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Looking Back to Singapore on the Road to Helsinki

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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Donald Trump has already invested a lot of personal political capital by agreeing to meet with Vladimir Putin despite the warnings of many of his advisers, associates and allies. Trump will have at least two opportunities to achieve an impressive historically significant victory. First, he could secure a promise from Vladimir Putin that Russia will not interfere in the midterm Congressional elections later this year, set to take place just five short months from now. Second, the sides could draw up some kind of framework document on Syria. This is particularly relevant as Trump is not especially interested in Syria and has been threatening to wrap up the U.S. operation in the country for a while now.

The agreement with North Korea is being spun as a personal achievement of Trump, rather than the fruit of U.S. policy that has been implemented over the course of several years. According to Trump’s version, it was he who managed to “solve” the problem that his predecessors had been unable to deal with for decades. Every possible “deal” with Moscow will be considered separately. If Russia’s friend Donald has the opportunity to press his friend Vladimir on the global arms market, then he will do so to the fullest extent.

The final declaration, if there is one, will inevitably be an extremely general, concise, and at the same time vague document. Trying to get something more concrete from Trump at this stage is a hopeless affair and a waste of time and energy.

The existing balance of power within the administration, and within the U.S. political establishment as a whole, does not yet favour a departure from the course of tough confrontation with Russia. And Trump’s mood, as the experience of North Korea demonstrates, tends to fluctuate wildly.

Nevertheless, the summit in Helsinki presents the most realistic opportunity for Russia to open a meaningful conversation with the United States on issues that are of great importance to both countries. It will likely be a long time before another chance like this presents itself.

Helsinki has little in common with Singapore. And Russia is vastly different from North Korea. On the international stage, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un play in different leagues and by different rules. Nevertheless, the recent U.S.–North Korea summit in Singapore is of some interest in the context of preparations for the meeting between U.S. and Russian leaders on July 16. The impressive political show that took place on the island of Sentosa allows us to make some assumptions about the diplomatic style of Donald Trump in dealing with “difficult” partners who are not inclined to easily succumb to overt pressure and are not prepared to unconditionally accept American superiority.

“What I need is to win. Nothing else! ”

It is well known that Donald Trump has a soft spot for strong leaders, even those who cannot be considered friends or allies of the United States. America’s traditional partners rarely receive the kind of attention from the President that Kim Jong-un was afforded in Singapore on June 12. This is precisely why Trump desperately needs a win, or at least something that looks like one. Getting into yet another squabble with Justin Trudeau or sending Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron home empty-handed – this is all par for the course for the current President of the United States. Failure, however, was simply out of the question during the summit in Singapore. This is why the strictly preliminary and extremely vague agreement on nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula has been declared an unqualified “historical triumph” of U.S. foreign policy.

What could happen in Helsinki that would put the meeting on a par with this win for Trump? It would seem that Trump will have at least two opportunities to achieve an impressive historically significant victory. First, he could secure a promise from Vladimir Putin that Russia will not interfere in the midterm Congressional elections later this year, set to take place just five short months from now. As Moscow refuses to acknowledge that any interference took place in the presidential elections and has no intention of signing up to any unilateral commitments, such an accord will have to come in the form of a bilateral agreement on non-interference. This is not a simple task, but it is possible. Second, the sides could draw up some kind of framework document on Syria. This is particularly relevant as Trump is not especially interested in Syria and has been threatening to wrap up the U.S. operation in the country for a while now. Of course, it would be better to pull out of the reasonably inhospitable Syria in the form of a deal with Moscow, and if necessary, Moscow could be accused of violating the terms of any agreement signed.

“I’m not Obama, I’m different…”

In his diplomacy, Trump tries to distance himself as much as possible from his predecessors, particularly Barack Obama. Never was the desire to do this more evident than during the summit in Singapore. We could spend hours arguing whose approach to cooperation with Pyongyang was closest to that of the man currently residing in the White House – Barack Obama’s? George W. Bush’s? Or even Bill Clinton’s and Madeleine Albright’s? – but Donald Trump has no intention of sharing his successes with anyone. The agreement with North Korea is being spun as a personal achievement of Trump, rather than the fruit of U.S. policy that has been implemented over the course of several years. According to Trump’s version, it was he who managed to “solve” the problem that his predecessors had been unable to deal with for decades.

We can expect the same approach during the meeting in Helsinki. For example, the START III agreement between Russia and the United States is now seen as a bad thing because it was negotiated by the Obama administration, and extending it cannot feasibly be spun as a personal victory for Trump. Similarly, we are unlikely to see a return to some of the elements of the agreement reached between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry on Syria, primarily because it was signed by a Secretary of State from the Democratic Party that Trump hates so much. Consequently, we need to move away from continuity, emphasizing the novelty and revolutionary nature of any possible agreements. Even if, de facto, we are talking about a return to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or to START III, it is very important to integrate this conversation into the context of the search for new foundations of strategic stability in the 21st century world.

