Misleading and dangerous: the use of the precautionary principle in foreign policy debates

Alan Patterson, Craig McLean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Recent scholarly research has suggested that the Bush Administration embraced the Precautionary Principle (PP) to formulate its policy on Iraq before the coalition invasion in 2003. The article below challenges this argument. Demonstrating the Bush Administration's antipathy - and at times hostility - to the PP in environmental politics, the article outlines the similarities and differences between usage of the PP in foreign policy debates on the one hand, and the established risk strategies of pre-emption and prevention on the other. The article examines the Bush Administration's reaction to Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme by drawing on earlier conceptual work of the PP in international affairs: an acceptance of the limits of the usefulness of intelligence assessments; an openness to alternative solutions; proportionality of response; and reversing the onus of persuasion. Based on these four strands the article argues that the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq was based less on the PP and more on the idea of fighting a preventive war.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-67
JournalMedicine, Conflict and Survival
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010


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