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India’s NFU Card

Haris Bilal Malik



The Nuclearization of South-Asia in 1998 marked considerable changes in the regional security dynamics. This also had a considerable impact on regional and extra-regional politics, the security environment of South Asia and the global nuclear order. Since then, India has gone through gradual shifts in its nuclear doctrinal posture. Set out in the1999 ‘Draft Nuclear Doctrine’(DND) the Indian stance initially was that India would maintain a policy of ‘No First Use’ (NFU). The first amendment to this draft which came out in January 2003was based on the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security’s (CCS) review of the nuclear doctrine, which stated that if the Indian armed forces or its people were attacked with chemical and biological weapons, then India reserves the right to respond with nuclear weapons. As such, this review could be regarded as a denial of the NFU policy. Based on this notion it could be assumed that India had the aspiration to shift away from its NFU policysince 2003. Hence, playing with its NFU card as a diplomatic and strategic tool the Indian state has been in practice since then. 

Subsequently, in later years 2016-2017, the notion of a preemptive ‘splendid first strike‘ has emerged within the discourse surrounding the Indian and international strategic community. According to this, if in India’s assessment, Pakistan is found deploying nuclear weapons, as a contingency India would likely resort to such a splendid first strike. With such a doctrinal posture, India by asserting its quest of preemption against Pakistan, is attempting to undermine the deterrent value of Pakistan’s nuclear posture and ultimately destabilizing the South Asian region. In this regard, India has been constantly advancing its nuclear weapons capabilities based on enhanced missile programs and the development of its land, sea, and air-based nuclear triad thus negating its own NFU policy. India’s quest of limited war or a low-intensity conflict against Pakistan under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD) are also based upon proactive strategies and indirect threats of preemptive strikes which would likely abandon the NFU policy.

The NFU card was also one of the core points of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) campaign during the Indian General Election 2014 but later, it seemed to be ruled out from the electoral debate. More recently, however the BJP did win the 2019 General Election with a landslide victory based largely on its negative nuclear signaling against Pakistan. In the aftermath of the 2019 elections which were held in an environment dominated by the Post- Pulwama situation and with Mr.Modi once again in office as Prime Minister, the political and diplomatic escalation between India and Pakistan for the last few months has become a global concern. For instance, the Kashmir issue which has also recently gained global significance has resulted in severe domestic and global condemnation directed at the BJP government. It arose from the BJP government’s decision to change the special status that had been awarded to the Kashmir region by revoking Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution.

The revocation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status by the Indian government along with the rising political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan, the security environment of the whole region has been once again put at stake because of the possession of nuclear weapons by both countries. This is also evident from the involvement of BJP’s top leadership in negative nuclear signaling against Pakistan in recent months. In an apparent shift from its NFU Policy, on August 16, 2019 India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site payed tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy.

The shift in such a NFU policy is also evident from India’s enhanced missile developments which include; super-sonic missiles, hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance and the induction of nuclear powered ballistic missile capable submarines. Similarly, the anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test which India conducted in March 2019 is also indicative of such shift. Such recent developments are clear indicators that India would likely maintain a notion of a preemptive strike against Pakistan and might officially abandon the NFU policy as asserted in the Defence Minister’s statement.

Pakistan has assured its security and preserved its sovereignty by deterring India either by minimum credible deterrence or full-spectrum deterrence. This posture asserts that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes only and are aimed at deterring India from any kind of aggression. India’s quest to move away from its own NFU policy would likely pose a serious threat to the security of Pakistan which already faces conventional asymmetry vis-à-vis India. Hence the possession of nuclear weapons by Pakistan has served as decisive factor within such an environment.

The change in India’s NFU policy might enhance an open-ended nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan in the coming years which would likely undermine the deterrence stability of the South Asian region even further. Pakistan would be left with no choice but to enhance its nuclear forces’ alert and readiness which would bring severe implications for South Asian region’s strategic stability. India’s recent quest to review its NFU policy which was asserted by the defense minister’s statement would thus likely have serious implications for the broader security architecture of the South Asian region.

Haris Bilal Malik is working as a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad.

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India’s Evolving Nuclear Posture: Implications for Pakistan

Iqra Shahnaz



It’s been twenty one years to the emergence of India, as an explicit nuclear weapon state (NWS), yet India needs to express the details about the core elements of its nuclear posture or nuclear doctrine like the policy of NFU, policy of minimum credible nuclear deterrence, massive retaliation and assured survivability of its retaliatory forces. India has ambitious plans for the acquisition of robust triad of nuclear forces, which includes the land-based ballistic missiles, fighter bomber aircrafts, and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). India is rapidly building up its nuclear and strategic capabilities, which is a part of its grand strategy of attaining the status of regional and global power.[1]However, India is also strengthening its nuclear force by the introduction of new generation of short-range ballistic missiles which are nuclear capable in nature along with building up its naval nuclear force. These advancements are a threat to the nuclear threshold of Pakistan and will generate the probability of accidental nuclear escalation between the major states of South Asian region, India and Pakistan. Consequently, these advancements will have severe repercussions for the region.

Since 2003 it has been observed that no official up gradation has been made by India in its nuclear doctrine, showing its commitment to the NFU policy and the posture of massive retaliation as a result of a nuclear attack and credible minimum deterrence (CMD) force posture.[2]Though, the nuclear force of India, kept on changing from the time it released its nuclear doctrine. Critical examination of nuclear forces of India depicts that India will go on modernizing its nuclear arsenals by the introduction of at least four new weapon systems, which will complement the existing nuclear- capable aircrafts, land and sea based delivery systems and is also effectively working on the expansion of nuclear missiles with short range.[3]

According to the officials of India, the nature of the nuclear and conventional challenges has been changed since India released its nuclear doctrine in 2003. India’s stance on building up its conventional and nuclear capable ballistic and cruise missile system vis-à-vis China, is an element of its force posturing. As India claimed, the development of SSBN is for the conventional naval deterrence purposes[4] but these developments by India have great implications for the twin born state of Pakistan.