“Details? Throw ‘em on the furnace! ”

Many observers believe, incorrectly, that the American side did not properly prepare for the meeting in Singapore, and this is the reason why a more substantive and detailed agreement on the North Korean nuclear issue was not reached. In actual fact, the U.S. experts, whose professionalism we have no reason to doubt, worked conscientiously on the issue. What happened was that the President once again revealed his traditional dislike for detail, and the two leaders confined themselves to a general – and in places ambiguous – final document. As far as we can judge, Trump had no desire whatsoever to trade back and forth endlessly on what the wording of the document would actually be. This tactic is, to some extent, justified, as a joint document creates fewer obligations and is less vulnerable to criticism from political opponents at home.

This is probably what will happen in Helsinki too. The final declaration, if there is one, will inevitably be an extremely general, concise, and at the same time vague document. Trying to get something more concrete from Trump at this stage is a hopeless affair and a waste of time and energy. And it does not even matter whether the attempts come from the Russian side or Trump’s own team. Any kind of concrete agreement will create a pretext for the opposition to accuse the President of pursuing a policy of appeasement, while there will be no shortage of members of Congress willing to somehow block the practical implementation of such an agreement. A very general declaration, however, would be a great achievement in the current climate, opening the way for further elaboration and more concrete and practical agreements.

“The show must go on.”

Any somewhat significant political movement by Trump is in no small part an effective and colourful show designed to attract as much attention as possible, primarily within the United States but also around the world. This public side of Trump’s diplomacy was demonstrated in all its glory in Singapore, starting with the choice of exotic venue for the meeting, the threat that it would not go ahead and the subsequent confirmation, followed by the numerous presidential tweets, showy photo shoots, flashy press conferences, etc. The attention of the whole world was riveted once again on the President of the United States, which, as far as he was concerned, was an important foreign policy achievement in itself.

It is clear that Helsinki promises even greater opportunities than Trump was offered in Singapore. The first meeting between the U.S. and Russian leaders is an ideal opportunity for the Donald Trump brand to be promoted on a global scale. It should be furnished in the correct manner, like the Tilsit meeting between Napoleon and Alexander I on a raft in the middle of the Neman River in June 1807. The excellent stage direction of the show could more than make up for any modest practical results that may come out of the summit. At the end of the day, Donald Trump has already invested a lot of personal political capital by agreeing to meet with Vladimir Putin despite the warnings of many of his advisers, associates and allies. Surely he has the right to count on the appropriate political dividends. It would probably be wise for the Russian side to play up to Trump, especially because the meeting has particular symbolic significance for Russia too, given the current circumstances.

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

The summit in Singapore, as well as the many other high-level meetings held by Donald Trump, allow us to make the following conclusion: “friendly” personal relations with foreign leaders, handshakes, hugs, pats on the shoulder, and mutual compliments – none of this means that the President of the United States is willing to make compromises on issues that he sees as being truly important for himself. Not a word has been said about easing international sanctions against Pyongyang since that romantic meeting on the island of Sentosa. In a similar vein, the demonstrably friendly personal relations Trump enjoys with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping did not prevent him from increasing economic pressure on Tokyo and declaring an economic war on China.

For Russia, this means that any possible agreement signed in Helsinki concerning strategic stability or the Syrian settlement, for example, will not lead to Trump easing pressure on Moscow in areas where he believes applying pressure is in the interests of the United States. In this sense, Trump, as far as we can tell, is not prepared to follow the tactic of positive alignment of certain aspects of U.S.–Russia relations with others, a tactic pursued by many U.S. presidents before him. Every possible “deal” with Moscow will be considered separately. If Russia’s friend Donald has the opportunity to press his friend Vladimir on the global arms market, then he will do so to the fullest extent. If he gets the chance to twist the arms of the United States’ allies in Europe and force them to buy expensive American gas instead of the cheaper Russian gas, not a single summit will help change his mind. If some kind of agreement on Syria comes from the meeting in Helsinki, this will do little to facilitate a deal on Ukraine. As the saying goes, “It’s just business, nothing personal.”

“A promise means nothing.”

The weeks following the meeting in Singapore demonstrated that Trump is selective when it comes to keeping his promises – especially if they are formulated in general terms and can be interpreted in many ways. In all honesty, we already knew this. Let us recall, for example, the infamous story of the plans discussed by the Russian and American leaders on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Hamburg in July 2017 to set up a U.S.–Russia working group on cybersecurity, plans for which have yet to materialize. In response to his many critics back home who accuse him of making “unilateral concessions” to Kim Jong-un in Singapore, Trump fires back confidently that the United States can easily renege on any of these “concessions” (including the moratorium on joint U.S.–South Korea military exercises) if it is not satisfied with Pyongyang’s actions moving forward. It’s not that the President of the United States deliberately and cynically went against his word, but that unpredictability is an organic part of his diplomatic style.

