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MAD’s Midlife Crisis: The Impact of US-Russia Rivalry on International Arms Control

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The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), signed between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1987, required both countries to eliminate all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500–5,500km. The two sides eliminated 2,692 short-, medium- and intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles by 1991 — the first time ever that an entire class of nuclear weapons has been eliminated. In July 2014, the US State Department officially alleged that the Russian Federation was violating the INF Treaty by conducting flight tests of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range that is prohibited by the treaty. Since then, Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations, and has accused the United States of deploying defense systems in Romania and Poland which could potentially be used to deploy Tomahawk cruise missiles with a range of up to 2,500 km. Indeed, in May 2016, the United States placed into operation the Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defense System in Romania equipped with Mk-41 launchers, with a similar system scheduled to be completed in Poland by 2018. Russia has also repeatedly accused the US of producing and deploying armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles. In early October 2016, Russia deployed short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander-M ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad region, the westernmost territory of Russia, as part of its regular military maneuvers. Officials in Washington and Moscow have accused each other of provocations with these deployments which are designed for or capable of undermining the other party’s deterrence capabilities.

Despite the heated rhetoric, up to now neither the US nor Russian allegations indicate that Russia or the United States currently plans to withdraw from the INF Treaty. On 11 October 2016, in his statement on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Reykjavik Summit, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that the vision of Reykjavik was still alive today and urged Russia to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. As for the possible Russian withdrawal from the INF Treaty, according to the Russian expert Petr Topychkanov, the action-reaction chain initiated by such a withdrawal would “lead to growing missile threats to Russia in Europe and to further erosion of the arms control regime, if not its total destruction, which is not in Moscow’s interest.” In our opinion, one of the options to settle these disputes could be to engage in confidence-building measures as per the existing provisions under the INF Treaty. It is worth recalling that Article VIII provides for a Special Verification Commission (SVC) to act as an implementation body for the treaty, resolving questions of compliance and a dispute-resolution mechanism. As the INF Treaty is of unlimited duration, States Parties can convene the SVC at any time. On 15-16 November 2016, the 30th session of the SVC took place in Geneva and delegations from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the United States discussed issues related to implementing the treaty. The convening of a meeting of the SVC for the first time since 2003 could be a strong sign of the commitment by Russia and the US to resolve the existing dispute through negotiations rather than threats of withdrawal from such an important treaty.

Russian concerns over the compatibility of NATO nuclear-sharing practice with the provisions of the NPT

Another long-standing compliance dispute between Russia and the US is the issue of NATO nuclear-sharing and the perceived incompatibility of this practice with the provisions of the NPT. According to the understanding of Russia, NATO nuclear-sharing violates Articles I and II of the Treaty: Article I prohibits nuclear-weapon states that are parties to the NPT from transferring their weapons to non-nuclear states, and Article II prohibits non-nuclear states receiving nuclear weapons. The question of whether the treaty applies in times of war is a very crucial one to the interpretation of the legality of nuclear-sharing. According to the US interpretation of the NPT, the treaty does not apply in times of war. It means that the non-nuclear NATO partners in effect become nuclear powers in time of war. Following this logic, nuclear-sharing is legal (or at least not explicitly prohibited in the NPT) in times of war. According to the publicly-available data, NATO’s system on nuclear-sharing currently provides between 160 and 200 tactical nuclear weapons (B-61 warheads) with an overall capacity of 18 megatons stored inside six air base vaults across Europe. Stockpiling of US tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) outside the territory of the US has for a long time been a stumbling block in US-Russia bilateral disarmament negotiations. The situation was further exacerbated when the US unveiled its plans to modernize its tactical nuclear arsenal in Europe. The new US weapon, the B61-12, is intended to replace all its older versions and is capable of destroying more targets with increased accuracy and consequently with limited damage to structures and lives nearby. It will be a “smart” bomb which can be guided to hit its target with great precision using exactly the right amount of explosive yield to only destroy what needs to be destroyed. That is why some military experts call these new warheads more “ethical”, stating that their use would have less severe humanitarian consequences. From Moscow’s view, the planned modernization of the US bombs could drop the threshold of using nuclear weapons when US nuclear bombs in Europe could become “battlefield weapons”.

As a result of NATO enlargement up to Russia’s borders, the Alliance has gained a numerical superiority over Russia. In these conditions, Russia considers national TNWs a necessary means to offset such superiority in Europe. It is worth recalling that in response to NATO enlargements in 1999 and 2004, Russia partially suspended (in 2007) and then completely halted (in 2015) its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). In our opinion, if the favorable conditions for disarmament negotiations emerge in the future, one of the options would be to link the issue of TNW reductions and revival of the negotiations process on the CFE with measures on limiting NATO further expansion. However, since the conclusion of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010, there has been little progress toward further nuclear arms reductions. Even before the 2014 events in Ukraine, US-Russian relations were characterized by a serious deficit of trust and constant reciprocal claims in non-compliance with disarmament bilateral and multilateral agreements.

It is well known that the lack of credible information concerning the status of the armed forces of conflicting parties usually leads to inflated quantitative and qualitative assessments of the opponent’s capabilities and a build-up of one’s own capabilities to a level that would guarantee adequate counter-measures. The current US-Russia saber-rattling has the potential to unleash a new arms race. It would be particularly dangerous in case of strategic nuclear weapons because it would undermine strategic stability, a state of affairs in which countries are confident that their adversaries would not be able to undermine their nuclear deterrent capability. As Russian academic Alexey Arbatov stresses, “the reduction of stockpiles of nuclear weapons over the past quarter century led to an unexpected psychological effect. An understanding that it is impossible to win a nuclear war disappeared. None of the world leaders uses this formula now [“nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought”].”

Disarmament diplomacy in action: Russian and US approaches for strengthening WMD regimes

Certainly, the existing regimes for non-proliferation or prohibition of WMD differ from each other. While the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the NPT have institutionalized specialized agencies and organizations mandated to verify its implementation by States Parties on an international level (the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) respectively), another major disarmament treaty — the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) — was agreed upon without including any verification mechanisms to assure compliance. The NPT, unlike the Conventions prohibiting entire classes of WMD — such as chemical and biological — does not prevent the development, production, use and stockpiling of nuclear weapons, but rather legally formalizes the division of those who have the right to possess nuclear weapons and those who do not. However, all disarmament regimes have one thing in common: a regular review process in which all decisions are made on a consensus basis. At the same time, the severely disappointing outcomes of two recent reviews — the 2015 NPT RevCon in New York, and the 2016 BWC RevCon in Geneva — make it clear that if States Parties fail to find common ground on some initiatives in the framework of existing multilateral treaties, it could lead to a crystallization of unreconciled camps with diametrically opposed views and mutually exclusive initiatives regarding the ways of strengthening the respective regimes.

Russian and US attitudes for strengthening the NPT

The 2015 NPT RevCon, which ended without consensual adoption of a final document, showed the unwillingness of States Parties to the treaty to find common ground on two main issues: establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and interpretation of disarmament commitments under Article VI of the NPT. Concerning the WMD-free zone in the Middle East, the final draft text included a proposal for the UN Secretary-General to convene a conference on the WMD-free zone no later than 1 March 2016, with all decisions on preparations and on the agenda of the conference to be taken by a consensus. This initiative was supported by the Russian delegation, which took the lead in conducting multilateral consultations and drafting the proposal. However, the imposition of a tight deadline as well as the proposal for deprivation of veto rights on convening the conference were unacceptable for the US delegation, and therefore the US, along with Canada and the UK, did not support the final document.

Regarding the issue of nuclear disarmament commitments, several remarks should be made. The main contradiction stem from a fundamental divergence between Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) and most Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS) as to what constitutes credible progress of nuclear disarmament and what the obligations Article VI of the treaty entail. Under Article VI, the parties should “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” NWS interpret nuclear disarmament as a gradual process conditioned upon maintaining strategic stability, and therefore, in their view, the preservation of nuclear deterrence. Russia and the United States, along with other NWS, maintained that they are fully compliant with the provisions of the Treaty and resisted the establishment of any concrete timetable for disarmament in their joint statement of P5 at the NPT RevCon.

At the same time, from the view of most NNWS, long-term investments and modernization programs in NWS demonstrate the unwillingness of the P5 to move away from reliance on nuclear weapons. This leads to a situation where the P5 are regarded by more and more states as de facto being in noncompliance with their NPT obligations in Article VI. As the Austrian diplomat Alexander Kmentt said in his closing statement delivered on behalf of 49 states, “there is a wide divide that presents itself in many fundamental aspects of what nuclear disarmament should mean. There is a reality gap, a credibility gap, a confidence gap, and a moral gap.” However, none of the P5 accepted the notion that there is any “legal gap” in their fulfillment of efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. This discussion was not closed after the RevCon, and a group of states — supporters of the initiative to address the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons — continued to pursue a campaign in favor of a nuclear weapons ban. On 27 October 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution A/C.1/71/L.41 which provides for convening a UN Conference to negotiate a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use. Negotiations were set to take place in March and June 2017 in New York. Unsurprisingly, Russia and the United States voted against this resolution, and both countries warned that adoption of a nuclear-weapons-ban treaty would create two legal frameworks with mutually exclusive provisions on the status of nuclear weapons. As Robert Wood, US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) noted, adoption of a nuclear-weapons-ban convention “risks creating an unbridgeable divide between states, polarizing the political environment on nuclear disarmament, and effectively limiting any future prospect for achieving consensus, whether in the NPT review process, the UN, or the CD.” Both countries declared that they will not participate in the nuclear-weapons-ban treaty negotiations.

