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Ending a Political Bermuda Triangle: The US Approach to Salvadoran Immigration and the Northern Triangle

Luke Revell

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There has been a surge in immigration in 2019, with more than 75,000 migrants apprehended or turned away during the month of March alone.   The Border Patrol is overwhelmed and the numbers are only increasing.  The White House has committed to alleviating the “root causes” of these issues by focusing on securing the border.  President Trump has emphasized his desire to successfully solve these issues internally through greater pressure on Congress to update asylum laws and by completing his campaign promise to build a physical wall along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border. Externally, President Trump is targeting the nations from where most of the migrants are coming.  On 30 March 2019, United States President Donald Trump cut off funding to Central America.  He claimed this was in response to the Northern Triangle nations of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador not doing their part to stop irregular migration or to stop the widely-reported migrant caravans. Unfortunately, this approach is unlikely to resolve the issues, which are causing irregular migration.  Instead, it will very likely make them far worse in the long-term, threatening stability in North America, U.S. hegemony in the region, and negatively affecting the American image abroad.

Between 1980 and 1992, El Salvador experienced a Civil War which killed more than 75,000 and internally displaced a half million civilians. Upwards of 25% of the entire population fled the country and half of those went to the U.S. to find refuge. Only two percent were granted asylum. During the civil war, the U.S. was backing the Salvadoran government and felt taking in fleeing citizens would contradict its efforts. For those who were turned back to El Salvador, tens of thousands faced retribution and execution from that very same U.S.-backed Salvadoran military.   Fear of retaliation significantly increased the migrants’ desire to stay, so many of the Salvadorans who were denied asylum fled inward, remaining in the U.S. illegally.  During the same period, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed, and 146,000 Salvadorans received legal resident status.   This substantial base of legally residing Salvadorans formed the foundation for immigration numbers to increase further a generation later.

The number of Salvadorans within the U.S. has grown to an estimated one-fifth of the Central American nation’s 6.5 million population. This has been through policies which allowed immigration to unite families, temporary protected status (TPS)notices due to natural disasters, and illegal migration.  Of those, the majority reside in California and Texas, although pockets of Salvadorans live in major cities throughout the entire U.S. TPS extensions are valid for less than two years at a time and have been signed by both sides of the political divide since the 2001 decision to continue the status. The last TPS approval for Salvadorans was signed in 2016. However, in 2018, President Trump denied a further extension to TPS, putting 200,000 Salvadorans living legally within the U.S. at risk of deportation.  An injunction was set into place, putting a temporary stay on ending the TPS and so the issue still sits, currently unresolved.   The impact for those individuals is multifaceted.  For Salvadorans, as well as the Sudanese, Nicaraguans, and Haitians also affected by TPS, those being deported have to choose whether they should take their families –specifically their children, who are U.S. citizens and were born legally in the States.   Many of those protected by TPS have lived the majority of their lives in the U.S. and some do not even speak the language of the countries in which they were born.  They are, by and large, working, tax-paying, law-abiding civilians who have had to register every 12-18 months to maintain their legal status and ability to work.

Salvadorans and policymakers in El Salvador know and understand that changes are required to stem irregular migration.  The causes are many but can be summarized as a lack of economic prosperity, decreasing safety due to ever-growing gang populations, and political corruption.  The U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital city, has been almost exclusively focused on irregular migration since 2016.  This is not to say that El Salvador is happy with the current system or that the nation has given up on resolving matters.  Throughout El Salvador, there are well-established U.S.-Salvadoran partnerships with every embassy organization.  Salvadorans have even established their own organizations to improve education, quality of life, and other essentials required to obtain future growth.

  Further, on 3 February 2019, an outsider to the old regime of Salvadoran politics – Nayib Bukele – swept the first round of presidential elections, earning more than 53% of the total votes cast. The election was significant for three reasons. First, Bukele ran with a third party, one not representative of the traditional political groups from which Salvadorans typically choose a President.  Second, presidential elections typically go through an initial round of voting in February and then have a second round in March. This year’s vote favored Bukele so much so that he was able to claim victory before the end of the first round of voting.  The national consensus, which had a very low number of voters compared to previous elections, was still so severely in favor that he didn’t have to wait for official counts or final tallies to know he had won.   Third, Bukele, one of the youngest democratically elected officials in the world, represents the millennial generation. 

During his campaign, Nayib Bukele shunned the media, refusing to debate with his competitors on their national platforms.  Instead, he campaigned via social media, speaking directly to his voter base.  Bukele himself previously left the dominant two political parties after briefly working within each of them. He spurned their political corruption, recent disaffection with the U.S., closeness with China, and lack of support to the population amidst the immigration crisis.   In fact, he worked as an anti-party candidate, very similar to recent presidential elections in nations who were attempting to change the status quo, like the U.S., the Philippines, Slovakia, and increasingly throughout Europe.

In a sense, President Trump is focusing on giving his border guards a better bullet-proof vest instead of working to stop them from being shot in the first place.  El Salvador is a North American nation which ranks among the poorest on the continent.  The Northern Triangle -Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras – are within the lowest 50 for GDP in the world.   The root causes for the migration flow from El Salvador are bound to require support in the form of long-term nation-building, policy changes, and financial aid.  This support needs to outlast presidents and take on a long-term investment viewpoint for the continent as a whole across generations. 

