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Pre-emption vs. Deterrence (Modern Warfare)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 12/5/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 870 times Debate No: 66280
Debate Rounds (4)
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Military debate.

I argue to my opponent that as a general rule for diplomacy, foreign relations, and national security policies that the use of Force should NOT be used only as a last resort. I argue exclusively that a doctrine of Pre-emption (including preemptive and preventative war) is far more effective at dismantling information age threats and safeguarding the interests of a nation as a whole than a policy of deterrence. CON must prove that deterrence theory is still a viable defense option and that deterrence strategies overall are better at meeting modern day security challenges than doctrines of preemption.


Deterrence - military strategy under which one power uses the threat of reprisal effectively to dissuade an adversary from taking a course of action not yet started.

Preemption - preventative war launched in an attempted to destroy the perceived or potential threat of an adversary.


1. acceptance/definitions

2. arguments

3. counter arguments

4. conclusions


I accept. I as Con will make the case for deterrence.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you CON for accepting this debate.

I unfortunately did not have the time to prepare for this round as much as I would have liked, but I’ll begin by introducing my three points for why policies of Preemption should trump doctrines of Deterrence.

1)Present Day Security Challenges cannot be deterred.

According to the 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, annually released to Congress by the combined US intelligence community, the Top 5 global security threats facing the United States today are as follows [1]:

1)Cyber-attacks, cyber-espionage



4)WMD Proliferation

5)Counterspace (attacks on satellites, communications)

None of these security threats to the United States however, given their complexities and our inherent vulnerabilities, can effectively be deterred by just having a strong military. The number one security threat facing the US for instance (cyber attacks), happens some 10 million times a day against the Pentagon and Department of Defense [2], where the only known means of deterrence in the world of cyber warfare involves either constantly upgrading firewalls, encryption software, and anti-virus checkers, or showing off your own offensive cyber capabilities. The underlying problems with these two deterrence strategies of course, is that firewalls must be accurate and up to date 100% of the time to guard against constant attack, while utilizing our own offensive capabilities allows the enemy to prepare for and/or update his own cyber defenses, thereby invalidating his fear of reprisal. The world of cyber warfare is also burdened by the problem that hackers and cyber attacks are often from remote locations, are difficult to trace, and cannot easily be identified quickly or at all.

A second noteworthy aspect of the above list is the challenge of ideologically driven enemies and rouge state actors who cannot be counted on to act rationally. Rouge states such as Iran and N. Korea have little to no respect for international laws or humanitarian values, while global terrorist groups such as ISIS and AL Qaeda have no fear of death or military reprisal, making deterrence policies next to impossible (more on this last point coming in Round 2).

2)Info Age Threats Demand Immediate Action.

The proliferation of WMD and high tech weapons sysems demands that threats be dealt with military force before they materialize. (I unfortunately lack the needed time here again, but will use this point to introduce my argument for preventative war and the failures of deterrence when dealing with arms control).

3)The Best Defense is a Good Offense.

The only viable solution of course, to the mentioned threats in this round and other forms of attack that cannot easily be deterred, is to adopt preemptive policies; which is why the 21st century security apparatus has thus far been dominated by the aggressive use of Force and direct intervention. Polices such as the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allow security and intelligence officials to seize business records and conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists. Other laws allow constant electronic surveillance through NSA wiretapping and meta data collection without needing a formal warrant. The Iraq War removed a longstanding proliferation problem and proved it could be successful when Libya subsequently surrendered its own WMD arsenal. These policies and more, including drone strikes and enhanced interrogation techniques are have what kept America's borders safe and will continue to do so in the future.




Is this debate's context for the United States?

I as Con, will be arguing that deterrence should be considered far more preferable to preemption. My opponent clearly stated "Force should NOT be used only as a last resort." Therefore, he must show us why pre-emption is far more effective.

#1. Deterrence Works Best Against
A. Terrorists
It should be properly understood, that most terrorist organizations don't function like a formal state with a legitimate leader that everyone recognizes. There is no central organ pulling the strings. The death of Bin Laden has not stopped Al Qaeda from operating[1]. During the Algerian War, the FLN had many of the leaders killed by the French military. That did not stop the FLN from growing and becoming stronger and eventually winning the Algerian War[2]. The United States did not stop the Viet Cong no matter how many camps or bases they destroyed during the Vietnam War[3]. Terrorist organizations will still function regardless if their leader is alive or not. I think Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal sums it up with Al Qaeda when he said "In fact, al Qaeda was designed not as an organization with subordinate branches, but as a model with multiple franchises—as Burger King not General Motors[4]."


