Connect with us

Americas

Beyond The Pandemic: American Strategic Survival In A Time Of Plague

Published

on

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

 America and the world face a relentless common enemy. Very conspicuously, the recalcitrant  Corona virus threatens to dwarf all other pertinent existential hazards. At the same time, the sheer magnitude of this biological peril does not in any way diminish other long-term security perils. Accordingly, both principal species of hazard –  disease and war – must now be dealt with scientifically, simultaneously and with a view to understanding all plausible interactions between them.

This deliberate view includes any expressly synergistic interactions. Here, by definition , the “whole” of any particular interaction would exceed the  sum of its calculably separate “parts.”[1]

Prima facie, this will not be a task for the intellectually faint-hearted or for those more well-versed as public impresarios than as disciplined thinkers.[2]

How to begin? The most glaringly long-term and seriously underlying hazard is easy to identify. This structural enemy is a continuously anarchic system of world politics, one based upon the fragile foundations of a perpetually belligerent nationalism. Ironically, it is precisely this “all against all” global system that remains dear to the ceremony-centered heart of US President Donald J Trump.

To proceed, there are certain indispensable antecedent questions. Most importantly, one must immediately inquire: How did we ever get to such a frightful and unpromising situation? This is a core historical question that should no longer be side-stepped or avoided.

In order to answer these questions capably, history deserves an evident pride of place.  Our bloodied planet’s corrosive and continuously unsuccessful pattern of global strategic interaction began in the seventeenth century, in 1648, immediately after the Thirty Years War and the war-terminating Peace of Westphalia. Consequently, this pattern is often referred to by international relations scholars as “Westphalian world politics” or as “Westphalian international relations.”[3] Either way, these two terms represent a formal academic synonym for “balance of power.”

There is more.  Since the start of the Nuclear Age in 1945, this time-dishonored world system has been described more particularly as a “balance of terror.” [4] In part, this is because in a world with proliferating nuclear weapons, strategic emphases must shift meaningfully from war management to war avoidance. Accordingly, among other considerations, scholars and planners must now look more comprehensively at the specialized mechanisms of deterrence than at more traditional elements of defense.[5] By definition, this shift in focus will be paralleled by an increase in complexity.

For analytic reasons, both deterrence and defense designate a global pattern for influencing behavior that values national military power over any plausible forms of international cooperation. Among other liabilities, such hierarchic or preferential designations are inherently ill-fated, continuously degrading and prospectively irrational.[6] Even before the creation of the modern state system in 1648 – indeed, from time immemorial –  world politics have been rooted in some more-or-less bitter species of Realpoliitk[7] or power politics.[8]

Always, sooner or later, they have exploded into catastrophic violence.

Still, though these traditionally rancorous patterns of thinking have always proven shortsighted and transient, they remain popularly accepted as “realistic.”  It follows, among many other things, that present-day major world powers would be well-advised to (1) acknowledge the unchanging limitations of a persistently fragile global threat system,[9] and (2) begin to identify more promising and substantially more durable patterns of cooperative international interaction.[10] In purely analytic terms, no such advice could even be questionable or problematic.

More specifically today, this self-evidently sound advice is especially pertinent to US President Donald J Trump and still-functioning American foreign policy makers. What might first have still seemed promising to calculating strategists in our ongoing “state of nature”[11] is apt to prove futile and counter-productive for America’s longer-term survival prospects.  On this sobering point, prima facie, there can be little credible doubt.[12]

 There is more. The United States, in the fashion of every other state, is part of a larger world system.  But this vastly more comprehensive system has steadily diminishing chances for achieving any sustainable success within a dissembling  pattern of foolishly competitive sovereignties. What then, our national decision-makers must promptly inquire, is the point of upholding such an insidious system? Is there any conceivably defensible argument on behalf of maintaining some hypothetical  “military edge” in a system that is by its nature destined to fail?[13]

To answer such a starkly fundamental question, it may  be useful to consider the insights of poets and playwrights and not just “professionals.” “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?” This is plainly a serious question, not just about life in general, but also about world political and strategic structures in particular.[14]

 Again,  history must be consulted as a primary and tangible clarifier.  Realpolitik or balance of power world politics has never succeeded for longer than certain palpably brief and dreadfully uncertain historical intervals.[15] In the future, from time to time, this intrinsically unsteady foundation could be exacerbated by multiple systemic failures, sometimes mutually reinforcing or “synergistic,” sometimes even involving weapons of mass destruction. Most portentous, in this particular regard, would be nuclear weapons.[16]

By definition, therefore, a failure of nuclear Realpolitik could be not “only” catastrophic, but also potentially sui generis, if judged in the full or cumulative scope of its decipherable declensions.

