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Is Nuclear Arms Control Still Alive?

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For almost eight years we have been witnessing a decline (or even absence) of Russian and U.S. efforts in the sphere of nuclear arms control, which can be seen at both the official and expert levels. The last achievement in this field was the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New Start Treaty) which was signed by Russia and the United States in 2010 and entered into force in February 2011. Since then, issues pertaining to further steps in nuclear disarmament have disappeared from the agenda of Russian-American relations.

In the past, such pauses were filled with active consultations and were used to rethink one’s own policy in this area and comprehensively assess the other party’s position. Preparatory work continued even in the period between the fall of 1983 (when the Soviet Union withdrew from all nuclear arms negotiations with the United States) and the spring of 1985 (when the negotiations were resumed), while informal contacts between the parties (primarily through scientific communities) became much stronger.

Over a period of fifty years, the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia achieved significant progress in curbing the nuclear arms race and gradually and steadily lowering the level of nuclear confrontation between the two major nuclear powers. In the Soviet Union/Russia, the greatest achievements in nuclear arms control were made during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev. Vladimir Putin played an important role in the ratification of the START II Treaty (2000) during his first term as president, as he convinced legislators of its effectiveness and usefulness for Russia’s security interests, and in the conclusion of the Russian-American Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (2002). Dmitry Medvedev earned a place for himself in the history of nuclear disarmament by signing the aforementioned 2010 Treaty. It was only during the brief rule of Yuri Andropov (from November 1982 to February 1984) and Konstantin Chernenko (from February 1984 to March 1985) that there was no tangible progress in nuclear arms control.

In the United States, all the eight presidents that preceded Donald Trump—from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama—had achievements in this field. It is still an open question whether Trump will want to break with this tradition. In any case, there are several arguments both in favor of and against such a possibility. It should be emphasized that not everything depends on the desire or unwillingness of the U.S. administration to conclude new agreements in this area. Russia’s position has an equal role to play, and this position does not inspire much optimism at the present time.

Politicians and experts name many reasons for the breach of Russia-U.S. relations in the field of nuclear arms control. One of them is believed to be the deterioration of Russia-West relations over the Ukraine crisis. But facts show that the problem arose much earlier. In March 2013 (that is, one year before the events in Ukraine), former chief of the presidential administration of Russia Sergei Ivanov openly said that Russia was not interested in further reductions in armaments and named the reason for that: the completion of the modernization of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces and its unwillingness to eliminate new strategic weapons that had only recently entered service.

Another argument, named by President Putin in February 2012, is the need to involve third nuclear powers in the nuclear disarmament process after the 2010 treaty. Further explanations provided by some other officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, claimed that deeper reductions (outside the treaty’s framework) would make the strategic offensive weapons of Russia and the U.S. “comparable” with those of third nuclear powers.

Moscow puts the main blame for the failure to achieve new nuclear arms control agreements with the U.S. on the missile defense problem. This problem arose now and then in Soviet times and came to a head in 1983 when President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The SDI slowed down START I negotiations and nearly blocked the conclusion of this and other nuclear disarmament agreements. The United States’ withdrawal from the open-ended ABM Treaty in 2002 and its subsequent efforts to create and deploy missile defense in its own territory and territories of its allies, coupled with unsuccessful attempts to reach agreement with Russia on joint missile defense programs, exacerbated the situation still further.

Moscow also explains the lack of progress in strategic nuclear arms reductions by the possession of nuclear weapons by Washington’s NATO allies. Anatoly Antonov, who at that time was Russian deputy defense minister, said this factor “cannot be ignored.” Other factors that Moscow says should be “taken into account” include the “Global Strike” concept, the deployment of strategic precision-guided conventional weapons, plans to deploy weapons in outer space, the presence of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, and some other disproportions, many of which are mentioned in Russia’s present National Security Strategy, approved by Putin in late 2015.

Russia’s position on further steps towards nuclear disarmament resembles that of the Soviet Union in the late 1960s. It is based on the principle of “equal security,” which means that all factors determining the balance of power between the opposing sides should be taken into account. This explains why in negotiations with Washington on strategic nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union considered it justified to demand compensation for imbalances in other categories of arms.

Naturally, fifty years ago, the categories of weapons subject to “compensation” were different from those of today. They did not include conventional weapons of any kind. Moscow was concerned about nuclear weapons possessed by the U.S.’s NATO allies, and U.S. forward-deployed nuclear weapons in Europe. Now Russia has taken a broader approach, focusing more on non-nuclear armaments, which creates additional difficulties in the search for mutual understanding with the United States and which calls into question the possibility of concluding new agreements.

If we recognize that Russia’s concern over the effect of missile defense and precision-guided and other conventional weapons on the strategic balance is of a fundamental nature, a natural question arises: How to accommodate this concern if a political decision is made to continue the nuclear disarmament process? And should Russia agree to deeper reductions in nuclear weapons if its concern is ignored?

Needless to say, no agreement on strategic offensive arms can set unequal ceilings on the number of warheads and their strategic delivery vehicles remaining after reductions. That would be at variance with the very meaning of an international treaty, which should be based on the principle of equality of the parties and which should conform to its subject matter. Nevertheless, there are other ways to accommodate the aforementioned concerns. For example, in the second half of the 1980s, the Soviet Union was very concerned about the SDI program and American nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. This is why a package solution was proposed—simultaneous negotiations on three issues: medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe, strategic offensive arms, and defense and outer space. Moscow put forward a condition that the three planned agreements should be signed simultaneously. Washington did not object. However, the Soviet Union did not adhere to this position for long. At first, the term ‘nuclear delivery vehicles’ was used to designate only land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, while aviation was excluded from the negotiations. Later, Moscow removed this category of weapons from the initial package, after which, in December 1987, the parties signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), which is of unlimited duration.

For a much longer time, almost until all provisions of the START I Treaty were agreed, the Soviet Union insisted on a linkage between strategic offensive and defensive weapons, which was reflected in official statements and the structure of the Soviet delegation to the talks. Moscow sent one delegation to the talks on these two types of weapons. Negotiations on defense and outer space were conducted by a separate group within the delegation. The United States was represented by two separate delegations. One worked on START I, and the other held consultations on defense and outer space. When it became clear that the defense and space negotiations would fail and that the START I Treaty was almost ready, the Soviet Union signed the treaty but made a unilateral statement on the need to observe the ABM Treaty as a condition for implementing START I.

