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The Collapse of the INF Treaty as a Motivation?

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Despite the attempts of Russian and U.S. sides to find common ground on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, it appears that the agreement will cease to exist this year. So what next?

Fighting for Opinions

Russia has been demonstrating a rather high degree of flexibility of late, including publicly, by stating its readiness to reveal its “controversial” 9M729 land-based cruise missile and then holding a presentation on it (even though the scale of the event was, apparently, smaller than the one that was originally proposed to the U.S. partners).

Despite the fairly simple diagrams of the 9M729 and 9M728 missiles displayed on their transport-and-launch containers and the launcher’s similarity to that of the “Club-M system that was first demonstrated back in 2007 as part of the setup for the land-based variant of the Kalibr missile (even though it was a shorter-range version intended for export), this information appears to be quite interesting. Furthermore, the data supplied by Russian sources largely confirms the assumption that the warhead is the main feature of this new cruise missile for the Iskander-M tactical missile system. At the same time, it is possible that the “new but not-so-new” launcher had been planned all along, but did not emerge until now due to concerns about possible breaches of the INF Treaty, and that it was only greenlighted once an appropriate, militarily significant cruise missile had emerged that met the INF requirements and required a new launcher type (other than the “classic” 9P78-1 one). It may very well be that the new launcher is not suitable for 9M723-series quasi-ballistic missiles, and there are questions about its compatibility with the accompanying transporter-loader vehicle; however, the missile’s increased accuracy and power (and possibly its enhanced capability to overcome enemy missile defences) was clearly considered to be very valuable.

Unfortunately, the key NATO and EU member nations ignored the presentation, and not necessarily of their own volition [2]. The United States, for its part, continues to express concerns about the 9M729 cruise missile breaching the INF Treaty, demanding the destruction of both the missile and the associated launchers under Washington’s supervision.

On February 2, the United States will start the process of “suspending” its obligations regarding the INF Treaty. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has already described the decision as being “legally void.” Washington, however, sees this as a way to develop missiles that would be otherwise prohibited by the Treaty. It should be noted that the United States started planning research and development in this field several years back, and the first test launches may be expected in the near future. It could start with test-launching land-based versions of its air- or sea-launched cruise missiles, for example. Another possible pioneer might be a new tactical missile being developed as part of the Precision Strike Missile programme (formerly known as Long Range Precision Fires), which is to replace the good old ATACMS programme. Raytheon is a participant in the project with its DeepStrike project, whose advertised maximum range stands at the marvellously precise figure of 499 kilometres.

What Next after INF Treaty?

If the United States notifies Russia (and the other post-Soviet states) on February 2 about its withdrawal from the Treaty, how will the situation unfold over the next six months? [3]

The worst-case scenario would involve the rapid development and deployment by Russia and the United States of conventional and nuclear medium- and short-range missiles on both sides of the NATO–Russia border: in Russia’s Western Military District (including Kaliningrad exclave) and throughout Central and Eastern Europe. It would take at least a year for the respective missile units to become fully operational, but even announced planse on their deployment would ruin whatever is left of the European security architecture, including the Russia-NATO Founding Act. Western Europe is unlikely to support such processes; however, Eastern European countries may be willing to host U.S. offensive systems within the framework of bilateral agreements. This may indeed trigger a crisis in the West, including within NATO and the EU, but Russia is sure to suffer much more from such a return to the Missile Scares of the 80s. Moscow is much closer to NATO borders today than it was back then due to geography and political developments, and the the military threat emanating from the Alliance is playing a serious role in the way Moscow’ perceives this threat policy-wise. Russia will certainly need to take into account the drastic reduction in decision-making times should hostilities break out, which could result in pre-delegation of the authority to use nuclear weapons to lower levels of the command chain, or even in fully automating this process, given the heightened interest in the topic on the part of the country’s top political and military leadership. It is partially because of these risks that it would be a bad idea to rush to deploy new missile systems, thus poring fuel to the simmering conflicts.

It is much more likely that all the actors involved will exercise some degree of self-restraint. The interested parties could state their intentions to refrain from unprovoked deployments of missile systems. This would prevent any restrictions on R&D efforts, while at the same time facilitating a relatively stable strategic military architecture. Other possibilities include agreements that would restrict the geography of possible deployments – for example, Europe could be declared an area free from intermediate and shorter range missiles. However, such a decision would have a negative impact on the theoretical possibility of developing a global regime (not even a prohibitive regime, but just a restrictive or more transparent one) that would involve China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Israel and other actors.

In addition, if all the parties involved were prepared to withdraw from the INF Treaty, they could coordinate joint decisions on payloads for non-strategic missiles to be deployed. The Treaty does not distinguish between nuclear and conventional warheads, which is something worth revisiting in any eventuality [4]. Such a discussion would help the parties to return to the broader topic of control over tactical nuclear weapons, especially given the fairly interesting proposals that have emerged recently.

The possibility of some arrangements between European countries and Russia deserves special attention. Here, the key objective is to change the perception both in Moscow and in the European capitals: it is not about splitting the transatlantic unity or driving a wedge between Western and Eastern Europe. On the contrary, the emergence of a purely European arms control regime should help the disintegrating U.S.–Russia system of treaties remain in place. This, however, would require both parties to act fairly boldly.

The Future of New START and Arms Control

It should be stressed here that, unless the United States resorts to overly provocative activities in terms of deploying new intermediate and shorter range missile systems aimed directly at the Russian strategic nuclear forces (SNF), then Russia will continue with the current pace and targets for the modernization of its SNF as permitted by the New START Treaty.

