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Donald Trump, War and the Shape of Chaos

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“And we are here as on a darkling plain, Swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight,Where ignorant armies clash by night”. -Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

With the evident expansion of Trump-induced instabilities around the world (most recently in Syria, Iran, Turkey, Ukraine and North Korea), a recurring word on scholarly minds is “chaos.” Going forward, however, such usage will need to become more conspicuously nuanced and intellectually precise. Or to clarify:

In world politics, anarchy is an old story.

Chaos is not.

But what, exactly, are the noteworthy differences?

In part, at least, a correct answer must be determinedly jurisprudential. Under modern international law, system wide anarchy was first formally instituted at the Treaty of Westphalia. Back in 1648, by the end of the Thirty Years’ War  (the last of the major religious wars sparked by the Reformation), a decentralized system of world politics had been expressly codified. Thereafter, a so-called “balance of power” became the ritualistically dominant template of all national foreign policy behaviors.  Concurrently, it became the dominant national objective in almost any “game of nations.”

Still, this balance is “so called” because it was (and remains ) a simplifying fiction; intangible, non-measurable and quite plainly unrealizable. In essence, it offers intellectually-unambitious statesmen and politicians a convenient slight-of-hand metaphor, and, correspondingly, a ready pretext for virtually all manner of manipulative foreign policy interventions. Ironically, over time, this alleged goal has triggered repeated systemic breakdowns,[1] and  also fostered an effectively permanent global imbalance.

Under international treaty law, language is always of signal importance. Accordingly, the terms of this seventeenth-century Treaty call, inter alia, for “a just equilibrium of power.” War avoidance is never actually  mentioned in the document. Significantly, in world law, aggressive war was never properly criminalized until the much later Pact of Paris (aka Kellogg-Briand Pact) of 1928.

What do we now have left of this treaty-based international regime? Basically,  we can now preserve only the crumbling architecture of what Irish poet William Butler Yeats (The Second Coming) had termed “mere anarchy.” For the most part, some representative forms of chaotic disintegration are visibly underway in the Middle East, and also in Africa, Asia and assorted other places in Europe and South America. In these increasingly dissembling areas, the traditional threat mechanisms of Westphalian anarchy are either decreasingly viable or entirely absent. In several more places than we might care to admit, many already-muted  expressions of reason and rationality have already given way to grievously unbridled passions or even to genuine madness.

War and genocide are now often mutually reinforcing rather than mutually exclusive.

Nowadays, there no longer remains any plausible pretext of system-wide national searches for “balance.” To some extent, the more traditionally “normal” calculations of equilibrium have already  been rendered infeasible or inconceivable because of nuclear weapons proliferation. In these ominous cases, individual states have become unable to decipher or delineate any usable measures of balance with other pertinent states.

Though the concept may still sound pleasing or reassuring, there is no ascertainable “balance of power” in world politics.

None at all.

Derivatively, international law will not adequately save  the United States or any other state or alliance of states. Following US President Donald Trump’s unilateral termination of the INF Treaty with Russia, and with the very serious follow-on prospect of a Trump abrogation of the US-Russia INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) Treaty, further nuclear proliferation is virtually assured. In quick succession, especially if accompanied by expectedly deficient plans for national command and control among the new nuclear powers, once “unthinkable” weapons could very quickly become “thinkable.”

What then?

In the past several years, portentously, US President Donald Trump has mused openly about nuclear weapons as rational instruments of war –  and not just as passive elements of essential national deterrence.

 There is more. There are also various foreseeable interactions between individual catastrophic harms, so-called synergies  that could make the overriding risks of any looming global nuclear chaos still more pressing. Immediately, these interactions must  be taken into suitable analytic account. Under no circumstances should an American president ever choose to disregard such complex interactions simply because they are too daunting, confusing or bewildering.

Mr. Trump’s expressed decisional priorities notwithstanding, the best way to deal with an expanding global chaos is not by “attitude,” but by “preparation.”[2]

For Israel, a country smaller than Lake Michigan, the dangers of Trump’s latest policies concerning Syria are especially great and prospectively sui generis. Facing not only an expanding nuclear threat from Iran (a consequence in part, of Trump’s earlier US withdrawal from the JCPOA Iran Pact of 2015),  but also the general regional disorder occasioned by an American president’s sudden  capitulations to Syria, Turkey and Russia, Israel could soon find itself with active adversaries on several simultaneous fronts. These adversaries could be assorted sub-state Jihadist enemies (e.g., a reconstituted ISIS) and include even state-sub state “hybrids.”

