Preventive Strike

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A preventive strike or preventive war is a military attack that is intended to anticipate an alleged or actual threatened attack by an opponent and to thwart it, i.e. an offensive with defensive intent.

Modern international martial law only allows wars of defense . The demarcation to preventive wars is controversial. Wars of aggression were sometimes presented as preventive wars for propaganda purposes.


The preemptive strike leads

  • either to a so-called decapitation blow , which decidedly weakens or destroys the leadership of the opposing armed forces (or those of the country to which aggressive intentions are assumed) or
  • to a (regular) war , a preventive war , which, among other things, is intended to prevent combat operations from being carried out on one's own territory

A standstill in military action is usually not the aim of the procedure.

Preventive wars are justified as anticipated defense, since the imminent attack by the opponent is only anticipated in order to give the attacker the advantage of the actually threatened side.

Preemptive strike

Former American President George W. Bush frequently used the term “ pre-emptive strike ” in the National Security Strategy of September 2002 (so-called “Bush Doctrine” ) as a modification of the concept of pre-emptive strike . If prevention meant a military action to eliminate a future danger (for example the destruction of suspected poison gas factories), then preemption would only start in the event of an imminent attack. The delimitation and definition of the pre-emptive strike are very controversial.

Historical preventive wars and strikes

In the military history numerous examples of pre-emptive strikes are known:

  • During Maurikios' Balkan campaigns between 591 and 602, Eastern Roman armies advance into the Slavs and Avars areas north of the Danube in order to disrupt their preparations for attack.
  • The invasion of Saxony by Frederick the Great in 1756, the trigger for the Seven Years' War . Although Friedrich found evidence of the coalition forged against him in Dresden, the attack made him an aggressor .
  • In 1801 and on September 5, 1807, Great Britain attacked neutral Denmark in order to secure the passage from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea , which would have been blocked by a possible alliance between Denmark and Napoleon .
  • Caroline incident between the United States and Great Britain on the Niagara River in 1837: British troops sank the American steamer Caroline because American rebels were on it who were allegedly planning to liberate the British colony of Upper Canada by force. The following diplomatic correspondence between the two countries gave rise to the Caroline criteria , which developed into the customary international law prerequisites for a preventive strike.
  • Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905): Attack by a fleet of Japanese torpedo boats against the Russian Pacific Squadron in Port Arthur before the official declaration of war.
  • The Operation Barbarossa , the invasion of the Soviet Union, was on the radio presented as pre-emptive strike: "To ward off the impending danger from the East, the German Wehrmacht on June 22, three o'clock is early, pushed in the middle of the massive deployment of enemy forces." This preventive war thesis is rejected by the vast majority of historians. "In the history of science it has become established that it was not a preventive war," sums up Rolf-Dieter Müller , Scientific Director at the Military History Research Office of the Bundeswehr . In the context of the "Barbarossa Operation", the thesis is one of the main elements of historical revisionism and German right-wing extremism aimed at "relativizing the war guilt" of Nazi Germany .
  • The up to now only one among the modern international legal prohibition of violence as justified respected preemptive strike often was the Six Day War of Israel against its Arab neighbors in June 1967. It is disputed, however, even in this case, if Israel so that an Arab attack really forestalled. On the other hand, the Israeli air strike against the construction site of the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 was clearly assessed as a prohibited attack under international law .
  • The attack by the US-led coalition forces on Iraq in the Third Gulf War in 2003 was justified by George W. Bush as a preventive war "to ward off an impending danger" because Iraq allegedly possessed weapons of mass destruction , but they could never be found. In the opinion of many critics, the Iraq war of the USA and the coalition of the willing was therefore not a preventive war in the sense of the United Nations ( see also: Caroline criteria ), but rather a war of aggression contrary to international law .


  • Björn Schiffbauer: Preventive self-defense in international law . 1st edition, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-428-13868-5 .
  • Martin Kunde: The preventive war. Historical development and current significance. 1st edition, Peter Lang, Frankfurt November 2006, ISBN 3-63156-030-3 ( review by Thomas Speckmann ).
  • Michael Salewski : Praevenire quam preaveniri. On the idea of ​​preventive war in the late modern period . in: Jürgen Elvert, Michael Salewski (Hrsg.): Historical communications of the Ranke Society . Stuttgart 2006.
  • Jack S. Levy: Declining Power and the Preventive Motivation for War . in: World Politics . Vol. 40, No. 1 (Oct. 1987), pp. 82-107 (English).

Web links


  1. Volker Dotter Weich: War of the Titans? Speculation about Stalin's strategy in the spring of 1941. In: Volker Dotter Weich (Ed.): Controversies of contemporary history. Historical-political issues in a dispute. Munich 1998, p. 123
  2. See for example Kaufman: “ Under both contemporary practice and tradition, pre-emptive self-defense (self-defense against an imminent or actual attack) is permissible, whereas“ preventive self-defense ”- where there is not even an imminent threat - is not permissible “ Archived copy ( Memento of November 27, 2005 in the Internet Archive ); See also Rose: “An attack is generally referred to as preemptive if it runs into actions of an opponent that are unequivocally imminent or already taking place. An act of war is considered preventive if the opponent's preparation for an attack is not directly recognizable, but it is to be expected that this opponent will start a military offensive soon, or at least in the foreseeable future. ” [1] . Kaufman also states: " However, much of the confusion arises because the word 'pre-emptive' is sometimes used to mean the use of force against an imminent threat, and sometimes to mean the use of force where a threat is not even imminent. The problem seems to be a lack of agreement on the definition of key terms. " Archived copy ( Memento from November 27, 2005 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Interview with Rolf-Dieter Müller, Scientific Director at the Military History Research Office . In: Der Spiegel 15/2008, April 7, 2008, p. 50.
  4. ↑ The Office for the Protection of the Constitution 2001 ( Memento from January 11, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 5.3 MB), pp. 99 and 120.
  5. ^ Stephan Bierling : History of the Iraq War. The fall of Saddam and America's nightmare in the Middle East . CH Beck, Munich 2010, 978-3-406-60606-9, p. 53 and P. 96.