Despite of such shifts and development made by India, yet the nuclear doctrine of India has not been amended, since 2003. India is unable to assess the implications of these developments pose to the neighboring state of Pakistan. A growing debate has been observed with in India regarding the shift in the main principles of its nuclear doctrine i.e. India should move away from the NFU to FU and should opt more offensive posture. In the recent years proposals have been made at different platforms about the review of Indian nuclear doctrine. The idea of revision of the nuclear policy has been presented by Associate Professor Vipin Narang. He mentioned that Delhi is shifting its long held policy of NFU, the main pillar of its nuclear doctrine.[5] However, India has adopted the moderate nuclear posture of minimum retaliatory capability for deterring the adversaries to refrain from nuclear attack. Indian nuclear experts and officials have been criticizing the effectiveness of NFU policy. The Indian defense Minister Manohar Parrikar suggested India to move away from NFU by opting the offensive policy of first strike to fully disarm the nuclear capabilities of Pakistan.[6]

Indian nuclear program and strategic shifts along with the technological advancements will have several allegations in broad for international community and specifically on Pakistan. Firstly, the vying state of India, Pakistan; it is determined to continue to scrutinize the strategic situation of India and will respond accordingly. For Pakistan its nuclear program is an essential element of survival, because of the massive conventional discrepancies lie between them. And Pakistan is also busy in its own advancements and arsenal up gradation plans due to the expanding missile and nuclear capabilities of India.[7] India continues to modernize its nuclear force by acquiring technological reforms and also shifting its nuclear policy from NFU to FU or first strike capability, it has been indicated by the successful launch of Nirbhay cruise missile that India is trying to enhance its first strike capability by abandoning the NFU policy vis-à-vis Pakistan.[8]Consequently, it will create a security spiral between the two nations to counter each other by taking the actions accordingly. This spiral will lead towards an arms race which will impact the global proliferation enormously and will have negative repercussions on the strategic stability of South Asia.

For Pakistan, the recent developments/ build ups of India are a matter of great concern. Especially, the developments made in the missile technology in addition to Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System and Indian collaboration with super powers like US and Russia along with the Jewish state of Israel have given a new dimension/ facet to the security situation of the region. These new developments especially the introduction of BMD system has posed negative implications to the neighboring state of Pakistan. And to counter India in these developments, Pakistan is also developing its nuclear arsenals, missile program and tactical nuclear weapons which is giving rise to the arms race in the region creating an action-reaction spiral.

In response to the nuclear developments and missile program of India, Islamabad is also up grading its nuclear forces and building up its missile program. Pakistan already possesses an extensive array of nuclear capable ballistic missiles with short and long ranges.[9] This includes the nuclear proficient aircrafts, ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles. Additionally in order to counter Indian developments, Pakistan is also working on its sea based nuclear missiles. Pakistan has launched all weathers, nuclear payload capable ballistic missile Shaheen II in response to the successful launch of Indian fastest cruise missile Brahmos– which has the capability to act as a anti-ship weapon –­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­which can pose serious threats to the Pakistan’s land and naval assets.[10]

If India opts the more aggressive nuclear posture of first strike capability, it will lead Pakistan towards the revision of its nuclear posture by opting more aggressive nuclear posture to deter India. The nuclear build ups by India especially the experiment of Agni V, SLBM, and the purpose behind the acquisition of Theater Missile Defense (TMD) and becoming the member of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is bothersome thing for Pakistan. Being the member of MTCR, India achieved the waiver of exporting its missile and space technology to the nations, which are adhered to the missile group principles, India is already a member of missile club which provides it an easy access to the sophisticated missile technology.[11] So, all of these aspects have negative implications for Pakistan. And to counter India in such domains Pakistan needs to work a lot. And in this regard Pakistan is also building up its nuclear arsenals, its cruise missiles, its ballistic missiles, aircrafts and naval buildups for its security and survivability and to deter India from its hegemonic goals and to ensure  the stability and peace in the region.     

India’s evolving nuclear posture is manifested by the modernization of its nuclear forces by the acquisition of new technology. And, ostensibly it is also shifting its doctrine from NFU to FU. These developments will have grave implications on the state of Pakistan and on the region of South Asia. The emerging nuclear posture of India i.e. shift from NFU to FU will have serious implications for Pakistan; leading to an arms race and instability in the region.

The shifts in Indian nuclear doctrine will encompass severe implications on South Asian region especially on Pakistan. If India shifts away from the NFU to first use capability then Pakistan will have to review its nuclear doctrine and has to take action accordingly. Secondly the nuclear buildups and strategic developments by India are also impacting the peace, harmony and stability of South Asia and is having negative repercussions for Pakistan. Due to such developments Pakistan is also forced to take measures by developing the same technology of strategic buildups to deter India.

Delhi has also advanced its aircrafts like Su-30MKI to carry BrahMos cruise missile, which perhaps will be nuclear capable and will also extend the strike range capability of the Indian air delivered platforms.[12]Such modifications will improve the viability of the striking capabilities of the Indian aircrafts as nuclear deterrents.