The outgoing Salvadoran presidential administration was willing to look to China for support, going so far as recognizing Beijing over Taiwan last year. The U.S. response to this action was baffling.  It recalled its senior diplomat to El Salvador and publicly weighed levying penalties against a nation who needed more support than it was getting. Actions like this cede maneuverability space for other great powers to step in, which China seems anxious to do.  The U.S. should instead redouble its efforts in Central America to increase influence and show a commitment to the region.  Generationally this will foster continued support for U.S. values and help to ensure that the U.S. remains a partner-of-choice for Central American nations concerning future national decisions.

President Trump would do well to increase the longevity of TPS Salvadorans – even granting permanent residency.  Since their arrival, the TPS applicants have maintained and renewed their residency applications with the government, showing a significant adherence to the law.  88% of them are working legally, paying federal taxes to support both Social Security and Medicare. Those Salvadorans who are in the U.S. illegally earn less than their TPS counterparts and do not pay taxes.   That means the remittances they send home are less and none of what they are paying is taxed, so the U.S. federal government sees no benefit.  However, if these workers were residing in the U.S. legally using work visas, they could obtain better-paying jobs, pay income tax, and lessen the burden on the Border Patrol and related immigration agencies. President Trump should seek to loosen work-visa requirements and allow more Central American migrants to positively participate in the labor and tax structure of the U.S. His ‘tough stance’ at present is in fact operating at cross-purposes to his supposed long-term goals.

Instead of investing money on a physical barrier with no impact on the issues causing immigrants to flee, the White House should invest in programs that promote education, reduce violence, and fund the infrastructure required to build social capability.  This will buoy the nations around the U.S., causing all of the countries to prosper.  President-elect Bukele is coming into office having decreased the crime rates of a small town and large city when he was mayor, so he knows successful change. Bukele wants to prevent brain-drain and retain capable Salvadoran talent for the long term. Bukele is also vigorously seeking to end the gangs who threaten Salvadoran stability and impede long-term approaches that could lead to a resurgence. His landslide election was proof that the people of El Salvador are looking for that same change.  The U.S., the world’s most powerful democratic nation, should work to applaud and support these policies. President Trump should encourage the agenda Bukele has set.  Conditions like this would not simply cause people to stay in El Salvador: it could potentially cause them to return, thus positively ending the illegal migration ‘crisis.’ Attacking the issues in a neighborly way would reduce generational emigration, improve the security of North America’s southern nations, and promote U.S. policy on Salvadoran home turf.  Providing for the region supports a positive image of the U.S. and prevents Central American countries from crumbling due to inequality or looking to other powerful nations, like China, for stability. For real success, the United States must stop viewing the Northern Triangle as a political Bermuda Triangle.

Luke Revell is an active duty military service member and a student with American Military University’s Doctor of Strategic Intelligence program. A career analyst, he has conducted political and military intelligence operations ranging from the tactical to strategic levels, supporting United States policy in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. He currently lives in El Salvador with his wife and children.

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Will Trump Remain an Existential Threat for Joe Biden If Loses or Wins

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The US Elections 2020 will take the US  by storm since there is Already uproar against the flawed and aggressive Policies of Actor Turned President  Donald Trump and abysmal pandemic Situation in the US as the death toll reached  140000 baffling  US  President to focus on upcoming election as he has failed miserably to tackle and manage the Pandemic and mitigating collateral damage.

On the Contrary, Joe Biden former Vice President and presidential candidate for Democrats has clean chit to get elected but fear remain that  If  Donald Trump loses, will he accept his defeat or resort to Protests.

Furthermore, the recent racial unrest in the US has paved the way for Joe Biden to get through the Presidential slot with the thumping majority or clean sweep as Trump Administration has ruined country’s Internal as well as External Policy just making friends as Foes and disappointing allies.

The US is currently facing isolation since its claim of being a sole superpower is challenged by China as US-China  Row worsens over the Pandemic and  Recent  China-India face off in Galwan  Valley along the  Line of Actual Control (LAC) proves that China will pursue its expansion Policy as according to china it is ready to fight with the US if War is imposed.

The World order is changing rapidly with the inclusion of New and Old Powers, the American hegemonic role is fading away due to Covid-19  that has torn down the hopes of Donald Trump to be reelected as President of United States.

The Political analysts also fear that Trump may postpone US Presidential Elections on the pretext of Pandemic but it will be a very nasty blow for Biden and Democrats will resist such move.  

The inefficiency and incompetence of Trump Administration have played havoc with the Economy and destroyed the Powerful role of us in World Affairs. Democracy will remain under risk whether Trump loses or wins by doing an upset.

The emerging situation has prompted the political Science Experts to make some serious predictions about the much-debated US Presidential Elections taking place in November this year.

The  Experts and Opinion leaders are of the view that the Presidential Elections may prove a nightmare or nasty because  US President Donald Trump’s stubborn Attitude heralds that he would not accept the Elections results and may brand them as rigged or  Fraudulent through supporters and lobbyists.

There are also some rumours echoing in the US that if  President loses the race for reelection as President of the United States he may not be willing to vacate the white house and may Start enquiry in the Polling results that may extend his Presidency term.

Some experts have rejected such claims as after losing the presidential race, he will not be left with any moral ground to stay at Whitehouse and will accept his defeat but due to his stubborn attitude, various predictions are being associated with the behaviour of Donald Trump.

Morally, he has lost the race since he has miserably failed to fight Pandemic that has killed over 140000 people in the US and infected 300000 Person making the US the most covid-19 affected country in the world.

The Economic crisis and the growing number of unemployment have raised anti-trump sentiment that may benefit Joe Biden. Moreover, the killing of African American Georg Floyd by Police has already engulfed the entire world and the world is out in the streets protesting against Racism and Police brutalities. The Campaigns like black Lives matter may benefit Biden since he has a comprehensive understanding 0f world affairs as he had already served as Vice President of USA.  

