Consider a scenario where a person is forced to act and attack a person who they consider to be a threat even though there has been no display of such threat. I am talking about sensing danger and acting upon it.

This doesn't sound like self-defence. As usually, self defence is the use of physical force to counter an immediate threat of violence. OxfordDictionaries.com defines it as:

the defence of one’s person or interests, especially through the use of physical force, which is permitted in certain cases as an answer to a charge of violent crime.

I am looking for a word or phrase that would describe an act of premeditated self-defence, in anticipation of a threat.

3 Answers 3


This is normally called a pre-emptive strike.

serving or intended to pre-empt or forestall something, especially to prevent attack by disabling the enemy:
a pre-emptive strike

  • I think thats the word!
    – Sayan
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 11:49
  • That used to be the word when I was a boy, but now it's been replaced by the more fashionable proactive, even in my semi-petrified memory banks. Thank you for reminding me of its existence. Still a very good word.
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 11:53
  • 1
    I've never heard proactive used in respect of dealing with a physical threat. It is used to describe forestalling a fault occurring in a system, though.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 11:55

The phrase anticipatory self-defense has been used in international law since the 1837 Caroline Affair between the United States and Britian:

This incident has been used to establish the principle of "anticipatory self-defense" in international politics, which holds that it may be justified only in cases in which the "necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation".

  • Thats a really interesting point! Depending upon context, this too might be a suitable choice.
    – Sayan
    Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 6:23

The current term for this kind of anticipatory strike is proactive.

  • 5
    I'd use proactive to refer to arming yourself, or getting a better lock on your door, but pre-emptive only for actually attacking the perceived threat.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 12:00

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