India has shown most of the improvements in its ballistic missiles quality.  Only one category of equipped ballistic missiles was occupied by India in 2002 that is the short range Prithvi I with a range of 150kms.[13] Now India has multiple ranges of ballistic missiles like short range, medium range and intermediate range ballistic missiles as an element of its operational force. India possess Agni I which has a range of 700km, whereas Agni II which is a medium range missile with a projectile range of 2000 km.[14]  The highest array of operational missile of India is Agni III, which has a projectile of 3000 km and has ability to cover long distant areas of China. India has been successful in conducting the test of Agni V with an ICBM and it covered a range of 5000 km, which is considered to be less than that of the internationally recognized standard for an ICBM. It is believed that in future, India will possess Agni VI missile, which will have MIRV technology.[15]

Ballistic submarine is thought to be the most survivable leg of nuclear triad, India has also made a lot of progress in this sense. India’s indigenous nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, its construction was initiated in 1997,[16]but in 2013, it was experienced that the onboard nuclear reactor of it went critical[17]due to which this vessel didn’t get the operational status. Submarines are likely to be equipped with 12 Sagarika k-15 missiles, and it is also accounted that India is also building up a long-range missile with the name of K-4 for the INS Arihant, which will have an expected range of more than 3000 km.[18]India already acquired a surface naval platform which is used for the ballistic missile known to be the Dhanush, which might be nuclear capable. If India reached the INS Arihant’s operational status then it will truly acquire the technology of nuclear triad. This will enable India to become a part of the exclusive club of nations, which only comprised of U.S., China and Russia.

Because of the India’s goal of becoming a hegemony in the region which has been followed by it with the initiation of CIRUS reactor have left negative impacts not only on the strategic stability of the South Asian region in general but also on the belligerent state of Pakistan in particular. Along with it the nuclear deal between India and U.S. and the waiver to NSG also have negative consequences which add up more salt and pepper to the destabilization of situation among India and Pakistan. The gradual change in the nuclear policy of India has certain strategic implications on the subcontinent which also impacts the strategic environment of the Pakistan. India has already shown a shift in its nuclear policy without any of the confirmations from the leadership of India.[19] It creates a more mistrust in region and if India makes any of the gradual changes in its nuclear policy, it will automatically pulls Pakistan into the arms race.  Due to the gradual increase in the strategic forces of India, it will also drag the region into an unending arms race and will also make Pakistan and China to think of their own deterrent forces modernization.[20]It might lead the region towards a nuclear war. It looks like India is opting a more aggressive nuclear posture as India is developing more deterrent forces and also developing a triad which will impact the stable condition of South Asia as Pakistan do not afford such option because of its poor economic development. Gradual policy transformation in Indian nuclear posture to “launch on warning” or “launch under attack” which will provide India with the option of FU/ first strike capability and it will direct India to move from NFU to first use option, which will be a worrisome thing for Pakistan. Due to the absence of NFU option in South Asia would raise the reliance of states on the nuclear weaponry.[21]

Due to the strategic build ups and the missile program developments by India will lead the South Asian region in to the arms race. As these developments have negative effects on the stability of this strategic geographical entity. And have great implications for Pakistan. Pakistani strategic thinkers will also consider these repercussions serious or one of the main risk to the security of their state so Pakistan will also build its strategic arsenals to counter India. These missile and strategic developments of India has given birth to security dilemma in the region which is leading towards arms race. India’s shifting away from no first use to first use is also having severe implications for Pakistan. If India ever goes to aggressive nuclear posture, as a result Pakistan will opt a more aggressive nuclear posture than India.

[1]National Security Advisory Board, “India’s Draft Nuclear Doctrine,” Arms Control Today, July/August 1999,


[3] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Indian nuclear forces, 2017,” BULLETIN OF THE ATOMIC SCIENTISTS  73, no. 4, July 5, 2017 : 205.

[4]  O’Donnell and Joshi, “Lost at Sea: The Arihant in India’s Quest for a Grand Strategy,” Comparative Strategy 33, no. 5 ( November-December 2014): 476

[5]GurmeetKanwal, “India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Reviewing NFU and Massive Retaliation,” Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, January 7, 2015,

[6] “Why Bind ourselves to ‘No First Use Policy’, Says Defence Minister Parrikar on India’s Nuclear Doctrine,” The Times of India, November 10, 2016,

[7] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces, 2011,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 67, no. 91 (2011): 93, DOI: 10.1177/0096340211413360.

[8]SyedaSaiqa Bukhari, “Implications of Indian’s Nirbhay Missile Test,” Daily Times, May 22, 2019. Accessed on July 15, 2019.

[9]Musawar Sandhu, “The BrahMos Test and Its Implications For Current State of Strategic Relations Between Pakistan and India,” Eurasia review, June 4, 2019.

[10]  Ibid.

[11]Asma Khalid, “Implications of India’ Missile Program and Non- Proliferation Regime,” Foreign Policy News, June 24, 2017.

[12] Rakesh Krishnan Simha, “How the Su-30 MKI Is Changing the IAF’s Combat Strategy,” Indrus, January 5, 2014,

[13]Norris , “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2002,” 71.

[14]Kristensen and Norris, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2012,” Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, 98.

[15]Ajai Shukla, “Advanced Agni-6 Missile with Multiple Warheads Likely by 2017,” The Business Standard, May 8, 2013,Acessed September 16, 2018,

[16] Norris, “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2002,” 72.

[17]Jyoti Malhotra, “How India’s Pride INS Arihant Was Built,” The Business Standard, August 12, 2013,

[18]Kristensen and Norris, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2012,” 99.

[19] Zafar Khan, “Emerging Shifts in India’s Nuclear Policy: Implications for Minimum Deterrence in South Asia,” Strategic Studies 34, no. 1(Spring 2014).

[20] Ibid


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India-Pakistan: Stitched in Multilateral Interests



Bilaterally botched relationship, Pakistan and India would be working together in an economic and strategic multilateral forum of Eurasia’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The China-led Organization has eight members – India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – and four observer states, Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia. Both India and Pakistan were given the membership in 2017.