This means that any agreement reached in Helsinki cannot be regarded as final and irreversible until it has acquired the form of a concrete and detailed treaty, a roadmap detailing the responsible officials, timeframes, enforcement mechanisms, etc. The White House will always find a pretence for going back on preliminary obligations it has agreed upon with Moscow. This is why we should probably not attach any kind of sacred meaning to formulations, terms, and figures of speech that might make their way into any joint U.S.–Russia agreements signed in Helsinki. Nor does it make any sense to cling to anything the President of the United States says during the summit. It is far more important to try and change the general atmosphere in the bilateral relations and instil a positive “spirit of Helsinki” that would allow the two countries to move forward in specific directions at lower levels of interaction.

“Let a hundred flowers bloom.”

As far as we can tell, theUS agreements with North Korea in Singapore did not stop the fierce conflict within the United States regarding possible options for resolving the Korean nuclear problem. The struggle continues as bitterly as ever. This conflict is not only between Trump and his opponents on Capitol Hill; the administration itself does not seem to have a coherent plan in this regard. Rumour has it that there are at least two groups vying for Trump’s ear on the Korean issue. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s doves oppose National Security Advisor John Bolton’s hawks. It is difficult to say whether this bureaucratic tug-of-war is a manifestation of the President’s managerial style or the result of the confusion and uncertainty that have been the hallmarks of the current administration from the very beginning.

In any case, we have to be prepared for the fact that the meeting in the Finnish capital will not be a turning point, but simply the start of a complex process to restore relations between Moscow and Washington. The political and bureaucratic struggle in Washington for the implementation of the Helsinki Accords, whatever they may be, will be complicated and time-consuming. Attempts at bureaucratic sabotage and obstruction of progress on various pretexts cannot be ruled out. Nor can the desire to load the agreements reached in Helsinki with all kinds of additional terms and requirements. The existing balance of power within the administration, and within the U.S. political establishment as a whole, does not yet favour a departure from the course of tough confrontation with Russia. And Trump’s mood, as the experience of North Korea demonstrates, tends to fluctuate wildly.

Nevertheless, the summit in Helsinki presents the most realistic opportunity for Russia to open a meaningful conversation with the United States on issues that are of great importance to both countries. It will likely be a long time before another chance like this presents itself.

First published in our partner RIAC

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An anatomy of U.S. human rights diplomacy

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Authors: Zhou Dong-chen & Paul Wang

Over the past two weeks, the United States Congress has successively passed two acts concerning with Hong Kong human rights and democracy, and Uygur human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Accordingly, Beijing has urged the U.S. to stop slandering China’s anti-terrorism and cease interfering in its internal affairs. No doubt, the two acts passed by the U.S. legislation are not only an outrageous violation of the basic norms governing international relations but also seriously insult the Chinese people and the spirit of human rights.

Some experts testified the motivation behind the U.S. Congress, for example, as William Jones, Washington bureau chief of Executive Intelligence Review, put it that the United States has a history of interfering into other countries’ internal affairs. This time, their target is Hong Kong, one of the most important global financial hubs, and also aims at U.S. interference into China’s internal affairs. On September 11, the U.S. senate in effect passed a bill which condemns gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. They are pretentious to think the U.S. can weaken the Belt and Road Initiative in this way, and subsequently demote China’s influence through the so-called human rights violations. Yet, Washington’s acts on Hong Kong and the Uygur ethnics in Xinjiang are typically hypocritical in nature.

Historically, international concern for what we nowadays call human rights, in the sense of fundamental and inalienable rights essential to human being, is nothing new. As early as the 15th century when the Europeans started their overseas expansion, some law scholars were heavily engaged in discussion on the natural rights that were to be accorded to every human being under any circumstances, and lashed out the mistreatment of the native inhabitants of America by the European colonizers. Yet, after more than 400 years, the United States tried in 1919 to provide an overall mechanism to insure fair treatment for the peoples of the world. Yet, the efforts were fruitless until 1945 when the United Nations Charter was signed to enact more specific and comprehensive protection for all individuals.

It is true that the United States has been so keen in promoting its values of democracy and human rights in foreign policy, even if that meant instability and the end of necessary diplomatic talks. As Joseph Nye put it, “Over and over in international politics, the question is not absolute order versus justice, but how to trade off choices in particular situations.” Taking a look into the Cold War era, the United States actively supported numerous the violations of human rights in the so-called “friendly” states, such as South Korea, the Philippines, Chile and Iran—here to mention a few only. The reason is that a grand strategy for protecting U.S. traditional vital interests and its global public goods needs Washington to address and act along with the third elements of human rights and democracy. Yet other countries and cultures have often interpreted these values differently and resented the U.S. intervention in their internal affairs as self-righteous unilateralism.

