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What’s Behind Restoration of the Cold War?

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What’s behind restoration of the Cold War is a fall-off in the global armaments trade after the capitalist-versus-communist Cold War ended with the 9 November 1989 elimination of the Berlin Wall, and after the ideological excuse for buying and using nuclear weapons thus ended when the Soviet Union and its communism and its Warsaw Pact military alliance copy of America’s NATO military alliance all ended soon thereafter, in 1991. Weapons became less needed, because there was no longer an ideological excuse available for invading, and for perpetrating (and/or backing) coups in, foreign countries, such as Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, etc. This reduction in the weapons-market harmed the major investors in arms-manufacturing international corporations. Their business was suffering.

Any nation’s armaments-industry is especially crucial to that given nation’s aristocracy (the controlling owners of their international corporations); and, so, the fall-off in the arms business was deeply problematic for international capitalists — especially for the people whose wealth depends largely upon America’s arms-manufacturers, the international corporations whose only markets are their own and allied governments (which governments America’s and its allied aristocracies control). Therefore, any capitalist nation’s aristocracy is heavily invested in and controls that given nation’s ‘defense’ (or, more typically, invasion) industry. Without allied governments to buy their arms, and ‘enemy’ governments for those weapons to be used against (i.e., countries which are targets instead of markets for those weapons), there is no business, no arms-sales, and no profits, from these companies. Furthermore, the weapons that any given nation has at its disposal and which are paid for by that nation’s entire taxpaying public (thus enabling that aristocracy to extract wealth from their nation’s public in order for the government to buy weapons from their firms), also provide a vital means of enforcing that nation’s aristocracy’s property-rights in all other countries — the guns and military to enforce their will against those countries. Soldiers are more important to international billionaires than police are. Aristocrats tend to be invested in many countries, and so to be very much in need of this international enforcement. Whereas police are more important to the general public, soldiers and spies are more important to billionaires, whose net worths are often extracted more from foreign lands than from their own. This international enforcement also advantages them in any international negotiations. Furthermore, the nation’s diplomatic service, such as America’s State Department, also boosts their international negotiations. Much of the U.S. federal Government serves America’s 607 billionaires more than it serves the remainder of America’s 330 million people — who pay taxes instead of secret their main wealth in places such as Barbados. So, while the public do the paying and the killing and the dying, the country’s owners do the profits. That’s the reality — not the myth, none of the myth — about international relations. It’s global gangland. Everything else is just PR.

For a while after the end of communism and end of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. aristocracy and its allied aristocracies in Europe, Japan and elsewhere, experienced declining sales of armaments, and nothing seemed capable of turning that situation around: their investments became increasingly bad as the ‘post-Cold-War’ period (which “post” on the Russian side was real from 1991 on, but not on the U.S. side, where the Cold War was actually only temporarily suspended and never yet ended) proceeded throughout the 1990s. For America’s aristocracy (and its allied aristocracies abroad), this decline in weapons-income was tolerable so long as the U.S. group were able to siphon some wealth out of Russia, and also out of its allies such as Ukraine. But, by the time when George W. Bush became U.S. President in 2001, America’s aristocracy worked in conjunction with Saudi Arabia’s aristocracy — the Saudi royal family, the largest foreign purchaser of U.S. weapons — to replace the Soviet enemy, by a new jihadist enemy, “radical Islamic terrorism” or jihadists from fundamentalist-Sunni sects such as Saudi Arabia’s own Wahhabist sect, so as to have an ongoing excuse for invasions, to keep their arms-makers busy.

For example: during the latest reporting period, 2017 and 2018, Saudi Arabia imported from U.S. “6599” (millions of dollars worth, or $6.6 billion) of American-made weapons, and the second-largest, Australia, imported only “2007” — meaning that Saudi Arabia dwarfed every other importer, and consumed 29% of all “22993” (or $23 billion) of U.S. arms-exports, during that two-year period. That’s enormous clout over the U.S. Government, which means that the owner of Saudi Arabia, its King, who is by far the world’s wealthiest person and the only certain trillionaire, probably has even more control over U.S. foreign policies than does any single U.S. billionaire — even than does whomever actually controls Lockheed Martin.

After 9/11 (a joint U.S.-Saudi operation), military expenditures promptly quit declining and started rising and thus providing, yet again, good returns to international capitalists. Here, that increase, which was indicated in the above chart, is also shown by a graph in an article which extends decades farther back than merely to 1988, “Military Expenditure Trends for 1960–2014 and What They Reveal”, by Todd Sandler and Justin George, published on 7 March 2016:

As is clear from that, the Cold War was a booming business for investors throughout the U.S. and its allied aristocracies, during at least 1960 till around the time when the Berlin Wall ended on 9 November 1989; and, then, after the 1991 end of the Soviet Union, this thirty-plus years-long uptrend in those investments became instead a clear downtrend, until 11 September 2001, when military spending again soared, but this favorable trend for armaments-investors stopped when Barack Obama became the U.S. President in 2009, and military sales then declined till 2014, and flatlined thereafter. What caused it to stop declining further was especially Obama’s coup in Ukraine during February 2014, turning neutralist Ukraine rabidly against its adjoining nation Russia and seeking NATO membership and so becoming a potential staging-area for U.S. missiles against Russia. This seemed, at the time, to be a brilliant sales-promotion policy for American corporations such as Lockheed.