Joe Biden has an executive plan to craft Foreign Policy to suit the interests of the United States. He has a deep understanding of Affairs especially Afghanistan, China and may revive the deal with Iran since Iran has found new strategic Partners in the region i.e. China and Russia.  

The Question arises that As Trump exerted immense Pressure on China to get his interests served but Biden may go contrary to his predecessor i.e. Donald Trump since he will revive the relations with World Powers.

Political Circles in the US do believe that Obama may advise Biden on Policy matters since Obama had struck the nuclear deal with Iran and had lifted the toughest economic sanctions against Iran and had ordered Troops withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. He had close links with Allies and strengthened NATO.

But unfortunately, Donald Trump has ruined the whole democratic norms and scrapped  Iran Nuclear deal, stopped funding to WHO and several other strategic blunders which will prove his reason for defeat in November 2020.

There is also political debate that Trump may hamper the transition of power to give the excuse of Pandemic or express dissatisfaction over Postal or mailing Ballot service as per Estimates that this year most of the states may opt for Mailing ballot or postal ballot facility or E-Voting that may provide solid reasons to Trump to raise his reservations against the Poll results.

Some senior analysts of mainstream media are of the view that If Trump loses the Elections; there are chances that he may challenge the Poll Results in the Courts that may delay the transition of power.

The Aggressive temperament of President Donald Trump may prompt him to influence Electoral Staff, Media outlets or challenge the whole electoral Process and may get support from Republicans. He may push his supporters and party workers on violence as happened on his Election Win against Hillary Clinton.

Nobody ever wondered that Trump will win the Presidential Election since he won secret support from Russia. This time too, same external forces may interfere in the matters of US and there could be an upset as Predicted by Joe Biden Himself in Press conference that he fears that Donald Trump may not transfer the Power or may not accept the Election defeat for several reasons.

There is a serious issue that Biden hinted at that the US Army may take over if Trump –Biden Row over Election does not seem to end. The Imposition of Martial Law will destroy democratic norms and autocrats may put the US Constitution in abeyance. This is a serious issue as raised by Opinion leaders.

The Political Science Experts are also of the view the contest will be very tough since some states big or small may prove a watershed for both Presidential Candidates in US Presidential Elections 2020. The 04th November 2020 will be a decisive day to determine who will be the Next President of the United States –Joe Biden or Donald Trump as Upsetting result.                                                                

Finally, it could be summed up that Given the existing circumstances, Donald Trump will always remain the biggest threat to democracy and will encourage racial attacks against African Americans and will maintain tough policies for Muslims, while on the contrary Joe Biden has very relaxed Policies and will take steps to discourage Racism and giving Equal rights to African Americans and Muslims and will maintain a relaxed policy towards his allies and Strengthen NATO.

This year the voters will decide that How American are being isolated due to flawed  Policies o Trump Administration who has failed miserably both internally and Externally, and the Changing World Order is dramatically providing the basis to China, Russia and Turkey to play a leading role since the world has gone Multipolar and many countries have liberated themselves from US’ hegemonic role.                                                                                    

Now the question arises that if Biden wins US Presidential Elections what will be his policy in south Asia especially the deal signed with  Taliban in Afghanistan, strategic Partnership with Pakistan, India and the, more importantly, the diplomatic relations with China that are already in troubled water ever since  Trump started Trade war and blame game over the pandemic. It is too early to predict but the circumstances and the statements of Joe Biden are very positive especially his soft policy towards Muslims and the stand on Kashmir issue to be resolved.  

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Donald Trump and Nuclear Weapons: A Perilous “Fusion” For Israel

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“All accidental wars are inadvertent and unintended, but not vice-versa.”-Herman Kahn, On Escalation (1965)[1]

It stands to reason that any combination of Donald Trump and nuclear weapons is dangerous to the United States.[2] After all, this presidency has become unambiguously unhinged – one could  now reasonably say “deranged”[3] – and there is corresponding evidence of nuclear apprehensions in high places. This urgent assessment now includes some of the country’s senior military commanders.[4]

Not generally discussed, however, are the indirect security perils posed by this American president to various US allies. In this connection, which could at some point concern an authentic existential threat, Israel comes immediately to mind. This particular expectation is not on account of any reciprocal shortcomings in that country’s nuclear forces and/or decision-making processes (presumptive forces that remain “deliberately ambiguous”[5]), but “simply”[6] as a valid expression of ongoing strategic interdependence.[7]

No state exists alone in the world. No individual state’s military decisions can gainfully disregard the fundamentally systemic nature of world politics. These politics always constitute a system. It follows that when a particular element is strengthened or degraded within components of that system, the ramifications will be felt far and wide.

 For Israel, a country smaller than America’s Lake Michigan, this relationship would become most serious (perhaps even of existential import) when that specific element has its origins in United States nuclear decision-making. One might also affirm about any such scenario, incontestably, that the  US-Israel relationship could even go beyond “most serious” to “extremely urgent” whenever the superpower party was already embroiled in an atomic crisis; that is, in extremis atomicum.[8]

Whatever the contextual particularities, a plausible expectation of intersecting strategic outcomes between the United States and Israel could become existential if it were to involve an irrational,[9] misguided, miscalculated, accidental, unauthorized or otherwise inadvertent firing of American nuclear weapons.[10]

These are not matters for the intellectually faint-hearted, for those citizens who customarily seek refuge in narrowly political phrases or empty political witticisms. In all such complex military matters, there are correspondingly complex nuances of  explanation. As just a matter of definition, for example, an irrational presidential firing must be distinguished analytically from an unauthorized firing of nuclear weapons, and also from several primary forms of inadvertent nuclear war. In essence, an irrational nuclear event would involve a willful presidential order to fire despite the US leader’s anticipation of catastrophic reprisals.