In early 2019, the U.S. media ran a Russian letter to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The document explained Russia’s position with regard to the allegations of the United States that Moscow had failed to observe the INF Treaty [5]. Without going into much detail as to the essence of the mutual accusations, it should be noted that Washington’s failure to embrace a constructive approach presents the key threat to prolonging New START beyond 2021. Most importantly, Russia is presumably prepared to agree to a system of so-called “cabinet-level written political commitments”. Those are possible with regard to the cap on the total number of ballistic missile launch tubes on U.S. Ohio-class submarines (with the exception of those intended to make up for the missile potential of any lost launchers). A similar principle could be applied to upgraded Tupolev Tu-22M3M long-range bombers, which can theoretically be retrofitted with in-flight refuelling capabilities (thus boosting their range beyond 8000 kilometres) and the ability to release air-launched cruise missiles with a range of over 600 kilometres. This would turn such aircraft into heavy bombers under New START. The aforementioned letter states that Russia has no such intentions with regard to this bombers, but a relevant formal written commitment might prove to be a useful instrument of trust and security. This aspect of arms control may yet come to the fore should Russia-U.S. relations deteriorate further, including under the influence of domestic political processes in the United States.

Russia and the United States managed, in previous decades, to reach a very high level in terms of sharing reliable information on their strategic nuclear forces, and it would be a real pity to see this potential go to waste. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that these relations are very much unique. It is quite possible that we will return to a time when there were no legally binding restrictions on Russian and U.S. nuclear forces. This might be the point at which a new polycentric nuclear order will begin to form. To begin with, it would be advisable to develop a system of measures aimed at building confidence and transparency, as the existing asymmetry in the arsenals of the nuclear powers dooms any potential attempts to introduce universal or proportional constraints to failure. It is possible that the principle of “commitments” and other such solutions currently being discussed by Russia and the United States with regard to the controversial issues of New START could contribute to the foundation of such a “post-bipolar” regime. China, for one, might prove more willing to embrace a regime like that than a full-blown international treaty complete with stringent restrictions and mandatory inspections.

To conclude, let us revisit the founding principles: Why do countries need arms controls at all? Without getting bogged down in theoretical considerations, such controls resolve two problems: they mitigate risks by increasing the transparency and understandability of the doctrines and structure of the potential adversary’s armed forces, while optimizing one’s own military structure thanks to streamlining the range of defence programmes and curtailing the number of weapons and equipment in active service. It would appear that, today, the INF Treaty is failing to meet these goals, at least in the eyes of the U.S. administration. Whether or not this is because of Russia’s alleged breach of the Treaty or a perceived threat from third countries is of secondary importance.

  1. 1. It is noteworthy that, according to Kommersant, “following the [Russian] Foreign Ministry’s news conference on January 18, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow held a briefing on the topic. However, instead of foreign ambassadors, only political advisors to the representatives of EU member states were invited. One of the people who attended the meeting later revealed to Kommersant that the audience had been informed that the Foreign Ministry event had presented nothing but ‘propaganda,’ and that Russia was ‘in severe breach of the INF Treaty.’”
  2. 2. It is noteworthy that, according to Kommersant, “following the [Russian] Foreign Ministry’s news conference on January 18, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow held a briefing on the topic. However, instead of foreign ambassadors, only political advisors to the representatives of EU member states were invited. One of the people who attended the meeting later revealed to Kommersant that the audience had been informed that the Foreign Ministry event had presented nothing but ‘propaganda,’ and that Russia was ‘in severe breach of the INF Treaty.’”
  3. 3. Procedurally, withdrawing from the Treaty in and of itself is an interesting case in terms of the theory and practice of international law. One of the best articles on this topic was published on the LAWFARE website in the autumn of 2018.
  4. 4. Nuclear warheads are normally weigh slightly less and somewhat less precision-critical than conventional munitions, meaning that a nuclear-tipped missile of the same class may have a longer range.
  5. 5. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has not yet published an official Russian translation of the document.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Pakistan Test Fire of Shaheen 1A: Revalidating the Minimum Credible Deterrence Posture

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Very recently, on 26th March 2021, Pakistan has successfully conducted flight test of Shaheen- 1A nuclear-capable surface-to-surface ballistic missile. The missile was first tested in 2012, and has a reported range of 900 km, with 10,000 kg weight, is a road-mobile launched and solid-fueled ballistic missile. It is an enhanced version of Shaheen-1 and has the capability of hitting the target with high precision, because of its sophisticated and highly developed guidance system, which inculcates it amongst the most accurate missile systems. The test, according to ISPR, was conducted to revalidate the design and technical parameters of the ballistic missile, along with the advanced navigation system. The missile tests are being conducted to validate the operational readiness of the missiles and to enhance Pakistan’s posture of credible minimum deterrence. In South Asia, such missile tests are routinely being conducted by both states, of which they notify each other well in advance as per the 2005 bilateral missile test pact.

Several factors account for the strategic policy making of Pakistan with regards to India. These factors include geographical proximity, relations with other states, economic and military aspects. The foreign policy of Pakistan is based on all these factors, and given the confrontational and antagonistic relations with India; Pakistan essentially has to reform its military capabilities, to come at par with the years-long rival. This animosity and historical rivalry between India and Pakistan has created such a strategic culture that compels the latter to embark upon the policy of minimum credible nuclear deterrence as a defensive strategy.

The paramount purpose of nuclear deterrence is essential to deter wars. Pakistan deems nuclear weapons as ‘weapons of mass destruction’, however, ostensibly reserves the option of First Use against the nuclear-weapon state. As, India’s military posture is aggressive, which aggravates a dire need to re-check the operational preparedness of Pakistan’s military forces. Pakistan is bolstering its capabilities in view of India’s military and technological advancements. These advancements create strategic pressure on Pakistan, for the reason Pakistan attempts to comply by taking essential strategic measures, within the stated framework of minimum credible deterrence.

Pakistan maintains the policy of minimum credible deterrence and emphasizes the sole purpose of nuclear weapons be based on security vis-à-vis India. Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is of minimum credible deterrence. As many believe, the ambiguity surrounding the nuclear force posture of Pakistan makes it challenging to unravel the ‘minimum’ and ‘credible’ in its force posture, which is dynamic, subject to the advancements made at the adversary’s end; therefore the particular number of weapons can’t be quantified. The minimum credible deterrence aims to serve as the stabilizing factor in the strategic environment of South Asia. Pakistan has developed this posture as a counter to India’s conventional superiority, hence created a playing field at par with the adversary. This believes to have coped up with the conventional superiority of Indian military forces, and has emasculated India of its military superiority in conventional vein, and has thus wiped the chances of all-out war in south Asia.