Immediately, all states that depend upon some form or other of nuclear deterrence must prepare to think more self-consciously and imaginatively about alternative systems of world politics; that is, about creating viable configurations that are more strategically war-averse and cooperation-centered. While any hint of interest in complex patterns of expanding global integration, or what Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin calls “planetization,” will sound unacceptably utopian or foolishly fanciful to “realists,” the opposite is actually true. Now, after so many years of “everyone for himself,” it is more realistic to acknowledge candidly that our zero-sum ethos in world politics is endlessly degrading, and also incapable of conferring any credible survival reassurances.

“The visionary,” alerts the Italian film director Federico Fellini, “is the only realist.”

Again and again – and at some point, irretrievably – “Westphalian” world systemic failures could become tangibly dire and potentially irreversible. In the final analysis, it will not help to merely tinker tentatively at the ragged edges of our historically violent world order. At that decisive turning point, simply continuing to forge ad hoc agreements between refractory states or (as “hybridized” actors) between these combative states and surrogate or sub-state organizations would be futile.

In the longer term, the only sort of realism that can make any sense for America and other leading states in world politics is a posture that points meaningfully toward a “higher” awareness of global “oneness,” and (however incrementally) toward far greater world system interdependence.[17]

In its fully optimized expression, such an indispensable awareness – a literal opposite of US President Donald Trump’s refractory “America First” – would display what the ancients had called a cosmopolitan or “world city” perspective. For the moment, the insightful prophets of any more collaborative world civilization must remain “on the fringe,” few and far between,[18] but this probable absence is not because of any intrinsic lack of need or any witting forfeiture. Rather, it reflects a progressively imperiled species’ wretchedly stubborn unwillingness to take itself seriously –  that is, to finally recognize that the only sort of loyalty that can rescue all states from oblivion must embrace a redirected commitment (both individual and national) to all humankind.

At its heart, various complex nuances notwithstanding, this is not a bewilderingly complicated idea. To wit, it is hardly a medical or biological secret that those basic factors and behaviors common to all human beings outnumber those that very unnaturally differentiate one from another. Unless the leaders of major states on Planet Earth can finally understand that the survival of any one state must inevitably be contingent upon the survival of all, true strategic security will continue to elude every nation.

This includes even (or especially) the “most powerful” states. After all, incontestably, the most persuasive forms of power on planet earth are not guns, battleships or missiles. Instead, they are conveniently believable promises of “life everlasting” or personal immortality. In essence, when one finally uncovers what is most utterly important to the vast majority of human beings, it is a presumptively credible power over death[19]. Significantly, individuals all over the world often see the dynamics of belligerent nationalism (e.g., “America First”) as a path to their own personal immortality.[20]

Why else, in essentially all international conflict, does each side seek so desperately and conspicuously to align itself with God? Always, the loudest claim of all is deliberate and incomparably reassuring: “Fear not,” the citizens are counseled, “God is on our side.”

The bottom line? The most immediate security tasks in the global state of nature will sometimes still need to remain narrowly or even collaboratively self-centered. Quickly, however, leaders of  all pertinent countries must also learn to understand that our planet represents a recognizably organic whole, a fragile but variously intersecting “unity,” a species of “oneness” that exhibits certain  already diminishing options for viable war avoidance.[21]

To seize rapidly disappearing residual opportunities for long-term survival, our leaders must finally learn to build upon the critical foundational insights of Francis Bacon, Galileo and Isaac Newton,[22] and also on the more contemporary observation of Lewis Mumford: “Civilization is the never ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”[23]

Whenever we speak of civilization we must also speak of law. Jurisprudentially, no particular national leadership has any special or primary obligations in this regard, nor could it reasonably afford to build its own immediate security policies upon any vaguely distant hopes. Nonetheless, the United States remains a key part of the community of nations, and must continually do whatever it can to detach an already wavering state of nations from the unsteady state of nature.