The problem of differential interpretation of Article VI obligations is not a new one. This contradiction was formulated in a lapidary way by the famous Spanish diplomat and writer Salvador de Madariaga in 1973: “Nations don’t distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. And therefore to want disarmament before a minimum of common agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter. Let the weather be warm, and they will undress readily enough without committees to tell them so.” [1] However, as former US diplomat Lewis Dunn notes, the polarization and divisions within the NPT community, especially between the P5 and NNWS are greater and more dramatic than they have been for over 30 years. The problem is that different States Parties to the NPT review process appear increasingly unwilling to compromise or to search for a consensus. As the Russian expert on nuclear weapons Andrey Baklitskiy rightfully notes, there appears to be a “growing temptation to move the discussion on the most contentious issues to the UN General Assembly or to some ad hoc body, where decisions would be taken by a majority rather than consensus. That would enable the majority of the states to ram through their own agenda, ignoring the position of the dissenting states.”

As a result, the 2015 NPT RevCon showed at a glance the main contradictions of this regime. On the one hand, Russia and the United States, as the major nuclear states, unanimously opposed any deadlines for nuclear disarmament as well as the initiative to convene a Conference on a comprehensive nuclear-weapons ban. The US and Russia are also unanimous when it comes to dealing with horizontal nuclear proliferation — the Iranian nuclear deal being very illustrative in this regard. In other words, Russia and the United States show their preparedness and willingness to work hand in hand on nuclear disarmament of other states. On the other hand, given the current stalemate of bilateral US-Russia relations, with political tensions being high and robust channels of communication being blocked, negotiations on further reductions of US and Russian nuclear arsenals seem extremely problematic. Since New START entered into force in February 2011, further progress on nuclear disarmament has stalled. It is not even clear whether New START will be extended for a further 5 years after 2021. From that perspective, the antagonism between the proponents of different viewpoints toward total nuclear disarmament is likely to deepen in the future.

Russian and US attitudes for strengthening the BWC

The 8th BWC RevCon is another demonstrative example of the weakness of disarmament diplomacy to bridge deep and long-standing divisions. Even though a consensual final document was agreed, the decisions contained in it were minimal, especially when compared with a large number of proposals and innovative ideas put forward to strengthen the Convention. One of the main stumbling blocks was the discussion over the necessity of an international legally-binding verification instrument for the BWC. The issue of a legally-binding protocol under the BWC is not new. During the 1990s, States Parties attempted to develop a legally=binding protocol in the framework of the ad hoc group. In 2001, in the course of the 5th RevCon, this effort fell apart due to the position of the United States, who rejected the draft proposal as well as any further negotiations and claimed that such a protocol would not help strengthen compliance with the BWC and would hurt US national interests. However, the US arguments were not convincing for the majority of States Parties, including Russia. Since 2001, Russia has constantly called for the resumption of negotiations on an international legally-binding protocol as the only credible and sustainable method of strengthening the BWC.

One of the solutions to enhance comprehension among States Parties in the aftermath of the deadlock of the 2001 RevCon was the establishment of an inter-sessional program (ISP). Starting in 2003, the ISP has consisted of two annual meetings (meeting of experts and meeting of States Parties) to address specific topics. It should be noted in that regard that both Russia and the US consider the ISP as a useful mechanism to put forward their initiatives and discuss a variety of BWC-related issues. Not all proposals tabled by Russia and the US at the 8th RevCon were mutually exclusive; therefore, achieving compromise decisions on some issues was feasible. For instance, both countries were in favour of establishing an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) for examining the modalities of a new mechanism aimed to review the progress in science and technologies in the biological sphere. The Unites States put forward a BWC Implementation Review Initiative as a form of peer review exercise to strengthen the Convention at the national level, and supported other voluntary measures intended to promote transparency and confidence in compliance. While Russiaand some other countries — such as members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)- were not convinced that promoting voluntary peer review exercises was the optimum way to strengthen the BWC, it was possible to find a consensual formulation of usefulness of voluntary peer review mechanisms by making a reservation that they are not a substitute for verification. As for other initiatives proposed by Russia, they were also not necessarily doomed to fail. For instance, Russia proposed to examine the operationalization of mobile biomedical units under the BWC to deliver protection against biological weapon, investigate their alleged use, and to suppress epidemics of various etiologies. While the US delegation did not consider this as an effective operative measure, they were, however, ready to give it prominence in the next ISP and discuss this initiative further. However, the 2016 BWC RevCon showed that the option of putting aside diverging views regarding a legally-binding verification instrument was no longer an effective way to tackle issues under the BWC. A certain number of delegations — mainly NAM member-states — were steadfast in their conviction that any voluntary compliance confidence options would be a distraction from the goal of establishing a legally-binding protocol. Concerning the ISP issue, some delegations — again, such as from the NAM — were very resistant to the idea of giving the ISP the mandate to make decisions. From the Iranian point of view, for example, any ISP of the substantive nature being proposed would make governments too comfortable with the status quo and thus inhibit moves towards a legally-binding instrument for verification. Iran reiterated its position in a closing statement by saying that “the best way [for the time being] was not to go ahead and give more power to the ISP, change its format and modalities and create a de-facto secretariat, by giving more mandate and human and financial resources to the ISU [Implementation Support Unit].” As a result, instead of an expanded ISP, States Parties could only agree on the continuation of convening annual meetings of States Parties and preserving the ISU in its current membership.

In all likelihood, any new initiatives with regards to the ISP or voluntary compliance confidence measures will be extremely difficult to implement in the framework of the consensus-based decision-making process. Without any doubts, the current stalemate over the legally-binding protocol will not be resolved without convening comprehensive negotiations on this subject. This mission is not impossible: according to the closing statement delivered by US Ambassador Robert Wood, the US was “prepared to engage in a discussion of the full range of proposals for strengthening this Convention” (emphasis added). Notwithstanding that there are big differences in the US and Russian attitudes toward strengthening the BWC and even mutual allegations in non-compliance with BWC provisions, both Russia and the US were ready to show some flexibility on a number of respective proposals. Neither the US nor Russia was interested in decreasing the value of the ISP. However, a variety of stumbling blocks (including disputes over an international export control regime and legally-binding protocol) made it impossible to conclude the work of the RevCon in a successful way. As the Australian diplomat Ian McConville rightfully noted, in order to avoid a widening split in the BWC community, “we need to break down the existing deep divisions among states parties so that our common goal of strengthening the BWC can continue apace.”

The US and Russian attitudes for strengthening the regime for the prohibition of chemical weapons

Although elimination of the remaining chemical weapons stockpiled in Russia and the United States — the two largest possessors of chemical arsenals — has yet to be completed, the emphasis of the CWC regime is gradually shifting from finalizing chemical weapons disarmament to preventing states rearming with this WMD and preventing non-state actors using chemical weapons. The CWC, as a Convention which eliminates an entire WMD class, is based on a general purpose criterion, which encompasses all toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under the Convention, irrespective of circumstances or perpetrators. The Convention’s prohibitions are comprehensive in scope and future changes in science and technology are taken into account. However, the 24-year old CWC faces limitations related to chemical weapons terrorism. At the time it was decided that the discussion of terrorism-related issues in the scope of the negotiated Convention would have further complicated the already difficult negotiations because of the lack of consensus regarding a universally-acceptable definition of terrorism, which is why the word ‘terrorism’ does not even appear in the Convention. However, it is evident that chemical weapons terrorism cannot be handled with the standard systems that have been established for interstate relations. Although the use and production of chemical weapons are prohibited in perpetuity since 1992, as we see in the Middle East region, chemical weapons are by no means weapons of the past.

On 1 March 2016, at a plenary session of the CD, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed to open negotiations on a Convention for Suppression of Acts of Chemical Terrorism in view of rising evidence of such WMDs falling into the hands of non-state armed groups. Having said that chemical terrorism is now “a grave reality of our time”, Lavrov stressed that it was important to take into account that the CWC does not fully address the challenge of countering chemical terrorism. Legal rationale for the initiative was further developed in an explanatory note to the Russian proposal. It is stated in this document that the fundamental requirement of the Convention not to use chemical weapons in any circumstances, as well as to develop, produce, stockpile or transfer chemical weapons applies to states parties only. The prohibition against non-state actors gaining access to chemical weapons is implied only in Article VII of the CWC, which obliges each state party to ban non-state actors on its territory or in any other place under its jurisdiction as recognized by international law from undertaking any activity prohibited under the Convention and put in place criminal punishment for such illegal activity. From Moscow’s view, UNSC Resolution 1540 addresses solely the implementation of national measures with the aim to prevent chemical weapons or its components from falling into the hands of terrorists. As for the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, its scope is limited: firstly, to the use of “a lethal device”; secondly, to the specified locations of its use; thirdly, to the intent to cause death, a serious bodily injury or extensive destruction of the objects mentioned in the Convention.

