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Three Turning Points of China’s Military Strategic Thoughts

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The Chinese army is long known for its experience in the ways of strategic and tactical warfare. Being a country that boasts a large population, it has an endless supply of troops. Having adopted the core values of Western military warfare, Chinese strategists like Mao Zedong and many others came up with unique political and military ideological systems to suit China. These days, most of its military school of thought have been successfully passed down. Despite China’s somewhat extensive military ideological system, the core of its system boils down to two values, namely highly mobile operations, and a highly self-sacrificial spirit. For instance, the Chinese army, known for its Guerrilla Warfare, which is a part of mobile operations, is itself an understanding and application of the knowledge. Military strength on the other hand, is a manifestation of the country’s strong self-sacrificial spirit, a trait that is observed in political warfare too. These two attributes are what make up the core of China’s military strategic thinking and served as a catalyst to propel the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to greater heights.

Both core values are largely related to China’s long years of warfare. The guerrilla warfare in the region of Jinggang Mountains during the 1920s allowed Chinese army leaders to realize that mobile operations were key to surviving and coming out on top. Meanwhile, the war against Japan during the 1930s to 1940s taught the then highly illiterate and disorganized Chinese army, the importance of sacrificial spirit. Consequently, China’s military leaders began emphasizing the importance of practical knowledge and downplayed the importance of military ideology and theory, whichthey were known to blindly uphold, owing to their military tradition and long years of wars.

Following decades of peace, China eventually entered a political stalemate. Though when the Cultural Revolution swept over the country, and politics took a turn for the extreme, it affected the Chinese military and strategic ideology and caused the systems to be expressed in an abstract and overly simplified multi-faceted manner. To cite some examples, these were the words spoken by Lin Biao, then marshal of China.“First of all, you must fear no hardships. Second, you must fear no death”. To which PLA General Xu Shiyou added, “There is only death in failure”. Given China’s political environment then, the Chinese army turned into a political organization and its military power fell.

Even in that political environment, the Chinese commanders’ speeches varied based on the context. For example, while most of Lin Biao’s publicized speeches were political, in some unique occasions, however, they were spoken with foresight and showed Lin Biao’s true capability. During the meeting at the Military Commission on February 27, 1960, he was reported saying, “(1) In the future, wars are determined by the press of a button. (2) The most urgent, most important, and largest priority in our preparation for war is to revolutionize cutting-edge weapons. (3) Future wars will not only rely on infantry, but the air force and missiles too. Air forces will play a greater role on the battlefield, it may even determine the outcome of the war at some point, and we need to prioritize its development.” Lin Biao’s speech gave China the wake-up call that it needed to revamp its military, though it was ultimately three major events that truly allowed the country’s military to break away from politics and begin redefining their objectives.

The first major event took place in 1979.

Between February 17 to March 16, 1979, a brief but large-scale, heavy casualty war broke out between China and Vietnam. China had invested in a total of 9 infantry and 29 army division of alarming sizes in the east and west lines, namely the 11th Army, 13th Army, 14th Army, 41st Army, 42nd Army, 43rd Army, The 50th Army, 54th Army, 55th Army and 20th Army 58th Division, Guangxi Military Region Independent Division, Yunnan Provincial Military Region Independent Division, 2 Guangxi Military Region Frontier Regiments & 1 Frontier Battalion, 4 Yunnan Provincial Military Region Frontier Regiments and 3 border defence battalions, 2 artillery divisions (1st artillery, 4th artillery), 3 anti-aircraft artillery divisions (65th artillery division, 70th artillery division, 72th artillery division), and finally, military units such as railway, engineering, and communication troops. The troop size was estimated to be 220,000, rivalling the military strength of the Korean War at one point, though with further and better technical equipment. The Vietnamese troops confronted China with 6 infantry divisions (3rd, 345, 346, 316A, 338, 325B divisions), more than 10 local regiments & 20 independent battalions, and 4 artillery regiments. Later, they were joined by the infantry 327, 337 divisions and several independent regiments, independent battalions, special battalions, artillery, engineering, communications among many other units. About 100,000 people joined Vietnamese’s army forces, which depended on local troops and large numbers of armed militias to coordinate assaults. The entire battle stretched up to hundreds of kilometers and the Chinese army seized more than 20 small and medium-sized cities, and rural counties in northern Vietnam within a month.

