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War And Pandemic: Expanding Complexities Of Israeli Nuclear Strategy

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I warn the reader that this essay requires to be read very seriously and that I am unacquainted with any art which can make the subject clear to those who will not bestow on it their  serious attention.”-Jean Jacques-Rousseau, The Social Contract (1762)

More than ever, long-term deterrence of multiple adversaries in the Middle East by Israel remains steeply complicated. Now faced with an expanding disease pandemic superimposed upon all usual or “normal” strategic issues, Israel’s response will require herculean combinations of refined analysis and creative intuition. This task has already become so grievously complex and many-sided that nothing less than unprecedented applications of human intellectual effort can rise adequately to the protracted challenge.

Prima facie, the myriad difficulties of rising to this existential challenge represent a formidable barrier to success and long-term survival. In essence, there exists grave danger that these difficulties could occasion not any purposefully enhanced national commitment or “national will,” but rather incremental resignation or even irremediable despair. It follows that before any necessary strategic policy modifications can be launched by Israeli thinkers and planners, those responsible will, like Lady Macbeth, first have to “screw up their courage to the sticking place.”

As for my own readers, they, too, will have to follow along an overlapping variety of inherently complex arguments, a task, inter alia, requiring them to “read very seriously;” that is, to “bestow on it their serious attention.”

But how to begin? For half a century, I have been thinking and writing about Israel’s nuclear strategy. Arguably, at least to some calculable extent, this has been an incomprehensible and foolhardy academic focus. Israel, after all, has never even meaningfully acknowledged its possession of nuclear weapons, let alone identified any corresponding national nuclear infrastructures, strategies or tactics.

None at all.[1]

So, what exactly has there been left to analyze?

What, precisely, can be examined and usefully reconstituted right now?

There are tangible answers, but they cannot be offered ex nihilo, from an empirical or conceptual vacuum.  Accordingly, here is a tentative but still valid reply.

In all world politics, especially in the Middle East, the most enduring truth of what is taking place is often what is not said. During these past several years, it has been relatively easy to extrapolate from various multiple and intersecting open sources that Israel’s nuclear capacity (in its broadest possible outline) represents such an “essential truth,” and that the country’s physical survival is closely intertwined with this “deliberately ambiguous” defense posture. Now, however, looking ahead, a core responsibility for both planners and politicians in Israel must be to more explicitly utilize/optimize their country’s always-evolving nuclear strategy, and to tackle this bold challenge against an ever-changing backdrop of state and sub-state adversaries.

There will be even more substance to consider. This task will require various informed assessments not only of more-or-less decipherable prospects, but also of certain foreseeable “hybrid” enemies (e.g., Iran-Hezbollah; Iran- Hamas). In turn, these hybrids will represent substantially more complex foes; that is, adversaries comprised (in varying conceivable configurations) of both state and sub-state elements. Inevitably, the suitability of Israel’s relevant national nuclear planning will vary, at least in part, according to the particular “mix” involved. To this point, of course, and understandably, little published analysis has ever addressed the effective use of Israeli nuclear deterrence against sub-state and/or “hybridized” adversaries.

Among other things, this once-reasonable inattention will have to be appropriately changed and properly updated.

Soon.

Israel will require more explicit considerations of nuclear deterrence strategies directed against certain conventional or non-nuclear enemies.[2] Above all, these starkly demanding considerations will represent intellectual obligations; that is, analytic responsibilities that can be met only by more markedly purposeful and science-based theorizing,[3] not by the cleverly shallow rhetorical flourishes of market-centered national politicians. In the United States, unmistakably, we are already witnessing the catastrophic security consequences of a presidential leadership based entirely upon raw “intuition” or “gut feeling.” Left to its own anti-science devices, these consequences, which now include steadily cascading Covid-19 death counts, could alter the very indispensable fabric of American national survival.

Whether in Israel or the United States, national security challenges can never be dealt with capably under the manipulative guidance of any commerce-centered impresarios. Such guidance did not reduce the North Korean nuclear threat to the United States when US President Donald Trump declared after the Singapore Summit that he and his counterpart in Pyongyang had “fallen in love.”

Not a scintilla; not a calculable bit.

Indeed, since that substantively unplanned and unprepared-for summit, North Korea has accelerated and expanded its military nuclear programs.

There is more. By definition, the imperative exploration of Israel’s nuclear strategy cannot be undertaken with a view to ascertaining any precise event probabilities. In science and mathematics, true statements of probability must always be drawn from the discernible frequency of pertinent past events. Clearly, in the matters at hand, there has never been an authentic nuclear war.

It follows that Israeli scholars and political leaders should remain aptly modest about offering any more specific nuclear conflict predictions. Going back to ancient Greek philosophers and playwrights, especially Aristotle (both Poetics and Politics), this will not be a suitable time for any Israeli displays of hubris. Lest they forget, such always-misplaced displays led directly to the near-catastrophe of the 1973 Yom Kippur War (mechdal).

 For Israel, perhaps more than for any other imperiled state in world politics, it is vital not to prepare “retrospectively” for the dynamics and weapon-systems of any previous war. Though, for the moment, Israel faces no regional nuclear adversaries, this relatively favorable condition will not last indefinitely. When it does finally come to an end – such an eventual or incremental cessation is pretty much inevitable over time, especially as US President Trump’s policies can only hasten Iranian nuclearization and regional insecurity – Jerusalem/Tel Aviv should be prepared to conceptualize a more future-oriented and fully-systematic strategy of national strategic response.[4]

In  turn, whether or not Israel is adequately prepared for such a difficult task will depend, at least in part, on whether adversarial nuclear capacities become evident in tolerable increments or (instead) in certain tangible acts (witting or unwitting) of verifiable enemy disclosure. If the latter, the worst case for Israel would then involve certain actual enemy resorts to nuclear conflict.

What then? In any truly civilized world, it’s a question that should never have to be asked.

Never.

To best prepare for any impending nuclear adversary,[5] whether Shiite Iran[6] or a Sunni Arab enemy (Pakistan is already a Sunni non-Arab nuclear power), or both, Israel/IMOD must remain continuously analytic and theory-focused. This means, among other things, factoring into virtually every coherent nuclear threat assessment (a) the expected rationality of enemy decision-makers and (b) the expected intentionality of these decision-makers during any conceivable crisis.[7]

Now, there is also something else of prospectively grave significance. This is the ongoing Corona virus pandemic, a plague so persistent and consequential that it could directly impact an adversarial state’s pertinent rationality and intentions. More exactly, depending upon the actual impact of disease on this enemy’s most senior decision-makers, such a foe could become more or less likely to initiate variable (minor or major) levels of conflict. Reciprocally, Israel’s own senior decision-makers, already anticipating such changeable enemy orientations to war, could experience a heightened inclination to preempt. In law, any such defensive first-strikes could be known formally as “anticipatory self-defense.”[8]

It remains high time for Israeli strategists to be more self-consciously scientific in the sense of producing more aptly comprehensive theoretic assessments. These are now the only appraisals that can capably explore a needed variety of “soft” human factors.[9] Until now, of course, Israel’s defense establishment has been very capably scientific, but primarily in the operational sense of maintaining precise mathematical attention to assorted weapon systems and infrastructures. Just as importantly, however, IDF/MOD will now need to operationalize some less tangible but still scientific orientations to any prospective nuclear conflict.[10]

An appropriate example here would be the creation of multiple decisional “templates” to allow consideration of certain not-easily measurable explanatory factors. Still more precisely, if a basically dichotomous or two-part distinction could be assumed concerning enemy rationality and intentionality, four logically possible categories or scenarios would result. These discrete narrative templates could then lucidly inform Israel’s long-term nuclear security policies and posture.

Again, each template’s examination should take into account, to whatever extent possible, any likely Covid-19 impacts on enemy decision-makers.

To proceed, IDF planners ought to consider the following more-or-less believable narratives, a determined consideration that could significantly enhance already-disciplined orientations to the country’s national defense:

(1) Rational/Intentional 

Both Israeli and enemy leaders are presumptively rational (i.e., each set of leaders values national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences), and any nuclear exchange between them would be the result of fully deliberate decision choices by one or both of the relevant decision-makers;

(2) Rational/Unintentional

Both sets of leaders are presumptively rational, and any nuclear exchange between them would be the result of certain unintended decision choices made by one or both of them;

(3) Irrational/Intentional

Either Israeli or enemy leaders, or both, are presumptively irrational, and any nuclear exchange between them would be the result of still fully deliberate decisional choices made by one or both; and

(4) Irrational/Unintentional

Either Israeli or enemy leaders, or both, are presumptively irrational, and any nuclear exchange between these adversaries would be the necessary outcome of unintended decisions made by one or both of them.

In all such complex strategic matters (Clausewitz reminds, in On War, “Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is still very difficult.”), nothing could prove more practical than good theory.[11] Always, such duly general and comprehensive policy explanations could help guide Jerusalem beyond otherwise vague, ad hoc or simply “seat-of-the-pants” appraisals of adversarial nuclear conflict possibilities.[12]

By definition, any future nuclear crisis between Israel and designable enemy states would be unique or sui generis. This means, among other things, that Israel’s Prime Minister and his principal national security advisors ought never become overly-confident about predicting specific nuclear crisis outcomes or their own expertise in being able to successfully manage any such unprecedented crises. Moreover, as hinted at earlier in this essay, such expertise could be more-or-less affected by any ongoing disease pandemic. After all, Israel’s own decision-makers, like pertinent enemy decision-makers, would be meaningfully vulnerable to all virulent forms of biological “insult.”

There is more. There are no real experts in nuclear conflict situations. This statement includes a now-sitting American president who had earlier placed a far-reaching and wholly baseless faith in North Korea’s Kim Jung Un (“We fell in love”), and ho still reveals no serious intellectual understanding of US nuclear deterrence obligations. None at all.

Other thoughts dawn. Israeli strategic analysts must continuously upgrade any proposed nuclear investigations by identifying the core distinctions between intentional or deliberate nuclear war and between unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. The tangible risks resulting from these different types of possible nuclear conflict are apt to vary considerably, in part because of certain hard-to-quantify or calculate “pandemic variables.” Moreover, those Israeli analysts who would remain too exclusively focused upon any deliberate nuclear war scenario could sometime too casually underestimate a more authentically serious and even sweeping enemy threat.

