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What If A North Korea Nuclear Crisis Should Coincide With Election Loss For Donald J. Trump?

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I hold despicable, and always have, anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”-Sophocles, Antigone, Speech of Creon, King of Thebes

Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden worries audibly that Donald Trump could “steal” the upcoming election, including a once-inconceivable concern that this incumbent might simply refuse to vacate the White House. Though any such expressed fear would have been preposterous prima facie in ordinary times, these are notordinary times. Indeed, if a bad election outcome should somehow coincide with a North Korean nuclear crisis,[1] the already-ominous “Biden Scenario” about Trump could prove relatively benign.[2]

The underlying and exceedingly complex strategic issues involved here will not be resolved by a politician’s whim or by intellectual faint-heartedness,[3] whether by persons already in government or those still merely “aspirational.” Inter alia, regarding nuclear decision-making in Washington, there are many intersecting circumstances that will need to be considered, including the more-or-less unpredictable effects of a stubbornly-escalating disease pandemic. Making all the densely critical issues even  more difficult to anticipate or resolve, these effects of “plague” could fall differentially (that is, equally or unequally) on the two contending nation-states.[4]

In any event, we should begin any corresponding analyses at the beginning. Concluding his Singapore Summit with Kim Jung Un back in June 2018,  President Trump returned home offering unwarranted reassurances that “there is no longer any nuclear danger from North Korea.” Though an absurd extrapolation from his visceral personal “diplomacy,” a patently absurd extrapolation, this  unsupportable comment was quickly brushed aside by trump’s solidly-ardent supporters. “What further need might Trump have,” went their corollary queries, “for intellectual preparations?” Plainly, we were then to “learn” from this president, all that could ever be needed to deal satisfactorily with a nuclearizing adversary was a proper presidential “attitude.”

Understandably, this uncannily anti-intellectual presidential stance has led to a  continuously unstable US-North Korea nuclear relationship. Since the time of the Singapore Summit, that adversarial country has actually accelerated all tangible efforts in refining and expanding its national nuclear forces and infrastructures.  Now, to wit, Pyongyang explicitly rejects any further ties or negotiations with Trump. “Never again will we provide another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns,” said North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon on June 12, 2020.

Though already true by definition, Gwon felt motivated to add: “Nothing is more hypocritical than an empty promise.”

Going forward, Donald Trump will have to rely upon much more than a conspicuously belligerent nationalism in this increasingly perilous dyad.[5] The core problem is that this American president, like any other “Mass Man,” a term used insightfully by 20th century philosophers Carl G Jung and Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, thinks against Reason. More precisely, in Ortega’s selective terminology, the man of the Mass or the Crowd (a comparable term favored by 19th century Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard[6]) “has no energy to spare for Reason. He learns only in his own flesh.”

There is something to be learned here. In preparing for inevitably complex crisis bargaining with North Korea, America will require presidential leadership that thinks far beyond what is palpable in its “own flesh.” It will require leaders who read and analyze diligently rather than annoyingly turn away from all challenging strategic materials.[7] For the moment, of course, US President Donald Trump is anything but such an enlightened leader. This open loathing of all serious thought by America’s head of state is utterly obvious and unambiguous.[8]

“I love the poorly educated” affirmed Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. This was as if to remind voters that he, an aspiring president but otherwise just like them (the “mass” or “crowd”) has no use for any serious learning, erudition or study. Why should he? Wouldn’t every problem he could face promptly melt away in the face of a proper presidential “attitude?”

There is more. In preparing for nuclear negotiations with North Korea – preparations that we  already know he will find objectionably complicated – Donald Trump will have little precedent upon which to rely.[9] When considered together with this president’s verifiably limited capacity to succeed in any complex international negotiations, the United States has much to worry about. In essence, in what quickly emerges as the “best case scenario,” Mr. Trump would gratefully hand over any moment-by-moment crisis deliberations to his most senior military and intelligence agency deputies.

For the most part, those who he had himself selected would be unequal to the preparation-requiring task. At that very late stage, moreover, it could quickly fall  disproportionately upon “the generals” to save us.  This ought not to be taken, however,  as a necessary “positive.” These military leaders, too, because of the unprecedented nature of such a nuclear crisis arising between asymmetrical adversaries, would expectedly be guided by visceral, “seat-of-the-pants” or derivative (from pre-nuclear standoffs) calculations. Among other concerns, just because the United States nuclear capacity would presumptively  be “more powerful” than North Korea’s, this would not automatically signify a US bargaining advantage.

For one thing, even a relatively “small” North Korean nuclear force could threaten and produce “unacceptable damage” to the United States or to its variously dependent regional allies in Japan and/or South Korea.[10]

None of this represents  a per se criticism of “the generals” by any means. It is merely an inescapable acknowledgment (1) that scientific probabilities must always be based upon the determinable frequency of pertinent past events; and (2) in this case there have been no pertinent past events. Whatever ultimately unravels between Washington and Pyongyang, therefore, any such genuinely unique ventures in competitive risk-taking between two unequal enemies will have to be navigated in uncharted waters.

There is still more. The experiential uniqueness would be mutual. Still, such mutuality would not necessarily prove to be in the best interests of the United States. This is because an overly confident Kim Jung Un and/or Donald Trump could generate a more-or-less uncontrollable cycle of move and counter-move, an out-of-control escalation leading inexorably toward  some mutual atomic catastrophe.

President Donald Trump and his counselors ought never forget that this sort of rapid cycle deterioration could be rendered incrementally more precarious as a result of  unforeseen interactions between one side’s fully executed moves and the other’s. In more technical terms, any such perilously opaque interactions would be known correctly as “synergies.”[11]  As there are no extant experts on nuclear war[12] – not in the United States, not in North Korea, and not anywhere on this persistently beleaguered planet – there could even emerge a hideously bewildering “synergy of synergies.”[13]

 Formally, this conspicuously indecipherable sort of multilayered and overlapping intersections is what computer scientists are sometimes apt to call “cascades.”

All things considered, whatever the relevant political context (e.g., the expected presidential election outcome), Mr. Trump should proceed in any impending North Korean crisis with exquisite prudence and a corresponding caution, recalling at every point of concession and demand the inherently limited body of available strategic thought. At the same time, he and his counselors will need to bear closely in mind that while nuclear war avoidance should remain the most important and ongoing legal objective,[14] maintaining “escalation dominance” would also be pronouncedly central to American national security. In such utterly difficult and many-sided matters, US success will require an almost unimaginably meticulous “balance,” a tenuous level of analytic equilibrium that has rarely ever been witnessed or expected.[15]

There is more. Despite his generally dismissive attitude toward learning and professional preparation, President Trump’s strategic plan for North Korea ought never be constructed ex nihilo, out of nothing.  Nonetheless, this plan, ipso facto,  must still be the intended result of assorted deductions or extrapolations drawn more or less skillfully from pre-nuclear forms of conflict management.[16] For these deductions and extrapolations ever to be up to the expectedly herculean intellectual task at hand, they must accurately represent the correctly-determined outcome of dialectical modes of military reasoning.

What exactly does this mean? Plato, in the middle dialogues, describes the dialectician as the one who knows best how to ask and then answer sequential questions. Two and a half thousand years later, even in the currently advanced computer age, it is this person or persons who should be placed in charge of reaching valid and effectively purposeful strategic outcomes. These are not people who learn only “in their own flesh.” On the contrary, they are the indispensable analysts who are vastly more comfortable with “preparations” than with “attitude.”

The conclusions are unmistakable. America’s key strategists and negotiators must employ more than “common sense” thinking or crude publicity-centered methods drawn from reality television shows or raw commerce. In essence, they must become or at least learn to become very capable dialecticians.

Among other things, this ancient scientific method of seeking answers by correct and sequential reasoning remains best suited for handling any North Korean nuclear crisis now lying ahead. To be sure, there is no elaborate computer program or algorithm that can possibly substitute for actually mastering such  disciplined reasoning. Now needed to rescue the United States from certain corollary and prospectively expanding nuclear hazards are sufficiently imaginative human beings, most notably dedicated thinkers who have long been nurtured by impressively broad sectors of knowledge and learning, not just by the latest in vogue statistical techniques or computer technologies.