To be sure, there are certain identifiable circumstances in which even a “crazy” order might still be technically rational –  more specifically, circumstances wherein the expected costs of not firing would exceed anticipated costs of firing – but allowing such dire circumstances to arise in the first place would be ominous prima facie, and should be anathema in both Washington and Jerusalem.

It’s time for aptly dialectical assessments. What could actually happen? In any such multi-factorial calculations, pertinent details would be required. In one conceivable scenario, an irrational U.S. presidential attack against a still-nuclearizing Iran –  one that would likely be defended by President Donald Trump as “anticipatory self-defense”[11] – could  produce highly destructive and prompt retaliations against Israel.[12]

In addition, or perhaps in lieu of any such immediate responses, Iran could (1) generate assorted long-term and incremental reprisals, and/or (2) incentivize state and sub-state allies (e.g., Hezbollah) to join collaboratively in the planned reprisals.

From the corollary standpoints of international law and justice,[13] Israel would likely be blameless in all such US-triggered developments. Still, and more meaningfully, that innocence would carry no palliative or exculpatory benefits. None at all.

In the end, these are not fundamentally legal or jurisprudential matters. This is not meant to suggest, inter alia, that characterizations of a preemptive American attack as anticipatory self-defense would necessarily be inappropriate,[14] but only that Jerusalem should always remain focused upon utterly core matters of national survival. Also worth pointing out is that any cascading harms brought upon Israel by an aberrant US presidential decision could sometime be “synergistic.”[15]

This means that the cumulative “whole” of any such harms to Israel would exceed the sum of its separate “parts.”[16]

There is more. In the exercise of US nuclear command authority, as is already generally known,[17] the “two man rule” of redundant nuclear safeguards does not apply at the highest or presidential level. And while it is increasingly under active discussion by certain concerned persons in the uniquely problematic “Trump Era,”[18] fears of presidential irrationality or nuclear error  had generally  been expressed only in surreptitious whispers, almost inaudibly, sotto voce. This tacit refusal to confront head-on an issue of overriding importance has been perilous, to say the least, but will become all the more so during the next several months or years, when President Trump can expect to be tested by Pyongyang. At some point, this ill-prepared US commander-in-chief  could have to make various time-urgent nuclear decisions concerning North Korea’s steadily expanding military nuclearization.

In this regard, Jerusalem will need to “stay tuned.

 There is more dialectical complexity to  be understood. Certain expected and irremediable methodological hindrances will  be at work. Above all, Israeli military planners will need to understand that attaching any scientifically meaningful assessments of probability to predictions of US presidential irrationality or error is not technically possible. Always, forecasting thinkers should be reminded as follows: Scientific affirmations of probability must always be based upon a determinable frequency of pertinent past events.

Significantly, in such matters, there have been no pertinent past events.

It is, of course, cumulatively good news that there have as yet been no clear examples of an American president making irrational decisions about U.S. nuclear weapons.[19] But even this alleged “good news” may not be entirely straightforward. During the Cold War Cuban missile crisis,[20] then President John F. Kennedy ordered his “quarantine” of Cuba (a euphemism or diplomatically sanitized alternative to “blockade,” which is traditionally a casus bellum) with an apparently full awareness of corresponding risks. More precisely, according to Theodore Sorensen, his biographer, JFK seemingly believed that even his intentionally softened escalatory response would carry portentous odds of an ensuing nuclear war with the USSR – odds, he noted at the time, that were “between one out of three, and even.”[21]

Although we now know that any such estimate was necessarily without any scientific foundation, what matters most is that JFK himself believed in these ominously high odds.

Thus, a curious but indispensable question arises. Was JFK actually acting irrationally about unprecedented nuclear matters in October 1962? Was his declared “quarantine” a fully genuine instance of nuclear decisional irrationality, one that turned out to have been well-crafted and successful only by sheer happenstance or dint of circumstance, including Nikita Khrushchev’s abundant and commendable caution?  

Or was it rather an example of what I call, in my own most recent book, the “rationality of pretended irrationality?”[22] And isn’t this exactly the thinking that Israeli COGS and Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan had in mind when he allegedly once urged: “Israel must be seen as a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”?

If actually a deliberate “rationality of pretended irrationality” move, President Kennedy was playing a carefully calculated game of strategy in 1962, much like the game of  “Chicken” once played with automobiles by assorted teen-aged delinquents. In Chicken, where the contestants drive toward each other at high speed, the objective of each player is plainly twofold: (1) not to be chicken, but also (and more gainful) (2) not to be dead.

In offering an informed answer here, permit me two personal anecdotes.

First, regarding McNamara’s widely-reported post-crisis apprehensions of an “Armageddon scenario” over Cuba, I once had a face-to-face occasion to ask the former US Defense Chief about these reports. That was back in the Fall of 1967, during a small academic conference at Princeton. Sitting next to me at dinner one evening, in the fabled Nassau Inn, McNamara responded to my unambiguously direct query with a repetitive nod of his head, and with the simple remark, “I wouldn’t want to experience that again. Ever.”

Those were his exact words.