Many officers’ account and battle records about the war were declassified from 2018 to 2020 and made public. Unlike most conventional news or qualitative reports, the records detailed the brutalities of the war and the Chinese PLA’s actual combat capabilities at the time. This includes blind commands issued by senior generals and plans revealing the detachment strategy formulated based on the battlefield. To quote an example, during the Cao Bang Campaign, the Chinese army deployed 6 troops and 11 divisions against 1 division (15,000 troops) from the Vietnamese army. They employed large-scale penetration manoeuvre to surround and annihilate the Vietnamese forces. Originally, the campaign was meant to last for 3 to 5 days only, yet it dragged on for 28 days, and continued to persist even as the Vietnamese army had retreated. The Chinese commanders ordered the annihilation of all oppressing forces, though after passing through several ranks of officers, the order was misinterpreted as an attempt to defend the site at all costs, even as the Vietnamese forces had successfully penetrated into Chinese territories following a surprise attack. Since many grassroots officers lacked the cartographical concept, most senior officers within the division were demoted, and were made to replace the grassroots officers to assume command over the troops instead, veteran commanders included. Chaos broke out among the grassroots officers, soldiers were openly holding senior officers at gunpoint for food, discarding many weapons and equipment at random, regiment-level cadres faked injuries to return to China. The Chinese battalion cadres relinquished their controls over the troops, resulting in large casualties and an eventual surrender. The sight of a few Vietnamese agents was enough to send the Chinese army into panic, causing them to shoot and kill one another, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the loss all supplies.

The Sino-Vietnamese war was led by second-line generals who had experienced wars. They were pick from the best veteran generals possible who were battle-hardened and could still be called to arms. In terms of high-level strategic command, the Chinese army was commanded by Yang Dezhi during the early stages, followed by Zhang Quanxiu later at the west line, while the east was commanded by Xu Shiyou. For advanced strategic command, Wang Shangrong, head of the War Department of the General Staff, was tasked with overseeing all preparations and decision-making concerning the operation. A week before launching the counterattack, Wang Shangrong mobilized the command team into the command center. The counterattack lasted for a month. For tens of days, he did not leave his post. Looking at the Sino-Vietnamese War in the grander scheme of things, even the Western media who chose to side with China then remarked that the country relied heavily on infantry assaults in dense formations, and that it employed warfare tactics similar to the Korean War in the 1950s. The Indian army, who were closely observing the war, too found that the Chinese army was far different from the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

The tragic reality and the outcome of the Sino-Vietnamese war caused China’s military community to realize old-fashioned strategies, traditional means and conventional military school of thoughts no longer work in modern wars. Following the war, Xu Shiyou, who was infamous for his mediocrity and excessive use of brute force to resolve matters, was immediately relieved of any substantial military command post after the war. Concurrently, the issue of military reform was finally brought to attention due to the impact of the war, and the country began unifying its military school of thought, with Deng Xiaoping launching a massive disarmament eventually. That said, while the Sino-Vietnamese war served as a critical turning point for China’s strategic thought, the major problems that plagued the Chinese military remained. How should the Chinese military fight and how should modern warfare be fought? Conventional strategic thought continued to be super controversial. Be it to enhance and strengthen the original military system and strategic thought, or to carry out reforms on a larger scale, many disputes concerning these major issues could not be resolved. However, these issues were finally addressed during the second major event.

The second major turning point came in 1990.