Although the Russian initiative was supported by a number of states participants at the CD, other states reacted to Russia’s proposal critically. Some delegations stressed that the Conference was not an appropriate forum to develop international instruments on terrorism issues, even associated with WMD. Other delegations raised the question of different memberships in the CWC and the CD. It was also noted that it might take considerable time before the proposed Convention would reach the universal adherence that the CWC already enjoys. The US was unconvinced that there was significant value to be gained from a new legally-binding convention as there were a number of existing instruments. From the US perspective, if there is a gap, it is the implementation gap. The US also refuted the Russian argument that the issue of chemical terrorism could not be tackled at the national level and should not be scattered under various existing mechanisms. Moreover, they pointed out that Russia’s proposal itself relied on the same mechanisms, i.e. national implementation. In the US view, “negotiations for a new legally binding convention could at best result in a superfluous and unnecessary mechanism, and at worst distract the international community and provide the very actors that they aimed to deter with opportunities for their exploitation.” To date, the CD remains deadlocked and the probability of reaching consensus on the Russian proposal is very low.

It appears that the current discordance between the US and Russia over chemical weapons terrorism is due to the diametrically-opposing views of these countries about who is responsible for numerous chemical weapons attacks in Syria. It should be noted that the OPCW and the CWC have neither capacity nor mandate to determine the questions of responsibility and accountability. That is why several international mechanisms have been established to determine whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria (the OPCW Fact Finding Mission) and to identify individuals or entities responsible for use of chemical weapons (the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism [JIM]). However, the JIM was not mandated to act and function as a judicial or quasi-judicial body. Moreover, it has no authority or jurisdiction, whether directly or indirectly, to make a formal or binding judicial determination of criminal liability. To date, the JIM found evidence that both the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and non-state armed groups operating in Syria used toxic chemicals as a weapon in several confirmed incidents in 2014-2015. Although Russia recognizes and takes into account the conclusions of the JIM regarding the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups in Syria, it refutes the arguments asserting that chemical weapons were used by Syrian government. As the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin noted, the conclusions contained in JIM reports were not substantiated by sufficient testimonial basis, they were full of contradictions and therefore were unconvincing to draw far-reaching conclusions about the guilt of Syrian government structures in crimes related to chemical weapons.

The 21st annual session of the Conference of the States Parties to the CWC held in The Hague in December 2016 was characterized by an unprecedented level of politicization and polarization among its members due to the Syrian dossier. Prior to the December Conference, the Executive Council (EC) of the OPCW voted in favor of taking further measures against the Syrian government’s illegal possession and use of chemical weapons. The vote was described by many observers as unusual as the EC generally operates through consensus. The text of the decision was supported by 28 members from 41, just enough to reach the required two-thirds majority. Russia voted against this decision and said that “there have been sad precedents in the past when these types of “conclusions” were used to form the basis for the adoption of far-reaching decisions.” One should note that a disregard of consensus could result in the creation of different camps constantly opposing each other regarding the implementa¬tion of the CWC, finally producing a weakening of the legitimacy of the Convention and its implementing organs.

Without pretending to be exhaustive in analyzing the differences in attitudes of Russia and the US for strengthening the regimes against WMD, we tried to understand whether the current US-Russian antagonism constitutes a serious threat for sustainability of existing international disarmament mechanisms. We are convinced that Russia and the US, as countries with the largest nuclear arsenals, should be the ones to initiate major steps to strengthen currently-eroding WMD regimes. Although the NPT, CWC and BWC remain the main bulwarks of the international disarmament regime, we are witnessing nowadays a crystallization of unreconciled camps with opposed views on a variety of long-standing issues. For the most part, Russia and the US find themselves on opposite sides of the barricade by taking the lead for promoting mutually-exclusive initiatives. Even if both countries stand-by-side in opposing horizontal nuclear proliferation in the context of the NPT, Russia and the US are evidently not prepared to further cut their respective nuclear arsenals because of their unresolved compliance disputes and reciprocal claims in undermining strategic stability. Therefore, the US-Russian stalemate over bilateral nuclear disarmament gravely impacts the regime of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and deepens the antagonism among states parties to the NPT. As US Professor William Perry rightfully notes, “the fate of civilization hangs in the balance, and it is up to our two great nations, who are the world’s leaders in nuclear weapons, to take the lead in eliminating the existential danger posed by these terrible weapons. That is the spirit of Reykjavik, and it is even more vital today than it was thirty years ago.”

[1] Salvador de Madariaga was also Chairman of the League of Nations disarmament commission in 1922. Salvador de Madariaga, Morning Without Noon, Westmead, UK: Saxon House, 1973,P. 48–49.

First published in our partner RIAC

MSc in International and European Studies, Associate Political Affairs Officer at the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Syria

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The Future of The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the QUAD) Grouping Explained

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The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad) comprises four counties, Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. It was founded in the year 2007 by Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan. The initiation of the dialogue was supported by Dick Cheney and John Howard, the then USA vice president and the Prime Minister of Australia, respectively. Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister of India, also took part in the quad grouping initiation process (Gale & Shearer, 2018). The informal strategic dialogue was formed with a common objective of ensuring and supporting an open, free, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region through the minimization of China’s influence. The paper’s primary purpose is to discuss why the quadrilateral security dialogue is currently common on the news by describing the group’s new activities that have attracted media attention.

Quad Nations and China

United States of America

Given the increasing influence of China in East Asia, United States sees the Quad Nations coalition as a chance to gain back its declining power in the Indo- Pacific. The nation describes Russia and China as tactical rivals in the strategy to promote National security.

Australia

               The country is highly disturbed by China’s growing interests in its politics, land, infrastructure, and influence on its learning institutions. Despite Australia being part of the quad grouping, the country has maintained its commitment to the partnership with China because of its high dependence on China for economic prosperity.

Japan

               Japan has shown concerns about the territorial transgression of China in the region. However, the country cannot break its ties with China because the trade volume between the two nations is the key contributor to the growth of the Japanese economy. Therefore, the country is trying out ways to balance its territorial concerns and economic needs by preserving its relationship with China while at the same time joining the quad grouping.

India

               The violation of international norms by China, especially by constructing military facilities in the South China Sea, affects India negatively. Considering China’s critical role in India’s economic development, the country has preserved its commitment to strategic autonomy to China despite being a member of the quad grouping.

Reasons Behind Quad’s High Media Attention

               Quad groping started attracting high media attention when it came back to life on November 12, 2017, by forming a quadrilateral coalition to counter the aggressive behavior of China in the Indo-Pacific region. The group held its first meeting after the rebirth one day before the ASEAN Summit, which was attended by officials from the Ministries of External Affairs of all member countries. Australia, Japan, and India issued alternate statements citing the Indo-Pacific as the central debate area. The group agreed to expand cooperation to maintain respect for international law and rule-based order in tactically vital regions (O’Neil & West, 2020). The countries agreed that an open, free, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific would positively impact the nations’ interests in the area and those of the entire world. The officials also shared ideas on tackling common propagation linkages and terrorism affecting the region, among other discussions. They also shared views on the best ways to use present-day technology to enhance connectivity. The meeting attracted significant media attention and has activated close follow-up by different media stations of all the group’s activities.

               Director generals from the four countries of the Quad group met officially for the second time in 2018 after the dialogue was reinitiated. The officials discussed ways to meet their shared objectives in development and connectivity, humanitarian assistance, regional security, maritime corporation, and disaster relief. Another complementary meeting was again held between the Quad countries, where joint secretaries heading American and East Asia were the attendees. The participants reassured their support for an open, accessible, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific Region. Members again confirmed their joint commitment, built on shared principles and values to ensure order in the Indo-Pacific.

               News about the Quad grouping was at its peak from March 12, 2021, after the US, Australia, India, and Japan conducted a virtual meeting because of the current Coronavirus pandemic. The leaders agreed to work as a unit to stop China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific and tackle the Covid pandemic. Quad members spoke about their plans to function alongside the World Health Organization to make Covid-19 vaccines available to more than one billion people in the Indi-Pacific region. With the Australian logistics competence, the United States’ technology, Indian manufacturing, and the Japanese financing, Quad members are confident with their plan of creating as many Covid-19 vaccines as possible to supply among their target population (Satake, 2020). Besides China’s aggressiveness and Covid-19, the members also agreed to work together to address climate change. The group also reiterated its assurance to denuclearize North Korea and encouraged the restoration of the democratic election of public members to the government in Myanmar.

