Ivo H. Daalder (ed). Brookings Institution Press, 2007. 190pp. Paperback. £9.99/$19.99. ISBN: 9780815716853.

Reviewed by Lee P. Ruddin (LL.B: Liverpool); (MRes: London) and (PgCert: Sheffield).
Email: leetherudster [at]


During the course of modern history much political ink has been spilled on the battle of analogies in American foreign policy discourse: those pertaining to Munich and Vietnam. Legally speaking, and ever since the Islamists severed the skies that fateful Tuesday morning, we too have witnessed a battle between analogies: what Bruce W. Jentleson highlights as the “September 11 effect” (international consensus undergirding the legitimacy of employing force to combat terrorism) and the “Iraq effect” (weakened degree of consensus) (p.41). This is the basic thesis of BEYOND PREEMPTION .

The Brookings Institution, in 2003, launched a project on “Force and Legitimacy in the Evolving International System.” International lawyers, strategists and policymakers – from Europe, Russia, China, Mexico and Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa – engaged in a series of workshops, dialogues and conferences over the course of three years. As Susan E. Rice and Andrew J. Loomis illuminate in their chapter, ‘While conversations with small groups of experts cannot be extrapolated to serve as indicators of entire national attitudes, the conversations do shed light on how policy elites in different countries approach [for instance] the responsibility to protect’ (p.85). The book is comprised from discussions at the international conference that took place in October 2006.

The apocalyptic threats to international security – terrorism, WMD and human rights violations – are described in detail in five chapters, each providing challenges to the traditional doctrine, namely the UN Charter. Each chapter stands on its own merits and can be read alone. More often than not with texts, this becomes totally mind-numbing, traipsing through the same material over and over again, though, in this instance, it is most definitely a beneficial rarity. Enter editor Ivo H. Daalder and the perceptive pragmatists.

Through the horrors of two world wars came the UN Charter which – save two exceptions in Chapter 7 and Article 51 – prohibits the use of force in international relations (Article 2[4]). Such is the embeddedness of the variant of post-traumatic stress disorder that, ‘international law has sought to delegitimize the use of force by an individual state acting on its own’ (p.20). James B. Steinberg provides a breakdown of the traditional cocktail consisting of a large measure of political realism with a shot of law:

Implicit in this view is a belief that internal arrangements within a state, however repugnant, posed little threat to the security or well-being of others as long as that state did not forcibly [*652] venture beyond its borders. Legitimacy was defined primarily in this status quo- preserving sense: it was legitimate to resist the encroachment of others but not to encroach on others, irrespective of the reason for encroachment (p.21).

The traditional doctrine is what the contributors to BEYOND PREEMPTION have been, until recently, accustomed to (though maybe not always contented with). Considering events in the Balkans, the September 11, 2001, attacks and George Bush’s unflinching headship, surely the realpolitik toolkit of yesteryear ought to be discarded to the proverbial dustbin of political and legal history. Daalder buttresses such a calling articulating that, ‘The main threat today is no longer the external behavior of states but rather the external consequences of their internal behavior’ (p.10). Concomitant with such a discussion means opening the can of worms that pertains to sovereignty. Again, Daalder is judicious in his reasoning:

The notion of sovereignty as an absolute right to noninterference must be reformulated to recognize that sovereignty entails real responsibilities – both with respect to those who live within the state and with regard to internal developments that can have an impact on those who live outside it (p.11).

Let us take Afghanistan as an example. Afghanistan’s sovereignty was an obligation as well as an entitlement. A government that will not perform the role of a government forfeits the rights of a government. The Barbary States that terrorized US shipping during the Jefferson administration where theoretically provinces of the Ottoman Empire; however, the Ottomans did not stop their piracy so the US had to do the job instead. The same must ring true for today – notwithstanding liberal media claims of a return to the days of empire! Saying that, as Anne E. Kramer underscores in the final chapter: ‘The most important norm that is evolving and slowly gaining international support is the concept of conditional – as opposed to absolute – state sovereignty’ (p.132). Such a philosophy will not colonize the Security Council’s permanent members (Russia and China) any time soon though, leaving the United Nations an arena for inaction and insecurity (p.13).