Whatever the actual configuration of meaningful foes, Israel could then be face-to-face with a genuinely unique species of chaos.

 The evident portent of  any Middle East chaos – here we may point most convincingly to  Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey  and perhaps even Pakistan – would be accelerated or enlarged by enemy irrationality.  If, for example, Israel should sometime have to face a Jihadist adversary that would value certain presumed religious expectations more highly than its own physical survival, the tiny country’s core deterrent posture could be undermined or immobilized. Among other things, any such paralysis of Israeli military power could signify a heightened threat of nuclear war.[3]

Some further clarifications are necessary. In world politics, irrationality is never the same as madness. More precisely, an irrational adversary is one that could sometime value certain goals more highly than its own national self-preservation. A mad adversary, however, would display absolutely no preferred ordering of goals or values. It follows, plausibly, at least from the standpoint of maintaining successful Israeli deterrence, that facing enemy irrationality would be “better” than facing enemy madness.

Realistically, however,  any such analytic choice is unavailable. Whether Israel, the United States or any other state shall capably confront irrationality, madness, neither, or both, is not up to national decision-makers to determine. These possible outcomes are literally undeterminable.

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” prophesied the poet Yeats, “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”  Now, assembled in almost two hundred tribal armed camps known as states, all peoples coexist insecurely on a mercilessly fractionated planet. Ultimately, to reveal a more palpable understanding of where all are heading, we may conjure up the particularly nightmarish circumstances of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. On such a fearfully sorrowful landscape, the traditional playbook of nations would likely shift ominously from Sun-Tzu and Clausewitz to De Sade and Dostoyevsky.

Summing up succinctly,  our historic world system anarchy has now become more unstable than ever before. While this declension of global order owes largely to a growing fusion of chaos with leadership irrationality and/or apocalyptic weaponry, it is also the result of America’s newly incoherent foreign policy. Led by a president who takes his own historical illiteracy as a distinct asset, as a badge of pride, the United States can no longer be assumed to represent a stabilizing force in world politics.

Quite the contrary.

What should we expect? In time, with no longer any pretext of a “just equilibrium of power,” there will be no safety in arms, no rescue by political authority, no reassuring answers from science or technology. Even though we humans had seemingly become “civilized” over time, new wars could rage until every once-sturdy flower of culture had been trampled and all things human had been decimated or leveled. Then, civilization, unless rescued by presently still-unforeseen remedies, would perish in relentlessly paroxysmal quakes of  primordial disintegration.

What shall we do to avoid such an unspeakable chaos? How shall such unbearable circumstances best be averted? Before answering, we much all first acknowledge something markedly counter-intuitive: Chaos and anarchy actually represent opposite points of a single global continuum. Though counter-intuitive, they are essentially opposite conditions of world politics.

“Mere” anarchy, or the absence of central world authority, has always been “normal.” Chaos, however, is anything but normal. Rather, it is fully “abnormal.”

 Since the seventeenth century, our anarchic world can best be described as a system. What happens in any one part of this ungoverned world can affect what happens in some or all of the other parts.  Whenever deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one nation-state to another, the corollary effects can undermine all previously existing infrastructures of “balance.”

When this deterioration is rapid and catastrophic, as would be the case following the start of any unconventional war or unconventional terrorism, the effects would be immediate and overwhelming.  These particular effects would be chaotic.

Aware that even an incremental collapse of remaining world authority structures would impact its few remaining friends as well as its growing  cadre of enemies, leaders of the United States will sometime need to advance lamentably plausible premonitions of collapse. The sole point of this distressing task would be to chart more appropriately durable paths to national security and survival. Soon, and in partial consequence of certain Trump-generated policy fantasies, Americans  could need to consider how best to respond to life in a more progressively unmanageable state of chaos.

In the context of classical political philosophy, this would resemble the “state of nature” famously described in the seventeenth-century by Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, a condition wherein the life of every person could be “solitary, poor, nasty,  brutish and short.”

Already, largely because of current US presidential unpreparedness and shortsighted White House manipulations,  we are at the sobering brink of this particular condition of “nature.”

Or to meaningfully recall  certain oft-recited stanzas of poet Matthew Arnold, “….we are here as on a darkling plain.”


[1] For the most part, these breakdowns could be classified in authoritative  law as recognizable “aggressions.”

[2] When arriving in Singapore for his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, the American president stated that what would prove most important at the meeting was “not preparation, but attitude.”

[3] In 2003, Professor Louis René Beres served as Chair of Project Daniel for PM Sharon in Israel (Iranian nuclear weapons).

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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