Second, regarding President Kennedy’s alleged assignment of very high odds to his 1962 quarantine announcement, Sorensen reported that JFK had made this seat-of-the-pants assessment only after telephoning Admiral Arleigh Burke, a former Chairman of the US JCS. When, in 1977, I became Admiral Burke’s roommate for several days in Annapolis, at the annual Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, or NAFAC (where Burke and I were serving co-chairs of  a senior panel on “The Use of Force”), I asked him explicitly about Sorensen’s probability numbers. Without any hesitation, the Admiral replied that the Kennedy biographer had reported Burke’s telephone response to Kennedy accurately.

In other words, the young, cool and seemingly unflappable American president may have actually accepted up to even odds of a global thermonuclear war as the expected result of his enforced “quarantine.”

A derivative question now rises. What could we reasonably expect from an old, volatile and (let us be charitable) “intellectually limited” Donald Trump? Indeed, he had “aced”  the cognitive function test by repeating a few words correctly (“the doctors were amazed”), and earlier, he had even demonstrated successfully the ability to drink a glass of water with only one hand, but a probable absence of severe dementia is hardly the proper standard to be applied here.

For Jerusalem, there is another reason why correctly forecasting President Trump’s upcoming nuclear policy decisions could never be based upon any scientifically-garnered probabilities. This reason is not just a question of  logical capacity to assess the odds of any future presidential irrationality involving US nuclear command authority. It is also a matter of Trump being unable to calculate himself the probable outcomes of any particular nuclear decision that he might sometime make.

There is more. This particular forecasting constraint has nothing to do with any specifically personal intellectual deficit on this president’s part, but only with the wholesale absence of pertinent past events. Accordingly, this problem is not an ad hominem issue for Israel, but “merely” a universally daunting artifact of scientific methodologies.

If, for example, this American president or his successor should sometime seek an “expert” probability assessment or prediction concerning a north Korean escalation to nuclear weapons (in the near term, such an escalation could more or less realistically relate to Japan, US forces in the region, and/or certain already-reachable targets in Alaska or Hawaii), there would be no suitably relevant history to draw upon. The same conclusion can now be reached regarding the expected results of any American defensive attack launched against Iran, one where enemy escalatory responses could include not only direct Iranian air attacks on Saudi and/or Gulf oilfields, but also variously indirect Hezbollah aggressions[23] against Israel.[24]

Once again, in any such scenario, there would be no opportunity to render a scientifically meaningful estimation of applicable probabilities.

Returning to the core issue of any prospective U.S. presidential irrationality regarding nuclear weapons, it is conceivable, in principle, that such consequential missteps could become less likely over time, on the more-or-less logical assumption that experience in office would correlate favorably with increased caution.  But it is already the closing days of this president’s current term in office, and that optimistic conclusion could offer only a “common sense” reprieve. At best, in fact, it would represent a “tricky” or contrived extrapolation from certain earlier historical eras, one wherein the main argument would have made some sense in a pre-nuclear past.

In any event, during any still-upcoming nuclear crisis involving the United States, President Trump would have to strike an optimal balance between the always-unavoidable search for “escalation dominance,” and the closely matching need to avoid being locked into any desperate sequence of geo-strategic move and countermove.

Expressed as an appropriately dynamic process, one driven by its own unstoppable inner momentum, this escalatory sequence could create a self-limiting pattern of extrication that would then lead inexorably to either a controlled nuclear exchange or to full-blown nuclear war. Either immediately or over time, the disparate costs of any such war could severely impact Israel, and perhaps assorted other regional states, as well as the United States itself.

Strategic risk-taking can be significantly advantageous up to a point, but figuring out exactly where that critical point should be established is by no means a handily calculable task. Well-documented histories of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis all seem to agree that the superpowers had then come very close to a starkly different and authentically calamitous sort of conclusion. Once again, back at Princeton in 1967, I had heard this cautionary conclusion directly from the US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara.

Nuclear strategy is a game that various sane national leaders must sometimes learn to play, but never with any reassuringly plausible assurances of probable outcomes. The only way this “probabilistic unpredictability” can ever change is if, in the years ahead, some actual examples should accumulate of specific nuclear escalations and outcomes. Of course, this sort of accumulation is not something we ought ever to wish for. Instead, it would be far better for us to continue to have to concede a structural incapacity to more reliably “figure the odds” of any nuclear crisis engagement, or of any resultant nuclear war.

 Analysts may learn from this exceedingly complex dialectic that we can’t yet determine usefully just how likely it is that America’s unpredictable sitting president would ever give an irrational order to use American nuclear weapons. But scholars can still reasonably advise Mr. Trump and his counselors that unprecedented nuclear dangers lurk not only (or even primarily) in sudden “bolt from the blue” enemy attacks, but also in certain unanticipated and uncontrolled forms of nuclear escalation[25]. As far as any pretending irrationality is concerned – a tactic that may or may not have figured importantly in the Cuban Missile Crisis, depending upon one’s own particular interpretation of JFK’s 1962 strategic calculations – it could rapidly become a double-edged sword for Donald Trump.

In those circumstances, when centered on the Middle East, the self-destructive sword’s “edge” could inflict measureless or nearly measureless harms upon the United States and upon Israel.

Most purposeless of all would be a President Trump who naively confused copious bluster and bravado with some genuinely convincing rendition of irrationality. From the start, Trump has persistently hinted at the alleged benefits of pretending irrationality in foreign relations, but there is yet no compelling evidence that he also understands the corollary requirement of a policy “follow through.” No doubt, Moshe Dayan had once made a promising point in his own strategic argument that Israel should  be seen as a “mad dog,” but it remains credible that he would have strongly favored certain attendant preparations to ensure Jerusalem’s “escalation dominance.”