Founded on June 15, 2001, the SCO characterizes the inter-governmental interaction to provide an institutional platform for broad regional economic cooperation within the context of the new realities of globalization and regional integration. As such the interlacing of relations between countries and regions is significantly augmented with the paradigm shift of increasing interdependency and commonly accessible communication. The major objective is to encourage a more cohesive global community for development and prosperity.

However, locked in unrelenting hostility, to establish a non‐securitized culture with collective security through conflict resolution between India and Pakistan is blocked by their parochial politics. The teaming up when encountering transnational challenges, as members of a multilateral forum, such as the SCO, presents a ray of hope despite the antiquated politics of Indo-Pak relations.  Nationalism and politics of ‘otherness’ or populism has mainly kept the basic conflict dynamics unchanged between India and Pakistan so far. It is painfully being exacerbated even further with Modi’s Hindutva ideology.

Similarly, one of the characteristics of regional cooperation is strengthening conflict management to ensure security. The Composite Dialogue initiated between the two states, way back in 1998, with reference to “all outstanding issues including Jammu and Kashmir” never reached its conclusion. A brief rethought of holding the “Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue’ in 2015, also got scuttled by ever soaring tensions.

Likewise, geo‐economic collaboration in the region, with autonomy for individual countries is dependent upon its political and security conditions. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is perhaps the only regional forum which has not been able to provide a much needed platform for discussing security‐related issues.

Hence the question whether Prime Minister Imran Khan will attend the SCO summit when India would host the event in October this year, is one of extreme consternation for Pakistan against the backdrop of the deteriorating bilateral relations between both countries. Especially since India has revoked Article 370, keeping the Kashmiris under siege for more than 150 days, an emboldened Modi’s recent Bill on Citizenship, and the erstwhile incident of February27 when Pakistan’s borders were violated, with its opposing hostile narratives all present an ‘incandescent panoply’ of South Asia’s collective security concerns. Already deep rooted and agonizing for the people of both India and Pakistan, the territorial disputes between both countries have significantly stampeded the possibility of cordial bilateral relations between both neighbors.

Mr. Raveesh Kumar, the spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs has already declared that “India will be hosting the heads of government summit later this year. As per established practice and procedure within SCO, all eight members, as well as four observer states and other international dialogue partners, will be invited.”

South Asia is desperately negotiating its place in an arena of global interconnections within the throes of rapid change. Within the purview of both immediate and distant history where relentless confrontation between two major nuclear armed nations has played a defining role, how would one geographical unit benefit from a multilateral venture? Where would India and Pakistan start as co‐members of the SCO, in the absence of the complementarity of political interests? Who would step forward to challenge the prevailing incongruity both internally and externally? To borrow from the Theory of Transcendence for conflict resolution, proposed by Johan Galtung, India and Pakistan have the following three options to respond to the changing world of multi‐ polarity and regional integration:

1. To give up in advance on the outstanding issues,

2. Content oneself at the expense of the other,

3. Or reach some compromise.

Hence, would their presence in the SCO this year impart a new momentum towards a more coherent and effective exercise in conflict management? Is it an opportunity? Or would it deepen their already existing strains and widen their ancient rivalries further afield to Afghanistan and Central Asia?

Through the SCO, China and Russia are building a decidedly multi‐polar “Eurasian” point of view. Its strategic aims are to condemn any efforts to achieve a “monopoly in world affairs”, divide the world into “leaders and followers” and “impose models of social development.” This obviously reflects China’s insistence on “multi‐polar” world as against the US persistence of “uni‐polar” international order.

Agreeably, the SCO does provide an opportunity to both India and Pakistan to transcend from their parochial politics. It has historically provided a platform to its member states to sign such crucial agreements like the Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions and the Treaty of Good‐ Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, amongst its member states. The transformation of the regional and global security paradigm amidst the growth of new economic centers also necessitates a qualitative change. The world looks askance at teamwork.

Though the forum is too feeble to bear the consequent shocks of Indo-Pak hostility, the converging interests of the member states offer an opening for an effective intermediary role to resolve the Kashmir issue as well. The presence of unimplemented resolutions in the United Nations and now universally noticeable human rights violations has already given it an international status.

Conclusively, a final decision on whether Prime Minister Imran Khan attends the meeting, scheduled for October, is yet to be made by Islamabad. Placing cooperation above conflict in the conduct of interstate relations is certainly a viable solution however, without compromising on its principled stance. As an alternative there is already is a precedent from the past to have the foreign ministers representing the national interests in such multilateral forums should the Prime Minister choose to abstain.

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Looking Behind the Daily News: Informed Narratives on Israel’s Nuclear Challenges

Prof. Louis René Beres



“The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.”-Karl Jaspers, Reason and Existence (1935)

How shall Israel endure in a prospectively non-rational Middle East? It’s a complicated question, many-sided and uniquely daunting. More precisely, this question represents an authentically existential query, one never to be answered with simplifying political rhetoric, banal discourse or otherwise empty witticisms. Above all, it is a bewilderingly complex and nuanced interrogative; one not suited for the easily misled or intellectually faint-hearted.

What is altogether plain is that Israel’s nuclear forces and posture will soon become more urgently important to the country’s national survival.[1]

Indeed, considering a broad assortment of more or less credible circumstances – some of which may even be unwanted and/or inadvertent – the Israeli survival imperative could sometime concern actual use of nuclear weapons.

