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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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Americas

Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.

It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships. Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to produce a political earthquake within the United States that would topple President Biden. No soul searching of the kind that Americans experienced during the Vietnam War is likely to emerge. Rather, Washington is busy recalibrating its global involvement. It is focusing even more on strengthening the home base. Overseas, the United States is moving from a global crusade in the name of democracy to an active defense of liberal values at home and Western positions abroad.

Afghanistan has been the most vivid in a long series of arguments that persuaded Biden’s White House that a global triumph of liberal democracy is not achievable in the foreseeable future. Thus, remaking problematic countries—“draining the swamp” that breeds terrorism, in the language of the Bush administration—is futile. U.S. military force is a potent weapon, but no longer the means of first resort. The war on terror as an effort to keep the United States safe has been won: in the last twenty years, no major terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil. Meantime, the geopolitical, geoeconomic, ideological, and strategic focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted. China is the main—some say, existential—challenger, and Russia the principal disrupter. Iran, North Korea, and an assortment of radical or extremist groups complete the list of adversaries. Climate change and the pandemic have risen to the top of U.S. security concerns. Hence, the most important foreign policy task is to strengthen the collective West under strong U.S. leadership.

The global economic recession that originated in the United States in 2007 dealt a blow to the U.S.-created economic and financial model; the severe domestic political crisis of 2016–2021 undermined confidence in the U.S. political system and its underlying values; and the COVID-19 disaster that hit the United States particularly hard have all exposed serious political, economic, and cultural issues and fissures within American society and polity. Neglecting the home base while engaging in costly nation-building exercises abroad came at a price. Now the Biden administration has set out to correct that with huge infrastructure development projects and support for the American middle class.

America’s domestic crises, some of the similar problems in European countries, and the growing gap between the United States and its allies during the Trump presidency have produced widespread fears that China and Russia could exploit those issues to finally end U.S. dominance and even undermine the United States and other Western societies from within. This perception is behind the strategy reversal from spreading democracy as far and wide as Russia and China to defending the U.S.-led global system and the political regimes around the West, including in the United States, from Beijing and Moscow.

That said, what are the implications of the Biden doctrine? The United States remains a superpower with enormous resources which is now trying to use those resources to make itself stronger. America has reinvented itself before and may well be able to do so again. In foreign policy, Washington has stepped back from styling itself as the world’s benign hegemon to assume the combat posture of the leader of the West under attack.

Within the collective West, U.S. dominance is not in danger. None of the Western countries are capable of going it alone or forming a bloc with others to present an alternative to U.S. leadership. Western and associated elites remain fully beholden to the United States. What they desire is firm U.S. leadership; what they fear is the United States withdrawing into itself. As for Washington’s partners in the regions that are not deemed vital to U.S. interests, they should know that American support is conditional on those interests and various circumstances. Nothing new there, really: just ask some leaders in the Middle East. For now, however, Washington vows to support and assist exposed partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.

Embracing isolationism is not on the cards in the United States. For all the focus on domestic issues, global dominance or at least primacy has firmly become an integral part of U.S. national identity. Nor will liberal and democratic ideology be retired as a major driver of U.S. foreign policy. The United States will not become a “normal” country that only follows the rules of realpolitik. Rather, Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.

In sum, the Biden doctrine does away with engagements that are no longer considered promising or even sustainable by Washington; funnels more resources to address pressing domestic issues; seeks to consolidate the collective West around the United States; and sharpens the focus on China and Russia as America’s main adversaries. Of all these, the most important element is domestic. It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

From our partner RIAC

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Americas

AUKUS aims to perpetuate the Anglo-Saxon supremacy

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Image credit: ussc.edu.au

On September 15, U.S. President Joe Biden worked with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison together to unveil a trilateral alliance among Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS), which are the major three among the Anglo-Saxon nations (also including Canada and New Zealand). Literally, each sovereign state has full right to pursue individual or collective security and common interests. Yet, the deal has prompted intense criticism across the world including the furious words and firm acts from the Atlantic allies in Europe, such as France that is supposed to lose out on an $40-billion submarine deal with Australia to its Anglo-Saxon siblings—the U.K. and the U.S.

               Some observers opine that AUKUS is another clear attempt by the U.S. and its allies aggressively to provoke China in the Asia-Pacific, where Washington had forged an alliance along with Japan, India and Australia in the name of the Quad. AUKUS is the latest showcase that three Anglo-Saxon powers have pretended to perpetuate their supremacy in all the key areas such as geopolitics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. In short, the triple deal is a move designed to discourage or thwart any future Chinese bid for regional hegemony. But diplomatically its impacts go beyond that. As French media argued that the United States, though an ally of France, just backstabs it by negotiating AUKUS in secret without revealing the plan. Given this, the deal among AUKUS actually reflects the mentality of the Anglo-Saxon nations’ superiority over others even if they are not outrageously practicing an imperialist policy in the traditional way.

               Historically, there are only two qualified global powers which the Europeans still sometimes refer to as “Anglo-Saxon” powers: Great Britain and the United States. As Walter Mead once put it that the British Empire was, and the United States is, concerned not just with the balance of power in one particular corner of the world, but with the evolution of what it is today called “world order”. Now with the rise of China which has aimed to become a global power with its different culture and political views from the current ruling powers, the Anglo-Saxon powers have made all efforts to align with the values-shared allies or partners to create the strong bulwarks against any rising power, like China and Russia as well. Physically, either the British Empire or the United States did or does establish a worldwide system of trade and finance which have enabled the two Anglo-Saxon powers to get rich and advanced in high-technologies. As a result, those riches and high-tech means eventually made them execute the power to project their military force that ensure the stability of their-dominated international systems. Indeed the Anglo-Saxon powers have had the legacies to think of their global goals which must be bolstered by money and foreign trade that in turn produces more wealth. Institutionally, the Anglo-Saxon nations in the world—the U.S., the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have formed the notorious “Five eyes alliance” to collect all sorts of information and data serving their common core interests and security concerns.

This is not just rhetoric but an objective reflection of the mentality as Australian Foreign Minister Payne candidly revealed at the press conference where she said that the contemporary state of their alliance “is well suited to cooperate on countering economic coercion.” The remarks imply that AUKUS is a military response to the rising economic competition from China because politics and economics are intertwined with each other in power politics, in which military means acts in order to advance self-interested economic ends. In both geopolitical and geoeconomic terms, the rise of China, no matter how peaceful it is, has been perceived as the “systematic” challenges to the West’s domination of international relations and global economy, in which the Anglo-Saxon superiority must remain. Another case is the U.S. efforts to have continuously harassed the Nord Stream 2 project between Russia and Germany.

Yet, in the global community of today, any superpower aspiring for pursuing “inner clique” like AUKUS will be doomed to fail. First, we all are living in the world “where the affairs of each country are decided by its own people, and international affairs are run by all nations through consultation,” as President Xi put it. Due to this, many countries in Asia warn that AUKUS risks provoking a nuclear arms race in the Asian-Pacific region. The nuclear factor means that the U.S. efforts to economically contain China through AUKUS on nationalist pretexts are much more dangerous than the run-up to World War I. Yet, neither the United States nor China likes to be perceived as “disturbing the peace” that Asian countries are eager to preserve. In reality, Asian countries have also made it clear not to take either side between the power politics.

Second, AUKUS’s deal jeopardizes the norms of international trade and treaties. The reactions of third parties is one key issue, such as the French government is furious about the deal since it torpedoes a prior Australian agreement to purchase one dozen of conventional subs from France. Be aware that France is a strong advocate for a more robust European Union in the world politics. Now the EU is rallying behind Paris as in Brussels EU ambassadors agreed to postpone preparations for an inaugural trade and technology council on September 29 with the U.S. in Pittsburgh. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared in a strong manner that “since one of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we need to know what happened and why.” Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for European affairs, went even further as he put it, “It is once again a wake-up call for all of us in the European Union to ask ourselves how we can strengthen our sovereignty, how we can present a united front even on issues relevant to foreign and security policy.” It is the time for the EU to talk with one voice and for the need to work together to rebuild mutual trust among the allies.

Third, the deal by AUKUS involves the nuclear dimension. It is true that the three leaders have reiterated that the deal would be limited to the transfer of nuclear propulsion technology (such as reactors to power the new subs) but not nuclear weapons technology. Accordingly, Australia remains a non-nuclear country not armed with such weapons. But from a proliferation standpoint, that is a step in the direction of more extensive nuclear infrastructure. It indicates the United States and the U.K. are willing to transfer highly sensitive technologies to close allies. But the issue of deterrence in Asia-and especially extended deterrence-is extremely complicated since it will become ore so as China’s nuclear arsenal expands. If the security environment deteriorates in the years ahead, U.S. might consider allowing its core allies to gain nuclear capabilities and Australia is able to gain access to this technology as its fleet expands. Yet, it also means that Australia is not a non-nuclear country any more.

In brief, the deal itself and the triple alliance among AUKUS will take some years to become a real threat to China or the ruling authorities of the country. But the deal announced on Sept. 15 will complicate Chinese efforts to maintain a peaceful rise and act a responsible power. Furthermore, the deal and the rationales behind it is sure to impede China’s good-will to the members of AUKUS and the Quad, not mention of their irresponsible effects on peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Americas

Was Trump better for the world than Biden, after all?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joe Biden and the State Department just approved a major deal with the Saudis for 500mln in choppers maintanance. Effectively, the US sold its soul to the Saudis again after the US intelligence services confirmed months ago that the Saudi Prince is responsible for the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration is already much more inhumane and much worse than Trump. Biden doesn’t care about the thousands of American citizens that he left behind at the mercy of the Taliban, the Biden administration kills innocent civilians in drone strikes, they are in bed with the worst of the worsts human right violators calling them friendly nations. 

Biden dropped and humiliated France managing to do what no US President has ever accomplished —  make France pull out its Ambassador to the US, and all this only to go bother China actively seeking the next big war. Trump’s blunders were never this big. And this is just the beginning. There is nothing good in store for America and the world with Biden. All the hope is quickly evaporating, as the world sees the actions behind the fake smile and what’s behind the seemingly right and restrained rhetoric on the surface. It’s the actions that matter. Trump talked tough talk for which he got a lot of criticism and rarely resorted to military action. Biden is the opposite: he says all the right things but the actions behind are inhumane and destructive. It makes you wonder if Trump wasn’t actually better for the world.

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