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Preventive Attack and Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Comparative Historical Analysis
Preventive Attack and Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Comparative Historical Analysis
Lyle J. Goldstein
Stanford University Press, 2005
280 pp., $57.50

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Mark Moyar


Radical Asymmetry

A comparative study of preventive attack and weapons of mass destruction.

For most of the presidency of George W. Bush, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has been among the most important, if not the most important, of the U.S. government's national security concerns. The most recent version of the National Security Strategy of the United States echoes the same report of previous years in stating that one of America's chief tasks is to "prevent our enemies from threatening us, our allies, and our friends with weapons of mass destruction." That document states further, "We do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur … . When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize." Thus, despite extensive criticism for going to war with Iraq based on what later proved to be flawed WMD intelligence, the Bush Administration has not backed down from its professed willingness to launch preventive wars against countries to forestall the use of weapons of mass destruction. Whether the United States should undertake military action to prevent Iran and North Korea from developing large WMD stockpiles is now among the most dire questions the nation faces.

Lyle J. Goldstein's Preventive Attack and Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Comparative Historical Analysis is therefore most timely for those concerned about U.S. national security. Goldstein, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College, sets out to determine whether the development of small arsenals of weapons of mass destruction encourages or discourages international conflict. The most influential of the previous works on this subject has been Kenneth N. Waltz's Adelphia Paper of 1981, in which Waltz asserted that small WMD arsenals prevent wars. Waltz and other adherents of this view, commonly known as "deterrence optimists," contend that WMD in the smallest of quantities discourage countries from attacking the possessor because they create great fears of retaliation on the ...

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