This flatlined military spending was unacceptable to the U.S. aristocracy, who control the U.S. government. Therefore, starting by no later than 2011, the Obama-Clinton U.S. State Department began preparations to overthrow the Russia-friendly democratically elected (in 2010) government of Ukraine, which is the European country that has the longest border with Russia and therefore the most opportunities for placing U.S. missiles on Russia’s border so as to be able to surprise-attack Russia faster than Russia will be able to launch its missiles in retaliation — in other words, to conquer Russia. That U.S. coup in Ukraine was carried out in February 2014; and, afterward, the international arms-trade boomed again. 

The United States, which until the end of the Soviet Union, and of its communism, and of its Warsaw Pact copy of America’s own NATO, had had an excuse for high military spending, had lost that excuse when, on 9 November 1989, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “tore down that wall” separating East Berlin from West Berlin, and, in 1991 he ended the Cold War itself on the Soviet side and became instead the President of Russia — the leading state in the former Soviet federation. The U.S. secretly continued the Cold War, now against Russia alone, and tried to take Russia over by means of constructing a new Russian aristocracy that would be dependent upon the U.S. aristocracy and would provide America’s aristocrats with lucrative new opportunities for exploitation. But Russia’s new President Vladimir Putin in 2000 immediately turned against Boris Berezovsky and Russia’s other U.S.-allied new aristocrats or “oligarchs,” and drove them out of the country and so established Russian national sovereignty over Russia’s natural and other resources — the very things that America’s aristocrats had wanted to exploit.

Putin replaced the previous, U.S.-allied, oligarchs, by his own friends, who agreed to obey Russia’s leader as the representative of Russia’s national sovereignty, even if and when Putin would tell them to do things that are against their own pecuniary interests — he demanded this loyalty from them, loyalty to what he as the representative of the Russian people determined to be in Russia’s national interest. For forcing out and replacing the previous, U.S.-backed, oligarchs, Putin was called a brutal dictator, by the aristocrats who control the U.S. government and news media and weapons-producing firms.

The post-9/11 restoration of the sales-volumes of the U.S. aristocracy’s weapons-firms turned out to be insufficient, it ended within eight years, because only with a return of sales of nuclear-arms production, and the huge missile systems to deliver them, could the old glory days of America’s aristocracy return again. Or so they thought. And, so, the emphasis again went to making the U.S.-and-allied publics hate Russians instead of hate Muslims, and all of the major media turned to that. But look at the flatline after 2010 which is shown in the top visual here: the U.S. owners are desperate to restore their growth. Consequently, the first thing that the incoming U.S. President Donald Trump did when coming into power in 2017 was to go to Saudi Arabia and sell $350 billion of U.S. weapons to the Sauds over the coming 10-year period — the world’s all-time biggest arms-sale, if the Sauds fulfill on it. This is why Trump refuses to acknowledge that Crown Prince Salman al-Saud ordered the torture-murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Trump’s biggest success has been that sale, and he won’t allow it to fail.

Communism is gone. The Soviet Union is gone. Its Warsaw Pact is gone (and almost entirely absorbed now into America’s NATO military club — they’re aimed now against Russia, instead of against the U.S.). All of the pretext for the Cold War was gone; and therefore to call this new war against the lone and non-communist rump Russian government a ‘new cold war’ (at a time when Russia’s former Soviet partners have been switched to enemies, and the Warsaw Pact of allies has been switched to the NATO pact of enemies) is preposterous; it is nothing of a ‘new cold war’ sort. It is U.S. aggression, flat-out and recognized even by America’s top experts. And a pretext was thus needed in order to be able to call Putin’s Russia the world’s most aggressive country. One pretext was to call the two breaks-away from Ukraine, one by Crimea (which had voted 75% for the government that Obama overthrew) and the other by Donbass (which had voted 90% for that government), ‘aggressions’ on the part of Russia (and to ignore that Obama’s coup in Ukraine had caused both). The Obama regime denied the right of self-determination of peoples, when it pertained to those breakaway regions from Ukraine, even though Obama accepted the right of self-determination of peoples when it pertained to Scots in UK, and to Catalans in Spain.

The other pretext was that Russia backed the allegedly brutal secular leader of Syria, and not the actually brutal sectarian leader of Saudi Arabia who was determined to conquer secular Syria by infiltrating into Syria jihadist allies of Al Qaeda in order to create a Wahhabist dictatorship in Syria, which would be in debt to the Sauds and to the Americans. 

For these reasons, nuclear war is now not only on the table, as it was during the Cold War, but, in the currently spreading now hot war using jihadists and other proxy fighters in order to overthrow and replace Russia’s allies, America is finally going for the nuclear jugular. Even if it’s not a sound thing to do if those weapons are ever used, it’s the only way America’s aristocrats know to boost the value of their investments, at least in the short term (which is the time-perspective that increasingly has come to dominate among America’s aristocrats and their allies).

America’s current President, Trump, will have to decide whether to culminate this, or whether instead to condemn and repudiate it. If he decides to do the latter, then he will be condemning and repudiating the entire U.S. aristocracy, which no U.S. President (except for Jimmy Carter in his retirement) has ever done. American Presidents have been assassinated for less than that. And, in any case, courage is not a trait that’s commonly attributed to Trump, even by his own most ardent admirers. However, unless he turns out to be a person of extraordinary courage, World War III now appears to be virtually inevitable, to occur rather soon, and the only real question would be: Which side will nuclear-blitz-attack the other the first?