This experience proves that one real way to accommodate concerns is to conclude separate agreements on the most pressing security problems, including missile defense, precision-guided long-range weapons, and space weapons. The authors of World 2035. Global Forecast, published by the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations in 2017, admit of this possibility but consider it the least likely of the proposed four scenarios for the development of the military-political situation in the world in the period until 2035.

Speaking of concrete ways to accommodate concerns, one should assess, at least approximately, the effect of missile defense, precision-guided weapons and space weapons on the Russian-U.S. strategic balance. First of all, let us note an interesting circumstance. When it comes to the effect of various factors on the strategic balance, Russian officials insisting that this effect should be taken into account somehow fail to mention air defense. If we follow this logic, then any weapons capable of combating strategic offensive weapons should be included in the overall balance of power, especially if they are intended to combat retaliatory systems. These weapons definitely include the aviation component of the strategic triad. Without going into further discussion, let us note that this omission of air defense issues seems to be due to some other considerations than a desire to strengthen strategic stability.

Of the remaining three categories of weapons, which, in the opinion of the Russian leadership, have an effect on the strategic balance, space weapons are the most interesting from the point of view of concluding a possible agreement. The fact is, there are no such weapons yet, as far as we know. Therefore, they have no effect on the strategic balance. It is worth recalling the Soviet Union’s struggle against the SDI program in the second half of the 1980s. Many experts said then that “space strike weapons” would be created in the foreseeable future. The most skeptical participants in discussions said that such systems would appear in 20 to 25 years at the earliest. 30 years have passed since then, but this type of weapons (space-based lasers, railguns and other exotic weapons) has not come into existence so far. There are no serious reasons, either, to suggest that space weapons will be in the strategic arsenal of the United States or other countries within the next two to three decades, even if new technologies make this possible. In this case, the following factors will come into play: cost, combat effectiveness of weapon systems, their vulnerability, and possible reaction from the domestic opposition, individual countries and the international community as a whole. These factors may not only slow down but prevent the militarization of space.

In addition, there are no commonly agreed definitions for such terms as ‘weapons’, which can be the subject of an agreement on space issues. Unfortunately, such an agreement can hardly be based on the draft international Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects, submitted by China and Russia to the Conference on Disarmament in 2008 (and its updated version, submitted in 2014). The draft only proposed preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space and made no mention of prohibiting their development or testing in space. Nor did it mention weapons deployed on Earth but capable of destroying outer space objects.

Criticisms of this document can be continued, but the main problem is whether it is possible to reach a verifiable agreement on limiting or banning space weapons, whatever this term might mean, even if all parties show real interest in it. There are more doubts than optimism regarding this possibility. Answering this question requires more than just efforts by diplomats, the military and developers of space weapons. More experts should be involved in these efforts, including scientists from countries that may be parties to future agreements.

Another interesting question concerns long-range precision-guided conventional weapons and their effect on the strategic balance. According to the majority of specialists, this type of weapons includes cruise missiles, non-nuclear ICBMs, and some weapon systems (for example, hypersonic gliders). As a rule, the degree of effect such weapons may have on the strategic balance is not assessed. Nevertheless, it is asserted that they can not only weaken but also undermine strategic stability. This is a doubtful statement.

If we view these systems from the point of view of strengthening the offensive capability, they are absolutely incommensurable with nuclear weapons in terms of power. Precision-guided weapons are absolutely unsuitable for preemptive strikes for many reasons. Speaking of non-nuclear ICBMs, their accuracy should by far exceed that of nuclear ICBMs. Otherwise, they won’t be able to destroy hard targets (such as missile silos or command centers). According to open source data, modern ICBMs have accuracy (circular error probable – CEP) of several dozen meters, at best. Destroying a hard target with a conventional warhead requires this accuracy of not more than several meters, which is impossible to achieve at the present technological level of these systems.

But this is not the main concern. If an aggressor decides to use precision-guided weapons (conventional ICBMs) in a surprise attack to destroy a significant part of the opponent’s nuclear arsenal, it will have to plan a massive attack. Such an attack cannot go unnoticed due to a missile warning system. There is no guarantee that the attacked party will not use nuclear warning systems when it receives information confirming the attack. So, it does not really matter to the victim of such aggression whether the approaching ICBMs carry nuclear or conventional warheads. The response will almost certainly be nuclear, with all the ensuing consequences.

Finally, one more important argument is that if Russia or the United States decides to deploy a great number of non-nuclear ICBMs, they will most likely have to do this at the expense of their own strategic nuclear weapons. If the 2010 treaty remains in effect (until 2021) and if it is extended (until 2026), all ICBMs will be counted under the treaty’s limits for strategic delivery vehicles (700 deployed delivery vehicles for each party). In order for non-nuclear ICBMs not to be counted under the treaty, one needs to create a new strategic delivery vehicle and prove that this weapon system is not covered by this treaty. This will be very hard to do, given the strained Russian-American relations. Unilateral actions will most likely lead to the collapse of this international agreement.

As regards cruise missiles as an element of precision-guided weapons, one important issue should be clarified above all. Under the New START Treaty of 2010, long-range (over 600 km) nuclear cruise missiles are not counted as strategic offensive arms. In other words, in the opinion of Russia and the United States, they are not strategic weapons. Each heavy bomber carrying nuclear-tipped air-launched cruise missiles is counted as one delivery vehicle and one warhead, no matter how many missiles it may carry. Sea-launched cruise missiles are not covered by this treaty at all. It does not even mention the term ‘long-range nuclear cruise missile.’ Simply put, the parties do not think that these nuclear weapons can undermine the strategic balance; therefore, they see no reason to limit them in the START Treaty. In this case, however, it is completely unclear why long-range nuclear cruise missiles do not affect the strategic balance between the parties, as Moscow and Washington stated in the above-mentioned agreement, whereas similar conventional weapons should undermine strategic stability, especially since some studies show that conventional cruise missiles are not capable of destroying highly protected strategic offensive weapons.