Any such willful detachment should be expressed as part of a much wider vision for a durable and justice-centered world politics. Over the longer term, Washington will have to do its own significant part to preserve the global system as a whole. “America Together,” not “America First,” must become our rational national mantra. However impractical  this may sound at first, nothing could possibly be more fanciful than continuing indefinitely on a repeatedly discredited course.

US President Donald Trump’s hastily assembled “insights” to the contrary, endlessly corrosive kinds of global anarchy can never be in America’s best interests.

Never.

For the moment, at least, there is no need for detailing further analytic or intellectual particulars – there are, of course, bound to be a great many –  but only for outlining a more recognizable and dedicated awareness of this genuinely basic civilizational obligation.[24]

In The Plague, Albert Camus instructs: “At the beginning of the pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric….It is in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth – in other words – to silence.” As long as the states in world politics continue to operate as determinedly grim archeologists of ruins still-in-the-making, that is, as permanent prisoners of massively corrupted scientific and analytic thought, they will be unable to stop the next series of catastrophic wars, and the next series of deadly disease outbreaks.

Until now, the traditional expectations of Realpolitik have seemed fundamentally sensible and correct. Accordingly, there have appeared no seemingly plausible reasons for expressing pent up regrets about “everyone for himself.”.  Nevertheless, from the essential standpoint of longer-term options and security prospects, world leaders must soon open up their security imaginations to more openly visionary ways of understanding – ways clearly not yet  their own.

Merely continuing with the defiling extremities of Hobbesian anarchy in world politics is a prescription not for realism, but for recurrent war, disease epidemics and utterly wholesale despair.[25]

There is one last and still critically important point. Though the Covid-19 plague represents a singularly catastrophic event for us all, there could be at least one identifiable “silver lining.” This is the still-conceivable prospect of transforming grievous catastrophe into an eleventh-hour opportunity for expanded global cooperation. In  essence, because this disease threat is so prominently indifferent to religion, race, ethnicity and national boundaries, it could actually provide a unique incentive for major world powers to cooperate purposefully against “Westphalian” world politics.

Though the precise likelihood of any such dynamically reciprocal cooperation will be impossible to determine, it is by no means inconceivable.[26] Recalling seminal Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, the necessary scientific expectations will have to include not just variously astute hypotheses and “observations,” but also certain extraordinary leaps of “imagination.” This can be done, but only by capable thinkers and analysts, not by the public purveyors of utterly barren “insights,” tiresome clichés or palpably empty witticisms.


[1] 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/ In this article, however, the subject is Israeli national security, not US national security.

[2] To accomplish this indispensable task, one would first need to think in terms of a dynamic and continuous feedback loop; to wit, one wherein the investigator systematically considers the various ways in which the anarchic structures of world politics can impact control of the pandemic and, reciprocally, how the affected pandemic could then impact these “Westphalian” or “everyone for himself”/”state of nature” global structures. In principle, at least, there should be no necessarily final or conclusive end to this dynamic cycle. Rather, each successive impact would be more-or-less transient and temporary, setting the stage for the very next round of reciprocal  changes, and so on.

[3] In essence, the Peace of Westphalia (1648) concluded the Thirty Years War and created the still-existing state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two treaties comprise the “Peace of Westphalia.”

[4] The idea of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is merely a variant – has never been more than a facile metaphor. It has never had anything to do with ascertaining equilibrium. As such, balance is always more-or-less a matter of individual subjective perceptions\. Adversarial states can never be sufficiently confident that identifiable strategic circumstances are actually “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, each side must perpetually fear that it will be left behind, creating ever wider and cascading patterns of both insecurity and disequilibrium.

[5] See, for example, by this author and General (USA/ret.) Barry McCaffrey:  https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[6] The American planner or strategist could benefit here from Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno’s instructive remark about German philosopher Hegel: “Hegel made famous his aphorism that all the rational is real, and all the real is rational; but there are many of us who, unconvinced by Hegel, continue to believe that the real, the really real, is irrational – that reason builds upon irrationalities.”

[7] An earlier book by this author deals with these issues from an expressly American point of view. See: Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington Books, 1984).

[8] For the political philosophy origins of such core assumptions, see especially classic comment of Thrasymachus in Bk. 1, Sec. 338 of Plato, The Republic: “Right is the interest of the stronger.”

