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

Prof. Louis René Beres

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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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Latin America – Russia: An Agenda for Constructive Cooperation in the Post-COVID-19 Era

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On Tuesday, August 4, the outstanding video-conference “Latin America – Russia: an Agenda for Constructive Cooperation in the Post-COVID-19 Era” was held organized by the Valdai Club , the Russian Embassy in Guatemala, the American Chamber of commerce  (AmCham), the Central American Parliament  (Parlacen) the SIECA(Central American Secretariat for Economic Integration), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the CRIES of Argentina (Regional Coordination of Economic and Social Research).

The video conference was attended by Alexis Rodzianko as moderator (president of AmCham Russia). And an outstanding panel of speakers with:

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov; Nadia de León (chairman of PARLACEN) Melvin Redondo (general secretary of the SIECA); Yaroslav Lissovolik (programme director at Valdai Club); Richard Kozul Wright (director of division on globalization and development strategies UNCTAD);  Daniel Russell (Ceo of USRBC) and Lila Roldan Vásquez (head of the CARI –Argentina- Eurasian studies group)

After a brief presentation and comments by the moderator Alexis Rodzianko (president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce) on the nature of the video-conference and the panelists in it, Russian Deputy-Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov started the dialogue expressing his satisfaction with the existence of this kind of spaces for reflection in such difficult global times. We quote some of his more outstanding phrases:

Russia and the United States continue their dialogue on joint efforts to combat the pandemic, and this is good news”.

Washington, however, does not abandon its claims for global hegemony. This poses a threat to international stability and security.”.

He stated the need to increase channels of cooperation when the coronavirus is ravaging the entire planet, for the first time in humanity, it faces a threat that affects the entire planet, this poses a dramatic challenge, the frustrating statistics of Covid- 19 have the same effects as a war, this era requires the consolidation of international efforts together and that Russia hopes that large-scale cooperation can act as a vector for a more multipolar world.

He also denounced international actors, the countries that privilege self-interest over those of the international community in times of crisis due to the pandemic. He cataloged irresponsible and short-sighted countries that ignoring the UN declarations, mainly the western powers, continue with sanctions measures to other countries, sanctions that hinder the acquisition of medical supplies and assistance, including Latin American countries, without even foreseeing the lifting of sanctions even for the time of the pandemic.

He was also very critical of the attitude of the United States in various multilateral fields such as its withdrawal from the Open Skies treaties; missile weapons treaties such as INF and START II; the North-American withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

On the cooperation agenda of Latin America – Russia, he highlighted the negative factors that Latin America faces in its current situation:

Latin America continues to face dramatic social inequalities and political de-stabilizations: The US continues its efforts to redraw the political map of Latin America to serve its interests.”

He stressed that:

From Russia with much disappointment and concern some time ago we observed how the Monroe Doctrine and all the ideology linked to it was officially reintroduced by the United States.”.

As positive factors he pondered that for Russia, Latin America has always been a region of political tolerance, economic opportunities and cultural affinity:

  • For Russia, the relationship with Latin America is a value in itself of its foreign policy and bases its cooperation agenda in the region based on a pragmatic and de-ideological vision, Russia does not seek to engage its partners in geopolitical dilemmas where they must choose between friends and enemies”.
  • And these links have always had a positive dynamic in energy, communications, technology, medicine, logistics and transportation. We seek technological and commercial alliances, diversifying their bases”.
  • “A paramount of Russian cooperation with Latin America was the activation in 2019 of the Latin American Institute of Biotechnology (in Managua, Nicaragua) that produces, insulin and interferon and vaccines for Latin American consumption”.

Despite the delicate situation worldwide, the deputy-minister remained optimistic that crises improve prospects for international cooperation, and that Russia-Latin America cooperation will continue to consolidate.

 “During this pandemic, Russian assistance has been received by: Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, in testing teams and personal health protection, in addition to humanitarian aid.”

The possibility of assistance to other countries in the region such as Paraguay, Colombia, and Peru has been addressed.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund announced the signing of an agreement under which 150,000 Avifavir packages will be sent to seven Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay. In addition, Russia will also send supplies of the antiviral drug to South Africa and transfer the technology to Bolivian firm Sigma Corp SRL in order for it to be produced locally.

Closing of the presentation

The deputy-minister Ryabkov cerró su presentación marcando que en las difíciles circunstancias actuales es fundamental evitar la politización de la situación de la pandemia, un verdadero desafío global, que requiere esfuerzos conjuntos entre todos los Estados, y que Rusia está preparada para hacer su aporte y que lo está haciendo.

The deputy-minister Ryabkov closed his presentation by stating that in the current difficult circumstances it is essential to avoid politicizing the situation of the pandemic, a true global challenge, which requires joint efforts between all States, and that Russia is ready to make its contribution, and it’s doing it.

Questions and Answers Section

In the questions and answers section of the dialogue, he answered a question about the role of Russia in the binomial-dilemma that would appear to present itself to Latin America in the strategic competition between the US and China:

Russia won’t be part of that geopolitical game” 

He made it clear that Russia will surely not be part of a possible geopolitical triangular game with the US and China in Latin America, since it does not have the same capabilities as the other two actors (US-China) and that from the strategic vision of Russia relations with Latin America should be characterized by a cooperative logic of mutual benefit (win-win) and pragmatism, the relationship with this region should not emulate previous models of relations between center and periphery and he highlighted the Russian-Argentine relationship as an example of a link of mutual benefit.

Russia will not act for Latin America as an actor to support itself in a counterbalance, to offset the competition between Beijing and Washington in the region, but it will continue to maintain cooperative relations with Latin America, although he clarified that trilateral cooperation, as in the case of the Covid-19 pandemic should not be ruled out.

 “Those practices go against the core elements and principles of international law and the United Nations Charter.”

It was his answer to the question about Russia’s position on the persistent US policies of imposing economic sanctions unilaterally (such as in the blockades against Cuba and Venezuela) that impede the fluidity of international cooperation (in times of pandemic, necessary international aid) and that Russia has also been suffering the same extortionary measures since the referendums that consecrated the return of the Crimean territories to Russia in 2014, and in which in this aspect Russia has not found a “common ground” with the United States for dialogue.

“We have to find ways to ensure relief to the countries most in need and with the fewest resources” 

He argued that it is the responsibility of institutions such as those of the Breton Woods system, the G20, the Club de Paris, the economic powerhouses to find coherent strategies to achieve this objective. Macroeconomic policies of expansion, not austerity, should be promoted globally.

My own questions

As an observer-participant of the digital event, I was able to ask the Deputy-Minister two questions:

 “is there any prospect from Russia to collaborate with South American efforts to “catch up” with the latest technology?”

In this response, he expressed his wish that such cooperation be carried out, since Russia has a lot to contribute, he said regarding the digitization of public services, of special interest today in public health services, other axes of technological cooperation could include biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and he stated that Russia is not exaggerating by claiming that it has made important advances in the development of drugs that help combat Covid-19 in the near future. Regarding this, he highlighted the observations of his presentation, where he mentioned that Russia has significantly promoted the installation of technology in Central America (the Latin American Institute of Biotechnology).Other areas of cooperation of interest mentioned were telecommunications and the peaceful use of nuclear power, agricultural technology.

These cooperation dynamics, he argued, will always be guided by pragmatic visions; Russia will not subject its partners to geopolitical dilemmas.

 is there any interest from Russia to improve Argentina’s naval capabilities in fishing, hydrocarbons, naval surveillance, etc?

In this regard, he pointed out that initial contacts had taken place in the Macri administration and that he is sure that under the administration of President Alberto Fernández these contacts would continue.

He quoted the slogan: “it is the economy, stupid” when explaining the interest that exists between both governments and their respective businessmen to associate in relation to the naval field, but the contacts are still distant.

Regarding fishing exploitation, he acknowledged his lack of knowledge about any Russian-Argentine association project on the subject, but he stressed that this doesn’t mean that it is not an interesting area of cooperation to continue advancing the in the bilateral agenda.

For the last, he emphasized that when travel and contacts will be reestablished, all those axes of cooperation can be discussed further, without major impediments.

From our partner International Affairs

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Hiroshima and the Peace of the Bomb

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Seventy five years ago this week, the world witnessed a cataclysm that was to change the nature of war forever:  The atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and worse — while the Japanese argued among themselves about whether and how to surrender — a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later on August 9th.  Now there was no other rational choice, and the Japanese gave up.

If anything good ever came out of a war, it was the generous peace.  The US helped in the reconstruction of the defeated nations.  As a teenaged student in London, I remember visiting Germany a dozen years after the war ended.  Major centers had been flattened by the bombing.  In Hamburg, one would see a few residential buildings and then ruins as far as the eye could see as if a massive earthquake had hit.  A never ending horror across all major cities and a shortage of labor.  So the Turks came … and stayed.  Welcome then, not so much now.   

The Germans were humble — a humility that would gradually diminish with the country’s resurgence as one observed over succeeding decades.  Cleanliness and order are part of the national psyche, particularly the latter.  Everything in order — ‘Alles in ordnung‘.  It even applies on a personal level as someone might ask exactly that if you appear disturbed.  It then means, ‘Everything okay?’

A grease spot on the otherwise fresh tablecloth at breakfast, my fastidious six-year old daughter complained.  It was whisked away with apologies and immediately replaced.  Order restored.  Ordnung muss sein says the German proverb.

In dollar terms, Germany is now the world’s fourth largest economy, Japan the third.  The world has not ended despite economic interests being often cited as a cause of war.  In fact, we are grateful for their products judging by the numbers of their automobile names in the US.  Japan appears to have eclipsed the famed auto giants of the past, GM, Ford and Chrysler and UK icons long forgotten.  And Donald J. Trump has a beef with both countries and is busy pulling out troops from Germany.   Of course the giant dragon of exporters to the US, namely China, is for President Trump our public enemy number one.

The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the end, merely the beginning, and at the back of our minds remains the terrifying hope that it is not the beginning of the end.

Following the US, there soon were other nuclear powers:  the UK and the Soviet Union followed by France, then China.  After China, India was not to be left behind, and after India the same logic applied to Pakistan.  Then there is Israel seeking external security while like diseased fruit, it rots from the inside.  And let us not forget nutty North Korea.

When the US and the Soviet Union faced off with thousands of nuclear weapons, the strategists produced the theory of mutually assured destruction.  Its acronym MAD was closer to the truth than its Pentagon proponents could ever have imagined for they would have destroyed not just each other but the world.

Even India and Pakistan with 100-plus weapons each could cause a nuclear winter from the fall-out and the dust covered skies.  The subsequent crop losses and famines would kill many more across the world than the devastation wrought by the bombs.  It is just one more reason why nation states could eventually become obsolete.

Fortunately, for the human race, nuclear war is more potent in the threat than in the execution; the latter  would certainly certify MAD.  The response to a military threat carrying the phrase ‘by all means necessary’ is enough to cool things down quickly.  It was Pakistan’s reply to India’s threat to expand an incident in the disputed Kashmir region with an attack on mainland Pakistan.  In that sense, nuclear weapons have become a sort of insurance policy.  Pakistan and India have fought several major wars but none since both sides acquired nuclear weapons.  The cost is unthinkable, and one hopes will remain so in the minds of strategists.

Such is the world my generation is leaving to you:  flawed but holding together all the same.

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China Replacing Russia as the Boogeyman in the U.S. Presidential Campaign

Danil Bochkov

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During the 2016 U.S. Presidential bid, Russia was picked as a scapegoat to justify the loss endured by the Democratic party candidate. Moscow was vilified for interfering in the election via the dissemination of false information. After the election, a judicial investigation was launched, ending with no evidence of the collusion.

Despite that fact, in 2017 and 2018, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions against Russian entities. This led to the further aggravation of already sour ties undermined by the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. As an act of reprisal for Moscow’s alleged meddling into the conflict, U.S. Congress initiated new economic sanctions.

Russia became what can be regarded as a boogeyman to be reprimanded for whatever misfortune happens — be it ex-spy Sergei Skripal’s poisoning in 2018 or Russia’s alleged bombings of peaceful residents in eastern Aleppo. Russia got blamed for everything, even though the evidence was missing.

In 2017 the U.S. and Russia crossed swords in a diplomatic row by cutting staff numbers and closing each other’s consulates. Since then, both countries have been experiencing alienation from one another, culminating in the recent cancellation of several arms control agreements (i.e., INF, Open Skies).

By the same token, the U.S. has recently upped the ante in handling thorny issues with China, which came under the spotlight during the American presidential campaign. Both candidates — J. Biden and D. Trump — appeal to their supporters using China, competing for the reputation of leaders with the toughest stance towards Beijing.

China is an obvious target of criticism for the U.S. President, who is adamant about securing his second term in office. It is hard to find any other positive agenda as soon as he failed to deliver an efficacious response to the pandemic, which has already put the country’s economy at risk of recession with a gloomy long-term economic outlook.

Russia can no longer alone serve as a scapegoat for misdoings of U.S. politicians. Such rhetoric has been present in American media for such a long time that it has eventually lost some of its appeal to the U.S. audience.

Following a blueprint tailored for Russia, the U.S. has resorted to a maximum pressure campaign against China. In 2018 a full-scale trade war erupted and was followed by sanctions introduced against the most vital industry for China’s global rise — the hi-tech sector. Huawei and ZTE were swiped from the U.S. market. The U.S. also has been widely applying its longer-used instrument of sanctions not solemnly limited to hi-tech giants. Chinese officials in Xinjiang and foreigners doing business in Hong Kong also fell under various restrictions.

As for now, the pendulum has swung from economic agenda to geopolitics and ideology — with the latter being a novelty for U.S. policy towards China. Despite that, China and Russia were already labelled “rival powers … that seek to challenge American values” in 2017, Trump’s national strategy.

In January 2020, Secretary of State M. Pompeo called the Communist Party of China (CPC) the “central threat of our times.” As for Russian ideology, the country was already eloquently described as an “evil state” during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. In July 2020, Mr. Pompeo called on the Chinese people to help “change the behavior” of their government. Thus, he designated CPC as an ideological and independent entity separate from Chinese citizens.

In order to sharpen the rhetoric, U.S. politicians stopped addressing Xi Jinping as “president,” calling him “general secretary” instead — an act which deprives Mr. Xi of political legitimacy usually bestowed upon the elected leader. Another menacing sign is that the U.S. is reportedly reviewing a proposal to ban CPC members from traveling to the U.S., which would basically mean the start of an active phase of ideological confrontation.

Similar to the 2017 Russian-American diplomatic row, today the U.S. and China are also exchanging attacks on each other’s diplomatic missions. For example, from geostrategic perception, in mid-July, the U.S. officially recognized China’s claims in the South China Sea as “unlawful” and made it clear that its strengthening of the policy with regard to SCS is aimed at halting China’s use of coercion.

Both countries do not want to play alone in a tit-for-tat game. The U.S. has already summoned its allies to form a group of democratic countries to oppose the CPC. France and Britain have recently bowed to long-term U.S. pressure to convince allies to steer clear of the Chinese 5G technology.

China is also gearing up by upholding contacts with its tried and tested partners — namely Russia. Despite a minuscule slide in bilateral trade (a 4% decline compared to 2019) amid COVID-19, political cooperation has been developing. In early July, both countries demonstrated close coordination in high-level international organizations by vetoing extension of cross-border aid in Syria. During a telephone call to Vladimir Putin on July 8, President Xi vowed to intensify coordination with Russia internationally, including in the UN.

Russia and China currently maintain close and regular cooperation. According to the Russian ambassador to China A. Denisov, up to now, both presidents have held four telephone conversations and are currently working on preparation for a state visit of the Russian President to China, as well as on the participation of Xi Jinping in SCO and BRICS forums in Russia with open dates.

A new trend in China-Russia cooperation can be noted in the sphere of coordination of bilateral actions to oppose Western ideological pressure in the media. On July 24, spokespeople of the Ministries of foreign affairs held a video-conference on the information agenda. The parties recognized Western powers’ attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of China and Russia by disseminating fake news and placing restrictions on journalists’ work.

U.S. attempts to alienate and isolate China provide Beijing with no other choice but to seek further expansion of cooperation with like-minded states, be it Russia or any other country open for cooperation.

From our partner RIAC

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