A major event that shocked the world in 1990 was the outbreak of the Gulf War. The Gulf War refers to the war between the U.S.-led coalition consisting of 34 countries and Iraq during the period of August 2, 1990,to February 28, 1991, which was also known as Operation Desert Storm. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, overthrew the Kuwaiti government, and declared the “return” of Kuwait and the “unity” of Greater Iraq. After obtaining the authorization of the United Nations, the multinational force led by the United States launched a military offensive against the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq on January 17, 1991. The main combat consisted of 42 days of air strikes and 100 hours of ground combat on the borders of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf War was the first large-scale war led by the U.S. forces since the Vietnam War, and also the first war between United Nations member states. In the war, the US military put a large number of high-tech weapons into actual combat for the first time. In particular, the U.S. Air Force used various guided bombs to attack from aircraft carriers, showing overwhelming superiority in air and electronic control. The new modern war and the first live broadcast by satellite left a deep impression on the whole world and China. The U.S. Air Force conducts thousands of sorties a day, using guided bombs, cluster bombs, air-fuel bombs, and cruise missiles. The primary objective of the U.S. forces was to destroy the Iraqi air force and air defenses, a task that was quickly accomplished, and allied air forces were virtually unimpeded throughout the rest of the war. Although Iraq’s air defenses were better than expected, U.S. Air Force only lost one F/A-18C fighter (AA403) on the first day of the war.

In the ground warfare, the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, in coordination with the 1st brigade of the 2nd Armored Division, attacked Kuwait from the east and quickly liberated Kuwait. The main American forces consist of five units of the 7th Infantry Division, including the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Armored Division, 3rd Armored Division and 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, with the 1st Armored Division of the British Army in Germany. It carried out a roundabout attack in the southern part of Iraq, bypassing the key defense areas of the Iraqi army and directly entering the western desert of Iraq. This unit quickly annihilated the Iraqi Republican Guard, which was far better equipped than the Chinese army and experienced in combat after the Iran-Iraq war. At the same time, the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps completed a spectacular detour, cutting off the main Iraqi forces and closing in. A long line of Iraqi army convoys and equipment formed on the highway leading from Kuwait to Iraq in front of live television cameras. The long convoy was so heavily bombed by U.S. aircraft that it earned the nickname “The Highway of Death”.

Within 100 hours of the ground warfare, then-President Bush declared victory and a multinational cease-fire. To the astonishment of the Chinese generals who commented on TV, the casualties of the U.S.-led allied forces in such a large-scale war were very small, with only 148 American soldiers killed, 47 British and only 2 French. On the Iraqi side, nearly all of its main forces, including the elite Republican Guard, have been hit hard. Most scholars believe that the number of Iraqi troops killed in war is between 25,000 and 75,000,and the number of wounded is unclear. In addition, the number of Iraqi troops captured by the Americans alone stands at 71,000.

Such a sharp contrast caused the war to have a subversive impact on China’s military strategic thinking. When Zhang Zhaozhong, an expert on Chinese military studies, and others commented on the progress of the war on CCTV, they were struck dumb by these scenes. Their error-prone comments even caused CCTV hosts to show dissatisfaction and questioning on the spot. It should be said that the modern mode of warfare demonstrated in the Gulf War deeply stimulated the whole Chinese army and completely overturned their conventional cognition. In the face of the war footage, it was not just a few television commentators who were stunned. In fact, it was the objective reflection of China’s military strategic thinking at that time. Judging from the results of the Gulf War, China’s conventional military strategic thinking, in fact, has been completely turned into “historical rubbish”, which has prompted China to reflect on its military thinking deeply. Because the objective fact is that China knows very well that it cannot defeat Vietnam in guerrilla warfare; it is no match for a modern military power like the United States in regular warfare. The practical conclusion is clear: the modern mode of warfare in the world has been completely changed, and China must carry out major reforms in military thinking and system to adapt to future wars.