How might this most markedly unwelcome circumstance actually come to pass? To begin to answer, this is not the time for any continuously unsystematic or fanciful scenarios of prospective nuclear perils. At the same time, it would be mistaken prima facie to assign precise probabilities to any specific categories of nuclear threat or nuclear conflict outcomes. This is the case, inter alia, because (1) mathematically meaningful probabilities must always be based upon the determinable frequency of pertinent past events; and (2) there are (fortunately, of course) no such events to consider.[2]

At a minimum, scholars and strategists should respond to these unprecedented sorts of challenge in regional or geographic terms, thereby highlighting the particular states or clusters of state-sub-state “hybrids” that seemingly pose the plausibly greatest security concern. For Israel, the most obvious locus of nuclear concern remains Iran, including the related prospect of future nuclear terror attacks by Iranian proxies, e.g., Hezbollah. Still, Sunni Arab fears of an impending “Persian Bomb” could prod Egypt and/or Saudi Arabia to “go nuclear” themselves.

Should that happen, Jerusalem could then have to deal with several nuclear “fronts” simultaneously, a staggering geopolitical challenge that would place utterly herculean intellectual expectations upon Israel’s principal security planners.

How shall Israel best prevent its presence in any conflict involving nuclear weapons, whether as war, or “merely” as terrorism? In principle, at least, Jerusalem should be able to undertake certain timely and capable preemptions wherever needed, thus substantially diminishing any conspicuous risks of nuclear engagement.[3] Under authoritative international law,[4] such defensive first-strikes could conceivably qualify as authoritative expressions of “anticipatory self-defense.”[5]  Still, the primary obstacles, going forward, will not be narrowly jurisprudential. Even a defensive first strike that is fully legal might still not “work.” Inevitably, for the IDF, principal decisional concerns will be broadly operational and specifically tactical. Not concerns about legality

This understanding brings Israel to the overriding need for coherent nuclear strategy and doctrine, a complicated requirement that must include a counter-value targeted nuclear retaliatory force that would be (1) recognizably secure from enemy first-strikes; and (2) recognizably capable of penetrating any such enemy’s active defenses. To meet this imperative security expectation, the IDF would be well-advised to continue with its selective sea-basing (submarines) of designated portions of its nuclear deterrent force. To meet the equally important requirements of penetration-capability, it will have to stay well ahead of all pertinent enemy air defense refinements. Israeli planners will also need to ensure that their own strategic retaliatory forces are always able to get through any such modernized Iranian defenses, and that the Iranian leadership remains fully aware of this particular Israeli ability.

 From the standpoint of making sure that relevant enemy states will have no meaningful doubts about Israel’s capacity to launch “assuredly destructive” retaliations for certain aggressions, Jerusalem will soon need to consider a partial and possibly incremental end to its longstanding policy of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.”[6] By selectively beginning to remove the “bomb from the basement,” Israel’s planners would then be able to better enhance the credibility of their country’s indispensable nuclear deterrence posture. However counter-intuitive, any mere possession of nuclear forces can never automatically bestow credible nuclear deterrence.[7]

 Also always necessary is that would-be aggressors (e.g., an already-nuclear Iran) believe that Israel has (1) the willingness to launch these nuclear forces in retaliation; (2) nuclear forces that are sufficiently invulnerable to their own now-contemplated first-strike attacks; and (3) nuclear forces that can always be expected to penetrate their own deployed ballistic-missile and certain corollary air defenses. Israel, therefore, would soon benefit from releasing certain broad outlines of strategic information supporting the perceived utility and security of its relevant retaliatory forces.

This information, released solely to enhance Israeli nuclear deterrence, would center upon the targeting, hardening, dispersion, multiplication, basing, and yield of selected Israeli nuclear forces. Si vis pacem, para bellum atomicum. “If you want peace, prepare for nuclear war.”

 Israel must protect itself against Iran or any other potential nuclear aggressor not only by maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent force, but also by fielding assorted and appropriately intersecting elements of national defense. In this connection, an integral core of Israel’s multi-layered active defenses is the Arrow or “Hetz.” Still, the successfully-tested Arrow, even when reinforced by David’s Sling and Iron Dome, could never achieve a sufficiently high probability of intercept to reassuringly protect Israeli civilians.[8] Its main purpose, therefore, will likely be for the protection of Israel’s “hard” nuclear deterrence infrastructures, not for ultimate security of the nation’s “soft” human targets.

Still, this could change, especially as Israel’s Ministry of Defense continues to produce noteworthy breakthroughs in the development of laser-based weapon systems. Here, Rafael and Elbit Systems will be developing prototypes for advanced laser systems, including some designed for missile interception. In essence, the new Israeli technology will make it possible to develop effective interception systems at relatively low cost, thereby adding an additional layer of national defense protection.[9]

Once it is faced with a fully nuclear adversary in Tehran, Israel will need to convince this adversary that it possesses both the will and the capacity to make any intended Iranian nuclear aggression more costly than gainful. Still, no Israeli move from deliberate ambiguity to nuclear disclosure could meaningfully help in the case of an irrational nuclear enemy, whether appearing in Tehran or anywhere else. For dealing with irrational enemies, those enemies that would not value their own continued national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences, even a comprehensive preemption could already be too late.

Eschatology could also matter here. To the extent that an Iranian leadership might authentically subscribe to certain end-times visions of the Shiite apocalypse, Iran – at least in principle – could sometime cast aside the obligations of rational behavior. Were this to happen, Iran could then effectively become a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm. Nonetheless, this riveting but unverifiable prospect is highly unlikely, at least according to the necessarily imprecise forms of measurement available to strategic planners.

For Israel and its allies, it is time to further systematize inquiry about nuclear weapons and nuclear war in the Middle East. What are the tangibly precise circumstances under which Israel could find itself involved with any actual nuclear weapons use? To answer this most basic question, it will be most productive to respond within already well-established canons of logical analysis and dialectical reasoning. Accordingly, four pertinent and plausibly intersecting narratives or scenarios best “cover the bases”: Nuclear Retaliation; Nuclear Counter Retaliation; Nuclear Preemption; and Nuclear War fighting.