What does this leave as an alternative? After cataloguing the downfalls to a regional route in countering threats and legitimizing the use of force, Daalder reasons an effective alternative to ‘multilateral paralysis and unilateral action’ is to be found in a coalition – or rather, a community – of democracies (p.17) (very different from a coalition of the willing: p.130). This is hardly nihil novi mind you – for such thinking harks back to the Nixon Doctrine of 1969. Daalder is not alone in such thinking (Anne E. Kramer reiterates the calling: p.130) for Brendan Simms has similarly called for a “Democratic League” (Simms 2007). In an erudite fashion, similar to that of Douglas Murray, James B. Steinberg questions the contemporary mechanics of the Security Council in his instalment:

There are . . . reasons to question the appropriateness of allowing the Security Council to be the final arbiter of the decision to use force. Although the UN [*653] carries the aura of legitimacy associated with the circumstances of its founding and the lofty principles of its charter, the reality is more complicated. It seems reasonable to question why an authoritarian government in Beijing, which seeks to insulate itself against intervention by outsiders in its internal affairs, should be allowed to block a humanitarian intervention in the Balkans. Similarly, should the Russian government, with its long history of cozy financial dealings with Iraq, be allowed to shield a regime that was believed by most to be actively pursuing dangerous WMD programs? (p.31)

A repertoire of commentators contest (even before 9/11 and Iraq) that with respect to the family of presidential concerns, international law is largely an orphan. Admittedly, US policymakers do not view ‘international law or lack of legitimacy as binding constraints on actions taken’ (p.86) (remind yourself, did not states risk the charge of illegality when intervening in Kosovo on what they deemed to be legitimate humanitarian imperatives?). However, what the Bush administration gets (what Daalder succinctly pens), and what the vast amount of the world regrettably does not is that:

The very possession of weapons of mass destruction by some countries can pose an existential threat, whether or not their actual use is truly imminent. It follows that as long as the threats states face are unconventional (including from weapons of mass destruction and terrorism), relying on the conventional distinction between imminent and latent threats makes little sense (p.8).

The widespread celebration of the quality of deterrence strategies is pertinent today for how it illuminates precisely those conditions that no longer exist – though Bruce W. Jentleson is not too sure (p.55). Instead of symmetrical conflicts, it is asymmetrical ones that haunt policymakers (pp.47-49). A nation must have the right to afford itself with some level of protection without having to overcome the sometimes unachievable chore of verifying that an inevitable attack is coming in weeks or even days.

‘The era of liberal interventionism in international affairs is over,’ so says John Gray. The British philosopher later emphasizes not to ‘caution against throwing out the baby of humanitarian military intervention together with the neocon bathwater’ (Gray 2007). Unfortunate for the London School of Economics (LSE) resident, preemption and intervention are here to stay. This is fact. As a corollary, BEYOND PREEMPTION demonstrates how legitimacy can best escort intercession. As Susan E. Rice and Andrew J. Loomis articulate, until Operation Provide Comfort in 1990 (authorizing protection of the Kurdish population in northern Iraq) ‘intervention under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter was perceived to be permissible almost exclusively in the case of international aggression’ (p.66). Now all that had changed, for the authors explicate that ‘the humanitarian norm of protecting human lives had outpaced the norm of sovereign inviolability’ (p.80). Without leadership such tenets are merely soundbites. Bruce W. Jentleson is all-too-conscious of the vacuum left by no US leadership (p.55) (Niall Ferguson’s words come hurrying back to one in this instance). Subsequently, no great change will occur [*654] with the Inauguration of the 44th President in January 2009. Preempting other publishing houses (as well as the UN) the Brookings Institution has served up a feast for both student and policymaker alike to digest. Also included are five invaluable cross-referenceable appendixes. A definite gem in indefinite times.

Gray, John. 2007. “The death of this crackpot creed is nothing to mourn,” The Guardian, July 31st.,,2138064,00.html

Simms, Brendan. 2007. “We Urgently Need a Democratic Nixon Doctrine,” Social Affairs Unit, May 15th.

© Copyright 2007 by the author, Lee P. Ruddin.