Preemption against terrorists for a formal military is like a bear attempting to swat down bees. Sure, the bear may swat down the bees but the bees are faster and extremely difficult to catch. Just as terrorists can roam from state to state in the Middle East without going about formalities that a military would go through. The most notable examples currently are: how the Taliban run back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan[5]; and how ISIS runs back and forth between Syria and Iraq[6].

There should be more focus on building counter-insurgency movements and methods of neutralizing their opponents and their supporters. Counter insurgency movements can be trained by advisers rather than sending in a foreign military. The United States has did this in Colombia to neutralize FARC and has done it several other places as well [7]. It has been relatively successful. How can terrorists be neutralized? Investment. Invest money in roads, schools,and other local programs. Soft power should be used to curb potential threats. We should attempt to reconcile differences rather than aggravate them.


B.Rival Super Powers
The Chinese have been aggravating many of their neighbors ranging from Taiwan to Japan to Indonesia to many others in both the South and East China seas. China still has a border dispute going on with India as well. Countries should focus on deterring the Chinese aggression. The South and East China seas should be considered very important since whoever controls those seas determine the trade in the area. It is far better to deter China's aggression.

The United States never directly confronted the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Yet the United States won without a single shot fired. The United States beat China and its' agenda to spread communism throughout the world without a shot being fired. It is far preferable to neutralize your enemies than confront them.

Deterrence should be considered long before ever considering a preemptive strike. I will explain the weaknesses with preemption next round.

I will rebuttal my opponent's Round 2 arguments next round.
Debate Round No. 2


This should be a wide ranging debate about the pros and cons of Premption and Deterrence policies in regards to present day security challenges (not limited to the US). I apologize to CON for the confusion. Please allow me to refurbish my arguments from Round 1.

Advantages of Preemptive Policy

1) Seizing of security initiatives.

The primary advantage of premptive policy against all other defense policies is that it allows policymakers to interrupt on threats before they can grow and materialize. This key facet becomes even more advantageous in the 21st century where competing nation states -when given the dangerous high-tech vulnerabilities and unpredictable complexities of globalization- are constantly making and being hounded by asymmetrical security threats. A single cyber attack on the US power grid for instance, has in theory the abilityto wipe out all ecommerce & ecomincations in the US as well as all essential utilities access to millions of people. International terrorism, another 21st century security challenge, has the potential to force multiply its destruciveness if terrorists are free to roam, train, recruit, and actively plan attacks within a targeted nation's borders. And finally, critical intelligence and advanced warnings on terrorists and threatening actions by other nations often become useless if it cannot immediately be acted upon. Using Force premptively on these types of scenarios therefore, allows a nation state the best opportunity preserve its own defenses, prevent future chaos, and stop the house of cards from falling before things spiral completely out of control. Acting premptively also gives a country's military the best chance at succeeding during periods of armed conflict before a threat or adversary has a chance to prepare and make himself less vulnerable to retalitation.

2) Effective Arms Control

Another key advantage of premptive policy over deterrence is its advantages at arms control, especially in regards to Weapons of Mass Destruction. Deterrence (along with Mutually Assured Destruction) only works when opposing parties can be counted on to act rationally with their given weapon arsenals. Unfortunately, in the present security setting, having rational adversaries can no longer be counted on due to the rise and spread of radical Islamic terrorism and the modern rouge state; who often care less about survival and international norms and more about spreading their ideological lies and visions of global dominance. Iraq, Iran, Syria, and N. Korea, for instance have all either previously used or obtained WMD materials inspite of international condemnation and sanctions. Without the fear of reprisal then, premption thus becomes the only means of which to guard against such an adversary before they can upset the global balance of power (either through blackmail, trading the weapon, or attack). Two of the best examples of premption working in preventing a weapon in this regard, are the Israeli airstrikes at the Oskirk reactor (Iraq 1981) and Al-Kibar reactor (Syria 2007) .

Beyond preventing their development through forceful intervention, premption also has the advantage of preventing the spread of weapons. Following a policy of deterrence, what usually occurs is an arms race between rival nations and their allies as each power bloc tries to gain a quantitative and qualitative military advantage over the other. No where is this case more vibrantly demonstrated then during the Cold War where each side built massive nuclear arsenals and proliferated them to other countries. The hightened arms race tensions between the superpowers even arguably increased the chance of nuclear conflict. Proliferation and arms races however, not occur when a country acts militarily to prevent the spread of WMD.

3) Premptive Policy Adds to Deterrence

By routinely acting premptively to protect its interests, a nation-state may add to its credibility to use military force, and therefore the credibility of its own deterrence. This aspect of premptive policy was demonstrated by the United States following the initial overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq when Libya (subsequently) voluntarily surrendered its own WMD arsenal in 2003 and when the Pakistani government shut down the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network in 2004.