According to Henry Kissinger, in 1974, a sea change in the conduct of American foreign policy occurred. Prior to that, it had attempted to affect the domestic policies of other states by way of covert operations or quiet diplomacy. It means official intervention in the domestic affairs of other states had not yet become an accepted component of the U.S. foreign policy; Westphalian scruples still prevail. Yet, for the first time in 1975, the U.S. Congress applied legislative sanctions to promote its values such as human rights and democracy, making it a formal and public part of the U.S. foreign policy. From then on, intervention in what had been considered domestic policy became increasingly fashionable. Then President Ford even talked of “the deep devotion of the American people and their government to human rights and fundamental freedoms.”Ironically, the U.S. bipartisan consensus was reached on the human rights, even though they were split by the Vietnamese War. Now Presidents Carter and Reagan both appealed to the Wilsonian rhetoric of America’s crusading spirit against a hostile ideology. For instance, Carter affirmed that “we ought to be a beacon for nations who search for social peace, individual liberty and basic human rights.” Reagan reiterated it in a more assertive language: “America’s leadership in the world came to us because of our own strength and the values that guide us as a society.”

Final victory in the Cold War further encouraged this self-gratification even in other groups, turning it into a global triumphalism. For absent a Cold War and an alternative power center to the United States, the theory of an “end of history” achieved considerable plausibility. Ideological struggles might well have ended once and for all; the entire world including a Communist-led China was adopting variations of the American economic and political systems. As a result, U.S. foreign policy became increasingly driven by domestic politics, but behind it is the arrogance backed by its superior power. As scholars put it, when pressure on foreign countries appears free of risk, there is increasing scope for legislating American domestic preferences as objectives of foreign policy, a revealing case of the new congressional involvement was to connect the granting of Most Favored Nation status to China dependent on its annual demonstrations of progress on human rights in the 1980s.

No doubt, support for an active diplomacy on behalf of human rights is by no means unanimous within the United States. As David Newsom, a U.S. senior diplomat, put it, “foreign affairs and diplomacy are domestic political-often partisan-questions in the United States.” There is no recognition of diplomacy as a part of “the state” above politics, as in many European countries. Thus, primary opposition to diplomatic efforts on behalf of human rights in the U.S. has come from those in believing that such policy threatens their interests, particularly security and trade.

In term of China, the United States has combined aspects of both strategies: containment and engagement. The first one has two main prongs: an effort to slow down China’s amazing economic growth by denying it access to the large U.S. market; and to strengthen building up an alliances with China’s neighbors in order to provide an effective counter-weight to its growing power. Yet, the second one argues for taking China in a web of institutions dealing with security, trade, and finance, such as WTO, ASEAN, IMF and the World Bank. As a result, China’s leaders will find an assertive foreign policy—challenging the status quo—to be too costly.

Today, as the largest rising power of the 21st century, China has been described as “a revisionist power”, by analogy to the Soviet Union in the Cold War. To that end, the American promotion of human rights aims to undermine China’s domestic political structure and international prestige, or in a geopolitical sense, the United States tries to keep China permanently in a secondary position. Accordingly, China has made all efforts to reject the proposition that international order is fostered by the spread of liberal democracy and the international community has an obligation to bring this about, and especially to achieve its perception of human rights by real action. In light of that American can never abandon their values of democracy and human rights, no formal compromise is possible between the ruling power and the rising power; yet, as Kissinger advised, “To keep the disagreement from spiraling into conflict is one of the principal obligations of the leaders of both sides. After all, we are living in the same global village.

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It’s Back to “Rocket Man”: Trump Steadily expanding risks of a Nuclear war With North Korea

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”-Sigmund Freud

“We fell in love” crowed Donald Trump about Kim Jung Un, after their Singapore summit back in June 2018. But this grotesquely curious romance was destined not to last. In fact, since early December 2019, it’s been consistently retrograde, back to Trump’s nonsensical recriminations; that is, to the American president’s conspicuously demeaning reliance upon childish epithets.

But to what conceivable strategic purpose? Once again, at least for the still-dissembling White House, it’s not about substantive geopolitical threats. Instead of purposefully enhancing American diplomatic leverage – which might actually make some bargaining sense – it’s just about “rocket man.”[1]

Even at this late point, objective strategic analyses are altogether necessary. Leaving aside the obvious futility of launching ad hominem insults as allegedly productive diplomacy, any upcoming crisis decision-making processes between Washington and Pyongyang will be shaped by Kim Jung Un’s unswerving commitment to personal military power. Inevitably, the flagrantly simplistic notion that this North Korean dictator would ever consider trading off the most visibly tangible implements of such power for presumptive national economic benefits is erroneous on its face.

In strategic matters, truth is always exculpatory. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is irreversible. Prima facie, “denuclearization” remains an unrealizable goal –  a bitterly naive and conveniently distracting fiction.[2]

What next? The best case scenario available to the United States must now be a mutually acceptable relationship of stable nuclear deterrence. Still, there will be various “potholes” and recurrently unpredictable nuances. Going forward, a generally understated but particularly serious sub-risk for both the United States and North Korea will concern inadvertent nuclear war.