Every well-informed person now knows what the full import was of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s elliptical parting words as President, from his Farewell Address, on 17 January 1961:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

What he was so vaguely warning against, has actually occurred, and is proceeding toward its ever-likelier climax: the end. This push is politically bipartisan. It is toward an end so horrific that no scientific estimate of its result to the planet has been allowed to be published. It would release at least the 3,176 already-deployed nuclear warheads (the 100-plus-kiloton bombs that would be used in a U.S.-Russia war: 1,765 on Russia’s side, plus 1,411 on America’s). However, a release of only 100 nuclear warheads (each only 15-kilotons) (thus, roughly 200 times smaller release in total, than a U.S.-Russia war would entail) was allowed to be published; and here that is. (The study itself says that: “Our results show that this period of no food production needs to be extended by many years, making the impacts of nuclear winter even worse than previously thought.” But, clearly, a U.S.-Russia war would simply end a livable planet.)

Trump’s Presidency was bought by the anti-Iran Adelson billionaires and other agents for Israel. Unlike Obama, who was hired by anti-Russia Democratic Party billionaire neoconservatives, the anti-Iran billionaires are the patrons of Trump’s Presidency. And, so, America’s target to destroy is Iran and its allies, instead of Russia and its allies. The only reason why Trump continues Obama’s aggressions (even increases his sanctions) against Russia is in order to be acceptable to the Democratic Party billionaires who control much of the news-media. He gets lots of pressure from them to ‘stop being Putin’s puppet’, and nobody can fight the mainstream news-media, who shape voters’ perceptions.

Author’s note: updated version from originally posted at strategic-culture.org

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Defense

Risks of a Nuclear War With North Korea: The Obligation of Intellect-Based Remedies

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“Is it an end that draws near, or a beginning?”-Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age (1951)

Intellect and National Security

In the end, nothing could be gained by approaching the North Korean nuclear threat with Trump-era seat-of-the-pants remedies. Without more systematic and intellectually disciplined orientations, United States security could once again become contingent on narrowly ad hoc assessments of pertinent leadership personalities. First, President Joseph Biden will need to understand that the regime in Pyongyang would never accept any conceivable forms of denuclearization.

Ipso facto, basing US nuclear policy on contrary assumptions would prove strategically self-defeating.

               All core lessons here are clear and straightforward. Former US President Trump had little evident use for intellect or critical reasoning, in pandemic policy or foreign policy.[1] Accordingly, he emphasized certain presumed advantages of “attitude” over “preparation,” an expressly anti-science posture that essentially ignored the North Korean nuclear threat.

 Despite Trump’s oft-repeated assertion about Kim’s reciprocal affections – “we fell in love” – the North Korean dictator responded by accelerating his ballistic missile development and testing programs. During the while that Trump ranted incoherently with strategically meaningless bluster, Kim systematically readied his nation for an eventual “final battle.”[2] For the United States, this conspicuous asymmetry could never have been considered gainful, especially from the vital standpoint of credible deterrence.

               Today, President Biden’s overriding obligation on such matters is unmistakable.  Regarding North Korea’s continuously ongoing nuclear expansions, he must fashion an American security posture that is more analytic and history-based[3] than were Trump’s disjointed diatribes.[4] Above all, America’s current president should begin to think more realistically about creating long-term nuclear deterrence relationships with North Korea.

Strategic Obligations of Correct Reasoning

               In the best of all possible worlds, American (possibly also North Korean) interests would be best served by Pyongyang’s complete denuclearization. But this is not the best of all possible worlds, and North Korea will not willingly surrender its only tangible source of genuine global power. For now, at least, establishing stable nuclear deterrence relationships between these two adversarial states would represent a sufficiently worthy American achievement.

               There are also pertinent specifics. During any still-upcoming negotiations, Mr. Biden should take scrupulous care not to exaggerate or overstate America’s military risk-taking calculus. Such indispensable diplomatic caution would derive in part from the absence of any comparable nuclear crises. Because there has never been a nuclear war,[5] there could be no reliable way for this president (or anyone else) to meaningfully ascertain the mathematical probability of a US-North Korea nuclear conflict.[6]

               In world politics, as in any other subject of human interaction, probability judgments cannot be concocted ex nihilo, out of nothing. Always, such key judgments must be drawn from one quantifiable calculus only.  This calculus is the determinable frequency of relevant past events. When there are no such events, there can be no such needed extrapolation.

               Period.

               This does not mean that President Joe Biden’s senior strategists and counselors should ever steer away from clear-eyed assessments regarding potential nuclear costs and risks, but only that such assessments be drawn knowingly from constantly shifting and hard-to-decipher geopolitical trends. At this time, such trends should include variously complex considerations of generally expanding worldwide nuclearization.[7]  Though not yet there, Iran – now led by a more insistently hardline president – is far along the trajectory of national nuclear weapons development.[8] In time, in much the same fashion as with North Korea, the United States could unexpectedly find itself in extremis atomicum.

Intersections and Synergies

For American policy-planners focused on North Korea, there will be corresponding obligations to consider plausible intersections between Pyongyang threats and Tehran nuclearization. Inter alia, these obligations will take note of specifically synergistic intersections. Here, by definition, the “whole” of any worrisome outcome would be greater than the calculable sum of its component “parts.”