[9] In his seventeenth-century classic of political philosophy, Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes points out interestingly that while the anarchic “state of nature” has likely never existed between individual human beings, it nonetheless defines the usual structures of world politics, patterns within which nations coexist in “the state and posture of gladiators….” This “posture,” expands Hobbes, is a condition of “war.”

[10] In this connection, noted Sigmund Freud: “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.)

[11] Thomas Hobbes described this fearful condition of “nature” at Chapter 13 of Leviathan: “But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of warre one against another; yet, in all times, Kings and Persons of Soveraigne authority, because of their Independency, are in continuall jealousies, and in the state and posture of Gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their Forts, Garrisons, and Guns upon the Frontiers of their Kingdomes….”  Also, as the same chapter: “So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary….”

[12] An additional question now comes to mind, one posed originally by Honore de Balzac about the “human comedy” in general, not politics in particular: “Who is to decide which is the grimmer sight: withered hearts or empty skulls?”

[13] “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign,” reminds Thomas Hobbes in Chapter XXI of LEVIATHAN,  “is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.”

[14] These legal structures include the classic American commitment to a “Higher Law.”  Under international law, this idea, drawn originally from the ancient Greeks and ancient Hebrews – is contained, inter alia, within the principle of jus cogens or peremptory norms. In the language of pertinent Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969: “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.”

[15] Back at Princeton in the late 1960s, I spent two full years in the University library, reading everything available about such historical patterns. The result was published in my early book The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1973) and somewhat later, in Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1975).

[16] For informed assessments of the probable consequences of nuclear war fighting, by this author, see, for example:  Louis René Beres, SURVIVING AMID CHAOS: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016/2018); 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 MA:  Lexington Books, 1983);  Louis René Beres, REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U S FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington MA;  Lexington Books, 1984);  and Louis René Beres, ed.,  SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[17] Long ago, we may learn from ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “”You are a citizen of the universe.” A broader idea of “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE, and 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 can be fully justified and explained in more purely secular terms of understanding.

[18] The best studies of such modern world order “prophets” are still W. Warren Wagar, The City of Man (1963) and W. Warren Wagar, Building the City of Man (1971).

[19] “I  believe,” says Oswald Spengler in his still magisterial The Decline of the West (1918), “is the one great word against metaphysical fear.”

[20] In the nineteenth century, in his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred and sacrilizing end in itself, drew its originating strength from the doctrine of sovereignty advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of legal regulation in their interactions with each other.

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

[22] Regarding science in such matters, Niccolo Machiavelli had joined Aristotle’s plan for a  more scientific study of politics generally with various core assumptions about geopolitics or Realpolitik. His best known conclusion, in this particular suggestion, focuses on the eternally stark dilemma of practicing goodness in a world that is generally evil. “A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything, must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good.”  See: The Prince, Chapter XV. Although this argument is largely unassailable, there is also a corresponding need to disavow “naive realism,” and to recognize that, in the longer term, the only outcome of “eye for an eye” conceptions in world politics will be universal blindness.

[23] We may think also of the corresponding Talmudic observation: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

[24] Interestingly, international law, which is an integral part of the legal system of all states in world politics, already assumes a reciprocally common general obligation to supply benefits to one another, and to avoid war at all costs. This core assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, that is, one that is not even subject to question. It can be found already 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).

[25] 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”?

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

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.

Continue Reading
Comments

Americas

Biden’s worrisome construct of security and self-defense in the first year of his term

Published

on

Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is failing so far. He can’t get the Iran nuclear diplomacy on track. The Afghanistan withdrawal was a disaster seen by all, placing an unusually high number of weapons and armaments in the hands of the Taliban and leaving everyone behind, to the point that one wonders if it was intentional. The US military has been able to accomplish far more impressive and bigger logistics tasks in the past, so when they want to they can do it.

More worrisome, however – and because it is also oriented towards future impacts – is Biden’s construct of vital concepts such as security, international peace and self-defense which has already displayed a consistent pattern during the first year of his term. The signs are already there, so let me bring them out to the surface for you.

