Document Type



In 1981, Israel launched a preemptive attack on the Iraqi Osiraq nuclear reactor. Now a similar strike is being considered against Iranian nuclear facilities. This article assesses the lawfulness of preemptive strikes generally and a preemptive strike against Iran specifically, focusing on the new threat posed by terrorists’ potential acquisition of nuclear material for a “dirty bomb.” The article begins by evaluating preemptive strikes on nuclear facilities against the criteria for self-defense—necessity, immediacy, and proportionality—and then turns to broader criteria for “lawfulness,” such as environmental damage and harm to the legal rules governing the use of force. After developing criteria to evaluate the lawfulness of a preemptive strike, the article concludes that a preemptive strike against Iran at this point would not satisfy the outlined criteria and thus would be unlawful.

Date of Authorship for this Version

November 2006