               For certain, among multiple and overlapping concerns, some attendant problems would emerge as more complicated and problematic than others. As relevant intellectual background, world security processes must always be approached in toto, as a totality, as a more-or-less coherent system. What is happening now, in such far-flung places as India-Kashmir, China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, could have significant “spillover effects” in the northeast Asian theatre and beyond. This is true, moreover, even while Covid-19 continues to rage in some measure across these afflicted countries.

               Rather than ignore complex and seemingly distant effects altogether, US President Joe Biden will have to accord them a more appropriate position of foreign policy-making priority.

“My Button is Bigger Than Yours”

 Military threats from an already-nuclear North Korea remain genuine, substantive and determinedly “robust.” Former President Donald Trump’s ill-suited metaphors notwithstanding, the fact that Biden’s nuclear “button” is “bigger” than Kim’s is less than determinative. To wit, in all strategic deterrence relationships, a condition of relative nuclear weakness by one of the contending adversarial states need not imply any corollary diminution of power. Remembering the “bottom line,” even the presumptively weaker party in such asymmetrical dyads could deliver “unacceptable damage” to the stronger.

               Complexity will be defining. President Biden will need to bear in mind that many or all of northeast Asia’s continuously transforming developments could be impacted by “Cold War II,”[9] an oppositional stance with Russia and (somewhat comparably or derivatively) with China. Similarly, important will be this new US leader’s willingness to acknowledge and factor-in certain consequential limits of “expert” military advice. These widely unseen limits are not based upon any presumed intellectual inadequacies among America’s flag officers, but only on the irrefutable knowledge that no person has ever fought in a nuclear war.

               In scientific terms (theory of probability) this particular bit of knowledge ought never be underestimated.

               By definition – and going forward with all time-urgent considerations of US – North Korea policy formation – American strategic calculations will always be fraught with daunting uncertainties. Still, it will be necessary that Joe Biden and his designated counselors remain able to consistently offer the best available war-related estimations. Among prospectively causal factors – some of them overlapping, interdependent or (again) “synergistic”[10] – the plausible risks of a nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang will ultimately depend upon whether such conflict would be intentional, unintentional or accidental.

                In principle, at least, this tripartite distinction could prove vitally important to hoped-for success in US nuclear war prediction and prevention processes.

                In facing any future North Korean negotiations, it will be necessary that competent US policy analysts capably examine and measure all foreseeableconfigurations of relevant nuclear war risk. Expressed in the useful game-theoretic parlance of formal military planning, shifting configurations in the “state of nations”[11] could present themselves singly, one-at-a-time (the expectedly best case for Washington) or suddenly, unexpectedly, with apparent “diffusiveness” or in multiple and overlapping “cascades” of strategic complexity.

Quo Vadis?

               What is to be done? To properly understand such bewildering cascades will require carefully-honed, well-developed and formidable analytic skills. This will not be a suitable task for the intellectually faint-hearted. It will require, instead, sharply refined combinations of historical acquaintance, traditional erudition and demonstrated capacity for advanced dialectical thinking. Elucidations of such especially disciplined thinking go back to dialogues of Plato and to the ancient but timeless awareness that reliable analysis insistently calls for the continuous asking and answering of interrelated questions.

               There is more. This challenging task could even require American strategic thinkers who are sometimes as comfortable with classical prescriptions of Plato and Descartes as with more narrowly technical elements of modern military theory and hardware. This will not be an easy requirement to fulfill.

Not all nuclear wars would have the same origin. It is conceivable that neither Washington nor Pyongyang is currently paying sufficient attention to certain residually specific risks of an unintentional nuclear war. To this point, each president would seem to assume the other’s decisional rationality.[12] After all, if there were no such mutual calculation, it would make no ascertainable sense for either side to negotiate further security accommodations with the other.

               None at all.

               Viable nuclear deterrence (not denuclearization) must become the overriding US strategic goal vis-a-vis North Korea. But this complex objective is contingent upon certain basic assumptions concerning enemy rationality. Are such assumptions realistic in the particular case of a potential war between two already-nuclear powers? If President Biden should sometime fear enemy irrationalityin Pyongyang, issuing any threats of a US nuclear retaliation might make diminishing diplomatic sense. Instead, at that literally unprecedented stage, American national security could come to depend upon some presumptively optimal combinations of ballistic missile defense and defensive first strikes. But by definition, determining such complex combinations would lack any decisional input or counsel from concrete and quantifiable historical data.

               In an imaginably worst case scenario, the offensive military element could entail a situational or comprehensive preemption – a defensive first strike by the United States – but at that manifestly late stage, all previous hopes for bilateral reconciliation would already have become moot. There would then obtain no “ordinary” circumstances wherein a preemptive strike against a North Korean nuclear adversary could be considered “rational.”[13] What then?

               It’s an intellectual question, not a political one.

               None of these difficult strategic decisions should ever be reached casually or easily. With the steadily expanding development of “hypersonic” nuclear weapons, figuring out optimal US policy combinations from one North Korean crisis to another could very quickly become overwhelming. Though counterintuitive amid any such prominently intersecting complications, the fact that one “player” (the US) was recognizably “more powerful” than the other (North Korea) could quickly prove irrelevant.

