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

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“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.

[9] https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/41573

[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:

https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

See also: http://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/Articles/07spring/beres.pdf

[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).

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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US Targets Militants in Turkish-Held Area in Syria

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Central Command spokesman Army Major John Rigsbee announced on Friday, October 23, the killing of senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar in a drone strike in the Suluk region of Raqqa province. The spokesman also added the terrorist organization uses Syria as a haven to rebuild its influence in the region that poses a serious threat to the security of the United States and its partners. According to Rigsbee, the assassination of Al-Matar disrupted the al-Qaeda’s ability to further plot and carry out global attacks.

It was another elimination operation of the al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Din leaders that threatens the world security. It would seem that the U.S. did what they keep their military contingent in Syria for – to “fight terrorism.” However, there are several details of this operation that should be noticed.

Firstly, this MQ-9 Reaper strike is the first case of an American strike in the Turkish-controlled area in northern Raqqa, the Peace Spring Operation zone. It means that the U.S. officially confirmed the elimination of a terrorist, who was operating in the territory, which is controlled by another NATO member country.

It surprised many analysts and experts – why extremists such as al-Matar calmly operate in the same area with Turkish military. However, you can easily detect close ties between pro-Turkish proxies and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. The most striking instance of such cooperation is Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham Islamist group, which closely interact with Turkey in Idlib.

Secondly, the recent unmanned mission in Syrian airspace was kept out of the Turkish eye. Actually, this strike was not coordinated with Turkey.

These facts go beyond the scope of a regular military operation. Is it an expected result of US-Turkish relations, which are currently at an unprecedented low level? Apparently, the White House has lost Turkey’s credibility, while as Ankara seeks to pursue an independent policy and, according to the Pentagon, makes insufficient efforts in the fight against terrorism. Meanwhile, Ankara’s officials have not commented on this incident, but thereon tensions between the main actors in the region have grown up.

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To Prevent a Nuclear War: America’s Overriding Policy Imperative

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Hieronymus Bosch, Last Judgement

Abstract: Though current US defense policy centers on matters of conventional war and terrorism, other problems remain more existentially worrisome. Most conspicuous in this regard are variously intersecting issues of nuclear war avoidance. The following article examines these always-complex issues with systematic references to pertinent risks and to the core global obligation to confront them as intellectual challenge.

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“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”-Archilochus, Fragments[1]

In the Beginning

First things first. On existential national security matters, candor is indispensable. In essence, we inhabit a world that generally prefers the study of “many things” to “one big thing.”

This usual preference is easy to understand. After all, thinking about things organically or holistically is more complex and potentially bewildering. Still, in the inherently vital matters of military strategic assessment, a theoretical perspectiveis indispensable.

Always.

There is more. In the final analysis, learning about “one big thing” is a demanding matter of theory-building.  Without a comprehensive theory of nuclear war avoidance, the “worst” will happen.[2]

 By definition, there can be no proper theory without a prior and underlying focus on discernible commonalities. Indeed, the systematic discovery of commonalities or regularities constitutes the beginnings of any science, and science represents the only reasonable way to approach the many-sided issues of nuclear war avoidance. There are, to be sure, alternative patterns of inquiry, but these distracting patterns must be based on faith, “common sense” or overt anti-reason.[3]

They ought never be relied upon.

Correspondingly core questions should now arise. Where, exactly, does the United States stand with regard to existential nuclear threats? Once upon a time, beginning in the 1950s, nuclear war avoidance became humankind’s main survival imperative. This entirely sensible rank-ordering was plain, visible in the newspapers, on evening news programs and in the movies.[4] It was a conspicuous, urgent and infinitely perplexing focus. Among other things, this focus reflected the more characteristic preference orderings of rich nations than poor ones, but one central fact remained clear:

If the world failed to prevent a nuclear war,[5] all other essential human values would thereby be imperiled.[6]

There is more.  In the “old days,” scholars could speak more-or-less reasonably about “nuclear disarmament” or “denuclearization.”[7] But we still don’t live in a reasonable or reasoning world, and purposeful peace strategies will need to include various compromises or “tradeoffs.”

 On specific matters of nuclear war avoidance, this means, inter alia, continuously refining the threat-based strategies of“escalation dominance”[8] and nuclear deterrence. At an even more rudimentary or “molecular” level, citizens of nuclear and near-nuclear states, long accustomed to coarsely competitive postures of belligerent nationalism, will finally need to change. More precisely, they will need to achieve certain basic transformations of consciousness.

 Though rarely understood, this means that they will need to detach their diverse and accumulated hopes for immortality from the nation’s presumed geopolitical success.[9]

What can this possibly mean? This is hardly a statement for mass-based understanding. It is also very unlikely to make sense to political leaderships nurtured by epiphenomena, or what Plato would have called “mere shadows of images.”

Who actually thinks about “immortality” and politics in the same context? The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas cuts to the core: “An immortal person is a contradiction in terms.” Could anything be more obvious?

