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American Foreign Policy and Nuclear War: Existential Crisis Management In A Time Of Plague

Prof. Louis René Beres

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Abstract: For the moment, Americans devote scant attention to any apparent risks of a nuclear war, but whatever residual attention remains centered on such risks focus on North Korea and Iran. Though concurrent hazards from Russia and China are potentially more existential and longer-term, the seeming plausibility of suffering a major conflict with another superpower  or superpowers is presumptively lower.[1] Moreover, regarding North Korea and Iran, there never was any appropriate reason for Washington to expect Pyongyang’s “denuclearization[2]  or Tehran’s “slowing-down” of active nuclearization.

Now, largely on  account of US President Donald J, Trump’s policy miscalculations vis-à-vis North Korea and Iran,[3] America faces expandingstrategic threats from both adversary states.

 Going forward, to best secure itself from increasingly complex and force-multiplying military threats, the United States will require (1) an improved assessment of risks from a still-growing assortment of recalcitrant state enemies; and (2) a corresponding willingness to link this doctrine-based assessment to more consistently refined conceptualizations, theories and scenarios. In the final analysis, all capable formulations of coherent US nuclear strategy will insistently demand a tangible American triumph of “mind over mind.”  This means, inter alia, a conspicuous elevation of analytic “preparation” over belligerent  rhetoric; that is, over a manifestly contrived “attitude.” To achieve such antecedent victory at a time of “plague” – by definition, a dissembling and bewildering time – the US president and his counselors will need to consciously factor in the impacts of viral pandemic[4] upon (3) adversarial decision-making processes and (4) identifiable synergies obtaining between these consequential impacts and American national security  processes.[5]

Summing up, as the following essay shall now seek to clarify, this will not be a task for the analytically disinclined or intellectually averse  (i.e., those like the current US president who mistakenly favor “attitude” over “preparation”). It will, instead,  be for those Americans who can unhesitatingly commit to properly science-based strategic assessments, and who would never consider launching US foreign  policies based upon narrowly self-serving or propagandistic national goals.

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“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.”-W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

Introduction

When heading for his June 12, 2018 Singapore Summit with Kim Jung Un, US President Donald Trump declared famously: “What matters is attitude, not preparation.” At that time, the US President was openly committed to North Korean “denuclearization,” an expressed commitment that made no policy sense at the time, and makes even less policy sense today. Aside from representing a patently irrational option for Pyongyang, getting rid of its extant atomic arms and infrastructures remains contrary to North Korea’s unambiguous policy announcements. By mid-June of this year (2020), exactly two years later, the country’s Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon announced that any earlier hopes for accommodation with Trump had now “shifted into  despair,” and that any earlier cause for optimism had “faded away into a dark nightmare.”[6]

That country is not America’s only adversarial nuclear problem. For the United States, Iran also represents the most obviously compellingly pertinent threat hazard. This worrisome assessment obtains though Iran is not yet nuclear.[7]

 Significantly, Iran remains fully capable of fighting a massive conventional conflict against America’s principal Middle Eastern ally. Accordingly, Tehran could at some point prod the United States to consider using some of its extant nuclear forces on presumed behalf of Israel. At the same time, certain Sunni Arab states worried about an impending “Persian bomb” could seek to obtain a suitably countervailing nuclear capacity for themselves.[8]  

In this connection, Egypt and Saudi Arabia should come most immediately to mind.

What happens next? What complex intersections or synergies might arise here involving Iran and Israel? And what might be the concurrent effects of “plague” (Covid19 pandemic) upon some or all of the pertinent “players?” In  essence, however the plausible conflict scenarios might be configured, all of these foreseeable prospects are altogether unprecedented and all portend various unprecedented outcomes.

There is more. Fully continuous US policy attention should also be directed toward ongoing nuclear developments in Russia and China. As we are very clearly in the midst of a second Cold War, a condition  of tacit belligerence exacerbated by misconceived Trump Administration withdrawals from several core nuclear arms control agreements, these ongoing and escalating Russian and Chinese developments define a strategic background for assorted other nuclear  developments underway in Pyongyang and Tehran.