Law and Nuclear Strategy

 In all foreseeable circumstances, there would obtain certain overlapping issues of law and strategy. Under international law,[14] which remains an integral part of US law,[15] the option of a selective or comprehensive defensive first-strike might sometime be correctly characterized as “anticipatory self-defense.” This could be the case only if the American side could also argue persuasively that the security “danger posed” by North Korea was recognizably “imminent in point of time.” Such discernible “imminence” is required by the authoritative standards of international law; that is, by the formal criteria established after an 1837 naval incident famously called “The Caroline.”[16]

               Presently, in the still-expanding nuclear age, offering aptly precise characterizations of “imminence” could prove sorely abstract and densely problematic. For example, in justifying his assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, former President Trump used the term “imminence” incorrectly (sometimes even confusing “imminence” with “eminence”) and without any convincing factual evidence.

               For the moment, especially in the continuing midst of a worldwide health crisis, it seems reasonable that Kim Jung Un would value his own personal life and that of his nation above every other imaginable preference or combination of preferences. In any conceivable scenario, Kim appears to be visibly and technically rational, and must therefore remain subject to US nuclear deterrence.[17]But going forward, it could still become important for a negotiating American President Biden to distinguish between authentic instances of enemy irrationality and instances of contrived or pretended irrationality.[18]

               This vague prospect adds yet another layer of complexity to the subject at hand, one that could sometime include certain force-multiplying biological synergies.

               In history, wars have too often been the result of leadership miscalculation. Although neither side here would likely ever seek a shooting war, either Kim or Biden could still commit errors in the course of rendering their respective strategic calculations. At times, such consequential errors could represent an unintended result of jointly competitive searches for “escalation dominance.”[19] These errors are plausibly more apt to occur in circumstances where one or both presidents had first chosen to reignite hyperbolic verbal rhetoric.

               Portentously, even in reassuringly calm periods of polite and congenial diplomatic discourse, major miscalculations, accidents or “cyber-confusions” could accumulate. And such ill-fated accumulation could sometime be hastened by unpredictable effects of widespread disease pandemic. What then?

               In plausibly worst case scenarios, negotiations gone wrong could result in a nuclear war.[20] This prospect ought never to be overlooked. In the words of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “The worst does sometimes happen.”[21]

Origins of Inadvertent Nuclear War with North Korea

An inadvertent nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang could take place not only as the result of misunderstanding or miscalculation between fully rational national leaders, but as the unintended consequence (singly or synergistically) of mechanical, electrical, computer malfunctions or of “hacking”-type interventions. Going forward, these interventions could include clandestine intrusions of “cyber-mercenaries.”

               There is more. While an accidental nuclear war would necessarily be inadvertent, certain forms of inadvertent nuclear war would not necessarily be caused by mechanical, electrical or computer accident. These difficult to anticipate but consequential forms of unintentional nuclear conflict would represent the unexpected result of specific misjudgment or miscalculation, whether created by singular decisional error by one or both sides to a two-party nuclear crisis escalation or by still-unforeseen “synergies” arising between singular miscalculations.

In any still-impending crisis between Washington and Pyongyang, each side will inevitably strive to maximize two critical goals simultaneously. These goals are (1) to dominate the dynamic and largely unpredictable process of nuclear crisis escalation; and (2) to achieve “escalation dominance” without sacrificing vital national security interests. In the final analysis, this second objective would mean preventing one’s own state and society from suffering any catastrophic or existential harms.

               This recalls a prior point concerning accurate assessments of relative military power. When former President Trump in an early verbal competition with Kim Jung Un stated that the North Korean president may have his nuclear “button,” but that the American president’s was “bigger,” Trump revealed a major conceptual misunderstanding. It was that in our still advancing nuclear age, atomic superiority is potentially per se insignificant and could lead the presumptively “stronger” nuclear adversary toward certain lethal expressions of overconfidence.

               In any such paradoxical circumstances, having had a “bigger button” would have become the dominant source not of strength, but of weakness. Here, size would actually matter, but only in an unexpected or counter-intuitive way. As Donald Trump should have understood, even an enemy with a smaller “nuclear button” could inflict “assuredly destructive” harms[22] upon “bigger button” United States and/or its allies in Japan, South Korea or elsewhere. It follows, inter alia, that to have taken earlier comfort from observing that North Korea had been testing “only” shorter-range ballistic missiles was to miss the point. To clarify further, and now for the benefit of President Biden, several of North Korea’s Trump-era nuclear test firings expressed a yield at least 16X larger than the Hiroshima bomb.

That 14KT WW II bomb produced almost 100,000 immediate fatalities.

               All such vital understandings about nuclear “button size” must continuously obtain as long as Kim Jung Un’s “inferior” nuclear arms remain seemingly invulnerable to any American preemptions and seemingly capable of penetrating ballistic missile defenses deployed in the United States, Japan or South Korea. Because of the extraordinary prospective harms generated by even “low-yield” nuclear weapons, a small percentage or tiny fraction of Kim’s “inferior” nuclear arsenal should still appear as unacceptably destructive in Washington, Tokyo or Seoul. Worth noting, too, is that in all of these critical dimensions of strategic judgment, the only reality that would figure tangibly in any ongoing adversarial calculations would be perceived reality.