Conclusion

               The member states started the quad grouping, majorly to protect their territories and limit China’s dominance. The group has grown to attract significant attention, not only in the media but also worldwide. Besides the limitation of China’s reign, the quadrilateral security dialogue has and is still making substantial contributions in tackling the current Coronavirus pandemic, which has had devastating impacts worldwide. The group has turned out to advocate for a more peaceful, free, prosperous, and inclusive world.

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United States- Iran Nuclear Crises: Portents for Israel

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ABSTRACT: In response to former US President Donald J. Trump’s unilateral American withdrawal from the July 2015 Iran Pact (JCPOA),[1] the Islamic Republic of Iran accelerated and reinvigorated its military nuclear program. More recently, nuclear talks between the two countries were re-started by President Joseph Biden, but are expected to be placed on hold until after Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahem Raisi, is sworn into office. Also plausible is that negotiations could break down altogether and that a precipitating event, either foreseen or unforeseen, would spark an Iran-US nuclear crisis. Such a crisis could quickly involve Israel.[2]

“Deterrence is concerned with influencing the choices that another party will make, and doing it by influencing his expectations of how we will behave.”-Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (1960)

Background of the problem

For many years, Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs had hoped for an American strike against Iran; ideally, a comprehensive preemptive attack on Iran’s pertinent nuclear infrastructures.[3] Nonetheless, any plausible US-Iran nuclear crisis could have become more costly than gainful for Israel. Any such crisis could have caused Jerusalem to recall too late the succinct maxim: “Be careful what you wish for.”

Explanations are required. If US President Joseph Biden should ever become embroiled in a major security crisis with Iran, all immediately relevant policy issues would center on strategy and tactics, not on considerations of law. These inherently complex policy issues could quickly become overlapping and interpenetrating. At times, therefore, whether witting or unwitting, Washington’s operational crisis decisions could sometimes prove jurisprudentially determinative.

Depending upon which country was to strike first in any belligerent US-Iran context, American military actions could become either law-violating or law-enforcing. Similar legal questions would follow from the particular types of weapons used and from the expressed regard or disregard shown for non-combatant (civilian) populations.

               “Everything is simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but even the simplest thing is very difficult.” None of these legal questions are meant to suggest that a first use of force would be ipso facto illegal. This is the case because customary international law (defined at Article 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice[4]) expressly allows for certain residual resort to “anticipatory self-defense.”[5] Following The Caroline (1837), international law need never be taken to represent some form or other of “suicide pact.”[6]

Intersecting jurisprudential and strategic considerations

               There is more. International law is always a part of each individual state’s corpus of domestic or municipal law, an authoritative incorporation most immediately conspicuous for the United States at Article 6 of the US Constitution (the Supremacy Clause) and in various US Supreme Court decisions, especially the Paquete Habana (1900) and Tel Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic (1981).[7]

               Certain antecedent questions now also arise. What, precisely, does US President Joseph Biden have in mind in preparing suitably for a prospective nuclear crisis or armed conflict with Iran? What would this presumptive American expectation mean for the derivative safety of US ally Israel?[8] What related benefits, if any, might be expected from the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords?[9] And what are the precise definitional parameters of “nuclear crisis”?

               This last question has an easy but still-complicating answer. Any US crisis with Iran must be considered per se “nuclear,” even if it takes place before that country becomes an operationally capable atomic power. Still, any crisis with Iran would become more demonstrably and dramatically nuclear where both states were “Members of the Nuclear Club.” This is the case even though a substantial and protracted nuclear force asymmetry would clearly obtain between Washington and Tehran.

               Once a genuine conflict was plainly underway between Iran and the United States,[10] full-scale military engagements could quickly or incrementally involve Israeli armed forces (IDF). In certain manifestly worst case scenarios, these clashes would involve unconventional weapons, and directly impact Israel’s vulnerable civilian populations.[11] The most fearful narratives here would obviously be ones that involve nuclear ordnance.[12]

               In anticipation, capable strategic and jurisprudential thinking is required in both Washington and Jerusalem. Even during a potentially fleeting time in which Israel would remain the only regional nuclear power, an American war with Iran could elicit Israeli nuclear deterrence threats[13] and/or Israeli nuclear reprisals.[14] For Israel, such threats or reprisals could be entirely rational[15]and fully legal.[16]

Plausible scenarios

How might such dissembling circumstances emerge? As a “bolt-from-the-blue” spasm of violence, or in less blatant stages; that is, in variously difficult-to- fathom increments of harm? Most credibly, a “collateral war” would come to Israel as a catastrophic fait accompli, a multi-pronged belligerency wherein even the most comprehensive security preparations in Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv would quite suddenly prove inadequate. What then? What would likely happen next, operationally and legally?

               The only meaningful answer to such inherently problematic queries must include aptly candid affirmations of strategic unpredictability. In science and mathematics, accurate statements of probability must always be drawn from the discernible frequency of relevant past events. In those increasingly dense strategic matters currently dangling before America, Iran and Israel,[17] there are no relevant past events.

               Matters here are made even more bewildering by already ongoing non-nuclear problems in the Middle East. Most urgent of these problems is the increasingly dramatic shortage of water and the growing uncertainty of electrical power. Though military strategists might not ordinarily factor in such “non-military” difficulties as primary to nuclear war avoidance, national security decision-making is ultimately carried out by flesh and blood human beings. Prima facie, such kindred creatures of biology will always be affected by the most elementary primal needs and expectations.

               Strategically, there is more here to ponder. For the moment, at least, Joe Biden has identified no specific military doctrine for tangible application in this theatre. Once confronted with a “no doctrine” war launched against Iran by an American president, whether as defensive first-strike or as retaliation (both could conceivably be lawful), Israel’s senior strategists would need to fashion their own corresponding doctrines – more-or-less ex nihilo.  

               How exactly should Jerusalem/Tel Aviv accurately anticipate Iranian or Iranian-surrogate attacks on Israeli targets? As an antecedent question, how should these decision-makers and planners best identify which of these vulnerable targets would be presumptively “high value”? At some point, such an Intelligence Community/Ministry of Defense (MOD) operational challenge could include the small defending country’s Dimona nuclear reactor. In 1991 and 2014, the ultrasensitive facility at Dimona already came under rocket and missile attack from separate Iraqi and Hamas aggressions.[18]

               In any upcoming conflict with the United States, Tehran would likely regard direct attacks upon selected Israeli targets as proper “retaliations” for American strikes. This is the case whether these strikes were launched as an initial move of war against the Islamic Republic and its surrogates or a variously foreseeable response to Iranian first strikes. Potentially, Iranian forces could gain operational access to hypersonic rockets or missiles. Should such                                       access be obtained, Israel’s critical capacity to shoot down hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and/or hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs) might prove sorely inadequate.

               What would happen next? In logical response, considerations of law and justice would likely prove anterior to visceral considerations of victory and survival. Among other things, could mean military escalations that are anything but gainful or “cost-effective.”

               When pertinent options are examined dialectically, as they should, it could be to Tehran’s perceived advantage to drag Israel into any US or Iran-initiated war and to do this ostentatiously. Striking the US homeland would prove vastly more difficult for Iran, and also more likely elicit a range of intolerable reprisals. On its face, any US-initiated war against Iran would strengthen Saudi military power specifically and Sunni Arab military power in general. While such an expected strengthening might now seem less worrisome to Israel than expanding Iranian militarization, this delicate strategic calculus could reverse very quickly.

 Israeli planners would need to investigate a number of previously disregarded military options against specific Sunni Arab adversaries, including legal questions of jus ad bellum and jus in bello.[19]Simultaneously, these planners would need to calculate prospective Iranian activation of Hezbollah and Houthi militias against not only Israel directly, but also Saudi Arabia and/or the United Arab Emirates. Regarding direct Shiite militia attacks against Israel, the main threat would be to Israeli shipping in the Red Sea. At this point, the Houthis maintain a real but still-limited capacity to target Israel from Yemen with long-range missiles and drones. Earlier, Iran played a major role in enabling Gaza terror factions (mostly Hamas) to produce usable weapons; today, the Islamic Republic is exporting valuable technological know-how to expanding Houthi forces in Yemen.

A complex geopolitics

Iran is seeking to become a regional hegemon in a manifestly “opaque” theater of conflict. Over time, both the United States and Israel must do what is possible to curb further Iranian activation of Houthi and Hezbollah militias. Assuredly, once Iran is able to cross the nuclear military threshold, all such inhibiting tactics would become expansively dangerous. Unless the United States approaches these fragmenting sources of Middle East instability in a more suitably coherent fashion, Israel is likely to be left “holding the bag.” Now, of course, in the summer of 2021, American forces are rapidly abandoning Afghanistan to assorted and diverse Jihadi forces. A geo-strategic vacuum will emerge to the palpable detriment of Israel.

It’s a very delicate regional balance of power. For years, a Salafi/Deobandi (Sunni) Crescent has emerged to challenge the Shiite Crescent. The objective is an attempt by Al Qaeda and other Salafi/Deobandi Islamist groups to counter the Crescent created by Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. 