Of course, the origin of China’s military reform is a long story, but it actually began after the 1990 Gulf War. It is worth noting that even with the emergence of modern war such as the Gulf War, the military reforms of that period only addressed a small number of minor issues. If the Chinese military system including the military is regarded as a person, the post-1990 reform, which involved merely the reform of the “limbs”. However, the reform of the military-strategic thinking and the military system, that is, the reform of “head of the armed forces” and the strategic thinking, were almost entirely left untouched. If there was any progress at all, it was slow and minimal. In fact, it was not until the military reform after 2012 that this problem was truly solved.

The third major turning point occurred in 2015.

Since China entered the 21st century, its national conditions have undergone major changes. First of all, population decline has become an unshakable reality. There is a widespread one-child policy throughout the country. The supply of soldiers is highly limited. The cost of recruiting is rising rapidly, andeven RMB 200,000 subsidies are required for every soldier recruited in developed regions and cities.Secondly, China’s economic growth has developed rapidly during the golden decade, with great improvement in the economic foundation and great progress in the military industry and equipment industry. The third is that after “China Can Say No” and “Peaceful Rise” thoughts, a more assertive China has moved towards the world and the vast ocean with “Belt and Road Initiative”.

In March 2014, the Central Military Commission (CMC) leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces was established, headed by President Xi Jinping, and the first plenary meeting was held, marking the beginning of the substantive progress of the reform. In January 2015, the leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces held the second plenary meeting and made arrangements for the proposed reform plan. In July of the same year, at the third plenary meeting of the leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces, the overall planning for deepening the reform of national defense and armed forces were reviewed and adopted in principle. Later, Xi presided over a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and the Standing Committee of Central Military Commission meeting to review the overall plan. On September 3, 2015, at the conference marking the 70th Anniversary of The Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and The World Anti-Fascist War, Xi Announced that China would cut its troop levels by 300,000. The following month, the Standing Committee of Central Military Commission meeting deliberated and adopted the “Implementation Plan for the PLA Leadership and Command System Reform”.On November 24-26 of the same year, the Central Military Commission Reform Work Conference was held. On November 28, the Central Military Commission issued the “Opinions on Deepening Reforms on National Defense and Armed Forces”, marking the official launch of military reform.

The national defense and military reform plan are based on the principle that the CMC is in charge of the chief command, the war zone and the services, including the adjustment of military headquarters system, implement CMC multi-sectoral system, establish army leading institutions and improve the services and arms lead management system, readjust the delimited war zone, establish joint operations command structures in commands, and improve the military commission agency and other measures. With the reform of the armed forces, the “The Fourth Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army”, the “seven military regions” and the “continental army” were all dismissed. The “Second Artillery Corps” was replaced by the “Rocket Force”, and the strategic support force was introduced. In addition, five major war zones were established, including major streamlining, major optimization, major readjustment, and major relocation of military forces. This is the most significant military reform in the history of the Chinese armed forces. Different from previous military reforms, this reform is real reform of the organizational system of the head of the armed forces. It represents and reflects the beginning of the construction and formation of a modern strategic ideological system in the Chinese armed forces.

As the Chinese army was initially formed by guerrilla warfare, then decades of war formed the ideological system of the “Continental Army” in the Chinese army, and its progress since then is more on the basis of Rudolf’s concept of “total war”. In 2015, after the first two major transitions, China finally entered the stage of joint campaign development in the third one. The so-called joint campaign refers to the campaign carried out jointly by two or more military service groups under the unified command of the joint command. This is where the Chinese military will be after the third major turn. Such a definition can also be proved in the “Vostok-2018” strategic exercise. The large-scale strategic exercise held by China and Russia after China’s military reform was a joint campaign exercise, which showed a certain degree of confidence.