(1) Nuclear Retaliation

Should an enemy state or alliance of enemy states launch a nuclear first-strike against Israel, Jerusalem would assuredly respond, and to whatever extent possible, with a nuclear retaliatory strike. If enemy first-strikes were to involve other forms of unconventional weapons known as chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Israel might launch a nuclear reprisal. This would depend, in presumptively large measure, upon Jerusalem/Tel Aviv’s expectations of follow-on aggression and on its associated calculations of comparative damage-limitation.

If Israel were to absorb a massive conventional attack, a nuclear retaliation might still not be ruled out, especially if: (a) the state aggressors were perceived to hold nuclear, and/or other unconventional weapons in reserve; and/or (b) Israel’s leaders were to believe that non-nuclear retaliations could not prevent annihilation of the Jewish State. A nuclear retaliation by Israel could be ruled out only in those circumstances where enemy state aggressions were entirely conventional, “typical” (that is, sub-existential, or consistent with previous historic instances of enemy attack in degree and intent), and hard-target directed (that is, directed only toward Israeli weapons and military infrastructures, and not at any “soft” civilian populations).

(2) Nuclear Counter retaliation

Should Israel feel compelled to preempt enemy state aggression with conventional weapons, the target state(s) response would largely determine Jerusalem’s next moves. If this response were in any way nuclear, Israel would expectedly turn to an immediate nuclear counter retaliation. If this retaliation were to involve other weapons of mass destruction, Israel might then also feel pressed to take an appropriate escalatory initiative. Inter alia, any such initiative would reflect the presumed need for what is normally described in formal strategic parlance as “escalation dominance.”

 All would depend upon Jerusalem’s judgments of enemy state intent and on its calculations of essential damage-limitation. Should the enemy state response to Israel’s preemption be limited to hard-target conventional strikes, it is unlikely that the Jewish State would then move on to nuclear counter retaliations. If, however, the enemy conventional retaliation were plainly “all-out,” and directed toward Israeli civilian populations, not just to Israeli military targets, an Israeli nuclear counter retaliation could not be ruled out.

It would appear that such a counter retaliation could be ruled out only if the enemy state’s conventional retaliation were entirely proportionate to Israel’s preemption, confined exclusively to Israeli military targets, circumscribed by the legal limits of “military necessity” (a limit routinely codified in the law of armed conflict), and accompanied by various explicit and suitably verifiable assurances of non-escalatory intent.

(3) Nuclear Preemption

It is difficult to imagine that Israel would ever decide to launch a preemptive nuclear strike. Though circumstances could arise wherein such a strike would in fact be perfectly rational, it is unlikely that Israel would ever allow itself to reach such dire circumstances. Moreover, unless the nuclear weapons involved were somehow used in a fashion consistent with the laws of war (aka the law of armed conflict), this extreme form of preemption would represent an especially serious violation of international law.

But even if such consistency were possible, the psychological/political impact on the wider world community would be exceedingly negative and far-reaching. In essence, this means that an Israeli nuclear preemption could be expected only (a) where Israel’s enemies had acquired nuclear and/or other weapons of mass destruction judged capable of annihilating the Jewish State; (b) where these enemies had made it clear that their military intentions paralleled their capabilities; (c) where these enemies were believed ready to begin an active “countdown to launch;” and (d) where Jerusalem/Tel Aviv believed that Israeli non-nuclear preemptions could not possibly achieve the minimum needed levels of damage-limitation – that is, levels consistent with physically preserving the state.

(4) Nuclear War fighting

Should nuclear weapons ever be introduced into an actual conflict between Israel and its enemies, either by the Jewish State or by a pertinent foe, nuclear war fighting, at one level or another, would ensue. This would be true so long as: (a) enemy first-strikes would not destroy Israel’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) enemy retaliations for an Israeli conventional preemption would not destroy Jerusalem/Tel Aviv’s nuclear counter retaliatory capability; (c) Israeli preemptive strikes involving nuclear weapons would not destroy adversarial second-strike nuclear capabilities; and (d) Israeli retaliation for enemy conventional first-strikes would not destroy enemy nuclear counter retaliatory capability.

It follows that in order to satisfy its essential survival requirements, Israel must now take reliable steps to ensure the likelihood of (a) and (b) above, and also the corollary unlikelihood of (c) and (d).

In all cases, Israel’s nuclear strategy and forces must remain oriented to deterrence; never to war fighting. With this obligation in mind, Jerusalem has likely already taken steps to reject any discernible reliance upon tactical or (relatively) low-yield “battlefield” nuclear weapons, and on any corresponding plans for implementing counter-force targeting doctrines. For Israel, at all times, nuclear weapons can only make sense for deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.

But, always, rationality must remain a key factor in operational deterrence logic. More exactly, in order simply to be sustained in world politics, any viable system of deterrence must be premised on an assumption of rationality. Essentially, each side must consistently believe that the other side will value its continued national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences.

Indisputably, during the Cold War era, rationality proved to be a consistently reasonable and correct assumption. Now, however, Israel may have good reason to doubt that MAD could work as well in the Middle East as it did more generally during the prior time of US-Soviet bipolarity.[10] Over time, of course, principal decision-makers in Tehran could turn out to be just as rational as were the Soviets. Still, there is no adequately reassuring way of knowing this for certain, or, for that matter, of predicting Iranian rationality with any previously-tested bases of reliable judgment.

This brings up the most sobering question of all: What if Iran should become fully nuclear, and if any consequent nuclear deterrence posture would fail to prevent all-out war between Iran and Israel? What, exactly, would happen if Tehran were to actually launch a nuclear attack against Israel, whether as an atomic “bolt from the blue” or as a result of escalation, whether deliberate or inadvertent?