These vital preparations would have been based upon a carefully-prepared and incrementally nuanced “ladder” of sequenced retaliations and counter-retaliations.

To be sure, under certain circumstances, the “rationality of pretended irrationality” tactic could represent a manifestly sane move in the bewilderingly complex game of nuclear strategy, but it must always be undertaken together with variously inherent and immutable limitations. Above all, at least for the foreseeable future, this means fashioning national strategic policies without any substantially precise or scientific estimations of probable outcome. Looking ahead, for Israel, it follows that there can be no adequate substitute for maximum caution and prudence in absolutely every instance of strategic risk-taking.

This includes those prospectively fearful circumstances triggered by recognizable instances of US presidential irrationality or miscalculation on nuclear decisions.

Never to be taken lightly, in this regard, is Sigmund Freud’s trenchant observation that history remains littered with the corpses of millions spawned by some form or other of national leadership irrationality or miscalculation.[26] Conspicuously, that observation was offered before nuclear weapons. Today, from a crucial standpoint of nuclear war avoidance, it should be closely pondered in Jerusalem as well as Washington.

For Israel, still more precisely, such concern should derive in large measure from binding alliance ties between the two countries.


[1] Herman Kahn is among the first prominent thinkers associated with the post-war genre of strategic nuclear war. His more important works are On Thermonuclear War (1962) and Thinking About the Unthinkable (1962). Back at Princeton in the mid-1960s, his work became a conceptual  mainstay of our advanced graduate courses dealing with military affairs and world order. His most memorable observation, as I can recall, is that “After a nuclear war, the survivors would envy the dead.”

[2] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/ See also, by Professor Beres,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ (Pentagon).

[3] What else can one say after an American president makes repeated medical claims that contradict his own most authoritative scientific advisors; asserts that Joe Biden, his rival, “hates and wants to hurt God…;” recommends injecting household disinfectants as therapeutic or prophylactic agents for Covid19 infection; says that children are “almost immune” to Corona virus; and maintains that “only 1%” of those infected” suffer any palpable harms?

[4] See, for current assessments: https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/06/politics/trump-advisers-fears-military-options/index.html 

[5] See by this writer, Louis René Beres, https://www.inss.org.il/publication/changing-direction-updating-israels-nuclear-doctrine/; with USN Admiral (ret.) Leon “Bud” Edney,  https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/02/11/facing-a-nuclear-iran-israel-must-rethink-its-nuclear-ambiguity; and with USAF General John T. Chain, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/could-israel-safely-deter-a-nuclear-iran/260947/. General Chain served as Commander-in-Chief, US Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC); while Admiral Edney is a former Supreme Allied Commander/NATO (SACLANT).

[6] “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz, in his classic discussion of “friction” in On War, “but the simplest thing is difficult.” Herein, friction refers to the unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning inevitable strategic uncertainties; on presidential under-estimations or over-estimations of US 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.

[7] In this regard, see jointly authored monograph at Tel Aviv University by Professor Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy and America’s National Security (2016) https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[8] For the moment, the arguments presented here are “Trump specific,” but they are also all prospectively generic; that is, they could inhere in the US-Israel relationship per se, and apply irrespective of any particular US White House incumbent.

[9] US presidential expressions of decisional irrationality could take different and 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 internal dissonance generated by any authoritative structure of collective decision-making (e.g., the US National Security Council).

[10] Also problematic for the United States and its pertinent allies, especially Israel, would be the firing of American nuclear weapons due to Russian cyber-attacks/cyber-intrusions. In the final analysis, this cyber-war threat is of potentially greater existential import than threats of any continued Russian meddling in America’s elections. Moreover, the threat is still growing while President Trump stubbornly exonerates Vladimir Putin and simultaneously vilifies the FBI plus his own intelligence community. Why?

[11] This president, of course, would have no knowledge about any such matters of national and international law himself. Nonetheless, for the designated lawyers, anticipatory self-defense would represent a permissible use of force before an enemy attack has already been experienced or absorbed. While the usual national obligation to wait until one’s own country has been struck first is formally codified at Article 51 of the UN Charter, the corollary right of anticipatory self-defense derives from customary international law. Moreover, all authoritative sources of international law are sequentially identified at Article 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice.

[12] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep24333?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents    https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/165-MONOGRAPH-Beres-What-Happens-to-Israel-if-the-US-and-Iran-Go-to-War-web-2.pdf

[13] Our system of world politics remains essentially “Westphalian.” The reference here is to the Peace Of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the still-existing decentralized or self-help “state system.” For pertinent legal bases, see: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[14] The earlier-mentioned customary right of “anticipatory self-defense” has its modern origins in The Caroline incident, which revolved around the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 against British rule in Upper Canada. Following this incident, a serious threat of armed attack became generally accepted as adequate justification for certain otherwise-proper preemptive actions. In a formal 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 a prior armed attack. Military preemption, therefore, was to be judged permissible, at least as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” By extrapolation, today, in the nuclear age, this permissibility ought to be of even greater latitude. See: The Caroline, 2 John B. Moore, A Digest of International Law 412 (1906); reprinted in Louis Henkin, et. al., International law: Cases and Materials 622 (2nd ed., 1987).