The nuclear posture is contingent on capability, credibility, and communication. Hence, the credibility of the capability of the nuclear arsenals needs to be ascertained and should be well communicated to the adversary for maintaining the deterrence. The demonstration of the capability is essential for signaling the capabilities of a state. The missile tests are believed to be a way of communicating the capability, as a signal to the adversary of its effective capability. The test fires are conducted to communicate the capability, which should be credible enough to deliver unacceptable damage to the adversary. This is the essence of nuclear deterrence and has become vital in the view of emerging technological developments in South Asia.

The unstable peace between the two South Asian nuclear rivals remains vulnerable to competition and animosity. Since overt nuclearization, the chance of an all-out war between the two nuclear states has considerably been reduced. Peace and security in South Asia depend on strategic stability and nuclear deterrence robustness. The nonpareil conventional military superiority of India vis-à-vis Pakistan compelled India to go for aggressive military doctrines and force postures. The acquisition of such weapons helps Pakistan in achieving its desired deterrence stability in the region, and it offsets any kind of enemy’s aggression against the sovereignty of Pakistan.

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A Provident Posture for Israel: Facing Nuclear Iran as an Intellectual Problem

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“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” Sun-Tzu, The Art of War

Mitigating Trump-Policy Mistakes

Though Donald Trump sought to convince Israel that US withdrawal from the Iran pact would be gainful, the opposite was actually true. Subsequent to his artless American departure from JCPOA, Tehran merely accelerated its ongoing processes of nuclearization. Among other things, the former president’s argument that leaving a presumptively inadequate pact in place was worse than having no pact at all turned out to be evident nonsense. Prima facie, Trump’s politics-driven abrogation of the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement diminished Israel’s national security.[1]

To be sure, in such weighty matters, what’s done is done. Still, what is past here can also be prologue. By openly ignoring all proper considerations of history, logic and intellect,[2] Trump’s seat-of-the-pants strategic reasoning could only have exacerbated Israel’s security situation. But while these once-avoidable Trump-inflicted harms were not immediately remediable, Jerusalem could still act to prevent assorted worst case scenarios.[3]

Going forward, details matter. How, precisely, shall Israel best compensate for its Trump-accelerated losses of security preparation and strategic initiative? At this point,the odds of Israel launching any full-blown preemption against Iran,[4]possibly a proper act of “anticipatory self-defense”[5] under international law,[6] are understandably low.[7] Though Israel could still plan on undertaking intermittent episodes of Iranian nuclear reactor sabotage (e.g., along the lines of its earlier Stuxnet interventions and (probably) more recent cyber-attacks against Natanz enrichment processes), such a piecemeal strategy would display the significant defeats of any “infinite regress problem.”

This common problem is discoverable in science, engineering and philosophy.

 At best, this strategy would have to be regarded as a self-limiting option.

At worst, it could precipitate its own catastrophic consequences.

“The worst,” we may now be reminded by Swiss dramatist Friedrich Durrenmatt, “does sometimes happen.”[8]

The Primacy of Intellect in National Nuclear Strategy

What next? At this point, prudence dictates that Jerusalem back away from its traditional posture that Iran never be allowed to “go nuclear,” and replace this no longer feasible position with suitably intellectual preparations for comprehensive nuclear deterrence. The traditional Israeli stance was more impressively “hard-nosed” and seemingly steadfast, of course, but maintaining any such stance today would be crude, provocative and infeasible.

Back in 2003-2004, as Chair of Project Daniel (PM Sharon),[9] this writer(Professor Louis René Beres) was openly convinced that prospective irrationality could make an Iranian nuclear adversary intolerable. Today, this once-ominous prospect is substantially less credible. For various reasons concerning ordinary Realpolitik, it appears that the Islamic regime in Tehran would calculate in roughly the same fashion as any other rational state decision-maker in prioritizing national survival.[10] Initially, perhaps, there was ample good reason for Israel to fear a “suicide bomber in macrocosm,”[11] but this is no longer a convincing case.[12]

What should now be expected/calculated in Jerusalem? Earlier inclinations to Trump-style bombast and bravado notwithstanding,[13]Israel willmost urgently need to make appropriate preparations for sustaining long-term co-existence with an Iranian nuclear adversary. As part of any such necessary preparations, Israel will have to continue with its impressive developments in both offensive missile technology and ballistic missile defense (BMD.) Although Israel’s well-tested Arrow and corollary interceptors would never be fully adequate for “soft-point” or city defense, these advanced systems could still enhance the Jewish State’s increasingly vital nuclear deterrent.[14]

               The rudiments of Israeli nuclear deterrence are easy to identify. By forcing an Iranian attacker to calculate and recalculate the complex requirements of “assured destruction,” Israeli technologies could make it markedly unrewarding for Tehran to ever strike first. Knowing that its capacity to “assuredly destroy” Israel’s nuclear retaliatory forces with a first-strike attack could be steadily eroded by incremental Israeli deployments of BMD, Iran would likely conclude that any such attack would prove costlier than gainful. Any such relatively optimistic conclusion would be premised on the antecedent assumption that Iran’s decisions must always be rational.

               But what if such a promising assumption should not seemingly be warranted?[15]Inter alia, in such cases, irrationality would not be identical to madness. Unlike a “crazy” or “mad” adversary, which would have no discernible order of transitive preferences, an irrational Iranian leadership could still maintain a distinct, consistent and sequentially ordered hierarchy of “wants.”

               There are further relevant particulars. It is reasonable to expect that even an irrational Iranian leadership would hold in unwaveringly “high esteem” its own primary military institutions. Ipso facto, this leadership would remain subject to Israeli deterrence created by various compelling Israeli threats to these institutions.