In considering this basic question, it must be kept in mind that even a fully rational Iranian adversary could sometime decide to launch against Israel because of (1) incorrect information used in its vital decisional calculations; (2) mechanical, electronic, or computer malfunctions; (3) unauthorized decisions to fire in the national decisional command authority; (hacking-related issues); or (5) coup d’état.

In  a conceivably worst case scenario, irrational Iranian adversaries would not value their own national survival most highly. Nonetheless, even as irrational foes, they could still maintain a determinable and potentially manipulable ordering of preferences. It follows that Jerusalem should immediately undertake to best anticipate this expected ordering, and to fashion corollary deterrent threats accordingly.[11]

It should also be borne in mind that Iranian preference-orderings would never be created in a vacuum. Eventually, assorted strategic developments in “Palestine” and elsewhere in the region could impact such hierarchies, either as “synergies,” (where the “whole” of any determinable effect would exceed the ascertainable sum of its “parts”)[12] or (in more expressly military language) as “force multipliers.”

There is more. It is frequently assumed that Israel’s nuclear weapons and strategy are more-or-less irrelevant to non-nuclear threats. This erroneous assumption stipulates, albeit implicitly, that (1) extraordinary ordnance and posture must refer exclusively to roughly parallel levels of prospective enemy destructiveness; and that (2) non- nuclear threats – whether from individual states, alliances of states, terror-group adversaries, or even state-terror group “hybrids” – must be symmetrically countered. The invariant core of any such assumption is the following seemingly plausible proposition:

 A particular state’s deterrent credibility must be directly proportionate to calculable enemy threats.

At first, this  “symmetry hypothesis” appears to make perfect sense. But authentic strategic truth can sometimes be “recalcitrant” or counter-intuitive. Moreover, because virtually all of the Israel-related scenarios or cases in point are effectively sui generis, or without any determinable precedent, nothing of any true scientific value can ever be extrapolated concerning probabilities.

It follows, inter alia, that any meaningful assessment of hypotheses regarding “asymmetrical deterrence” and Israel’s security must always be limited to formal deductive analysis. This indicates, among other things, assessments that are effectively devoid of tangible empirical content, yet are still defined by appropriately stringent standards of internal consistency, logical interconnectedness and conspicuously dialectical thinking.

How to begin? A good place would be with the “grey area” of future enemy non-nuclear threats that are nonetheless unconventional. Most obvious, in this connection, would be credible enemy threats of biological warfare and/or biological terrorism. While assuredly non-nuclear, biological warfare attacks could conceivably also produce grievously injurious or even near-existential event outcomes for Israel.

In principle, at least, Israeli policies of calibrated nuclear reprisal for certain BW attacks could exhibit significant deterrent effectiveness against three of the four above-mentioned adversarial categories. Such policies would be inapplicable, prima facie, against threats from those terror groups functioning without any recognizable state alignments. In such expectedly residual cases, Israel – then plainly lacking operational targets suitable for nuclear ordnance – would need to “fall back” upon the more usual arsenal of counter-terrorist methods and options.

This tactical retrogression would be required even if the particular terror group involved (e.g., Sunni ISIS or Shiite Hezbollah) had already revealed plausible nuclear threat capabilities.

What about those enemy conventional threats that would involve neither nuclear nor biological attack, but were still prospectively massive enough to produce existential or near-existential consequences for Israel? On its face, it seems that in such cases, a would-be conventional aggressor could still reasonably calculate that Jerusalem might actually make good on certain of its decipherable nuclear deterrent threats. Here, however, Israel’s nuclear deterrent threat credibility could be largely dependent upon an antecedent doctrinal shift from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” (the so-called “bomb in the basement”) to more overt “nuclear disclosure.”

Why? The correct answer must hinge on Israel’s presumed operational flexibility. More specifically, in the absence of any prior shift away from deliberate ambiguity, a would-be aggressor state might still not really understand or accept that the Jewish State already had available to it a sufficiently broad array of graduated nuclear retaliatory responses. Of course, in the presumed absence of such an array, Israeli nuclear deterrence could be correspondingly diminished.

As a direct consequence of its presumptively diminished nuclear ambiguity, Jerusalem could signal its relevant adversary or adversaries that Israel would wittingly cross the nuclear retaliatory threshold to punish  any acts of existential or near-existential aggressions. Using more expressly military parlance, Israel’s shift to apt forms of nuclear disclosure would then be intended to ensure “escalation dominance.”

In any such dynamic and complex scenario, the nuclear deterrence advantages for Israel of moving beyond traditional nuclear ambiguity would lie in the compelling signal it is then able to send to particular foes. This signal warns that Jerusalem would not necessarily be limited to launching retaliations that employ only massive and disproportionate levels of nuclear force. A timely Israeli move from ambiguity to disclosure – as long as this doctrinal move were suitably nuanced and incremental – could substantially improve Israel’s prospects for deterring large-scale conventional attacks with more consciously “tailored” nuclear threats.

Finally, it is well worth noting that these stipulated nuclear deterrence benefits could extend to certain Israeli threats of nuclear counter-retaliation. If, for example, Israel should sometime consider initiating a non-nuclear defensive first-strike against Iran, a preemptive act that would persuasively represent “anticipatory self-defense” under authoritative international law, the likelihood of suffering any massive Iranian conventional retaliation might then be diminished. In essence, by following a properly prepared path from deliberate nuclear ambiguity to nuclear disclosure, Jerusalem could expectedly upgrade its indispensable deterrence posture vis-à-vis both nuclear and non-nuclear threats.

Ultimately, Israel’s nuclear deterrent must be oriented toward dominating escalation at multiple levels of conventional and unconventional enemy threats. For this to work, Israeli strategic planners must bear in mind that all future operational success will depend upon prior formulations of national nuclear doctrine.