I would have to apologize to my opponent but I don't think I will have the time post an argument for this round because I have been caught up in my exams. I don't want to post half an argument. I will, however, reply the next round.
Debate Round No. 3


Yeah, I too really haven't had the time to prepare for this topic very welll; the arguments for and against deterrece and preemption are way more complex and lengthy than I thought they would be. So I'm willing to concede a round of this debate for one of yours.


My opponent didn't address any of my arguments. My opponent didn't follow his own format. The last round he was supposed to respond to my arguments. But I plan to address all of his arguments. I guess he threw the rule book out the window, it would seem.

"Present Day Security Challenges cannot be deterred."
"Info Age Threats Demand Immediate Action."
"Seizing of security initiatives"
"Effective Arms Control"

I agree with my opponent when he says cyber attacks and counterintelligence can't be deterred. These are non state actors who are difficult to find. This also makes it difficult to have a preemptive attack as well. How can you attack those who you don't know. Many people engaging in cyber attacks are non state actors and can not be acted against. I however disagree with my opponent's other claims. Weapons of Mass Destruction can be deterred. I have already refuted my opponent's claim in #1B. Terrorism can also be deterred by using soft power which is a form of deterrence. America should use foreign aid to help build schools in foreign countries. To act against terrorists preemptively will result in more resentment from locals. The United States should work to neutralize their opponents not irritate them more. Acting preemptively can aggravate our enemies more into fanatical moods. Essentially, we are breeding more terrorists. Sort of like how the United States helped to create ISIL indirectly when we destabilized Iraq.

"The Best Defense is a Good Offense."
"Premptive Policy Adds to Deterrence"

This is simply rhetoric in both of the quotes offered by Pro above. Deterrence is a defense. To preemptively attack someone is offensive in nature. War itself destabilizes regions. By destability, I am talking about the decline in leadership and the decline in institutions. Sort of like how removing Saddam Hussein actually helped create a full blown civil war in Iraq. Now, dissident Sunnis are battling what they see as the Shia government in Iraq. The region is unstable because of preemptive policies. Who would deny it? My opponent purposely ignored the results of preemptive policies in the countries where violence is initiated. Deterrence needs to be considered first and foremost in order to protect the United States interests as well as the countries where threats exist.

Note: My opponent made a false claim about proliferation in Iraq. The only WMD found in Iraq was a nuclear centrifuge.

Vote Con.
Debate Round No. 4
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by imnotacop 2 years ago
Coming back to this late. There is no legality to argue for. It's been shut down (intellectually) before Bush even left office.
Posted by Jingle_Bombs 2 years ago
I'm here to argue for the legality and political/military advantages of preventative war. In my debate outline I've included preventative war with the definition of preemption because "preemptive strikes" (as you noted correctly) is what most people tend to think of first.

I disagree with your quick analysis of my position. Part of the problem of winning today's wars (as I believe you might agree with) is that political considerations tend to intrude heavily on cut-and dry security objectives. In fact, one of the great arguments you will hear against doctrines of preemption is its legality within the framework of the UN and international law. You ask what I think, and I'll say (in contrast to Georges Clemenceau) that war is too important and complex not to be left to the generals.
Posted by imnotacop 2 years ago
A preemptive strike a preventive war are two completely different things.
A preemptive strike would be a situation where, let's say, Russia sets up bombers to attack a U.S base in a blatant way. The U.S has a right to attack preemptively. A preventive war on the other hand is an instance where, if it fell under international law, would be categorized as a war crime. It's the idea that, because a country has the capability of something, we must stop them from doing it.
The most obvious example is the Iraq war. One of the main reasons we went is because Iraq that capabilities to create WMD's, and possible intent to use.
A great quote from Noam Chomskey "Virtually any country has the potential and ability to produce WMD, and intent is in the eye of the beholder."
So a preemptive strike I agree with, take that part away, and I'd likely debate this, but other than that, it's a bit of a no brainier.
Posted by Mike_10-4 2 years ago
Pro, like many, in political warfare forgot how to win a combat war. The last combat war we won was WWII. We lost, or ended in stalemate, all combat wars; within the Cold War spectrum and still today, officially, we are still at war with North Korea.

To win a combat war you also have to kill the woman and children. Today, our adversaries have no problem killing our woman and children. What does Pro think? I regret to say, a combat war is no political picnic. If you think so, as in some political concept of "pre-emption" or "deterrence," you are a loser in the war we are currently in.
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