Ultimately, the answer depends on science. Are we humans fully prepared to abandon the incomparable promises of Faith in the abstract interests of Reason? One needn’t be a disciplined analytic thinker to answer this query honestly. Faith, we learned earlier from Sigmund Freud, is largely a matter of “wish fulfillment.” And there can never be any more compelling human wish than the express “will” not to die.[10]

Students of world politics have always been instructed that their subject centers on some vague quality typically called “power?” These instructions have not been wrong ex hypothesi, but they have until now failed to identify the greatest conceivable form of power.  This is power over death or the apparent promise of immortality.

Nowadays we see the attraction of this particular kind of power most plainly in matters of Jihadist terrorism, but it can also animate the all-too-many perpetrators of both war and genocide.

 These allegations are “only” intellectual arguments. What then could they signify to citizens of any nation that has traditionally prided itself on being “practical?” The most plausible short answer here is endless belligerent nationalism and in more selective situations, nuclear deterrence.

There is more. Inevitably, nuclear deterrence is a “game” that certain world leaders may have toplay. Accordingly, these leaders can choose to learn the game purposefully and skillfully or simply deal with it inattentively or inexpertly. In any such game, calculably gainful plays would still be theoretically possible, but these would necessarily be based upon variously enhanced capacities for threat assessment and strategic decision-making.

In the final analysis, as all ought to have learned from history – including the still-ongoing unraveling history of American power in Afghanistan – “winning” will not mean what it meant originally. Victory will not be about acquiring geopolitical supremacy and hegemony, but enabling broadly systemic cooperation and a more reassuringly continuous dynamic of serious crisis de-escalation.

Incontestably, a viable global civilization represents a sine qua non for absolutely every nation’s physical survival. Ultimately, however, any such civilization[11] will have to be constructed upon more than some presumptively favorable “balance” of military power. Inter alia, it will have to be founded upon suitably  fashioned visions of “cosmopolitanism”[12] or human “oneness.”[13]

The Intellectual Core

               We nay return to our opening metaphor. Such re-fashioning will require “many things” seen by “the fox,” especially high-quality scholarship. Though our national foreign policy makers will insist that this emphasis on theoretic refinement has always been the case, sending capable flag officers to exemplary graduate programs is not enough. To wit, nuclear strategic inquiries must become more expressly grounded in logic and scientific–method and less in political clichés or the tortured syntax of an American  leader who “loves the poorly educated.”[14]

Foreseeably, controlling nuclear proliferation will become an increasingly important and potentially overriding national imperatives. Under no circumstances should any sane and capable scholar or policy-maker ever recommend the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Earlier, this fallacy of strategic reasoning had been called the “porcupine theory.”[15]

On its face, any such endorsement must represent the reductio ad absurdum of all possible intellectual misjudgments. Among relevant hazards of strategic judgment, it would be problematic to assume that nuclear deterrence credibility needs to be positively correlated with threat destructiveness. Indeed, from the standpoint of creating stable nuclear deterrence, the likelihood of any actual nuclear conflict between states could sometime be inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms.[16]

This is only an “informal” presumption, however, because we are presently considering a unique or unprecedented event, one of inherently limited predictive capacity. Because any true mathematical probabilities must always be based upon the discernible frequency of relevant past events, events that are sui generis (such as a nuclear war) can be “predicted” only with less than scientific methods. Any such “prediction,” therefore, could have no proper policy-making value.

Concerning the ascertainable probability of a nuclear war, one derivative understanding is primary and axiomatic.  This understanding stipulates that differences in probability must depend on whether the particular conflict in question would be intentional or inadvertent.  A further division must then be made between an inadvertent nuclear war caused by errors in calculation (nuclear war by miscalculation) and one occasioned by accident, computer hacking or computer malfunction.

Absolutely no meaningful scientific estimations of nuclear war likelihood could ever be made apart from such antecedent conceptual divisions.

Relevant Military Exercises

During August 2021, four expansive military exercises were undertaken across the world. These US operations included an exercise staged by the US Navy 5th and 2nd fleets (close to Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea respectively) and Large Scale Global Exercise 21, led by the US and allied forces with a focus on the Indo-Pacific Ocean area. All exercises were conducted with China and Russia openly identified as “hypothetical” adversaries.

In response, China conducted a large-scale military exercise in the South China Sea during the same period, and another joint exercise with Russia in China’s Northwest Region. The American exercises were conducted far from the US homeland, but the China/Russia exercises were launched close to home. Cumulatively, such exercised maritime and troop movements expressed various determinable elements of “Cold War II.”[17]

Looking ahead in Washington, air space and outer space are both apt to become further militarized, thereby rendered subject to steadily expanding nuclear war preparations. Most expectedly worrisome, in this regard, would be correspondingly greater risks of nuclear crisis and actual nuclear war, especially a nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.