There is more. In all expectedly nuanced presidential deliberations with the North Koreans, America might sometimes do better to rely, at least in part, on talented diplomats, poets, philosophers and mathematicians than on career soldiers. Significantly, in the grievously measureless history of warfare, the military professional has more than just occasionally made distressingly consequential mistakes. Looking ahead, Americans should be demanding that trained strategists carefully avoid future errors in planning what is still an altogether unique form of warfare, one for which their formal training has been largely extraneous and with which they could have had absolutely no tangible acquaintance.

For the United States, the  North Korea crisis, whether protracted or episodic, will immediately become a contest of “mind over mind,” and not just one about “fire and fury” or “falling in love.” This is no longer a time for sterile clichés and embarrassingly empty presidential witticisms. Earlier, President Trump had said of  his special relationship with Kin Jung Un: “We fell in love.”

Plainly, it has been a short and conspicuously ill-fated “romance.”

During any upcoming diplomatic struggle, belligerent nationalism from Donald Trump will offer us nothing more than gratuitous presidential buffoonery. Here, hopefully, each side, as long as it is still able to remain recognizably rational, will seek “escalation dominance” without simultaneously endangering its own national survival. If the American side should sometime calculate that its North Korean counterpart is not fully rational, the apparent incentives to undertake far-reaching military preemptions could then become overwhelming.

What then?

This occasion would not be a matter for the intellectually faint-hearted, even if the American calculation on enemy rationality should turn out to be wrong. Also relevant here would be certain understandably anticipated prospects of any North Korean plans to “preempt the preemption,” cautionary scenarios concerning anticipatory self-defense that could make compelling strategic sense in Pyongyang.[17] Predictably, President Kim’s closest military counselors could sometime seek to clarify for their leader that the United States would have considerable damage-limiting advantages to striking-first, especially while North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile assets were still evidently in early stages of development and still relatively few in number.

If push comes to shove, especially in the midst of a dissembling presidential election, Donald Trump could decide to undertake selective military action against North Korea. In response, Pyongyang – then having no realistic option to launching certain presumptively gainful forms of armed reprisal  –  could choose to strike American military forces in the region, and/or certain other carefully selected targets in Japan, Guam, or South Korea. Them whatever North Korea’s preferred configuration of selected targets, Kim Jung Un’s retaliatory blow would  likely be designed not to elicit any unacceptably massive (possibly even nuclear) American counter-retaliations.

Assuming enemy rationality, this assumption is persuasive even if Kim were correct that he had already the required range-capacity to strike American cities. Nonetheless, amid unprecedented circumstances of in extremis atomicum, virtually anything could happen.

If Trump should sometime decide to launch a defensive first-strike, a “preemption,” perhaps as the apocalyptic apotheosis  of Joe Biden’s utterly worst fears, the North Korean response, whether rational or irrational, could be “disproportionate.”[18] In that very unstable case, one  rife with uncertain potential for a more continuously unfettered escalation, any contemplated introduction of nuclear weapons into the mix might not be rejected.

Not at all. What then?

There is more. Such an introduction would not necessarily have to originate on the American side. This sobering inference is unassailably valid, in part, because North Korea has previously displayed verifiable forms of nuclear weapons/ballistic missile capability. According to sources within the South Korean intelligence services, North Korea maintains approximately one hundred nuclear-related sites, including thirteen specific “Research Institutes.” The same sources estimate thirteen to eighteen enriched uranium warheads, and at least thirteen different kinds of missiles.

The Pukguksong 1and 2; and Hwasong – 12, 13, and 14, can allegedly reach targets up to 12,000 kilometers from launch site.[19]

In any such escalating circumstances, Mr. Trump could settle upon using a “mad dog” strategy vis-à-vis President Kim. The American leader could render himself dependent upon an untested strategy of pretended irrationality, or what I have frequently  called in my own published books and monographs (produced over the past fifty years) the “rationality of pretended irrationality.”Any such belligerent dependence, while intuitively sensible and compelling to Mr. Trump, could backfire, thereby opening up an irreversible path to certain potentially unstoppable escalations.

If, on the other hand, President Donald Trump’s defensive first strike against North Korea were recognizably less than massive, a fully rational  adversary in Pyongyang might determine that his own chosen reprisal should be correspondingly “limited.” But if Mr. Trump’s consciously rational and systematically calibrated attack upon North Korea were wittingly or unwittingly launched against an irrational enemy leadership, the response from Kim Jung Un could then be an “all out” retaliation. Plausibly, such an unanticipated response, whether nuclear or  non-nuclear, would be directed at some as yet undeterminable combination of U.S., South Korean, and Japanese targets.

Cumulatively, this sort of response could inflict substantial or even catastrophic harms. North Korea’s unconventional weapons already include biological agents (Pyongyang maintains three Biological Research Institutes within the country’s National Academy of Sciences) and chemical ordnance (currently estimated at 5,000 tons of weaponized material). Even a perfectly rational North Korean leadership could sometime calculate that all-out retaliations would make perfect strategic sense.

In facing off against each other, even under optimal assumptions of  mutual rationality, both President Trump and President Kim Jung Un would have to concern themselves with all possible miscalculations, errors in information, unauthorized uses of strategic weapons, mechanical or computer malfunctions and myriad nuances of cyber-defense/cyber-war. In other words, even if both President Trump and President Kim were abundantly capable, humane[20] and focused – a markedly generous assumption, to be sure – northeast Asia might still descend rapidly toward some form or other of uncontrollable nuclear war. If this dire prospect were not already sobering enough, it is also reasonable to expect that the corresponding erasure of a once-prevailing nuclear taboo would substantially heighten the likelihood of nuclear conflict in other parts of the globe, especially southwest Asia (e.g., Pakistan and India), and/or the Middle East (e.g., Israel and Iran).

Regarding the given Middle East scenario, a war between Israel and Iran could still be nuclear if the Islamic Republic were not yet in the Club. Here, for whatever reasons, correctly or incorrectly, lawfully or unlawfully, the Israeli side would accept the rationality of using some elements of its nuclear arms against a non-nuclear Iran.

When Pericles delivered his famous Funeral Oration, it was to express confidence in an ultimate victory for Athens. Simultaneously, as recalled by Thucydides, the Greek historian of the Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BCE), Pericles had expressed variously deep fears about self-imposed setbacks along the way. “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies,” lamented Pericles, “is our own mistakes.”

Today, as US President Donald Trump must prepare to face off capably with Kim Jung Un, perhaps even at a time coinciding with the 2020 election, the expected consequences of American mistakes could be vastly destructive, perhaps even authentically intolerable. It follows that in choosing a cost-effective style of escalation and negotiation with Pyongyang in such circumstances, the United States must remain wary of locking in to any lethal pattern of interaction for which the other side’s reaction must likely or invariably be deeply harmful to the United States. More precisely, Mr. Trump and his counselors must continuously and vigilantly refrain from offering any provocation for which the unpredictable North Korean adversary could then have only one “rational” response, nuclear war.

We began this informed strategic dialectic with a uniquely fearful hypothesis; that is, that the risks of a genuine nuclear crisis with North Korea could be purposely and wrongly enlarged by Donald Trump. In this plainly menacing scenario, the inexcusable presidential enlargement could sometime become unmanageable or even existential. Then, concerning the specific “Biden Scenario,” America would have opened itself up to literally unprecedented military harms,[21] the result of its wholly incapable president’s near-total preoccupation with personal image and nefarious self-promotion. Recalling ancient Greek playwright Sophocles’ Antigone, we would be reminded after the fact of what can happen when a leader places his own presumed popularity “before his country.”

Though himself entirely unfamiliar with both world and US national history, Donald Trump’s malfeasance in this worrisome scenario could prove staggering. In essence, it could represent the ultimate presidential dereliction, one displaying various egregious violations of both US Law and international law[22] and an irremediable opening to an enemy’s existential attack. Not to be ignored is that even this presumptively worst case scenario could be further  exacerbated by a still-uncontrolled biological plague.

There is only one sensible way to “give the lie” to any such intolerable outcomes. It is to ensure that Americans never again elect a president who thinks and learns only “in his own flesh.”


