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date: 23 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines one of the most contentious issues in the jus ad bellum: whether and when international law permits a state to use force unilaterally before it suffers an armed attack. More specifically, it considers whether pre-emption needs to be tamed. The discussion begins by sorting through the terminology used by states and scholars with respect to acts of self-defence in advance of an attack, with particular reference to three different terms: anticipatory self-defence, pre-emptive self-defence, and preventive self-defence. The chapter then outlines the basic positions in the historical debate about the legality of such self-defence before turning to three geopolitical and technological factors that put pressure on the doctrine of pre-attack self-defence: weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and cyber attacks. Finally, it evaluates the future of pre-emption, with emphasis on changes in the timing of a state’s right to use force in self-defence.

Keywords: jus ad bellum, international law, pre-emption, self-defence, anticipatory self-defence, pre-emptive self-defence, preventive self-defence, weapon of mass destruction, terrorism, cyber attack

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