               Civilian targets would be excluded from any relevant Israeli attack. Any such calculated exclusion would not only be in Israel’s overall strategic interests. It would also be necessary to ensure normal Israeli compliance with the authoritative law of war, that is, with a commendably exemplary adherence to binding military rules.[16] Law-based conduct is very deeply embedded in Israeli operational planning. This moral imperative is well-known to every soldier of Israel as Tohar Ha Neshek, or the “purity of arms.”

Rationality and Irrationality

 Iran needn’t be irrational to represent a lethal danger to Israel. A nuclear Iran could still be perilous to Israel if its leadership were able to meet all usual criteria of decisional rationality. Miscalculations or errors in information could sometime lead a fully rational Iranian adversary to consider striking first. In these worrisome circumstances, even the best anti-missile defenses could be inadequate in providing adequate population or “soft-point” protections.

               Among other things, if Iran were presumed to be rational in the usual sense of valuing its national physical survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences, Jerusalem could then consider certain more-or-less plausible benefits of pretended irrationality. Years ago, Israeli General Moshe Dayan warned prophetically:  “Israel must be seen as a mad dog; too dangerous to bother.” In this crude but potentially insightful metaphor, Dayan acknowledged that it can sometimes be entirely rational for beleaguered states to pretend irrationality.

               What if an Iranian adversary were presumed to be irrational in the sense of not caring most a bout its own national survival? In this aberrant but still conceivable case, there could be no discernible deterrence benefit to Israel in assuming a posture of pretended irrationality. Here, by definition, the more probable threat of a massive nuclear counterstrike by Israel would be no more persuasive to Tehran than if Iran’s self-declared enemy were presumed to be rational.

               “Do you know what it means to find yourself face to face with a madman?” inquires Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV. While this pithy theatrical query does have some residual relevance to Israel’s mounting security concerns with Iran, the grave strategic challenges issuing from that country will more likely come from decision-makers who are rational and who are not mad. Soon, with this clarifying idea suitably in mind, Israel will need to fashion a more carefully focused and formal strategic doctrine, one from which aptly nuanced policies and operations could be expertly drawn and reliably fashioned.

               Among other things, this doctrine would identify and correlate all available strategic options (deterrence; preemption; active defense; strategic targeting; nuclear war fighting) with all critical national survival goals. It would also take very close account of possible interactions between these discrete but sometimes intersecting strategic options. At times, these interactions would be authentically synergistic; here, the “whole” effect would be greater than the mathematical sum of all relevant “parts.”[17]

               Calculating these complex interactions will present Israel with a computational task on the highest order of intellectual difficulty.[18] In synergistic cases, it may develop that the anticipated entirety of Iranian-inflicted harms would be greater than the technical sum of their discrete components. For Jerusalem, recognizing this task as a preeminently scientific problem represents the necessary first step in meeting Israel’s variously imperiled survival goals.

               In broadest possible decisional terms, Israel has no real choice. Nuclear strategy is a “game” that sane and rational decision-makers must play. But in order to compete effectively, any would-be adversary must first assess (1) the expected rationality of each opponent; and (2) the probable costs and benefits of pretending irrationality.

               The issues are daunting. These are interpenetrating and generally imprecise forms of assessment. They represent challenging but vital judgments that will require accompanying refinements in both intelligence and counter-intelligence. Also needed will be carefully calculated, selectively partial and meticulously delicate movements away from Jerusalem’s extant national policies of deliberate nuclear ambiguity.[19]

Taking the Bomb out of the “Basement”

Soon, for Israel, it will no longer be sensible to keep its “bomb” in the “basement.”[20] Moving carefully toward selected levels of nuclear disclosure could usefully complement any renewed Israeli efforts at diplomacy, e.g., resurrecting or updating certain still-acceptable terms of the Trump-destroyed JCPOA agreement. It would be a delicate balance.

More than likely, Israel’s longstanding “red lines” posture notwithstanding, Iran will manage to join the “nuclear club.” At that point, how will Tehran’s key leadership figures proceed to rank order their country’s critical security preferences? To answer this question – and very precisely this question – should immediately become a primary policy obligation in Jerusalem.

To survive into the future, Israel’s leaders must first come to terms with the knowledge that noad hoc process of interminable preemptions could possibly keep Iran from achieving nuclear status. For Jerusalem, the only sensible option is to prepare for viable long-term nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis Tehran, and to base such necessary preparations on capable intellectual processes.[21]To Israel’s considerable benefit, the anti-science Trump Era of contrived US remedies is over. Accordingly, Israel now has a not-to-be-forfeited opportunity to undertake various still-meaningful strategic initiatives. Any further efforts at preemption, whether incremental (resembling Stuxnet and Natanz hacking) or “all-at-once,” (resembling Operation Opera and Operation Orchard)[22]would be transient and of limited utility.

Exploiting Regional Sunni-Shiite Geopolitics

There is more. The recent Abraham Accords and other bilateral agreements with certain Sunni Arab states are generally “good news” for Israel.[23]Still, these agreements may make Israeli security increasingly dependent upon consistent cooperation with newly-designated Sunni “allies” and simultaneously isolate the nuclearizing Shiite regime in Tehran. Whether or not such expected isolation would actually be net-gainful for Israel remains to be seen. Conceivably, it could at some point prod Iran to act more aggressively and more precipitously against Israel.