There is more. Nuclear proliferation has been dealt with by competent nuclear strategists for decades, sometimes by gifted thinkers who understood that any alleged benefits of nuclear spread would necessarily be outweighed by staggering costs.[18] Most obvious here are proliferation-associated risks of inadvertent nuclear war, accidental nuclear war, nuclear war by irrationality/coup d’état and nuclear war by miscalculation.[19]

               To date, this has been an unassailable presumption. Foreseeably, it will not change. the “Westphalian”[20] system of international relations and international law first bequeathed by treaty law in 1648. This system of belligerent nationalism remains rooted  in persistent anarchy and is already being steadily worsened by chaos.[21]

The Changing Balance of World Power

Historically, the idea of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is a variant[22] – has never been more than facile metaphor. In fact, it has never had anything to do with ascertaining any true equilibrium. And as any such “balance” is always a matter of individual and subjective perceptions, adversary states can never be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are tangibly oriented in their favor. In consequence, each side in a still-Westphalian world order must perpetually fear that it will come out “second best” or even be left behind. Among nation-states, the continual search for balance, though traditionally reassuring, can only produce ever-widening patterns of insecurity, inequality and disequilibrium.

               At the start of the Cold War (what the present author now calls (Cold War I), the United States first began to codify rudimentary orientations to nuclear deterrence and nuclear war. At that simpler time, the world was tightly bipolar and the overwhelmingly clear enemy was the Soviet Union. Tempered by a shared knowledge of the horror that had ceased (temporarily) in 1945, each superpower understood a conspicuously core need to expand global cooperation (especially the United Nations) as a necessary adjunct to national conflict preparedness.

With the start of the nuclear age, American national security was premised on grimly primal threats of “massive retaliation.” Over time, especially during the Kennedy years, this bitterly corrosive policy was softened by subtler and more nuanced threats of “flexible response.” Along the way, a coherent and generalized American strategic doctrine was crafted, in increments, to more systematically accommodate almost every conceivable kind of adversarial military encounter.

Scientific and historically grounded, this doctrine was developed self-consciously and with deliberate prudence. In its actual execution, however, much was left to visceral or “seat-of-the-pants” calculations. In this particular regard, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis speaks for itself.

Strategic doctrine, as earlier generation “defense intellectuals” had already understood,[23] is a “net.” Reasonably, only those who “cast” can expect to “catch.” Nonetheless, even the benefits of “casting” must ultimately remain subject to specific considerations of individual human personality. In the terms of professional strategic thinkers, there must always remain an “idiosyncratic factor.”

Individuum est ineffable. At some point, an individual decision-maker could lie beyond predictive and understanding. Then, looking ahead to potential nuclear war threats and crises, the ungraspable individual could interact in unforeseen ways with other complex factors, possibly creating variously unseen synergies. What then?

In strategic planning and thinking, there will always be certain irremediable uncertainties. In the face of such uncertainties, the point will be not to prevent them altogether (that would be impossible), but to prepare for all known and foreseeable contingencies intellectually and analytically.

Cold War II

For a time, following collapse of the Soviet Union, the world became increasingly multipolar. But now we seem to be witnessing the evolution of a second cold war. This time around, there will likely be more conspicuous points of convergent interest and cooperation between Washington and Moscow. In principle at least (e.g. current mutual concerns about controlling Jihadist terrorism) “Cold War II” could offer an improved context for identifying overlapping strategic interests. But now there are also apt to be other primary “players,” most plausibly China.

               Details matter. Even after the extension in force of New START agreement between the U.S. and Russia, Moscow continues to reinvigorate its production of intercontinental ballistic missiles and ICBM supporting infrastructures. In part, this represents a predictable Russian response to ongoing fears that America may be expanding its plans for expanded ballistic missile defense in Europe[24] and (as corollary) for enlarging NATO blueprints to advance aggressive strategies of “encirclement.”

At this fragile moment. foci are easy to identify. Strategic planners are now thinking especially about already-nuclear North Korea and Pakistan and a prospectively nuclear Iran. Among other key  issues,Tehran’s repeated calls for “removing” Israel as a state have been exterminatory;[25] in law, they therefore represent a documented “incitement to genocide.” Furthermore, military nuclear developments in North Korea, Pakistan and Iran could quickly prove synergistic,  circumstances that are largely unpredictable and potentially even overwhelming.[26]

 There must also be apt legal considerations of justice. Nullum crimen sine poena; “No crime without a punishment,” was a key principle of justice reaffirmed at Nuremberg, in 1946. This peremptory principle originated in the Hebrew Bible and its Lex Talionis, or law of exact retaliation.

               Popular viewpoints notwithstanding, the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords will have no discernible effects on preventing nuclear war in the Middle East.[27] If anything, Iran was made more belligerent by the Accords’ explicit intent to diminish Iranian power. Soon, certain major Sunni Arab states (plausibly Egypt and/or Saudi Araba) may feel compelling new incentives to nuclearize themselves. And with the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, an already-nuclear Pakistan will likely become more tangibly influential in the region.

How will this expanded influence affect China, India, Russia and Israel?