[15] See, by this author, at Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School:  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/  See also, by Professor Beres, at Modern War Institute, West Point:  https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/

[16] This is sometimes considered as similar to the concept of a “force multiplier.” A force multiplier is a collection of related characteristics, other than weapons or force size, that may intentionally render a military organization more effective in war. It may include generalship; tactical surprise; tactical mobility; or even certain command and control system enhancements. It could also include imaginative and less-costly forms of preemption, such as assassination or targeted killing; also sabotage. Looking ahead, it could embrace variously integrated components of cyber-defense and cyber-warfare, including a reciprocal capacity to prevent or blunt any incoming cyber attacks. Again, the need for such components could have its conceptual origins in the sorely incoherent and problematic Trump presidency.

[17] I first wrote of such U.S. nuclear authority matters in an earlier book,  Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics, The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

[18] See, for example, the new book by former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Tom Colinna, https://newbooksnetwork.com/w-j-perry-and-t-z-collina-the-button-the-new-nuclear-arms-race-and-presidential-power-from-truman-to-trump-benbella-books-2020/

.

[19] See forthcoming book by Jim Sciutto, The Madman Theory: Trump Takes on the World (Harper Collins, August 2020).

[20] Regarding current US-Russia relations, we are now plausibly in the midst of “Cold War II.” Hypothesizing the emergence of this second Cold War  means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[21] For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: 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, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[22] See especially Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy. https://www.amazon.com/Surviving-Amid-Chaos-Strategy-Destruction/dp/1442253258

[23] On the crime of “aggression” see: 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.

[24] This brings to mind the need for identifying ways in which a nuclear war involving Israel might begin directly with events in the Middle East.  There are certain plausible and also more-or-less probable paths to actual nuclear war-fighting in the Middle East: (1) enemy nuclear first-strikes against Israel (not yet a possibility, at least so long as non-Arab Pakistan is excluded  as an enemy state); (2) enemy non-nuclear WMD (weapons of mass destruction) first-strikes against Israel, that elicit Israeli nuclear reprisals, either promptly, or as a consequence of incremental escalatory processes; (3) Israeli nuclear preemptions against hard targets in enemy states with nuclear assets (excluding Pakistan, still not a present possibility); (4) Israeli non-nuclear preemptions against hard targets in enemy states, with nuclear assets, that elicit enemy nuclear reprisals, either promptly, or via incremental escalation processes (also not yet a possibility); and (5) Israeli non-nuclear preemptions against hard targets in enemy states, without nuclear assets, that elicit substantial enemy biological warfare reprisals, and, reciprocally, Israeli nuclear counter-retaliations. In principle, at least, other paths to nuclear war fighting in the region could include accidental/unintentional/inadvertent/unauthorized nuclear attacks between Israel and pertinent enemy states. Analysts will also have to consider the real prospect of escalations arising from certain WMD terrorism against Israel.

[25] On these issues as a more generic problem, see: Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964) and Herman Kahn, On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios (1965). See also, by this writer, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1973).

[26] In his exact words: “Fools,  visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great  roles at all times in the history of mankind….Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”

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Latin America – Russia: An Agenda for Constructive Cooperation in the Post-COVID-19 Era

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On Tuesday, August 4, the outstanding video-conference “Latin America – Russia: an Agenda for Constructive Cooperation in the Post-COVID-19 Era” was held organized by the Valdai Club , the Russian Embassy in Guatemala, the American Chamber of commerce  (AmCham), the Central American Parliament  (Parlacen) the SIECA(Central American Secretariat for Economic Integration), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the CRIES of Argentina (Regional Coordination of Economic and Social Research).

The video conference was attended by Alexis Rodzianko as moderator (president of AmCham Russia). And an outstanding panel of speakers with:

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov; Nadia de León (chairman of PARLACEN) Melvin Redondo (general secretary of the SIECA); Yaroslav Lissovolik (programme director at Valdai Club); Richard Kozul Wright (director of division on globalization and development strategies UNCTAD);  Daniel Russell (Ceo of USRBC) and Lila Roldan Vásquez (head of the CARI –Argentina- Eurasian studies group)

After a brief presentation and comments by the moderator Alexis Rodzianko (president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce) on the nature of the video-conference and the panelists in it, Russian Deputy-Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov started the dialogue expressing his satisfaction with the existence of this kind of spaces for reflection in such difficult global times. We quote some of his more outstanding phrases:

Russia and the United States continue their dialogue on joint efforts to combat the pandemic, and this is good news”.

Washington, however, does not abandon its claims for global hegemony. This poses a threat to international stability and security.”.

He stated the need to increase channels of cooperation when the coronavirus is ravaging the entire planet, for the first time in humanity, it faces a threat that affects the entire planet, this poses a dramatic challenge, the frustrating statistics of Covid- 19 have the same effects as a war, this era requires the consolidation of international efforts together and that Russia hopes that large-scale cooperation can act as a vector for a more multipolar world.

He also denounced international actors, the countries that privilege self-interest over those of the international community in times of crisis due to the pandemic. He cataloged irresponsible and short-sighted countries that ignoring the UN declarations, mainly the western powers, continue with sanctions measures to other countries, sanctions that hinder the acquisition of medical supplies and assistance, including Latin American countries, without even foreseeing the lifting of sanctions even for the time of the pandemic.

He was also very critical of the attitude of the United States in various multilateral fields such as its withdrawal from the Open Skies treaties; missile weapons treaties such as INF and START II; the North-American withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

On the cooperation agenda of Latin America – Russia, he highlighted the negative factors that Latin America faces in its current situation:

Latin America continues to face dramatic social inequalities and political de-stabilizations: The US continues its efforts to redraw the political map of Latin America to serve its interests.”