There are potentially intersecting issues. The now impending full withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will likely strengthen Taliban fighters and – reciprocally – certain militias and terror groups (both Sunni and Shiite) sometimes siding with Iran. This dissembling effect would give Jerusalem renewed and reasonable apprehensions about “spillover” Islamist adversaries acting in its own more immediate region. Of particular and prompt concern for Israel should be any related Palestinian resurgence of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Fatah forces in Judea, Samaria and/or Gaza. In short order, such a resurgence could create its own escalatory momentum, generating not only additional instances of terror-violence, but also wars between states that become bewilderingly complex and more-or-less indecipherable.[24]

“Next door” to Afghanistan, in Pakistan, an already nuclear Islamic state in protracted nuclear standoff with India has expressly tilted toward “usable” Theater Nuclear Weapons (TNW). Since Pakistan first announced its test of the 60-kilometer Nasr ballistic missile back in 2011, that country’s emphasis on TNW appears intended to most effectively deter a catastrophic conventional war with India. By threatening, at least implicitly, to use relatively low-yield battlefield nuclear weapons in retaliation for major Indian conventional attacks, Pakistan seemingly hopes to simultaneously appearmore credible and less provocative to Delhi. Over time, though unintended, this calculated strategy to protect itself from any Indian nuclear strikes (whether as aggressions or reprisals) could elicit various Israeli imitations or replications. For the time being, however, it is plausible that Israel has not adopted any openly “warfighting” or “counterforce” nuclear strategy.

               “In war,” says Clausewitz, “everything is simple, but the simplest thing is still difficult.”Until today, in principle at least, Israel’s national nuclear doctrine and posture have remained determinedly ambiguous. Simultaneously, traditional ambiguity was effectively breached at the highest possible level by two of Israel’s former prime ministers, Shimon Peres, on December 22, 1995 and again by Ehud Olmert on December 11, 2006. Peres, speaking to a group of Israeli newspaper and magazine editors, affirmed publicly: “…give me peace, and we’ll give up the atom. That’s the whole story.”When Olmert later offered similarly general but also revelatory remarks, they were widely (but perhaps wrongly) interpreted as “slips of the tongue.”

               Today, a basic question should once again be raised and examined in Jerusalem: Is comprehensive nuclear secrecy in the verifiably best survival interests of Israel?

                The central importance of any codified military doctrine lies not only in the particular ways it can animate, unify and optimize national forces, but also in the efficient manner it can transmit variously desired “messages” to enemy states, sub-state enemy proxies or state-sub-state enemy “hybrids.” Understood in terms of Israel’s strategic nuclear policy, any indiscriminate, across-the-board ambiguity could prove net-injurious to the country’s national security rather than net-gainful. Though possibly counter-intuitive, this is likely because any truly effective deterrence posture could sometimes call for military doctrine that is at least partially recognizable by certain adversary states and by certain sub-state insurgent/terrorist group foes.

Moving Beyond Too-Much Secrecy and Excessive “Friction”

               There is more. In any routine military planning, having available options for strategic surprise could prove helpful (if not fully prerequisite) to successful combat operations. But successful deterrence is another matter entirely. In order to persuade would-be adversaries not to strike first – in these circumstances a manifestly complex effort of dissuasion – projecting too much secrecy could prove counter-productive.

               In the matter of Israel and both its historic and current enemies, any tangible military success must lie in credible deterrence and not in any actual war-fighting.[25] Examined in terms of ancient Chinese military thought offered by Sun-Tzu in The Art of War, “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” With this worthy dictum in mind, there are imaginable times when successful Israeli deterrence policies could require deliberate “loosening” of information that had formerly been “tight.”

               Such information could concern Israel’s capabilities, its intentions or both of these complex qualities taken together.               To be deterred by Israel, a newly-nuclear Iran or any other newly nuclear adversary (potentially, one of the major Sunni Arab states also worried about Iran) would need to believe that (at least a critical number of) Israel’s retaliatory forces would successfully survive any enemy first-strike and that these forces could not subsequently be stopped from hitting their pre-designated targets in Iran or elsewhere. Regarding the “presumed survivability” component of such adversarial belief, continuously reliable sea-basing (submarines) by Israel could provide  a relevant case in point.[26]

               Carefully articulated, expanding doctrinal openness, or partial nuclear disclosure could represent a distinctly rational option for Israel, at least to the extent that pertinent enemy states were made appropriately aware of Israel’s nuclear capabilities. The presumed operational benefits of any such expanding doctrinal openness would accrue from certain deliberate flows of information about assorted matters of dispersion, multiplication and hardening of its strategic nuclear weapon systems, and about certain other technical features of these systems. Most important, doctrinally controlled and orderly flows of information could serve to remove any lingering enemy state doubts about Israel’s strategic nuclear force capabilities and also its plausible intentions.

               Left unchallenged, such doubts could literally and lethally undermine Israeli nuclear deterrence.

               A key problem in purposefully refining Israeli strategic nuclear policy on deliberate ambiguity issues has to do with what the Prussian military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz, famously calls “friction.” No military doctrine can ever fully anticipate the actual pace of combat activity, or, as a corollary, the precise reactions of individual human commanders under fire. It follows that Israel’s nuclear doctrine must somehow be encouraged to combine adequate tactical flexibility with a selective doctrinal openness. To understand exactly how such seemingly contradictory objectives can be reconciled in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv now presents a distinctly primary intellectual challenge to Israel’s national command authority.

Preventing Inadvertent and Accidental Nuclear War

               In the end, Israeli planners must think about plausible paths to a nuclear war that include relevant risks of inadvertent or accidental nuclear war. It is entirely possible (even plausible) that risks of any deliberate nuclear war involving Israel would be very small, but that the Jewish State might still be more-or-less vulnerable to such a war occasioned by a mechanical/electrical/computer malfunction on one side or another and/or by assorted decisional errors in related reasoning (miscalculation).

               To properly assess the different but intersecting risks between a deliberate nuclear war and an inadvertent or accidental nuclear war must be regarded in Jerusalem/Tel Aviv as an absolutely overriding obligation. These risks could exist independently of one another, and could be impacted in various ways by Cold War II alignments. Moreover, Israel – like the larger United States – must increasingly prepare to deal with issues of cyber-attack and cyber-war; issues now to be considered together with the unpredictably destabilizing advent of “digital mercenaries.”