“Cold War II”[9] this represents a comprehensive systemic structure within which virtually all contemporary world politics could be meaningfully categorized and properly assessed. Current Great Power dispositions to war, however they might be usefully ascertained, ispertinent analytic background for various still-wider nuclear interactions.

What next? Planning ahead, what explanatory theories and scenarios could best guide the Trump administration in its many-sided interactions with North Korea, Iran, China and Russia? Before answering this basic question with any adequate and clarifying specificity, a “correct” answer – any correct answer – will depend upon one single overarching assumption. This is the inherently problematic expectation of adversarial rationality.

It now follows, among other things, that a primary “order of business” for those American strategic analysts and planners focused on this most urgent set of security problems will be reaching informed judgments about each determinable adversary’s specific ordering of preferences. By definition, only those particular adversaries who would value national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences would be acting rationally.

Basic Questions and Plausible Answers

For scholars and policy-makers, some further basic questions must now be considered. First, what are the operational meanings of relevant terminologies and/or vocabularies? Accordingly, in the formal study of international relations and military strategy, decisional irrationality never means the same as madness. Nonetheless, certain residual warnings about madness should still warrant very serious US policy consideration. This is because both “ordinary” irrationality and full-scale madness could exert more-or-less comparable effects upon any examined country’s national security decision-making processes.

Again, there is nothing here for the intellectually faint-hearted. This is not about “attitude,” but about “preparation.”

Sometime, for the United States, understanding and anticipating these ascertainable effects could display existential importance. In all such prospective considerations, words would matter a great deal. In normal strategic parlance, “irrationality” identifies a decisional foundation wherein national self-preservation is not summa, not the very highest and ultimate preference. This would have decidedly significant policy consequences.

A prospectively irrational decision-maker in Pyongyang, Tehran or elsewhere need not be determinably “mad” in order to become  troubling for policy analysis undertaken by aptly designated leaders in Washington. Such an adversary would need “only” to be more conspicuously concerned about certain discernible preferences or values than about its own collective self-preservation. One example would be preferences expressed for  certain feasible outcomes other than national survival.  Normally, any such behavior would be unexpected and counter-intuitive, but it would still not be unprecedented or inconceivable. Moreover, identifying the specific criteria or correlates of any such considered survival imperatives could prove irremediably subjective and/or simply indecipherable.

Whether an examined American adversary were sometime deemed irrational or “mad,” US military planners would have to input a generally similar decisional calculation. An analytic premise here would be that the particular adversary “in play” might not be suitably deterred from launching a military attack by any American threats of retaliatory destruction, even where such threats would be both fully credible and presumptively massive. Any such failure of US military deterrence could include conventional and nuclear retaliatory threats.

In fashioning America’s nuclear strategy vis-à-vis nuclear and not-yet-nuclear adversaries,[10] US military planners must include a mechanism to determine whether a designated adversary (e.g., North Korea or Iran) will more likely be rational or irrational. Operationally, this means ascertaining whether the identifiably relevant foe will value its collective survival (whether as a sovereign state or an organized terror group) more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences. Always, this early judgment must be based upon defensibly sound analytic principles.

In principle, at least, it should never be affected in any tangible way by what particular analysts might themselves simply “want to believe.”[11]

Rationality and Pretended Irrationality

A corollary US obligation, depending in large part upon this prior judgment concerning enemy rationality, will expect strategic planners to assess whether a properly nuanced posture of  “pretended irrationality” could purposefully enhance America’s nuclear deterrence posture.  On several occasions, it should be recalled here, President Donald Trump had openly praised at least the underlying premises of such an eccentric posture. Was such presidential praise intellectually warranted and/or properly justified?

Ever?

 It depends. US enemies include both state and sub-state foes, whether considered singly or in various assorted forms of collaboration. Such forms could be “hybridized” in different ways between state and sub-state adversaries.[12] In dealing with Washington, each recognizable class of enemies could sometime choose to feign irrationality.

