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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Preventive strikes on Nuclear facilities: an analytical framework Herbst, Ludmila Barbara


Preventive strikes on nuclear facilities have been considered in perhaps ten cases since World War II. The continued proliferation of nuclear weapons means that there remains a variety of potential targets for preventive strikes, including countries such as Iran and Libya, launched by countries like the United States and Israel; this paper explores whether such military action against new weapons programs is in fact probable. The answer to this question is pursued through a comparison of the past cases where preventive strikes were under discussion. All share certain common features, but eight factors tend to distinguish instances where preventive strikes were carried out from the majority in which they were rejected. Significant support and little protest were expected when preventive strikes were engaged in. In turn, the prospect of operational success, defined in terms of destroying all relevant nuclear facilities in the target, was predictably worst where military action was not carried out. The degree and immediacy of threat were also depicted as more pronounced in the case of realized preventive strikes. Of course, perceptions of this kind are malleable; additional factors came into play. States which launched preventive strikes had few other options for dealing with the unwanted proliferator, and had the opportunity to destroy its nuclear facilities while they were still under construction (or, for other reasons, not in operation). With their eye on these kinds of factors, countries seemed to be deterred from undertaking military action when it would blatantly infringe upon international law. Furthermore, states were less inclined to act when faced with military retaliation by the target, and when, correspondingly, domestic public opinion promised to be unfavorable. Using this list of criteria for guidance, it will be concluded that preventive strikes are unlikely to occur in the near future.

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