               There is one more core conceptual distinction that warrants mention at this concluding point of our assessment. This distinction references the difference between inadvertent and accidental nuclear war. By definition, any accidental nuclear war would need to be inadvertent. Conversely, however, an inadvertent nuclear war would not necessarily be accidental. False warnings, for example, which could be generated by various types of technical malfunction or sparked by third-party hacking/digital mercenary interference would not be included under causes of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war.

               Instead, they would represent cautionary narratives of an accidental nuclear war.

               Most critical among the causes of any inadvertent nuclear war would be errors in calculation by one or both (or several) sides. The most blatant example would involve misjudgments of either enemy intent or enemy capacity that would emerge and propagate as any particular crisis would escalate. Such consequential misjudgments could stem from an understandably amplified desire by one or several parties to achieve “escalation dominance.”

               Always, in any such projected crisis condition, all rational sides would likely strive for escalation dominance without too severely risking total or near-total destruction. Where one or several adversaries would not actually be rational, all of the usual deterrence “bets” would be “off.” Where one or several sides would not be identified as rational by Israel, Jerusalem could then need to input various unorthodox sorts of security options, including some that could derive in whole or in part from prevailing alignments.

               Still other causes of an inadvertent nuclear war involving Israel could include flawed interpretations of computer-generated nuclear attack warnings; an unequal willingness among adversaries to risk catastrophic war; overconfidence in deterrence and/or defense capabilities on one or several sides (including Israel); adversarial regime changes; outright revolution or coup d’état among adversaries and poorly-conceived pre-delegations of nuclear launch authority among apparent foes.

               Markedly serious problems of overconfidence could be aggravated by successful tests of a nation’s missile defense operations, whether by Israel itself or by any of its relevant adversaries. These problems could also be encouraged by too-optimistic assessments of alliance guarantees. An example might be an intra-crisis judgment in Jerusalem that Washington stands firmly behind its every move during an ongoing crisis, up to and including certain forms of reprisal that are more reasonably imagined than genuine.

               Because a prospective nuclear threat from Iran might not be from a “bolt-from-the-blue” attack, but originate instead from a series of interrelated escalations, Israeli nuclear deterrence ought always to be viewed as part of afar wider spectrum of strategic dissuasion. In this connection, Israel’s military planners willhave to inquire whether nuclear deterrence could ever be meaningfully persuasive in cases of conventional military or large-scale terrorist threats. Although the plausibility/credibility of any Israeli threats of nuclear retaliation or counter-retaliation would be greatest where the aggression itself was identifiably nuclear, there could still be circumstances wherein a massive non-nuclear aggression would warrant a limited nuclear response. In these improbable but still conceivable circumstances, Israel would need to clarify all such inherently problematic reasoning “in advance.”

               Significantly, as any such situations would be unprecedented or sui generis, nothing prospectively remedial could be calculated by Israel with genuine measures of decisional confidence.

Concluding Summations

               In sum, though reluctantly, Israel will sometime have to accept a nuclear Iran as fait accompli, and then plan to suitably blunt corresponding or correlative security risks via refined deterrence. To accomplish this indispensable objective, Jerusalem will first need to back away from its traditionally successful preemption tactics and implement credible deterrence policies vis-à-vis Tehran at all levels of prospective conflict. These would range from major terrorist assault to country nuclear attack. Ipso facto, focusing exclusively on more explicitly immediate nuclear threats would ignore a core axiom of contemporary strategic planning: A “bolt-from-the-blue” nuclear attack is not the only way in which Israel could become vulnerable to a nuclear war.

                Left unreciprocated or unmanaged, even “only” a conventional military attack on Israel (including major terror attack) could conceivably escalate in increments to full-scale atomic conflict.

               Whether or not the parties to the 14 July 2015 JCPOA are actually able to renegotiate or reinvigorate the original agreement on terms more favorable to Israel, expert diplomacy could usefully complement Jerusalem’s multi-faceted deterrence posture. Here, however, the Trump-era “Abraham Accords” should be considered as conspicuously minor augmentations. In the final analysis, let this analysis be clear, Iran will not be deterred from steady nuclearization by any US-contrived coalition of Sunni Arab foes cooperating with Israel.

               Always, sensible defense policy requires vigorous antecedent thought.“Subjugating” Iran’s potentially nuclear assets “without fighting” does indeed represent Jerusalem’s only prudent and persuasive strategic option, but this sought-after subjugation must first be recognized as an inherently intellectual task.[27] For Israel, as for any other beleaguered state on planet earth, political measures that are conceptualized and initiated by an allied country’s openly anti-intellectual leaders are likely without any tangible advantage. In the case of recent Trump-negotiated pacts for the Middle East, they could even be destined to fail.


[1]See:  https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/05/08/iran-advances-nuclear-program-withdrawal-jcpoa/

[2]“It must not be forgotten,” instructs French poet Guillaume Apollinaire in “The New Spirit and the Poets” (1917), “that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”

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

[4] “Classical” examples of such a defensive first-strike are Israel’s Operation Opera(against Iraq) and Operation Orchard (contra Syria).

[5]See, on this issue: Louis René Beres and (Major-General/IDF/Res.) Isaac Ben-Israel, “Think Anticipatory Self-Defense,” The Jerusalem Post, October 22, 2007; Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,” Washington Times, June 10, 2007; Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009; and Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “Defending Israel from Iranian Nuclear Attack,” The Jewish Press, March 13, 2013. See also: Louis René Beres and (General/USAF/ret.) John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?” The Atlantic, August 9, 2012; Professor Beres and General Chain, “Living with Iran,” BESA Center for Strategic Studies, Israel, May 2014.

[6]The most precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie in the Caroline, an incident 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 appropriately 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 any prior military 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).

[7]From the standpoint of international law, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking an enemy first, in the expectation that the only alternative is to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack, however, is launched not out of genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but for fear of a longer-term deterioration in a pertinent military balance.  Hence, in a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is very short, while in a preventive strike the interval is considerably longer.