Dealing with Staggering Complexity

               The bottom line of such informed assessments concerning a US – North Korea nuclear war is that underlying issues of contention and calculation are starkly complicated and potentially indecipherable. Faced with endlessly challenging measures of complexity, both operational and legal, each side must proceed warily and in a fashion that is aptly risk-averse. Though such prudent counsel may seem to run counter to variously inter-linking US obligations of “escalation dominance,” any still-expected Biden-Kim negotiations would involve very deep and uncharted “waters.”

               Looking ahead, any aggressive over-confidence (or what the ancient Greeks called “hubris” in tragic drama) by President Biden or President Kim will have to be avoided. While everything at some upcoming negotiation might first appear simple and calculable, history calls to mind Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s sobering observations about “friction.” This ubiquitous fly-in-the-ointment represents “differences between war on paper, and war as it actually is.” In certain altogether imaginable cases, these differences could suggest total war.

               To avoid intolerable outcomes between the United States and North Korea, a prudent, science-based[23] and informed nuclear posture must be fashioned, not with Trump-era clichés and empty witticisms, but with refined intellect and cultivated erudition. Much earlier, the ancient Greeks and Macedonians already understood that war planning must be treated as a continuously disciplined matter of “mind over mind,” not just one of “mind over matter.”[24] Today, in specific regard to US-North Korea nuclear rivalry, a similar understanding should hold sway in Washington.

Averting “Nightmare”

It would be best for the United States to plan carefully for all strategic eventualities and not to stumble into a nuclear war with North Korea – whether deliberate, unintentional or accidental. The fact that any such “stumble” could take place without adversarial ill will or base motive should provide little palpable consolation for prospective victims. For them, an ounce of diplomatic prevention will have been well worth avoiding an unstoppable strategic nightmare.

               Nightmare. According to the etymologists, the root is niht mare, or niht maere, the demon of the night. Dr. Johnson’s famous Dictionary claims this corresponds to Nordic mythology, which identifies all nightmare as some unholy product of demons. This would make it a play on the Greek ephialtes or the Latin incubus. In any event, in all of these fearful interpretations of nightmare, the idea of demonic origin is absolutely integral and indispensable.

               But our current worries are of a different and more secular sort. Now there are certain inherent complexities in problem solving that must always be accepted, understood and overcome. At a time when our planet is imperiled by the simultaneous and potentially intersecting threats of a nuclear war, there can be no suitable alternative to accepting proper analytic emphases.

               Recalling twentieth-century philosopher Karl Jasper’s Man in the Modern Age (1951), what “draws near” between North Korea and the United States should be assessed on intellectual foundations, not ones of “attitude.” By correctly acknowledging that North Korean denuclearization is a futile expectation and a diplomatic non-starter – Kim Jung Un would never accept such a condition of codified inferiority – President Biden could focus upon creating a viable system of mutual deterrence. Though such an “egalitarian” focus might appear unsatisfactory or demeaning for a “Great Power,” national security policy must be founded upon accurate theoretical assumptions.

               Always.

In these critical matters, science and intellect deserve absolute pride of place.


[1] “Intellect rots the brain,” said Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. “I love the poorly educated” said presidential candidate Donald J. Trump in 2016.

[2]See: https://www.businessinsider.com/kim-jong-un-tells-north-korea-officials-prepare-us-confrontation-2021-6

[3] This means, inter alia, an emphasis on dialectical thinking.  Such thinking likely originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions. From the standpoint of necessary refinements in US strategic planning vis-à-vis North Korea, this knowledge should never be taken for granted.

[4] During his dissembling presidency, too little attention was directed toward Donald J. Trump’s open loathing of science and intellect and his prominent unwillingness to read. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by the distinguished American historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), p. 145.

[5] The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 do not properly constitute a nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons to conclude an otherwise conventional conflict. Significantly, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were no other atomic bombs still available anywhere on earth.

[6] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[7] See: https://sipri.org/media/press-release/2021/global-nuclear-arsenals-grow-states-continue-modernize-new-sipri-yearbook-out-now

[8] See, on deterring a prospectively nuclear Iran, Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. Though dealing with Israeli rather than American nuclear deterrence, these articles clarify common conceptual elements. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[9] In essence, hypothesizing the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings by this author, on the global security implications of 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.

[10] See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School:  Louis René Beres,  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/  See also, by this writer, at West Point:  Louis René  Beres https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/

[11] Seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes notes that although the “state of nations” is in the anarchic “state of nature,” it is still more tolerable than the condition of individuals in nature. With individual human beings, he instructs, “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” But with the continuing advent of nuclear weapons, there is no persuasive reason to believe that the state of nations remains more tolerable. Now, nuclear weapons are bringing the state of nations closer to the true Hobbesian state of nature. See, in this connection, David P. Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 207. As with Hobbes, philosopher Samuel Pufendorf argues that the state of nations is not quite as intolerable as the state of nature between individuals. The state of nations, reasons the German jurist, “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” In a similar vein, Baruch Spinoza suggests “that a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See, A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II (Clarendon Press, 1958), p. 295.

[12] In world politics, rationality and irrationality have very specific meanings. More precisely, an “actor” (state or sub-state) is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences. An irrational actor would not always display such a determinable preference ordering.