Treating a counter-attack in self-defense as an original, first-move strike

This is a pattern that can be noticed already in Biden’s reading of what constitutes defense. It first struck me in a place where you might not think of looking. It originated from the criticism of the previous Trump administration’s support for the destructive Saudi Arabia campaign on Yemen, leaving Yemen as the biggest famine and disaster on the planet. To avoid the same criticism, the Biden administration decided to do what it always does – play technocratic and legalistic, and hope that people won’t notice. On the face of it, it looked like Biden ended US participation by ending the “offensive” support for Saudi Arabia. Then in the months after the February decision, reports started surfacing that the US actually continues doing the same, and now most recently, some troops from Afghanistan were redirected towards Yemen. Biden didn’t end Yemen; he set up a task force to examine and limit US military action only to defensive capabilities, which sounds good to a general observer. It reminds me of that famous Einstein saying that all the big decisions were to be taken by him and all the small decisions were to be taken by his wife, but there hasn’t been one big decision so far. So see, it just turns out that everything falls under defense, ask the lawyers. Usually no one would object to the well-established right to defend yourself. The problem with that is that the US is actually in Yemen. Treating any counter-strike and any response to your presence as an original, first-move attack is not only problematic but it also simply doesn’t work in legal terms. It goes along the lines of “well, I am already here anyways, so your counter-response in self-defense is actually an attack and I get to defend myself”. If the issue was only with terrorist or rebel organizations (because let’s face it, who cares about the Houthies in Yemen?) I don’t think we would be discussing this. But as you guessed it, this approach can already be traced as a pattern in Biden’s thinking and the way he forges alliances, draws red lines and allows things to happen, and it stretches to areas that most people definitely care about such as a possible military conflict between the US and China.

Let’s take the newest development from today. The US just announced that it has entered into a trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which is encirclement of China par excellence. Where it gets interesting is that the trilateral partnership is purported to be only for “advanced defense capabilities”. The equivalent of this is someone from another city squatting at the door step in your apartment, inviting two others to join, and then when in the morning you push them and step on them to go to work, the squatters claiming that you attacked them and calling the police on you in your own apartment. This is Biden’s concept of self-defense: since I am already here in your space, you are attacking me.

The US is trying to start something with China but it doesn’t know how to, and China seems completely unconcerned with the US.  Chinese leader Jinping doesn’t even want to meet Biden, as became clear this week. China doesn’t care about the US and just wants to be left alone. They already said that in clear terms by reading it out loud to Wendy Sherman last month. Biden didn’t have to ask for a meeting in that phone call this week because he already knew the answer. Wendy Sherman got a clear signal on her China visit that the US president won’t be getting that coveted red carpet roll-out any time soon.

So the story says that the US is going all the way to the other side of the world and staging military presence there but only to defend itself. The US has no choice but to move in to defend all the US citizens at risk in the Indian Ocean — that’s the stand-up comedy line of the week. It is staging military presence right at China’s doorstep — if not in Chinese waters, and the idea is “yes, that’s your turf but now that I’m here, if you push me to leave, you are attacking me”. This is the strategy of narcissists and those that are looking to point the finger to their opponent when they just don’t have anything, so they stage something. China is in the long-term game, playing against itself. The US is that number 2 that’s trying to create provocation. In the Indo-Pacific, the US is biting more than it can chew. China is not a big mouth or one to throw around military threats. That’s the US style: “be very careful, we might bomb you if you don’t do what we say”. A dog that barks doesn’t bite. On the other hand, China is more like a Ferrari — it will go from 0 to 200 in seconds and then it will go back to its business. The US and Biden will be left whimpering but no one will jump to save the US from its own folly because self-defense in the US packaging is not even bought by the US government itself. Even they don’t buy their own packaging. So why should anyone else?

Treating embarrassing discoveries and things that don’t go my way as a threat to international peace

This one is a big one. With this one, Biden is playing with the queen, namely action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter in the name of international peace and security. A threat to international peace and security is grounds for action under Chapter 7 which includes military action, and it’s never to be spoken lightly. Words have consequences. The UN Security Council rarely specifies grounds for action under chapter 7 for threats to international peace and security but it’s enough to take a look at the practice: resolutions were passed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, in response to 9/11, against Kaddafi who was marching toward Benghazi to wipe out the people in 2011, in relation to genocide, etc. Grounds for a threat to international peace can’t be “because I don’t like the way things are turning out for me”.

Peace and security are not like beauty – in the eye of the beholder. There has to be an actual or imminent attack and actual military action or violence. Loose interpretations of threats to peace and security are a sign of weak leadership.