To sum up, although the Chinese army has advanced to the stage of the joint campaign in terms of modernization after the three major transitions, it still has a long way to go before it becomes a powerful military force in the modern sense. Because the strategic thinking of modern world war lays the most emphasis on the ideas of the precision strike and war efficiency, the main progress of the world army is reflected in these aspects, while the Chinese army is still in the stage of the joint campaign, and the gap is still obvious. It is worth noting that since the massive Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979, China’s military is actually the only peaceful army among the world’s major powers, and it has not waged a real war for as long as 40 years. So, even though the Chinese army has undergone three major military changes, it is still military in a theoretical sense.

Founder of Anbound Think Tank in 1993, Chan Kung is now ANBOUND Chief Researcher. Chan Kung is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chan Kung‘s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.

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Defense

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

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Hieronymus Bosch, Last Judgement

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

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

In the Beginning

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

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

Always.

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

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

They ought never be relied upon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Intellectual Core

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevant Military Exercises

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

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

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

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

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

The Changing Balance of World Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold War II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Importance of Synergies[29] and Nuclear Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Question of Rationality

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

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

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

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

This now becomes an all-important question.

The Legal Standpoint and Nuclear Targeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What then?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Defense

Will India be sanctioned over the S-400 Air Defense System?

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The Russian S-400 air defense system has emerged as a serious concern for US policymakers. Amongst other states, US allies are seen purchasing and acquiring this state-of-the-art technology despite Washington’s objections.  Earlier in 2019, Turkey received the S-400 setting aside American concerns. India, a critical strategic partner of the US, also secured a $5.4 billion deal for the system in 2018 despite US opposition.

The US administration was considerably confident that it would succeed in persuading India to abandon the deal. The Indian government was warned by the Trump administration that the purchase of S-400 may invoke sanctions under the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA). It was also communicated to the Indian government that presence of Russian S-400 is likely to increase the vulnerability of American weaponry stationed in India which could limit the extent of US-India cooperation. The threat was largely ignored and India went ahead to pay an advance of $800 million to Russia for the system which is indicative of India’s desire to maintain strategic autonomy and its reluctance to form an official military alliance with USA.

When President Biden took office in January 2021, efforts were made once again to convince India to let go of the deal. Then-Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III discussed the air defense system with Rajnath Singh during his visit to India in March 2021. However, India showed no willingness to change its stance over its S-400 policy. 

The issue was also discussed during the three day visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on 6th October, 2021. She commented that the decision over the sanctions related to S-400 will be made by the US President and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. She further added that the US policy regarding any country that uses S-400 is considerably evident and the air defense system is not in anybody’s security interest. 

Historically, Indian air defense systems have largely comprised of Russian equipment and the Indian Air Force (IAF) predominantly operates Russian systems. India is unlikely to recede to American demands of abandoning the S-400 deal which is evident from the recent statements of two senior Indian officials. While addressing the Indian media on the 89th anniversary of IAF on 8th October, 2021, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari stressed that the S-400 should be inducted during the same year. Similarly, shortly after Wendy Sherman commented on S-400, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson gave a statement suggesting that the government was in negotiations with the US. Responding to a question on the S-400, Arindam Bagchi stated, ‘This has been under discussion between our two countries for some time. It was raised and we have discussed it and explained our perspective. And discussions on this are ongoing.’

Noting that India may receive the systems by the end of year, the US will soon be in a position where it will have to make a decision over whether to sanction India or not. The Indian attitude towards this issue suggests that it sees itself in a position where it can get a waiver by the US administration despite disregarding the latter’s concerns. Sanctioning India will erode the bilateral relationship of India and US at a time when Washington needs New Delhi in its larger objective of containing China. This is especially relevant since India is the only QUAD member which shares a border with China. Therefore, this option is not in American interest taking into account the current geopolitical situation.

The US President has the authority to waive off CAATSA sanctions if deemed necessary for American strategic interests. However, in February 2021, US openly declared that a blanket waiver was not a possibility for India. The rationale behind not providing a blanket waiver is that such an action can motivate other states to opt for the same in the hope of a potential waiver since countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have shown interest in acquiring the S-400 air defense system. This factor will also be taken into account while devising the sanctions.