[13] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/foreign-policy/344750-rationality-cant-be-assumed-in-potential-north-korea

[14] In essence, international law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian.” System. This historical referent is the Peace Of Westphalia (1648), a treaty which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the now still-existing decentralized or self-help “state system.” See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia. For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE, Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, 3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

[15] See especially art. 6 of the US Constitution (“The Supremacy Clause”) and the Pacquete Habana (1900). In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[16] See Beth Polebau, National Self-Defense in International Law:  An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age, 59 N.Y.U. L. REV. 187, 190-191 (noting that the Caroline case transformed the right to self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a customary legal doctrine).

[17] Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese military theorist, Sun-Tzu, counseled, inThe Art of War:“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” (See: Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”).

[18] Expressions of decisional irrationality in US dealings with North Korea could take different or 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).

[19] On this concept, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, at The War Room, US Army War College, Pentagon:  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making-and-nuclear-war-an-urgent-american-problem/

[20] There is now a substantial literature that deals with the expected consequences of a nuclear war.  For earlier works by this author, see, for example:  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); MIMICKING SISYPHUS:  AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1983); REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1984); and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON:  ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[21] Often, in history, this ‘worst” has stemmed from a presumptively life-preserving identification of individual human beings with the fate of their respective countries. In his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end in itself, drew its originating strength from the doctrine of “sovereignty” advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above ordinary law. When it is understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the corrosive notion that states lie above and beyond legal regulation in their various interactions with each other. Concerning “ordinary law,” however, it is always subordinate to “Natural Law.” This Natural Law is based upon the acceptance of certain principles of right and justice that prevail because of intrinsic merit.  Eternal and immutable, they are external to all acts of human will and interpenetrate all human reason.  The core idea and its attendant tradition of human civility runs continuously from Mosaic Law and the ancient Greeks and Romans to the present day.  For a comprehensive and far-reaching assessment of the Natural Law origins of international law by this author, see Louis René Beres, “Justice and Realpolitik:  International Law and the Prevention of Genocide,” The American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 33, 1988, pp. 123-159. 

[22] Assured destruction references an ability to inflict “unacceptable damage” after absorbing an attacker’s first strike.  Mutual assured destruction (MAD) describes a condition in which an assured destruction capacity is possessed by both or all opposing sides.  Counterforce strategies are those which target an adversary’s strategic military facilities and supporting infrastructure.  Such strategies may be dangerous not only because of the “collateral damage” they might produce, but also because they could heighten the likelihood of first-strike attacks. Collateral damage refers to harms done to human and non-human resources as a consequence of strategic strikes directed at enemy forces or military facilities.  Even this “unintended” damage could involve large numbers of casualties/fatalities.

[23] “Science,” says philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis (1958) “by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual, is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…The latter is not possible without the former.”

[24] See: F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), p. 63.

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Defense

Afghanistan Will Test SCO’s Capacity

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taliban afghanistan

The US is withdrawing from Afghanistan. Twenty years of the US-led foreign intervention has brought neither prosperity, nor stability, to the country. With hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the seemingly endless military operations and with thousands of Americans killed, the Biden Administration faces a harsh reality: A Western type political system is not likely to take roots in Kabul anytime soon. Washington has lost the war it waged for the last two decades. The main challenge for US President Joe Biden and his team is how to make the painful US defeat less humiliating and the ongoing retreat more graceful.

This is not to say that the US will play no role in and around Afghanistan after September 11, 2021. It might continue to support the government in Kabul for some time through economic and technical assistance, through intelligence data sharing, or even through limited US airstrikes against rebellious warlords in county’s provinces. Still, the place of Afghanistan in the US—and Western—strategic designs will go down dramatically. In the end of the day, only Afghans themselves can settle the conflict in their country through a political dialogue and an inclusive peace process.

On the other hand, from now on, the future of Afghanistan should be a matter of concern not for remote overseas powers, but for regional players around this country—such as Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, India and Central Asia countries. The ability or inability of these players to come to a common denominator on their respective approaches to Afghanistan will become the critical external factor affecting the country’s future.

Unfortunately, no consensus about Afghanistan exists between major regional players. Each of them has its own history of relations with the Afghan state and the Afghan people, sometimes quite controversial and sometimes even bitter. They have very different assessments of the current balance of powers inside the country, and often quite diverging threat perceptions. Their respective views on the military capabilities of the insurgent Taliban and on its long-term political goals are not the same. Each of the regional players has carefully developed its special lines of communication to the government in Kabul and, arguably, to various factions of the insurgent camp as well.

Still, the overall views within the neighboring countries on the desirable future of the country coincide or, at least, significantly overlap. Essentially, there are two fundamental issues at stake for all the Afghani neighbors. First, Afghanistan should not become an Islamic Emirate, which international terrorist groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda could use to plan their malign subversive operations in the region. Second, Afghanistan should stop being the major producer and exporter of narcotics, which it has become under the Western occupation. Of course, regional players would also prefer to see Afghanistan as a politically stable, economically striving, socially inclusive, culturally diverse and religiously tolerant country. However, everybody understands that this is too high a bar to consider for in the immediate future.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) might well be an appropriate platform to try figuring out how to approach these two critical issues in a multilateral format. Afghanistan, as well as neighboring Iran, has an observer status within SCO; Turkmenistan coordinates its Afghan policies with SCO countries; all other regional players are full-fledged members to the organization. The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group has existed since the fall of 2005 and it has already accumulated a lot of useful practical experience. Still, until recently, the contact group operated in the shadows of the Western intervention in the country. The time has come for SCO member states to bring this body out to the light and to rise up to a new, post-US Afghan challenge.