Unambiguously, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are in a state of near-collapse –  a result especially of severe water and electrical shortages coupled with pandemic disease. “Salafi Crescent” reflects Sunni ambition to establish a caliphate controlling much of the Middle East and forming the Islamic State “from Diyala (in eastern Iraq) to Beirut.” Al-Qaeda’s hatred of the Shiites was already expressed by its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who called them “the insurmountable obstacle, the prowling serpent…the enemy lying in wait, and ordered his followers to ’fight them.’”

                Should the Biden-led US military ever find itself in a two-front or multi-front war –  a complex conflict wherein American forces are battling in Asia (North Korea) and the Middle East simultaneously – Israel could find itself fighting on its own. For such an exceptionally complicating scenario to be suitably appreciated, Israeli strategists would first need to bear in mind that any “whole” of tangible deteriorations caused by multi-front engagements could effectively exceed the sum of constituent “parts.”[20]

               This means, among other things, that Israeli strategists and planners will need to remain persistently sensitive to all credible synergies. It must go without saying that the former Trump administration (ushered into power at the 2016 Republican National Convention by Keynote “Speaker” Duck Dynasty) was unaccustomed to any such challenging intellectual calculations. For those now-discarded planners in Washington, complex strategic decisions could best be extrapolated from the commerce-driven worlds of real-estate manipulation and casino gambling.

               If only the United States had earlier paid attention to Friedrich Nietzsche’s simple warning in Zarathustra: “Do not seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.”

               Presently, there is still time for Washington and Jerusalem to recall certain timeless insights of Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz. For the author of On War, the determining standard of reasonableness in any military contest must always lie in presumed political outcomes. For a state to get caught up in war – any war – without adequately clear political expectations is always a mistake. Here, both Washington and Jerusalem must concern themselves not only with Iranian power projections and expansions, but also with the perilously uncertain prospects of the “Sunni Crescent,” an array of more-or-less organized Sunni forces intending to combat Shiite adventurism. If this were not complicated enough, planners in Washington and Jerusalem/Tel Aviv must also consider various believable intersections or synergies, consideration’s that will inevitably pose a staggering measure of intellectual challenge.

Recent regional histories

For more years than we may care to recollect, futile American wars remained underway in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In short time, for Iraqis and Afghans, their once-hoped-for oases of regional stability will regress to what seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have called a “war of all against all.”[21] At best, what eventually unravels in these severely fractured countries will be no worse than if these wars had never even been fought. At worst, what unravels will be substantially more unstable.

               Either way, what is now unraveling in Iraq and Afghan will never represent a welcome political outcome.

               Shouldn’t we all now inquire, accordingly: Did Americans and others sacrifice so much blood and treasure to bring about, at best, status quo ante bellum?

               Over the years, with the now obvious exception of North Korea,[22] America’s principal doctrinal enemy has changed, dramatically, from “communism” to “Islamism” or “Jihadism.” This time, however, the ideological adversary is palpable, real and not merely presumptive.  This time it is also a formidable and finely-textured foe, one that requires continuously serious analytic study, not just ad hoc responses or seat-of-the-pants US presidential eruptions. There are times, perhaps, when real or contrived bellicosity can serve American national security policy objectives (e.g., the possible deterrence benefit of pretended irrationality) and objectives of certain close allies (e.g., Israel), but not where it is detached from previously-constructed theoretical foundations.[23]

               There is more. The Jihadist enemy of America and Israel remains a foe that can never be fully defeated, at least not in any measurable final sense. This determined enemy will not be immobilized on any of the more usual or traditional military battlefields.[24]  Never.

               If at some point a particular Jihadi adversary has seemingly been vanquished by US military forces in one country or another, it will likely re-group and reappear elsewhere. After Iraq, after Afghanistan, even after Syria (which now dissembles with Russian support of a genocidal regime that has always been hostile to Israel), America will face resurgent adversaries in hard-to-manage and geographically far-flung places. These locales include Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, and perhaps even Bangladesh or (in  the future) “Palestine.”[25] In the end, the “final” resolution to various conflicts will largely be a matter of will.[26]

               During the Trump Era in the Middle East, an American president and his National Security Advisor sounded alarm bells over Iran –  and this after the United States, not Iran, withdrew from an international legal agreement that was less than perfect,[27] but (reasonably) better than nothing at all.[28]

Preemption and anticipatory self-defense

When all these intersecting factors are taken into suitable intellectual account, there remains a residual argument (one that might quickly be anticipated in Israel) that a US-generated war with Iran would de facto amount to an anti-nuclear preemption[29] or to some similarly purposeful act of “anticipatory self-defense.”[30] Here, and with little reasonable doubt, the American war would be regarded as “cost-effective” or “net gainful” in Jerusalem/Tel Aviv.[31] This visceral assessment, however, could become a matter of what Sigmund Freud called “wish fulfillment” rather than of one of any serious strategic assessment (risks and benefits).

               Realistically, there is only a tiny likelihood that American bombs and missiles would soon be adequately targeted on widely multiplied/hardened/dispersed Iranian nuclear infrastructures.

               In reality, at least for the present, any US war against Iran would be contrary to Israel’s core national security interests and obligations. Glib reassurances to the contrary from Jerusalem/Tel Aviv or Washington (or both) could be prospectively lethal for Israel. Though assuredly genuine, the attack threat from Iran should never be taken as an opening for crudely simplifying political rhetoric. Instead, this threat should be assessed and calibrated dialectically,[32] as reliably as possible according to all normally verifiable standards of enemy force posture estimations.[33]

                If, at any point during crisis bargaining between Iran, Hezbollah, Israel and the United States, one side or the other should place too great a value on achieving “escalation dominance”[34] and too little value on parallel considerations of national safety, the expanding conflict could promptly turn “out of control.” Any such consequential deterioration would be especially or even uniquely worrisome if Israel threatened or launched some of its presumptive nuclear forces. This is the case irrespective of any promised strategic support for Israel from the United States.

The importance of doctrine

               In sum, if Israel should look again to the United States for seamlessly capable geo-strategic leadership, it could be taking unprecedented national security risks. At a minimum, Israel has the incontestable right (and also the obligation – to its own citizens) to expect fully decipherable expressions of US military doctrine. Going forward, unless it should insist more firmly upon maintaining this critical right, Israel could then have to face starkly injurious security outcomes. The considered prospect of a fully-sovereign Palestinian state would need to be taken here as a significant “intervening variable.”[35]

                Every state’s first responsibility is to assure and maintain citizen protection; citizen allegiance is therefore contingent upon such valid assurances.  Most famous in pertinent political theory is the classic statement of seventeenth-century Englishman Thomas Hobbes, expressed at Chapter XXI of his Leviathan: “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last so long, and no longer, then the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them.” Later, Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, described this obligation as binding upon all the nations. Writing his Opinion on the French Treaties (April 28, 1793), Jefferson opined: “The nation itself, bound necessarily to whatever it’s preservation and safety require, cannot enter into engagements contrary to its indispensable obligations.”[36]

               There is more. In law, every state has an enduring obligation to oppose and (if necessary) suitably punish aggression. Punishment of aggression is a longstanding peremptory expectation of international criminal law.  The foundational principle of Nullum crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its origins in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728 – 1686 B.C.E.); the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 B.C.E.); the even earlier Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the law of exact retaliation, or Lex Talionis, which ispresented in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah

               For Israel, a uniformly continuous concern with certain basic jurisprudential principles could advance its legal as well as strategic objectives, most plainly those that jurist William Blackstone had identified in his Commentaries on the Law of England (Book 4 “Of Public Wrongs”): “Each state is expected, perpetually,” noted Blackstone, “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.”

                Such ideas did not arise in a theoretic or intellectual vacuum. Ultimately, Blackstone is indebted to Cicero’s description of natural law in The Republic: “True law is right reason, harmonious with nature, diffused among all, constant, eternal; a law which calls to duty by its commands and restrains from evil by its prohibitions….” Natural law is never an adornment. Always, it lies at the very heart of United States Constitutional law and of all that conceivably derives therefrom.

Just wars and cumulative complexities

               As for “just wars” pertaining to both jus ad bellum and jus in bello criteria, Hugo Grotius wrote that they “arise from our love of the innocent.”[37] Though it is most unlikely that such legal high-mindedness could ever factor into US President Joe Biden’s possible decision to encourage or initiate a war against Iran, it still remains a promising standard for Israel to bear continuously in mind. This will prove especially good advice if American military actions against Iran should sometime prod the Islamic Republic to “retaliate” against Israel.

More than ever before, the Middle East has become a complicated “neighborhood.” To wit, overlapping Arab-Israel and Iran-Israel hostilities are rapidly changing variants of Sunni-Shia rivalries, including an irremediably core geo-political struggle between “Shia Crescent” and Sunni-Crescent (Salafi/Deobandi) countries. While Israel and the United States continue to have overriding common strategic interests, it remains altogether likely that certain upcoming resorts to military force by Washington could “tie the hands” of relevant policy-makers in Jerusalem. Whether witting or unwitting, any such American “tying” could sometime place Israel in existential peril,[38] This would become markedly true as soon as Iran had crossed the nuclear weapons threshold.

