Thomas M. Nichols


On his book Eve of Destruction: The Coming Age of Preventive War

Cover Interview of February 24, 2009


My hope is that the significance of the book will rest with a new debate, both among policymakers and citizens, about the use of force.  While I very much fear a new age of preventive war, what I really fear is a new age of unregulated preventive war.  It may well be that we have to throw out some of the old law books and traditions, and do things we find distasteful.  But that’s the hand we’ve been dealt in the twenty-first century.  We have never in history had a situation where small groups, unaffiliated with any state, and embracing radical, death-loving ideologies, could do vast-scale damage to us all.  But I think before we trash some of the principles that have served us well for four centuries, we need to think about alternatives.  I especially hope that this leads to more debate about the United Nations.  The United Nations may well be the most dysfunctional bureaucracy in the history of mankind.  But it is still our best hope for keeping the peace before we utterly lose control of the situation within the next two or three decades.

In the end, we have to get past the partisan arguments of the past several years, and accept two important realities.  First, the current system of international security, including the UN Security Council, has become “broken”—not least because it was never designed to handle the threats of this century.  Second, traditional rules of warfare are not going to protect us against the kinds of rogues and terrorists who have been set loose by the end of the Cold War and advances in technology.  How we solve those two problems is up to us.  But we’d better start thinking about it sooner rather than later.

© 2009 Thomas Nichols