In all these ambiguous cases, there could emerge more-or-less credible issues of enemy irrationality.[28] Regarding such “special” situations, ones where leadership elites in Beijing, Islamabad, Delhi, Tehran or elsewhere might sometime value presumed national or religious obligations more highly even than national survival itself, the precarious logic of deterrence could fail. Such failure need not be incremental and manageable. Instead, it could be sudden and catastrophic.

                Any such fearful scenario is “probably improbable,” but it is by no means inconceivable. This hesitancy-conditioned probability calculation is effectively mandated by variously fixed limitations of science. As indicated earlier, one can never speak reliably about the probability of unique events (all probability judgments must be based upon the determinable frequency of past events). Fortunately, of course, there has never been a nuclear war, but this absence also means a scientific incapacity for certain meaningful predictions.

Further Importance of Synergies[29] and Nuclear Doctrine

               Always important for leaders to understand will be possible interactions or synergies between changing adversaries and their particular ties to China, Syria and Russia. In managing such strategic threats, a new question should arise: Will “Cold War II” help our steeply imperiled planet, or hurt it even more?

               Such queries should always represent intellectual questions, not narrowly political ones. Above all, they will need to be addressed at suitably analytic levels.

There is more. Strategic policies will have to deal with a variegated assortment of sub-national threats of WMD terrorism. Until now, insurgent enemies were sometimes able to confront states with serious perils and in widely assorted theatres of conflict, but they were never capable of posing any catastrophic hazards to a nation’s homeland. Now, however, with the steadily expanding prospect of WMD-equipped terrorist enemies – possibly, in the future, even well-armed nuclear terrorists[30] – humankind could have to face strategic situations that are prospectively more dire.

For the United States in particular, the unraveled situation in Afghanistan portends heightened chances of WMD terrorism, against the homeland and certain allies, especially Israel. The adversarial particulars remain unclear, but ISIS-K resurgence/reconstitution and the strengthening of other Islamist groups may also bode ill for rational enemy decision-making. What then?

               To face any such unprecedented security situation, national leaders will need to “arm” themselves with previously-fashioned nuclear doctrines and policies. By definition, any such doctrines and policies ought never represent “seat of the pants” reactions to ad hoc threats. Rather, because generality expresses a trait of all serious meaning in science – “one big thing” – such doctrines and policies will have to be shaped according to variously broad categories of strategic threat. In the absence of such previously worked-out conceptual categories, human leadership responses are almost certain to be inadequate, or worse.

               A concluding thought about synergies: Such portentous intersections could occur between military and non-military threats. For example, and prospectively most ominous, would be synergies that arise between nuclear proliferation and disease pandemic. In the conceivably worst case, a man-made “plague” of nuclear war would coincide with a natural plague of pathogens.[31] Prima facie, any such “force multiplication” should be avoided at all costs.

The Question of Rationality

                From the start, all strategic policies have been founded upon some underlying assumption of rationality.[32] Americans have always presumed that their enemies, both states and terrorists, will inevitably value their own continued survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences. But this core assumption ought no longer be taken for granted.

Expressions of decisional irrationality could take various different and overlapping forms. These forms 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 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).

Confronted with Jihadist enemies,[33] states and terrorists, world leaders must quickly understand that our primary threats to retaliate for first-strike aggressions[34] could sometime fall on deaf ears. This holds true whether America would threaten massive retaliation (MAD), or the more graduated and measured forms of reprisal termed nuclear utilization theory (NUT).[35] In the months and years ahead, threateni8ng anti-American terror groups (e.g., Taliban, ISIS-K, etc.) that “we will hunt down and destroy you” is apt to fall upon deaf ears.

               There is more.Ultimately, any sensible. nuclear doctrine should recognize critical connections between law and strategy. From the formal standpoint of international law,[36] certain expressions of preemption or defensive first strikes are known as anticipatory self-defense. Expecting possible enemy irrationality, when would such protective military actions be required to safeguard the human homeland from diverse forms of WMD attack?  

This now becomes an all-important question.

The Legal Standpoint and Nuclear Targeting

               Though often subordinated to strategy, there are also pertinent jurisprudential issues for decision-makers and commanders. Recalling that international law is part of the law of the United States,[37] most notably at Article 6 of the US Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”) and at a 1900 Supreme Court case (the Pacquete Habana), how could anticipatory military defense actions be rendered compatible with conventional and customary obligations? This critical question must be raised and plausibly answered.

               From the standpoint of international law, inter alia, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking first in the expectation that the only foreseeable alternative would be to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack, on the other hand, is not launched out of any genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of some longer-term deterioration in a prevailing military “balance.”

                In a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is presumptively very short; in a preventive strike, however, the anticipated interval is considerably longer. A related problem here is not only the practical difficulty of accurately determining “imminence,” but also the implicit problems of postponement. Delaying a defensive strike until an imminent threat would be more tangibly ascertainable could invite existential harms. In any event, any state’s resort to “anticipatory self-defense” could be nuclear or non-nuclear, and be directed at either a nuclear or non-nuclear adversary.