               What is to be done? Above all, the United States must take care to keep Israel “in the loop” wherever possible and Israel must make a reciprocal effort to stay fully informed about America’s regional foreign policy orientations. In this connection, greater subtlety will have to be applied by Israeli assessments than was displayed during the Trump Era. As a still-inconspicuous example, the net effect of the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords could prove sorely negative for Israel. Though these agreements might first have seemed gainful to Israel prima facie, they actually have no tangible bearing on Israel’s core security problems. Simultaneously, the Abraham Accords antagonize and marginalize Iran, a destabilizing effect that can’t possibly prove helpful to Israel.

               Going forward, the United States will inevitably find itself embroiled in various crisis relationships with Iran. To best protect itself from any unwanted collateral consequences, US ally Israel should continue to refine its intellect-based policies of deterrence, both conventional and nuclear.[39] More precisely, to optimize its presumed nuclear deterrent, Jerusalem/Tel Aviv should finally confront the rapidly disappearing advantages of “nuclear ambiguity,”[40] thereby acknowledging that the Jewish state is now able to calibrate a nuclear response to any particular level of military threat.[41] Prima facie, such an acknowledgment would serve not only Israel’s strategic obligations, but its complementary jurisprudential ones as well.[42]

               For Israel, in all pertinent matters, strategy and law must go hand in hand. Yet, even under optimal conditions regarding stable nuclear deterrence, the United States could suddenly find itself in extremis atomicum. The very same steps needed to maximize a credible American deterrence posture could simultaneously enlarge the likelihood of inadvertent nuclear war.[43] For Israel and the United States, one core imperative ought never be minimized or disregarded:

“Be careful what you wish for!”


[1] See https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/trumps-jcpoa-withdrawal-two-years-on-maximum-pressure-minimum-outcomes/

[2] On deterring a prospectively nuclear Iran, see Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012; and Beres/Chain: Israel: https://besacenter.org/living-iran-israels-strategic-imperative-2/  General Jack Chain (USAF) was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), from 1986 to 1991.

[3]From the standpoint of international law, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking an enemy first in the expectation that the only alternative is to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack is launched not out of genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in a pertinent military balance.  Hence, in a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is very short, while in a preventive strike the interval is considerably longer. A problem for Israel, in this regard, is not only the practical difficulty of determining imminence, but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained imminence is acknowledged, could prove fatal.

[4] See: https://www.icj-cij.org/en/statute

[5] For early scholarly examinations of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, and with particular reference to Israel, see:  Louis René Beres,  “Preserving the Third Temple:  Israel’s Right of Anticipatory Self-Defense Under International Law,”  Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law,  Vol. 26,  No. 1,  April 1993,  pp. 111- 148;  Louis René Beres,  “After the Gulf War:  Israel, Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  Houston Journal of International Law, Vol. 13,  No. 2,  Spring 1991,  pp. 259 – 280;  and Louis René Beres,  “Striking `First’: Israel’s Post-Gulf War Options Under International Law,” Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Journal  Vol. 14,  Nov. 1991,  pp. 1 – 24.

[6] The obvious Israeli precedents for any preemptive moves would be Operation Opera directed against the Osiraq (Iraqi) nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981, and, later (though lesser known) Operation Orchard, against Syria on September 6, 2007. In April 2011, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the bombed Syrian site in the Deir ez-Zoe region of Syria had indeed been a developing nuclear reactor. Both preemptions were arguably lawful assertions of Israel’s “Begin Doctrine.”

[7]See:  https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/517/542/2386834/

[8] Regarding specific effects of US nuclear strategy on security matters in the Middle East, by this author, see: Louis René Beres: https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/162-MONOGRAPH-Beres-Israeli-Nuclear-Deterrence-CORRECTED-NEW.pdf

[9] See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ Also to be considered as complementary to these agreements are the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and the Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).

[10] Under international law, the question of whether or not a condition of war actually exists between states is often left unclear.  Traditionally, a “formal” war was said to exist only after a state had issued a formal declaration of war.  The Hague Convention III codified this position in 1907.  This Convention provided that hostilities must not commence without “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum.  See Hague Convention III on the Opening of Hostilities, Oct. 18, 1907, art. 1, 36 Stat. 2277, 205 Consol. T.S. 263.  Presently, a declaration of  war could be tantamount to a declaration of criminality because international law prohibits “aggression.” See Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, Aug. 27, 1948, art. 1, 46 Stat.  2343, 94 L.N.T.S.  57 (also called Pact of Paris or Kellogg-Briand Pact); Nuremberg Judgment, 1 I.M.T.  Trial of the Major War Criminals 171 (1947), portions reprinted in Burns H. Weston, et. al., INTERNATIONAL LAW AND WORLD ORDER  148, 159 (1980); U.N. Charter, art. 2(4).  A state may compromise its own legal position by announcing formal declarations of war.  It follows that a state of belligerency may exist without formal declarations, but only if there exists an armed conflict between two or more states and/or at least one of these states considers itself “at war.”

[11] Israel’s anti-missile defense shield has four overlapping layers: The Iron Dome system for intercepting short-range rockets; David’s Sling for medium-range rockets; Arrow-2 against intermediate-range ballistic missiles; and Arrow-3 for deployment against ICBM’s and (potentially) satellites.

[12] On the probable consequences of nuclear war fighting by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 2018); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA; Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[13] Israel’s presumptive nuclear deterrence posture depends upon several separate but still-intersecting factors. Most important are the country’s significant weapons, infrastructures and missile defense capabilities. Less conspicuously urgent, but still important, are the defining structures of world politics. These structures include the fundamentally anarchic system created after the 1648 Peace of Westphalia (“The State System”) and also (though plainly more transient or temporary) US-Russian superpower rivalry. The carefully detailed essay that follows focuses critically-needed attention on the latter set of explanatory factors, one associated with “Cold War II.” To plan ahead optimally, Israel’s designated strategists should pay increasing attention to this particular expression of geo-political “context.” These strategists will also have to look more closely than usual within pertinent decision-making structures of the United States. This is because (1) America is experiencing steadily expanding levels of intra-national cultural incoherence, epidemic and disorder, and (2) such levels will have major inter-national implications.

[14] The legal problem of reprisal as a permissible rationale for the use of force by states is identified and explained in the U.N. Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States (1970) (https://cil.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/formidable/18/1970-Declaration-on-Principles-of-International-Law-Concerning-Friendly-Relations.pdf)  Additionally, a possible prohibition of reprisals is deducible from the broad regulation of force expressed in the UN Charter at Article 2(4); the obligation to settle disputes peacefully at Article 2(3); and the general limiting of permissible force (codified and customary) by states to necessary self-defense.

[15] In authoritative studies of world politics, rationality and irrationality have taken on very precise meanings. A state is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational state is one that would not always display such a markedly specific preference ordering. On expressly pragmatic or operational grounds, ascertaining whether a particular state adversary such as Iran would be rational or irrational could easily become an overwhelmingly daunting task.

[16] No state on earth, including Israel, is under any per se legal obligation to renounce access to nuclear weapons; in certain distinctly residual circumstances, moreover, even the actual resort to such weapons could be presumed lawful. See generally The Legality of the Threat or Use of Force of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, 1997 I.C.J. (July 8). The final paragraph of this Opinion, concludes, inter alia: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

[17] “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz, in his classical discussion of “friction” in On War, “but the simplest thing is difficult.” Herein, this concept refers to the unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties; on Israeli and Iranian under-estimations or over-estimations of relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence, and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

[18] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[19] In law, states must judge every use of force twice: once with regard to the underlying right to wage war (jus ad bellum) and once with regard to the means used in actually conducting war (jus in bello). Following the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and the United Nations Charter, there can be absolutely no right to aggressive war. However, the long-standing customary right of post-attack self-defense remains codified at Article 51 of the UN Charter. Similarly, subject to conformance, inter alia, with jus in bello criteria, certain instances of humanitarian intervention and collective security operations may also be consistent with jus ad bellum. The law of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all belligerent calculations.

[20] See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/

[21] Apropos of Hobbes’ argument that the state of nature is worse among individuals than among states, the philosopher Spinoza suggested that “…a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295.

[22] Here it also ought to be recalled that North Korea once helped Syria build a nuclear reactor, the same facility that was later destroyed by Israel in its Operation Orchard, on September 6, 2007. Unlike earlier Operation Opera (June 7, 1981) this preemptive attack, in the Deir ez-Zor region, was presumptively a second expression of the so-called “Begin Doctrine.” It also illustrated, because of the North Korea-Syria connection, a wider globalthreat to Israel in particular.

[23] At the same time, we cannot be allowed to forget that theoretical fruitfulness must be achieved at some more-or-less tangible cost of “dehumanization.”  As Goethe reminds us is Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, And the golden tree of life is green.” Translated here by the author, from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.”

[24] Under international law, terrorist movements (of which Jihadist groups are a current manifestation) are always Hostes humani generis, or “Common enemies of mankind.” See: Research in International Law: Draft Convention on Jurisdiction with Respect to Crime, 29 AM J. INT’L L. (Supp 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615) (“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).