[1] In specifically legal terms, there would likely be jurisprudential uncertainties concerning whether or not an authentic state of war obtained. Under international law, which has long been “incorporated” into US law, the question of whether a formal condition of war exists between adversarial states is inherently unclear.  Traditionally, a “formal” war was said to exist only when a contesting state 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 may 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, art. 1,  46 Stat.  2343,  94 L.N.T.S.  57 (also called Pact of Paris or Kellogg-Briand Pact), August 27, 1948;  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 obtain without formal declarations, but only if there exists a recognizable “armed conflict” between two or more states and/or at least one of these states considers itself to be “at war.”

[2] A North Korean nuclear crisis is used here as example because it would be both plausible and potentially catastrophic, but there are other conceivably pertinent sources of presidential deflection, e.g., an India-Pakistan nuclear crisis, and/ or a dramatic nuclear breakthrough by Iran.

[3] Anticipating political indifference to strategic complexity, Clausewitz warned presciently in his classic On War: “Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.”

[4] The multiple problems here stemming from complexity and intersection bring to mind the Clausewitzian concept of “friction.” This always-sobering consideration usefully emphasizes various recurring and core elements of pertinent decisional difficulty. See Carl von Clausewitz, On War, especially Chapter VI, “Friction in War.”

[5] In this connection, one must recall Donald Trump’s core philosophy of belligerent nationalism, an “America First” dogma fundamentally contrary to the basic principles of international law.  Inter alia, international law is an integral part of the legal system of all states in world politics, and assumes a reciprocally common obligation of states to supply reasonable benefits to one another. This immutable assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, that is, one that is never properly subject to question or reversal. It can be discovered early in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis, Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625) and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law (1758). Later, it was given special prominence by William Blackstone in his foundational (for the United States) Commentaries on the Law of England.

[6]The Kierkegaardian concept of “crowd” is also roughly analogous to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd” or Sigmund Freud’s “horde.”

[7] See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School, Louis René Beres https://harvardnsj.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2020/04/Beres_Complex-Determinations_v2.pdf

[8] In narrowly legal terms, either the United States or North Korea could (especially amid so many contextual uncertainties) commit “aggression.”  For the specified 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).

[9] The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 do not properly constitute a nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional conflict. Significantly, too, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were no other atomic bombs still available anywhere on earth.

[10] Professor Louis René Beres is the author of some of the earliest books on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, including Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979); Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980) and Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016; 2018). His pertinent writings on this topic have been published in The New York Times; The Atlantic; Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (West Point); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon) International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); Jurist; Modern Diplomacy; International Security (Harvard); Yale Global Online; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; Israel Defense (Tel-Aviv) and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

[11] See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School:  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/  See also, by this writer, at West Point (Pentagon):  Louis René  Beres https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/

[12] In logic and scientific method, there can be no genuine “experts” on historically unprecedented events.

[13] Such bewildering interactions could shed light upon an entire global system’s degree of order or disorder, a more focused view that would reflect what the physicists call “entropic” conditions. In part, at least,  any such perspective could be dependent upon the pertinent decision-maker’s subjective metaphysics of time. For a very early article by this author dealing with linkages between such subjective metaphysics and national decision-making processes, see: Louis René Beres, “Time, Consciousness and Decision-Making in Theories of International Relations,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. VIII, No.3., Fall 1974, pp. 175-186.

[14] In precise words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering 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)).Further, 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.”

[15] In a still-broader jurisprudential sense, Donald Trump should be reminded that all states, but especially the leading actors, have a continuing legal obligation to “produce happiness” in world politics. Though intrinsically difficult to measure, a minimum threshold here would be to prevent overtly destabilizing prospects for expanding international warfare. Says Emmerich de Vattel, 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.”

[16] Under the law of armed conflict, these pre-nuclear forms – but potentially also certain post-nuclear ones – concern three categories of criminality: crimes of war; crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.  These crimes are defined succinctly but authoritatively in the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (“The London Charter”),  Aug. 8, 1945,  art. 6(a) – (c),  59 Stat. 1546, 1547,  82 U.N.T.S.  279.

[17] This peremptory principle of anticipatory self-defense has its modern origins in the so-called Caroline Case, which concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this landmark case, even the serious threat of an armed attack can sometimes be taken as sufficient legal justification for defensive military action. In more narrowly technical jurisprudence, the criterion of permissibility revolves around a danger presumed to be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment or deliberation.” Of course, during the first third of the nineteenth century, there could have been no conceivable thought of forestalling a nuclear attack.

[18] The specifically legal  principle of proportionality is contained in the rules governing the resort to armed conflict (jus ad bellum) and in rules governing the actual conduct of hostilities (jus in bello).  In the former, proportionality relates to self-defense.  In the latter, it relates to conduct of belligerency. Proportionality is itself derivative from the more basic principle that belligerent rights are not unlimited (See notably Hague Convention No. IV (1907), Annex to the Convention, Section II (Hostilities), Art. 22: “The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited”).

[19] See Giancarlo Elia Valori, “How Global Powers Could Achieve a Denuclearized Korea,”  Israel Defense, June 27, 2017.

[20] Though normally not discussed in the context of strategic planning and nuclear war, human rights would be broadly affected by virtually any pertinent decisions. In this connection, the cornerstone of the human rights regime is the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  G.A. Res. 217A,  U.N. Doc. A/810,  at 71 (1948).  This document, together with the following authoritative codifications,  comprise what is generally called an International Bill of Rights:  International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,  6 I.L.M. 360 (entered into force, Jan. 3, 1976); and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,  6 I.L.M.  368 (entered into force,  Mar. 23, 1976).

[21] One may think here of the High Lama’s warning in James Hilton’s classic Lost Horizon: “The storm…this storm that you talk of….It will be such a one, my son, as the world has not seen before. There will be no safety by arms, no help from authority, no answer in science. It will rage until every flower of culture is trampled, and all human things are leveled in a vast chaos….The Dark Ages that are to come will cover the whole world is a single pall; there will be neither escape nor sanctuary.”

[22] For authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: 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.Court of Justice: 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.

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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It’s as-if voters want to remain deceived

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Right now, most Governments do things that are commonly said to be evil when perpetrated by an ‘enemy’ country but which are simultaneously considered to be okay when one’s own Government does it. For example, the U.S. Government invaded Iraq in 2003 on the basis of purely lies (for which no one was held to account, and which lies were themselves subsequently lied-about by saying they had been only ‘intelligence failures’ though they weren’t at all that), but this same U.S. Government is now pouring the most vicious terms of condemnation upon today’s Russian Government for invading Ukraine after the U.S. anti-Russian military alliance NATO had announced unanimously on January 7th that Ukraine’s application to join that anti-Russian military alliance on Russia’s very border and thus to allow the U.S. Government to position its nuclear missiles in Ukraine within only a five-minute striking-distance from Russia’s central command in Moscow, was going to be accepted. If Russia fails to win control over enough of Ukraine so as to block that from ever happening, then the very real prospect will exist that the time-window for a U.S. blitz nuclear annihilation of Russia’s central command in Moscow will become far shorter than the half-hour time-frame for the Soviet Union to annihilate America’s central command in Washington DC was when JFK threatened Khrushchev with World War III if the Soviet Government were to place its missiles in Cuba. Obviously, that’s unacceptable for any country; it was unacceptable for Americans during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and it would be even more unacceptable for Russians today, because, whereas Cuba is 1,131 miles from DC, Ukraine is (at its nearest point to Moscow) only 353 miles from The Kremlin — and missiles today are far faster than they were in 1962.  

America’s voters don’t want to acknowledge that they were fooled, by lying Presidents and by their stenographic ‘free press’ transmitting Governmental lies — they were thus deceived into invading and destroying Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011-, and Syria in 2011-. U.S. is globally the most frequently mentioned nation as being “the greatest threat to peace in the world today.” The biggest threat to peace isn’t Iran, and isn’t Russia, and isn’t China, and isn’t Venezuela, but it is, in fact, their mutually shared and actually aggressive enemy, the United States of America, which wants to dictate to them all — this imperialistic dictatorship demands to impose its ‘democracy’ throughout the world, as it has tried to do in hundreds of coups and invasions. It destroyed Iran’s democracy in 1953. It destroyed Guatemala’s democracy in 1954. It destroyed Chile’s democracy in 1973. And there are many other such instances, less well-known — including many even after the so-called ‘ideological’ Cold War ended in 1991. But the American people obviously don’t want to know, and don’t even care, about the ugliness of the Government that they allegedly ‘elect’ (but really do not — and they don’t want to know that, either). Americans aren’t physical slaves, but are mental slaves — they don’t even want to know the reality, of the regime that rules them.