               Ipso facto, any such resort involving nuclear weapons on one or several sides could prove catastrophic.

My late friend and frequent co-author, General John T. Chain, a former USAF SAC Commander-in-Chief (CINCSAC) and Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff director (JSTPS) understood that pertinent world leaders would need to consider and reconsider key issues of nuclear targeting.[38] Relevant operational concerns here concern vital differences between the targeting of enemy civilians and cities (so-called “counter value” targeting) and targeting of enemy military assets/infrastructures (so-called “counterforce” targeting). Oddly enough, most national leaders likely still don’t realize that the essence of 1950s/1960s “massive retaliation” and “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) was always an unhidden plan for counter-value targeting.

 Any such partially-resurrected military doctrine could sound barbarous or inhumane, but if the alternative was to settle for less credible systems of nuclear deterrence, explicit codifications of counter value targeting posture could still represent the best way to prevent millions of civilian deaths (i.e., deaths from nuclear war and/or nuclear terrorism). Neither preemption nor counter-value targeting could ever guarantee absolute security for Planet Earth. Nonetheless, it remains imperative that the United States and other nuclear weapons states put capable strategic thinkers[39] to work on these and all other nuclear warfare issues.[40]

In The End

The first time[41] that a world leader has to face an authentic nuclear crisis, his/her response should not be ad hoc. Rather, this response should flow seamlessly from broad and previously calibrated strategic doctrine. It follows that national leaders should already be thinking carefully about how this complex doctrine ought best to be shaped and codified. Whatever the particulars, these leaders must acknowledge at the outset the systemic[42] nature of our “world order  problem.”[43]

Any planetary system of law and power management that seeks to avoid a nuclear war must first recognize a significant underlying axiom:As egregious crimes under international law, war and genocide[44] need not be mutually exclusive.On the contrary, as one may learn from history, war could sometimes be undertaken as an “efficient” manner of national, ethnical, racial or religious annihilation.[45]

When the war in question is a nuclear one, the argument becomes unassailable.

Global rescue must always go beyond narrowly physical forms of survival. At stake is not “just” the palpable survival of Homo sapiens as a distinct animal life form, but also the species’ essential humanitas, that is, its sum total of individual souls[46] seeking “redemption.”[47] For now, however, too-few species members have displayed any meaningful understanding of this less tangible but still vital variant of human survival.[48]

It’s time to start worrying again about nuclear war avoidance, but this time worrying won’t be enough. The only reasonable use for nuclear weapons on this imperiled planet will still be as controlled elements of dissuasion, and not as actual weapons of war. The underlying principles of such a rational diplomatic posture go back long before the advent of nuclear weapons. In his oft-studied classic On War (see especially Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”), ancient Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu reminds succinctly: “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.”

There can be no more compelling strategic dictum. Indeed, this distilled wisdom represents the “one big thing” for US strategists, commanders and policy-makers “to know.” It would be best not to have any enemies in the first place, of course, but such residually high hopes would be without any intellectual foundation. Hence, they would always remain unsupportable.

For the United States, unwelcome outcomes in Afghanistan do not portend actual nuclear warfare prospects per se, but they do suggest a general widening diminution of American power. Among other things, this diminution could spawn various regional or global crises that bring the United States into a much larger ambit of WMD scenarios, ones involving both war and terror. Even if the US were not itself involved in any such crises directly, other states or the world as a whole could quickly become entangled in extremis atomicum.

What then?

Immediately, to the extent possible, national leaders should make all appropriate intellectual and analytic preparations. In carrying out this responsibility, careful attention should be given to scenarios of inadvertent nuclear war, narratives pertaining both to accidental nuclear conflict and to nuclear war as the result of a miscalculation. Though prospects for a deliberate nuclear war ought never to be downplayed, preparations for credible nuclear deterrence must be continuously maintained at the highest possible levels.

Now, it is nuclear war by inadvertence that warrants exceptional intellectual attention.

To meet these interrelated security requirement, leaders of both nuclear and near-nuclear states must first acknowledge the overriding seriousness of our global atomic threat. Instead of ad hoc or seat-of-the-pants strategizing – a characteristic policy failing of America’s “Trump Era” geopolitical calculations – these leaders should be reminded that there can be nothing more plausibly practical than good theory. Specifically, they can learn from philosopher of science Karl Popper’s classic The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959): “Theory is a net. Only those who cast, can catch.”[49]

To prevent a nuclear war, humankind will need the best possible “nets.”


[1] Greek poet, cited by Sir Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and The Fox (1953).

[2] Says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt about human life in general, “The worst does sometimes happen.”

[3] We learn from Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time: (1952): “Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition, and really do appear to believe.”

[4] One may recall popular films On the Beach; Fail Safe; and Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).

[5] The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 did not constitute an authentic nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional conflict. Immediately following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no other atomic bombs existed anywhere on earth. Prima facie, in contrast to the present moment, those were very different times from the standpoint of nuclear deterrence.