[25] See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/07/louis-beres-palestine-fiction/

For earlier and original writings by this author on the prospective impact of a Palestinian state on Israeli nuclear deterrence and Israeli nuclear strategy, see: Louis René Beres, “Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel’s Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options,” Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, “After the `Peace Process:’ Israel, Palestine, and Regional Nuclear War,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 15, No. 2., Winter 1997, pp. 301-335; Louis René Beres, “Limits of Nuclear Deterrence: The Strategic Risks and Dangers to Israel of False Hope,” ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY, Vol. 23., No. 4., Summer 1997, pp. 539-568; Louis René Beres, “Getting Beyond Nuclear Deterrence: Israel, Intelligence and False Hope,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE AND COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, Vol. 10., No. 1., Spring 1997, pp. 75-90; Louis René Beres, “On Living in a Bad Neighborhood: The Informed Argument for Israeli Nuclear Weapons,” POLITICAL CROSSROADS, Vol. 5., Nos. 1/2, 1997, pp. 143-157; Louis René Beres, “Facing the Apocalypse: Israel and the `Peace Process,'” BTZEDEK: THE JOURNAL OF RESPONSIBLE JEWISH COMMENTARY (Israel), Vol. 1., No. 3., Fall/Winter 1997, pp. 32-35; Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why Golan Demilitarization Would Not Work,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XXIV, No. 1., Winter 1996, pp. 75-76; Louis René Beres, “Implications of a Palestinian State for Israeli Security and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 17., No. 2., 1999, pp. 229-286; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” CROSSROADS: AN INTERNATIONAL SOCIO-POLITICAL JOURNAL, No. 31, 1991, pp. 97-104; Louis René Beres, “The Question of Palestine and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” THE POLITICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 62, No. 4., October-December 1991, pp. 451-460; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Palestine and Regional Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF PEACE PROPOSALS, Vol. 22., No. 2., June 1991, pp. 227-234; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State: Implications for Israel’s Security and the Possibility of Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF THE JERUSALEM INSTITUTE FOR WESTERN DEFENCE  (Israel), Vol. 4., Bulletin No, 3., October 1991, pp. 3-10; Louis René Beres, ISRAELI SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS, PSIS Occasional Papers, No. 1/1990, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, 40 pp; and Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, Palestine and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp. 48-55.

[26] Modern philosophic origins of “will” are discoverable in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps more importantly upon Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic twentieth-century work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas;1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[27] See Louis René Beres, “After the Vienna Agreement: Could Israel and a Nuclear

Iran Coexist?” IPS Publications, Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC Herzliya,

Israel, September, 2015 See also:   https://www.idc.ac.il/he/research/ips/Documents/iran/LouisReneBeres-Iran2014.pdf

[28] International law remains in essence a “vigilante” system, sometimes also called a “Westphalian” system. Such history-based reference is to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the now still-existing self-help “state system.” See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[29] Such a “life-saving” preemption option could be entirely permissible under international law. Known jurisprudentially as anticipatory self-defense, this potentially lawful option can be found not in conventional law (art. 51 of the UN Charter supports only post-attack expressions of individual or collective self-defense), but in customary international law. The most precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie in the Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925) (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).

[30] Professor Louis René Beres was Chair of Project Daniel (PM Sharon) in 2003-2004. The rationale of Project Daniel was to examine the developing Iranian nuclear threat and to make pertinent suggestions about minimizing this threat.  See: http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm

[31] Historically, preemption has figured importantly in Israeli strategic calculations.  This was most glaringly apparent in the wars of 1956 and 1967 and in the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and later the Syrian facility.  It was essentially the failure to preempt in October 1973 that contributed to heavy Israeli losses on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts during the Yom Kippur war, and almost brought about an Israeli defeat.  Back during January, May, and October 2013, Israel, understandably apprehensive about Damascus’ supply of military materials to Syria’s Hezbollah surrogates in Lebanon, preemptively struck selected hard targets within Syria. For an informed jurisprudential assessment of these undeclared but still-appropriate expressions of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Striking Hezbollah-Bound Weapons in Syria: Israel’s Actions Under International Law,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, posted August 26, 2013.

[32] The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s strategy  vis-à-vis Iran, the following operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1)  a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.

[33] The de facto condition of Hobbesian anarchy within which Israel must make its pertinent assessments and calibrations stands in stark contrast to the legal assumption of solidarity between states. In essence, this idealized assumption concerns a presumptively common struggle against both aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, was already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit Des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[34] See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/28931

[35] Some supporters of a Palestinian state argue that its prospective harms to Israel could be reduced or even eliminated by ensuring that new Arab state’s immediate “demilitarization.” For informed reasoning against this argument, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter 1998, pp. 347-363; and Louis René Beres and Ambassador Shoval, “On Demilitarizing a Palestinian `Entity’ and the Golan Heights: An International Law Perspective,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vo. 28., No.5., November 1995, pp. 959-972.

[36] See: Merrill D. Peterson, The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello Monograph Series, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1993, p. 115.

[37] See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace 70 (William Whewell, tr.), London: John W. Parker, 1853(1625).

[38] Much has been written concerning Israel’s irremediably limited strategic depth. This core security issue was addressed as early as June 29, 1967, when a US Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum specified that returning Israel to pre-1967 boundaries would drastically increase its existential vulnerabilities. The JCS Chairman, General Earl Wheeler, then concluded that merely for minimal deterrence and defense, Israel should retain Sharm el-Sheikh and Wadi El Girali in the Sinai; the Gaza Strip (entire); the high ground and plateaus of the mountains in Judea and Samaria (West Bank); and the Golan Heights, east of Quneitra.

[39] Notes Guillaume Apollinaire, “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” See this poet’s The New Spirit and the Poets (1917). See also, Professor Beres with Ambassador Zalman Shoval: (Pentagon): https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[40] See, by Professor Beres, “Changing Direction: Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” Strategic Assessment, INSS (Israel), Vol. 17, No.3., October 2014: http://www.inss.org.il/uploadImages/systemFiles/adkan17_3ENG%20(3)_Beres.pdf   Earlier, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Changing Direction? Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” INSS, Israel, Strategic Assessment, Vol. 17, No.3., October 2014, pp. 93-106. See also: Louis René Beres, Looking Ahead: Revising Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity in the Middle East, Herzliya Conference Policy Paper, Herzliya Conference, March 11-14, 2013 (Herzliya, Israel); Louis René Beres and Leon “Bud” Edney, Admiral  (USN/ret.) “Facing a Nuclear Iran, Israel Must Rethink its Nuclear Ambiguity,” U.S. News & World Report, February 11, 2013; 3pp; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney,  “Reconsidering Israel’s Nuclear Posture,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2013. Admiral Edney served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT).

[41] Elements of essential doctrine could sometimes prove counter-intuitive. For example, the likelihood of any actual nuclear conflict between states could be inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms

[42] The law of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all belligerent calculations. Evidence for the rule of proportionality can also be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) at Art. 4. Similarly, the American Convention on Human Rights allows at Art. 27(1) such derogations “in time of war, public danger or other emergency which threaten the independence or security of a party” on “condition of proportionality.” In essence, the military principle of proportionality requires that the amount of destruction permitted must be proportionate to the importance of the objective. In contrast, the political principle of proportionality states “a war cannot be just unless the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensure from the war is less than the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensue if the war is not fought.” See Douglas P. Lackey, THE ETHICS OF WAR AND PEACE, 40 (1989). modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.  679 (1969).

[43] On 27 July 2921, US President Joseph Biden opined that the foreseeably greatest risk of a nuclear war would be as the result of cyber-terrorism or hacking. See: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/biden-warns-real-shooting-war-003405801.html

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Defense

The Nuclear future of East Asia

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In the face of North Korea and China’s continuous expansion and advancement in their nuclear arsenal in the past decade, the nuclear question for East Asian countries is now more urgent than ever—especially when U.S.’s credibility of extended deterrence has been shrinking since the post-cold war era. Whether to acquire independent nuclear deterrent has long been a huge controversy, with opinions rather polarized. Yet it is noteworthy that there is indeed gray zone between zero and one—the degree of latency nuclear deterrence.

This paper suggests that developing nuclear weapons may not be the wise choice for East Asian countries at the moment, however, given the fact that regional and international security in the Asia-Pacific is deemed to curtail, regardless of their decision to go nuclear or not, East Asia nations should increase their latency nuclear deterrence. In other words, even if they do not proceed to the final stage of acquiring independent nuclear deterrent, a latent nuclear weapons capability should at least be guaranteed. Meanwhile, for those who have already possessed certain extent of nuclear latency—for instance, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—to shorten their breakout time whilst minimize obstacles for a possible nuclearization in the future.

The threat is ever-present—The Nuclear North Korea

Viewing from a realist perspective, the geographical locations of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have always been a valid argument for their nuclearization—being surrounded by nuclear-armed neighbors, namely China and North Korea—these countries have witnessed an escalation of threat on an unprecedented scale since the cold war.