In principle, any such underestimations could produce lethal or prospectively existential outcomes for Israel. To make the avoidance of these underestimations sufficiently problematic, nuclear war risks in the Middle East could be created or enhanced via various “spillover effects” from nuclear conflict situations in other regions. Presently, regarding Israel, the most credible “ignition points” for any such creation would be India-Pakistan escalations and/or North Korean aggressions. It goes without saying, of course, that such additionally portentous escalations and/or aggressions could themselves be affected by various Covid-19 considerations

While any North Korea-Middle East nuclear intersections may at first appear far-fetched, literally any crossing of the nuclear threshold on this planet could sometime impact nuclear use in certain other far-flung places.

This does not even take into account historic ties between destabilizing North Korean nuclear technologies and the traditional Arab  state enemies of Israel. The  most obvious case in point is Syria, and Israel’s remediating preemption (Operation Orchard) undertaken back in September 2007.[13]

There is more. Israel could soon need to respond to expectedly bewildering conditions generated by any US war with Iran. This is the case, moreover, even if Iran were itself to remain entirely non-nuclear.[14] Again, IMOD and the Prime Minister will need to anticipate such conditions in a suitably systematic and dialectical fashion.

Always, international relations represent a system. What happens in any one component of this system can more-or-less frequently impact what happens in another. Sometimes, the cumulative impact of regional or global interactions can also be “synergistic.” In these very dense circumstances, by definition, the calculable “whole” of any relevant interactions will prove to be greater than the simple sum of pertinent “parts.” Here, too, the presence of pandemic factors could represent a relevant and significant “force multiplier.”

In thinking about nuclear strategy, Israeli planners must calculate holistically, broadly, considering the world as a multi-actor totality, one where consequential outcomes will have to be assessed in their most conceivably complex intersections.

 Also noteworthy here is a seemingly subtle but still meaningful difference between inadvertent nuclear war and accidental nuclear war. Any accidental nuclear war would have to be inadvertent; conversely, however, there could take place various recognizable forms of inadvertent nuclear war that would not be accidental. The policy-related differences here would not by any means be insignificant.

Most critical, in clarifying this connection, would be potentially serious errors in calculation, whether committed by one or both (or several) sides. The most evident example of any such grievous mistakes would concern more-or-less plausible misjudgments of enemy intent or capacity as might emerge during the course of some particular crisis escalation. Such consequential misjudgments would most likely stem from an expectedly mutual search for strategic advantage taking place during an ongoing competition in nuclear risk-taking.

 In orthodox military parlance, this would mean a determinable multi-party search for “escalation dominance.” Accordingly, such a search could be affected by any Covid-19 triggered conditions of chaos.

To achieve a proper or (better still) optimal start in this sort of required theorizing, Israeli analysts would first need to pinpoint and conceptualize the vital similarities and differences between deliberate nuclear war, inadvertent nuclear war, and accidental nuclear war.

Subsequently, undertaking various related investigations of rationality and irrationality within each affected country’s decision-making structure would become necessary. One potential source of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war could be a failed strategy of “pretended irrationality.” To wit, a posturing Israeli prime minister who had somehow too “successfully” convinced enemy counterparts of his own irrationality could unwittingly spark an otherwise-avoidable enemy preemption.

At this time, correspondingly, US President Donald Trump has toyed vis-à-vis North Korea with displaying an intermittent  or occasional posture of “pretended irrationality,” but to no apparent avail. In part, this tangible lack of success may be due to the president’s earlier public declarations concerning alleged benefits of feigned irrationality.

 There is more. An Israeli leadership that had begun to take seriously an enemy leader’s self-declared unpredictability could sometime be frightened into striking first itself. In this diametrically opposite or reciprocal case, Jerusalem would become the preempting party that could then claim legality for its allegedly defensive first-strike. Under authoritative international law, as we have already noted, a permissible preemption could possibly be taken as a proper expression of “anticipatory self-defense.”[15]

Also worth considering amid any such chess-like strategic and legal dialectics is that the first scenario could end not with an enemy preemption, but with Israeli decision-makers deciding to “preempt the preemption.” Here, Israel, sensing the too-great “success” of its own pretended irrationality, might then “foresee” an enemy’s resultant insecurity. They might then decide (correctly or incorrectly) to “strike first before they are struck first themselves.”[16]

The dense strategic dialectic[17] in such cases would be multi-factorial  and complicated, perhaps even bewildering.[18]

One final point warrants concluding emphasis. A future Israeli posture of feigned or pretended irrationality need not be inherently misconceived or inconceivable. Years ago, in precisely this conceptual regard, Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan declared: “Israel must be seen (by its enemies) as a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”

Looking ahead, such seemingly “out-of-the-box” Israeli security postures are uncertain and untested, but they are not necessarily mistaken prima facie or beyond any serious consideration. Moreover, the credibility of such potential military postures could be enhanced by considering certain more conspicuous characterizations of a last-resort “Samson Option.”[19] The key point of any such characterizations would be not to prepare for some actual “final battle” (an outcome that could be in no single country’s overall best interests), but rather to better convince a pertinent existential adversary of Israel’s willingness to take certain extraordinary risks to ensure its own survival.

While Israel has yet to exploit this particular modality of strategic thinking, Russia made precisely such a calculation with its Burevestnik missile –  a self-declared “vengeance nuclear weapon.” Plainly, Moscow is not hoping to employ such a missile as part of any operational policy, but instead to signal the United States that it is prepared to “go to the mat” with the Americans, even in starkly unpredictable nuclear terms. The Russian “point” here is not to “fight a nuclear war,” but to successfully influence the choices that its American rival will most expectedly make.[20]

Inevitably, this means to best maximize Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Going forward, a major focus of changing Israel’s nuclear strategy will have to be the country’s longstanding posture of deliberate ambiguity or “bomb in the basement.”[21] The Prime Minister surely understands that adequate nuclear deterrence of increasingly formidable enemies could soon require lessrather than more Israeli nuclear secrecy. Accordingly, inter alia, what will soon need to be determined by IDF planners will be the operational extent and subtlety with which Israel should communicate assorted core elements of its nuclear posture; that is, its corollary intentions and capabilities to selected enemy states.

To protect itself against any enemy strikes that could carry utterly intolerable costs, IDF defense planners will need to prepare to exploit every relevant aspect and function of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. The success of Israel’s effort here will depend not only upon its particular choice of targeting doctrine (“counterforce” or “counter value”), but also upon the extent to which this key choice is made known in advance to enemy states and (at least sometimes) to these foes’ sub-state surrogates. Before such enemies can be suitably deterred from launching first strike aggressions against Israel,[22] and before they can be deterred from launching retaliatory attacks following any Israeli preemptions, it may not be enough for them merely to know that Israel has the bomb.

In extremis atomicum, these enemies will also need to believe that Israeli nuclear weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attacksand that they are pointed menacingly at appropriately high-value targets.

The key message here is obvious and straightforward. Removing the bomb from Israel’s “basement” could enhance Israel’s nuclear deterrent to the extent that it would enlarge enemy perceptions of secure and capable Israeli nuclear forces.[23] Such a calculated end to deliberate ambiguity could also underscore Israel’s willingness to use these nuclear forces in reprisal for certain enemy first-strike and/or retaliatory attacks.[24]

From the standpoint of successful Israeli nuclear deterrence, IDF planners must generally proceed on the assumption that perceived willingness is always just as important as perceived capability. In all cases, Israel’s nuclear strategy and forces must remain fully oriented to deterrence, and never toward actual war fighting. Already, with this in mind, Jerusalem/Tel Aviv has likely taken appropriate steps to reject tactical or relatively low-yield “battlefield” nuclear weapons, and, as corollary, corresponding plans for counter-force targeting.

For Israel, without conceivable exception, nuclear weapons can make sense only for deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.[25]

There are various attendant problems of nuclear proliferation amongst enemy states.[26] These new nuclear powers could implement protective measures that would pose additional hazards to Israel. Designed to guard against preemption, either by Israel or by other regional enemies, such measures could involve the attachment of “hair trigger” launch mechanisms to nuclear weapon systems and/or the adoption of “launch on warning” policies, possibly coupled with pre-delegations of launch authority.

This means, most plainly, that Israel could become increasingly endangered by steps taken by its newly-nuclear enemies to prevent an eleventh-hour preemption. Optimally, Israel would do everything possible to prevent such steps, especially because of the expanded risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks against its own armaments and populations. Still, if these steps were somehow to become a fait accompli, Jerusalem might then calculate, and quite correctly, that a preemptive strike would be both legal and operationally cost-effective.

The expected enemy retaliation, however damaging, might appear more tolerable than the expected consequences of enemy first-strikes  –  strikes likely occasioned by the failure of “anti-preemption” protocols.

There is also the related matter of conventional deterrence.  In some circumstances, enemy states contemplating a conventional attack upon Israel might be dissuaded only by the threat of a strong conventional retaliation. Hence, inasmuch as a conventional war could quickly escalate into an unconventional war, Israel’s conventional deterrent could sometime prove indispensable in offering protection against chemical/biological/nuclear war[27] as well as conventional war.[28] 

Arguably, a persuasive conventional deterrent is a sine qua non of Israel’s security. This is the case irrespective of the persuasiveness of Jerusalem’s nuclear deterrent, and/or the availability of any reasonable preemption options.

Reciprocally, Israel’s conventional and nuclear deterrents are interrelated, even intertwined.  For the foreseeable future, any enemy states that would launch an exclusively conventional attack upon Israel would almost surely have to maintain multiple unconventionalweapons capabilities in reserve.  Even if Israel could rely upon conventional deterrence as its “first line” of protection, that line would necessarily be augmented by Israeli nuclear deterrence in order to prevent any intra-war escalations initiated by enemy states.

Looking ahead, Israel must prepare to rely upon a distinctly multi-faceted doctrine of nuclear deterrence. In turn, this doctrine will need to be purposefully less ambiguous and more determinedly “synergistic.” Its core focus must embrace prospectively rational and non-rational enemies, and include both national and sub-national foes.[29]

These intersecting requirements are not for the intellectually faint-hearted.

Hence, they are offered here for strategic consideration and refinement to the Few, not to the Many.

Over time, any such prudential reliance should prove agreeably “cost-effective.” In any event, whether directed at nuclear or non-nuclear adversaries (or both), Israel’s nuclear strategy will play an increasingly important role in that country’s national security planning. At some point, Israel and Iran –  resembling the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War – could find themselves like “two scorpions in a bottle”[30] or perhaps enclosed like two “scorpions” amid three or four others.