In principle, this could represent a potentially clever strategy to “get a jump” on the United States in any expected or already-ongoing competition for “escalation dominance.”[13]  Naturally, any such calculated pretense could also fail, perhaps calamitously. Cautionary strategic behavior based on serious conceptual thinking should always be the presidential “order of the day.”[14]

There is something else. On occasion, these same enemies could “decide,” whether consciously or unwittingly, to actually be irrational.[15]  In any such innately bewildering circumstances, it would then become incumbent upon American strategic planners to capably assess which basic form of irrationality –  pretended or authentic – is actually underway. Thereafter, these planners would need to respond with a dialectically orchestrated and optimally counterpoised set of all possible reactions.

Once again, in purely intellectual terms, this would represent an uncommonly “tall order.”

There is more. In this context, the term “dialectically” (drawn originally from ancient Greek thought, especially Plato’s dialogues) is used with very precise analytic meanings. This is done in order to signify a continuous or ongoing question-and-answer format of relevant strategic reasoning.

By definition, any instance of enemy irrationality would value certain specific preferences (e.g., presumed religious obligations or personal and/or regime safety) more highly than collective survival. For America, the grievously threatening prospect of facing some genuinely irrational nuclear adversary is prospectively most worrisome with regard to North Korea and at least possibly, in a now rapidly closing future, Iran.[16] Apropos of all such more-or-less credible apprehensions, it is unlikely that they could ever be meaningfully reduced by way of formal treaties or law-based agreements.[17]

Here it would be well worth remembering seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ classic warning in Leviathan:  “Covenants, without the sword, are but words….”[18] If this  traditional problem of global anarchy were not daunting enough for American strategists and decision-makers, it is further complicated by the largely unforeseeable effects of worldwide pandemic and, perhaps correspondingly, the effects of any consequent chaos.

Chaos is not the same as anarchy. Chaos is much “more than” anarchy. We have lived with anarchy or absence of central government in modern world politics since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648,[19] but we have yet to descend into any genuine worldwide chaos.[20]

Preemption, Asymmetry and Strategic Dialectic

 How should the United States proceed? At some point, at least in principle, the very best option could seem to be some sort of preemption;  that is, a defensive non-nuclear first-strike directed against situationally appropriate North Korean or Iranian hard targets. In actuality, however, it is already very late for launching any operationally cost-effective preemption against North Korea, and – even if it could be properly defended in law as “anticipatory self-defense”[21] – such action would likely come at a much-too-substantial human and political cost.

In specific regard to any current and potentially protracted US-Iran enmity, the American side must consider how its nuclear weapons could best be leveraged against that adversarial state in virtually any plausible war scenario. A rational answer here could never include any operational use of such weapons. The only pertinent questions for US planners, therefore, should concern the calculable extent to which an asymmetrical US threat of nuclear escalation could sometime be made sufficiently and aptly credible.[22]

Once again, by definition, as long as Iran should remain non-nuclear, any US nuclear threat would necessarily be asymmetrical.

By applying all available standards of ordinary reason and logic (there are, after all, no usable historical points of reference in such unprecedented situations), Washington could most suitably determine that certain nuclear threats against Iran would serve American security interests only when Iranian military capacities, though still non-nuclear, were convincingly overwhelming. Any such daunting scenario, though difficult to imagine ex nihilo, might nonetheless still be conceivable. This “strategic dialectic” holds most convincingly if Tehran were willing to escalate (a) to massive direct conventional attacks upon American territories or populations, and/or (b) to the significant use of biological warfare capabilities.

In any matter of prospective biological warfare, it is worth noting that we are currently in the midst of a naturally-occurring biological “assault,” and that even in the complete absence of any specific adversarial animus or intent, the injurious consequences of plague are already at the outer limits of tolerance and sustainability.

 Inter alia, all this should now imply a primary obligation for the United States (c) to focus continuously on various incremental enhancements to its implicit nuclear deterrence posture; and (d) to develop a wide and nuanced range of credible nuclear retaliatory options. The specific rationale of (d) (above), is the counter-intuitive understanding that the credibility of nuclear threats could sometime vary inversely with perceived levels of destructiveness. In certain  foreseeable circumstances, this means that successful nuclear deterrence of Iran could depend upon nuclear weapons that are deemed sufficiently low-yield or “small.”