Leaders who construct dissent and criticism as terrorism in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, as I have argued about the FBI previously in the left media, are weak leaders. In smearing Martin Luther King, the FBI argued national security. As director Oliver Stone said in Cannes this summer, when he was investigating the JFK assassination, every time he was getting close, he heard “national security”. 

You can see a lot about the character of a nation by the way it constructs security, and notice traits such as narcissism, weakness, cheating. The Biden Administration has to know that a threat to international peace and security can’t be “things that make my government look bad”. In 2001, the world followed the US in Afghanistan because there was an actual military attack. The world won’t follow the Biden administration on a bogus threat to international peace that can best be summed up as a major embarrassment for the US government. Suggesting a link is a threat to the fabric of international society. Not only is it a sign of national narcissism but also a sign of arbitrariness and authoritarianism. Treating criticism and the exposure of US government crimes as if it were a military attack is what horror movies are made of. What’s next? Droning journalists?

Treating issues which are a subject to treaties, rules and negotiations as a threat to international peace  

The Biden security construct stretches to various regions, including my own. This first struck me with Biden’s executive order regarding the Western Balkans when he tied blocking these countries from EU accession to a threat to international peace, which carries significant consequences. If a country, let’s say Bulgaria, is exercising its lawful right to veto EU processes, hypothetically, based on Biden’s understanding, the US could table a resolution for Chapter 7 action to punish an EU member-state for blocking the accession of an EU candidate because that’s a threat to international peace. That could hypothetically lead to military action against an EU country making use of its veto. Biden doesn’t have a veto in the EU. Do you know who does? Bulgaria. So until Biden becomes an EU country he doesn’t have a say.

Biden was visibly irritated that the process of EU accession has been stalling for quite some time, especially with N. Macedonia and Albania at the EU’s doorstep, so he decided to give it a go. Let’s not forget that the Balkans are a favorite Biden region and this goes back to the 1990s. I have written about it before: Biden is stuck in the 2000s when if you mentioned the Western Balkans the words international peace were a guaranteed association. Not anymore. Negotiations, rules and voting are the peaceful and reasonable way to resolve issues, agree or even not agree in some situations, and are the opposite of war and aggression. Treating these ways as a threat to peace is just the rhetoric of those who can’t get their way. But it’s also indicative of a worrisome trend with Biden that anything that the US government doesn’t like can be dressed as a threat to international peace, which carries the most significant of all consequences in the international arena.

Treating lawful counter-measures as a threat to national security

Perhaps the best and most fascinating example of lawful counter-measures I ever heard was brought by Andrew Clapham at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Here is the story. The UK issued unlawful sanctions on a country. In response, lawful counter-measures by that country targeted jam exports because a jam factory in Scotland was the key to turning the elections. The targeted counter-measures worked, hit jam exports, discontent people in the region voted the other way and the government that put in place the sanctions to begin with was ousted. This was a brilliant example that you hit where it hurts and you do it lawfully. Counter-measures don’t have to be identical. The US likes to put tariffs on Louis Vuitton bags in retaliation when it deals with France, for example. In the Trump trade wars, Europe would hit bourbon and jeans exports as a counter-measure. You hit their signature product. Not all counter-measures are illegal and count as an attack. International law is full of examples.

Similarly, lawsuits against a government are a lawful counter-measure. This area reveals another part of Biden’s worrisome construct of national security. A threat to sue the US government cannot in and of itself be a threat to national security. Tortured reading of what is national security is a sign of weak leaders, narcissists, those on the losing end, or straight up losers – or all of the above. 

Treating lawful counter-measures as a cause for self-defense is not only a sign of a wrong understanding of self-defense, but is the ultimate sign of narcissism. Usually those who attack know better and brace for impact in anticipation of the counter-measures. Narcissists, on the other hand, cry that they are being attacked when they receive a counter-strike in response. Strategists know better.

Mistreatment of whistleblowers, critics and opponents as spies and as a threat to national security

This one is an easy one. Only losers treat whistleblowers and critics as spies and as an automatic threat to national security. Take the treatment that Gary Stahl has received at the hands of the Biden Administration and the FBI, for example. Again, the US government doesn’t get to construe a huge embarrassment (in what will soon be revealed to shows the true criminal nature of the US government) as a threat to international peace. This is a problem for America. Not only doesn’t China plan to attack militarily the US any time soon over what’s to come, but China is largely unconcerned with the US and would like to be left alone. Any talk about a risk of military conflict could only mean that it is the US that plans to attack because they are embarrassed they got caught red-handed and the world will see the US government’s true nature. Talk of threat to international peace has a very high threshold. No one cares about how America would feel – that’s your problem, not an issue of international peace. 