As A.B. Abrams’s 2021 World War in Syria: Global Conflict on Middle Eastern Battlefields stated in its Chapter 1, regarding what was actually an obsession by the U.S. regime to take control over Syria as soon as the French imperial regime lost Syria in the wake of WW II, “The first [coup in Syria, the CIA’s actually second coup, the one in Thailand in 1948 having been its first-ever coup] was engineered by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) against the government of President Shukri Al Quwatli.11 The [Al Quwatli] administration was targeted primarily due to its lack of enthusiasm for [actually its opposition to] a major American project, the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, which was intended to transport Saudi Arabian oil to Europe through Syrian territory. Quwatli’s replacement, a general with a ‘strong pro-French orientation’ named Husni Al Zaim, ran what Pentagon cables described as an ‘army supported dictatorship’ with a ’strong anti-Soviet attitude.12 His government approved the pipeline in its first week in power, but was overthrown five months later by colonel Sami Al Hinnawi whose short-lived administration was itself toppled by another colonel, Adib Shishakli, in December [1949]. Shishakli’s pro-Western government lasted four years before a coup deposed it and restored national elections. Al Quwatli was then re-elected in 1955, and his administration distanced itself from the West as a result of the CIA’s involvement in the original March 1949 coup.” This bit of history alone is sufficient to show that at the start of the CIA by U.S. President Truman in 1947, Truman’s Government was fixated upon robbing the peoples of other countries — which Governments it would label as being ‘communist’ though they were not and were ONLY trying to establish or continue democracy, which the U.S. regime would NOT allow — in order to enrich America’s own and allied billionaires, such as the Saudi royal family, and, of course, the U.S.-and-European billionaires who would ALSO get a cut into the marketing and distribution of the Saud family’s oil sales. Clearly, therefore, that bit of history constitutes virtually a proof that as soon as FDR died and WW II was over, Truman turned the U.S. Government into the U.S. regime that we know today, a hegemonic imperialistic-capitalist, or fascist, dictatorship by America’s super-rich as now constituting America’s aristocracy controlling the entire then-nascent growing U.S. empire — grab, grab, grab, all the way. For example: as was documented by the link at the opening here, the U.S. regime’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 was no mere fluke or ‘intelligence error’ (such as the billionaires’ media portray it) but instead it was just another part of the entire post-FDR U.S. global dictatorship, which constantly lies through its teeth in order to further enrich its insatiably grasping billionaires and their foreign business-partners, all being an international-gangland operation that they have the nerve to call ‘democracy’ (and, so, to insult that noble term).

Americans prefer to remain deceived, and to blame-the-victims — Iran, Russia, China, Syria, Venezuela, etc. — even as our Government imposes entirely unjustified and unjustifiable strangulating economic blockades (“sanctions”) against countries that America’s voracious and vicious megacorporate aristocracy (America’s billionaires) want to control, so as for those lands to become additional parts of the U.S. regime’s global dictatorship, and for those super-rich vampires to suck dry even of their independence.

This is a 1984 country, where white is black, good is bad, war is peace, deception is routine, and the masses are satisfied, with their intellectual enslavement, to these lies and liars — their masters. 

Here’s an example:

On August 1st of 2019, the largest Republican Party online news-medium, Breitbart, headlined “Donald Trump: Tulsi Gabbard ‘Doesn’t Know What She’s Talking About’ on Al Qaeda”, and reported:

President Donald Trump criticized Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Thursday for claiming that he was supporting Al Qaeda.

During the Democrat debate on Wednesday, Gabbard accused the president of betraying the American people on terrorism.

“We were supposed to be going after Al Qaeda,” she said. “But over years now, not only have we not gone after Al Qaida, who is stronger today than they were in 9/11, our president is supporting Al Qaida.”

Gabbard had asserted during the July 31st Democratic debate:

We were all lied to. This is the betrayal. This is the betrayal to the American people, to me, to my fellow servicemembers. We were all lied to, told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was working with Al Qaida, and that this posed a threat to the American people.

So I enlisted after 9/11 to protect our country, to go after those who attacked us on that fateful day, who took the lives of thousands of Americans.

The problem is that this current president is continuing to betray us. We were supposed to be going after Al Qaida. But over years now, not only have we not gone after Al Qaida, who is stronger today than they were in 9/11, our president is supporting Al Qaida. 

Donald Trump can’t stand the truth, and neither can Gabbard’s own Democratic Party voters, who refuse to recognize that their own beloved President Obama had been protecting Al Qaeda in Syria in order to overthrow Syria’s sovereign Government and replace it with one that would be appointed by the Saud family who own Saudi Arabia.

The scum that is at the top of the U.S. Government (including all recent Presidents) is bipartisan in supporting the Sauds and their Israeli ally, both of whom crave for America to invade and destroy Iran, which both of them consider to be their mortal enemy. Trump wanted economically to strangle Iran to death without physically invading it, but that’s hardly less barbaric, and less unjustifiable, than an outright invasion — and Iran never invaded nor even threatened to invade America. This is pure U.S. aggression, which is the American Government’s way. Israel and the Sauds aren’t rich enough to protect themselves? What? They really can’t protect themselves? (And Iran won’t attack either of them, unless it’s invaded; so: What’s all of this about, anyway, other than lies and power-grabbing, by the U.S. Government and its allies?)

One of the rare intelligent and well-informed readers at that Breitbart article commented:

windship  Doug Dannger • I’m not American, so am neutral on Gabbard, but most of the world that pays attention knows full well that al Qaeda owes it’s entire existence to the astounding generosity of three deceptive nations: the US, Israel and the KSA. Great teamwork produces things like 9/11.

Why don’t Americans know and understand what that person knew and understood? They refuse to. There are exceptions, of course, just as there are some Americans who know and understand that the U.S. regime is the biggest threat to peace throughout the world, but there are only few exceptions. The rest are mental slaves — they insist upon believing lies.

Also on August 1st of 2019, Fox News headlined “Tulsi Gabbard defends debate claim that Trump supports Al Qaeda”, and reported:

“Gabbard cited Trump’s “support and alliance with Saudi Arabia that is both providing direct and indirect support directly to Al Qaeda,” when she spoke to Shannon Bream of “Fox News @ Night” after the debate.” “’How can you say Saudi Arabia is a great partner in fighting terrorism when they are fueling and funding terrorist groups in Yemen?’ she added.” She said that Saudi Arabia is pushing for a war with Iran, which would be “far more devastating, far more costly” than the U.S. war in Iraq.

Most of the reader-comments there were pure partisan (i.e., suckered) bunk, like “Democrats never back down from a lie even when they’re proven wrong.” But one was partly realistic:

RobtheOld: Whose to blame on this one…Tulsi or Fox?  The Saudis have been giving money to Al Qaeda for years thru radical clerics [actually, even through Saudi princes’ own donations], under the table and not so under the table.  Clinton, Bush and Obama all knew this in real time.  What did they do about it?  What does she expect Trump to do about it?  The Saudis are one of our “best” friends in the region, or so the experts say..  I don’t see how that means President Trump is supporting Al Qaeda.  I do know that Tulsi once took a volcanic stone from the Big Island and that’s why Kilauea erupted.  That means Tulsi started the volcano, right?

The reality is that Gabbard spoke the truth. But Americans don’t want to know this. Trump, like Obama, was a supporter of the Sauds, and protected Al Qaeda. Even the neocon The Daily Beast acknowledged on 13 March 2017 (two months after Trump became President) “The American air campaign has notably not targeted al Qaeda in Syria, known as Jabhat al Nusra.” Trump continued Obama’s policy. Trump does whatever he can to place the Sauds in control of Syria. The U.S. regime lies through its teeth. And Americans believe it, each time, as if the U.S. Government’s track-record in its allegations regarding international affairs were good, instead of disgusting and loaded with lies. Donald Trump protects Al Qaeda in Syria, just as did Barack Obama. 

Back on 4 April 2007, when the New York Times headlined “Pelosi Meets With Syrian Leader [Assad]”, Democrats approved but Republicans did not; but when on 26 January 2017 Rep. Gabbard met with him, the headline at CBS was “Rep. Tulsi Gabbard defends meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad”, and she was not only condemned by Republicans, but abandoned by Democrats. PBS’s (Public Broadcasting System’s) 1 October 2020 interview with Gabbard opened with the interviewer saying that Gabbard had “infamously met with Bashar al-Assad.” The U.S. regime is in lock-down mode, now — bipartisan fascism — and its public just go along with this, don’t rebel against such propaganda; they instead subscribe to it. Not to be fascist is even treated as if that were to be unpatriotic. (This is like the McCarthyism period; but, this time, there’s not even the ideological rationalization for it, just sheer evil on the part of the perpetrators, plus callousness, if not disinterest, on the part of the public.) The American people accept a fascist regime; this has even become bipartisan fascism, in America. Never before has Americans’ self-deception been quite this pervasive. Only around 2% of Democratic voters were supporting Gabbard, and the media did everything they could to bring that number even lower. Right after the 31 July 2019 Democratic Presidential Primary debate, a ten-minute Anderson Cooper interview with her presented Cooper (at 5:10-8:10 in that video-clip) basically challenging her patriotism and even her decency, because she had met with Assad. This was blatant billionaires-hired prime-time CNN propaganda, to ditch her candidacy. Jamil Smith, of Rolling Stone, MSNBC, and The New Republic, said that her answers there, to Cooper, were “disqualifying”

Americans today don’t mind invading and occupying a country on the basis of sheer lies. But then Americans become exercised with hatred against Russia when it invaded Ukraine after NATO insisted that Ukraine would become a member (and so there was the real prospect of U.S. nuclear missiles becoming positioned just a five-minute flight to annihilating Moscow) after Obama had couped and grabbed Ukraine in 2014 in what some have called “the most blatant coup in history.” Controlling the media is controlling the mass-mind, in a ‘democracy’. But such a country can’t be any democracy, because its public are mere mental slaves to whatever liars appeal to the biggest percentage of the public’s prejudices. In America, it comes down to Democratic Party lies, versus Republican Party lies. Just like with science itself, democracy can be based only on the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

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Shaping Tenable Policy on North Korea: A U.S. Security Imperative

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“What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking justification always on the same plane?”-Samuel Beckett, Endgame

The Adversarial Chessboard

In response to the growing aggressiveness of its North Korean nuclear adversary, the United States needs to fashion its pertinent policy positions on comprehensive analytic foundations. More precisely, Kim Jung Un’s latest threats[1] to consider a full-scale nuclear retaliation for variously tangible American acts against leadership figures in Pyongyang (1) will have to be assessed in prudent detail  and (2) will need to include multiple scenarios of US policy reaction. Among other things, these specific narratives will need to focus on assorted strategic, doctrinal and legal criteria of assessment.[2] Though the US is evidently “more powerful” than North Korea, any actual nuclear exchange between these two countries would assuredly prove catastrophic for both.[3] This is likely to be the case even in the absence of alliance partner interventions rendered on behalf of North Korea.

 There will be relevant particulars, many of them bewildering and intersecting. Details will be critical. Immediately, the American president and his counselors will have to determine the plausible contours of Kim Jung Un’s expected rationality.To the extent that the North Korean leader would appear convincingly irrational (i.e., actually willing to resort to his recently-threatened first use of nuclear weapons), the usual and essential premises of stable deterrence would no longer obtain.

There would also arise complementary issues concerning North Korea’s self-reaffirmed right of nuclear preemption. In proper jurisprudential terms, Kim would seek to justify this alleged right of defensive “first use” as a legitimate  expression of “anticipatory self-defense.”[4] At the same time, of course, following  any actual first use of nuclear weapons, refined questions of law would promptly become moot.

 Kim Jong Un has been expanding and modernizing his country’s already-substantial nuclear arsenals. These expansions and refinements are creating destabilizing ripples in our anarchic world legal system.[5] Whether suddenly or incrementally, certain long-prevailing patterns of global power management could devolve from the “mere” absence of global authority structures to total or near-total world system instability.[6]

Such an authentic chaos would be much worse than “Westphalian” anarchy.

Meanings of Atomic Chaos vis-a-vis North Korea

In January 2021, after describing the United States as “our biggest enemy,” the North Korean dictator called for more advanced national nuclear weapons and infrastructures. At that moment, Kim summarized his country’s basic strategic posture succinctly and ominously: “Our foreign political activities should be focused and redirected on subduing the United States, our biggest enemy. No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature of the US and its fundamental policies towards North Korea never change.”

               “Subduing the United States….” For Pyongyang, the only “true nature” of specifically American significance lies in Kim’s worrisome assessment of White House intentions. Accordingly, it is high time to inquire:

               Going forward, what expressly tangible nuclear threats from North Korea will face US President Joe Biden?

               What intangible or “opaque” nuclear threats should America’s decision-makers now take into careful and increasing account?

               What should the United States do in response to both intersecting forms of nuclear threat?

               Despite their simple declarative style, these questions entail near-staggering complexity. Among other things, pertinent threats to the United States from Pyongyang are now both direct and indirect.[7] Today, at a critical tipping point in American strategic planning, these risks have become conspicuously grave, many-sided and potentially even existential.[8]

               A compelling query arises: What should and should not be done about North Korean nuclear threats?

               For the US president, growing nuclear uncertainties with North Korea represent hazards of palpable urgency. What exactly shall be required of his relevant planners in dealing with such urgent strategic matters? As a start, Jo Biden will need to acknowledge something that was never properly understood by his predecessor.  After all, Donald J. Trump promised the American people that he had taken care of the North Korea nuclear problem by “falling in love” with Kim Jung Un. And this after calling for the use of American nuclear weapons against hurricanes.

Prima facie, it was an ill-fated “romance.” The dissembling former president never understood that national security and war preparedness must be science-grounded and theory-based.[9] Always, he could never acknowledge, it must receive the  dialectical imprimatur[10] of “mind over mind.”[11]  

               Overall, regarding North Korean nuclear developments and threats, the United States is already in its “eleventh hour.” Any foreseeable elevations of US strategic thought would need to be based upon an ever-greater American appreciation of relevant complexities, politicalandmilitary. These persistently intersecting complexities would likely include multiple “synergies.”

What would all this imply? To begin, in synergistic intersections,[12] the “whole” of any particular outcome mustbe greater than the sum of its “parts.” Further, in such challenging analytic matters, US policy-making must always be kept suitably distant from any distracting considerations founded upon wishful thinking. Recall, in this connection, Greek historian Thucydides’ summary assessment of the Peloponnesian War: “Hope is by nature an expensive commodity, and those who are risking their all on one cast find out what it means only when they are already ruined….[13]

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

Contests of “Mind Over Mind”

               For the White House and Pentagon, serious analytic methods will be necessary. As corollary, history will deserve a more conspicuous pride of place. The ancient Greeks regarded war and war-planning not as a purely personal or ad hoc activity, but as a daunting contest of “mind over mind.” Anticipating the later writings of Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz (On War, 1832), these thinkers seemingly based their tactical and operational policies upon a body of dialectical “conversations.” At that earlier stage, the primary and preeminent battlefield would have had to be conceptualized before the onset of any actual troop movements or military engagements.

               Correspondingly, any foreseeable victories in such engagements would have had to follow a mind-based articulation of strategic doctrine.[14]

               In such many-layered strategic matters, comprehensive theory must remain necessary. Always, the interrelated geo-political world, like the myriad human beings who comprise it, must be regarded as a system.[15] Among the most serious lessons of this metaphor, is this: Any more-or-less major conventional conflict in northeast Asia could heighten the prospect of  destabilizing international conflicts elsewhere. This is the case, moreover, whether derivative consequences would occur immediately or in expectedly assorted increments.

               At some point, and among other possibilities, these prospects could include a regional nuclear war.  Such fearsome conclusions could be enlarged by misguided American searches for a no-longer credible strategic outcome. A clear example of such a gravely mistaken search would be one that is directed toward some allegedly decipherable forms of “victory.”

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

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

               Always, for policy planners and strategists, the broad arena of world politics must be understood not only as a system , but also as an anarchic system,[16] a “state of nature” in classical philosophic terms.[17]

               There is still time for refined conceptual thought. Once acknowledged as a distinct foreign-policy objective, any declared US search for “victory” over North Korea would only exacerbate America’s strategic risks without enhancing its prospective gains. Such a patently meaningless declaration could create corrosively lethal escalatory dynamics with Pyongyang, ones from which Washington could no longer expect any palpable military advantages. Moreover, this injurious creation could take place in unanticipated increments or suddenly, as an unexpected or “bolt-from-the-blue” enemy attack.[18]

               In the foreseeable worst case, any unwitting US forfeiture of “escalation dominance” could signify irreversible American losses. These losses include chaotic conditions that could create (a) tens or even hundreds of thousands of prompt fatalities; and (b) tangibly larger numbers of latent cancer deaths.[19] Factoring in  the additional factor of another worldwide disease pandemic, this presumptive “worst case” could still get much worse.

               Pertinent specificity must be examined and taken into account by US President Joe Biden’s designated senior counselors. In a world where history and science could sometime regain their proper stature, an intellectually-fit American president could acknowledge that because nation-states no longer generally declare wars[20] or enter into formal war-termination treaties,[21] the application of traditional criteria of “war winning” would no longer make legal or strategic sense. Furthermore, in the vastly complicated strategic matters already at hand, ascertainable benefits might no longer lie latent in the traditional forms of military expertise.[22]      

A Preemption Option?

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

               In these belligerently transitional nuclear times,[23] such selective perceptions could prove grievously unacceptable. Though it is at least conceivable that an American president  could sometime justify a preemptive strike against an already-nuclear North Korea,[24] it also remains plain that any US defensive first strike[25] here  would have catastrophic outcomes. Concerning the myriad complexities of any still-impending two-power nuclear competition where (a) there would exist substantial asymmetries in relative military power position; but where (b) the “weaker” North Korean side would maintain a verifiable potential to inflict unacceptably damaging first-strikes or reprisals upon the “stronger” American side, carefully calibrated policy-making cautions could become in dispensable.

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

               “Theory is a net,” quotes philosopher of science Karl Popper from the German poet Novalis in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959): [26] “….only those who cast, can catch.” In such bewilderingly complex strategic matters, nothing could ever prove more practical than good theory. In science, a broadly elucidating generality offers the key to uncovering specific meanings.

               There is more. In science, generality is a trait of all meaning. It follows that having such comprehensive policy clarifications already at hand could help guide a US President beyond any otherwise vague or uselessly impromptu strategic appraisals. Under no circumstances, a president must be reminded, should such multi-sided crisis possibilities be assessed (implicitly or explicitly) as singular or ad hoc phenomena.

Four Types of Nuclear Conflict

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

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

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

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

               In all likelihood, such misjudgments would stem from an expectedly mutual search for strategic advantage occurring during any particular competition in nuclear risk-taking.[27] Described in appropriate strategic parlance, this would suggest a traditional military search for “escalation dominance” during a nuclear crisis, that is, in extremis.[28]

The Question of Rationality

 Also needed would be various related judgments concerning expectations of rationality and irrationality within each affected country’s decision-making structure. One potential source of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war could be a failed strategy of “pretended irrationality.” A posturing American president who too “successfully” convinced enemy counterparts of his own irrationality could spark an otherwise-avoidable enemy preemption. In such inherently unstable circumstances, there could exist no ready-at-hand collection of relevant empirical cases.

               Bottom Line: A nuclear war, any nuclear war, would be sui generis.

               In science, this is an especially critical datum.

               There is much more. Relevant scenarios could also be “played” in the other direction. An American president who had begun to take seriously Kim Jong Un’s own presumed unpredictability could be frightened into striking first. In this alternate case, the United States would become the preempting party that might still claim legality for its defensive first-strike.

Nonetheless, in such “dicey” circumstances, US strategists charged with fashioning an optimal strategic posture would do well to recall Carl von Clausewitz’s timeless warning in On War, his famous warning on “friction.” This “Clausewitzian” property represents the difference between “war on paper” and “war as it actually is.”

                Regarding North Korea, as we have seen, US foreign policy ought to be more suitably grounded in science and logic. Still, though rarely acknowledged, no plausibly scientific or reliable probability estimations could ever be ventured on matters regarding unprecedented strategic situations. In science and mathematics, meaningful probability judgments must always be based upon a carefully calculated frequency of relevant past events.

 On matters concerning a nuclear war, there have been no such past events. Any such events would be unique. The American bombings of Japan in August 1945 did not constitute a nuclear war. They were “only” examples of atomic weapons being used during a conventional war.

Looking to America’s strategic future, the differences are real and consequential.

               American strategists and policy planners should take heed. Intellectually, this informed sort of “behind-the-news” analytic assessment is not plausibly controversial. Not only has there never been a nuclear war, there have never been the sorts of asymmetrical nuclear standoffs that are most apt to arise between Washington and Pyongyang.  

               Because there can never be any informed scientific assessments of probable war outcomes in this volatile Asian arena, the American president should approach all heuristic war scenarios with recognizable humility. Here, the ancient Greek philosophers would be warning US decision-makers against “hubris,” and doing this with an identifiable war-reluctance.[29] In these matters, what an American president does not know could still cause “hurt.”

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

               Today, unlike what seemingly took place at Thermopylae, a state enemy needn’t be able to defeat American armies in order to inflict grievous harms upon the United States. Among other things, this enemy could enlist selectively destructive proxy forces on its behalf, forces that might include bio-terrorist surrogates. What would happen then to the so-called “balance of power?” Throughout history, this has always been a faux “balance.” In reality, it has rarely produced any tangibly gainful conditions of equilibrium.

               For the United States, there remains some prospectively “good news.” America needn’t be able to “win” a particular conflict to credibly threaten  a dangerous foe or to actually inflict “assured destruction” upon such an enemy.[30] What this “good news” means today is this: The capacity to deter is not identical to the capacity to win.[31] For the American president’s defense counselors, the principal war-planning or war-deterring lesson of such ongoing transformations warrants further advanced study.

               What will matter here is not “personal attitude” (previous President Donald Trump’s self-described “ace in the hole”), but analytic or intellectualpreparation. What matters most, going forward, will be a determined capacity to win bewilderingly complex struggles of “mind over mind,” not just variously ad hoc or visceral contests of “mind over matter.”[32] In time, such critical strategy lessons could apply beyond the North Korean nuclear issue.

To clarify, the world is always a system. What happens at any one place will always impact assorted other places. Accordingly, US national security planners and policy-makers should remain focused on systems.

Questions of International Law

               Complex points oflawwill needto be considered.[33] Inevitably, jurisprudencemust have its proper place in global-strategic calculations,[34] an incremental and cumulative place. Further, in terms of applicable law,[35] winning and losing may  no longer mean very much for successful strategic planning. The consequential devaluation of victory as an operational goal should already be obvious with regard to America’s intermittently declared “wars” on terror.

 For the United States, all significant armed conflict issues will need to be examined within continuously transforming military plans and objectives regarding China, Russia, India-Pakistan and assorted other places, especially Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Operationally, winning and losing are noweffectively extraneous to America’s collective interests. In principle at least, and not without irony, a narrowly static orientation to “winning” could lead the United States toward huge and irreversible losses. These losses would be a consequence of presumptively imperative searches for “escalation dominance.”[36]

               In contrast to policies of former president Donald J.  Trump, U.S. military posture should cease being shaped according to the barren expectations of clamorous clichés, irrelevant analogies or inexpert advice. Stated in more positive conceptual terms, US foreign policy ought always to be based upon the most expressly disciplined theses and antitheses of dialectical strategic thought.  This inherently superior pattern of intellectual analysis goes back to Plato and to his perpetually illuminating dialogues.[37]

               Famed ancient Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu reasoned simply and succinctly: “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” To meet current U.S. national security objectives vis-à-vis North Korea and other potential nuclear adversaries, this ancient Chinese military wisdom suggests that Washington now openly emphasize deterrence over victory. Nowhere is this imperative more appropriate than vis-à-vis North Korea,

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

 This systemic characterization is clarifying and elucidating. It should lie continuously at the core of any coherent US strategic nuclear doctrine. Before these systemic connections can be adequately understood and assessed, President Biden should realize that the complicated logic of adversarial nuclear calculations demands a discrete and nuanced genre of decision-making, a genre that calls for self-consciously rigorous intellectual refinements.

Expecting an American president to leverage sanctions would miss a vital point: The regime in Pyongyang will never back down on its overall national plan for nuclearization, however severe such sanctions could seemingly become.

Expectations of Stable Nuclear Deterrence

               In world politics, just as in law, truth is exculpatory.[38]  Whether we like it or not, a nuclear North Korea is a fait accompli. Accordingly, President Biden should focus upon creating stable nuclear deterrence with North Korea (a) for the benefit of the United States; (b) for the benefit of its directly vulnerable allies in South Korea and Japan; and (c) for the benefit of its indirectly vulnerable allies elsewhere (e.g., Israel).

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

               This increasingly urgent threat will never subside or disappear on its own. Rather, it will be the US president’s continuing obligation to understand all relevant American security obligations as well as their variously ensuing complications. Always, it should be treated as a matter of “mind over mind,” not “mind over matter.”

               In accepting this complex imperative, it would prove especially wise for President Biden to bear in mind the ancient Funeral Speech warning of Pericles. As recalled most famously by Thucydides: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies,” asserted the wise Athenian leader, “are our own mistakes.” In the best of all possible worlds, an American president could soon prepare to go beyond Realpolitik and its endlessly belligerent nationalism[39] – a perpetually futile dynamic that has never succeeded and remains destined only for continued failure.

But if anyone should need a reminder, this is not yet the best of all possible worlds.[40]

               Not at all.

               If, however, that auspicious time should arrive sometime in the future, the key task will be to focus attention upon the essential interrelatedness or “oneness”[41] of all world politics. Just as each individual human being, the microcosm, is comprised of interlocking biological systems, world politics, the macrocosm, is made up of many constituent national and sub-national systems. In both examples, microcosm and macrocosm, survival will require more reliable and generalized patterns of cooperation between systems.

In turn, the United States will have to turn consciously away from any doctrines put forward by “mass man”[42] and his/her political organizations.

Remembering Ancient Tragedy: The National Obligation to Reject “Hubris”

               “Just wars,” wrote Hugo Grotius, the acknowledged founder of modern international law, “arise from our love of the innocent.”[43] However, it is perfectly plain that a nuclear war could never be “just” and that earlier legal distinctions (e.g., “just war” vs. “unjust war”) must be continuously conformed to the changing technologies of military destruction. The only sensible adaptation should be (1) to acknowledge variously persisting connections between international law and natural law, and (2) to oppose any retrograde movements that might still undermine such acknowledgments.

               To successfully prevent a nuclear war with North Korea, it will be necessary to resist any further Trump-era misconceptions. During his seat-of-the-pants negotiations with Kim Jong Un, Trump was fond of saying that both countries may have “the button,” but “my button is bigger.” This childish metaphor misrepresented the nuanced and complex nature of nuclear deterrence. Though North Korea is arguably “less powerful” than the United states, that “weaker” country could still deliver an unacceptable nuclear blow to this country or its regional allies, whether as an aggressive first strike,[44] a retaliation or more-or-less carefully calculated counter-retaliation.

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

               With such scenarios, it will be essential to bear in mind that less is now predictable than unpredictable. By definition – because these all represent unprecedented circumstances – no scientifically valid statement of probabilities could be advanced. This suggests, inter alia, that the American president proceed in such interactions with maximum levels of personal decisional “modesty.”

               Going forward, Trump-style hubris should be scrupulously avoided and expressly renounced.[45] This pattern of behavior could never bestow any tangible strategic benefits upon the United States. It could never assist in fashioning tenable American positions vis-à-vis North Korea,

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

               Everything, again, is part of a system.

Getting Beyond “Westphalian” International Law

In Janus: A Summing Up, Arthur Koestler identifies the stubborn polarity between self-assertive and integrative tendencies as a gainful characteristic of human life. Duly informed, the reader is instructed that order and stability can prevail only when these two core tendencies are “in equilibrium.” If one tendency should be permitted to dominate the other, therefore, the result could represent the end to a necessary delicate balance.

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

               This calculation won’t be easy. Any such suggestion will first appear wildly idealistic or inexcusably utopian. Nonetheless, by consciously supplanting belligerent nationalism with more cooperative global patterns, states could finally begin to move beyond a longstanding social Darwinist ethic that would otherwise ensure only endless violence and suffering.

               Since its inception in 1648, the state of nations has offered humankind only false communion and perpetual conflict. A communion based upon fear, dread and (ad hoc) nuclear deterrence, its cumulative effects must inevitably include very deep desolations of the human spirit. To meaningfully repair this intolerable situation, all states must somehow learn to care for themselves and for all others at the same time.

               It’s a tall order, and an intellectualorder. Can it work? Can world  leaders like US president Joe Biden grasp this calculus of potentiality, thereby reaffirming the sovereignty of  reason over the deceptions of “national interest”?[46] Can any of these states ever be expected to tear down the barrier walls of belligerent nationalism and replace them with the permeable membranes of a more universally gainful cooperation?[47]

               The pragmatic answer, of course, is “no.” Still, we are locked into a fiendish dilemma. There remains literally no alternative to such “membranes.” Somehow, therefore, they must be rendered believable.

               In the short run, more refined strategic and legal thinking could conceivably reduce the risk of a nuclear war between the United States and North Korea. But even such an enviable triumph of “mind over mind” could offer us only a temporary reprieve. Over time, and during any palpable “longer run,” the “Westphalian” power-management system of threat and counter-threat can’t possibly endure.[48] Accordingly, rather than seek to sustain a failing system that encourages risky searches for “escalation dominance” in assorted nuclearized settings, the United States must seek “justification” for its global decision-making processes on a  very different and more durable plane.

               To deal with the immediate problem at hand, this must be a “plane” upon which capably informed assessments of North Korean rationality could be determined, examined and operationalized. Ipso facto, it is a dimension defined by an obligatory search for “mind over mind.” Such an intellect-based plane is never just a one-dimensional arena of “mind over matter.” Rather, it represents the indispensable background for shaping tenable US unclear policy positions on North Korea.


[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kim-jong-un-threatens-to-use-nukes-amid-tensions-with-us-south-korea/

[2] “Military doctrine” is not the same as “military strategy.” Doctrine “sets the stage” for strategy. It identifies various central beliefs that must subsequently animate any actual “order of battle.” Among other things, military doctrine describes underlying general principles on how a particular war ought to be waged. The reciprocal task for military strategy is to adapt as required in order to best support previously-fashioned military doctrine.  doctrine is the required framework from which proper strategic goals should be suitably extrapolated. Generically, in “standard” or orthodox military thinking, such doctrine describes the tactical manner in which national forces ought to fight in various combat situations, the prescribed “order of battle,” and variously assorted corollary operations. The literal definition of “doctrine” derives from Middle English, from the Latin doctrina, meaning teaching, learning, and instruction. Always, a central importance of codified military doctrine lies not only in the way it can animate, unify and optimize pertinent military forces, but also in the way it can transmit certain desired “messages” to an enemy.

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

[4] The origins of such a defense liein customary international law, more precisely in The Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, even the threat of an armed attack, if sufficiently grave or existential, could potentially justify 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).

[5] This system dates back to the 17th century and the Peace of Westphalia (1648), a treaty which ended the Thirty Years War. Looking ahead (see below), there are credible reasons to expect that traditional anarchy (absence of centralized world legal authority) will be replaced by an unprecedented chaos. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648., 1, Consol. T.S. 119.

[6]Whether described in the Old Testament or in other evident sources of Western philosophy, chaos can be as much a source of large-scale human improvement as a source of decline.[6] Interestingly, it is this prospectively positive side of chaos that is intended by Friedrich Nietzsche’s curious remark  in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883): “I tell you, ye have still chaos in you.” When expressed in analytically neutral tones, chaos is that condition which prepares the world for all things, whether sacred or profane. It represents that yawning gulf of “emptiness” where nothing is as yet, but where still-remaining civilizational opportunity can still originate. The 18th century German poet Friedrich Hölderlin observes: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic, which stands at the roots of the things, and which prepares all things.” Insightfully, in the ancient pagan world, Greek philosophers thought of this particular “desert” as logos, a primal concept which indicates that chaos is anything but starkly random or without merit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17]The seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, instructs that although international relations are in a “state of nature,” it is nonetheless a more benign condition than the condition of individual man in nature. With individual human beings, Hobbes reflects, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” Now, however, with the advent and spread of nuclear weapons, there is no longer any reason to believe that the state of nature remains more tolerable. Because of this significant transformation of the state of nations into a true Hobbesian state of nature, states such as North Korea are increasingly apt to search for a presumptively suitable “equalizer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

[24] From the standpoint of international law, it is necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking first in the expectation that the only foreseeable alternative is to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack is launched not out of any genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in some pertinent military balance.  In a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is presumptively very short; in a preventive strike, the anticipated interval is considerably longer. A related problem here for the United States is not only the practical difficulty of accurately determining “imminence,” but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained urgencies can be acknowledged could prove “fatal” (existential).

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

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

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

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

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

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

[31] This capacity is contingent upon the expected rationality of the adversarial state. Irrational adversaries would likely not be suitably deterred by the same threats directed at presumptively rational foes. On pertinent errors of correct deterrence reasoning (here regarding Iran in particular) see: Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?”  The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog). February 23, 2012. General Chain (USAF/ret.) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

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

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

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

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

[36] Se, by this author, Louis René Beres; https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/03/louis-rene-beres-worst-does-sometime-happen-nuclear-war-ukraine/

[37] Each pertinent thought or idea presents a complication that then moves onward to the next pertinent thought or idea.  Contained in this dialectic is an unending obligation to continue thinking, an obligation that can never be fulfilled altogether (because of what the philosophers call the “infinite regress problem”), but that must still be attempted as fully and as capably as possible. The core term, “dialectic,” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation.  Today, the most common meaning is that dialectic is a method of seeking truth via correct reasoning.  From the standpoint of present nuclear concerns, the following operations may be identified as essential but also nonexclusive components of a strategic dialectic: (1) a method of refutation 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 a synthesis of these opposites.  Dialectic has its likely beginnings in the 5th century B.C.E., as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, was recognized by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophical/analytic method.  In one of these dialogues, Plato describes the dialectician as someone who knows how to ask and to answer questions.  This is what should now be adapted to the US study of North Korean nuclear threats.

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

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

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

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

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

[42] The “mass-man,” we may learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses, “learns only in his own flesh.” This is never a reasonable way to learn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Americas

Whither Democracy?: Brazil Elections 2022

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Brazil is set to vote for its next president this October. The incumbent Jair Bolsonaro will be looking to defend his presidency in the face of a stubborn resistance provided by the veteran leader and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. With violence, promises and allegations aplenty, the stage is set for what is to be the most important election since 1985, where much more is on the line than just popular votes and political careers.

An election like no other

Brazil formally transitioned from a military dictatorship to a democracy after the 1985 elections which saw the country elect its first civilian president. Since then, Brazil has successfully remained a democracy, effectively keeping the military in its barracks. Albeit certain challenges, the country has maintained strong institutions that have upheld the principles of democracy. While it has faced many challenges on the road to establishing this democratic setup, the upcoming elections in October are set to be the biggest test of these institutions in Brazil’s democratic past.

The 2022 elections reflect upon a nation divided. The candidates themselves represent this divide. While the far-right President Bolsonaro has rallied people around his intense rhetoric of familial values, pro-gun policies and mysoginistic and homophobic tirades; the leftist Lula has tried to shift the focus towards the woeful economic state of the country, environmental degradation, authoritarian shift under the Bolsonaro regime and the menace of growing political violence.

An administration of broken promises

While he promised to turn Brazil into a great, prosperous and free country, President Bolsonaro has failed to deliver on most counts, leading a regime of broken promises and poor administration.

The rate of inflation has grown tremendously over the last four years, rising from 3.7% in 2018 to 8.3% in 2021. The Bolsonaro administration has also failed to tame the unemployment rate which stands at 14.4% as of 2021, adding 2.1% to the figure it inherited in 2018. The woeful economic condition has only been worsened by a very poor state response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Bolsonaro’s dismissal of Covid-19 as a “little flu” is reflective of the regime’s callousness and gross mismanagement, as Brazil reported a total of 685,000 deaths over the course of the pandemic, registering one of the worst responses in the world. The administration which had vowed to rid the country of corruption has also failed to deliver on this promise, often accused of corruption themselves. Bolsonaro, too, has come under the scanner for allegedly misappropriating his workforce’s wages during his 30 year tenure as a lawmaker in the lower house of congress. His family’s finances have also come under scrutiny after a Brazilian news outlet reported that he and his relatives purchased at least 51 of the 107 homes in cash, over a period of three decades.

Bolsanaro’s handling of the Amazon Rainforest has also drawn criticism from all over the world. The intense rate of clearing of the Amazon has left the rainforest at a critical point, risking the chances of a “dieback” with an estimate of 17%-20% of the rainforest currently destroyed.

Furthermore, Bolsonaro has contributed to a culture of violence that has been brewing up in Brazil since his election in 2018. He has previously made claims to rid the country of left-wing “criminals” and has openly used violent symbolism for conveying this message to his supporters. Adding to violent rhetoric, Bolsonaro, an avid supporter of gun ownership, has issued more than a dozen decrees loosening restrictions on gun laws for civilians. The result is a steep growth in gun ownership across the country leading to an estimated 4.4 million privately owned firearms in Brazil as of June 2022.

Instances of political violence have soared in Bolsonaro’s presidency. The first half of 2022 has alone seen a staggering 32% increase in instances of political violence with the number set to increase due to the ensuing election period.

Whither democracy?

Former president Lula has provided a stubborn resistance to Bolsonaro’s populist rhetoric in the run-up to elections in October. The recent poll data suggests a close contest with Lula taking the edge over Bolsonaro in the first round on October 2. However, Lula is predicted to fall short of the fifty percent mark which will lead to a second round of voting between the two frontrunners. While Lula is heavily backed to win the presidential election, it remains to be seen how Bolsonaro and his supporters will react once the results are declared. The incumbent president has criticised the electoral system calling it vulnerable and prone to fraud. He had previously stated that he will not indulge in an electoral “farce”, saying “only God will remove me from power”. These statements have led to growing concerns that Bolsonaro might not accept the result of the elections if it is unfavourable to him, as he has recurretly said, hinting towards the possibility of voter fraud.

While Bolsonaro has also made these statements previously during his 2018 election campaign, what makes the current election different is his advocacy for involving the military in the electoral process. Conveying his concerns regarding electoral fraud in a briefing to a convoy of diplomats in July, Bolsonaro argued for involving the Brazilian military to secure transparency in elections. The leaders of Brazil’s armed forces have backed this view, raising similar doubts regarding integrity of the electoral system, despite little evidence of past fraud. Earlier addressing a rally in Rio de Janeiro, he told his supporters: “The army is on our side”.

These developments are rather concerning considering Brazil’s brutal and very recent history of military dictatorship. However unlikely, the possibility of a return to military dictatorship will have severe consequences for democracy not only in Brazil but also in South America, which may lead to autocratic leaders propping up in other parts of the region. While chances of a military coup can be ruled out on accounts of Bolsonaro not having enough institutional support to carry out his will, the issue of widespread political violence looms large. The lead up to the October elections has seen a stark rise in political violence. A Lula supporter was reportedly shot dead in a politically motivated attack by a Bolsonaro supporter earlier in July. The instances of political violence have only risen in recent years and are highly likely to grow further as the elections come closer. Bolsonaro’s political rhetoric has managed to create a certain mob mentality among his supporters which is critically against the tenets of democracy. On September 7, 2021, tens of thousands of his supporters rallied against the Supreme Court protesting the mandates against the Bolsonaro government. While no instances of violence were reported from the incident, this does not leave out the possibility of organised violent attacks in the future. As he has previously acknowledged, losing political power can mean criminal indictment for him. Hence, Bolsonaro could very well rally his supporters to either hold onto power or hold onto his mass support base in case he loses the elections.

While Lula’s supporters will be hoping for a first round majority win to dispel the troubles of post-election violence, Bolsonaro’s supporters will consider a loss as part of a conspiracy against their leader and will likely rally against the democratic institutions of the country, possibly taking the violent route. Whatever the result may be, the October elections are set to be the toughest test for democracy yet, one that holds the capacity of changing the course of democracy in Brazil forever.

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