Oddly enough, the actual level of public concern about such prospectively grievous conflict – at least from the standpoint of palpable population fears – remains incommensurately small.

Now what? To begin, President Trump must carefully approach these complex issues at a suitably conceptual level. Then inter alia, it would become easier for Trump and his advisors to understand that the specific nuclear war risks posed by inadvertence must be carefully differentiated from the expected hazards of any deliberate nuclear war. The particular hazards of an intentional nuclear war could stem only from those Washington-Pyongyang hostilities that had been purposely initiated with nuclear weapons and/or deliberately responded to with nuclear weapons.

Moreover, this argument holds whether such unprecedented military actions were undertaken to achieve some form of strategic surprise, or as the result (expected or unexpected) of North Korean enemy irrationality.[3]

There is more. In any deliberate nuclear war scenario, and before any presidential ordering of an American preemption,[4]the expressly designated North Korean leadership would need to appear to US intelligence as(a) operationally nuclear and (b) psychologically irrational. Without this second expectation, any US preemption against an already-nuclear North Korean adversary would be irrational.

Trump, therefore, must continuously monitor not only relevant North Korean nuclear assets and capabilities, but also the substantially intangible mental health (decision-making) characteristics of Kim Jung Un. Although some might mock this second intelligence imperative as unnecessary or even impossible, it nonetheless remains conceivable that the authoritative dictator in Pyongyang could sometime choose to pretend irrationality. What then?

In fact, as we already well know, it is only Kim Jung Un’s counterpart in the White House (and not Kim himself) who has mused publicly about the potential rationality of pretended irrationality and who (until recently) took evident pleasure in claiming that the two presidents once “fell in love” back in Singapore.

When the US president and his latest batch of national security advisors consider the co-existing and fearful prospects of an inadvertent nuclear war with North Korea, their primary focus should remain oriented in institutional directions. This means attention to the expected stability and reliability of Pyongyang’s command, control and intelligence procedures. Should it be determined that these “C3I” processes display unacceptably high risks of mechanical/electrical/computer failure; indecipherable pre-delegations of nuclear launch authority; and/or unpredictable/unreliable launch-on-warning procedures (sometimes also called “launch-on-confirmed-attack”), a still-rational American president could then feel a more compelling need to consider an appropriate preemption.

A complex factor in any such decision-making process would be the apparent advent of hypersonic weapons in North Korean arsenals, and the extent to which any such ominous emergence was being suitably paralleled in American arsenals.

At this already advanced stage in North Korean nuclear military progress, the probable costs to the United States and certain of its allies accruing from any such defensive first-strike would be overwhelming and more-or-less “unacceptable.” Somehow, this foresee ably urgent understanding seems to have escaped Donald Trump, who has stated publicly on several worrisome occasions that North Korean tests of short-range missiles “do not worry” him. Among other shortcomings, this blithe and shallow presidential observation suggests that Trump is focused only on direct (long-range) missile threats to the United States, and somehow remains continuously unmindful of escalatory possibilities.

These inherently bewildering prospects include the profoundly destabilizing impact of shorter-range missiles upon US regional allies.

In principle, at least, certain calculable preemption options cannot be dismissed out of hand. More precisely, any residual American resort to “anticipatory self-defense” could be nuclear or non-nuclear and could even be indicated without any express regard for Kim Jung Un’s presumed rationality. Still, the well-reasoned cost-effectiveness of any US preemption would almost certainly be enlarged by any such carefully calculated presumptions.

What would be the most plausible reactions concerning a Trump-ordered preemption against North Korea? When all significant factors are taken into analytic account, Pyongyang, likely having no meaningful option to launching at least some massive forms of armed response, would intentionally target designated American military forces in the region and/or certain high-value South Korean armaments/personnel. President Trump, still assuming enemy rationality, should then expect that whatever its precise configuration of selected targets, North Korea’s retaliatory blow would be designed in part to avoid any massive (including nuclear) American counter-retaliations.

All such high-consequence calculations would involve multiple adversarial policy intersections, some which could be genuinely “synergistic”[5] and would assume perfect rationality on all sides. If, for example, the American president should decide to strike first, the response from Kim Jung Un should then be expectedly proportionate,[6] that is, similarly massive. In this heuristic escalatory “game, “the willful introduction of nuclear weapons into any ensuing conflagration might not be dismissed by either “player.”

What happens next?

As Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt has written, perhaps prophetically in this US-North Korea war scenario, “Sometimes, the worst does happen.”

 Noteworthy, too, at least at such a markedly uncertain and unprecedented point of prospective belligerency, any such game-changing introduction would more likely originate from the American side. This singular but all-embracing inference is based upon the understanding that while North Korea already has nuclear weapons and missile delivery vehicles (consequential weapons and delivery vehicles by definition), it is not yet prepared to seek “escalation dominance” vis-à-vis the United States. More precisely, for the moment, at least, it would seemingly be irrational for Pyongyang to launch its nuclear weapons first.