What happens then? Will Israel be ready? A positive answer is possible only if the task is viewed in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv as a preeminently intellectual one, a struggle not just about comparative ordnance or competitive “orders of battle,” but about “mind over mind.” In these times. of course, all relevant matters of mind will have to include various considerations of biology/pathology as well as the more usual military ones.

Fortunately, Israel has always been in recognizably prominent possession of what is most durably important. This largely overlooked factor is intellectual power. Going forward with its imperative strategic tasks, Israel’s senior planners and prime minister may have to more fully appreciate the primacy of such an antecedent or primary power. This would mean, inter alia, looking far beyond the more usual focus on high-technology military solutions, including various altogether unprecedented factors concerning virulent disease pandemic.

Among other things, these biological variables could impact actual processes  of crisis decision-making in Jerusalem and/or in certain enemy capitals, impacts with certain still-unknown force-multiplying effects that at some point could also become synergistic.

At that stage, the “whole” injurious impact of the pandemic on pertinent Israeli decision-making would have become more-or-less greater than the simple sum of all relevant “parts.” Immediately, therefore, because it would be impossible to anticipate in detail such a profound impact in all or even most of its plausible disease-based consequences, the optimal course for Israel must be to hew in general to certain strategic postures recognizably averse to excessive threat-making or risk-taking. Going forward, in these expansively uncertain times, Israel’s defense and security decision-makers should consider maximizing their inclinations to more cooperative or collaborative interactions with particular adversarial counterparts. Nonetheless, as long as the country maintains its “ace in the whole” nuclear strategy, which should be for a very long time, Jerusalem must keep up its efforts to ensure a refined and uniformly credible national nuclear strategy. And this strategy should continue to emphasize deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.

Otherwise, “It’s a hard rain gonna fall.”

In Israel, nuclear war must always be viewed only as a terminal disease. This means that any actual use of such weapons, by Israel and/or by its enemies, would necessarily signify an irremediable policy failure. Though assorted threats of nuclear reprisal must still reserve a residual place in Israel’s core defense planning processes – indeed, a place that is both important and indispensable – this perilous “sticking place” must also display very clear and understandable boundaries. In the final analysis, such boundaries should represent the coherent result of certain prior intellectual triumphs achieved by Israel’s policy analysts and decision-makers, victories that today must include a suitable awareness of pertinent “pandemic variables.”

Otherwise, in a literal instant, “hard rain” could drown several thousand years of civilizational progress and entire libraries of a once-sacred  poetry.


[1] Still, there were three prominently recorded incidents in which some explicit reference was made to Israel’s “bomb” by a prime minister, but none went beyond a deliberately vague and general commentary. On December 22, 1995, then Prime Minister Shimon Peres declared to the Israeli press that Israel would be willing “to give up the atom” in exchange for peace. Years later, on December 11, 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert uttered a very similar remark. And in just the last year, at the end of 2019, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed a pertinent “slip of the tongue,” combining “Israel” and “its nuclear….” in the same public utterance.

[2] At first hearing, it may sound prima facie erroneous to adapt any nation’s nuclear strategy to assorted non-nuclear adversaries, but it should nonetheless be obvious to Israel – for specific example, in the case of Iran – that even a wholly conventional enemy could (1) sometime threaten existential harms; and (2) these threats might sometime be rationally countered with varying forms and degrees of expressly nuclear deterrence.

[3] At the same time, we cannot be allowed to forget, that theoretical fruitfulness must be achieved at some more-or-less tangible cost of “dehumanization.”  As Goethe reminds us is Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, And the golden tree of life is green.” Translated by the author from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.”

[4] Such needed preparation must extend to multiplying enemy nuclear states, or the dynamic problem of nuclear proliferation. Philosophically, this problem has certain conceptual antecedents in the work of seventeenth-century English scholar, Thomas Hobbes. Here, instructs the author of Leviathan, although the “state of nations” exists in the condition of a “state of nature,” it is more tolerable than the condition of individuals in that state. This is because, in the case of individual human beings, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” With nuclear weapons spread, however, there is no longer any reason to assert that the state of nations must be more tolerable. Instead, this spread will bring the state of nations much closer to a true Hobbesian state of nature. Similarly, the classical German philosopher, Samuel Pufendorf, also unable to imagine nuclear weapons and nuclear warfare, still reasoned, like Hobbes, that the state of nations “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” And in the same vein, wrote Baruch Spinoza: “A commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II (Clarendon Press, 1958), p. 295.

[5] For earlier published writings by Professor Beres on the Iranian nuclear threat, see: Louis René Beres, “Israel, Force, and International Law: Assessing Anticipatory Self-Defense,” The Jerusalem Journal of International Relations, Vol. 13, No. 2., June 1991, pp. 1-14; Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, `Palestine,’ and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East,” Strategic Review, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp, 48-55; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Prospects for Nuclear War in the Middle East,” Strategic Review, Vol. XXI, No.2., Spring 1993, pp. 52-60; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Nuclear War: A Tactical and Legal Assessment,” Jerusalem Letter, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem, Israel, November 1993, pp. 1-7; Louis René Beres, “North Korea Today, Iran Tomorrow,” Midstream, June/July 1994, pp. 5-7, co-authored with COL. (IDF/res.) Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto (former Chief of Planning, Israel Air Force); Louis René Beres, “The Security and Future of Israel: An Exchange,” Midstream, Vol. XXXXI, No. 5., June/July 1995, pp. 15-23, a debate between Professor Beres and Maj. General (IDF/res.) Shlomo Gazit, a former Chief of IDF Intelligence Branch (Aman) and later, military advisor to Prime Minister Shimon Peres; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment,” UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs, Spring 1996, Vol. 1., No. 1, pp. 65-97; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Preemption: Choosing the Least Unattractive Option Under International Law,” Dickinson Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 2., Winter 1996, pp. 187-206; Louis René Beres, “The Iranian Threat to Israel: Capabilities and Intentions,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 9., No. 1., Spring 1996, pp. 51-62; Louis René Beres, “The Iranian Threat to Israel,” Midstream, Vol. 44, No. 6., September/October 1998, pp. 8-11; Louis René Beres, “Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel’s Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options: A Comprehensive Master Plan for the Jewish State in the Third Millennium,” The Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, “Iran’s Growing Threat to Israel,” Midstream, Vol. XXXXVI, No. 7, November 2000, pp. 2-4; and Louis René Beres, “Israel and the Bomb,” a Dialogue with Professor Zeev Maoz, International Security (Harvard University), Vol. 29, No.1., Summer 2004, pp. 1-4.

[6] On deterring a potentially nuclear Iran, see: Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?” The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. General Chain (USAF/ret.) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[7] It can also underscore Sun-Tzu’s oft-cited suggestion to “embrace the unorthodox.” For a specific application of Sun-Tzu to Israel’s prospective calculations, see: Louis René Beres, “Lessons for Israel from Ancient Chinese Military Thought: Facing Iranian Nuclearization with Sun-Tzu,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, posted October 24, 2013.

[8] The origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie 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).

[9] This does not mean trying to account for absolutely every pertinent explanatory variable. Clarification can be found at “Occam’s Razor,” or the “principle of parsimony.” In essence, it stipulates a preference for the simplest explanation still consistent with scientific method. Regarding current concerns for Israel’s nuclear strategy, it suggests, inter alia, that the country’s military planners not seek to identify and examine every seemingly important variable, but rather to “say the most, with the least.” This presents an important and often neglected cautionary idea, because all too often, strategists and planners mistakenly attempt to be too inclusive, unwittingly distracting themselves from forging more efficient and “parsimonious” theory.

[10] For early assessments of the expected consequences of nuclear war fighting, by this author, 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, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

[11] This reminder references the largely unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties; on Israeli and Iranian under-estimations or over-estimations of relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence, and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

[12] Such appraisals will also need to take account of a possible chaos in world politics, a condition classically foreseen by Thomas Hobbes, and one made far more likely by ongoing disease pandemic. Although composed in the seventeenth century, Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers a prospectively illuminating vision of chaos, a view that goes far beyond “ordinary” conditions of “mere” anarchy. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:” during chaos, a condition which Hobbes identifies as a “time of War,”  it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings  – because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons.

[13] https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/29389

[14] See, by this writer at Israel Defense: Louis René Beres,  https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/38613

[15] See, by this writer: Louis René Beres, https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/33558

[16] For early scholarly examinations of preemption and anticipatory self-defense, by this author, with particular reference to Israel, see:  Louis René Beres,  “Preserving the Third Temple:  Israel’s Right of Anticipatory Self-Defense Under International Law,”  Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law,  Vol. 26,  No. 1,  April 1993,  pp. 111- 148;  Louis René Beres,  “After the Gulf War:  Israel, Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  Houston Journal of International Law, Vol. 13,  No. 2,  Spring 1991,  pp. 259 – 280;  and Louis René Beres,  “Striking `First’: Israel’s Post Gulf War Options Under International Law,” Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Journal  Vol. 14,  Nov. 1991,  pp. 1 – 24.

[17] The Israeli analytic “cast” must always be linked to expressly dialectical thought processes. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerged as the preferred form of early “scientific” investigation. Plato describes the dialectician as one who knows how to ask and then to answer questions. In fashioning a usable strategic theory, Israeli planners will first need to better understand this core expectation –  even before they proceed to the usual compilations of facts, figures, orders of battle, and regional balances of power.

[18] In a well-known passage in Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning, the early philosopher of science says that the medieval scholastics were like spiders, weaving webs out of their own heads, without any consideration of surrounding facts. These webs were admirable on account of their workmanship and fineness of thread, but they were nonetheless lacking in any true explanatory substance. (I, iv., 5). Presently, in explaining and advancing Israel’s nuclear strategy, it is important to construct theory upon suitably fact-based foundations, not on the perilously diaphanous constructions of modern-day scholastics.