It is believed in Russia that the most serious threat to strategic stability comes from missile defense. However, there is much more ambiguity in this issue than evidence confirmed by practice. First of all, many experts and politicians follow a strange logic when talking about missile defense issues, and their logic differs significantly from the normal perception of the security problem. For example, it is claimed that the U.S. missile defense system “threatens” Russia’s strategic potential. But such a threat can be translated into action only after Russia strikes with ballistic missiles. For as long as these missiles are not used, missile defense does not threaten them. Saying that missile defense poses a threat to someone’s nuclear potential is the same as saying that a hard hat worn by a construction worker is a threat to a brick that may fall on his head.

Opponents of missile defense argue that it will be used after the enemy delivers a first strike against its opponent’s strategic forces, thus greatly weakening the latter’s retaliatory strike. It is this retaliatory strike that will have to be intercepted by missile defense. This abstract and senseless reasoning underlies the logic of missile defense opponents who denounce any programs for creating and deploying missile defense. They view such efforts as an attempt to achieve military superiority and create conditions for victory in a nuclear war. In fact, the entire concept of strategic stability is based on the assessment of the consequences of a first strike and the aggressor’s ability to repulse a retaliatory strike.

Debates over the effect of missile defense on strategic stability have been going on for sixty years, so there is no need to cite here all arguments for and against, set forth in numerous publications. Let us only note that these debates were largely held in the U.S. In the Soviet Union and Russia, an overwhelming majority of experts shared the view that the development of missile defense systems undermines strategic stability, increasing the probability of a first strike in crisis situations and spurring a race in strategic arms in all areas. As a rule, the debates focused on the assessment of effectiveness of missile defense systems and time required for the deployment of new weapon systems.

Now let’s see how the United States can repulse Russia’s “retaliatory strike” after its own “large-scale nuclear attack,” if such plans really exist. First of all, let’s take a look at the geography of U.S. missile defense systems. If the main task of the U.S. were to defend against a Russian retaliatory strike, it would deploy its missile defense system primarily along its borders and deep in its heartland. A thin defense of the country would require at least 10 to 12 deployment areas with several dozen interceptor missiles in each. As far as is known, nothing like this is happening. Such a program does not exist, and such proposals have never been submitted. By the end of 2017, 44 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) are to be deployed in U.S. territory (40 in Alaska and 4 in California). By 2025, the number of GBIs is planned to be increased to 56.

It should be recalled here that the most important provision of the 1972 ABM Treaty (from which the U.S. withdrew in 2002) was the limitation of interceptor missiles capable of shooting down incoming ICBM warheads. Each party was permitted to have up to 200 ABM systems in two ABM deployment areas. The Protocol of 1974 to the Treaty limited the number of ABM systems to 100 at each ABM site. In other words, the U.S. has not yet exceeded the limit set by the ABM Treaty and will not do so in the foreseeable future, which means that strategic stability, as understood by missile defense opponents, is not undermined.

Russia is greatly concerned over the proposed missile defense system for Europe and keeps an eye on programs for deploying similar systems in the Middle East and some Asian countries. But all these systems are not strategic in terms of location and performance. Of course, some modifications of the U.S. Standard interceptor missiles, THAAD and some other systems have a certain potential to combat strategic ballistic missiles. But they are not intended to perform such tasks and can shoot down ICBM warheads only accidentally. It is also important that the above BMD systems have never been tested against strategic missiles (warheads); so they cannot be relied on for intercepting retaliatory strikes with strategic ballistic missiles.

In addition, these systems pose no threat to Russia’s strategic potential due to the geography of their deployment. This will be clear if we move from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional vision of this geography. Simply put, we should be looking not at the flat map of the world, but at the globe. Then many things will look differently. For example, we will see that the shortest way from Russia to America is not via Amsterdam or Paris, but across the North Pole.

To my view, there are no serious military-strategic obstacles to further dialogue between Russia and the United States on more reductions in strategic offensive arms. The effect of precision-guided and space weapons on the strategic balance between the parties is clearly exaggerated. In the foreseeable future, their effect will continue to be minimal, if at all.

U.S. missile defense programs are limited in terms of their impact on Russia’s ability to deliver a crushing retaliatory strike, even if weakened by a U.S. first strategic strike. The latter, too, is a very dubious strategic concept, which, nevertheless, underlies many discussions about ways to strengthen security and so-called strategic stability. No sane leader of a country would rely on an unreliable missile defense system, which has failed many tests and which can be bypassed by changing the direction of attack.

As for political obstacles to new negotiations, they have piled up both in Russian-American and Russia-West relations. They are difficult to overcome, and this will most certainly take much time and effort. There is a view that negotiations on deeper reductions in strategic offensive arms are possible only after relations between the two countries more or less improve or, at least, show a clear tendency towards improvement.

But this problem can be approached from a different perspective by setting the goal of concluding a new agreement on deeper reductions in strategic offensive arms and limiting the number of strategic warheads to 1,000 for each party. If concluded, the new agreement could serve as a positive example of cooperation and give a chance to reach mutual understanding in other areas. This will be facilitated by the beginning of broad consultations on the whole range of security problems, including those that evoke Russia’s concern.

In July 2018 in Helsinki Putin and Trump agreed to pay special attention to the problem of extension of a New START Treaty for the following 5 years (until the year of 2016), as well as to preserving the INF Treaty which became a subject of serious criticism during the last 3-4 years. It is obviously a positive step into a right direction. But it is not enough. Both states have quite a big potential for further reductions of their nuclear arsenals – strategic and tactical as well even without the participation of the third nuclear states in this process. This possible participation needs serious investigation and special attention of all the interested parties.

Chief Research Fellow at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (Moscow, Russia). In 1989-1991 was a member of Soviet negotiating team at START-1 negotiations (Defense and Space Talks).

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Defense

North Korea’s Nuclear Shadow: A Worrisome Expansion

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Abstract: The nuclear news from North Korea remains clear and threatening.  Ignoring both political warnings and legal prohibitions, Kim Jong Un has continued testing shorter range weapons that could imperil U.S. allies South Korea and Japan. In September, the North tested a new cruise missile it intends to arm with nuclear warheads and demonstrated a new system for firing ballistic missiles from trains. Kim’s escalatory launch from rail cars came just hours before the South reported its first test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Tackling such complexities, the following article by Professor Louis René Beres recommends issue-specific forms of dialectical thinking to US planners and policy-makers. His focused recommendations include a US policy shift in strategic objective from enemy “denuclearization” to mutual nuclear deterrence.