The Biden concept of security is that of an ugly, pretentious, old woman who is told she can’t enter because her ticket is not valid. She then throws a feat screaming she was attacked, beaten and insulted, expecting everyone to be on her side. But the world simply doesn’t care about the problems of this pain-in-the-ass anymore. The US government will have to try much harder if they want to present the issue as anything close to security and self-defense, let alone a threat to international peace. That tune is old and there are no buyers. 

The US surely thinks very highly of itself if they think that a scandal like that is worthy of a military conflict but literally no one else sees the US as this important anymore. This scandal will matter only to America in what it reveals about all the layers of the US government across rank, institutions and administrations. That’s it. It ends there. Any talk of Chapter 7 threshold is war mongering and no one will care. 

People talk about the Biden doctrine on Afghanistan but the Biden doctrine that will be sealed in history will be something along the lines of “Anytime I get caught, it’s a threat to international peace and security.” This is how Biden will be remembered in history: for creative writing endeavors in the security field and no substantial foreign policy achievements. 

Continue Reading

Americas

Biden’s credibility restoration plan

Published

on

Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Although damages of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan cannot be easily undone, by taking a series of wise steps, Biden can send a strong signal that America is coming back.

Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan has shattered his reputation as a safe haven for allies. This is while, he pledged to restore U.S. leadership after Trump by confronting China’s and Russia’s growing totalitarian ambitions, restoring historic alliances with European allies, and ending the never-ending conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

But he is not the only President whose decision has eventually damaged the United States’ global reputation. Donald Trump’s capitulation deal with the Taliban, Barack Obama’s indolence in Syria, and George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq have all tarnished the United States’ credibility around the world. The question now; however, is no longer whether Biden and his predecessors should have acted differently. It’s how the United States can minimize the damage.

Biden should begin by speaking the truth. So far, the President has failed to admit the failure of his withdrawal plan. Biden ought to be straightforward with himself, the American people, and the whole world.

Biden’s policy should, of course, vary depending on the area and global conditions. To promote its interests in the Indo-Pacific area, the United States should station a few ambassadors, including a Navy or Coast Guard attaché, in the Pacific Island countries of Tonga, Tuvalu, and Kiribati. In addition, a considerable number of troops currently stationed in Afghanistan should be redeployed to the Pacific. Finally, Biden’s administration should engage with U.S. defense contractors to speed up the transfer of military equipment to Taiwan. Getting Taiwan its armaments swiftly would be a powerful show of support as a steadfast ally, as well as provide modern platforms to prevent a Chinese amphibious invasion.

The Biden administration should also do all in its power to rebuild relations with European partners. For the very first time, NATO invoked Article 5, which identifies an assault on one member as an assault on all. Since then, soldiers from a variety of countries have fought and died alongside US troops. Nonetheless, Biden decided to leave Afghanistan without consulting the governments of these countries, leaving them to plan emergency rescue efforts for their populations. Close allies of the United States are understandably enraged. America’s behavior is being chastised in Paris, Berlin, and the British House of Commons on both sides of the aisle.

Last month, at a meeting of regional leaders in Baghdad, Macron made it clear that, unlike the Americans, he was dedicated to remaining in the Middle East. “Whatever the American choice is,” he stated in public remarks in Baghdad, “we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight terrorism as long as terrorist groups function and the Iraqi government requests our assistance.” It was a clear example of Macron’s idea of “strategic autonomy,” which implies European independence from U.S. security policy, and an attempt to use the United States’ humiliation to underline that Europe and Washington were not always on the same page. At an emergency G7 summit, Mr. Biden is said to have turned down allied requests to extend the August 31 deadline for exit.

The Biden administration’s recent decision not to penalize Nord Stream 2 pipeline participants has enraged Europeans as well. Poland and Ukraine underlined their worries in a joint statement about the ramifications of choices taken on the pipeline without the participation of nations directly impacted, claiming that Nord Stream 2 poses both geological and ecological risks to Europe.