[19] See by this writer (USMA West Point/Pentagon):  Louis René Beres,  https://mwi.usma.edu/israel-samson-option-interconnected-world/

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

[21] See earlier, by this writer: Louis René Beres, Looking Ahead: Revising Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity in the Middle East, Herzliya Conference Policy Paper, Herzliya Conference, March 11-14, 2013 (Herzliya, Israel). See also: Louis René Beres and Admiral (USN/ret.) Leon (Bud) Edney, “Facing a Nuclear Iran, Israel Must Re-Think Its Nuclear Ambiguity,” U.S. News & World Report, February 11, 2013, 3 pp; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon (Bud) Edney, “Reconsidering Israel’s Nuclear Posture,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2013.

[22] Punishment of aggression is a longstanding and authoritative expectation of international criminal law.  The underlying legal principle of Nullum Crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its discernible origins in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728 – 1686 B.C.E.);  the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 B.C.E.);  the even earlier Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the law of exact retaliation, or Lex Talionis, presented in three separate passages of the Torah

[23] The expected security benefits to Israel of any considered reductions in “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” must remain more-or-less dependent upon Clausewitzian “friction.” Here, this classic term of operational military planning references the always-unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties, Israeli and adversarial underestimations or overestimations of relative power position, and the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between abstract theories of deterrence, and actual enemy intentions.

[24]  More generally, the expressly  legal problem of reprisal as a permissible rationale for the use of force by states is identified  in the U.N. Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States (1970)(https://cil.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/formidable/18/1970-Declaration-on-Principles-of-International-Law-Concerning-Friendly-Relations.pdf) . A possible prohibition of reprisals is also deducible from the broad regulation of force expressed in the UN Charter at Article 2(4); the obligation to settle disputes peacefully at Article 2(3); and the general limiting of permissible force by states (codified and customary) to necessary self-defense.

[25] In the words of Israel’s Strategic Future, the Final Report of Project Daniel (Israel, 2004): “The primary point of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.” See also: Louis René Beres, “Facing Iran’s Ongoing Nuclearization: A Retrospective on Project Daniel,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 22, Issue 3, June 2009, pp 491-514; and Louis René Beres, “Israel’s Uncertain Strategic Future,” Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College, Vol. XXXVII, No.1., Spring 2007, pp. 37-54.

[26] See, by this writer: Louis René Beres, “Facing Myriad Enemies: Core Elements of Israeli Nuclear Deterrence,” The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Fall/Winter 2013, Vol. XX, Issue 1., pp. 17-30.

[27] The idea of biological war may take on a whole new urgency in view of the current Covid-19 pandemic. More precisely, this extraordinary disease outbreak remains of unproven national origin, and could influence various countries either to move more assertively toward biological weapons preparation or away from any such production. At this point, the correct expectation must remain highly subjective and analytically problematic.

[28] Already, non-nuclear Iran may rank ahead of Israel in overall or cumulative military capacity. According to an article in The Jerusalem Post (August 12, 2019),Israel ranks behind regional enemy Iran for the second year in a row, despite international pressure and sanctions against the Islamic republic. Global Firepower states that Israel has 170,000 active personnel in all branches of the armed forces, with a further 445,000 people in reserve, meaning a total of 7.3% of Israel’s population are somehow involved a military role. Compared to Iran, which similarly has around 873,000 people on active duty and in reserve, but only 1.1% of the population is involved in the armed forces.

[29] It is worth noting here that Israel’s nuclear strategy could have certain meaningful implications for U.S. national security. On these generally ignored connections, see Louis René Beres and (General/USA/ret.) Barry McCaffrey, ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY AND AMERICA’S NATIONAL SECURITY, Tel-Aviv University and Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, Tel-Aviv, December 2016: https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[30] See, by this writer: Louis René Beres, “Like Two Scorpions in a Bottle: Could Israel and a Nuclear Iran Coexist in the Middle East,” The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 8., No.1., 2014, pp. 23-32.

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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The Future of The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the QUAD) Grouping Explained

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The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad) comprises four counties, Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. It was founded in the year 2007 by Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan. The initiation of the dialogue was supported by Dick Cheney and John Howard, the then USA vice president and the Prime Minister of Australia, respectively. Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister of India, also took part in the quad grouping initiation process (Gale & Shearer, 2018). The informal strategic dialogue was formed with a common objective of ensuring and supporting an open, free, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region through the minimization of China’s influence. The paper’s primary purpose is to discuss why the quadrilateral security dialogue is currently common on the news by describing the group’s new activities that have attracted media attention.

Quad Nations and China

United States of America

Given the increasing influence of China in East Asia, United States sees the Quad Nations coalition as a chance to gain back its declining power in the Indo- Pacific. The nation describes Russia and China as tactical rivals in the strategy to promote National security.

Australia

               The country is highly disturbed by China’s growing interests in its politics, land, infrastructure, and influence on its learning institutions. Despite Australia being part of the quad grouping, the country has maintained its commitment to the partnership with China because of its high dependence on China for economic prosperity.

Japan

               Japan has shown concerns about the territorial transgression of China in the region. However, the country cannot break its ties with China because the trade volume between the two nations is the key contributor to the growth of the Japanese economy. Therefore, the country is trying out ways to balance its territorial concerns and economic needs by preserving its relationship with China while at the same time joining the quad grouping.

India

               The violation of international norms by China, especially by constructing military facilities in the South China Sea, affects India negatively. Considering China’s critical role in India’s economic development, the country has preserved its commitment to strategic autonomy to China despite being a member of the quad grouping.

Reasons Behind Quad’s High Media Attention

               Quad groping started attracting high media attention when it came back to life on November 12, 2017, by forming a quadrilateral coalition to counter the aggressive behavior of China in the Indo-Pacific region. The group held its first meeting after the rebirth one day before the ASEAN Summit, which was attended by officials from the Ministries of External Affairs of all member countries. Australia, Japan, and India issued alternate statements citing the Indo-Pacific as the central debate area. The group agreed to expand cooperation to maintain respect for international law and rule-based order in tactically vital regions (O’Neil & West, 2020). The countries agreed that an open, free, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific would positively impact the nations’ interests in the area and those of the entire world. The officials also shared ideas on tackling common propagation linkages and terrorism affecting the region, among other discussions. They also shared views on the best ways to use present-day technology to enhance connectivity. The meeting attracted significant media attention and has activated close follow-up by different media stations of all the group’s activities.

               Director generals from the four countries of the Quad group met officially for the second time in 2018 after the dialogue was reinitiated. The officials discussed ways to meet their shared objectives in development and connectivity, humanitarian assistance, regional security, maritime corporation, and disaster relief. Another complementary meeting was again held between the Quad countries, where joint secretaries heading American and East Asia were the attendees. The participants reassured their support for an open, accessible, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific Region. Members again confirmed their joint commitment, built on shared principles and values to ensure order in the Indo-Pacific.

               News about the Quad grouping was at its peak from March 12, 2021, after the US, Australia, India, and Japan conducted a virtual meeting because of the current Coronavirus pandemic. The leaders agreed to work as a unit to stop China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific and tackle the Covid pandemic. Quad members spoke about their plans to function alongside the World Health Organization to make Covid-19 vaccines available to more than one billion people in the Indi-Pacific region. With the Australian logistics competence, the United States’ technology, Indian manufacturing, and the Japanese financing, Quad members are confident with their plan of creating as many Covid-19 vaccines as possible to supply among their target population (Satake, 2020). Besides China’s aggressiveness and Covid-19, the members also agreed to work together to address climate change. The group also reiterated its assurance to denuclearize North Korea and encouraged the restoration of the democratic election of public members to the government in Myanmar.

Conclusion

               The member states started the quad grouping, majorly to protect their territories and limit China’s dominance. The group has grown to attract significant attention, not only in the media but also worldwide. Besides the limitation of China’s reign, the quadrilateral security dialogue has and is still making substantial contributions in tackling the current Coronavirus pandemic, which has had devastating impacts worldwide. The group has turned out to advocate for a more peaceful, free, prosperous, and inclusive world.

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United States- Iran Nuclear Crises: Portents for Israel

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ABSTRACT: In response to former US President Donald J. Trump’s unilateral American withdrawal from the July 2015 Iran Pact (JCPOA),[1] the Islamic Republic of Iran accelerated and reinvigorated its military nuclear program. More recently, nuclear talks between the two countries were re-started by President Joseph Biden, but are expected to be placed on hold until after Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahem Raisi, is sworn into office. Also plausible is that negotiations could break down altogether and that a precipitating event, either foreseen or unforeseen, would spark an Iran-US nuclear crisis. Such a crisis could quickly involve Israel.[2]

“Deterrence is concerned with influencing the choices that another party will make, and doing it by influencing his expectations of how we will behave.”-Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (1960)

Background of the problem

For many years, Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs had hoped for an American strike against Iran; ideally, a comprehensive preemptive attack on Iran’s pertinent nuclear infrastructures.[3] Nonetheless, any plausible US-Iran nuclear crisis could have become more costly than gainful for Israel. Any such crisis could have caused Jerusalem to recall too late the succinct maxim: “Be careful what you wish for.”

Explanations are required. If US President Joseph Biden should ever become embroiled in a major security crisis with Iran, all immediately relevant policy issues would center on strategy and tactics, not on considerations of law. These inherently complex policy issues could quickly become overlapping and interpenetrating. At times, therefore, whether witting or unwitting, Washington’s operational crisis decisions could sometimes prove jurisprudentially determinative.

Depending upon which country was to strike first in any belligerent US-Iran context, American military actions could become either law-violating or law-enforcing. Similar legal questions would follow from the particular types of weapons used and from the expressed regard or disregard shown for non-combatant (civilian) populations.

               “Everything is simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but even the simplest thing is very difficult.” None of these legal questions are meant to suggest that a first use of force would be ipso facto illegal. This is the case because customary international law (defined at Article 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice[4]) expressly allows for certain residual resort to “anticipatory self-defense.”[5] Following The Caroline (1837), international law need never be taken to represent some form or other of “suicide pact.”[6]

Intersecting jurisprudential and strategic considerations

               There is more. International law is always a part of each individual state’s corpus of domestic or municipal law, an authoritative incorporation most immediately conspicuous for the United States at Article 6 of the US Constitution (the Supremacy Clause) and in various US Supreme Court decisions, especially the Paquete Habana (1900) and Tel Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic (1981).[7]

               Certain antecedent questions now also arise. What, precisely, does US President Joseph Biden have in mind in preparing suitably for a prospective nuclear crisis or armed conflict with Iran? What would this presumptive American expectation mean for the derivative safety of US ally Israel?[8] What related benefits, if any, might be expected from the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords?[9] And what are the precise definitional parameters of “nuclear crisis”?

               This last question has an easy but still-complicating answer. Any US crisis with Iran must be considered per se “nuclear,” even if it takes place before that country becomes an operationally capable atomic power. Still, any crisis with Iran would become more demonstrably and dramatically nuclear where both states were “Members of the Nuclear Club.” This is the case even though a substantial and protracted nuclear force asymmetry would clearly obtain between Washington and Tehran.

               Once a genuine conflict was plainly underway between Iran and the United States,[10] full-scale military engagements could quickly or incrementally involve Israeli armed forces (IDF). In certain manifestly worst case scenarios, these clashes would involve unconventional weapons, and directly impact Israel’s vulnerable civilian populations.[11] The most fearful narratives here would obviously be ones that involve nuclear ordnance.[12]

               In anticipation, capable strategic and jurisprudential thinking is required in both Washington and Jerusalem. Even during a potentially fleeting time in which Israel would remain the only regional nuclear power, an American war with Iran could elicit Israeli nuclear deterrence threats[13] and/or Israeli nuclear reprisals.[14] For Israel, such threats or reprisals could be entirely rational[15]and fully legal.[16]

Plausible scenarios

How might such dissembling circumstances emerge? As a “bolt-from-the-blue” spasm of violence, or in less blatant stages; that is, in variously difficult-to- fathom increments of harm? Most credibly, a “collateral war” would come to Israel as a catastrophic fait accompli, a multi-pronged belligerency wherein even the most comprehensive security preparations in Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv would quite suddenly prove inadequate. What then? What would likely happen next, operationally and legally?

               The only meaningful answer to such inherently problematic queries must include aptly candid affirmations of strategic unpredictability. In science and mathematics, accurate statements of probability must always be drawn from the discernible frequency of relevant past events. In those increasingly dense strategic matters currently dangling before America, Iran and Israel,[17] there are no relevant past events.

               Matters here are made even more bewildering by already ongoing non-nuclear problems in the Middle East. Most urgent of these problems is the increasingly dramatic shortage of water and the growing uncertainty of electrical power. Though military strategists might not ordinarily factor in such “non-military” difficulties as primary to nuclear war avoidance, national security decision-making is ultimately carried out by flesh and blood human beings. Prima facie, such kindred creatures of biology will always be affected by the most elementary primal needs and expectations.

               Strategically, there is more here to ponder. For the moment, at least, Joe Biden has identified no specific military doctrine for tangible application in this theatre. Once confronted with a “no doctrine” war launched against Iran by an American president, whether as defensive first-strike or as retaliation (both could conceivably be lawful), Israel’s senior strategists would need to fashion their own corresponding doctrines – more-or-less ex nihilo.  

               How exactly should Jerusalem/Tel Aviv accurately anticipate Iranian or Iranian-surrogate attacks on Israeli targets? As an antecedent question, how should these decision-makers and planners best identify which of these vulnerable targets would be presumptively “high value”? At some point, such an Intelligence Community/Ministry of Defense (MOD) operational challenge could include the small defending country’s Dimona nuclear reactor. In 1991 and 2014, the ultrasensitive facility at Dimona already came under rocket and missile attack from separate Iraqi and Hamas aggressions.[18]

               In any upcoming conflict with the United States, Tehran would likely regard direct attacks upon selected Israeli targets as proper “retaliations” for American strikes. This is the case whether these strikes were launched as an initial move of war against the Islamic Republic and its surrogates or a variously foreseeable response to Iranian first strikes. Potentially, Iranian forces could gain operational access to hypersonic rockets or missiles. Should such                                       access be obtained, Israel’s critical capacity to shoot down hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and/or hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs) might prove sorely inadequate.

               What would happen next? In logical response, considerations of law and justice would likely prove anterior to visceral considerations of victory and survival. Among other things, could mean military escalations that are anything but gainful or “cost-effective.”

               When pertinent options are examined dialectically, as they should, it could be to Tehran’s perceived advantage to drag Israel into any US or Iran-initiated war and to do this ostentatiously. Striking the US homeland would prove vastly more difficult for Iran, and also more likely elicit a range of intolerable reprisals. On its face, any US-initiated war against Iran would strengthen Saudi military power specifically and Sunni Arab military power in general. While such an expected strengthening might now seem less worrisome to Israel than expanding Iranian militarization, this delicate strategic calculus could reverse very quickly.

 Israeli planners would need to investigate a number of previously disregarded military options against specific Sunni Arab adversaries, including legal questions of jus ad bellum and jus in bello.[19]Simultaneously, these planners would need to calculate prospective Iranian activation of Hezbollah and Houthi militias against not only Israel directly, but also Saudi Arabia and/or the United Arab Emirates. Regarding direct Shiite militia attacks against Israel, the main threat would be to Israeli shipping in the Red Sea. At this point, the Houthis maintain a real but still-limited capacity to target Israel from Yemen with long-range missiles and drones. Earlier, Iran played a major role in enabling Gaza terror factions (mostly Hamas) to produce usable weapons; today, the Islamic Republic is exporting valuable technological know-how to expanding Houthi forces in Yemen.

A complex geopolitics

Iran is seeking to become a regional hegemon in a manifestly “opaque” theater of conflict. Over time, both the United States and Israel must do what is possible to curb further Iranian activation of Houthi and Hezbollah militias. Assuredly, once Iran is able to cross the nuclear military threshold, all such inhibiting tactics would become expansively dangerous. Unless the United States approaches these fragmenting sources of Middle East instability in a more suitably coherent fashion, Israel is likely to be left “holding the bag.” Now, of course, in the summer of 2021, American forces are rapidly abandoning Afghanistan to assorted and diverse Jihadi forces. A geo-strategic vacuum will emerge to the palpable detriment of Israel.

It’s a very delicate regional balance of power. For years, a Salafi/Deobandi (Sunni) Crescent has emerged to challenge the Shiite Crescent. The objective is an attempt by Al Qaeda and other Salafi/Deobandi Islamist groups to counter the Crescent created by Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. 

Unambiguously, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are in a state of near-collapse –  a result especially of severe water and electrical shortages coupled with pandemic disease. “Salafi Crescent” reflects Sunni ambition to establish a caliphate controlling much of the Middle East and forming the Islamic State “from Diyala (in eastern Iraq) to Beirut.” Al-Qaeda’s hatred of the Shiites was already expressed by its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who called them “the insurmountable obstacle, the prowling serpent…the enemy lying in wait, and ordered his followers to ’fight them.’”

                Should the Biden-led US military ever find itself in a two-front or multi-front war –  a complex conflict wherein American forces are battling in Asia (North Korea) and the Middle East simultaneously – Israel could find itself fighting on its own. For such an exceptionally complicating scenario to be suitably appreciated, Israeli strategists would first need to bear in mind that any “whole” of tangible deteriorations caused by multi-front engagements could effectively exceed the sum of constituent “parts.”[20]

               This means, among other things, that Israeli strategists and planners will need to remain persistently sensitive to all credible synergies. It must go without saying that the former Trump administration (ushered into power at the 2016 Republican National Convention by Keynote “Speaker” Duck Dynasty) was unaccustomed to any such challenging intellectual calculations. For those now-discarded planners in Washington, complex strategic decisions could best be extrapolated from the commerce-driven worlds of real-estate manipulation and casino gambling.

               If only the United States had earlier paid attention to Friedrich Nietzsche’s simple warning in Zarathustra: “Do not seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.”

               Presently, there is still time for Washington and Jerusalem to recall certain timeless insights of Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz. For the author of On War, the determining standard of reasonableness in any military contest must always lie in presumed political outcomes. For a state to get caught up in war – any war – without adequately clear political expectations is always a mistake. Here, both Washington and Jerusalem must concern themselves not only with Iranian power projections and expansions, but also with the perilously uncertain prospects of the “Sunni Crescent,” an array of more-or-less organized Sunni forces intending to combat Shiite adventurism. If this were not complicated enough, planners in Washington and Jerusalem/Tel Aviv must also consider various believable intersections or synergies, consideration’s that will inevitably pose a staggering measure of intellectual challenge.

Recent regional histories

For more years than we may care to recollect, futile American wars remained underway in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In short time, for Iraqis and Afghans, their once-hoped-for oases of regional stability will regress to what seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have called a “war of all against all.”[21] At best, what eventually unravels in these severely fractured countries will be no worse than if these wars had never even been fought. At worst, what unravels will be substantially more unstable.

               Either way, what is now unraveling in Iraq and Afghan will never represent a welcome political outcome.

               Shouldn’t we all now inquire, accordingly: Did Americans and others sacrifice so much blood and treasure to bring about, at best, status quo ante bellum?

               Over the years, with the now obvious exception of North Korea,[22] America’s principal doctrinal enemy has changed, dramatically, from “communism” to “Islamism” or “Jihadism.” This time, however, the ideological adversary is palpable, real and not merely presumptive.  This time it is also a formidable and finely-textured foe, one that requires continuously serious analytic study, not just ad hoc responses or seat-of-the-pants US presidential eruptions. There are times, perhaps, when real or contrived bellicosity can serve American national security policy objectives (e.g., the possible deterrence benefit of pretended irrationality) and objectives of certain close allies (e.g., Israel), but not where it is detached from previously-constructed theoretical foundations.[23]

               There is more. The Jihadist enemy of America and Israel remains a foe that can never be fully defeated, at least not in any measurable final sense. This determined enemy will not be immobilized on any of the more usual or traditional military battlefields.[24]  Never.

               If at some point a particular Jihadi adversary has seemingly been vanquished by US military forces in one country or another, it will likely re-group and reappear elsewhere. After Iraq, after Afghanistan, even after Syria (which now dissembles with Russian support of a genocidal regime that has always been hostile to Israel), America will face resurgent adversaries in hard-to-manage and geographically far-flung places. These locales include Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, and perhaps even Bangladesh or (in  the future) “Palestine.”[25] In the end, the “final” resolution to various conflicts will largely be a matter of will.[26]

               During the Trump Era in the Middle East, an American president and his National Security Advisor sounded alarm bells over Iran –  and this after the United States, not Iran, withdrew from an international legal agreement that was less than perfect,[27] but (reasonably) better than nothing at all.[28]

Preemption and anticipatory self-defense

When all these intersecting factors are taken into suitable intellectual account, there remains a residual argument (one that might quickly be anticipated in Israel) that a US-generated war with Iran would de facto amount to an anti-nuclear preemption[29] or to some similarly purposeful act of “anticipatory self-defense.”[30] Here, and with little reasonable doubt, the American war would be regarded as “cost-effective” or “net gainful” in Jerusalem/Tel Aviv.[31] This visceral assessment, however, could become a matter of what Sigmund Freud called “wish fulfillment” rather than of one of any serious strategic assessment (risks and benefits).

               Realistically, there is only a tiny likelihood that American bombs and missiles would soon be adequately targeted on widely multiplied/hardened/dispersed Iranian nuclear infrastructures.

               In reality, at least for the present, any US war against Iran would be contrary to Israel’s core national security interests and obligations. Glib reassurances to the contrary from Jerusalem/Tel Aviv or Washington (or both) could be prospectively lethal for Israel. Though assuredly genuine, the attack threat from Iran should never be taken as an opening for crudely simplifying political rhetoric. Instead, this threat should be assessed and calibrated dialectically,[32] as reliably as possible according to all normally verifiable standards of enemy force posture estimations.[33]

                If, at any point during crisis bargaining between Iran, Hezbollah, Israel and the United States, one side or the other should place too great a value on achieving “escalation dominance”[34] and too little value on parallel considerations of national safety, the expanding conflict could promptly turn “out of control.” Any such consequential deterioration would be especially or even uniquely worrisome if Israel threatened or launched some of its presumptive nuclear forces. This is the case irrespective of any promised strategic support for Israel from the United States.

The importance of doctrine

               In sum, if Israel should look again to the United States for seamlessly capable geo-strategic leadership, it could be taking unprecedented national security risks. At a minimum, Israel has the incontestable right (and also the obligation – to its own citizens) to expect fully decipherable expressions of US military doctrine. Going forward, unless it should insist more firmly upon maintaining this critical right, Israel could then have to face starkly injurious security outcomes. The considered prospect of a fully-sovereign Palestinian state would need to be taken here as a significant “intervening variable.”[35]

                Every state’s first responsibility is to assure and maintain citizen protection; citizen allegiance is therefore contingent upon such valid assurances.  Most famous in pertinent political theory is the classic statement of seventeenth-century Englishman Thomas Hobbes, expressed at Chapter XXI of his Leviathan: “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last so long, and no longer, then the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them.” Later, Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, described this obligation as binding upon all the nations. Writing his Opinion on the French Treaties (April 28, 1793), Jefferson opined: “The nation itself, bound necessarily to whatever it’s preservation and safety require, cannot enter into engagements contrary to its indispensable obligations.”[36]

               There is more. In law, every state has an enduring obligation to oppose and (if necessary) suitably punish aggression. Punishment of aggression is a longstanding peremptory expectation of international criminal law.  The foundational principle of Nullum crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its origins in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728 – 1686 B.C.E.); the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 B.C.E.); the even earlier Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the law of exact retaliation, or Lex Talionis, which ispresented in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah

               For Israel, a uniformly continuous concern with certain basic jurisprudential principles could advance its legal as well as strategic objectives, most plainly those that jurist William Blackstone had identified in his Commentaries on the Law of England (Book 4 “Of Public Wrongs”): “Each state is expected, perpetually,” noted Blackstone, “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.”

                Such ideas did not arise in a theoretic or intellectual vacuum. Ultimately, Blackstone is indebted to Cicero’s description of natural law in The Republic: “True law is right reason, harmonious with nature, diffused among all, constant, eternal; a law which calls to duty by its commands and restrains from evil by its prohibitions….” Natural law is never an adornment. Always, it lies at the very heart of United States Constitutional law and of all that conceivably derives therefrom.

Just wars and cumulative complexities

               As for “just wars” pertaining to both jus ad bellum and jus in bello criteria, Hugo Grotius wrote that they “arise from our love of the innocent.”[37] Though it is most unlikely that such legal high-mindedness could ever factor into US President Joe Biden’s possible decision to encourage or initiate a war against Iran, it still remains a promising standard for Israel to bear continuously in mind. This will prove especially good advice if American military actions against Iran should sometime prod the Islamic Republic to “retaliate” against Israel.

More than ever before, the Middle East has become a complicated “neighborhood.” To wit, overlapping Arab-Israel and Iran-Israel hostilities are rapidly changing variants of Sunni-Shia rivalries, including an irremediably core geo-political struggle between “Shia Crescent” and Sunni-Crescent (Salafi/Deobandi) countries. While Israel and the United States continue to have overriding common strategic interests, it remains altogether likely that certain upcoming resorts to military force by Washington could “tie the hands” of relevant policy-makers in Jerusalem. Whether witting or unwitting, any such American “tying” could sometime place Israel in existential peril,[38] This would become markedly true as soon as Iran had crossed the nuclear weapons threshold.

               What is to be done? Above all, the United States must take care to keep Israel “in the loop” wherever possible and Israel must make a reciprocal effort to stay fully informed about America’s regional foreign policy orientations. In this connection, greater subtlety will have to be applied by Israeli assessments than was displayed during the Trump Era. As a still-inconspicuous example, the net effect of the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords could prove sorely negative for Israel. Though these agreements might first have seemed gainful to Israel prima facie, they actually have no tangible bearing on Israel’s core security problems. Simultaneously, the Abraham Accords antagonize and marginalize Iran, a destabilizing effect that can’t possibly prove helpful to Israel.

               Going forward, the United States will inevitably find itself embroiled in various crisis relationships with Iran. To best protect itself from any unwanted collateral consequences, US ally Israel should continue to refine its intellect-based policies of deterrence, both conventional and nuclear.[39] More precisely, to optimize its presumed nuclear deterrent, Jerusalem/Tel Aviv should finally confront the rapidly disappearing advantages of “nuclear ambiguity,”[40] thereby acknowledging that the Jewish state is now able to calibrate a nuclear response to any particular level of military threat.[41] Prima facie, such an acknowledgment would serve not only Israel’s strategic obligations, but its complementary jurisprudential ones as well.[42]

               For Israel, in all pertinent matters, strategy and law must go hand in hand. Yet, even under optimal conditions regarding stable nuclear deterrence, the United States could suddenly find itself in extremis atomicum. The very same steps needed to maximize a credible American deterrence posture could simultaneously enlarge the likelihood of inadvertent nuclear war.[43] For Israel and the United States, one core imperative ought never be minimized or disregarded:

“Be careful what you wish for!”


[1] See https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/trumps-jcpoa-withdrawal-two-years-on-maximum-pressure-minimum-outcomes/

[2] On deterring a prospectively nuclear Iran, see Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012; and Beres/Chain: Israel: https://besacenter.org/living-iran-israels-strategic-imperative-2/  General Jack Chain (USAF) was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), from 1986 to 1991.

[3]From the standpoint of international law, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking an enemy first in the expectation that the only 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 genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in a pertinent military balance.  Hence, in a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is very short, while in a preventive strike the interval is considerably longer. A problem for Israel, in this regard, is not only the practical difficulty of determining imminence, but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained imminence is acknowledged, could prove fatal.

[4] See: https://www.icj-cij.org/en/statute

[5] For early scholarly examinations of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, and with particular reference to Israel, see:  Louis René Beres,  “Preserving the Third Temple:  Israel’s Right of Anticipatory Self-Defense Under International Law,”  Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law,  Vol. 26,  No. 1,  April 1993,  pp. 111- 148;  Louis René Beres,  “After the Gulf War:  Israel, Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  Houston Journal of International Law, Vol. 13,  No. 2,  Spring 1991,  pp. 259 – 280;  and Louis René Beres,  “Striking `First’: Israel’s Post-Gulf War Options Under International Law,” Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Journal  Vol. 14,  Nov. 1991,  pp. 1 – 24.

[6] The obvious Israeli precedents for any preemptive moves would be Operation Opera directed against the Osiraq (Iraqi) nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981, and, later (though lesser known) Operation Orchard, against Syria on September 6, 2007. In April 2011, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the bombed Syrian site in the Deir ez-Zoe region of Syria had indeed been a developing nuclear reactor. Both preemptions were arguably lawful assertions of Israel’s “Begin Doctrine.”

[7]See:  https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/517/542/2386834/

[8] Regarding specific effects of US nuclear strategy on security matters in the Middle East, by this author, see: Louis René Beres: https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/162-MONOGRAPH-Beres-Israeli-Nuclear-Deterrence-CORRECTED-NEW.pdf

[9] See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ Also to be considered as complementary to these agreements are the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and the Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).

[10] Under international law, the question of whether or not a condition of war actually exists between states is often left unclear.  Traditionally, a “formal” war was said to exist only after a state had issued a formal declaration of war.  The Hague Convention III codified this position in 1907.  This Convention provided that hostilities must not commence without “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum.  See Hague Convention III on the Opening of Hostilities, Oct. 18, 1907, art. 1, 36 Stat. 2277, 205 Consol. T.S. 263.  Presently, a declaration of  war could be tantamount to a declaration of criminality because international law prohibits “aggression.” See Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, Aug. 27, 1948, art. 1, 46 Stat.  2343, 94 L.N.T.S.  57 (also called Pact of Paris or Kellogg-Briand Pact); Nuremberg Judgment, 1 I.M.T.  Trial of the Major War Criminals 171 (1947), portions reprinted in Burns H. Weston, et. al., INTERNATIONAL LAW AND WORLD ORDER  148, 159 (1980); U.N. Charter, art. 2(4).  A state may compromise its own legal position by announcing formal declarations of war.  It follows that a state of belligerency may exist without formal declarations, but only if there exists an armed conflict between two or more states and/or at least one of these states considers itself “at war.”

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

[12] On the probable consequences of nuclear war fighting by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 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: US 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).

[13] Israel’s presumptive nuclear deterrence posture depends upon several separate but still-intersecting factors. Most important are the country’s significant weapons, infrastructures and missile defense capabilities. Less conspicuously urgent, but still important, are the defining structures of world politics. These structures include the fundamentally anarchic system created after the 1648 Peace of Westphalia (“The State System”) and also (though plainly more transient or temporary) US-Russian superpower rivalry. The carefully detailed essay that follows focuses critically-needed attention on the latter set of explanatory factors, one associated with “Cold War II.” To plan ahead optimally, Israel’s designated strategists should pay increasing attention to this particular expression of geo-political “context.” These strategists will also have to look more closely than usual within pertinent decision-making structures of the United States. This is because (1) America is experiencing steadily expanding levels of intra-national cultural incoherence, epidemic and disorder, and (2) such levels will have major inter-national implications.

[14] The legal problem of reprisal as a permissible rationale for the use of force by states is identified and explained in the U.N. Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States (1970) (https://cil.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/formidable/18/1970-Declaration-on-Principles-of-International-Law-Concerning-Friendly-Relations.pdf)  Additionally, a possible prohibition of reprisals is deducible from the broad regulation of force expressed in the UN Charter at Article 2(4); the obligation to settle disputes peacefully at Article 2(3); and the general limiting of permissible force (codified and customary) by states to necessary self-defense.

[15] In authoritative studies of world politics, rationality and irrationality have taken on very precise meanings. A state is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational state is one that would not always display such a markedly specific preference ordering. On expressly pragmatic or operational grounds, ascertaining whether a particular state adversary such as Iran would be rational or irrational could easily become an overwhelmingly daunting task.

[16] No state on earth, including Israel, is under any per se legal obligation to renounce access to nuclear weapons; in certain distinctly residual circumstances, moreover, even the actual resort to such weapons could be presumed lawful. See generally The Legality of the Threat or Use of Force of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, 1997 I.C.J. (July 8). The final paragraph of this Opinion, concludes, inter alia: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

[17] “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz, in his classical discussion of “friction” in On War, “but the simplest thing is difficult.” Herein, this concept refers to the unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties; on Israeli and Iranian under-estimations or over-estimations of relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence, and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

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

[19] In law, states must judge every use of force twice: once with regard to the underlying right to wage war (jus ad bellum) and once with regard to the means used in actually conducting war (jus in bello). Following the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and the United Nations Charter, there can be absolutely no right to aggressive war. However, the long-standing customary right of post-attack self-defense remains codified at Article 51 of the UN 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 law 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, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all belligerent calculations.

[20] See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/

[21] Apropos of Hobbes’ argument that the state of nature is worse among individuals than among states, the philosopher Spinoza suggested that “…a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295.

[22] Here it also ought to be recalled that North Korea once helped Syria build a nuclear reactor, the same facility that was later destroyed by Israel in its Operation Orchard, on September 6, 2007. Unlike earlier Operation Opera (June 7, 1981) this preemptive attack, in the Deir ez-Zor region, was presumptively a second expression of the so-called “Begin Doctrine.” It also illustrated, because of the North Korea-Syria connection, a wider globalthreat to Israel in particular.

[23] At the same time, we cannot be allowed to forget that theoretical fruitfulness must be achieved at some more-or-less tangible cost of “dehumanization.”  As Goethe reminds us is Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, And the golden tree of life is green.” Translated here by the author, from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.”

[24] Under international law, terrorist movements (of which Jihadist groups are a current manifestation) are always Hostes humani generis, or “Common enemies of mankind.” See: Research in International Law: Draft Convention on Jurisdiction with Respect to Crime, 29 AM J. INT’L L. (Supp 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615) (“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).

[25] See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/07/louis-beres-palestine-fiction/

For earlier and original writings by this author on the prospective impact of a Palestinian state on Israeli nuclear deterrence and Israeli nuclear strategy, see: Louis René Beres, “Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel’s Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options,” Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, “After the `Peace Process:’ Israel, Palestine, and Regional Nuclear War,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 15, No. 2., Winter 1997, pp. 301-335; Louis René Beres, “Limits of Nuclear Deterrence: The Strategic Risks and Dangers to Israel of False Hope,” ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY, Vol. 23., No. 4., Summer 1997, pp. 539-568; Louis René Beres, “Getting Beyond Nuclear Deterrence: Israel, Intelligence and False Hope,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE AND COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, Vol. 10., No. 1., Spring 1997, pp. 75-90; Louis René Beres, “On Living in a Bad Neighborhood: The Informed Argument for Israeli Nuclear Weapons,” POLITICAL CROSSROADS, Vol. 5., Nos. 1/2, 1997, pp. 143-157; Louis René Beres, “Facing the Apocalypse: Israel and the `Peace Process,'” BTZEDEK: THE JOURNAL OF RESPONSIBLE JEWISH COMMENTARY (Israel), Vol. 1., No. 3., Fall/Winter 1997, pp. 32-35; Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why Golan Demilitarization Would Not Work,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XXIV, No. 1., Winter 1996, pp. 75-76; Louis René Beres, “Implications of a Palestinian State for Israeli Security and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 17., No. 2., 1999, pp. 229-286; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” CROSSROADS: AN INTERNATIONAL SOCIO-POLITICAL JOURNAL, No. 31, 1991, pp. 97-104; Louis René Beres, “The Question of Palestine and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” THE POLITICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 62, No. 4., October-December 1991, pp. 451-460; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Palestine and Regional Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF PEACE PROPOSALS, Vol. 22., No. 2., June 1991, pp. 227-234; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State: Implications for Israel’s Security and the Possibility of Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF THE JERUSALEM INSTITUTE FOR WESTERN DEFENCE  (Israel), Vol. 4., Bulletin No, 3., October 1991, pp. 3-10; Louis René Beres, ISRAELI SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS, PSIS Occasional Papers, No. 1/1990, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, 40 pp; and Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, Palestine and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp. 48-55.

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

[27] See Louis René Beres, “After the Vienna Agreement: Could Israel and a Nuclear

Iran Coexist?” IPS Publications, Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC Herzliya,

Israel, September, 2015 See also:   https://www.idc.ac.il/he/research/ips/Documents/iran/LouisReneBeres-Iran2014.pdf

[28] International law remains in essence a “vigilante” system, sometimes also called a “Westphalian” system. Such history-based reference is to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the now still-existing self-help “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.

[29] Such a “life-saving” preemption option could be entirely permissible under international law. Known jurisprudentially as anticipatory self-defense, this potentially lawful option can be found not in conventional law (art. 51 of the UN Charter supports only post-attack expressions of individual or collective self-defense), but in customary international law. The most precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie 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).

[30] Professor Louis René Beres was Chair of Project Daniel (PM Sharon) in 2003-2004. The rationale of Project Daniel was to examine the developing Iranian nuclear threat and to make pertinent suggestions about minimizing this threat.  See: http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm

[31] Historically, preemption has figured importantly in Israeli strategic calculations.  This was most glaringly apparent in the wars of 1956 and 1967 and in the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and later the Syrian facility.  It was essentially the failure to preempt in October 1973 that contributed to heavy Israeli losses on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts during the Yom Kippur war, and almost brought about an Israeli defeat.  Back during January, May, and October 2013, Israel, understandably apprehensive about Damascus’ supply of military materials to Syria’s Hezbollah surrogates in Lebanon, preemptively struck selected hard targets within Syria. For an informed jurisprudential assessment of these undeclared but still-appropriate expressions of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Striking Hezbollah-Bound Weapons in Syria: Israel’s Actions Under International Law,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, posted August 26, 2013.

[32] The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s strategy  vis-à-vis Iran, the following operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1)  a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.

[33] The de facto condition of Hobbesian anarchy within which Israel must make its pertinent assessments and calibrations stands in stark contrast to the legal assumption of solidarity between states. In essence, this idealized assumption concerns a presumptively common struggle against both aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, was already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit Des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[34] See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/28931

[35] Some supporters of a Palestinian state argue that its prospective harms to Israel could be reduced or even eliminated by ensuring that new Arab state’s immediate “demilitarization.” For informed reasoning against this argument, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter 1998, pp. 347-363; and Louis René Beres and Ambassador Shoval, “On Demilitarizing a Palestinian `Entity’ and the Golan Heights: An International Law Perspective,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vo. 28., No.5., November 1995, pp. 959-972.

[36] See: Merrill D. Peterson, The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello Monograph Series, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1993, p. 115.

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

[38] Much has been written concerning Israel’s irremediably limited strategic depth. This core security issue was addressed as early as June 29, 1967, when a US Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum specified that returning Israel to pre-1967 boundaries would drastically increase its existential vulnerabilities. The JCS Chairman, General Earl Wheeler, then concluded that merely for minimal deterrence and defense, Israel should retain Sharm el-Sheikh and Wadi El Girali in the Sinai; the Gaza Strip (entire); the high ground and plateaus of the mountains in Judea and Samaria (West Bank); and the Golan Heights, east of Quneitra.

[39] Notes Guillaume Apollinaire, “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” See this poet’s The New Spirit and the Poets (1917). See also, Professor Beres with Ambassador Zalman Shoval: (Pentagon): https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[40] See, by Professor Beres, “Changing Direction: Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” Strategic Assessment, INSS (Israel), Vol. 17, No.3., October 2014: http://www.inss.org.il/uploadImages/systemFiles/adkan17_3ENG%20(3)_Beres.pdf   Earlier, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Changing Direction? Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” INSS, Israel, Strategic Assessment, Vol. 17, No.3., October 2014, pp. 93-106. See also: Louis René Beres, Looking Ahead: Revising Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity in the Middle East, Herzliya Conference Policy Paper, Herzliya Conference, March 11-14, 2013 (Herzliya, Israel); Louis René Beres and Leon “Bud” Edney, Admiral  (USN/ret.) “Facing a Nuclear Iran, Israel Must Rethink its Nuclear Ambiguity,” U.S. News & World Report, February 11, 2013; 3pp; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney,  “Reconsidering Israel’s Nuclear Posture,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2013. Admiral Edney served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT).

[41] Elements of essential doctrine could sometimes prove counter-intuitive. For example, the likelihood of any actual nuclear conflict between states could be inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms

[42] The law 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, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all belligerent calculations. Evidence for the rule of proportionality can also be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) at Art. 4. Similarly, the American Convention on Human Rights allows at Art. 27(1) such derogations “in time of war, public danger or other emergency which threaten the independence or security of a party” on “condition of proportionality.” In essence, the military principle of proportionality requires that the amount of destruction permitted must be proportionate to the importance of the objective. In contrast, the political principle of proportionality states “a war cannot be just unless the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensure from the war is less than the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensue if the war is not fought.” See Douglas P. Lackey, THE ETHICS OF WAR AND PEACE, 40 (1989). 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).