[8]Donald Trump did manage to move the US Embassy marker tile from a building in Tel Aviv to another building in Jerusalem, but no serious analysis could regard such a minor and superficial movement as authenticIsraeli “victory.” Similarly, the net benefit to Israel of Trump- negotiated agreements with a few minor Sunni Arab states must be assessed vis-à-vis the corresponding costs toIsrael-Iran relations. Even the appearance of a US-concocted Sunni-Israel alignment will further exacerbate already hostile strategic postures obtaining between Tehran and Jerusalem.

[9]See, by this author, Professor Louis René  Beres: https://press.armywarcollege.edu/parameters/vol37/iss1/2/In the considered words of the Project Daniel final report, Israel’s Strategic Future: “The primary point of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.”

[10] Says Karl Jaspers in Reason and Existence (1935): “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it. The only question is, in what form the other appears, how it remains in spite of all, and how it is grasped.”

[11] See, for example, Louis René Beres, “Religious Extremism and International Legal Norms: Perfidy, Preemption and Irrationality,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No. 3., 2007-2008.

[12]Expressions of decisional irrationality could take different and sometimes overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[13]The belligerent nationalismof Donald Trump stood in marked contrast to authoritative legal assumptions concerningsolidarity between states. Thesejurisprudential assumptions concern a presumptively common legal struggle against both aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, had already been mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925)(1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

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

[15]On pertinent background issues of rational vs. irrational adversaries, consider Oswald Spengler: “`I believe,'” says the author of The Decline of the West, “is the great word against metaphysical fear, and at the same time it is an avowal of love.'”

[16]Crimes of War concern (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules.  Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, and known thereby as the Law of Hague and the Law of Geneva, these rules seek, inter alia, to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into belligerent calculations.  On the main corpus of jus in bello, see: Convention No. IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, With Annex of Regulations, Oct. 18, 1907, 36 Stat. 2277, T.S. No. 539, 1 Bevans 631 (known commonly as the “Hague Regulations”); Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T.  3114, T.I.A.S.  No. 3362, 75 U.N.T.S.  85; Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T.  3316, T.I.A.S.  No. 3364, 75 U.N.T.S.  135; Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T.  3516, T.I.A.S.  No. 3365, 75 U.N.T.S.  287.

[17]See, by this writer, at Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School:  Louis René Beres, https://harvardnsj.org/2014/06/staying-strong-enhancing-israels-essential-strategic-options-2/

[18] For this writer’s most recent and most comprehensive assessment of these complex issues, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 167 pp (2nd ed., 2018). https://www.amazon.com/Surviving-Amid-Chaos-Strategy-Destruction/dp/1442253258See also: https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/content/surviving-amid-chaos-israels-nuclear-strategy

[19]The actual security benefits to Israel of any explicit reductions in nuclear secrecy would remain dependent, more or less, upon Clausewitzian “friction.” This refers to the inherently unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties; on Israeli and Iranian under-estimations or over-estimations of relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence, and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

[20] On identifying alternative nuclear disclosure options, see: Louis René Beres, “Israel’s Strategic Doctrine: Updating Intelligence Community Responsibilities,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2015, pp. 1-16.

[21] For earliest published writings by Professor Beres on the Iranian nuclear threat, see: Louis René Beres, “Israel, Force, and International Law: Assessing Anticipatory Self-Defense,” The Jerusalem Journal of International Relations, Vol. 13, No. 2., June 1991, pp. 1-14; Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, `Palestine,’ and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East,” Strategic Review, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp, 48-55; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Prospects for Nuclear War in the Middle East,” Strategic Review, Vol. XXI, No.2., Spring 1993, pp. 52-60; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Nuclear War: A Tactical and Legal Assessment,” Jerusalem Letter, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem, Israel, November 1993, pp. 1-7; Louis René Beres, “North Korea Today, Iran Tomorrow,” Midstream, June/July 1994, pp. 5-7, co-authored with COL. (IDF/res.) Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto (former Chief of Planning, Israel Air Force); Louis René Beres, “The Security and Future of Israel: An Exchange,” Midstream, Vol. XXXXI, No. 5., June/July 1995, pp. 15-23, a debate between Professor Beres and Maj. General (IDF/res.) Shlomo Gazit, a former Chief of IDF Intelligence Branch (Aman) and later, military advisor to Prime Minister Shimon Peres; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment,” UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs, Spring 1996, Vol. 1., No. 1, pp. 65-97; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Preemption: Choosing the Least Unattractive Option Under International Law,” Dickinson Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 2., Winter 1996, pp. 187-206; Louis René Beres, “The Iranian Threat to Israel: Capabilities and Intentions,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 9., No. 1., Spring 1996, pp. 51-62; Louis René Beres, “The Iranian Threat to Israel,” Midstream, Vol. 44, No. 6., September/October 1998, pp. 8-11; Louis René Beres, “Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel’s Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options: A Comprehensive Master Plan for the Jewish State in the Third Millennium,” The Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, “Iran’s Growing Threat to Israel,” Midstream, Vol. XXXXVI, No. 7, November 2000, pp. 2-4; and Louis René Beres, “Israel and the Bomb,” a Dialogue with Professor Zeev Maoz, International Security (Harvard University), Vol. 29, No.1., Summer 2004, pp. 1-4.

[22] See https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/operation-opera-raid-on-iraqi-nuclear-reactor; and see also: Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Israel’s Strike Against the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor 7 June 1981, a collection of original articles and lectures by Yitzhak Shamir, Rafael Eitan, David Ivri, Yaakov Amidror, Yuval Ne’eman, Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, and Louis René Beres. Also: Louis René Beres and COL. (IDF/ret.) Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, “Reconsidering Israel’s Destruction of Iraq’s Osiraq Nuclear Reactor,” 9 Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, 437 (1995).

[23]See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ These agreements refer only to relations between Israel and Bahrain and Israel and UAE. Also to be considered as complementary here is the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).

[24]Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s steady insistence that any Palestinian state remain “demilitarized” is not merely unrealistic; it is potentially inconsistent with pertinent international law. On this point, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal,Winter, 1998, pp. 347-363. See also, by Professor Beres and AMB. Shoval, at West Point (US Department of Defense): https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/  Zalman Shoval was two-times Ambassador of Israel to the United States.

