The Drone White Paper, Imminence, and “Active Self-Defense”

Co-Conspirator Jonathan mentioned posts at Lawfare blog discussing the Drone White Paper that has been much in the news along with notice that the Awlaki OLC memo will be shared with Congress, and all  with the Brennan hearings for CIA director.  I have added a post at Lawfare that Volokh readers might find interesting; it points out that one of the much commented issues of the White Paper, the question of “imminence” as a condition of attacking in self-defense, actually has a long history in US law and policy.  At least since the early 1980s, the US has embraced a standard of “active self-defense,” as I note at Lawfare.  Here, for example, is a statement of it in 1989 by then-Department of State Legal Adviser Abraham Sofaer, in an interagency cleared speech, and which references statements by then-Secretary of State George Shultz:

Some States, such as Lebanon, are simply unable to exercise authority over terrorists, even if they were inclined to do so. The United States must be free to utilize force with sufficient flexibility to defend itself and its allies effectively against threats resulting from such breaches of international responsibility. As Secretary of State George P. Shultz predicted in 1984: “We can expect more terrorism directed at our strategic interests around the world in the years ahead. To combat it, we must be willing to use military force.” ….

In 1984 Secretary Shultz described this policy as an “active defense.” “From a practical standpoint,” he said, “a purely passive defense does not provide enough of a deterrent to terrorism and the states that sponsor it.” Later that year he described why an active defense was needed to deter:

“We must reach a consensus in this country that our responses should go beyond passive defense to consider means of active prevention, preemption, and retaliation. Our goal must be to prevent and deter future terrorist acts, and experience has taught us over the years that one of the best deterrents to terrorism is the certainty that swift and sure measures will be taken against those who engage in it. We should take steps toward carrying out such measures. There should be no moral confusion on this issue. Our aim is not to seek revenge but to put an end to violent attacks against innocent people, to make the world a safer place to live for all of us. Clearly the democracies have a moral right, indeed a duty, to defend themselves.”

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