“The worst does sometimes happen.”-Friedrich Durrenmatt, Swiss Playwright

 Pyongyang’s recent missile tests reveal more than narrowly technical information about advanced military hardware. These tests reveal that Kim Jong Un has no intention to “denuclearize.” A reciprocal question now arises for the United States: What should Washington do in response?

To begin, there should be no resumption of incoherent and needlessly belligerent escalatory threats by an American president. There should be, instead, a conscious refinement of conceptual understandings. Before the United States can limit Pyongyang’s determined capacity to expand ever-more aggressively with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, Washington will need to embrace much more deeply thoughtful ideas about military power and national security.[1]

What should this required “embrace” actually look like? First, President Joseph Biden will need to understand that even a tangible US superiority in delivery vehicles and nuclear firepower need not signify American safety or potential “victory.” Though not readily apparent, this presumed US advantage could encourage a false sense of national influence and a visceral pattern of strategic risk-taking.

Overall, there could be no “minor” nuclear crises. In essence, a nuclear confrontation with North Korea – any nuclear confrontation – could quickly spin out of control, leaving even the militarily “superior” nation with grievous losses or impairments.[2]  What then?

The Intellectual Imperative

For the United States, the core policy obligations are plain. Going forward, proper reactions to North Korean nuclear expansion must be based exclusively upon Science and Reason. Rejecting the previous American president’s announced preference for “attitude” over “preparation,” Mr. Biden should restore this country to intellectually defensible foreign policies.

During the rancorous Trump Era, all proposed presidential solutions to North Korean nuclearization became crudely ad hominem (“We fell in love,” said Donald Trump about Kim Jong Un). At this point, to restore basic coherence to US-North Korean diplomacy, pertinent strategic policies will need to be based upon a more significant American appreciation of decision -making complexities. Inter alia, this appreciation should include an awareness of various multiple “synergies.” 

What intersections should be included? In all synergistic intersections, the “whole” of any particular outcome must be greater than the sum of its “parts.” Additionally, among military planners, the term “force multiplier” is often used to communicate the same or similar principles.

                There is more. For American planners, specificity and generality[3] will both be required. Comprehensive theories are necessary.[4] Always, the prevailing world order,[5] like the myriad individual human bodies who comprise it, will need to be recognized as a system. No discernible effects could be entirely isolated or singular.

Among the clarifying implications of this central metaphor, any more-or-less major conventional conflict in northeast Asia could heighten prospects of international conflicts elsewhere. This is the case whether such prospects would be immediate or incremental.  These prospects could include a regional nuclear war. Significant risks of such a worst case scenario would be enlarged by American searches for no-longer plausible outcomes. An important example of such a mistaken search would be one that is directed toward “victory.”

Perils of Seeking “Victory”

               There is good reason for identifying this example. Here, a cautionary observation about “victory” is persuasive, at least in part, because all core meanings of victory and defeat have changed dramatically.[6] Inter alia, these are no longer the meanings offered by Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’ classic On War (1832). At a little-examined metaphysical level, the ultimate victory for any human being or institutionalized collection of human beings must be victory over death.[7]

               In most prospectively identifiable wars between nation-states, there are no longer any confirmable criteria of demarcation between victory and defeat. Even a “victory” on some actual field of battle might not in any calculable way reduce serious security threats to the American homeland or US allies. Such grave threats, whether foreseen or unforeseen, could include various sub-state aggressions (terrorism) and/or widening attacks upon regional or non-regional US allies.

               Once it was acknowledged as a distinct foreign-policy objective, any declared US search for “victory” over North Korea could create a corrosively lethal escalatory dynamic with Pyongyang, one from which Washington could no longer expect any derivative military advantages. Such predictably injurious creations could take place in variously unanticipated increments or as an unexpected (“bolt-from-the-blue”) enemy aggression.[8] In the foreseeable worst case, an unwitting US forfeiture of “escalation dominance” would signify starkly irreversible American losses. These losses could include chaotic conditions that create tens or hundreds of thousands of prompt fatalities and much larger numbers of latent cancer deaths.

               For US policy planners, a great deal of subject-matter specificity must soon be taken into close account. In a promisingly coherent post-Trump policy world where history and science regain proper pride of place,[9] a capable American president can finally acknowledge something too long disregarded. It is that because nation-states no longer declare wars or enter into binding war-termination agreements, the application of traditional criteria of “war winning” to interstate conflicts no longer make any legal sense.[10]

Even more important, the empty political rhetoric of “victory” carries no correspondingly objective assessment or evaluation. No one can ever really “know” whether a particular war has been won or lost. And if this ambiguity were not the case, the “winning” side might still remain substantially vulnerable to assorted enemy aggressions, whether state, sub-state or “hybrid” inflicted.

The Limits of Military Acumen, Rationality and Prediction

 There is more. In the very complicated matters at hand, ascertainable benefits might not lie in any traditional forms of military expertise. A core question arises: Exactly how much applicable experience could American generals have garnered in starting, managing or ending a nuclear war? To what extent might the president and his senior commanders see only what they would want to see, including perhaps a seemingly gainful prospect of US military preemption?[11]

               In these opaque nuclear times, selective perceptions could sometimes prove to be mistaken. In principle, even after sober consideration of retaliatory consequences, an American president might still discover tangible benefit in launching specific preemptive strikes against an already nuclear North Korea. This prospect arises at least in exceptionally residual circumstances.[12] Accordingly, there could exist certain definable crises where refraining from striking first would appear more costly than gainful (irrational). These would be crises that allow North Korea to implement certain severely-complicating protective measures.[13]

               What’s the “bottom line” on US defensive first strikes against an already nuclear North Korea? It is that even such an American preemption could sometimes be rational, but only in utterly last resort strategic calculations.

               How can America tap pertinent military expertise on such critical existential judgments? All things considered, it is reasonable to expect that the generals could have no adequate expectation of pertinent “dialectics;”[14] that is, about Pyongyang’s selected response. Still, by no means does this candid expectation represent any ad hominem or gratuitous criticism of professional military planners. It is merely a dispassionate analytic reflection on the historical uniqueness of nuclear conflict.

There have been no nuclear wars; hence, there can be no experts on nuclear warfare.