Looking over this comprehensive delineation of scenarios that could lead Israel to some future involvement in a regional use of nuclear weapons, Jerusalem will need to steadily refine and systematize its core strategic doctrine. In certain circumstances, the tangible results of any such enhancements could also impact United States security.[13] In absolutely all conceivable circumstances, Israel would need to carefully prepare for both rational and non-rational adversaries.[14]

 Though the likelihood of the latter is plausibly small, the consequences could be literally incalculable.

[1] Among other things, this development will call for a suitably incremental end to “deliberate ambiguity” or “the bomb in the basement.” The point here would not be to reveal the obvious –  that is, that Israel merely has the bomb – but rather to communicate to all prospective adversaries  (and pertinent allies) that its nuclear forces are usable (not too destructive), well-protected and fully capable of penetrating any nuclear enemy’s active defenses. See earlier, by this author: Louis René Beres, “Changing Direction? Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” INSS, Israel, Strategic Assessment, Vol. 17, No.3., October 2014, pp. 93-106. See also: Louis René Beres, Looking Ahead: Revising Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity in the Middle East, Herzliya Conference Policy Paper, Herzliya Conference, March 11-14, 2013 (Herzliya, Israel); Louis René Beres and Leon “Bud” Edney, Admiral  (USN/ret.) “Facing a Nuclear Iran, Israel Must Rethink its Nuclear Ambiguity,” U.S. News & World Report, February 11, 2013; 3pp; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney,  “Reconsidering Israel’s Nuclear Posture,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2013. Admiral Edney served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT).

[2] There has never been a nuclear war. The use of atomic bombs against Japan at the end of World War II represented the inclusion of nuclear weapons in a non-nuclear conflict.

[3] Historically, Israel’s two major preemption operations concerned with an eventual adversarial access to nuclear weapons were Operation Opera (1981) and Operation Orchard (2007). Much less is known about  “Orchard” than about  “Opera.” In brief, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reasserted the 1981 “Begin Doctrine,” only this time in reference to perceived dangers from the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria. Later, in April 2011, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the bombed Syrian site had been a developing nuclear reactor. Olmert’s decision on “Orchard” – like Begin’s earlier one on “Opera” – proved substantially gainful not only for Israel, but also derivatively, for the United States and others.

[4] Regarding international law, it is ultimately deducible from natural law, which is the foundation of both US and Israeli municipal (domestic) law. Inter alia, according to Blackstone, each state is expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law.” See William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone question the significance of Blackstone, we need merely to recollect that his Commentaries represent the original and authoritatively core foundation of United States law, and that they are themselves ultimately based on various scriptural sources. International law is most expressly incorporated into U.S. law by Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”), and also by certain U.S.  Supreme Court decisions, especially the Paquete Habana (1900).

[5] In jurisprudential terms, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive” ones. Preemption is a military strategy of striking an enemy first, in the expectation that the only likely alternative is to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack, however, is launched not out of any genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of some longer-term deterioration in a pertinent military balance.  Hence, in a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is very short, while in a preventive strike, the interval is considerably longer. A problem for Israel, in this specific regard, is not only the practical difficulty of determining imminence, but also the fact that delaying a defensive strike until some more appropriately ascertained imminence is acknowledged could be “fatal.”

[6] On identifying pertinent nuclear disclosure options, see: Louis René Beres, “Israel’s Strategic Doctrine: Updating Intelligence Community Responsibilities,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 28. No.1., Spring 2015, pp. 89-104.

[7] On this most ambiguous element of Israeli nuclear deterrence, see: Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral (USN/ret.) Leon “Bud” Edney, “Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: A Larger Role for Submarine Basing,” The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2014; and Professor Beres and Admiral Edney, “A Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent for Israel,” Washington Times, September 5, 2014.

[8] On prospective shortcomings of Israeli BMD, see: Louis René Beres and (Major-General/IDF/ret.) Isaac Ben-Israel, “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Louis René Beres and M-G Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,” Washington Times, June 10, 2007; and Professor Louis René Beres and M-G Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009.


[10] For scholarly writings by this author on the global security implications of this earlier era of 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.

[11] On deterring a potentially irrational nuclear adversary, most notably Iran, see: 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. General Chain (USAF/ret.) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[12] The concept of “synergy” here would concern not only various intersections of national security policy, but also of possible attack outcomes. In this connection, regarding the expected consequences of specifically nuclear attacks, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: The 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), See also, Ami Rojkes Dombe, “What Happens When a Nuclear Bomb Hits a Wall?”  Israel Defense, September 10, 2016.

[13] On vital interconnections between US and Israeli nuclear security, see special 2016 monograph (published at Tel Aviv University) co-authored by Professor Beres and US General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey:

See also:

[14] If facing a still non-nuclear adversary in Iran, a preemption option could appear prudent and rational to Israel if executed before certain new protective measures were put in place. Whether in regard to rational or non-rational foes, newly- nuclear adversaries in Tehran could sometime implement protective measures that would pose significant additional hazards to the Jewish State. Designed to guard against preemption, either by Israel or by other regional enemies, these specific measures would involve the attachment of  “hair trigger” launch mechanisms to nuclear weapon systems and/or the adoption of “launch on warning” policies, possibly coupled with hazardous pre-delegations of launch authority. This means, in essence, that Israel would be increasingly endangered by once-preventable steps taken by a nuclear enemy to prevent a preemption. Optimally, Israel would do everything possible to prevent such steps, especially because of expanded risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks against its own armaments and populations. Yet, if such steps were allowed to become a fait accompli, Jerusalem might still calculate, and accurately, that a residual preemptive strike would be both legal and cost-effective: The expected enemy retaliation, however damaging, could still appear more tolerable than the expected consequences of any enemy first-strikes (strikes likely occasioned by the failure of certain  “anti-preemption” protocols).

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