It is likely that India may be sanctioned under CAATSA but the sanctions will largely be symbolic with little long-term implications. However, the Indian policy of strategic autonomy raises questions on the extent of the envisaged partnership between India and the US. Increasing dependence and use of Russian equipment will become a concern owing to the interoperability problems vis-à-vis US military systems. The role of India as an effective strategic ally against China is also questionable noting its strategic decisions which will harm American interests in the region. 

As a strategic partner, India has placed the American leadership in a difficult situation by purchasing the S-400 system. It will be interesting to see how the US articulates the sanctions against India over this purchase.  

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Defense

American submarine mangled in the South China Sea

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Tensions in the western Pacific have been simmering for the past many months. The western world led by the United States has begun to transfer more assets into the Indo-Pacific, in a bid to contain, if not restrict, the rampant rise of Chinese power in the volatile region.

The Americans have continued to expand their naval presence in the Western Pacific and the China seas. In October 2021, two carrier strike groups of the Nimitz-class supercarriers were deployed around the first island chain, led by the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). The British, in an attempt to regain lost momentum in the Indo-Pacific, deployed the HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), which sailed through the South China Sea earlier last month. The aforementioned vessels also sailed through the Philippine Sea alongside the Japanese MSDF Hyuga-class helicopter-carrier JS Ise (DDH-182), as part of multilateral naval exercises.

These actions, however, cannot be viewed as an unprecedented act of offence against the People’s Republic of China. The mainland Chinese have since late September been upping the ante in its long-lasting dispute with Taiwan. The Taiwanese Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) has been consistently violated by aircraft of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. On 4 October 2021 for instance, 52 aircraft of the PLAAF were identified in the southwestern sector of the Taiwan ADIZ. This included 34 Shenyang J-16 multirole fighters, 12 Xian H-6 nuclear-capable bombers, 2 Sukhoi Su-30 MKK multirole fighters, 2 Shaanxi Y-8 ASW aircraft and 2 Shaanxi KJ-500 AEW&C aircraft.

Figure 2: Illustration of PLAAF incursions into Taiwanese airspace on 4 Oct 2021 (Source: Ministry of National Defense, ROC)

Actions on such a massive scale are becoming increasingly frequent and are posing a serious threat to Taiwanese sovereignty and independence. The dynamics in the region are quickly evolving into a scenario similar to that of the cold war, with the formation of two distinct blocs of power. The United States and its allies – especially Japan – are keeping their eyes peeled on the developments taking place over the airspace of Taiwan, with the Chinese completely bailing out on promises of pursuing unification through peaceful means.

This aggression emerging from the communist regime in Beijing must be met with in order to contain their expansionist objectives. In pursuit of containing Chinese aggression and expansionism, the US Navy deployed the USS Connecticut (SSN-22) – a Seawolf-class nuclear attack submarine – on patrol in East and Southeast Asia. It made stops for supplies at Fleet Activities Yokosuka in Japan, and US Naval base Guam, before departing for the South China Sea. While the public announcement was made on 7 October 2021, the USS Connecticut was struck by an unknown underwater object, while submerged in the disputed region, on 2 October 2021. The incident did not affect the nuclear plant of the attack submarine, nor were there any serious injuries reported.

While the US Navy has not yet disclosed locations of where the submarine incident took place, Chinese think tank South China Sea Probing Initiative made use of satellite imagery to spot what they suspect as being the Seawolf-class submarine sailing 42.8 nm southeast off the disputed Paracel island group[1].