He stressed that:

From Russia with much disappointment and concern some time ago we observed how the Monroe Doctrine and all the ideology linked to it was officially reintroduced by the United States.”.

As positive factors he pondered that for Russia, Latin America has always been a region of political tolerance, economic opportunities and cultural affinity:

  • For Russia, the relationship with Latin America is a value in itself of its foreign policy and bases its cooperation agenda in the region based on a pragmatic and de-ideological vision, Russia does not seek to engage its partners in geopolitical dilemmas where they must choose between friends and enemies”.
  • And these links have always had a positive dynamic in energy, communications, technology, medicine, logistics and transportation. We seek technological and commercial alliances, diversifying their bases”.
  • “A paramount of Russian cooperation with Latin America was the activation in 2019 of the Latin American Institute of Biotechnology (in Managua, Nicaragua) that produces, insulin and interferon and vaccines for Latin American consumption”.

Despite the delicate situation worldwide, the deputy-minister remained optimistic that crises improve prospects for international cooperation, and that Russia-Latin America cooperation will continue to consolidate.

 “During this pandemic, Russian assistance has been received by: Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, in testing teams and personal health protection, in addition to humanitarian aid.”

The possibility of assistance to other countries in the region such as Paraguay, Colombia, and Peru has been addressed.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund announced the signing of an agreement under which 150,000 Avifavir packages will be sent to seven Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay. In addition, Russia will also send supplies of the antiviral drug to South Africa and transfer the technology to Bolivian firm Sigma Corp SRL in order for it to be produced locally.

Closing of the presentation

The deputy-minister Ryabkov cerró su presentación marcando que en las difíciles circunstancias actuales es fundamental evitar la politización de la situación de la pandemia, un verdadero desafío global, que requiere esfuerzos conjuntos entre todos los Estados, y que Rusia está preparada para hacer su aporte y que lo está haciendo.

The deputy-minister Ryabkov closed his presentation by stating that in the current difficult circumstances it is essential to avoid politicizing the situation of the pandemic, a true global challenge, which requires joint efforts between all States, and that Russia is ready to make its contribution, and it’s doing it.

Questions and Answers Section

In the questions and answers section of the dialogue, he answered a question about the role of Russia in the binomial-dilemma that would appear to present itself to Latin America in the strategic competition between the US and China:

Russia won’t be part of that geopolitical game” 

He made it clear that Russia will surely not be part of a possible geopolitical triangular game with the US and China in Latin America, since it does not have the same capabilities as the other two actors (US-China) and that from the strategic vision of Russia relations with Latin America should be characterized by a cooperative logic of mutual benefit (win-win) and pragmatism, the relationship with this region should not emulate previous models of relations between center and periphery and he highlighted the Russian-Argentine relationship as an example of a link of mutual benefit.

Russia will not act for Latin America as an actor to support itself in a counterbalance, to offset the competition between Beijing and Washington in the region, but it will continue to maintain cooperative relations with Latin America, although he clarified that trilateral cooperation, as in the case of the Covid-19 pandemic should not be ruled out.

 “Those practices go against the core elements and principles of international law and the United Nations Charter.”

It was his answer to the question about Russia’s position on the persistent US policies of imposing economic sanctions unilaterally (such as in the blockades against Cuba and Venezuela) that impede the fluidity of international cooperation (in times of pandemic, necessary international aid) and that Russia has also been suffering the same extortionary measures since the referendums that consecrated the return of the Crimean territories to Russia in 2014, and in which in this aspect Russia has not found a “common ground” with the United States for dialogue.

“We have to find ways to ensure relief to the countries most in need and with the fewest resources” 

He argued that it is the responsibility of institutions such as those of the Breton Woods system, the G20, the Club de Paris, the economic powerhouses to find coherent strategies to achieve this objective. Macroeconomic policies of expansion, not austerity, should be promoted globally.

My own questions

As an observer-participant of the digital event, I was able to ask the Deputy-Minister two questions:

 “is there any prospect from Russia to collaborate with South American efforts to “catch up” with the latest technology?”

In this response, he expressed his wish that such cooperation be carried out, since Russia has a lot to contribute, he said regarding the digitization of public services, of special interest today in public health services, other axes of technological cooperation could include biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and he stated that Russia is not exaggerating by claiming that it has made important advances in the development of drugs that help combat Covid-19 in the near future. Regarding this, he highlighted the observations of his presentation, where he mentioned that Russia has significantly promoted the installation of technology in Central America (the Latin American Institute of Biotechnology).Other areas of cooperation of interest mentioned were telecommunications and the peaceful use of nuclear power, agricultural technology.

These cooperation dynamics, he argued, will always be guided by pragmatic visions; Russia will not subject its partners to geopolitical dilemmas.

 is there any interest from Russia to improve Argentina’s naval capabilities in fishing, hydrocarbons, naval surveillance, etc?

In this regard, he pointed out that initial contacts had taken place in the Macri administration and that he is sure that under the administration of President Alberto Fernández these contacts would continue.

He quoted the slogan: “it is the economy, stupid” when explaining the interest that exists between both governments and their respective businessmen to associate in relation to the naval field, but the contacts are still distant.

Regarding fishing exploitation, he acknowledged his lack of knowledge about any Russian-Argentine association project on the subject, but he stressed that this doesn’t mean that it is not an interesting area of cooperation to continue advancing the in the bilateral agenda.

For the last, he emphasized that when travel and contacts will be reestablished, all those axes of cooperation can be discussed further, without major impediments.

From our partner International Affairs

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