               This incontestable conclusion is most urgently compelling in regard to the myriad complexities of any two-power nuclear competition: (1) one where there would exist substantial asymmetries in relative military power position; and (2) one where the “weaker” (North Korean) side could maintain a verifiable potential to inflict unacceptably damaging first-strikes or reprisals upon the “stronger” American side.

               Again, no truly reliable probability estimations can ever be undertaken in reference to unprecedented or sui generis situations. In science, authentic probability judgments must always be based upon a carefully calculated frequency of relevant past events.

               There are other problems in seeking an ultimate “victory” over North Korea. Recalling the “good old days,” which extend into the twentieth-century, nation-states have generally had to defeat enemy armies before being able to wreak any wished-for destruction upon the adversary’s cities and infrastructures. In those earlier times of more traditional doctrinal arrangements concerning war and peace, an individual country’s demonstrated capacity to “win” was necessarily prior to a sought-after capacity to destroy. An appropriate and well-known example to US military thinkers would be the case of Persia and Greece at the 480 BCE Battle of Thermopylae. Today, unlike what was purportedly the case at Thermopylae, a state needn’t be able to defeat enemy armies in order to inflict calculably gainful harms. Even if the US were to “win” against North Korea in a war, that “defeated” adversary could still inflict vast harms upon American citizens, institutions and infrastructures.

At a minimum, such an enemy could enlist destructive proxy forces, such as bio-terrorist surrogates.

The Capacity to Deter is Distinct from the Capacity to Win

               For President Biden and his counselors, there does remain some “good news.” The United States needn’t be able to win a particular conflict in order to credibly threaten a significant foe like North Korea (deterrence) or to inflict retaliatory harms upon this enemy. What this “good news” means today is that the capacity to deter is no longer necessarily identical to the capacity to win. For the United States, the principal war-planning or war-deterring lesson of any such ongoing transformations now warrants serious study.

               For the United States, the only prospective “victory” of immediate consequence is an intellectual victory. Conceptually, what matters most will be an American capacity to win bewilderingly complex struggles of “mind over mind.” Going forward, American planner must diligently work through variously dialectic forms of struggle with Pyongyang, not just enter into ad hoc or visceral contests of “mind over matter.”

               There are also various relevant points of law to be considered.[15] This is because jurisprudencehas its own proper place in such bewildering strategic calculations. More specifically, in terms of applicable law, winning and losing may no longer mean much for successful strategic planning. This tangible devaluation of victory and defeat should also become more obvious with regard to America’s wars on terror. Now, after Afghanistan, pressing conflict issues will need to be examined within continuously transforming US military plans and objectives regarding not just North Korea but also Syria, Iraq, Yemen and assorted other places.

               Regarding “victory,” he U.S. can never meaningfully “win” any upcoming wars with Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS-K, Taliban, etc. In part, this is the case because national leaders could never know for certain whether a presumptively zero-sum conflict with virulent sub-state or “hybrid” adversaries was actually “over.” On pertinent definitional matters, a “hybrid” enemy would refer to any adversary that combined state and sub-state elements in changing ratios of composition.

  Operationally, winning and losing are now fully extraneous to America’s collective interests, or, in those foreseeable cases where “victory” might still be expressed as a high-priority national objective, fully harmful. Ironically, a narrowly static American orientation to “winning” against North Korea could sometime lead the United States toward huge and irreversible losses. Such loses would likely ensue from various critical American misjudgments on “escalation dominance.”

               There is more. United States military planners could look usefully to “The East.” Long ago, famed Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu had reasoned simply: “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” To meet current US national security objectives vis-à-vis North Korea and other potential nuclear adversaries, this ancient Chinese military wisdom suggests that Washington now openly seek deterrence rather than victory. Any such necessary discontinuance should remain connected to the stringent requirements of maintaining optimal control over all necessary military escalations.

               If, in the future, these requirements were somehow minimized or disregarded, a resultant regional conflict could have “spillover” implications for other nation-states and for other parts of the world. Different elements of chaos notwithstanding, world politics and world military processes are always expressive of an underlying system. This elucidating characterization must lie continuously at the core of any coherent US strategic doctrine. 

Final Strategic Calculations

               Before these systemic connections can be understood and assessed, however, US planners must realize that the complicated logic of strategic nuclear calculations demands a discrete and capably nuanced genre of decision-making. This would be a genre that calls for considerable intellectual refinement in extremis atomicum. As an example, casually expecting an American president to convincingly leverage Chinese and Russian sanctions on behalf of the United States would miss at least two vital and intersecting points: (1) the regime in Pyongyang will likely never back down on its overall plan for nuclearization, however severe sanctions might seemingly become; and (2) counting upon meaningful sanctions from Beijing or Moscow would become inherently problematic for the United States.

 Both China and Russia remain substantially more worried about their traditional national enemy in Washington than about future dangers arising from Pyongyang.

               Truth will out. In world politics, as in law,[16] truth is exculpatory.  Like it or not, a nuclear North Korea is a fait accompli. Soon, President Biden will have to focus upon creating stable nuclear deterrence with North Korea (a) for the benefit of the United States; (b) for the benefit of America’s directly vulnerable allies in South Korea and Japan; and (c) for the benefit of its indirectly vulnerable allies elsewhere, including Israel in the still-dissembling Middle East.

               However inconspicuous, these important allies remain integral components of the same organic world system; they can never be helpfully separated from the palpable consequences of American geopolitical posture.

               “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” observed 20th century French Jesuit scholar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “no matter whom….” Nowhere is this interrelatedness more obvious or more potentially consequential than in the continuing matter of a nuclear North Korea and US foreign policy decision-making. This urgent threat from Pyongyang will not subside or disappear on its own. Immediately, it must be America’s sober responsibility to better understand all relevant American security obligations as well as their derivative complications.

Nuclear Warfighting Scenarios

 Should nuclear weapons ever be introduced into any future conflict between the United States and North Korea, actual instances of nuclear war-fighting could occur. This would be the case as long as: (a) US conventional first-strikes against North Korea would not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) US conventional retaliations for a North Korean conventional first-strike would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) US preemptive nuclear strikes would  not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capability; and (d) US conventional retaliations for North Korean conventional first strikes would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability.