Figure 3: (Left) Map released by SCSPI marking claimed location of USS Connecticut on 3 October 2021 (R) Satellite imagery of suspected Seawolf-class submarine (Source: SCS Probing Initiative)

If this information is accurate, one cannot rule out the chance of this incident being in fact offensive action taken up by the Chinese against an American nuclear submarine sailing so close to a disputed group of shoals and isles over which Beijing adamantly claims sovereignty. But then again, the South China Sea is well known as being a tricky landscape for submarines to sail through submerged, with sharp ridges and a seabed scattered with shoals. Hydrographic and bathymetric failures have taken place in the past, resulting in devastating consequences. For instance, the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) collided with a seamount southeast of Guam in 2005. If one is to compare and contrast the claimed location of the USS Connecticut in Figure 3, with the bathymetric map of the South China Sea in Figure 4, it can be seen that the claimed sighting area is home to tricky geography, with steep ridges connecting waters as shallow as 1300 m to as deep as 3500 m.

Figure 4: Bathymetric of the South China Sea (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

However, given the vast improvement in the gathering of bathymetric and hydrographic data by US Navy Hydrography vessels, it can be possible to rule out the scenario of the USS Connecticut colliding with submarine features. One must then look into other possibilities and scenarios that incurred heavy damage onboard the USS Connecticut, which resulted in injuries to 11 of its sailors.

The possibility of this incident being the result of a nefarious Chinese attack on an American nuclear submarine sailing near territories claimed and occupied by Beijing must not be ruled out. The Chinese have exponentially increased their military aggression and activity over the past months and years, as can be viewed on the Indo-Sino border in the Himalayas and the cross-strait aggression in Taiwan. In the South China Sea, uninhabitable shoals have been converted into military bases supporting aerial capabilities as well as housing advanced radar systems and barracks. A submarine, warship, or any other vessel for that fact, can be considered to be ‘sailing behind enemy lines’.

Among several possibilities, one can be that the Chinese made use of unmanned underwater vehicles to counter the American submarine. In 2019, the PLA Navy put on exhibition its first autonomous underwater vehicle named HSU-001 (Figure 5). Submarine authority H I Sutton’s analysis of the paraded AUV described it as being worthy of long-range operations, with side-scanning sonar arrays and a magnetic anomaly detector to detect underwater targets. Such a vessel can be used for a vast variety of operations including marine surveying and reconnaissance, mine warfare and countermeasures, undersea cable inspection, and anti-submarine warfare.

Figure 5: Two of the HSU-001 AUVs on display in Beijing, 2019 (Source: Forbes).

The Chinese have also developed smaller underwater glider drones. In late December 2020, Indonesian fishermen fished out the ‘Sea Wing’ (Figure 6), which is an entirely different type of drone with no powerhouse to propel its movement. The Sea Wing family of underwater gliders depend upon variable-buoyancy propulsion that makes use of an inflating and deflating balloon-like device filled with pressurised oil, causing them to sink before rising to the surface again, moving along, aided by wings. Unlike the HSU-001, the Sea Wing is much smaller in size and does not support any fittings for combat missions.

Figure 6: Indonesian Fishermen caught a Chinese underwater glider drone in December 2020 (Source: The War Zone)

In July 2021, the communist regime in China in an unprecedented move declassified detailed results of an experimental project that has apparently spanned through decades. The results showcased the field test of an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), seemingly in the Taiwan Strait in the year 2010. Reports stated that the UUV currently operates individually, but with future upgrades could be capable of operating in packs. The document stated that the UUV pointed its sonar arrays to various sources of sound, while artificial intelligence tried to filter out ambient noise and determine the nature of the target, firing a torpedo upon verification. The ability to fire, assumably a standard-sized torpedo, would suggest that the UUV in question would be of a larger size than the Sea Wing glider. It could, perhaps, be even larger than the HSU-001, given the physical largeness of earlier technologies. Sophisticated technologies of today, however, are also being diverted to reduce the size of torpedoes without impacting their effectiveness.

UUVs are undoubtedly going to change the path of modern warfare, being used for both detecting targets and, in the future, also eliminating them. Military designers and researchers are paying an increasing amount of attention and resources into the development of advanced platforms and assets, keeping in mind the concepts of high precision, small loss and big technology. These assets will prove to be invaluable in shallow seas, and indeed the South China Sea, with all of its treacherous hydrographic features, and being easily modifiable for mission requirements.

One remote understanding of the incident that took place in the South China Sea involving the USS Connecticut can be that the Chinese made use of a UUV to attack the American SSN. Several analysts and submarine experts in the field including former American submariner Aaron Amick suggest that the bow dome of the Seawolf-class nuclear attack submarine was severely damaged. Since no explosions were reported, we can rule out the possibility of the use of torpedoes to attack the American vessel. It could also not have been a ‘dud’ torpedo fired at the American submarine since such a non-lethal thin-metal structure could barely have a major impact on the two-inches thick HY-100 steel alloy that comprises the hull of the Seawolf. This leaves us with the scenario of a drone being used to physically ram the hull of the submarine. It is unlikely that the Chinese made use of a Sea Wing glider given its small size and nature of operations. It would be more probable that if such a scenario did take place, it involved the PLAN making use of a UUV as large as the HSU-001, if not larger.

This would raise the question of what went wrong with the equipment aboard the Connecticut? How is it that the advanced sensors and sonar array could not pick up on an incoming object? Or in the case of a collision with geographical features, what went wrong with the hydrographic and bathymetric systems onboard one of the most advanced nuclear attack submarines in the world?

Submarine navigation is a highly sensitive field of expertise requiring extremely thorough and comprehensive data of the areas in the vessel’s immediate surroundings. Navies across the world maintain classified databases storing detailed hydrographic and bathymetric data that are invaluable for submarine operations. However, submariners also make use of high-frequency sonars that calculate water depths and surrounding features to verify chart data. Active sonar pulses are used to reveal nearby underwater objects including submerged objects such as mines, wrecks, other vessels, as well as geographical features.

The USS Connecticut, alongside other vessels of the Seawolf-class SSNs, began its life with the BQQ 5D sonar system. The Seawolf was refitted with AN/BQQ-10(V4) systems which is an open architecture system that includes biennial software upgrades (APBs) and quadrennial hardware upgrades. The new system, however, continues to make use of the 24 feet wide bow-mounted spherical active and passive array and wide-aperture passive flank arrays installed on the submarine. The class of vessels was also to be retrofitted with TB-29A thin-line towed array sonar systems, developed by Lockheed Martin. The successor of the Seawolf-class – the Virginia-class – has also been fitted with the AN/BQQ-10(V4) sonar processing system, making use of a bow-mounted active and passive array, wide aperture passive array on the flank, high-frequency active arrays on keel and fin, TB 16 towed array and TB-29A thin line towed array. The Seawolf and the Virginia are both fitted with the AN/BQQ-10(V4) system and the TB-29A towed array sonar system which could become worrisome for future operations since this is a relatively newer system.

Operators of the system must look into strengthening any blind spots that the system may possess. There may also be the minute chance that the Chinese have identified such a blind spot and have attempted to exploit it. These systems have been developed by Lockheed Martin in Virginia, USA – also the developer of the F-35 Lightning II JSF. Further alleviating suspicions is the fact that the Chinese have in recent months boasted claims of having developed radar systems that are capable of detecting the most advanced and stealthy of American combat jets, including both the F-35 as well as the F-22 Raptor. This, as per the Chinese, is now possible through the use of their latest radar system – the YLC-8E – which was developed by the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC). The research team at Tsinghua University said that the platform generated an electromagnetic storm which would serve to acquire the location of incoming stealth aircraft. To engage in the highest degree of speculation, could China have managed to acquire sensitive data from one of the largest US defence contractors, enabling it to detect and even malign some of the finest American technological suites onboard various platforms?


[1] SCS Probing Initiative [@SCS_PI]. (2021, October 8). Is this USS Connecticut? Which is reported to suffer an underwater collision in the #SouthChinaSea Oct 2. Satellite image from @planet spotted a suspected Wolf-class submarine, sailing 42.8NM southeast off the Paracel Islands, Oct 3. Retrieved from Twitter.

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