 Sometime, at least in principle, Trump, extending his usually favored stance of an argumentum ad bacculum (an illegitimate appeal to force) could opt rationally for a “mad dog” strategy.[7]Here, the American president, following his just-ordered preemption, would deliberately choose a strategy of pretended irrationality.

There is more. Any such determined reliance, while intuitively sensible and expectedly compelling, could backfire, thereby opening up a slippery path to various unstoppable escalations. Such a self-propelling competition in risk-taking could also be triggered by the North Korean president, then pretending to be a “mad dog” himself. Significantly, any feigned irrationality stance by Kim Jong Un might be undertaken exclusively by the North Korean side, or in an unplanned “synergy” with the United States.

In all conceivable variants of crisis bargaining situations between Washington and Pyongyang, and even without any calculable synergies, highest-level decision-making processes would be resoundingly and meaningfully interdependent.

All this means, inter alia, greater levels of complexity for decision-makers to unravel and a measurably lesser significance assigned to any once-presumptive “love” relationship between the two adversarial presidents.

Regarding complexity, and in absolutely all possible bargaining postures, each side would have to pay reciprocally close attention to the anticipated wishes and intentions of Russia (Cold War II[8]) and China. Aptly, one must now inquire, does President Trump genuinely believe that China would find it gainful to support him in any pending nuclear crisis with North Korea? To answer such a query, it ought to become plain that Trump’s still-ongoing and largely incoherent trade war with China will prove manifestly “unhelpful.”

Immediately, relevant scenarios must be explicitly posited and dialectically examined.[9]If President Donald Trump’s initial defensive first strike against North Korea were observably less than massive, for example, a still rational adversary in Pyongyang would likely take steps to ensure that its optimal reprisal was correspondingly limited. But if Trump’s consciously rational and calibrated attack upon North Korea were (wittingly or unwittingly)launched against an irrational enemy leadership, the response from Pyongyang could then bean all-out retaliation.

This unanticipated response, whether a non-nuclear or non-nuclear-nuclear “hybrid” response, would be directed at some as yet indeterminable combination of US and allied targets.

Inevitably, by any sensible measure, this response could inflict starkly grievous harms.

It is now also worth considering that a North Korean missile reprisal against US interests and personnel would not automatically exclude the American homeland. However, should the North Korean president maintain a determinedly rational “ladder” of available strategic options, he would almost certainly resist targeting any vulnerable civilian portions of the United States. Should he remain determinably willing to strike targets in South Korea and/or Japan, he would still incur very substantial risks of an American nuclear counter-retaliation.

In principle, at least, any such US response would follow directly from this country’s assorted treaty-based obligations regarding “collective self-defense.”[10]

Such risks would be much greater if Kim’s own aggressions[11]had already extended beyond hard military assets, either intentionally or as “collateral damage” brought unwittingly to soft civilian populations and/or infrastructures.

There is more. Even if the unimaginably complex game of nuclear brinksmanshipin Northeast Asia were being played exclusively by fully rational adversaries, the rapidly accumulating momentum of events between Washington and Pyongyang could still demand each “contestant” to strive relentlessly for escalation dominance. It is in the notably unpracticed dynamics of such an explosive rivalry that the prospect of an actual “Armageddon” scenario could plausibly be actualized.

“Sometimes,” reminds Friedrich Durrenmatt, “the worst does happen.”

This unprecedented outcome could be produced in unexpected increments of escalation by either or both dominant national players, or instead, by some sudden quantum leap in destructiveness undertaken by the United States and/or North Korea.

Looking ahead, the only predictable element of this foreseeable US-North Korea strategic game is this situation’s irremediable and boundless unpredictability. Even under the very best or optimal assumptions of enemy rationality, all relevant decision-makers would have to concern themselves with potentially dense or confused communications, inevitable miscalculations, cascading errors in information, unauthorized uses of strategic weapons, mechanical, electrical or computer malfunctions and poorly-recognized applications of cyber-defense and cyber-war.

Technically, one further analytic distinction is needed between inadvertent nuclear war and accidental nuclear war. By definition, an accidental nuclear war would be inadvertent, but reciprocally, an inadvertent nuclear war need not necessarily be accidental. False warnings, which could be spawned by mechanical, electrical or computer malfunction, or by hacking,[12]would best fit under the clarifying narratives of an accidental nuclear war. Most worrisome, however, for all concerned, would be those forms of inadvertent nuclear war occasioned not by accident, but by confusion and/or miscalculation.

Irony is applicable. Such prospectively irremediable outcomes could be expressed though neither side had actually wanted war.

“Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz inOn War, “but the simplest thing is still difficult.” With this seemingly banal but still profound observation, the classical Prussian strategist makes plain that capable military planning is always problematic. In large measure, this is because of what Clausewitz so famously called “friction.”In essence, friction describes “the difference between war as it actually is, and war on paper.”

Unless US President Donald Trump is able to better understand this core concept and prepare to meticulously manage all unpredictable risks of an unintentional war with North Korea, any future warnings about “rocket man” would prove operationally immaterial or blatantly injurious. While the specific identifiable risks of any deliberate or intentional nuclear conflict between the United States and North Korea should remain front and center in Washington, such formidable risks ought never be assessed apart from these other hazards of crisis decision-making. Significantly, all of these strategic risks could be overlapping, mutually reinforcing and/or synergistic. In at least some suchdaunting circumstances, the palpable “whole” of cumulative risk effects would be greater than the simple additive sum of constituent “parts.”

At that point, recalling US President Trump’s earlier inversion of what is actually true, it will be too late to purposefully understand what is most important: Nuclear crisis bargaining between adversarial states should be based not on “attitude,” but on “preparation.” Further, such inevitable bargaining ought never be founded upon any presumptive “love” relationships between the relevant adversaries or on any demeaning epithets drawn whimsically from contemporary musical compositions (e.g. “Rocket man”).

To meaningfully reduce the steadily-cascading risks of a nuclear war with North Korea, Donald Trump should immediately cease his caricatural personalizations of world politics, and focus instead upon far more serious policy considerations of intellectual substance.


[1]https://news.yahoo.com/trump-revives-threat-force-against-023727996.html

[2]https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/07/us/north-korea-denuclearization-off-table/index.html Also, see earlier, by this writer, at Yale Global Online:  Louis René Beres, https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/too-late-north-korea-denuclearization

[3] Recalling the 20th-century German philosopher, Karl Jaspers: “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.” This insight can be found in Jaspers’ “Historical Reflections” on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

[4] Worth noting here too is that any such ordering of a preemptive attack (defensive first strike) by an American president would be problematic under US law (especially underUS Constitutional constraints). Always, there are critical jurisprudential as well as strategic implications involved.

[5] In any synergistic intersection – whether in chemistry, medicine or war – the “whole” of any result would exceed the simple sum of policy-determining “parts.”

[6]In legal terms, the principle of proportionality is contained in both the rules governing the resort to armed conflict (jus ad bellum) and in the rules governing the actual conduct of hostilities (jus in bello).  Regarding the former, proportionality relates to self-defense.  In the latter, it relates to conduct of belligerency. Proportionality is itself derivative from the more basic principle that belligerent rights are not unlimited (See notably Hague Convention No. IV (1907), Annex to the Convention, Section II (Hostilities), Art. 22: “The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited”).

[7] This term has certain historical roots in former Israeli Minister of Defense (General) Moshe Dayan’s remark about his own country’s strategic vulnerabilities: “Israel must be seen as a `mad dog,’ too dangerous to bother.” (See discussion by this writer, Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed., 20180.

[8]In political science terms, positing the expansion of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of just such an expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[9] The base 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 nuclear strategy, the following representative 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.

[10] For the differences between “collective self-defense” and “collective security,” see this writer’s early book: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver Monograph Series in World Affairs) (1973).

[11] Since World War II, aggression has typically been defined as a military attack, not justified by international law, when directed against the territory of another state. The question of defining aggression first acquired legal significance with the Draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance of 1923. One year later, the Geneva Protocol of 1924 provided that any state that failed to comply with the obligation to employ procedures of peaceful settlement in the Protocol or the Covenant was an aggressor. Much later, an authoritative definition of aggression was adopted without vote by the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1974.

[12] This prospect now includes the plausible advent of so-called “cyber- mercenaries.”

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Some False Statements Made in the Trump- Impeachment Hearings

Eric Zuesse

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In the December 4th statement that was made by Stanford University law professor Pamela Karlan was this:

We have become the shining city on a hill. We have become the nation that leads the world in understanding what democracy is. One of the things we understand most profoundly is it’s not a real democracy, it’s not a mature democracy if the party in power uses the criminal process to go after its enemies. I think you heard testimony, the Intelligence Committee heard testimony about how it isn’t just our national interest in protecting our own elections. It’s not just our national interest in making sure that the Ukraine remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.

It’s also our national interest in promoting democracy worldwide, and if we look hypocritical about this, if we look like we’re asking other countries to interfere in our election, if we look like we’re asking other countries to engage in criminal investigations of our President’s political opponents, then we’re not doing our job of promoting our national interest in being that shining city on a hill.

She said: “We have become the shining city on a hill.” Here is a list of just a few of the democratically elected presidents and prime ministers in foreign countries whom the U.S. regime overthrew, by coups, in order to install brutal dictatorial regimes there that would do sweetheart deals with America’s international corporations. Also, unsuccessful, merely attempted, U.S. coups are discussed there.

Furthermore, the scientific studies of whether the U.S. Government is controlled by the public (a democracy) or is instead controlled only by its very wealthiest (an aristocracy) are clear: this country is an aristocracy, not a democracy at all, except, perhaps, in the purely formal senses of that term — our great Constitution. Far-right judges have recently been interpreting that Constitution in the most pro-aristocratic, anti-democratic, ways imaginable, and this might have something to do with why the scientific studies are finding that the U.S. is now a dictatorship. And this fact, of America’s now being a dictatorship, was blatantly clear in America’s last Presidential election, which was actually a s‘election’ by Americas’ billionaires — not  by the American public.

How, then, can Professor Karlan be respected about anything, if she lives in a dictatorship (by its aristocracy) and is deluded to think that it’s still (which it never was completely) a democracy?

Furthermore: her statements about Ukraine are equally deluded. She is obviously unaware that the Obama Administration started planning its coup against Ukraine in 2011 and started implementing it in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine on 1 March 2013, and started in June 2013 soliciting bids from U.S. companies to renovate at least one building in Crimea for use by the U.S. Navy to replace Russia’s main naval base — which Russian naval base was and is in Crimea — by a new U.S. naval base to be installed there. 

The craziest thing of all about Karlan’s statement, however, is this part: “It’s not just our national interest in making sure that the Ukraine remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.”

Imagine if someone said, “It’s not just our national interest in making sure that the Mexico remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Americans there and we [Russians] don’t have to fight them here.”

If a Russian were to assert that, would the statement be any more justifiable than what Karlan said regarding Ukraine? Of course not! Even an idiot can recognize this fact. But Karlan can’t.

On December 5th, the anonymous “Moon of Alabama” blogger, whose opinions and predictions turn out to have been correct at perhaps the highest rate of anyone on the internet, headlined “The Delusions Of The Impeachment Witnesses Point To A Larger Problem” and he not only pointed out the “delusional” beliefs of Professor Karlan (“One must be seriously disturbed to believe such nonsense. How can it be that Karlan is teaching at an academic level when she has such delusions?”), but he noted that:

How is it in U.S. interest to give the Ukraine U.S. taxpayer money to buy U.S. weapons? The sole motive behind that idea was greed and corruption, not national interest:

[U.S. special envoy to Ukraine] Volker started his job at the State Department in 2017 in an unusual part-time arrangement that allowed him to continue consulting at BGR, a powerful lobbying firm that represents Ukraine and the U.S.-based defense firm Raytheon. During his tenure, Volker advocated for the United States to send Raytheon-manufactured antitank Javelin missiles to Ukraine — a decision that made Raytheon millions of dollars.

The missiles are useless in the conflict. They are kept near the western border of Ukraine under U.S. control. The U.S. fears that Russia would hit back elsewhere should the Javelin reach the frontline in the east and get used against the east-Ukrainians. That Trump shortly held back on some of the money that would have allowed the Ukrainians to buy more of those missiles thus surely made no difference.

To claim that it hurt U.S. national interests is nonsense.

It is really no wonder that U.S. foreign policy continuously produces chaos when its practitioners get taught by people like Karlan. …

The Democrats are doing themselves no favor by producing delusional and partisan witnesses who repeat Reaganesque claptrap. They only prove that the whole affair is just an unserious show trial.

In the meantime Trump is eliminating food stamps for some 700,000 recipients and the Democrats are doing nothing about it. Their majority in the House could have used the time it spent on the impeachment circus to prevent that and other obscenities.

Do the Democrats really believe that their voters will not notice this?

(Of course, they do, and they might be right. After all, polls show that Democrats still believe that Barack Obama was a terrific President, just as Republicans believe that George W. Bush was a terrific President. The fact that both  — and Trump himself —were/are among the worst in American history eludes the voters in both Parties. But though I disagree with his opinion on that particular matter, he’s just asking a question there, and I hope that his more optimistic take than mine turns out to be right, and that the voters — in both Parties — are coming to recognize that American politics right now is almost 100% a con-game, in both Parties.)

Why do people pay subscription-fees, to Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post, and to the New York Times, and to other media that are controlled by America’s billionaires, when far higher-quality journalism, like that of “Moon of Alabama” (and like the site you’re reading here) is freely available on the internet? Who needs the mainstream ‘news’-media, when it’s filled with such unreliable claptrap, as respects (instead of exposes) what persons such as Karlan say? Jonathan Turley is to be taken seriously, and he is at the very opposite end from Karlan’s opinions in the impeachment hearings (and regarding much else). (And the hearings-transcript in which both law-professors testified is here.) But the exception is Turley, and Karlan is far more the norm in the U.S.-media mainstream. And virtually all Democratic-Party propaganda-organs (‘the liberal press’) are playing up the Karlan claptrap. So: yes, I do think that “the Democrats [referring to the ones in the House of Representatives, of course] really believe that their voters will not notice this.” Most voters are just as “deluded” (misinformed by the ‘news’-media) as Professor Karlan is.

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