Any US nuclear preemption would be potentially catastrophic and hence implausible. Reciprocally, assuming rationality, any North Korean nuclear preemption against the United States or its allies would be unlikely or altogether inconceivable. Can we reasonably and continuously assume North Korean rationality? Kim Jong Un has been steadily accelerating his testing of advanced nuclear missiles and supporting infrastructures. There is no persuasive basis to doubt that his vast commitment to nuclear weapons is in any manner reversible.

In January 2021, after describing the United States as “our biggest enemy,” Kim Jong Un called openly for more advanced nuclear weapons and infrastructures. At that time, during fully nine hours of blistering remarks at a party conference in Pyongyang, Kim summarized his country’s basic strategic posture: “Our foreign political activities should be focused and redirected on subduing the United States, our biggest enemy…No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature of the US and its fundamental policies towards North Korea never change.”

               Now, capable strategic analysts guiding American president Joseph Bien should enhance their nuclear investigations by carefully identifying basic distinctions between intentional or deliberate nuclear war and unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. The risks are apt to vary considerably, especially if rationality is also factored into the manty-sided calculation. Those American analysts who would remain too singularly focused upon a deliberate nuclear war scenario could all-too-casually underestimate a far more serious nuclear threat to the United States.

               This means the increasingly credible threat of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war.

                An additional conceptual distinction must be inserted into any US analytic scenario “mix.” This is the subtle but still important difference between an inadvertent nuclear war and an accidental nuclear war. Any accidental nuclear war would have to be inadvertent; conversely, however, there could be forms of inadvertent nuclear war that would not be accidental. Most critical, in this connection, would be significant errors in calculation committed by one or both sides – that is, more-or-less reciprocal mistakes that lead directly and/or inexorably to nuclear conflict.

The most blatant example of such a mistake would concern assorted misjudgments of enemy intent or capacity that emerge during the course of any ongoing crisis escalation.

Wider Implications of Chaos

               What about “chaos?” How would this indecipherable condition impact pertinent models of rational decision-making? Whether described in the Old Testament or in other evident sources of Western philosophy, chaos could become as much a source of human improvement as decline.[17] It is this prospectively positive side of chaos that is intended by Friedrich Nietzsche’s dense remark  in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883): “I tell you, ye have still chaos in you.”

               When expressed in aptly neutral tones, chaos represents that condition which prepares the world for all things, whether sacred or profane. It reveals that yawning gulf of “emptiness” where nothing is as yet, but where variously remaining civilizational opportunity can still originate. The 18th century German poet Friedrich Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic, which stands at the roots of the things, and which prepares all things.”

               Insightfully, in the ancient pagan world, Greek philosophers thought of this “desert” as logos, a primal designation which indicates that chaos is anything but starkly random or without merit.

One core conclusion is beyond reasonable question. It is that the only rational use for American nuclear weapons in any forthcoming US-North Korea negotiation must be as diplomatic bargaining elements of interstate dissuasion/persuasion. Barring any sudden crisis initiated by North Korean nuclear strike – a crisis that would immediately place the American president in extremis atomicum –  there could be absolutely no gainful use for such weapons as actual implements of war. If there could sometime arise a strategically rational justification for nuclear war-waging, one in which the expected benefits of nuclear weapons use would seemingly exceed expected costs, the planet as a whole could be imperiled, perhaps even irremediably.

Prima facie, there can be no credible guarantees that US-North Korean relations will not sometime descend into tangible nuclear conflict. “The worst,” warns Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “does sometimes happen.” For the United States, the best way to avoid any such irreversible folly with North Korea would be to reluctantly accept that belligerent country into the “nuclear club,” but still take intellect-based steps to ensure that it remains subject to American nuclear deterrence.


[1] “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another,” asks Samuel Beckett philosophically in Endgame, “of seeking justification always on the same plane?” Thought the celebrated Irish playwright was certainly not thinking specifically about world politics or national security, his generalized query remains well-suited to this strategic inquiry. As competitive power-politics has never worked, why keep insisting upon it as a presumptively viable doctrine?

[2] For informed assessments of plausible consequences of nuclear war fighting, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, SURVIVING AMID CHAOS: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016/2018); 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: U S 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).

[3] The need for generality notwithstanding, strategic thinkers should never lose sight of the human consequences of their abstractions. By definition, theory is a simplification, one purposely excluding from consideration those factors deemed unessential to analytic explanation. This indispensable exclusion comes at a cost, however, because it involves the palpable sacrifice of espirit de finesse or the individual human element of any catastrophe. Recalling the poet Goethe’s observation in Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is gray, and the golden tree of life is green.” (Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grűn des Lebens goldner Baum.”)

[4] “Theory is a net,” observes German poet Novalis,” and “only those who cast, can catch.” This apt metaphor was embraced by philosopher of science Karl Popper as the epigraph to his classic work on philosophy of science:  The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934).

[5] The term “world order” has its contemporary origins in a scholarly movement begun at the Yale Law School in the mid- and late 1960s and later “adopted” by the Politics Department at Princeton University in 1967-68. The present author was an early member of the Princeton-based World Order Models Project, and wrote several of the early books and articles in this once still-emergent academic genre.

[6]See by this writer, at The Hill: Louis René Beres: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-military/347395-opinion-victory-in-afghanistan-has-no-serious-meaning

[7]Throughout history, notions of ultimate “victory” have been associated with personal immortality. To wit, in his posthumously published Lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end in itself, drew its originating strength from the doctrine of sovereignty advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of legal regulation in their interactions with each other.

[8] See especially: RESOLUTION ON THE DEFINITION OF AGGRESSION, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No. 31) 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631, 1975, reprinted in 13 I.L.M. 710, 1974; and CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS, Art. 51… Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945, 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, Bevans 1153, 1976, Y.B.U.N. 1043.

[9] “Intellect rots the brain” shrieked Joseph Goebbels at a Nuremberg Germany rally in 1935. “I love the poorly educated” echoed American presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 rally in the United States. Perhaps to authenticate his anti-intellectualism, Trump went on to propose household bleach as a Covid19 treatment, urge the use of nuclear weapons against hurricanes and praise American revolutionary armies in the 18th century for “gaining control of all national airports.”

[10] Under authoritative international law, which is generally a part of US law, the question of whether or not a “state of war” exists between states is ordinarily ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal declaration of war was necessary before any true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chas. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war can obtain only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated, inter alia, that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, formal declarations of war could be tantamount to admissions of international criminality because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law. It could, therefore, represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to prior declarations of belligerency. It follows, further, that a state of war may exist without any formal declarations, but only if there should exist an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”

[11] As a legally permissible form of such a preemption, “anticipatory self-defense” is rooted in customary international law (see note immediately below), Customary international law is identified as an authoritative source of world legal norms at Art. 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice. International law, an integral part of the legal system of all states in world politics, assumes a general obligation of states to supply benefits to one another and to avoid war wherever possible. This core assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, that is, one that is not subject to any reasonable question. It can be found, inter alia, in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis, Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625) and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law (1758).

[12] In law, any such defensive first-strikes, if permissible, could be considered “anticipatory self-defense.” The normative origins of such defense liein customary international law, more precisely, 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).

[13]Designed to guard against any US preemption, these measures could involve the attachment of “hair trigger” launch mechanisms to nuclear weapon systems and/or the adoption of “launch on warning” policies, possibly coupled with pre-delegations of launch authority. This means, incrementally, that the US could find itself endangered by certain steps taken by Pyongyang to prevent a belligerent preemption. Optimally, the United States would do everything possible to prevent such steps, especially because of expanded risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks launched against its own or allied armaments/ populations. But if such steps were to become a fait accompli, Washington could still calculate correctly that a preemptive strike would be legal and cost-effective. This is because the expected enemy retaliation, however damaging, could still appear more tolerable than the expected consequences of enemy first-strikes –  strikes likely occasioned by the antecedent failure of “anti-preemption” protocols.

[14] “Dialectic” is Plato’s term for what science and philosophy “do.” It is rooted in the Greek word for conversation, and stipulates that only through conversation can one genuinely discover “what each thing is” (Republic 533b).

[15] Under international law, every use of forcemust be judged twice: once with regard to the underlying right to wage war (jus ad bellum) and once to the means used in conducting a 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” (aka “distinction”), “proportionality” and “military necessity” into belligerent calculations.

[16] International law is always part of the law of the United States. For early decisions on the US “incorporation” of authoritative international law by Chief Justice John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).

[17] “Is it an end that draws near,” inquires Karl Jaspers in Man in the Modern Age (1951) “or a beginning.”

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Defense

Eastern seas after Afghanistan: UK and Australia come to the rescue of the U.S. in a clumsy way

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In March 2021 the People’s Republic of China emerged as the world’s largest naval fleet, surpassing the US Navy. An advantage of around 60 ships, which will increase in 2024, when China will count on a fleet of at least 400 units. A goal already announced in 2018 by President Xi Jinping.

After the unsuccessful withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States announced the establishment of a new security cooperation alliance with the United Kingdom and Australia, whose first task is to assist Australia in building nuclear-powered submarines.

Considering its allies, the White House has shared only nuclear propulsion technology with the UK and Australia will be the next. Although the officials from the three countries denied that the new alliance was targeted to any country, European and US media believe that the move is intended to counter Chinese power and strength.

In addition to nuclear-powered submarines, the three countries will also strengthen cooperation in the areas of network technology, artificial intelligence and quantum technology. White House officials revealed that Britain played a strategic leadership role in reaching the alliance.

In Global Britain in a Competitive Age. The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy of March 2021 – which sets out the government’s geopolitical strategy after Brexit and outlines the UK role in the world over the next 10 years – the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, proposed to reposition UK’s global strategy after Brexit. He announced the foreign and defence policy, stressing that the country would be deeply involved in the Indo-Pacific region in the future.

According to a statement released by the White House on September 15, the US-UK-Australia security alliance is named AUKUS, and is designed to strengthen the three countries’ diplomatic, security and defence cooperation in the said region.

Under the new regional arrangement, the three countries will further strengthen information and technology sharing, as well as integrate science and supply chains and security and defence-related industrial bases.

The first key basis of the arrangement is the United States of America and the United Kingdom, with the aim of assisting Australia in building nuclear-powered submarines. The three countries will spend 18 months discussing how to implement the plan.

As said above, before Australia the United Kingdom was the only country with which the United States shared nuclear propulsion technology. It should be recalled that during the Cold War, after the Soviet Union had launched the first artificial satellite (the Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957), the United States and Britain signed a joint defence agreement on July 3, 1958 (the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement) to share key military nuclear technology. Britain obviously ignored the rest of Europe, about which, even before Napoleon, it had cared very little except as a rampart from the South and the East. However, let us revert to the present day.

Compared to conventional submarines, nuclear-powered ones are faster; they have greater endurance and attack capabilities and are more difficult to detect. Currently, only six countries in the world have this type of weapon: the United States, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, France, India and the United Kingdom.

According to the AUKUS plan, these submarines will be built in Adelaide, the capital of the State of South Australia, but the Commonwealth of Australia has no nuclear industry nor the necessary fissile materials. US officials have revealed that nuclear materials can be shipped from other countries to that federal State. The USA and Australia already signed an agreement in 2010, which stipulates that Australia will not retract or increase the amount of nuclear materials sent to the country from the United States, and it should also be recalled that Australia is also a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, however, has already put his hands on, declaring that the construction of nuclear-powered submarines does not necessarily mean the production of nuclear weapons. He emphasised that Australia did not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, nor did it seek a chance in civilian nuclear power.

Nevertheless, some experts believe that Australia’s construction of nuclear-powered submarines is off to a bad start. In an interview with The Washington Post, James Acton – Director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace – pointed out that the move severely undermined the nuclear non-proliferation system and could also trigger an arms race.

He sharply predicted that, after Australia’s precedent, Iran might also announce the construction of nuclear-powered submarines: after all, Iran is a subject of international law and a co-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as is Australia.

In the past, while such a possible Iranian request might have been opposed by the international community, with AUKUS it will be lent credence, unless the aforementioned international law also formally establishes the existence of first-ranking and second-ranking States.

On the political level, Hugh White, a former Australian defence official, stated in an interview with The New York Times that Australia’s move was not just to build nuclear-powered submarines, but also a strategic adjustment to significantly deepen anti-Chinese cooperation with the United States.

When the new Indo-Pacific security alliance was announced on September 15, US President Joseph Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison were careful not to mention the People’s Republic of China.

President Biden said that the establishment of the new alliance was used for ensuring long-term peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. US officials stressed that the trilateral cooperation was not directed against any other country, but was designed to safeguard the strategic interests of the three countries.

But whether it is the Australian media, the British media such as The Guardian or the US media such as CNN, they all agree that the alliance is directly targeting China.

Over the next few days, President Biden will also meet at the White House with the leaders of the “four-country group”: the United States, Japan, India and Australia.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, on the other hand, said at a press conference on September 16 that mutual respect and trust are the prerequisites for dialogue and cooperation between the countries.

He stressed that the current difficult situation in China-Australia relations stemmed solely from Australia. The most urgent task for Australia is to address the setback in relations between the two countries, as well as seriously assess whether it views the People’s Republic of China as a partner or a threat, and hence sincerely uphold mutual respect and treat each other as equals.

Let the principles and spirit of a comprehensive strategic partnership – not a sectoral one targeted against someone – govern the relations between the two countries.

In an interview with The Guardian, a senior White House official revealed that, when the new understanding was established, the UK played the role of mediator on all key issues and was “a very strong strategic leader”.

It should be noted that, on the issue of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Britain and the USA had severe divergences. The British Secretary of State for Defence, Robert Ben Lobban Wallace, repeatedly criticised the United States. Therefore, in theory, the USA can also bypass Britain and directly reach an agreement with Australia on nuclear-powered submarines.

The senior White House official – who disclosed the above mentioned issue – believes that this time the UK is so active in the three-nation military alliance because it had to “pay a deposit” for the policy described in Global Britain.

Global Britain, in itself, is a grandiose and vague concept. According to the UK government’s official website, the core of Global Britain is to invest again in UK’s relations with other countries, so as to promote an international order based on well-defined rules, and to demonstrate that the UK is a well-advised and trusted country in the international arena.

Some analysts believe that Boris Johnson’s Global Britain is trying to emulate Churchill’s three-circle diplomacy, e.g. the three areas of influence in British foreign policy: the Empire and the Commonwealth, the Anglo-Saxon world – in particular, the special relationship with the United States, i.e. the 51st star – and Europe.

The UK uses its close relationship with the second circle to act as a link between the other two circles to safeguard Britain’s interests and status as a (former) great power.

Meanwhile, let us see what France thinks about it. The French Ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, was recalled to Paris on September 18. Before leaving, he criticised Australia for having made a “huge mistake” on the issue of submarine construction. Ambassador Thebault arrived at Sydney airport on the evening of September 18th, from where he took a flight to leave Australia and return to France.

On September 17, the French Foreign Ministry issued a communiqué announcing the immediate recall of the Ambassador to the United States, Philippe Étienne, and of the Ambassador to Australia, the aforementioned Thebault.

The communiqué stated that Australia had abandoned the submarine-building agreement reached with France and had instead established a “new partnership” with the United States on the development of nuclear submarines – an “unacceptable behaviour” between allies.

Before returning to France, Ambassador Thebault said that Australia’s cancellation of the submarine contract with France was a “big mistake” and that Australia’s handling of the partnership was “very bad”. He revealed that this was not just a contractual issue, but an issue of partnership based on trust and mutual understanding.

Ambassador Thebault reiterated that at no time did Australia give France any clear signal to suspend the relevant contract. He said that France was kept completely in the dark about the steps taken and during that period many Australian officials not only continued to discuss the project with France, but also expressed their willingness to make the project a success.

No comments have come so far from Australia.

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Defense

AUKUS: Human-made disaster

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AUKUS is a new military alliance that emerged recently, among Australia, UK, and The US. Under this alliance, it has been declared that Australia will be equipped with nuclear submarines. There exists a panic in the region as Australia was not a declared nuclear state and if equipped with a nuclear submarine, whether or not, it is safe? Scholars and intellectuals have various opinions, but, agreed on one point that it will promote a nuclear race in the region. I believe, the spread of nuclear weapons, especially those who have no experience of handling nuclear submarines, maybe not be safe. It can be mishandled or accidentally, can cause any incident of disaster not only for Australia but for the whole region. Keeping nuclear weapons, need special safeguards and different temperament. To be a mature and responsible state is a prerequisite for having nuclear weapons, it also needs different ethics and principles to be equipped with such lethal weapons.

On the other hand, while NATO is there and Quad was created to specifically counter China, was there any genuine need for creating a new alliance like AUKUS? Is NATO abandoned? How the NATO member state thinks to ward AUKUS, one can imagine. Anyhow, they are hurt and mistrust has been created among NATO and the US.  First of all, The US is not at its peak to offend or compel any other country, like EU member states, and on other hand, the US economy is not in such a state, where it can support the luxury of defense expenditure like before. It is right to approach to cut defense expenditures and spend more of the socio-economic welfare of the country, but to create a new alliance is negating such an approach.

Many EU member states are confused and upset and in the days to come, the gap may widen further. First of all, some of the EU countries are in close cooperation with China economically. China has become the largest trading partner and investor for many EU countries. Dependency on the US has reduced considerably.

Especially, France is offended as it was in the advanced stage of negotiations with Australia for a similar deal but suddenly hijacked by the US and UK. France has lost a big opportunity and it’s her right to react and protest. France has called back its Ambassadors from Australia and the US. This is an initial reaction, but, more actions may be seen in the near future.

France, in a reaction, has announced to collaborate with India in a similar manner, which is not welcomed by Asian partners, as it will create a race in the region. Furthermore, India is in the hands of an extremist Hindu political party – RSS. RSS is a fanatic party and can go to any extent, without thinking about the consequences. It is not safe for the region to equip India with nuclear submarines.

This region is highly populous, China with its population of 1.4 billion, India itself is 1.2 billion, and the rest of countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Maldives, collectively constitutes almost half of the world’s population. If any misadventure happened in this region, half of the population of the whole world is under threat.

It will be not a wise decision to promote nuclearization, either by the US, UK, or France. One mistake cannot be compensated for by making another one. It will be a total disaster for humankind.

Humankind needs peace and prosperity. Human-made disasters can be averted and must be averted. It is the right time to take appropriate measures to stop nuclearization and the promotion of the nuclear race in this part of the world or any other part of the world. It is our individual’s responsibility to raise our voice and bring public awareness of such human-made disasters. Collectively we may avert such disasters, all peace-loving nations and individuals must join efforts to neutralize such deals and agreements. Countering China, to take such extreme actions is not justified. The US may review its decisions and avert disaster to humankind.

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