Having its first nuclear weapon tested in 2006, the total inventory North Korea now possess is estimated to be 30-40. With the misstep of relieving certain sanction during the Trump era, North Korea was able to revive and eventually expand its nuclear arsenal, making future negotiation between the Biden administration and the Kim regime much harder and less effective. Not only has North Korea’s missile test on March 25—which is the first since Mr. Biden’s presidency—signaled a clear message to the U.S. and her allies of its nuclearization will and stance, Pyongyang’s advancement in nuclear technologies also indicates a surging extent of threat.

For instance, North Korea state media KCNA claimed that the latest missile launched was a “new-type tactical guided projectile” which is capable of performing “gliding and pull-up” manoeuvres with an “improved version of a solid fuel engine”. In addition to these suspected “new type of missiles” that travels in low-attitude, the diversity of launches Pyongyang currently possess—from short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), as well as the transporter erector launchers (TELs) and the cold launch system—increase the difficulty in intercepting them via Aegis destroyer or other ballistic missile defense system since it is onerous, if not impossible, to detect the exact time and venue of the possible launches. Indeed, the “new type of missile” could potentially render South Korea’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) useless by evading radar detection system through its manoeuvres, according to a study from 38 North at The Henry L. Stimson Center.

Moreover,  the cold launch (perpendicular launch) system used by the North also indicates that multiple nuclear weapons could be fired from the same launch pad without severely damages caused to the infrastructure. Shigeru Ishiba, the former Defense Minister of Japan, has noted that not all incoming missiles would be able to be intercepted with the country’s missile defense system, and “even if that is possible, we cannot perfectly respond to saturation attacks”.

The Chinese nuclear arsenal

According to the SIPRI yearbook 2020, China’s total inventory of nuclear deterrent has reached 320, exceeding United Kingdom and France’s possession of nuclear warheads, of which London and Paris’s nuclear deterrent were considered as limited deterrence. In spite of the fact that China’s current nuclear stockpiles is still far less that what the Russians and Americans have, its nuclear technologies has been closely following the two military superpowers. For instance, the Chinese have successfully developed Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRVs) and Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle (MARVs)—its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) DF-41 is capable of equipping up to 10 MIRVs while its Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) DF-21D could carry MARV warhead that poses challenges to the BMD systems—these advancement in nuclear technologies are the solid proof that the Chinese nukes are only steps away from Moscow and Washington. Yet China’s nuclear arsenal remains unchecked and is not confined by any major nuclear arms reduction treaty such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), of which US and Russia has just reached a mutual consensus to extend the treaty through Feb 4, 2026.

In addition to China’s expansion of military capabilities and ambition in developing hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and new MARVs, there is no lack of scepticism of its no-first use policy, especially with Beijing’s coercive diplomacy and provocative actions in the East and South China Sea, regarding “freedom of navigation” and other sovereignty rights issues. These all raise concerns and generate insecurity from neighboring countries and hence, East Asia states i.e. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan would inevitably have to reconsider their nuclear option.

In spite of having advanced BMD system, for instance, Aegis Destroyer (Japan), THAAD (South Korea), Sky Bow III (Taiwan), the existing and emerging nuclear arsenal in Pyongyang and Beijing still leave East Asian states vulnerable under a hypothetical attack as mentioned above. Future could be worse than it seems—merely having deterrence by denial is not sufficient to safeguard national security—particularly with a shrinking credibility of U.S.’s extended deterrence since the post-cold war era.

America’s nuclear umbrella and the Alliance Dilemma

Theoretically speaking, alliance relations with the U.S. assure a certain extent of deterrence by punishment against hostile adversaries. For example, U.S. is committed to defend Japan under the 1960 Mutual Defense Treaty. Yet in reality, security could never be guaranteed. In a realist lens, state could not rely on others to defend their national interests, especially when it puts America’s homeland security at risk. Is U.S. willing to sacrifice Washington for Tokyo? Or New York for Seoul?

Strong rhetoric or even defense pact would not be able to ensure collective security, let alone strategic ambiguity, which is a strategy adopted by Washington for Taipei that is neither a binding security commitment nor the stance is clear. Regardless of the prospect of a better future than mere war and chaos, state should always prepare for the worst.

Besides, with Trump’s American First policy continuously undermining alliance relations in the past four years, East Asian countries may find it hard to restore mutual trust since diplomatic tracks are irreversible, despite Biden’s administration intention and effort to repair alliance and U.S.’s integrity as the global leader.

Moreover, even if alliance relations and credibility of extended deterrence is robust at the moment, but the bigger question is—could and should East Asian countries shelter under America’s nuclear umbrella forever? If they choose not to go nuclear, these states would be constantly threatened by their nuclear-armed neighbors, without a credible direct (nuclear) deterrence to safeguard national security; and forced to negotiate, or worse, compromise in the face of a possible nuclear extortion.

Undeniably, horizontal nuclear proliferation is always risky. Not only is it likely to deteriorate diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, but also generates a (nuclear) regional arms race that eventually trap all nations into a vicious circle of security dilemma due to the lack of mutual trust in an anarchical system, which will consequently lead to a decrease in regional, as well as international security.

Yet with the expansion and advancement of Pyongyang and Beijing’s nuclear arsenal, regional and international security is deemed to curtail, regardless of East Asian countries’ decisions to go nuclear or not. As the official members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Japan’s and South Korea’s withdrawal may encourage other current non-nuclear weapon state to develop nukes. However, current existence of the NPT has already proven futile to prevent North Korea from acquiring its own nuclear weapons; or Israel, India and Pakistan, who are UN members but have never signed any of the treaties, to join the nuclear club.

The major concern about nuclear proliferation is never about the amount of warhead one possesses, but if they are in the wrong hands; for instance, a “rogue” state like North Korea. It is almost certain than none of the latent nuclear East Asia states would be considered “rogue” but just developed nations with rational calculation. In fact, the actual risk for these states joining the nuclear club in reality is not as high as most imagined. It may, indeed, help further bolster alliance relations between U.S., Japan and South Korea if they are able to come to some mutual consensuses in advance—developing independent nuclear deterrent is not an approach of alienating America’s presence as an effective ally but to strengthen security commitment with each other, and that US would support her allies in the Asia-Pacific in such attempt. The current existence of extended deterrence should not be a barrier for nuclearization. Rather, it should act as an extra protection for allied states.

Pave the way for future nuclearization

Admittedly, the road for any East Asia countries to go nuclear would be tough. Taipei’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons would imaginably trigger provocative response from Beijing, if not impossible, a pre-emptive strike that could lead to an escalation of war. Same situation goes for Seoul and Pyongyang even though the risk is relatively lower. As for Japan, although direct military confrontation is less likely comparing to Seoul and Taipei, the challenges Tokyo face for its nuclear option is no easier than any of them.

As the sole nation that has suffered from an atomic bomb explosion, Japan’s pacifism and anti-nuclear sentiment is embedded in its culture and society. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Sankei News in 2017, 17.7% of the respondents agreed that “Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons in the future” whilst 79.1% opposed to that idea. Despite having the imperative skills and technologies for an acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent (the breakout time for Japan is estimated to be about 6-12 months), Japan also lacks natural resources for producing nuclear warheads and has to rely heavily on uranium imports. Upholding the three non-nuclear principle since WWII, Japan’s bilateral nuclear agreements with the U.S., U.K, France and Australia specified that all imported nuclear-related equipment and materials “must be used only for the non-military purposes”. Violation of these agreements may result in sanctions that could cause devastated effect on Japan’s nuclear energy program, which supplies approximately 30% of the nation’s total electricity production. These issues, however, are not irresolvable.

Undeniably, it may take time and effort to negotiate new agreements and to change people’s pacifism into an “active pacifism”, yet these should not be the justifications to avoid the acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent as ensuring national security should always be the top priority. It is because in face of a nuclear extortion, the effectiveness of a direct nuclear deterrence guaranteed by your own country could not be replaced by any other measures such as deterrence by denial via BMD system or deterrence by punishment via extended deterrence and defense pact. Therefore, if there are too many obstacles ahead, then perhaps the wiser choice for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan at the moment is to increase their nuclear latency deterrence, shorten the breakout time and pave their way clear for future nuclearization. In other words, to keep their nuclear option open and be able to play offense and defense at its own will when the time comes.

Nevertheless, in addition to strengthening one’s latency nuclear deterrence, as well as obtaining a more equal relationship in the official and unofficial alliance with America, East Asian countries that have similar interest and common enemies should united to form a new military alliance which included security treaty regarding collective defense like the NATO; and focuses more on countering hybrid warfare like the QUAD. If Japan, South Korea and Taiwan ever choose to go nuclear, a common mechanism could be established to ensure that these states would pursue a minimum to limited deterrence capability that do not endanger each other’s security but rather to strengthen it, which would help minimizing the destabilization brought to regional security while constituting a more balanced situation with nuclear-armed rivalries.

After all, proliferation may not be the best solution, it is certainly not the worst either.

From our partner International Affairs

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