As a result, whether it’s diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime, humanitarian aid for the Afghan people, or any other major issue, the US should not take any more action without engaging partners. Mr. Biden should also dispatch senior members of his national security team to Europe and other regions of the world to reinforce America’s commitment to their security.

As to the Middle East, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, in a Foreign Affairs article described “America’s opportunity in the Middle East,” suggesting that diplomacy may work where previous military interventions have failed. The United States’ involvement in the area is frequently portrayed in military or counter-terrorism terms, and as a binary option between going all-in or going all-out. Instead, Sullivan advocated for a strategy that relied more on “aggressive diplomacy to generate more long-term benefits.”

Accordingly, the President and his team in Vienna should get the new Iranian administration back to the negotiating tables and rejoin the JCPOA and ease the tensions in the Middle East. Also, the United States should do all possible in Afghanistan to secure the safe transit of Afghans who qualify for U.S. visas to the Kabul airport – and to keep flights flying until they are able to leave. This should apply to both Afghans who dealt closely with the United States’ military, and to those who engage with U.S. media and humanitarian organizations and must get visas from a third country. In addition to ensuring that the United Nations and humanitarian groups have the resources they need, the United States should cooperate with its Security Council allies to guarantee that the Taliban does not hinder the free flow of help.

Moreover, to follow any influx of jihadists to Afghanistan, intelligence agencies will have to rededicate resources and increase surveillance. They must be pushed to coordinate their efforts on the Taliban in order to keep the most threatening groups under control. The United States could set an example by agreeing to accept a fair share of any displaced Afghans. Neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan, which already have millions of Afghan refugees, are closing their borders.

Biden may not be able to prevent all of the disastrous repercussions of the Afghan catastrophe, but he must act now before the harm to U.S. interests and moral stature becomes irreversible. By taking these steps, he can send a strong statement to the world that he has learned his lessons and that America is coming back.

Continue Reading

Americas

Of Friends And Countries

Published

on

“The bird, a nest; the spider, a web; man, friendship,” William Blake reminded us in 1790.  Much earlier, Confucius warned in the 5th century BC, “Have no friends not equal to yourself.”  Seneca was ahead of his time and certainly not thinking of the business lunch when he noted that cultivated friendships for personal gain were of limited duration.

When it comes to countries, we have been informed repeatedly, there are no friends … just interests.  So it is with Afghanistan, from which the US decided to withdraw unilaterally and quickly.  Allies such as Britain who still have a presence there were caught off-guard.  Not altogether happy, slang words like ‘doolally’ have been used to describe President Biden who was also reluctant to respond promptly to British prime minister Boris Johnson’s urgent calls, and kept him waiting several days.  So much for the ‘special relationship’ between the two countries.

It wasn’t always a cosy relationship.  Quite frosty for the first hundred years or so after American independence, it included an attack on Washington and the city’s temporary capture.  During the Civil War they helped the Confederacy surreptitiously but as American power and industrial might continued to grow, the British realized an accommodation would be to their advantage and proceeded to emphasize ties of kinship, language and even democracy.  In the event, they even persuaded the US government to help in two world wars and even join them eventually.

Next, consider the case of England and France.  After the Normann conquest in 1066, French became the court language and continued so for a good three hundred years.  But the relationship also started a rivalry often with claims and counterclaims of being the rightful ruler, which sometimes led to war.  Following the French revolution came the Napolionic wars and their devastation, culminating in the 1815 Battle of Waterloo and French defeat. 

The 19th century also saw the German states being united by Bismarck, and, through industrialization, turned into a single powerful country.  Viewed as a threat by both Britain and France it brought about an entente cordiale … a rapprochement between centuries old implacable enemies.

Their efforts to choke off German growth could have only one result in the end — war.  And the 20th century suffered two with devastating loss of life.  The plan to help Germany (at least the western half) recover after the Second World War had flattened it, brought it within the US ambit.  Lest anyone think the aid was entirely altruistic, far from it, for a new threat had arisen … that of the mighty Soviet Union, and a quivering Western Europe was trying to shore up its side.  Yes indeed, countries do not have friends … only interests.

And so the Afghans who helped the US (the translators and such like) tried to get away during the withdrawal; with the rapid Taliban takeover, they could feel the threat to life and limb in their bones, and some knew they were on lists.  Many did leave on the American planes but out of the crowds packing Kabul airport, most were left behind.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending