk, a risk not acceptable compared to risking the lives of the 
civilian populations in Afghanistan. See Western Forces in Afghanistan, Unfriendly Fire, ECONOMIST, 
June 23, 2007, at 51. 

140 See Qiao Liang & Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare 28,191 (1999) (referring to 
surgical strikes as anew method of warfare), available at 

141 By asserting human dignity as the central value in a globalized world the New Haven School at least 
establishes a standard about the acceptable level of behavior for states, groups and individuals when 
competing world views are vying for preponderance. Given that a sometimes fashionable cultural 
relativism is still used to suppress minorities, women and children, human dignity is the most important 
standard to uphold. The premise that "law should serve human beings," as the goal of international law, 
transforms that law from an instrument in the hands of some elites to a means for social change in the 
betterment of humanity. See Myres S. McDougal et al., Human Rights and World Public 
Order: The Basic Policies of International Law of Human Dignity (1980); see also W. 
Michael Reisman et al., The New Haven School: A Brief Introduction, 32 YALE J. Int'l L 575, 576-80 

142 See United States National Intelligence Council [NIC], Global Trends 2025: A 
Transformed World (2008). 


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of 'armed attack' and of 'self-defense,' multiplying exceptions to the prohibition on 
the use of force and the occasions that would permit military intervention, would 
undermine the law of the Charter and the international order established in the wake 
of world war." 143 In that world, what a world citizen could pray for is that unilateral, 
surgical strikes remain at least within the letter of the term "surgical." 

Precautionary self-defense is not analyzed here as an optimum world order, but as 
the de facto world order. Law is an experimental science - it is not found by deriving 
theorems out of obscure axioms, but by studying what is going on in world affairs 
expressed through the communicative processes of words and actions of states and 
other international actors. Science's role is to try to establish order out of chaos by 
finding the forces and the laws that govern scientific phenomena. Legal science's 
purpose is to decode the international society's laws as they can be deciphered from 
its everyday interactions. This is the way we derive what is called lex lata. One 
could certainly point out "the jungle is out there," defeating any type of analysis that 
allows for making credible predictions about how nations will behave in the future. 144 
Alternatively, one could engage in an analysis of how nations do indeed behave, all 
the while knowing that, based on the values of human dignity 145 or even elementary 
considerations of humanity, this should not be the way to behave. 146 

The problem is that preemptive self-defense of a precautionary nature is already 
on the table, and the notion of imminence is, at least as far as these two incidents 
demonstrate, now stretched to involve decades. Preventive or precautionary strikes in 
an overt or covert fashion are constantly undertaken in the world without any 
international complaint. 147 While this is not a desirable world order, it is the current 
world order - one in which a number of emerging powers compete for pre-eminence 
and in which there are a vast number of less than sovereign states. 

The question before us is not whether to institute preemptive self-defense of a 
precautionary character as an international norm; this has already happened. The 
problem, therefore, is what to do about it and how to potentially regulate it. After all, 
one should not have expected that in a world of weak nonproliferation institutions and 
loose enforcement machinery, against a backdrop of intensification of competition for 
the control of resources, that current and aspiring hegemons would be content to stay 
within the confines of textual interpretation of neat international norms. Therefore, 
as the adoption of various doctrines demonstrates, various strategies have been 
invented to claim exceptionalism or offer one's own interpretation of international 

143 Louis Henkin, The Use of Force: Law and U.S. Policy, in RIGHT V. MIGHT: INTERNATIONAL LAW 
and the Use of Force 37, 60 (Louis Henkin et al. eds., 1991). 

144 When a society's operational code differs dramatically from the formal system, one would find it 
very difficult to survive knowing only the formal system's norms. Immigrants often feel this way in 
their host societies when; while they know the rules of the formal system, they "cannot get things 
done" because they do not know how to "work" the system. 

145 See McDoUGAL ET AL., supra note 141; see also Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 
217A, U.N. GAOR, 3d Sess., lstplen. mtg., U.N. Doc. A/810 (Dec. 10, 1948). 

146 See Corfu Channel Case, (U.K. v. Alb.), 1949 I.C.J. 4, 22 (Apr. 9). 
See, e.g., Salopek, supra note 110. 


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norms. 148 Even proclamations of a responsibility to protect others have been invented 
to allow for action that would not be permitted under a strict interpretation of Article 
2(4) of the United Nations Charter. 149 

Exceptionalism carries a certain weight. It is unlikely that Israel would have taken 
action at Osiraq and Al Kibar without believing that the United States would back-up 
its actions. While the United States went through the motions of diplomacy by 
officially condemning the Osiraq attack, it tried to moderate other states' reaction to 
the point that it walked out of the IAEA. Israel would probably not have undertaken 
the Al Kibar attack without at least cross checking its intelligence information with 
that of the United States. It was the United States Central Intelligence Agency that, 
eight months after the attack, published information about the nature of the facility 
targeted by Israel. Any Arab state wishing to retaliate against Israel knows fully well 
that it would not only engage Israel's nuclear might but also the United States' 
military. It has been claimed, "nations of the world will not accept international rules 
that yield a different answer to the question of whether an action is legal depending on 
the identity of the actor." 150 While this sounds theoretically accurate, reality is 
unfortunately lagging behind. This is true because equality before the law cannot 
subvert, and is often affected by, inequalities in wealth and power. After all, states 
have acquiesced to an international order in which "imperialistic states" 151 (as they 
have come to be labeled in certain circles) determine the future world order. Since 
states are equal only in name, perceptions about what each state is permitted to do 
differ depending on that state's status. 

