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The Overriding Strategic Threat: Donald Trump, American “Mass” And Nuclear War

Carl G. Jung

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“The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.”-Carl G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957)

More than anywhere else, Donald Trump take his decisional cues from the American “mass.”  In present circumstances, this term  references a succession of  viscerally compliant private citizens and a seemingly endless chorus of similarly deferential public officials. If there should  still arise any further doubts about such a worrisome assessment, one need only consider Trump’s rancor-filled “rallies” or the undiminished  Republican Senate support for his always-accumulating leadership derogations.

What is to be done? Most concerning among these ample derogations are those actions that would impact a US presidential authorization of military force. In  an evidently worst case scenario, these impacts could include an actual use of nuclear weapons, either by the American side or by a pertinent adversarial state (e.g., North Korea).

Such  risks and dangers did not arise ex nihilo, out of nothing. Rather, Donald Trump’s very conspicuous derelictions – both in the past, and still-impending – are rooted in a population that disavows two complementary obligations. These obligations are the reinforcing imperatives of serious analysis and true learning.   “I  love the poorly educated,” exclaimed the successful US presidential candidate in 2016. “Intellect rots the brain,” shrieked Third Reich Chief of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at his own Nazi rallies, back in 1935 and 1936.

Truth, however inconvenient or embarrassing, is always exculpatory. Any differences between the purposely dissembling statements of  President Trump and those of Minister Goebbels are minor at best. Reciprocally, the evident commonalities are distressingly plain and compelling. Both Donald Trump and his de facto German philosophical mentor represent champions of public disinformation or anti-thought.

Both seek or sought results without even a scintilla of human empathy or hint of compassionate intention.

At first, these comparisons may seem scandalous, even outrageous, but upon further reflection, they are not at all un reasonable or  unfair. Indeed, what would be more manifestly unfair or dishonest is for such tangible and information-based comparisons to be blithely dismissed or casually overlooked. This is because any such whimsical disregard could lead, ineluctably, to catastrophic war.

It’s not  a mysterious connection.  No sensible US war avoidance policies can be expected to emerge from a society that is being steadily weakened by a compliant and obsequious mass culture.[1] In any such anti-science context,  there exists a widespread American indifference to intellect or “mind.” .

More precisely, within the demeaning interstices of United States mass culture, any such  brazen indifference could result in irremediable misfortunes. These hard-to-imagine outcomes could arrive more-or-less immediately, or eventually, that is, in various foreseeable and unforeseeable increments.

Among these especially portentous prospects,  the most worrisome would be nuclear attack and/or nuclear war.

There is more. Though not readily apparent in America’s current national politics, nuclear violence in variously assorted forms represents the greatest possible risk posed. No such dire prediction could be expressed as a true mathematical probability (because any nuclear war would necessarily represent a unique event), but the broader connections between generalized American anti-intellectualism and American national security are recognizably evident.

There has never been any specific or general American outcry about an American president who proudly reads nothing, literally nothing at all. At his first Republican presidential convention, an early Trump-selected “speaker” was Duck Dynasty.  

Need anything more be said?

Still, there are always core lessons to be learned. Americans should look much more carefully  behind the news. Everything that we/they most genuinely need to know is not on  television or on  the internet. More generally, “The crowd,” noted the 19th-century Danish philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, “is untruth.”  

In present-day United States, no single characterization could be more obvious or less contestable.

In this mass or crowd-based society, a continuing Trump presidency – the most  patently injurious result of America’s demeaning orientation to mass- could (sooner or later) become intolerable. “The  best lack all conviction,” warned the Irish poet W. B. Yeats in The Second Coming, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” For now at least for bewildered or beleaguered Americans, this existential warning remains confined to cerebral poetry.

But the stanza deserves a far wider audience,

Let all relevant assessments be forthright and candid. For the United States and certain of its allies,  a nuclear war is never really out of the question. At the moment, the most plausible site for any such unprecedented conflagration would be northeast Asia (US versus North Korea). Still, in light of a resurrecting “Cold War” with Russia (“Cold War II”), preliminary and contagious “sparks” could ignite virtually anywhere on earth. Most problematic, in this regard, would be southwest Asia (India/Pakistan)  

There is more. I have lectured and published widely on these issues since chairing Project Daniel for Israeli Prime Minister Arik Sharon back in 2003.

 Substantial nuclear conflict dangers will obtain in the Middle East even if Iran should somehow remain non-nuclear. This is the case, inter alia, because Israel could sometime need to rely upon nuclear deterrence or actual nuclear weapons use in response to certain non-nuclear forms of unconventional aggression (i.e., biological attack) and/or “only” massive conventional aggressions.

More than likely, this second category of risk would involve assorted “hybrid” aggressions launched (plausibly, in some definitive concert with Iran) by Hezbollah.

Already, the size and military capacity of this formidable Shiite militia exceeds that of many area armies.

 Let us look more closely at these strategic issues. What discernible linkages exist between mass society and nuclear war? Though mass thinking[2] or “crowd” thinking (Kierkegaard) is always “untruth,” Donald Trump is not the most genuinely root cause of America’s expanding atomic war perils. He is rather, an “outcome,”  a mere result, though a prospectively devastating result, of larger and far more deeply insidious national pathologies. More formally, knowledgeable scientists and philosophers (not this president’s mass “base”) would identify Trump’s incessantly demeaning incumbency as “epiphenomenal.”

But this does not make them any less dangerous.

There is more.Some complementary or corollary concerns aremore expressly legal than military or strategic.In these similarly urgent matters of US foreign policy making, President Donald Trump, leading a major world power that remains party to both the Geneva Convention (1949) and the Genocide Convention (1948), has no defensible legal right to call openly for international aggression.  But this is exactly what Trump demanded when he first threatened “total destruction” of North Korea in the earliest days of his presidency.

While the American president  intermittently claims (with evident pride)   that he and Kim Jung Un are “in love,” this allegedly deep affection remains an unreliable basis for nuclear war avoidance. Moreover, looking ahead dispassionately, the more visible and credible source of verbal belligerence between Washington and Pyongyang is the White House.

In law, there is no legitimate American right of tu quoque (Latin for “you too”). Among other historical instances, this legal defense was rejected at the original Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946, and also at the later Tokyo Trials. A significant portion of Donald Trump’s seemingly endless legal derogations lies in his sweeping unfamiliarity with all normally recognizable instances of history and jurisprudence.

Even now, Donald Trump appears unaware of the basics.  International law remains an integral part of U.S. domestic (municipal) law. To date, at least, this president has been unable to nullify Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”) or any of the several major Supreme Court decisions detailing binding sources for “incorporation.” Among  seminally core case judgments linking valid international rules to United States obligations, the most plainly important are the Paquete Habana (1900) and Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (1984).

Does anyone reasonably expect that US President Trump or his personal lawyers would have even a tiny substantive notion about these landmark American decisions?

It’s a silly question.

This sort of essential information is discussed only by the Constitutional lawyers. Now, unassailably, our vaunted American democracy rests unsteadily on the retrograde sovereignty of wholly unqualified persons. Even now, in the Senate leadership of his own party, only a pitiful few are prepared to say emphatically and unambiguously: “This emperor is naked, irremediably naked. He has no clothes.”[3]

 In metaphoric candor, Donald Trump’s refractory authority has “slipped back,” to use the illuminating images of twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, and on to the age-old stage of civilization.” This ancient “stage” remains shabby, shaky and profoundly anti-democratic. Cumulatively, it does not bode well for a secure American life at any level.

At the conceptual heart of our America’s “crowd” or “mass” problem, the current US president remains a malignant and determinative “symptom.” Any further American “slippage” into the presidentially-augmented mass will have discernible and distinctly palpable consequences. There are certain obvious and unstoppable reasons for this. Reasonably, no country so openly fearful of independent thought – no country so fervidly torn between its loud public proclamations of  “exceptionalism” and the silent estrangements of its grievously unhappy people –  can hope to overcome  its screaming declensions.      

We may continue this nuclear war background analysis.  No blustering affirmations of “America First” can supplant authentic thought.

Such painfully shallow affirmations, now repeated daily,  as if they were some sort of religious incantation, can only deflect America’s attention from what remains vitally important. Most urgently, Trump must better ensure that his seat-of-the-pants strategic posture toward North Korea (a posture drawn directly from the commercial worlds of real estate branding and casino gambling) does not sometime explode uncontrollably. Significantly, such an obviously unacceptable outcome may at first seem less likely or worrisome than is actually the case.

“Do not seek the higher man in the marketplace” warned  Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra.As usual, the philosopher’s underscored wisdom was timeless.

Should North Korea and the United States enter into any outright hostilities or even an unintentional  nuclear war, the horrors of the earlier Vietnam conflict will be magnified many-fold. Before anything decent could ever be born from the rubble of such a conflict, an army of gravediggers would need to wield the “forceps.”

 Once upon a time in America, virtually every barely-attentive adult could recite some intuitively Spenglerian theory of decline. Today, at a very different historical moment – at an especially acquiescent national juncture where the riddle of human destiny has been reduced by American public life to vulgar and degrading entertainments –  almost no one can recognize The Decline of the West. “Logically,” this far-reaching lack of recognition should be expected whether we are speaking of a classic historical text written by a once-obscure German professor or some actual and precipitous historical declension.

What else should one now expect of a nation where the 2016 keynote presidential convention speaker of the victorious political party was Duck Dynasty.

In some respects, it is a very old story. Both frightened and repelled by any plausible expectations of genuine learning, expanding masses of Americans proceed blindly and in reassuring lockstep with crowds of similarly-fearful marchers. Consciously, this Trumpian “mass,” these obliging “crowds,” keep a desperate pace with all those other homogenized men and women who similarly loathe serious thought. Always, identifiably sizable segments of this submissive crowd coalesce energetically around a delusionary “pied-piper.”

In the present American case,  Trump reflects a president who promises multiple accessible scapegoats in compensation for citizens’ most stubborn  fears and personal failures. For the all-too-many listeners, these seductive promises are convenient, but untrue.

In the real American past, which has been “great” only selectively,  certain  circumstances have never been quite as degrading or ominous as today. In the words of Nixon-era White House advisor John Dean, speaking on CNN in March 2018, “Donald Trump is Richard Nixon on steroids and stilts.” That’s quite a telling (and accurate) metaphor.

Worldwide, this is hardly the first time in the past hundred years that a dissembling political wizard has promised self-blinding followers some sort of lascivious “redemption” in exchange for their total political obedience. In an easily best remembered example, the ultimate costs inflicted by Third Reich wizardry included the destruction of an entire continent and over100 million souls. The lesson for those Americans still willing to read and think?  It is that there is always a great and unforgivable price to be paid by societies that wittingly abjure intellect, history and capable thought.

Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” At the very moment when an American president should be focusing systematically and analytically on prospective nuclear war dangers from  North Korea, China, Russia, and elsewhere,  Donald Trump prefers to lead his chanting crowds in strange and futile directions. Now, more than ever, these incoherent refrains are not “only” inane and irrelevant.  More portentously, they will drown out the still-surviving vestiges of any residually sensible American thought.

 In every presidential election, the American mass more-or-less indefatigably patronizes itself.  The difference in 2016 was that these results were effectively sui generis; that is, they were darkly unique in the most regrettable and forseeably sinister ways. Over time, as we have seen, the palpable consequences could include nuclear/existential harms.

The remedy? Above all, it must be founded upon a  meaningfully prior understanding: No society, including allegedly “exceptional” ones, can coexist together with mindlessly chanting crowds that masquerade as democracy.Unless we can finally display some sincere willingness to oppose the shrill and yelling American mass –  a crowd that increasingly becomes a corrosive solvent of social conformance and intellectual mediocrity – Americans will continue to find too little air to breathe. Inevitably, at some point in the declining Trump years, there will be no air to breathe at all.[4]

Asphyxiation, Americans would only then discover, is a bad way to die.

Every mass society, not just the United States, loves to chant deliriously and in some form of stupefied chorus. “We the people” continue to seek comforting resonances of “exceptionalism” in pitifully shallow slogans, raw commerce and blatantly vacuous political promises. Oddly enough, this elusive search for happiness, amid its convulsive shrieking and imitation, would be less perilous if it did not issue from a  depressingly terminal ailment.

What, more precisely, is the underlying malady? If Donald Trump is “merely” a symptom, what is the country’s true national pathology? The correct answer has much to do with understanding current war threats from North Korea or even Russia. This answer is logically antecedent to discovering hopeful solutions to still-growing existential threats.

At the most sorely critical “illness” levels of national despair, politics and government have become pretty much beside the point. In America’s battered landscape of clichéd wisdom, mass shootings, copycat violence and dreary profanity, there remains, at bottom, a recalcitrant and metastasizing sickness of the soul. Ironically, America’s national debility of personal surrender to crowds lurks mainly undisguised.  Conspicuously, it is most easily detectable in Donald Trump’s proudly flaunted hatreds of intellect, individualism and real learning.

Alas,” observed T.S. Eliot,in a still-unheeded warning, “Our dried voices, when we whisper together, Are quiet and meaningless.”

 At their very deepest levels, American politics and government remain determinably extraneous to whatever is genuinely important. The bewildered nation’s expanding ocean of personal addictions, now too vast for remediation by any normal reformist strategies, is already deep enough to drown entire  libraries of a once-sacred poetry.

In an earlier and foundational American national history, both liberals and conservatives read Lucretius, Cicero, Grotius, Vattel, Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and (later) Blackstone. Excluding the eighteenth-century English jurist, whose refined thoughts were to become the starting point of all American jurisprudence, Thomas Jefferson read them all.

What does US President Donald Trump read or write?

Prima facie, this is a silly question.

Until just a few years ago, I had been a university professor for almost 50 years. For the most part, my students were less interested in exhibiting any high-thinking than in acquiring high net worth. Given a presumptive opportunity to earn impressive incomes without continuing their formal education, an overwhelming majority would have unhesitatingly grabbed at the “offer.” How do I know this?

Because, as an “experiment,” I occasionally asked them.

From year to year, the grimly anti-intellectual results never changed.

In our once still-ascendant American intellectual history, some time shortly after the literary ascendancies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of accomplishment earned commendably high marks . Then, more often than now, young people strove to rise originally, not by incessantly craving expensive and unnecessary goods, but as the still-confident proprietors of an exemplary American Self. Though Emerson and his fellow New England Transcendentalists had taught the flip side of “high thinking” must be “plain living,” current US citizenry generally seeks private wealth above any other barely competing objectives.

Nothing could possibly be more obvious.

This is true, at least in principle, for the poor and disregarded as well as for the very rich.

In America,  the truly telling question is implicit. Why bother to read or study literature? It has no cash value. Furthermore, as the current president can readily attest, it has no believable place in the acquisition of personal political power. Indeed, Americans now live in a land where visible intellectual deficits have become an unimpeachable political asset.

In the end, US President Donald Trump – however destructive his presidency eventually becomes  – must remain a symptom. On its face, with precious few exceptions, wealth is always taken as America’s final and quintessential form of personal validation. Many years back, economist Adam Smith concluded that wealth is most eagerly sought not because of any intrinsic purchasing power, but on account of its incomparable capacity to elicit envy. Later, Emerson expressed a very similar idea when he incautiously advised that any “foolish reliance upon property” is the inevitable result of “a want of self-reliance.”

In the end, the transient warmth of  an American mass or crowd promises each US citizen a concocted but still-comforting defense against loneliness. This reassuringly seductive mass quickly and expansively defiles whatever is pleasingly  wondrous, gracious and generous in American society. Already anticipating this lamentable development, Charles Dickens had observed, back in 1842:  “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country (USA), in the failure of its example to the earth.”

Dickens was “spot on.” Americans have protected their political freedom from the most visible and invidious kinds of oppression, though even this key protection is now subject to reasonable doubt.  At the same time, they have wittingly sacrificed the coequal obligation to become authentically fulfilled persons. More openly deploring a life of some greater meaning and purpose than this one of calculated imitation and sterile accumulation, Americans now routinely substitute reality shows for real literature and a reality show “wizard” for capable national leadership.

What should they expect?

Is it any wonder that America already stands on the precarious  brink of irremediable nuclear confrontations?

In America’s sorely blemished democracy, a declining system of governance driven by what political “elite” theorists had long called the “iron law of oligarchy,”[5] those individual Americans who would still choose disciplined thought over fitting-into the crowd must accept related kinds of “punishment.” Usually, these sanctions are delivered as some form or other of social or professional ostracism, but sometimes they are meted out in corollary examples of “aloneness.” “The most radical division,” observed Spanish existentialist Jose  Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity…. those who make great demands on themselves…and those who demand nothing special of themselves…”

 In reality, American democracy and its closely corresponding presidential elections represent an inelegant and simultaneously lethal masquerade. Again and again, they seek to  cover-up and legitimize what has been constituted and consecrated by a backward-looking mass. Now, at long last, it is high time for such perilous camouflage in the inert American mass to yield tosomething better.     

Now, in America, even after such a patently catastrophic presidential selection in 2016, the people may have been granted one graspable last chance for being-challenged-in-the-world.

In the end, creating proper American governance is not all that complicated: Only those few individuals who would dare to reject an insistently demeaning amusement society can offer this imperiled nation any enduring hope.What next?

To proceed, there are pertinent corollaries. The strength and courage of America’s desperately-needed “inner-directedness” can never lie only in holding an advanced degree, in engaging with others during periodic  electoral contests or in advancing various intentional contrivances of language. In America, the indispensable qualities of individual authenticity must be sought, instead, in the potentially complementary powers of intellectual independence, social justice and spontaneous empathy.

This last power cannot be taught. Nonetheless, it can be encouraged by stepping back from a declining American culture that values endlessly crude consumption over intelligent erudition and independent thought.

Adam Smith, in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), saw in capitalism not just an admirably rising productivity, but also a required foundation for political liberty. He also understood that a system of “perfect liberty” –  one that we might presently call an ideal democracy – could never be based upon smug and facile encouragements of needless consumption. The inexorable laws of the marketplace, he had reasoned, demanded a suitable disdain for all vanity-driven buying.

 For Adam Smith, the main problem of any dangerously orchestrated hyper-consumption was neither economic nor political, but psychological.

It was, in other words, a problem of unresisted absorption into the mass or  crowd.

For Adam Smith, contrary to very widespread misunderstandings of his complex thought, “conspicuous consumption,” a phrase that would later be used more explicitly and engagingly by sociologist Thorsten Veblen, must never be taken as evidence of economic or political progress. It follows that while the crowd call of American democracy may remain loud, crass or even alluringly persuasive, We the people must still  keep up the struggle against the suffocating mass, purposefully, and, above all else, asgenuine individuals. 

 Then Americans could finally lay bare the essential ingredients of a democracy that would offer more than the sum total of individual souls fleeing desperately from themselves.

Then, perhaps, Americans could avoid re-electing a president who stands in chaotic opposition to sensible foreign policies of nuclear war avoidance, and who substitutes ad hominem attacks for any minimally intelligent diplomacy. Then, determinedly,  the American nation could choose its presidents from among candidates who can understand that the United States is part of a much wider world. This means from those aspirants who could acknowledge that “America First” represents a potentially irreversible triumph of mass.

In the end, if ever the American constitutional State should succumb to what Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung euphemistically called a “fit of weakness,”  such triumph could hasten the nation’s most utterly lethal declensions. A nuclear war would resemble any other terminal illness in at least one overarching respect. This is that the only “cure” would lie in prevention.


[1] “The mass-man,” we learn from Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses, 1930), “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”

[2] On the terrible possible outcomes of “mass,” see especially: C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957); Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1932); and Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). Of course, all three share as core intellectual mentor Friedrich Nietzsche, especially the 19th-centiry German philosopher’s still-incomparable classic, Zarathustra (1883).

[3] “Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remains minors all their lives….” says Immanuel Kant in his classic essay: What is Enlightenment (1784).

[4] We learn, again, from Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay, What is Enlightenment, that submission to deleterious mass is “self-imposed.” The core problem we read from the German philosopher, lies ultimately in a “lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance.”

[5] See especially: Vilfredo Pareto, The Mind and Society (1935); Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (1939); and Robert Michels, The Iron Law of Oligarchy (1949).

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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Joe Biden and his first contradictory foreign policy moves

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Those who thought that the elderly American President, formerly Barack Obama’s vice-President, would step into the international limelight as the wise and moderate statesman he had been during the election campaign have had to revise their judgement.

Just a few weeks after taking office, Joe Biden abruptly brought the United States back onto the Middle East stage with a dual political-military move that has aroused considerable perplexity and protest in the United States and abroad.

As Pentagon spokesman John Kirby pointed out, the first surprise move decided directly by the President was to order an aerial bombardment against two bases of militiamen believed to be close to Hezbollah and Iran, located in Syria near the border with Iraq.

Between 22 and 27 people, whether militiamen or civilians, are reported to have died in the attack, which took place during the night of February 25.

The order to strike the pro-Iranian militias was motivated by Biden’s need to react to an attack in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, at the beginning of February against a U.S. army logistics base, which resulted in the death of a Filipino employee of the base.

Commenting on the incident, Pentagon spokesman Kirby said: “The airstrikes have destroyed warehouses and buildings used on the border by pro-Iranian militias Kathaib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al Shuhaba and have conveyed the unambiguous message that President Biden will always act to protect American personnel. At the same time, the action is intended to deliberately pursue the goal of de-escalating tension in both eastern Syria and Iraq’.

Apart from the fact that it sounds ambiguous to justify a surprise attack on the territory of a (still) sovereign State like Syria with the need to “reduce tension” in the region, President Biden’s initiative has aroused not a few perplexities also in the United States, in addition to the obvious protests of the government in Damascus.

While many Republican Senators and Congressmen have approved of Biden’s actions because, as Republican Senator Pat Toomey has argued, “Biden has the right to respond with weapons to the recent attacks supported by Iran against American interests”, members of his own party have not hidden their criticism and perplexity because allegedly the President did not respect the exclusive prerogatives of Congress in terms of “war actions”.

Democratic Senator Tim Kane was very harsh and explicit: “an offensive military action without Congressional approval is unconstitutional”.

His colleague from the same party, Chris Murphy, told CNN that “military attacks require Congressional authorization. We must require that this Administration adheres to the same behavioural standards we have required from previous Administrations…

We require that there be always legal justification for every American military initiative, especially in a theatre like Syria, where Congress has not authorised any military initiative”.

With a view to underlining the inconsistency of the White House’s justification that the attacks were to ‘reduce tension’ in the region, Democratic Congressman Ro Khana publicly stepped up criticism by saying, “We need to get out of the Middle East. I spoke out against Trump’s endless war and I will not shut up now that we have a Democratic President”.

As we can see, the criticism levelled at President Biden has been harsh and very explicit, thus marking the premature end of the ‘honeymoon’ between the Presidency and Congress that, in the U.S. tradition, marks the first hundred days of each new Administration.

President Biden’s military show of strength appears to be marked not only by the doubts over constitutionality raised by leading members of his own party, but also by the contradictory nature of the motivations and justifications.

According to the White House, in view of reducing tension in Syria, bombers need to be sent, without prejudice to the need to “convey a threatening signal” to Iran, at the very moment when the President himself is declaring he wants to reopen the “nuclear deal” with Iran, i.e.  the dialogue on the nuclear issue abruptly interrupted by his predecessor.

In short, the new President’s opening moves in the Middle East region do not seem to differ too much from those of his predecessors who, like him, thought that military action – even bloody and brutal – could always be considered a useful option as a substitute for diplomacy.

This military action, however, seems scarcely justifiable in its motivations if it is true that President Biden intends to reduce the tension in relations with Iran, which have become increasingly tense due to initiatives such as those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who at the beginning of last year ordered the assassination of the highest-ranking member of the Iranian military hierarchy, Qassem Suleimani, who was shot by a drone near Baghdad.

President Biden’s other move that, in a delicate and sensitive theatre such as the Near East, appears at least untimely, was to authorise CIA to declassify the report on the assassination of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, killed in 2018 on the premises of the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

The CIA report bluntly accuses Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of ordering the murder of the dissident journalist. Its publication, authorised by President Biden, has sparked a storm of controversy inside and outside the United States, thus seriously calling into question the strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which over the years has been painstakingly built with the dual aim of counterbalancing Iran’s presence and influence in the Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, as well as controlling the extremist impulses of rich and dangerous regional partners such as Qatar.

Prince Bin Salman, now firmly established as sole heir to the Saudi throne, is a compulsory counterpart of the United States.

In vain (and recklessly), President Biden has publicly declared his preference for a direct dialogue with King Salman.

The 85-year-old King, however, is not only in poor health conditions, but has also clearly told the Americans that he has the utmost confidence in “his sole and legitimate heir” to whom he has already actually delegated the management of the Kingdom’s affairs.

President Biden’s Administration, and its new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have never made a secret of preferring another Crown Prince as a potential counterpart, namely Mohammed Bin Nayef, who is very close to CIA thanks to the good offices of the former Chief of the Saudi intelligence services, Saad Al Jabry. Nevertheless, in the complicated world of the Saudi Court, things do not always proceed in the simple and straightforward way preferred by the Americans.

Mohammed Bin Najef is currently in prison on corruption charges and is therefore definitely out of the race for the throne, while his CIA liaison, Al Jabry, has self-exiled to Canada to escape the ‘persecution’ he believes has been orchestrated by the Saudi courtiers.

If the United States wants to keep on playing a role in the Middle East and possibly exercising a stabilising function in a region which was greatly destabilised by George W. Bush’s unfortunate Iraqi adventure, which effectively handed Iraq over to the Shi’ites close to their Iranian “brothers” and gave Iran the keys to control the Persian Gulf, the President and his Secretary of State will have to rely on a good dose of political realism, leaving out of the dialogue with Saudi Arabia the ethical considerations which, although justified, do not seem appropriate, also because America has never seemed to have had many scruples when it comes to physically eliminating its ‘adversaries’ with very hasty methods, be they an Iranian general, two dozen unidentified Syrian militiamen or their relatives.

In short, the early stages of Biden’s Presidency do not look very promising. Allies and adversaries alike are waiting for the United States to get back on the field in the most sensitive areas with pragmatism and realism, two factors that seem rather lacking in Joe Biden’s preliminary foreign policy moves.

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Biden’s Syria strikes don’t make him a centrist Democrat – they make him a neocon

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Biden’s Syria strikes last week left many of his supporters, including me, surprised.

The Syria strikes don’t make Biden the centrist Democrat that we knew we were getting – they make him a neocon. 22 Syrians died as a result, as the US forces aimed at Iran-backed militias in Syria in an attempt to take down adversaries – not to disturb an imminent attack on civilians or to stop genocide, for example.

My own initial analysis of Biden’s foreign policy outlook pinned him as a classical Democrat, but his first moves put him further and well beyond the center to the right than what generally defines a classical foreign policy Democrat. 

Humanitarian reasons as a justification for the use of force is what separates hawkish centrist Democrats from the neocons on the right. And that’s not a small difference. For neocons, spreading democracy and regime change suffices. But that’s not the case for Democrats. The Biden Administration knows this very well. That’s why what counts as “humanitarian” in Syria is key for the Biden Administration and that’s why “humanitarian” is getting a very ugly, tortured reading in the first State Department statements. This week the State Department’s Spokesperson Ned Price tweeted that the State Department commemorates the one year anniversary of the death of 33 Turkish soldiers who “lost their lives protecting innocent Syrian civilians in Idlib from the brutality of the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian backers”.

As a quick refresher, Turkey entered Kurdish northern Syria after Donald Trump gave Turkish leader Erdogan the green light to settle his score with the Kurds who were bravely fighting ISIS in Syria as American allies. That was back in late 2019. Then Erdogan overplayed his hand by entering a completely new Syrian province with no Kurds in order to expand Turkish presence in Syria. At the time, Erdogan turned to his party with the words: “we are now the hosts here”, indicating that Erdogan thought that he was running the show in the newly invaded Syrian province. Russian President Vladimir Putin then taught Erdogan a lesson by striking the Turkish base and killing 33 Turkish soldiers in a preview of what was in store for Turkey if Erdogan forgot who actually calls the shots in Syria. At no point in time, were the Turkish soldiers on a humanitarian mission, as represented by the US. Turkey clearly invaded Kurdish Syria to displace and settle score with the Kurds, flattening and erasing whole villages, and then continued south into uncharted, not Kurdish territories before it got a slap on the wrist by Putin. Erdogan then had to go to Moscow to give explanations and bow to Putin in an attempt to patch things up.

This is why the State Department’s reading of what happened is truly troubling. The State Department not only closed its eyes to Turkish human rights violations but now even tries to represent and commemorate them as humanitarian and good. That is ugly and dangerous. And it’s a blatant lie.

The Biden Administration’s first moves show that Biden is mostly likely forgetting who elected him and why. This is not what the progressive left that put him in office signed up for. One month in is too soon to be already disappointing fans and supporters.

The Biden Administration’s foreign policies will be similar to Trump’s policies but what’s more dangerous is that they will be couched in hypocritical, polished human rights and humanitarian rhetoric lauding big human rights abusers as well-intentioned humanitarians. I don’t know who I prefer then – the straight-forward Trump with whom what you get is what you see in foreign policy and who was easy to criticize because he stated his intentions clearly, or the professionally seasoned and refined Biden who is much better at dressing his true policies in hypocritical narratives that serve as a smokescreen for the slowly crystallizing idea that in foreign policy, Biden is just a more polished Trump.

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Charting an American Return to Reason: Nuclear Policy Goals on North Korea

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“All our dignity consists in thought….It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.”Blaise Pascal, Pensées

The Primacy of Intellect

On matters of United States foreign and defense policy, it is high time to return to Reason.[1] Why a “return?” During his four years as president, Donald J. Trump created an almost seamless web of policy derelictions and corresponding failures. In this humiliating history of calculated Unreason, Trump’s strategic declensions were the result of both witting dissemblance and outright irrationality.[2]

               Naturally, some of these evident failures were substantially worse than others. Of special concern today must be the former president’s error-marked postures concerning North Korea. Over time, though perhaps still not widely evident, these accumulated liabilities could produce intolerable outcomes. Where they would involve any sort of nuclear exchange, such failures could be altogether irremediable.[3]

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher, “I believe because it is absurd.”[4] Donald J. Trump’s core misunderstandings of North Korea began with his misconceived primacy of personal leadership relationships. Most plainly, right after their 2018 Singapore Summit, Trump gushed about his new-found Pyongyang “partner,” Kim Jong Un:

                “We fell in love.”[5]

               There is more. Foreign policy can be metaphor. In global politics, as in life generally, grievous missteps can prove cumulative. And often, in world diplomacy, vital policy roots can prove to be refractory and difficult to excise. Insidiously, in such always-intricate matters, past policy failures do not simply become benign.

               From the start, Trump’s curious preference for “attitude” over “preparation” fostered serious derogations of American influence and power.[6] To wit, while this president was cheerfully celebrating Kim Jong Un’s alleged “love,” the North Korean leader was actively expanding and modernizing his country’s nuclear arsenals. In essence, these expansions/refinements created variously destabilizing ripples in our presently anarchic and prospectively chaotic world system.[7]

               Unlike certain other US adversaries such as Iran, which are not yet “atomic,” North Korea is plainly nuclear and intermittently threatening. In early January 2021, after describing the United States as “our biggest enemy,” Kim Jong Un called openly for more advanced nuclear weapons and infrastructures. Then, during fully nine hours of blistering remarks at a January party conference in Pyongyang, Kim summarized his country’s basic strategic posture: “Our foreign political activities should be focused and redirected on subduing the United States, our biggest enemy….No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature of the US and its fundamental policies towards North Korea never change.”

               “Subduing the United States….” That is a far-reaching and plausibly-apocalyptic ambition, one that ought not be subject to any cultivated refinements of US presidential “attitude.” For Pyongyang, the only “true nature” of American significance lies in Kim’s subjective assessment of White House intentions. Accordingly, it is time to inquire:

               What tangible nuclear threats will likely face US President Joe Biden from North Korea?

               How should the United States respond?

Evident Particulars

               Despite their simple declarative style, these two intersecting questions exhibit near-staggering complexity. Among other things, pertinent threats are both direct and indirect.[8] During the doctrinally-challenged Trump presidency,[9] several corresponding and derivative risks were allowed to expand without any effective controls.[10] Today, at a critical post-Trump point in American strategic planning, these risks have become conspicuously grave, many-sided and potentially existential.[11]

               For US President Joe Biden, growing nuclear uncertainties with North Korea represent hazards of exceptionally great urgency. What exactly shall be required of his administration in dealing with such core strategic matters? As a start, the new American president will need to acknowledge something that was never properly understood by his anti-intellectual predecessor. In essence,  Trump ought to have understood, national security and war preparedness must always be theory-based,[12] and thereby receive a dialectical imprimatur[13] of “mind over mind.”[14]  

               There is more. Any now eleventh-hour elevation of  US strategic thought would need to be based upon greater presidential appreciation of persistently-intersecting complexities, both politicalandmilitary. These complexities include multiple “synergies” wittingly overlooked by Donald J. Trump.[15] Though the former American president believed that he had “miraculously” solved the North Korea nuclear problem  in one afternoon by “falling in love” with Kim Jong Un (and, reciprocally, by Kim falling in love with him), this purported attachment was never more than a caricatural metaphor.[16]

                In synergistic intersections,[17] the “whole” of any particular outcome mustbe greater than the sum of its constituent “parts.” In such challenging analytic matters, US policy-making must be kept suitably distant from any distracting considerations founded upon wishful thinking or extravagant hope. To recall, in  this connection, the Greek historian Thucydides’ summary assessment of the Peloponnesian War: “Hope is by nature an expensive commodity, and those who are risking their all on one cast find out what it means only when they are already ruined….[18]

               Though several millennia old, this ancient warning remains timely and valid.

Beyond Strategic Simplifications

               What helpful counsel shall now be offered to the White House? Donald J. Trump did not act upon any well-reasoned foundations of theoretical examination. Now, going forward, how should the Biden administration best proceed on all relevant and frequently overlapping fronts?

               Study is indispensable. History deserves pride of place. The early Greeks regarded war and war-planning not as a purely personal or ad hoc activity, but rather as a daunting contest of “mind over mind.” Anticipating the later writings of Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz (On War, 1832), these ancients very typically based their tactical and operational policies upon a coherent body of dialectical “conversations.” At that stage, the primary and preeminent battlefield would always have to be conceptualizedand configured before the onset of  any actual troop movements or engagements.

               Correspondingly, any foreseeable victory in such engagements would have to follow a mind-based articulation of strategic doctrine.[19]

               In many-layered matters, comprehensive theory remains necessary. Always, the interrelated world, like the myriad human bodies who comprise it, must be regarded as a system.[20] Among the most serious implications of this metaphor, any more-or-less major conventional conflict in northeast Asia could heighten the prospect of  destabilizing international conflicts elsewhere. This is the case, moreover, whether pertinent consequences would occur immediately or in assorted increments.

               Among other possibilities, these fearful prospects could include a regional nuclear war.  Such prospects could be enlarged by variously misguided American searches for a no-longer credible outcome. A clear example of such mistaken search would be one that is directed toward some allegedly decipherable form of  “victory.”

               There are markedly good reasons for offering such a warning. A non-traditional observation about “victory” is persuasive, at least in part, because the core meanings of victory and defeat have been changing steadily over time. Inter alia, these are no longer the same meanings as those offered earlier by Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’ classic, On War (1832).

               There is more. In most identifiable wars between nation-states, there no longer obtain any confirmable criteria of demarcation between victory and defeat. Even a so-called “victory” on some recognizable field of battle might not in any calculable way reduce significant security threats to the United States. Such grave threats, whether foreseen or unforeseen, could include sub-state aggressions (terrorism) and/or widening attacks upon regional and/or non-regional US allies.

               Always, for policy planners and strategists, the arena of world politics must be understood not only as system , but also as an anarchic system,[21] or a “state of nature” in classical philosophic terms.[22]

               Once acknowledged as a distinct foreign-policy objective, any declared US search for “victory” over North Korea would likely exacerbate America’s strategic risks without enhancing any derivative gains. To be sure, such a meaningless declaration could create corrosively lethal escalatory dynamics with Pyongyang, ones from which Washington could no longer expect any palpable military advantages. This expectedly injurious creation could take place in unanticipated increments, or instead, suddenly, as an unexpected or “bolt-from-the-blue” enemy attack.[23]

               In the foreseeable worst case, any unwitting US forfeiture of “escalation dominance” could signify irreversible American losses. These include chaotic conditions that could create (a) tens or even hundreds of thousands of prompt fatalities; and (b) tangibly larger numbers of latent cancer deaths.[24] Factoring in  the additional factor of worldwide disease “plague,” or pandemic, this presumptive “worst case” could sometime get much worse.

               Technically, we are discussing an evident oxymoron; nonetheless, the derivative meanings are both palpable and plausible.

               A great deal of specificity must be examined and taken into account  by US President Joe Biden’s designated senior counselors. In a world where history and science could conceivably regain their proper stature, an American president could then usefully acknowledge that because nation-states no longer generally declare wars[25] or enter into war-termination treaties,[26] the application of traditional criteria of “war winning” to interstate conflicts would no longer make any legal sense. Expectedly, too, in the vastly complicated matters already at hand for America’s current  president, ascertainable benefits might not lie latent in traditional forms of military expertise.             

Who are the Recognizable Experts?

                Exactly how much applicable military experience could American generals have garnered in starting, managing or ending a nuclear war? How much might the president and his senior commanders see only what they would want to see, including perhaps some seemingly gainful prospect of military preemption.[27]  Here they should have to recall the ancient but also still relevant observation of Julius Caesar at Chapter 18 of  his Gallic War: “…men as a rule willingly believe what they want to believe….”

               In these transitional nuclear times,[28] such selective perceptions could prove grievously injurious and irremediably mistaken. Though, at least in principle, an American president might still benefit from a particular preemption against an already nuclear North Korea in certain residual and extraordinary circumstances,[29]  it is still incontestable that any US defensive first strike[30] would have catastrophic outcomes. Regarding the myriad complexities of any still-impending two-power nuclear competition where (a) there would exist substantial asymmetries in relative military power position; but where (b) the “weaker” (North Korean) side would still maintain a verifiable potential to inflict unacceptably damaging first-strikes or reprisals upon the “stronger” (American) side, calibrated policy-making cautions would become more important than ever before.

               Ironically, at this time of rampant pandemic, a nuclear war – any nuclear war – could quickly become “terminal.” The only reasonable “cure” for any such devastating pathology must lie in prevention.

               There is more. Under Joseph Biden, the United States will need a refined policy posture that can capably account for the rationality and intentionality of enemy decision-makers in Pyongyang. Always, the new American president should approach the still-growing North Korean nuclear threat from a disciplined and conceptual perspective. This means, among other things, factoring into any coherent US nuclear threat assessment (a) the expected rationality or irrationality of all principal decision-makers in Pyongyang; and (b) the foreseeable intentional or unintentional intra-crisis behaviors of these adversarial decision-makers.

               “Theory is a net,” quotes philosopher of science Karl Popper from the German poet Novalis in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959): [31] “….only those who cast, can catch.” In such bewilderingly complex strategic matters, nothing can ever prove more practical than good theory. In science, continuously, a broadly elucidating generality offers the key to uncovering variously specific meanings.

               Generality is a trait of all true meaning. Soon, it follows that having at hand such comprehensive policy clarifications could help guide US President Joe Biden beyond any otherwise vague or uselessly impromptu strategic appraisals. Under no circumstances, this president must likely be reminded, should such multi-sided crisis possibilities be assessed implicitly or explicitly as singular or narrowly ad hoc phenomena.

The Matter of Strategic Intention

               Capable strategic analysts guiding the new American president should enhance their nuclear investigations by carefully identifying the basic distinctions between (a) intentional or deliberate nuclear war  and (b) unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. The risks resulting from these at least four different types of possible nuclear conflict are apt to vary considerably. Those American analysts who might remain too completely focused upon a deliberate nuclear war scenario could too-casually underestimate a more serious nuclear threat to the United States.

               This would mean the increasingly credible threat of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war.

                An additional conceptual distinction must be inserted into any US analytic scenario “mix.” This is the subtle but still important difference between an inadvertent nuclear war and an accidental nuclear war.

               To this point, any accidental nuclear war would have to be inadvertent; conversely, however, there could be identifiable forms of inadvertent nuclear war that would not be accidental. Most critical, in this connection, are certain significant errors in calculation committed by one or both sides – that is, more-or-less reciprocal mistakes that lead directly and/of inexorably to nuclear conflict. The most blatant example of such a mistake would concern assorted misjudgments of enemy intent or capacity that emerge during the course of some ongoing crisis escalation.

               In all likelihood, such dire misjudgments would stem from an expectedly mutual search for strategic advantage occurring during a particular competition in nuclear risk-taking.[32]In appropriate strategic parlance, this would suggest a traditional military search for “escalation dominance” during nuclear crisis, in extremis atomicum.[33]

Logic and Strategy

                There is more. Also needed would be various related judgments concerning expectations of rationality and irrationality within each affected country’s decision-making structure. One potential source of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war could be a failed strategy of “pretended irrationality.” In this connection,                a foolishly-posturing American president who too “successfully” convinced enemy counterparts of his own irrationality could thereby spark an otherwise-avoidable enemy preemption.

               During his tenure as president, strategists may recall, Donald Trump frequently mused without any intellectual substance about purported advantages of feigned irrationality.

               Relevant scenarios could also be “played” in the other direction. An American president who had begun to take seriously Kim Jong Un’s own presumed unpredictability could sometime be frightened into striking first. In this alternate case, the United States would become the preempting party that might then claim legality for its allegedly defensive first-strike. Nonetheless, in  such inherently “dicey” circumstances, US strategists charged with fashioning an optimal strategic posture would do well to recall Carl von Clausewitz’s timeless warning in On War concerning “friction.”

               This “Clausewitzian” property represents the difference between “war on paper” and “war as it actually is.”

               Always, it represents an unerringly vital difference, one never determinable by what former US President Trump had called “attitude.”

                America’s new president, unlike his persistently unreasoning predecessor,[34] ought to be well-grounded in science and logic. Though rarely acknowledged, however, no truly scientific or reliable probability estimations can be undertaken regarding unprecedented or sui generis situations. More specifically, in science and mathematics, potent probability judgments must always be based upon a carefully calculated frequency of relevant past events. On matters concerning nuclear war, there have been no such past events. By definition, such events would be unique. The American bombings of Japan in August 1945 did not constitute a nuclear war. Rather, they were “only” examples of atomic weapons being used during a conventional war. The difference is meaningful.

               President Biden’s strategic advisors must take appropriate heed. This sort of “behind-the-news” analytic assessment is not reasonably controversial. Not only has there never been a nuclear war, there have also never been the sorts of asymmetrical nuclear standoffs most apt to arise between Washington and Pyongyang.  

               Because there can never be any informed scientific assessments of probable war outcomes in this especially volatile Asian “theatre,” US President Joe Biden should approach pertinent war scenarios soberly, with recognizable humility. Here, the ancient Greek philosophers would be warning against “hubris,” and doing so with very considerable war-reluctance.[35] Here, what an American president does not know could hurt him and a great many others.

                Recalling the “good old days” which extend well into the twentieth-century, nation-states have generally had to defeat enemy armies before being able to wreak any wished-for destruction upon a specific adversary. In those earlier days of more traditional doctrinal arrangements concerning war and peace, an individual country’s demonstrated capacity to “win” was necessarily and understandably prior to achieving any needed capacity to destroy. An example well-known to US military thinkers at such venerable institutions as the US Army War College and West Point would be the ancient belligerency between Persia and Greece at the 480 BCE Battle of Thermopylae.

               Today, unlike what seemingly took place at Thermopylae, a state enemy needn’t be able to defeat American armies in order to inflict grievous harms upon the United States. Inter alia, this enemy could enlist selectively destructive proxy forces on its behalf, such as bio-terrorist surrogates. What happens then, especially to the so-called “balance of power?” Significantly, throughout history, this has always been a “balance” without any corresponding equilibrium.

               For President Biden and his counselors, there is some prospectively “good news.” The United States needn’t be able to “win” a particular conflict in order to credibly threaten  a dangerous foe (deterrence) or to inflict “assured destruction” upon such an enemy.[36] What this “good news” means today is this: The capacity to deter is not identical to the capacity to win.[37] Reciprocally, for the American president’s defense counselors, the principal war-planning or war-deterring lesson of such ongoing transformations warrants further advanced study.

               What will really matter here is not “personal attitude” (previous President Donald Trump’s self-described “ace in the hole”),  but rather intellectual preparation. What matters most, going forward, will be a capacity to win bewilderingly complex struggles of “mind over mind,” and not variously ad hoc or visceral contests of “mind over matter.”[38] In time, moreover, such critical strategy lessons could apply well beyond the North Korean nuclear issue.The world is always a system; what happens at one place always impacts assorted other places and outcomes.

               Accordingly, US national security scholars must remain focused on systems.

The Jurisprudential Imperative

               Various relevant points of law remainto be considered.[39] Indeed, jurisprudencehas its own proper and cumulative place in strategic calculations.[40] More specifically, in terms of applicable law,[41] winning and losing may  no longer mean very much for successful strategic planning. The consequential devaluation of victory as an operational goal should already be obvious with regard to America’s now seemingly-latent wars on terror. Pertinent conflict issues will need to be examined within continuously transforming US military plans and objectives regarding Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, Russia, Yemen and assorted other places.

                Prima facie, the U.S. can never meaningfully “win” any upcoming wars with Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, etc. This is because its leaders could never know for certain when a tangible victory had actually been achieved or a calculable loss incurred.

               There is still more for the new American president to consider.  Operationally, winning and losing are nowextraneous to America’s indispensable collective interests, or, in those foreseeable cases where “victory” might still be expressed as a high-priority national objective,overwhelmingly harmful.In principle, and not without substantial irony, a narrowly static orientation to “winning” could sometime lead the United States toward huge and irreversible losses via an imperative “escalation dominance.”

               Above all, under President Joe Biden, U.S. military posture should cease being shaped according to starkly barren expectations of clamorous clichés,  irrelevant analogies or thoroughly inexpert advice. Properly calculated US policy ought always be based upon the most expressly disciplined theses and antitheses of dialectical strategic thought.  This proven pattern of analysis goes back to Plato and to his perpetually illustrative dialogues.

               Finally, America’s new president and his military planners should look more usefully to the East, not just regarding prospective adversaries, but also prospective counsel. Long ago, famed Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu reasoned simply and succinctly: “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” To meet current U.S. national security objectives vis-à-vis North Korea and other potential nuclear adversaries, this ancient Chinese military wisdom suggests that Washington now openly emphasize deterrence over victory. This is not a time to continue any caricatural presidential threats about the comparative size of national “buttons.” President Trump, we may recall, said of Kim Jong Un, “He also has a button, but my button is bigger than his button.” This assertion was not an example of sophisticated strategic thought.[42]

               At the same time, any necessary US discontinuance of strategic competition should remain connected to the problematic requirements of  maintaining control over military escalations. If, going forward, these requirements were somehow minimized or disregarded, a resultant regional conflict could have decisive “spillover” implications for other nation-states and, ipso facto, for other parts of the world. Assorted elements of chaos notwithstanding,[43] world politics and world military processes always remain expressive of some underlying system.

               There is more. This characterization is clarifying and elucidating. It must lie continuously at the core of any coherent US strategic doctrine. Before these systemic connections can be adequately understood and assessed, President Biden must realize that the complicated logic of strategic nuclear calculations demands a discrete and capably nuanced genre of decision-making, one that calls for self-consciously rigorous intellectual refinement. Casually expecting an American president to leverage Chinese and Russian sanctions on behalf of the United States could miss at least two vital and intersecting points: (1) the regime in Pyongyang will never back down on its overall plan for nuclearization, however severe such sanctions might seemingly become; and (2) counting upon meaningful sanctions from Beijing or Moscow will be inherently problematic for President Biden. This is because both China and Russia remain far more worried about their traditional and mutual enemy in Washington than about any future dangers arising from Pyongyang.[44]

Truth and Strategy

               In world politics, as in law and life generally, truth is exculpatory.[45]  Like it or not, a nuclear North Korea is a fait accompli. Soon, President Biden should focus upon creating stable nuclear deterrence with North Korea (a) for the obvious benefit of the United States; (b) for the benefit of its directly vulnerable allies in South Korea and Japan; and (c) for the benefit of its indirectly vulnerable allies elsewhere (e.g., Israel).

               However inconspicuous, these important allies remain an integral component of the same organic world system. They can never be helpfully separated from the expectedly palpable consequences of American geopolitical posture. “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” says the 20th century French Jesuit scholar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “no matter whom….” Nowhere is this core interrelatedness more obvious or potentially consequential than in the continuing matter of a nuclear North Korea and US foreign policy decision-making.

               This consistently urgent threat will never subside or disappear on its own. It will be the new US president’s continuing imperative to understand all relevant American security obligations as well as their ensuing complications. It will be a matter of “mind over  mind,” not just “mind over matter.”

               In accepting this complex imperative, it would prove especially wise for President Biden to bear in mind the ancient Funeral Speech warning of Pericles. As recalled most famously by Thucydides: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies,” said the wise Athenian leader, “are our own mistakes.” In the best of all possible worlds, an American president could soon prepare to go beyond Realpoliitk and its endlessly belligerent nationalism[46] – a perpetually futile dynamic that has never succeeded and remains destined only for continued failure – but this is not yet the best of all possible worlds.

               Our steadfastly battling world is simply not yet ready for any such primal transformation.[47]

               Not at all.

               If, however, that auspicious time should arrive sometime in the future, the key task will be to focus attention upon the essential interrelatedness or “oneness”[48] of all world politics. Just as each individual human being, the microcosm, is comprised of interlocking biological systems, world politics, the macrocosm, is made up of variously constituent national and sub-national systems. In both examples, microcosm and macrocosm, survival will require far more reliable and generalized patterns of cooperation between systems.

               Donald Trump’s “America First” was not a step in the right direction.

               Not at all.

               “Just wars,” wrote Hugo Grotius, the acknowledged founder of modern international law, “arise from our love of the innocent.”[49] Now, however, it is plain that a nuclear war could never be “just,” and that certain earlier legal distinctions (e.g., just war vs. unjust war) must be continuously conformed to ever-changing technologies of military destruction. The only sensible adaptation in this regard must be to acknowledge persisting connections between international law and natural law, and then to oppose any retrograde movements that could still undermine such vital acknowledgments.

               To successfully prevent a nuclear war in Asia or anywhere else, it will be necessary to resist mightily any national strategy declensions toward further Trump-era misconceptions. During this former president’s negotiations with Kim Jong Un, Trump was fond of saying that both countries have “the button,” but “my button is bigger than his.” Aside from its gratuitous belligerence, this facile metaphor misrepresented the many-sided nature of nuclear deterrence and nuclear war. Though North Korea is plausibly “less powerful” than the United states, that “weaker” country could still deliver an unacceptable nuclear blow to this country or its regional allies, whether as an aggressive first strike,[50] a retaliation or as a calculated counter-retaliation.

                For conceptualizing this last prospect, one need only consider a scenario wherein the United States had resorted to a nuclear retaliation after absorbing a major North Korean first strike (nuclear or non-nuclear), an escalation leading Pyongyang to some nuclear form of counter-retaliatory response.

               In all such perplexing scenarios, it will be most important to bear in mind that much less is predictable than unpredictable. By definition – because these all represent unprecedented circumstances – no scientifically valid statement of probabilities could be ventured. Among other things, this suggests that the American president proceed in all such interactions with utterly maximum levels of decisional modesty and intellectual prudence.

               More than anything else, going forward, Trump-style hubris must be scrupulously avoided and expressly renounced.[51]

               Meaningful truth in these matters is unambiguous. The only rational use for American nuclear weapons in any forthcoming US-North Korea negotiation must be as diplomatic bargaining elements of interstate dissuasion and/or persuasion. Barring a sudden crisis initiated by North Korean nuclear strike – a crisis immediately placing the American president in extremis atomicum –  there could be no credible use for such weapons as implements of war. If there could sometime arise a strategically rational justification for nuclear war-waging – one in which the expected benefits of nuclear weapons use would reasonably exceed expected costs – the planet itself could be imperiled, perhaps irremediably.

Looking to the Longer Term

               In his modern classic, Janus: A Summing Up, Arthur Koestler identifies the stubborn polarity between self-assertive and integrative tendencies as a universal characteristic of human life. Here, the reader is informed, order and stability can prevail only when these two basic tendencies are “in equilibrium.” It follows from this reasoning that if one tendency should be allowed to dominate the other, the result must be the end to an indispensable delicate balance.

               Looking beyond the United States and North Korea, such a fundamental balance must finally be created among all the states in world politics. To create the needed equilibrium, to get beyond the deeply flawed Westphalian dynamics of 17th century Realpolitik, major states like the United States must begin to fashion their foreign policies upon a generally new set of premises. In essence, such a set would define each state’s own presumed national interest in terms of what is believed best for the world system as a whole.

               This won’t be easy. To be sure, any such suggestion must first appear wildly idealistic or utopian. Nonetheless, by consciously supplanting competitive self-seeking (belligerent nationalism) with cooperative self-seeking, states could begin to move earnestly beyond a longstanding social Darwinist ethic that would otherwise ensure only endless war and eventual oblivion. Only by building upon the understanding that it is in each individual country’s own interest to develop foreign policy from a broadly systemic vantage point could all states plan seriously to survive.

               In a post-Trump world of expanding and proliferating nuclear weapons, the importance of such an imperative cannot be exaggerated or overstated.[52]

               Since its inception in 1648, the state of nations has offered humankind only in security and false communion. A communion based upon fear, dread and ad hoc nuclear deterrence, its cumulative effects must inevitably include a deep desolation of the human spirit. To finally repair this lamentable and intolerable situation, all states must learn  to care for themselves and for others at the same time.

               It’s a tall order. Can it work? Can world  leaders like the new American president meaningfully grasp this calculus of potentiality, reaffirming the sovereignty of  Reason over the deceptions of Violence?[53] Can any of these states be expected to tear down the barrier walls of belligerent nationalism, and replace them with the permeable membranes of a spirited and more universally gainful cooperation?[54]

               Most plausibly, of course, the pragmatic answer is “no.” Yet, we are locked into a fiendish dilemma. There remains literally no alternative to such “membranes.” Somehow, it follows, they must be rendered believable.

               In the short run, to be sure, more refined strategic counsel could conceivably reduce the risk of a nuclear war between the United States and North Korea. But even this enviable triumph of “mind over mind” could offer us only a temporary reprieve. Over time, during the meaningfully “longer run,” the global power-management system of threat and counter-threat, of seeking “escalation dominance” in a nuclear setting, can’t possibly endure.[55] In the end, as Italian film director Federico Fellini observes in another context, “The visionary is the only realist.”

               Without visionaries in world politics, there can be no indispensable “return  to reason.” This is the truest meaning of national security, both for the United States in particular and for the rapidly-dissembling planet as a whole. Let US President Joe Biden labor to “think well” about such important nuclear policy matters. Armed with a suitably vital awareness of the “primacy of intellect,” he could then place this Trump-attenuated  nation on sounder strategic foundations.

————–


[1] From the standpoint of western thought, this Pascal observation also brings to mind the seminal observations of René Descartes, especially the philosopher’s Discourse on Method and his Meditations. By rejecting the desolate “metaphysics” of a strategically illiterate predecessor, Joseph Biden should immediately embrace the Cartesian primacy of analytic doubt and return the United States to polices founded upon discernible facts and logical argument. During the time of his incoherent presidency, Donald Trump’s core orientation to national security was narrowly visceral and “seat-of-the-pants” determined. Focusing on personalities rather than real issues, Trump’s orientation was never scientific or remotely intellectual.

[2] This was a president, let us recall, who recommended using nuclear weapons against hurricanes; suggested ingestion of household disinfectants for Covid19 therapy; and commended the 18th century American revolutionary army for “taking control of all national airports.”

[3] Should nuclear weapons ever be introduced into any future conflict between the United States and North Korea, actual nuclear war-fighting at various conceivable levels could ensue. This would be the case as long as: (a) US conventional first-strikes against North Korea would not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) US conventional retaliations for a North Korean conventional first-strike would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) US preemptive nuclear strikes would  not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capabilities; and (d) US conventional retaliations for North Korean conventional first strikes would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability. To be sure, prima facie, any US nuclear preemption would be implausible and potentially catastrophic. Reciprocally, assuming rationality, any North Korean nuclear preemption against the United States or its allies would by inconceivable

[4] See at Oxford: https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095647630

[5] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School,  https://harvardnsj.org/2020/03/complex-determinations-deciphering-enemy-nuclear-intentions/

[6] When  meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong Un on June 11, 2018, Trump dismissed all usual presidential obligations to prepare. Instead, he emphasized offhandedly: “I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s all about attitude.”

[7] This system dates back to the 17th century and the Peace of Westphalia (1648), a treaty which ended the Thirty Years War. Looking ahead, there are good reasons to expect that “mere” anarchy (absence of centralized world legal authority) will be replaced by a genuine chaos. 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.

[8]Indirect vulnerabilities would be those derivative threats made manifest in other countries or in other country relations. Under certain readily imaginable circumstances, America’s indirect and/or direct vulnerabilities could sometime become existential.

[9] “The masses have followed the “magicians again and again. Socrates and Plato were among the first to take up the struggle against them, in clear awareness of what was at stake.” See: Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952).

[10] This acceleration was due in part to US President Donald J. Trump’s singular focus on personal public relations. In this regard, analysts and scholars may usefully consult not just their daily newspapers, but also Sophocles Antigone, Speech of Creon, King of Thebes: “I hold despicable and always have….anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[11] For early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[12] Says philosopher of science Karl Popper, citing to German poet Novalis: “Theory is a net. Only those who cast, can catch.” See Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).

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

[14] This principle was axiomatic among the ancient Greeks and Macedonians. See. F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (1957).

[15]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. For an early article by this author dealing with interesting linkages between such a subjective chronology and national decision-making (linkages that could shed additional light on still-growing risks of a US-North Korea nuclear war), see: Louis René Beres, “Time, Consciousness and Decision-Making in Theories of International Relations,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. VIII, No.3., Fall 1974, pp. 175-186.

[16]The Trump White House consistently sought to persuade Americans by way of deliberate simplifications and falsifications. See, on the plausible consequences of any such deceptive measures, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observation in On Certainty:  “Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry….”

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

[18]Drawn from the aptly famous statement of Athenians to the Melians (a colony of Sparta) from “The Debate on the Fate of Melos” (Thucydides, 416 BCE).

[19] Elements of such essential doctrine could sometime prove counter-intuitive. For example, from the standpoint of stable nuclear deterrence, the likelihood of any actual nuclear conflict between states (inter alia) could be inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms. Nonetheless, this is only an “informal presumption” because we are here considering a unique or unprecedented event, one that is sui generis for purposes of determining any true mathematical probabilities.

[20] In the words of French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man (1955): “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom…” This existence of interconnectedness has certain legal or jurisprudential manifestations as well. To wit, the core legal rights assured by the Declaration and Constitution can never be correctly confined to citizens of the United States. This is because both documents were conceived by their authors as codifications of a pre-existing Natural Law. Although fully unrecognized by the Trump administration, the United States was expressly founded upon the Natural Rights philosophies of the 18th century Enlightenment, especially Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau. Thomas Jefferson, an American president before Donald J. Trump, was well acquainted with the classic writings of political philosophy, from Plato to Diderot. In those very early days of the Republic, it is presently worth recalling, an American president could not only read serious books, he could also write them.

[21] To best remedy such dissembling anarchy, Sigmund Freud observed: “Wars will only be prevented with certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central authority to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed over. There are clearly two separate requirements involved in this: the creation of a supreme agency and its endowment with the necessary power. One without the other would be useless.” (See: Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, cited in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10 (1973-73), p, 27.) Interestingly, Albert Einstein held very similar views. See, for example: Otto Nathan et al. eds., Einstein on Peace (New York: Schoken Books, 1960).

[22]The 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 the condition 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 spread of nuclear weapons, there is no longer any reason to believe that the state of nature remains more tolerable. Because of this significant transformation of the state of nations into a true Hobbesian state of nature, states such as North Korea are increasingly apt to search for a presumptively suitable “equalizer.”

[23] In his seminal writings, strategic theorist Herman Kahn once introduced a further distinction between a surprise attack that is more-or-less unexpected and a surprise attack that arrives “out of the blue.” The former, he counseled, “…is likely to take place during a period of tension that is not so intense that the offender is essentially prepared for nuclear war….” A total surprise attack, however, would be one without any immediately recognizable tension or warning signal. This particular subset of a surprise attack scenario could be difficult to operationalize for tangible national security policy benefit. See: Herman Kahn, Thinking About the Unthinkable in the 1980s (Simon & Schuster, 1984).

[24] See by this author, at one of his earliest books: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980).

[25] Under authoritative international law, which is generally part of US law, the question of whether or not a “state of war” exists between states is ordinarily ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal declaration of war was necessary before any true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chs. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war can obtain only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated, inter alia, that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, formal declarations of war could be tantamount to admissions of international criminality because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law. It could, therefore, represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to prior declarations of belligerency. It follows, further, that a state of war may exist without any formal declarations, but only if there should exist an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself  “at war.”

[26] According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a treaty is always an international agreement “concluded between States….” See Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M., 679 (1969).

[27] In law, such a defensive first-strike, if permissible, could be termed “anticipatory self-defense.” The origins of such a defense liein customary international law, more precisely, in The Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984)(noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925)(1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916)(1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law,  32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).

[28] “In a dark time,” says the American poet Theodore Roethke, “the eye begins to see.”

[29] From the standpoint of international law, it is necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking first in the expectation that the only foreseeable 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 is launched not out of any genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in some pertinent 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, the anticipated interval is considerably longer. A related problem here for the United States is not only the practical difficulty of accurately determining “imminence,” but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained urgencies can be acknowledged could prove “fatal” (existential).

[30] Customary international law, which must be the jurisprudential justification for any permissible defensive first strike or preemption, is identified as an authoritative source of world legal norms at Art. 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice. International law, an integral part of the legal system of all states in world politics, assumes a general obligation of states to supply benefits to one another, and to avoid war wherever possible. This core assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, that is, one that is not subject to any reasonable question. It can be found, inter alia, in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis, Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625) and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law (1758).

[31] See Karl Popper’s classic work, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).

[32] The Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman (1903) observes: “Man’s heart is in his weapons….in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself….”

[33] In assessing the risks and benefits of such a search, analysts would have to pay close attention to specific scenarios of a “limited nuclear war.”

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

[35] Because war and genocide are not mutually exclusive, either strategically or jurisprudentially, taking proper systemic steps toward war avoidance could reasonably reduce the likelihood of certain egregious “crimes against humanity.”

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

[37] This capacity is contingent upon the expected rationality of the adversarial state. Irrational adversaries would likely not be suitably deterred by the same threats directed at presumptively rational foes. On pertinent errors of correct deterrence reasoning (here regarding Iran in particular)  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).

[38]Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Blaise Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further upon René Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.

[39] For the United States, international law remains a part of this nation’s core domestic law. In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola,  175 U.S. 677 (1900);  Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774,  781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”) Also, for pertinent decisions by John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).

[40] One such place concerns the codified right to “self-defense.” The right of self-defense is a peremptory or jus cogens norm under international law. According to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “…a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.  679 (1969).

[41] According to the rules of international law, every use of force must be judged twice:  once with regard to the right to wage war (jus ad bellum), and once with regard to the means used in conducting war (jus in bello).  Today, in the aftermath of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, and the United Nations Charter, all right to aggressive war has been abolished.  However, the long-standing customary right of self-defense remains, codified at Article 51 of the Charter.  Similarly, subject to conformance, inter alia, with jus in bello criteria, certain instances of humanitarian intervention and collective security operations may also be consistent with jus ad bellum.  The laws of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules.  Codified primarily at the Hague and Geneva Conventions (and known thereby as the law of the Hague and the law of Geneva), these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into belligerent calculations.

[42] It was an example of “mass” thinking. The “mass-man,” we may learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset’s  The Revolt of the Masses,  “learns only in his own flesh.” This is not a propitious way to learn.

[43] Whether it is described in the Old Testament or any other major sources of ancient Western thought, chaos can be viewed as something positive, even a source of human betterment. Here, chaos is taken as that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. As its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos further represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but where all civilizational opportunity must inevitably originate. Appropriately, the classical 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, which should indicate to us today that it was never presumed to be starkly random or without evident merit.

[44] Postulating the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting the world system to become once again bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of such an expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[45] To look behind the news, beyond the specific adversarial issues of US-North Korea nuclear relations, we might best consider the wise and overarching insight of 20th century German philosopher Karl Jaspers: “The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing  of truth.” It was this spirit, quintessentially, that from the start overwhelmed and misdirected former US President Donald J. Trump.

[46] Further to an earlier comment about world system “anarchy,” international law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian” system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia. Nonetheless, in international law, there are always certain core obligations that each state owes to other nations. See, accordingly, by Louis René Beres:  https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/jurist-us-abandons-legal-obligations-syria; and

https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2018/11/louis-beres-khashoggi-murder/

[47] More plausibly, after four years of corrosive Trump-sowed neglect and disharmony, the world resonates with a warning offered by Hermann Hesse in Steppenwolf (1927): “This world, as it is now, wants to perish….” See also the fearful metaphors of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man: “A rocket rising in the wake of time’s arrow, that only bursts to be extinguished; an eddy rising on the bosom of a descending current  – such then must be our picture of the world.”

[48] As we may learn from ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “”You are a citizen of the universe.” A broader idea of such “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality.” By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a Respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking at Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide  background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Only in its relationship to the universe itself was the world correctly considered as a part rather than a whole. Said Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, of course, the idea of human oneness discussed here can be justified and explained in more secular terms of purely analytic understanding.

[49] See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace 70 (William Whewell, tr.), London: John W. Parker, 1853(1625).

[50] Under international law, the contemporary crime of aggression, derivative from earlier criminalizing codifications at Nuremberg’s 1945 London Charter and the 1928 Pact of Paris,  has nothing to do with the particular nature of weaponry employed (conventional or unconventional). See: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX),  29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No.31) 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631, 1975, reprinted in 13 I.L.M. 710, 1974.

[51] In this regard, one must also take into account policy miscalculation or outright irrationality of an  American president. On these matters, by this author, see: Louis Rene Beres,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/

[52] The final (second) impeachment of Donald Trump also brings to mind certain fragments  of Euripides that concern tragic endings. Here, we may learn from the classical playwright, “Whom God wishes to destroy, He first makes mad.” Inter alia, Greek tragedy explores the wider civil harms that any deranged “sovereign” mind can produce. Looking at the United States today, struggling with rampant “plague” and with extraordinary domestic instability, there is a still-discoverable wisdom in classical Greek tragedy.

[53] This question raises certain antecedent matters of “will.” Modern philosophic origins of this diaphanous term lie 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, Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps even more importantly upon Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic 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 occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948), and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[54] This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?

[55] “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another,” asks Samuel Beckett philosophically in Endgame, “of seeking justification always on the same plane?” Thought the celebrated Irish playwright was certainly not thinking specifically about world politics or national security, his generalized query remains well-suited to this strategic inquiry. As competitive power-politics has never worked, why keep insisting upon it as a presumptively viable doctrine?

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