The 'Bush Doctrine' of Pre-emptive Self-defence

A Legal Analysis of the 'Bush Doctrine' when applied to the threat from States that fall to control their territory, terrorists and WMD

by William A.M. Henderson

This study allows an insight into one of the more controversial fields to have developed in the recent debate about International Law and the Use of Force, namely that of pre-emption of armed attack.

The work builds upon discussions that have been ongoing for decades as to the extent and scope of self-defence. Much debate has been had about the relevance and application in law of the concept of anticipatory self-defence. This study deals in part with these issues but updates them to account for a changed world and new challenges.

The primary focus is on the National Security Strategy of the United States of America in relation to dealing with threats from other States or from non-State actors. There can be no denying that the world has changed in recent years and the United States faces particularly acute threats. How then should both that State and the international community face these and deal with them within the boundaries of law?

Issues addressed include:

  • Continuing attacks from terrorist organisations against a State over a prolonged period of time
  • Attributing responsibility to States for the actions of non-State actors
  • The problem of territory within a State that is outside actual physical control and enforcement
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction and the impact of these on normative restraints

This work was submitted in 2004 to the University of Oslo in part fulfilment of the award of Master of Laws in Public International Law. William Henderson is Lecturer in Law at Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland.