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Preparing For The Next Round Of Belligerent Nationalism

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

 More than anything else, a nation-state survives along with the corresponding society’s intellectual and moral underpinnings.[1] In the case of US President Donald Trump’s patently childish “Space Force,” neither precondition is evidenced. And at the same time that Trump has been abandoning essential treaties with Russia and economic arrangements with China, this president acts as if extending belligerent nationalism into space is somehow a rational plan.

Quite plainly, Donald Trump, who prides himself on “attitude, not preparation,” is sorely mistaken.[2]  Prima facie, any such extension of geopolitical competition would be anything but gainful. Among many other things, Space Force expresses the reductio ad absurdum of a dissembling president’s wholesale indifference to wisdom and ethics. It will only heighten the probability that America could be “conquered intellectually,” not “by arms.”

There is more. Space Force  represents an ironic reaffirmation of past Trump policy failures. Where it is correctly understood as a logically derivative posture from this president’s “America First,” the operational role of his “Force” will be to extend Realpolitik[3] or power politics to places where it has never existed before, still-pristine and “vertical” places. Significantly, as Realpolitik has never worked here on earth,[4]  any intelligent observer should feel compelled to ask: Why should belligerent geopolitics now work on a “galactic” level?

There are multiple ironies to be considered. As is the case of Donald Trump’s foreign and domestic policies in general, Space Force will be founded upon myriad failures of the past. In  essence, these failures are all aspects of the “balance of power world system originally bequeathed at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This conflict-oriented state system, an “everyone for himself”[5] pattern of interminable international warfare, was born at Westphalia, immediately following the Thirty Years’ War.[6] Though certain “Westphalian” zero-sum interactions might still have been more-or-less tolerable before the appearance of nuclear weapons, they are unsustainable  in our bitterly acrimonious and proliferating nuclear world. Unassailably, they are even more dramatically unsustainable at this fearful time of worldwide disease pandemic.

It’s not complicated. What America  needs today is not just another gratuitous or destined-to-fail weapon system[7] (how could it possibly “succeed” if it doesn’t calculably contribute to this country’s “assured destruction capability”?), but rather a more conspicuous, well-intentioned presidential commitment to global interdependence/worldwide cooperation.[8] Although true that – at least for the foreseeable future – the United States must take appropriate steps to ensure the overall credibility of American nuclear deterrence, it is not true that such credibility requires retaliatory “coverage” in all prospective theatres of large-scale military engagement.[9]

Even if the Russians should “succeed” in militarizing space first – and even if this militarization were to involve nuclear elements – a fully suitable U.S, countervailing strategy could still remain entirely on this planet. In these calculations, the prospective aggressor (here Russia) would be unconcerned with the geographic origins of any American retaliatory destruction. After all, those origins would have no material consequence as  long a US retaliatory strike  were judged sufficiently probable and “assuredly destructive.”

This is an absolutely key reason why the United States has no identifiable need for maintaining any specific supremacy in space. Expressed differently, this means that an American president can readily maintain an indispensable US “assured destruction” capability vis-à-vis Russian and/or China without adjusting principal target sets according to ever-changing venues of enemy missile deployments. As far as what president Trump has called his newly proposed space force “super-dooper missile” – not exactly the terminology of a scientist or military professional – it represents only a caricatural reference, one more appropriate for 1950s-era children’s’ television programming than for any seriously complex US strategic reality.[10] 

Nuclear strategy is certainly a “game” that an American president should always be prepared to “play,” perhaps even for the indefinite future, but not without some conspicuous prior understandings of history, science and very elementary formal logic.

Going forward, US President Trump must remain systematically aware of all conceivable circumstances that could place us in extremis atomicum,[11] but this focus will need to be broadly conceptual, and not childishly centered on American “super” missiles or reassuringly “big” bombs.

 Instead of “America First” (Trump’s overall term for a system that willfully punishes the Many for the presumed benefit of a contrived Few),  a rational American president should reject all derivatives and corollaries of “Westphalian” dynamics.[12] Accordingly, any foreign policy that naively seeks to maximize America’s own well-being at the zero-sum expense of other states and peoples would be acting against certain binding norms of international law[13] and contra its own national security interests at the same time.

Sadly, nothing could possibly be more apparent to anyone who bothers to think logically and historically about such literally existential matters.[14]

The world is a system. Everything, therefore, is interrelated.  Among other things, no American foreign policy success can be achieved at the willfully sacrificial expense of other countries and peoples. No such presumptive success is sustainable if the rest of the planet must thereby expect a more violent and explosive future. In this connection, it would be difficult to argue that Donald Trump’s Space Force could in any way lead us toward a less violent or less explosive global future.

Very difficult.

A manifestly corrosive American national tribalism is being “protected” by U.S. Space Force. Nothing more. When all cumulative policy impacts are taken into careful analytic account, this “soulless”[15] derivative of “America First” and belligerent nationalism will emerge as anything but patriotic. What else should we reasonably conclude about a planned U.S. military posture that would injure this country and various other countries abjectly, unambiguously and at the same time?[16]

 Among other basic issues here, it is effectively impossible to calculate the vast number of associated interactive effects of these significant injuries, especially where they would expectedly be “force-multiplying” or synergistic. By definition, wherever a synergistic injury would obtain, the “whole” of any inflicted harm would be greater than the tangible sum of its “parts.”

Today, at a time when America’s fight against worldwide disease pandemic should represent this nation’s very highest-priority security challenge, US Space Force offers a strategic posture that is wholly misconceived and prospectively lethal. Left in place, it will further exacerbate a deliberate presidential choice of gratuitous belligerence as the favored style of American military interaction. Ironically, what is required, instead, is the readily decipherable opposite of Space Force.

This means, in essence, a broadened US leadership awareness of human and societal interconnectedness.[17]

 History is duly instructive. From the 1648 Peace of Westphalia to the present fragmenting moment, world politics have been shaped by a continuously shifting balance of power and , correspondingly, by variously relentless correlates of war, terror and genocide. Ideally, of course, and against all calculable odds, hope should continue to exist. But now, even under the most imaginably optimistic circumstances, it should surely sing more softly, unobtrusively, even in a prudent undertone.

 For Americans now increasingly endangered by Trump’s visceral or seat-of-the-pants foreign policies, more will be required than superficial or sotto voce modulations. Soon, merely to survive on this imperiled planet, all of us, together, will have to rediscover an individual human life, one consciously detached from narrowly ritualistic patterns of conformance, mindless entertainments, shallow optimism or any other disingenuously contrived expressions of some utterly imagined tribal happiness. At a minimum, such survival will demand a prompt and full-scale retreat from what Donald Trump has termed “America First” and from all of its rapidly dissembling correlates. In this regard, Trump’s Space Force is the foreseeable result of a much deeper societal pathology, a know-nothing American populism that drives out intellect and reason in favor of incessantly deliberate mystifications and collective self-delusion.

Thomas Jefferson and America’s other Founding Fathers had already understood something very basic: There is always a necessary and respectable place for serious erudition. By learning from history, Americans may yet glean something from “America First” that is necessary to opposing any actual iterations of Space Force. They may learn, even during this national declension Time of Trump, that a ubiquitous mortality is more consequential than any glittering administration promises of “supremacy,” “advantage” or “victory.”[18] Our current time on earth is more meaningfully a time of agony than of algorithm.

In The Decline of the West, first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler asked importantly: “Can a desperate faith in knowledge free us from the nightmare of the grand questions?” This remains a vital query, but one that will never be adequately raised in our universities, on Wall Street or absolutely anywhere in the Trump White House. Still, we may learn something productive about these “grand questions” by studying American roles and responsibilities in a radically changing world politics.

This task must be about intellectual struggles, not weapons per se.

At that point we might finally come to understand what has thus far eluded us. The most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by militarizing space and by abrogating pertinent international treaties. To argue otherwise is to further mar a wholesale unfamiliarity with world and national history with inexcusable derelictions of both logic and science.[19]

In the end, even in Trump-era American foreign policy decision-making, truth is exculpatory. In what amounts to a uniquely promising paradox, Space Force could help illuminate a blatant lie that may still let us see the underlying truth. This truth is peremptory and not really mysterious or unfathomable. Americans require, after all, a substantially wider consciousness of unity and relatedness between individual human beings and (correspondingly) between adversarial nation-states.

There is no more urgent requirement.

None.

Though seemingly oriented toward greater American power and security, building an American Space Force would merely propel this country’s disordered military strategy from one untenable posture of belligerent nationalism to another. What the proponents of Space Force ignore, inter alia, is that all national security options should always be examined from the standpoint of their cumulative impact. If the credible effect of this new America First policy initiative will be to spawn various reciprocal postures of belligerent nationalism among principal foes (i.e.., Russia and potentially China) the net effect will prove sorely destabilizing and comprehensively negative.[20]

At this exceedingly precarious moment in world and national history, the president of the United States must do everything possible to heed the poet Apollinaire’s warning of “intellectual conquest.” Though “force of arms” will assuredly remain a derivative source of military power and threat, America’s principal emphasis must now  be placed on variously promising concepts and ideas, not on expanding the “hardware” or tactics of willful human destructiveness. Instead of withholding funds from the World Health Organization,[21] Donald Trump must finally acknowledge the interminable futility of belligerent nationalism, and – correspondingly – take certain tangible steps toward expanded worldwide cooperation.

Could this actually happen?[22] To be sure, the probable likelihood of any success here is bound to be very small, but the time-dishonored alternatives are all uniformly misconceived and inherently catastrophic.[23] If America’s president should retain even a tiny remnant of leadership commitment to rational decision-making, he will quickly understand that U.S. Space Force is the reductio ad absurdum of a long-dying belligerent nationalism or Realpolitik.[24]

It is hardly a medical or biological secret that the factors common to all human beings greatly outnumber those that differentiate one from another. Accordingly, unless leaders of all great states can finally understand that the survival of any one state will inevitably be contingent upon the survival of all, true national security will continue to elude every nation on earth, even the most “powerful.”

The bottom line? The immediate security task must remain a proper conceptualization and refinement of national nuclear strategy. Simultaneously, however, President Trump must somehow learn to understand – together with all other far-sighted national leaders – that Planet Earth is an organic whole, a fragile unity that exhibits rapidly disappearing opportunities for avoiding successive war and dismemberment. To seize these residual opportunities,  Washington  must learn to build solidly upon the foundational insights of Francis Bacon, Galileo and Isaac Newton, and upon the much more recent summarizing observation of Lewis Mumford: “Civilization is the never ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”[25]

Obviously, the United States has no inherently special obligations in this regard, nor can it afford to build its own most immediate security policies upon narrowly distant hopes. Still, if expressed as an ultimate vision for more durable and just patterns of world politics, Donald Trump might recognize the indissoluble link between America’s own physical survival and that of the wider international system. In the final analysis, merely to keep itself “alive,” America will have to do whatever it can to preserve the global system as a whole. For the moment, this is an idea insurmountably far from the consciousness of America’s current president.

To instruct still further from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature. No element could move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”


[1] The seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarks prophetically in Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought….It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge. Much of this effort was founded upon familiar ( to Spinoza) certain  Jewish sources.

[2] “Who is to decide which is the grimmer sight,” asks Honore de Balzac, “withered hearts, or empty skulls?”

[3] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order, Lexington Books, 1984; and Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy, Lexington Books, 1983. Regarding philosophical foundations of Realpoliitk: “Right is the interest of the stronger,” says Thrasymachus in Bk. I, Sec. 338 of Plato, THE REPUBLIC (B. Jowett tr., 1875).  “Justice is a contract neither to do nor to suffer wrong,” says Glaucon, id., Bk. II, Sec. 359.  See also, Philus in Bk III, Sec. 5 of Cicero, DE REPUBLICA.

[4] Power politics or a “balance-of-power” has never been more than a facile metaphor. Despite its name, it has never had anything to do with ensuring or ascertaining equilibrium. As such, balance has always been subjective, a matter of assorted individual perceptions. Adversarial states in this “Westphalian” dynamic can never be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are suitably “balanced” in their particular favor. In consequence, each side to any contest or competition must perpetually fear that it will somehow be left behind, this creating ever wider and even cascading patterns of national insecurity and collective disequilibrium.

[5] Says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the  extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[6] International law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian” system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[7] The Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman observes correctly that “Man’s heart is in his weapons….in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself….when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanisms that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies….”

[8] We may think here of the applicable Talmudic metaphor: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

[9] Understood  at purely conceptual levels, US strategic thinkers must inquire accordingly whether accepting a visible posture of limited nuclear war would merely exacerbate enemy nuclear intentions, or whether it would actually enhance this country’s overall nuclear deterrence. Such questions have been raised by this author for many years, but usually in explicit reference to more broadly theoretical or generic nuclear threats. See, for example, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1972); Louis René Beres, Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979; second edition, 1987); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016).

[10] As a child growing up in New York City in the 1950s, I am reminded of “Captain Video” and “Tom Corbett Space Cadet.” Plainly, such earlier children’s programs are not a proper model for US strategic forces, anywhere.

[11] See, by Louis René Beres at Harvard Law School: https://harvardnsj.org/2020/03/complex-determinations-deciphering-enemy-nuclear-intentions/ See also, by this author, at US Army War College,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ and at Modern War Institute, West Point (Pentagon)  https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

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

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

[14] One may be usefully reminded here of Bertrand Russell’s trenchant observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death.”

[15]  Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in some ordinary or familiar religious sense. For both psychologists, it represented a recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present analytic context, is that Freud explained his predicted decline of America by making various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect, literature and history); he even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological or emotional misery.

[16] From the standpoint of classical political and legal philosophy, such a national policy would be the diametric opposite of the statement by Emmerich de Vattel in The Law of Nations (1758): “The first general law which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”

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

[18] See by this author, at Oxford University Press:  https://blog.oup.com/2016/04/war-political-victories/

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

[20] Included in this assessment must be the expanding risks of US Presidential nuclear decision-making. By this writer, see Louis René Beres, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  https://thebulletin.onuclear rg/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[21] In stark contrast to President Trump, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of WHO, spoke modestly, intelligently and purposefully: “COVID-19 does not discriminate between rich nations and poor, large nations and small. It does not discriminate between nationalities, ethnicities, or ideologies. Neither do we,” he said. “This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat, a dangerous enemy. When we’re divided, the virus exploits the cracks between us.”

[22] In partial reply, we may consider Karl Jaspers in Man in the Modern Age (1951): “Everyone knows that the world situation  in which we live is not a final one.”

[23] Federico Fellini, the Italian film director, once commented wisely: “The visionary is the only realist.”

[24] Louis René Beres’ earlier book, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984) was already organized around this same core assumption.

[25] There have been prophets of global integration in the modern era, especially Condorcet, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte and H.G. Wells. For the very best treatment of these prophets and their still-indispensable ideas, see W. Warren Wagar’s The City of Man (1963) and Building the City of Man: Outlines of a World Civilization (1971). Professor Wagar was a great visionary himself, one with whom I earlier had the honor to work at Princeton (World Order Models Project) in the late 1960s.

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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ASEAN has the ability to counteract AUKUS’ Cold War strategies

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Authors: Raihan Ronodipuro & Hafizha Dwi Ulfa*

The United States’ new tripartite defense alliance with the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as the nuclear-powered submarine cooperation that will follow it, will only add to the region’s instability.

Since its announcement in mid-September, several countries have joined China in expressing reservations over the so-called AUKUS security alliance. Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s foreign ministers joined others voicing alarm over Australia’s ambition to construct nuclear-powered submarines within the AUKUS framework, as well as the risks of the region’s rising geopolitical competitiveness, on Monday.

Indeed, with the United States reviving old and new alliances in the Asia-Pacific and militarizing the area in an attempt to contain and isolate China, the region risks becoming a powder keg waiting to be ignited. For decades, Southeast Asian nations have had strong and mutually beneficial relationships with China, and the COVID-19 outbreak has further enhanced this relationship. Last year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations overtook the United States as China’s top trading partner.

In such a situation, ASEAN member nations should be mindful of AUKUS bringing fake presents, although Australia said will continue its commitment to ASEAN Centrality and ASEAN-led mechanism. Given the US’s recent behavior, ASEAN members should expect overtures from AUKUS at the national level aimed at fracturing the bloc’s cohesiveness, since ASEAN has been hesitant to stand with the US in its geopolitical battle with China. How ASEAN official should respond to AUKUS is likely to be discussed at the bloc’s summit meeting later this month.

It would be helpful to the area and beyond if ASEAN could establish a common-will firewall to protect regional peace and stability, preventing AUKUS from worming its way into any chinks in the bloc’s unanimity and tearing it apart.

AUKUS has indeed become very dilemmatic for ASEAN, especially with the existence of ASEAN norms and principles, ASEAN needs to be careful to rethink this while maintaining the ASEAN Way. Those are being the reasons why ASEAN’s silence behind the AUKUS agreement. AUKUS is a new challenge for ASEAN Centrality, even now, observers are still waiting for ASEAN’s response. How ASEAN views AUKUS will determine not only the future of the Southeast Asia region, but also the future of the Indo-Pacific region.

On the other hand, a significant incident in the region involving a US submarine should enlighten those who are still perplexed about the negative impact AUKUS may have on regional security. The USS Connecticut, a nuclear-powered submarine, collided with an undersea object in the South China Sea on October 2.

So far, the US has declined to offer any further information regarding the incident, much alone explain what the submarine was doing in the area or whether the mishap resulted in a radioactive leak that harmed the local marine ecology.

As a result of this reckless approach, ASEAN should reconsider the appropriateness of having more nuclear-powered submarines in the region in the future, and extrapolate the risks posed by the US’ tactics in its “race” with China.

We are faced with two sides in seeing changes in the dynamic realities construction in the Indo-Pacific region due to the AUKUS agreement. First, ASEAN needs to rethink its norms and principles facing the anarchy systems. Second, we need to acknowledge the balance of power that neorealism glorifies has failed again in explaining how the balance of power is able to maintain international security and peace. So, if several countries respond to the AUKUS defense alliance as an old way of the cold war, then ASEAN’s role in maintaining centrality, as well as ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific is very important and needs to be recognized.

The ASEAN-centered regional cooperation architecture has shown to be successful in supporting regional peace and prosperity through their Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Especially for this case, ASEAN member countries must consider their commitments to Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) and Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (ZOPFAN). It is something that all ASEAN members should value and uphold. Not to mention the fact that it is in their best interests. However, challenges may come from domestic problems, ASEAN member countries must be able to harmonize state interests and common interests.

*Hafizha Dwi Ulfa is a Research Assistant of the Indonesian International Relations Study Center with focus analysis in ASEAN, East Asia, and Indo-Pacific studies.

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US Targets Militants in Turkish-Held Area in Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hieronymus Bosch, Last Judgement

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

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

In the Beginning

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

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

Always.

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

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

They ought never be relied upon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Intellectual Core

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevant Military Exercises

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

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

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

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

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

The Changing Balance of World Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold War II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Importance of Synergies[29] and Nuclear Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Question of Rationality

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

Expressions of decisional irrationality could take various different and overlapping forms. These forms include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

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

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

This now becomes an all-important question.

The Legal Standpoint and Nuclear Targeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What then?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] On “escalation dominance,” see article by Professor Louis René Beres at The War Room, US Army War College, Pentagon:  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making-and-nuclear-war-an-urgent-american-problem/  See also, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/united-states-nuclear-strategy-deterrence-escalation-and-war    

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[20] See Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct 1648, 1, Consol. T.S. 119.   This “Westphalian” anarchy stands in stark contrast to the legal assumption of solidarity between all states in the presumably common struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a peremptory expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption), is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Expressions of decisional irrationality could take different or overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[36] For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice; done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, 3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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