From The Intercept:
Several weeks before President Donald Trump announced that John Bolton would soon become his new national security adviser, Bolton wrote a peculiar op-ed for The Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.”
What made Bolton’s column odd was not his belligerence — he’s always been the embodiment of America’s violent id in human/mustache form — but rather his invocation of “international law.” According to Bolton, it is now legal for the U.S. to attack North Korea.
It is generally accepted that states may engage in preemptive war if they face a so-called imminent threat, under a classic formulation articulated by former U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster in 1837. Webster wrote that a pre-emptive attack is valid only if the “necessity of self-defense” is “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.” This is a high threshold, which makes sense given that Webster was not supporting a pre-emptive war by the U.S., but arguing that it was bogus for British soldiers to claim they had been engaging in legitimate self-defense when they entered U.S. territory from Canada.
But Bolton has spent his entire career expressing his deep contempt for the entire concept of international law. For Bolton, it’s a meaningless “theological exercise” utilized by “the academic Left” to prevent the U.S. from defending itself. (He does allow that international customs may have their place in establishing “navigation protocols” for “seafaring states.”)
Moreover, Bolton obviously doesn’t mean what he says in his op-ed. The “threat” part of the imminent threat to the U.S., he writes, would be North Korea possessing the capacity to strike America with nuclear weapons via intercontinental ballistic missiles. The “imminent” part is that they may have soon have this capacity. So it’s fine for us to obliterate North Korea right now.