For certain elites, therefore, a world of precautionary, preemptive, surgical, 
unilateral strikes that could be executed selectively by them is a preferred world order 
compared to the perils of another world war. These elites' goal is to make war a 
remote possibility for themselves and their allies, and to transfer all conflicts to other 
states and localities where a surgical attack that goes astray is unlikely to provoke the 
same furor as when Western soldiers are at peril. Western society is becoming a 
precautionary society 152 and, in that vein, it would rather prevent a potential war that 

148 For example, the Monroe doctrine, the Reagan doctrine, the Bush doctrine. See generally 
Presidential Doctrines: National Security from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush 
(Robert P. Watson, et al. eds., 2003). 

149 See, e.g., Int'l Comm'n on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility to 
Protect (2001), available at . The United Nations 
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his report to the 2000 General Assembly, challenged the 
international community to develop a consensus on how nations are to intervene in other states' affairs. 
In September 2000, the Government of Canada established the independent International Commission 
on Intervention and State Sovereignty to respond to that challenge. The commission built its report 
around the "responsibility to protect" principle. This principle holds that UN member states have a 
responsibility to protect the lives, liberty, and basic human rights of their citizens. If states fail or are 
unable to carry the responsibility to protect their own citizens, the international community has a 
responsibility to intervene to do so. 

Derek W. Bowett, International Incidents: New Genre or New Delusion?, 12 YALE J. INT'L L. 386, 

151 See, e.g., the Russian Empire, the British Empire or, more benevolently, Pax Americana, Pax Sinica. 

152 The notion of the precautionary society has to do with extreme aversion to risks threatening a 
certain standard of living or lifestyle. See also supra note 134. The circulation of the precautionary 
principle in international law, for instance, involves the reversal of the burden of proof regarding the 
hazards of industrialization. According to the precautionary principle, those who initiate a potentially 


© Copyright by Elli Louka, Nov. 2009, All Rights Reserved by the Author 
Precautionary Self-Defense: Preempting Nuclear Proliferation (forthcoming Looking 
to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

may touch its gates than wait and see if such war would actually break out. Such a 
society would be largely risk adverse with regard to warfare that is likely to occur on 
its territory, but would likely tolerate, with different degrees of ease, conflicts that 
happen outside its gates, especially if they are surgical so that its conscience is not 
that much affected. 

Actually, it is in the element of a precautionary society to strive to adopt 
prophylactic measures to avert at all costs the loss of privileges that it has so 
painstakingly gained, thereby affording itself the right to preempt conflicts entering its 
space. The fact that other societies may in the future claim the same right has yet to 
decisively enter strategic thinking because it is believed that the status quo of military 
superiority is likely to be maintained - and should be maintained at all costs - 153 into 
the future. 

The future of warfare may assume multiple directions and dimensions. 154 But, 
given the potency of new weapons, a third world war could actually bring the end of 
civilization as we know it. One could arrogantly believe that our Titanic will never 
sink, but the demise of some great civilizations should bring a sense of humility about 
what the future may bring. 155 Since another world war must be avoided at all costs, 
surgical unilateral operations of a precautionary character would be increasingly 
relied on and tolerated (often with a sigh of relief) and are likely to be viewed as a 
preferable alternative to an all-out war. In this case, Article 51 of the UN Charter may 
seem hopelessly antiquated, not because its meaning cannot be restricted but because 
it is limiting the number of broader interpretations that can be assigned to it. In a 
world filled with weapons of mass destruction, preemptive actions of a precautionary 
nature may be seen as a desirable, to-be-sought-after alternative to relieve the tensions 
that accumulate when negotiated solutions are not in sight and messages need to be 
delivered with actions rather than words. Surgical actions that exhibit one's potency 
without being overly destructive are, of course, preferred. Given that a world without 
conflict is an illusion, the question for the twenty-first century is how to structure such 
conflict so that it does not become a holocaust (this time of the entire human race). In 
this respect, anticipatory and preemptive self-defense of a precautionary nature 156 will 
have a role to play no matter what lawyers who tear their clothes off in protest say. 

hazardous activity (i.e., the introduction of a new chemical substance) have to prove that the substance 
will not be harmful to humans and the environment. On the application of precautionary 
principle/approach in environment law, see ELLI LOUKA, INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL LAW: 
Fairness, Effectiveness and World Order 50-5 1 (2006). 

153 See, e.g., Missile Defense Agency Home Page, DOD, (highlighting some of the United States' military 

154 See Qiao Liang & Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare (Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts 
(forthcoming 2010). 

155 See, e.g., Jared M. Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005). 
See Mysterious Air Raid on Sudan: A Battle between Two Long Arms, ECONOMIST, Apr. 4, 2009, at 

34 ("Israeli aircraft and/or unmanned drones . . . destroyed a convoy of 23 lorries carrying Iranian arms 
destined for Hamas in mid-January in north-east Sudan. After some confusion, the Sudanese 
government admitted that such an attack, 'probably' by Israel, had indeed taken place just north of Port 
Sudan on the Red Sea. Exotic but unverifiable claims in various media aver that Israel's Mossad 
intelligence service got a tip that the arms were going to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via Sudan and 
Egypt; that Israel's air force had only a few days to prepare its raid; and that 40 or so people in the 


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to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman, M. 
Arsanjani, J. Cogan, R. Sloane & S. Wiessner, eds., Brill 2010) 

convoy, including Iranians, may have been killed. Israel's aim is said to have been to stop Hamas 
acquiring Iranian Fajr rockets, designed to be stripped down and carried in parts through the tunnels 
from Egypt into Gaza .... When asked about the attack Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, 
responded 'Who needs to know, knows.'")