[25] This was a major conclusion of this author’s Project Daniel Report (2003) to then Prime Minister Sharon. It was titled Israel’s Strategic Future. http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm

[26]  See, on such basing imperatives: Louis René Beres and Admiral (USN/ret.) Leon “Bud” Edney, “Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: A Larger Role for Submarine Basing,” The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2014; and Professor Beres and Admiral Edney, “A Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent for Israel,” Washington Times, September 5, 2014. Admiral Edney served as SACLANT, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic.

[27]In the 17th century, French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked prophetically (Pensées): “All our dignity consists in thought…. It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.

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Defense

War to End or War to Follow?

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“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1st deadline”. These were the recent words of US president Joe Biden in his address to the impending US withdrawal of Afghanistan. Whilst his opinion paints a ghastly picture for the forthcoming months, the negotiations run rampant to strike the common ground. However, with continued attacks being launched by the Taliban followed by incessant threats to the US regime to withdraw its troops by the agreed deadline, a hard stance seems legitimate both from the US front and the NATO: both facing a quandary that could either end the decades’ long warfare or fuel insurgency for decades to come.

The US invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11th Attacks in 2001. Although the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003 followed a similar suit, the stint lasted only 26 days in a massive scale drive to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction; allegedly in tandem with the looming threat posed to the United States by the World Trade Centre debacle. However, the invasion of Afghanistan proved to be one of the costliest wars; both in terms of artillery and military men.

Cited as one of the rarest areas of agreement between President Biden and his predecessor, Mr. Donald Trump, both favoured the ‘Bring an end to the endless war’ slogan. Before leaving the office, Mr. Trump signed a waiver to ordain the Pentagon to level down the US troops in Afghanistan to 2500 troops, bypassing the reservations of the congress to retain the level at 4000 troops. President Biden, despite being prudent of the hasty withdrawal, rejoiced the idea to bring the soldiers back. In line with his narrative, the US recently proclaimed to withdraw the remaining combat forces from Iraq whilst retaining only the training forces in the country. The 3rd round of talks between Washington and Iraq culminated with the joint statement: “Based on the increasing capacity of the ISF [Iraq Security Forces], the parties confirmed that the mission of U.S. and Coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq, with the timing to be established in upcoming technical talks”.

It is evident that the US wants to enact the plan to bring back the troops, however, Afghanistan poses a paradox in comparison to Iraq. While alleged Iran-backed militants continue to lock horns with both the ISF and the US troops, the US has consolidated a stronger hold evidenced by the recent rebuttal via airstrikes against the Iran-backed militants in Syria. The US holds the premise that Iran seeks economic relief and thereby has no incentive to disrupt the peace but to maintain it. Similarly, the US wants to make a compromise with Iran via renegotiating the JCPOA accord, with a possibility of stretching the ambit to include Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program and the regional proxy wars purportedly financed by Iran, before a hard-line administration takes over the Iranian parliament later this year. So, with a fledgling Iraqi military and expanding prospects of negotiation with Iran, the US could safely pull out the troops whilst still maintaining pressure and presence in the guise of militaristic training in Iraq.

Afghanistan paints a graver reality in contrast. Despite rounds and rounds of negotiations over months, the continued violations of the agreement by the Taliban are making it riskier to draw out the troops. While the US wants to maintain its presence in the country, the wavering Ghani-administration adds oil to fire. A war that has claimed more than 2500 US soldiers and millions of civilians could face an impasse as the 3-week timeslot narrows over the decision-makers. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, has repeatedly claimed that the Taliban have not fully lived up to the commitments they made in the February 2020 agreement: “Violence levels are too high for a durable political settlement to be made”.

The Biden administration, CIA, and NATO face a dilemma to decide the mechanism of withdrawal before the clock ticks through. As the terror groups propagate in the neighbouring Middle East, an unplanned withdrawal could drive the entire region into jeopardy. This might be the primal concern of president Biden and the Pentagon. The flailing ISIS could find haven in the political fiasco the unravels after the US completely withdraws from the country, leaving the Afghani government at the whims of the insurgents. However, expecting a complete withdrawal is just naivety. The US is known to covertly operate hundreds of secret bases in cahoots with NATO throughout the infringed nations. While it’s supposedly claimed that the Taliban are privy to the location of the bases in Afghanistan, nothing definitive could be added in edgewise to the argument.

An alternative, and quite a plausible notion at present, could be an outright refusal to withdraw the troops before the Taliban strictly adhere to their side of the deal. The resulting warfare would subsume the past 2 decades of mayhem. The deal would most likely completely crumble and perish. The evidence is scattered over the last three months. In March, the attack on the Afghan security checkpoint in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz left 6 soldiers dead. An attack a few days ago in the province of Herat left 9 Afghan police personnel dead when the Taliban militants targeted two police checkpoints. The recent blow came when the Taliban attacked the NATO airbase in Kandahar: a base frequented by 100s of US troops. The brazen attitude and timing of the attacks could not send a clearer message of warning to follow the deadline.

President Biden faces a choice now. While the cards are clustered and the consequences are muddled, the foremost decision hangs: How to go about the negotiations? Whilst made abundantly clear that the troops might not withdraw completely from Afghanistan, he confidently patched his perspective by adding:“Can’t picture the US troops still being in Afghanistan next year”. So, while the agreement stands to make a safe withdrawal, the deadline of May 1st poses a challenge if the exceeding violence alludes to any clue. With mounting pressure from the republicans and a synonymous example of withdrawal in Iraq, President Biden should ideally emphasize on withdrawal of the troops, even if not entirely. This would allow the Biden administration to elongate the negotiations to quench violence instead of retreating without question. However, execution is the key. Deviating from the agreement forged by Mr. Donald Trump or taking an aggressive stance could easily incite the chaos further: making the Afghan war translate into Biden’s war for decades to follow.

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