One of the SCO comparative advantages is that, given its very broad and even ambiguous mandate, it is in a position to address simultaneously security, economic and human development agendas of Afghanistan, combining support for political stability, implementation of large-scale economic projects and assistance for social capital building. It can also coordinate efforts of other international actors ranging from the specialized agencies of the United Nations to private foreign companies to small NGOs interested in specific avenues of collaboration with partners in and around Afghanistan.

Keeping in mind significant disagreements between SCO members (especially between India and Pakistan) on a number of important Afghanistan related matters, one could envisage a multilateralism a la carte approach to specific projects in this country. It implies that select SCO states could form project-based coalitions to engage in initiatives of their choice without necessarily trying to involve all of SCO member states. However, it is important to make sure that such projects would not jeopardize or question core national interests of other SCO members.

The role of Afghanistan itself should not be limited to that of an SCO economic or security assistance recipient. Without an active Afghan involvement, some of the SCO plans would be hard to implement in full. For instance, engaging Afghanistan in major railway and energy infrastructure projects is indispensable for strengthening regional connectivity between Central and South Asia and in the SCO space as a whole. The China proposed-Belt and Road Initiative would remain incomplete, if it has to bypass Afghanistan due to unaddressed security concerns. In sum, Afghanistan should become a subject, not an object of the regional multilateral cooperation.

No doubt, Afghanistan stands out as a formidable challenge for SCO, but it is also a unique opportunity for the alliance of Eurasian nations. If the organization manages to succeed whether the US and its Western allies failed in the most dramatic way, this success would be the best possible illustration of the changing nature of international relations. After having successfully tested its institutional capacity in Afghanistan, SCO could find it much easier to approach various regional crises, civil conflicts and failed states in Eurasia—and even beyond the Eurasian continent. Regretfully, there will be no shortage of such crises, conflicts and failed states in years to come.

From our partner RIAC

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Defense

Foreign Troops withdrawal at a faster pace from Afghanistan

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The US is withdrawing troops at a faster pace than expected. It has been reported that almost half of the remaining forces have already been evacuated. It might be a part of the US strategy. Only time will explain it well. The US is handing over some crucial posts to Afghan Government Forces like the essential Bagram Air Base. Afghan Army was created by Americans, trained by Americans, equipped by Americans, and considered loyal with American. Their task was to obey American orders, protect American interests, and counter the Taliban.

The Taliban’s offensive against the Afghan forces has witnessed a sharp increase in diverse parts of more than twenty provinces of Afghanistan. The Taliban even attacked Mihtarlam – the 16th largest city in the Laghman province – which has been a comparatively quiet and calm city in the last few years. As a result of the Taliban’s current encounters, innocent Afghans have become refugees in different parts of the country. Their next destination may be Kabul and they are capable of taking over Kabul conveniently.

As a matter of fact, the Afghan Governments of President Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai were not legitimate Afghan-owned Governments; they were created by Americans and served Americans as puppet Governments. The natural pillars of the power were the Taliban. American took control from the Taliban in 2001, and they negotiated the troop’s withdrawal with the Taliban directly, without involving President Ashraf Ghani’s Government initially. American knows that Taliban are the real owners of Afghanistan and should rule their country in post withdrawl era. Americans acknowledged the potential and supremacy of the Taliban. President Ashraf Gahni or Hamid Karzai has no roots or public support in Afghanistan and will have no role in the future political setup in the post-withdrawal era.

Taliban are well-educated people, having good knowledge of Economics, Science & Technology, Industry, Agriculture, International relations and politics, and in-depth understanding of religions. They ruled the country in 1994-2001 successfully. Their era was one of the most peaceful eras in the recent history of Afghanistan.

Just like any defeating army, the US is trying to harm Afghanistan as much as possible, and destroying its weapons and war machinery at an estimated worth of US Dollars 80 Billion, and destroying ammunition depots, Infrastructures, and all-important places, before the surrender, creating a tough time for Taliban to reconstruct the war-torn country. Even the US is deliberately pushing Afghanistan towards chaos and civil war-like never-ending trobles.

Desperate, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani complained about American disloyalty in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 14, 2021.   Displaying a feeling of betrayal and helplessness, President ashraf Ghani is blaming Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s positive role in bringing the Taliban to negotiating table in Doha is widely admired by the US and International community.

Similarly, in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 22, 2021, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has also taken a tough stance on Pakistan and blamed Islamabad for its alleged link with and support to the Taliban. However, he also indirectly gave the message that the United States would not want peace in Afghanistan. At the same time, he has expressed high hopes “for the so-called Troika Plus, a diplomatic initiative launched by Russia which also includes China and the United States.” In response to the very first question about the Taliban, Karzai says that “I realized early into my tenure as president that this war is not our conflict and we Afghans are just being used against each other” by external forces.

However, it was the people of Afghanistan who suffered the four decades of prolonged war. It seems their sufferings are reaching an end. All the neighboring countries also suffered due to the Afghan war, and it is time for all neighboring countries to support Afghan reconstruction. China is already willing to assist in reconstructing Afghanistan under its mega initiative BRI. Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia, and Russia may also outreach Afghanistan and play a positive role in rebuilding Afghanistan.

A stable and peaceful Afghanistan will be beneficial for all its neighbors and the whole region. Let’s hope for the best, with our best struggles.

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