[6] These other values meant population stabilization, ecological stability and justice/human rights.  On the broader civilizational issues involved, see: early on:  Louis René Beres, “Steps Toward a New Planetary Identity,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1980 Rabinowitch Award Essay winner, Vol. 37., No. 2., February 1981, pp. 43-47.

[7] From the standpoint of North Korea, unilateral denuclearization would represent an irrational option.  For Kim Jong Un, getting rid of extant atomic arms and infrastructures must remain contrary to Pyongyang’s basic security presumptions. In June 2020, two years after the Singapore Summit, Kim’s Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon announced that any earlier-expressed hopes for accommodation with then President Trump had “shifted into despair.”

[8] On “escalation dominance,” see article by Professor 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/  See also, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/united-states-nuclear-strategy-deterrence-escalation-and-war    

 

[9] Throughout history, geopolitics or Realpolitik have often been associated with personal immortality. 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 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 unto itself, drew 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 the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of tangible legal regulation in their interactions.

[10]Modern philosophic origins of “will” are discoverable in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Friedrich Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps more importantly upon Arthur Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic twentieth-century work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas;1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the centenary of Goethe’s death (Goethe died in 1832). It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[11] Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s definition of civilization in The Undiscovered Self (1957) can be instructive here; it is “the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.”

[12] The history of western philosophy and jurisprudence contains many illustrious advocates of cosmopolitanism or “oneness.” Most notable among these names are Voltaire and Goethe. We need only recall Voltaire’s biting satire in the early chapters of Candide, and Goethe’s comment (oft-repeated) linking the contrived hatreds of belligerent nationalism to variously declining stages of human civilization. We may also note Samuel Johnson’s famously expressed conviction that patriotism “is the last refuge of a scoundrel;” William Lloyd Garrison’s observation that “We cannot acknowledge allegiance to any human government…Our country is the world, our countryman is all mankind;” and Thorsten Veblen, “The patriotic spirit is at cross-purposes with modern life.” Of course, there are similar sentiments discoverable in Nietzsche’s Human, all too Human and in Fichte’s Die Grundzűge des gegenwartigen Zeitalters.” Finally, let us recall Santayana’s coalescing remark in Reason and Society: “A man’s feet must be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world.” The ultimate point of all these cosmopolitan remarks is that narrow-minded patriotism is inevitably “unpatriotic,” at least in the sense that it is not in the long-term interests of citizens or subjects.

[13] “Civilization,” adds Lewis Mumford, “is the never-ending process of creating one world and one humanity.” Still the best syntheses of contemporary creative outlines for a world civilization are W. Warren Wagar, The City of Man (1967) and W. Warren Wagar, Building the City of Man (1971).

[14] The curious mantra “I love the poorly educated,” was repeated several times during the 2016 presidential election campaign by then candidate Donald J. Trump.” Consciously, perhaps, it echoed Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at a Nuremberg rally in 1934: “Intellect rots the brain.”

[15]  See at Parameters: https://press.armywarcollege.edu/parameters/vol9/iss1/7/ Lest anyone think this sort of recommendation is absurd or inconceivable, there is actually a long history of nuclear “porcupines,” strategists and observers who correlate expanding nuclear proliferation with expanding global security. See, by this author, at Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College, Louis René Beres: https://press.armywarcollege.edu/parameters/vol9/iss1/7/

[16] As part of an always-escalating bravado detached from intellectual moorings, former US President Donald J. Trump favored such vaporous threats as “complete annihilation” or “total destruction” over dialectically well-reasoned preferences. What once sounded reasonable or “tough” to an anti-intellectual and law-violating American president could only have reduced US nuclear deterrent persuasiveness. During the dissembling “Trump Era,” America’s nuclear security was substantially weakened on multiple fronts.

[17] See by present author at Modern Diplomacy: Louis René Beres.  https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/12/28/trumps-space-force-a-predictable-future-of-war-and-chaos/

[18] Seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, instructs that although international relations are in a “state of nature,” it is nonetheless a more benign condition than that of individual man in nature. With individual human beings, Hobbes reflects, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” Now, however, with the advent and probable continuing spread of nuclear weapons, there is no longer any reason to believe the state of nature to be more tolerable.

[19] Also worrisome here are prospects for irrational decision-making by national leaders, including the president of the United States. See, in this connection:  Louis René Beres,  https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[20] 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.   This “Westphalian” anarchy stands in stark contrast to the legal assumption of solidarity between all states in the presumably common struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a peremptory expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption), is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[21]Although composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan may still offer us a vision of this condition in modern world politics. During chaos, which is a “time of War,” says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery.”):  “… every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Still, at the actual time of writing Leviathan, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition extant among individual human beings. This was because of what he had called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature concerning the ability to kill others. Significantly, this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the continuing manufacture and spread of nuclear weapons, a spread soon apt to be exacerbated by an already-nuclear North Korea and by a not-yet-nuclear Iran.

[22] See especially Albert Wohlstetter, “The Delicate Balance of Terror,” 1958.

[23] One thinks here especially here of Thomas Schelling, Bernard Brodie, Albert Wohlstetter and Herman Kahn.

[24] On related issues of active defense for US ally Israel, see: Louis René Beres and Isaac Ben-Israel (Major-General, IDF/res.), “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Louis René Beres and Major-General Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,” Washington Times, June 10. 2007; and Professor Louis René Beres and Major-General Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009.

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

[26]North Korean nuclear-knowhow could impact other regions of the world. In this connection, Pyongyang has had significant nuclear dealings with Syria. Earlier, North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear reactor, the same facility that was later destroyed by Israel in its Operation Orchard, on September 6, 2007. Although, unlike earlier Operation Opera (June 7, 1981) this preemptive attack, in the Deir ez-Zor region, was presumptively a second expression of the so-called “Begin Doctrine,” it also illustrated, because of the North Korea-Syria connection, a wider globalthreat to US ally, Israel. See also: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/world-report/articles/2017-09-06/10-years-later-israels-operation-orchard-offers-lessons-on-north-korea

[27] See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ Also to be considered as complementary in this connection is the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).

[28] Expressions of decisional irrationality 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).

[29] Pertinent synergies could clarify or elucidate the world political system’s current state of hyper-disorder (a view that would reflect what the physicists prefer to call “entropic” conditions), and could be conceptually dependent upon each national decision-maker’s subjective metaphysics of time.

[30] Both Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and Palestinian terror-group Hamas fired rockets at Dimona. Though unsuccessful, Israel must remain wary of the consequences of any future attack that might prove more capable. For early and informed consideration of reactor attack effects in general, see: Bennett Ramberg, DESTRUCTION OF NUCLEAR ENERGY FACILITIES IN WAR (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1980); Bennett Ramberg, “Attacks on Nuclear Reactors: The Implications of Israel’s Strike on Osiraq,” POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY, Winter 1982-83; pp. 653 – 669; and Bennett Ramberg, “Should Israel Close Dimona? The Radiological Consequences of a Military Strike on Israel’s Plutonium-Production Reactor,”Arms Control Today,May 2008, pp. 6-13.

[31] Says Albert Camus in The Plague: “It is in the thick of calamity that one gets hardened to the truth – in other words, to silence.”

[32] Rationality and irrationality have now taken on very specific meanings. More precisely, an actor (state or sub-state) is presumed determinedly rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational actor might not always display such a determinable preference ordering.

[33] This brings to mind the issue of Palestinian statehood and nuclear risk, For Israel, the main problem with a Palestinian state would not be that state’s own prospective nuclearization, but rather its generally weakening effect on the Jewish state.  Along somewhat similar lines of reasoning, the recent loss of Afghanistan does not create any specifically nuclear war risks for the United States, but it does contribute to an incremental diminution of US military influence. (especially in the region). Moreover, Islamic Pakistan, which is already nuclear, has been strengthened by the American loss and could, among other reactions, become more expressly risk-tolerant on certain strategic challenges from India.

[34] For the specific crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (xxix), 29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No. 31), 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631 (1975), reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[35] Conspicuous preparations for nuclear war fighting could be conceived not as distinct alternatives to nuclear deterrence, but as essential and even integral components of nuclear deterrence.  Some years ago, Colin Gray, reasoning about U.S.-Soviet nuclear relations, argued that a vital connection exists between “likely net prowess in war and the quality of pre-war deterrent effect.”  (See:  Colin Gray, National Style in Strategy: The American Example,” INTERNATIONAL SECURITY, 6, No. 2, fall 1981, p. 35.)  Elsewhere, in a published debate with this writer, Gray said essentially the same thing:  “Fortunately, there is every reason to believe that probable high proficiency in war-waging yields optimum deterrent effect.”  (See Gray, “Presidential Directive 59: Flawed but Useful,” PARAMETERS, 11, No. 1, March 1981, p. 34.  Gray was responding directly to Louis René Beres, “Presidential Directive 59: A Critical Assessment,” PARAMETERS, March 1981, pp. 19 – 28.).

[36] For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the 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.

[37] In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[38] USAF General Jack Chain was this author’s longtime personal friend and frequent co-author on nuclear strategy issues. See, for example: Louis René Beres and John T. Chain (General/USAF/ret.), “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?”, The Atlantic, August 2012; Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012; and Beres/Chain at BESA (Israel): https://besacenter.org/living-iran-israels-strategic-imperative-2/(Israel). General Chainalways remained committed to science-based strategies of nuclear war avoidance. He died on July 7, 2021.

[39] Prescribed thinking should generally be dialectical. Dialectical thinking originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. Further, 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 a necessary refinement in US strategic planning, this knowledge should never be taken for granted.

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

[41] Reference here is to “first time” after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

[42] “The existence of system in the world,” says French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man, “is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom….” (1955).

[43] “World order” has its contemporary intellectual origins in the work of Harold Lasswell and Myres McDougal at the Yale Law School, Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn’s WORLD PEACE THROUGH WORLD LAW (1966) and the large body of writings by Richard A. Falk and Saul H. Mendlovitz during the 1960s and 1970s.

[44] See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, opened for signature, December 9, 1948, entered into force, January 12, 1951, 78 U.N.T.S. 277.

[45] This was almost certainly the case with Germany’s World War II aggressions, crimes oriented very deliberately to Adolph Hitler’s always primary “war against the Jews.” See especially, Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews: 1933 – 1945 (1975).

[46] Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being, its humanitas. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was never intended by either in some ordinarily familiar religious sense. For both psychologists, it represented a recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present analytic context, Freud explained his predicted decline of American civilization by invoking various express references to “soul.” Freud was disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect, literature and history); he even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment would inevitably occasion sweeping emotional misery.

[47]This definition of civilization is borrowed from C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957).

[48] Whether it is described in the Old Testament or other major sources of ancient Western thought, chaos can also be viewed as a source of human betterment. Here, in essence, chaos is that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. Further, as its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but where all civilizational opportunity must originate. Appropriately, the great German poet Friedrich Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic which stands at the roots of the things and which prepares all things.” Even in the pagan ancient world, the Greeks thought of such a desert as logos, a designation which indicates to us that it was presumed to be anything but starkly random or without conceivable merit.

[49] Popper, in turn, drew this instructive metaphor from the classical German poet, Novalis.

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Defense

Will India be sanctioned over the S-400 Air Defense System?

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The Russian S-400 air defense system has emerged as a serious concern for US policymakers. Amongst other states, US allies are seen purchasing and acquiring this state-of-the-art technology despite Washington’s objections.  Earlier in 2019, Turkey received the S-400 setting aside American concerns. India, a critical strategic partner of the US, also secured a $5.4 billion deal for the system in 2018 despite US opposition.

The US administration was considerably confident that it would succeed in persuading India to abandon the deal. The Indian government was warned by the Trump administration that the purchase of S-400 may invoke sanctions under the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA). It was also communicated to the Indian government that presence of Russian S-400 is likely to increase the vulnerability of American weaponry stationed in India which could limit the extent of US-India cooperation. The threat was largely ignored and India went ahead to pay an advance of $800 million to Russia for the system which is indicative of India’s desire to maintain strategic autonomy and its reluctance to form an official military alliance with USA.

When President Biden took office in January 2021, efforts were made once again to convince India to let go of the deal. Then-Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III discussed the air defense system with Rajnath Singh during his visit to India in March 2021. However, India showed no willingness to change its stance over its S-400 policy. 

The issue was also discussed during the three day visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on 6th October, 2021. She commented that the decision over the sanctions related to S-400 will be made by the US President and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. She further added that the US policy regarding any country that uses S-400 is considerably evident and the air defense system is not in anybody’s security interest. 

Historically, Indian air defense systems have largely comprised of Russian equipment and the Indian Air Force (IAF) predominantly operates Russian systems. India is unlikely to recede to American demands of abandoning the S-400 deal which is evident from the recent statements of two senior Indian officials. While addressing the Indian media on the 89th anniversary of IAF on 8th October, 2021, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari stressed that the S-400 should be inducted during the same year. Similarly, shortly after Wendy Sherman commented on S-400, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson gave a statement suggesting that the government was in negotiations with the US. Responding to a question on the S-400, Arindam Bagchi stated, ‘This has been under discussion between our two countries for some time. It was raised and we have discussed it and explained our perspective. And discussions on this are ongoing.’

Noting that India may receive the systems by the end of year, the US will soon be in a position where it will have to make a decision over whether to sanction India or not. The Indian attitude towards this issue suggests that it sees itself in a position where it can get a waiver by the US administration despite disregarding the latter’s concerns. Sanctioning India will erode the bilateral relationship of India and US at a time when Washington needs New Delhi in its larger objective of containing China. This is especially relevant since India is the only QUAD member which shares a border with China. Therefore, this option is not in American interest taking into account the current geopolitical situation.

The US President has the authority to waive off CAATSA sanctions if deemed necessary for American strategic interests. However, in February 2021, US openly declared that a blanket waiver was not a possibility for India. The rationale behind not providing a blanket waiver is that such an action can motivate other states to opt for the same in the hope of a potential waiver since countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have shown interest in acquiring the S-400 air defense system. This factor will also be taken into account while devising the sanctions.

It is likely that India may be sanctioned under CAATSA but the sanctions will largely be symbolic with little long-term implications. However, the Indian policy of strategic autonomy raises questions on the extent of the envisaged partnership between India and the US. Increasing dependence and use of Russian equipment will become a concern owing to the interoperability problems vis-à-vis US military systems. The role of India as an effective strategic ally against China is also questionable noting its strategic decisions which will harm American interests in the region. 

As a strategic partner, India has placed the American leadership in a difficult situation by purchasing the S-400 system. It will be interesting to see how the US articulates the sanctions against India over this purchase.  

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