[43] On 27 July 2921, US President Joseph Biden opined that the foreseeably greatest risk of a nuclear war would be as the result of cyber-terrorism or hacking. See: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/biden-warns-real-shooting-war-003405801.html

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Defense

The Nuclear future of East Asia

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In the face of North Korea and China’s continuous expansion and advancement in their nuclear arsenal in the past decade, the nuclear question for East Asian countries is now more urgent than ever—especially when U.S.’s credibility of extended deterrence has been shrinking since the post-cold war era. Whether to acquire independent nuclear deterrent has long been a huge controversy, with opinions rather polarized. Yet it is noteworthy that there is indeed gray zone between zero and one—the degree of latency nuclear deterrence.

This paper suggests that developing nuclear weapons may not be the wise choice for East Asian countries at the moment, however, given the fact that regional and international security in the Asia-Pacific is deemed to curtail, regardless of their decision to go nuclear or not, East Asia nations should increase their latency nuclear deterrence. In other words, even if they do not proceed to the final stage of acquiring independent nuclear deterrent, a latent nuclear weapons capability should at least be guaranteed. Meanwhile, for those who have already possessed certain extent of nuclear latency—for instance, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—to shorten their breakout time whilst minimize obstacles for a possible nuclearization in the future.

The threat is ever-present—The Nuclear North Korea

Viewing from a realist perspective, the geographical locations of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have always been a valid argument for their nuclearization—being surrounded by nuclear-armed neighbors, namely China and North Korea—these countries have witnessed an escalation of threat on an unprecedented scale since the cold war.

Having its first nuclear weapon tested in 2006, the total inventory North Korea now possess is estimated to be 30-40. With the misstep of relieving certain sanction during the Trump era, North Korea was able to revive and eventually expand its nuclear arsenal, making future negotiation between the Biden administration and the Kim regime much harder and less effective. Not only has North Korea’s missile test on March 25—which is the first since Mr. Biden’s presidency—signaled a clear message to the U.S. and her allies of its nuclearization will and stance, Pyongyang’s advancement in nuclear technologies also indicates a surging extent of threat.

For instance, North Korea state media KCNA claimed that the latest missile launched was a “new-type tactical guided projectile” which is capable of performing “gliding and pull-up” manoeuvres with an “improved version of a solid fuel engine”. In addition to these suspected “new type of missiles” that travels in low-attitude, the diversity of launches Pyongyang currently possess—from short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), as well as the transporter erector launchers (TELs) and the cold launch system—increase the difficulty in intercepting them via Aegis destroyer or other ballistic missile defense system since it is onerous, if not impossible, to detect the exact time and venue of the possible launches. Indeed, the “new type of missile” could potentially render South Korea’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) useless by evading radar detection system through its manoeuvres, according to a study from 38 North at The Henry L. Stimson Center.

Moreover,  the cold launch (perpendicular launch) system used by the North also indicates that multiple nuclear weapons could be fired from the same launch pad without severely damages caused to the infrastructure. Shigeru Ishiba, the former Defense Minister of Japan, has noted that not all incoming missiles would be able to be intercepted with the country’s missile defense system, and “even if that is possible, we cannot perfectly respond to saturation attacks”.

The Chinese nuclear arsenal

According to the SIPRI yearbook 2020, China’s total inventory of nuclear deterrent has reached 320, exceeding United Kingdom and France’s possession of nuclear warheads, of which London and Paris’s nuclear deterrent were considered as limited deterrence. In spite of the fact that China’s current nuclear stockpiles is still far less that what the Russians and Americans have, its nuclear technologies has been closely following the two military superpowers. For instance, the Chinese have successfully developed Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRVs) and Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle (MARVs)—its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) DF-41 is capable of equipping up to 10 MIRVs while its Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) DF-21D could carry MARV warhead that poses challenges to the BMD systems—these advancement in nuclear technologies are the solid proof that the Chinese nukes are only steps away from Moscow and Washington. Yet China’s nuclear arsenal remains unchecked and is not confined by any major nuclear arms reduction treaty such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), of which US and Russia has just reached a mutual consensus to extend the treaty through Feb 4, 2026.

In addition to China’s expansion of military capabilities and ambition in developing hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and new MARVs, there is no lack of scepticism of its no-first use policy, especially with Beijing’s coercive diplomacy and provocative actions in the East and South China Sea, regarding “freedom of navigation” and other sovereignty rights issues. These all raise concerns and generate insecurity from neighboring countries and hence, East Asia states i.e. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan would inevitably have to reconsider their nuclear option.

In spite of having advanced BMD system, for instance, Aegis Destroyer (Japan), THAAD (South Korea), Sky Bow III (Taiwan), the existing and emerging nuclear arsenal in Pyongyang and Beijing still leave East Asian states vulnerable under a hypothetical attack as mentioned above. Future could be worse than it seems—merely having deterrence by denial is not sufficient to safeguard national security—particularly with a shrinking credibility of U.S.’s extended deterrence since the post-cold war era.

America’s nuclear umbrella and the Alliance Dilemma

Theoretically speaking, alliance relations with the U.S. assure a certain extent of deterrence by punishment against hostile adversaries. For example, U.S. is committed to defend Japan under the 1960 Mutual Defense Treaty. Yet in reality, security could never be guaranteed. In a realist lens, state could not rely on others to defend their national interests, especially when it puts America’s homeland security at risk. Is U.S. willing to sacrifice Washington for Tokyo? Or New York for Seoul?

Strong rhetoric or even defense pact would not be able to ensure collective security, let alone strategic ambiguity, which is a strategy adopted by Washington for Taipei that is neither a binding security commitment nor the stance is clear. Regardless of the prospect of a better future than mere war and chaos, state should always prepare for the worst.

Besides, with Trump’s American First policy continuously undermining alliance relations in the past four years, East Asian countries may find it hard to restore mutual trust since diplomatic tracks are irreversible, despite Biden’s administration intention and effort to repair alliance and U.S.’s integrity as the global leader.

Moreover, even if alliance relations and credibility of extended deterrence is robust at the moment, but the bigger question is—could and should East Asian countries shelter under America’s nuclear umbrella forever? If they choose not to go nuclear, these states would be constantly threatened by their nuclear-armed neighbors, without a credible direct (nuclear) deterrence to safeguard national security; and forced to negotiate, or worse, compromise in the face of a possible nuclear extortion.

Undeniably, horizontal nuclear proliferation is always risky. Not only is it likely to deteriorate diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, but also generates a (nuclear) regional arms race that eventually trap all nations into a vicious circle of security dilemma due to the lack of mutual trust in an anarchical system, which will consequently lead to a decrease in regional, as well as international security.

Yet with the expansion and advancement of Pyongyang and Beijing’s nuclear arsenal, regional and international security is deemed to curtail, regardless of East Asian countries’ decisions to go nuclear or not. As the official members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Japan’s and South Korea’s withdrawal may encourage other current non-nuclear weapon state to develop nukes. However, current existence of the NPT has already proven futile to prevent North Korea from acquiring its own nuclear weapons; or Israel, India and Pakistan, who are UN members but have never signed any of the treaties, to join the nuclear club.

The major concern about nuclear proliferation is never about the amount of warhead one possesses, but if they are in the wrong hands; for instance, a “rogue” state like North Korea. It is almost certain than none of the latent nuclear East Asia states would be considered “rogue” but just developed nations with rational calculation. In fact, the actual risk for these states joining the nuclear club in reality is not as high as most imagined. It may, indeed, help further bolster alliance relations between U.S., Japan and South Korea if they are able to come to some mutual consensuses in advance—developing independent nuclear deterrent is not an approach of alienating America’s presence as an effective ally but to strengthen security commitment with each other, and that US would support her allies in the Asia-Pacific in such attempt. The current existence of extended deterrence should not be a barrier for nuclearization. Rather, it should act as an extra protection for allied states.

Pave the way for future nuclearization

Admittedly, the road for any East Asia countries to go nuclear would be tough. Taipei’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons would imaginably trigger provocative response from Beijing, if not impossible, a pre-emptive strike that could lead to an escalation of war. Same situation goes for Seoul and Pyongyang even though the risk is relatively lower. As for Japan, although direct military confrontation is less likely comparing to Seoul and Taipei, the challenges Tokyo face for its nuclear option is no easier than any of them.

As the sole nation that has suffered from an atomic bomb explosion, Japan’s pacifism and anti-nuclear sentiment is embedded in its culture and society. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Sankei News in 2017, 17.7% of the respondents agreed that “Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons in the future” whilst 79.1% opposed to that idea. Despite having the imperative skills and technologies for an acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent (the breakout time for Japan is estimated to be about 6-12 months), Japan also lacks natural resources for producing nuclear warheads and has to rely heavily on uranium imports. Upholding the three non-nuclear principle since WWII, Japan’s bilateral nuclear agreements with the U.S., U.K, France and Australia specified that all imported nuclear-related equipment and materials “must be used only for the non-military purposes”. Violation of these agreements may result in sanctions that could cause devastated effect on Japan’s nuclear energy program, which supplies approximately 30% of the nation’s total electricity production. These issues, however, are not irresolvable.

Undeniably, it may take time and effort to negotiate new agreements and to change people’s pacifism into an “active pacifism”, yet these should not be the justifications to avoid the acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent as ensuring national security should always be the top priority. It is because in face of a nuclear extortion, the effectiveness of a direct nuclear deterrence guaranteed by your own country could not be replaced by any other measures such as deterrence by denial via BMD system or deterrence by punishment via extended deterrence and defense pact. Therefore, if there are too many obstacles ahead, then perhaps the wiser choice for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan at the moment is to increase their nuclear latency deterrence, shorten the breakout time and pave their way clear for future nuclearization. In other words, to keep their nuclear option open and be able to play offense and defense at its own will when the time comes.

Nevertheless, in addition to strengthening one’s latency nuclear deterrence, as well as obtaining a more equal relationship in the official and unofficial alliance with America, East Asian countries that have similar interest and common enemies should united to form a new military alliance which included security treaty regarding collective defense like the NATO; and focuses more on countering hybrid warfare like the QUAD. If Japan, South Korea and Taiwan ever choose to go nuclear, a common mechanism could be established to ensure that these states would pursue a minimum to limited deterrence capability that do not endanger each other’s security but rather to strengthen it, which would help minimizing the destabilization brought to regional security while constituting a more balanced situation with nuclear-armed rivalries.

After all, proliferation may not be the best solution, it is certainly not the worst either.

From our partner International Affairs

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