Sometimes, in fashioning a national nuclear deterrence posture, counter-intuitive strategic insight is duly “on the mark,” and therefore most indispensable. This is likely one of these “multi-layered” times.

  There is more. Washington should continue to bear in mind that any US nuclear posture must always focus on prevention rather than punishment. In any and all identifiable circumstances, using a portion of its available nuclear forces for vengeance rather than deterrence would miss the proverbial point; that is, to fully optimize US national security. Any American nuclear weapons use that were based simply on narrowly corrosive notions of revenge, even if only as a residual or default option, would be irrational.

These are all complex intellectual issues, not simply political ones. America’s many-sided nuclear deterrent must be backed up by recognizably robust systems of active defense (BMD), especially if there should arise any determinable reason to fear an irrationalnuclear adversary. Although it is already well-known that no system of active defense can ever be entirely “leak-proof,” there is good reason to suppose that certain BMD deployments could help safeguard both US civilian populations (soft targets) and American nuclear retaliatory forces (hard targets).[23] This means that technologically advanced anti-missile systems must remain indefinitely as a steadily-modernizing component of this country’s nuclear deterrence posture.

Among other elements of permissible self-defense, this suggests continuously expanding emphases on various laser-based weapon systems.

Deterrence, Defense and Mutual Vulnerability

While it may at  first sound annoyingly obvious, it must still be remembered that in the bewildering nuclear age, seemingly defensive strategies could sometime be viewed by uneasy adversaries as offensive. This is because the secure foundation of any system of nuclear deterrence must be some reasonable presumption of mutual vulnerability. “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz in On War, “but the simplest thing is still difficult.”

To progress in its most vital national security obligations in a complicating time of pandemic, American military planners must more expressly identify the prioritized goals of this country’s nuclear deterrence posture. Before any rationaladversary could be suitably deterred by an American nuclear deterrent, this enemy would first need to believe that Washington had capably maintained the capacity to launch appropriate nuclear reprisals for certain relevant forms of aggression (nuclear and perhaps biological/non-nuclear) and the will[24] to undertake such uniquely consequential firings.

About the first belief criterion, it would almost certainly lie far beyond any “reasonable doubt.”

Well beyond.

The second expectation, however, could sometime prove problematic and thus more-or-less “fatally” undermine US nuclear deterrence. In assorted ways that are not yet clearly understood, the necessary national will could be impacted by pandemic-related or even pandemic-created factors.[25] Significantly, too, there would be certain hard-to-foresee interactions or synergies taking place between US policy decisions and those of pertinent American adversaries.

 In more perplexing matters involving an expectedly irrationalnuclear enemy,[26] successful US deterrence would need to be based upon distinctly credible threats to enemy values other than national survival. Here, too, the actual prospect of enemy irrationality could be related to pandemic factors. In the most extreme cases, disease could actually play a tangible and determinative role in producing an enemy’s decisional irrationality.

 More typically, America will also need  to demonstrate the continuously substantial invulnerability of its nuclear retaliatory forces to enemy first strike aggressions. More precisely, it will remain in America’s long-term survival interests to continue to emphasize its variegated submarine-basing nuclear options.[27] Otherwise, as is plainly reasonable to contemplate, America’s land-based strategic nuclear forces could potentially present to a strongly-determined existential enemy (e.g., North Korea) as “too-vulnerable.”

For the moment, this is not a significantly serious concern, though Washington will want to stay focused on any still-planned deployment of submarines by its Israeli ally in the Middle East. The general point of such a secondary focus would be on strengthening Israeli nuclear deterrence, which – in one way or another – would simultaneously be to the overall strategic benefit of the United States.[28] Israel’s own nuclear deterrence could be affected by assorted pandemic-related variables, including some with serious reciprocal consequences for the United States.

Deterrence, Rationality and Diminished US Strategic Ambiguity

There is more. Increasingly, America will have to rely on a broadly multi-faceted doctrine of nuclear deterrence.[29] In turn, like its already-nuclear Israeli ally,[30] specific elements of this “simple but difficult” doctrine could sometime need to be rendered less “ambiguous.” This complex and finely nuanced modification will require an even more determined focus on prospectively rational and irrational enemies, including both national and sub-national foes.

To deal most successfully with its presumptively irrational or non-rational enemies, whether or not impacted by pandemic factors, this country will need to compose a continuously-updating strategic “playbook.” Here, it could become necessary for Washington to consider, at least on occasion, policies of feigned irrationality. In such analytically-challenging cases, it would be important for the American president not to react in an ad hoc or “seat-of-the-pants” fashion to each and every new strategic development or eruption, but instead to derive or extrapolate all specific policy reactions from a suitably pre-fashionedand comprehensive strategic nuclear doctrine.

Without such a thoughtful doctrine as guide, pretended irrationality could quickly become a “double-edged sword,” effectively bringing more rather than less security harms to the United States.[31]

There is one penultimate but still critical observation.  It is improbable, but not inconceivable, that certain of America’s principal enemies would be neither rational nor irrational, but mad. While irrational decision-makers would already pose very special problems for US nuclear deterrence  – by definition, because these decision-makers would not value collective survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences – they might still be rendered susceptible to various alternate forms of deterrence.

 Here, resembling  rational decision-makers, they could still maintain a fixed, determinable and “transitive” hierarchy of preferences. This means, at least in principle, that “merely” irrational enemies could still sometimes be successfully deterred.  This is an observation well worth further analytic study, especially at a time when sweeping disease effects are both palpable and unexamined.

Mad or “crazy” adversaries, on the other hand, would have no such calculable hierarchy of preferences, and would not be subject to any strategy of American  nuclear deterrence. Although it would likely be far worse for the United States to have to face a mad nuclear enemy than a “merely” irrational one, Washington would have no foreseeable choice in this sort of matter. This country, like it or not, will need to maintain, perhaps indefinitely, a “three track” system of nuclear deterrence and defense, one track for each of its still-identifiable adversaries that are presumptively (1) rational (2) irrational  or (3) mad.

Again, this will not be task for the narrowly political or intellectually averse US decision-maker. Among other things, it will require a capable assessment of pertinent synergies, some of them distressingly subjective and biological.

For the most notably unpredictable third track, special plans will also be needed for undertaking potentially indispensable preemptions, and, simultaneously, for certain corresponding/overlapping efforts atballistic missile defense.

There could be no reliable assurances that any one “track” would always present exclusively of the others. This means, portentously, that American decision-makers could sometimes have to face deeply intersecting or interpenetrating tracks, and that these always-complicated simultaneities could be synergistic.[32]

There is one final observation to be noted. Even if America’s military planners could reassuringly assume that enemy leaderships were fully rational, this would say nothing about the accuracy of the information used by these foes in making their own particular calculations. Always, it must never be forgotten, rationality refers only to the intention of maximizing certain designated preference or values.

It says nothing about whether the information being used is either correct or incorrect.

 In this extraordinary time of global “plague,” any such intention – American or adversarial – could have pandemic-related determinants. At a minimum, this fact should be regarded as sobering to America’s national security decision-makers. For these officials, this will be a moment in history to disavow absolutely any inclinations to hubris, that is, to excessive pride, and to accept, instead, a conspicuous abundance of prudential caution.

Disutility, Probability and Miscalculation

America is not automatically made safer by having only rational adversaries. To wit, even fully rational enemy leaderships could commit serious errors in calculation that would lead them toward a nuclear confrontation and/or to a nuclear/biological war. There are also certain related command and control issues that could impel a perfectly rational adversary or combination of rational adversaries (both state and sub-state) to embark upon various risky nuclear behaviors.

It follows that even the most pleasingly “optimistic” assessments of enemy leadership decision-making could never reliably preclude authentically catastrophic outcomes.[33]

For the United States, understanding that no scientifically accurate judgments of probability can ever be made about unique events (by definition, any nuclear exchange would be sui generis, or precisely such a unique event), the very best lessons for America’s president should favor a determined decisional prudence and a deliberate posture of humility. Of special interest, in this connection, is the always erroneous presumption that having greater nuclear military power than an adversary is automatically an assurance of some future bargaining or diplomatic success. When Donald Trump said on several occasions that he and Kim Jung Un both have a “nuclear button,” but that his button “is bigger,” the American president overestimated the US advantages of any such presumptive asymmetry.

Wholly overestimated.

Why? Among other things, because the tangible amount of deliverable nuclear firepower required for deterrence is necessarily much less than what could ever be required for “victory.”[34] This is a time for displaying nuanced and purposeful counter-intuitive wisdom in Washington, not for more clichéd presidential thinking or further rancorous barrages of stunningly empty presidential witticisms.

For Washington, especially for this president, operating in the largely-unpracticed nuclear age, ancient Greek tragedy warnings about excessive leadership pride are not only still relevant, they are also palpably and irrefutably more important than ever before.

For the United States,  these classical commentaries concerning hubris, left unheeded, could bring forth once unimaginable spasms of “retribution.”[35] The Greek tragedians, after all, were not yet called upon to reason about nuclear decision-making. None of this culminating suggestion is meant to build gratuitously upon America’s most manifestly reasonable fears or apprehensions, but only to remind everyone involved that competent national security planning must always remain a bewilderingly complex struggle of “mind over mind.”[36]

These remain fundamentally intellectual problems,[37] challenges requiring meticulous analytic preparation[38] rather than just a particular “attitude.”[39] Above all, such planning ought never become just another calculable contest of “mind over matter;”[40] that is, never just a vainly reassuring inventory of comparative weaponization or presumptively superior “order of battle.” Unless this rudimentary point is more completely understood by senior US strategic policymakers and by the president of the United States – and until these same policymakers can begin to see the utterly overriding wisdom of expanded global cooperation and human “oneness”[41] – America can never render itself sufficiently secure from nuclear or biological war.

Never.[42]

Poetry, Policy and Public Chaos

In his 1927 preface to Oxford Poetry, W.H. Auden wrote: “All genuine poetry is in a sense the formation of private spheres out of public chaos….” Looking ahead with an appropriately avant-garde orientation, American strategists must seek to carve out livable national spheres from a steadily expanding global chaos. Ultimately, of course, following Nietzsche, they must also understand that such chaos lies originally within each individual human being. But – at least for the moment of their present strategic deliberations – they must remain focused upon collective survival in a Hobbesian “state of nature.”

With the predictable spread of nuclear weapons to additional states (and, perhaps, to sub-national terror groups), the historical conditions of nature bequeathed at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 could soon come to resemble the primordial barbarism of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Long before Golding, the seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, had warned insightfully in Leviathan (Chapter XIII)  that in any such circumstances of human disorder here there exists “continual fear, and danger of violent death, the “life of Man” must inevitably be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” To best plan its strategic future, America will first need to understand the need for a plausible world system transformation, from anarchy to chaos, and to accommodate this drastic pandemic-hastened transformation with more authentically imaginative thinking.

In any such crucial matters, recalling Italian film director Federico Fellini,

“The visionary is the only realist.”

In the final analysis, as Nietzsche himself acknowledges, chaos is an intra-personal condition before it can ever become an international one.[43] This means that the core problem of chaos must be “solved” at the behavioral level before it can be solved in any larger arenas of nuclear strategy, international relations or international law. On this irremediably central understanding, one now made substantially more urgent by global pandemic, it would be worthwhile for engaged strategists to finally heed the thoughtful  words of Trappist monk and 20th-century thinker Thomas Merton, not because they could have any immediate “practical” value, but because they could serve as a long-term reminder of what is ultimately being asked of us all:

 “When there is a deep, simple, all-embracing love of man, of the created world of living and inanimate things, then there will be respect for life, for freedom, for truth, for justice, and there will be humble love of God. But where there is no love of man, no love of life, then make all the laws you want, all the edicts and treaties, issue all the anathemas, set up all the safeguards and inspections, fill the air with spying satellites, and hang cameras on the moon. As long as you see your fellow man as a being essentially to be feared, mistrusted, hated and destroyed, there cannot be peace on earth.”[44]

 US foreign policy initiatives concerning nuclear war avoidance must shift from traditional notions of “realism” to the more enduring ideas of “planetization.”[45] Though seemingly utopian, these ideas are more realistic than any global continuance of Thomas Hobbes’ endlessly corrosive “state of nature.” For the time being, of course, pertinent American policies will still have to be founded upon intellectually supportable principles of nuclear deterrence and corresponding elements of “preparation,” but such foundations should never be expected to last indefinitely.

It follows, unassailably, that keeping the United States safely distant from nuclear conflagration will require an American leadership that can suitably navigate all current and foreseeable risks – including some hazards that are plausibly pandemic-related – and can plan competently for the evolving future. This will not be a task for the intellectually faint-hearted.

In the end, as illustrated by the more-or-less predictable effects of a nuclear war[46] and by long-established effects of “plague,” we humans are all evident creatures of biology and mustfinally recognize each other in this ubiquitous and reciprocal commonality. This is a genuinely primal commonality, a determinative “oneness” worth adapting to all America’s national security policies. Above everything else, such structural interdependence underscores both our interpenetrating existential vulnerabilities as individual human beings and our leaders’ corollary obligation to always place polity above any personal interests.[47]

In the still-clarifying imagery of ancient Greek drama, US President Donald J. Trump should become more amply aware of “monarchical-style” hubris and its perpetually perilous threat to any modern nation’s survival. To assume that the continuously failing system of belligerent nationalism first bestowed at Westphalia in 1648 can somehow reliably prevent a nuclear war represents human arrogance at its imaginable worst. For the United States, reasonable freedom from the rapidly growing threat of catastrophic nuclear war can only be based upon the principled rejection of “America First” and of any other policy posture derived from conspicuously false promises. Recalling French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in the precise sentence I used to conclude my PhD, thesis back at Princeton exactly fifty years ago: “Peace waits for us only at that point where we are able to witness a totalisation of the world upon itself, in the unanimous construction of a spirit of the earth.”[48]


[1] This necessarily informal presumption is based upon an antecedent assumption; that is, that the likelihood of any nuclear conflict between states (inter alia) is inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms. This is only an “informal presumption” because we are considering a unique or unprecedented event, one that is plainly sui generis for purposes of determining mathematical probabilities.

[2] See, by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Yale Global, https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/too-late-north-korea-denuclearization

[3] In essence, these miscalculations center on unrealistic disarmament expectations (North Korea) and on erroneous US estimations of unilateral agreement termination benefits  (JCPOA; Iran).

[4] We will see herein that these impacts are a function of their cumulative effect upon creating or sustaining global chaos. More precisely, this will mean effects on accelerating the shift from “normal” global anarchy to a more distressingly unpredictable set of parameters. Anarchy is “normal” because it was effectively codified at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and has never been supplanted by any forms of global centralization or world government. See, earlier, by this author, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver, 1973; originally L R Beres, Ph.D. dissertation at Princeton University; and Louis René Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (University of Denver, 1975).

[5] Writes Albert Camus in The Plague: “At the beginning of the pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric….It is only in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth, to silence.”

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

[7] For early warnings about Iranian nuclearization from a specifically Israeli perspective, see Louis René Beres (Chair of Project Daniel/PM Sharon), Jerusalem: Israel’s Strategic Future: http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.

See also, by Professor Louis René Beres, at Harvard Law School: https://harvardnsj.org/2014/06/staying-strong-enhancing-israels-essential-strategic-options-2/

[8] For earlier conceptualizations of this capacity, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983) and Louis René Beres, America Outside the World: The Collapse of U.S. Foreign Policy (1987).

[9] Identifying “Cold War II” means expecting the world system to become increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[10] For a very recent analysis of deterring not-yet-nuclear adversaries in the case of Israel, see article co-authored by Professor Louis René Beres and (former Israeli Ambassador ) Zalman Shoval at the Modern War Institute, West Point (Pentagon): https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[11] Recall here the classic statement of Julius Caesar: “Men as a rule believe what they want to believe.” See: Caesar’s Gallic War, Book III, Chapter 18.

[12] This “hybrid” concept could also be applied to various pertinent ad hoc bilateral state collaborations against US strategic interests. For example, during June 2019, Russia and China collaborated to block an American initiative aimed at halting fuel deliveries to North Korea. The US-led cap on North Korea’s fuel imports had been intended to sanction any continuing North Korean nuclearization. Prima facie, of course, this narrowly visceral plan was entirely futile.

[13] On “escalation dominance,” see recent 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/

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

[15] In his own work, Sigmund Freud sought to “excavate” certain deeper meanings concerning irrational human behavior. Always, he was a modern-day philosophe, a proud child of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, one who discovered profound analytic and therapeutic advantages in exploring sometimes-arcane literary paths to psychological knowledge. Freud maintained an extensive personal collection of antiquities which suggested various penetrating psychological insights to him. Some of his pertinent collection was placed directly on his work desk; reportedly, he would often touch and turn the individual artifacts while deeply engaged in some challenging thought.

[16] See, also by this author, Louis René Beres, at Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School): https://harvardnsj.org/2013/10/lessons-for-israel-from-ancient-chinese-military-thought-facing-iranian-nuclearization-with-sun-tzu/

[17] See, for example, by this author, at Yale:  https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/nuclear-treaty-abrogation-imperils-global-security

[18] Regarding “covenants,” US decision-makers should nonetheless be continually attentive to relevant considerations of law as well as strategy. More particularly, under authoritative law, states must judge every use of force twice: once with regard to the underlying right to wage war (jus ad bellum) and once with regard to the means used in conducting an actual war (jus in bello). Following the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) and the United Nations Charter (1945), there remains no defensible legal right to waging an aggressive war. However, the long-standing customary right of post-attack self-defense does remain codified at Article 51 of the UN Charter. Similarly subject to conformance, inter alia, with jus in bello criteria, certain instances of humanitarian intervention and collective security operations may also be consistent with jus ad bellum standards. The law of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at the Hague and Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all (state and sub-state) belligerent calculations.

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

[20] Though composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan may still offer us a prophetic vision of this prospective 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 dispersion soon apt to be exacerbated by an already-nuclear North Korea, by a not-yet-nuclear Iran and by the largely unpredictable effects of an ongoing disease pandemic.

[21] For a pertinent Israeli example, see, by this author:  https://www.usnews.com/opinion/world-report/articles/2017-09-06/10-years-later-israels-operation-orchard-offers-lessons-on-north-korea

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

[23] On the prospective shortcomings of Israeli BMD systems, from which certain authoritative extrapolations could be made about US systems, see: Louis René Beres and (Major-General/IDF/ret.) Isaac Ben-Israel, “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Louis René Beres and M-G Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,” Washington Times, June 10, 2007; and Professor Louis René Beres and M-G Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009.

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

[25] A prospectively positive impact, however, could center on improved opportunities for world-wide cooperation. See, on this hopeful point, by this author,. Louis René Beres, https://www.21global.ucsb.edu/global-e/march-2020/virulent-pathogens-and-global-solidarity-unseen-benefits-covid-19

[26] See, on deterring a prospectively irrational nuclear Iran, Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. Though dealing with Israeli rather than American nuclear deterrence, these articles authoritatively clarify the common conceptual elements. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[27] On the Israeli sea-basing issue, see Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney, “Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: A Larger Role for Submarine-Basing,” The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2014; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney, “A Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent for Israel,” Washington Times, September 5, 2014. Admiral Edney was NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT).

[28] See, in this connection, by Professor Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy and America’s National Security;  https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[29] On the primary importance of doctrine, by this author, see Louis René Beres,  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/01/louis-beres-seeking-plausible-strategic-goals-iran/  See also, concerning US ally Israel: https://strategicassessment.inss.org.il/wp-content/uploads/antq/fe-676949421.pdf

[30] See, by this author (who was Chair of Project Daniel for Israeli PM Ariel Sharon):  http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm  See also: https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/israel-nuclear-ambiguity/ and  https://www.idc.ac.il/he/research/ips/Documents/2013/%D7%A0%D7%99%D7%99%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%AA/LouisReneBeres.pdf

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

[32] See, for example, by this author, at Harvard National Security Journal:  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/

[33] In this connection, expressions of decisional error (including mistakes by the United States)  could take 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 internal dissonance generated by any authoritative structure of collective decision-making (e.g., the US National Security Council).

[34] See, by this author, at Oxford University Press: https://blog.oup.com/2011/10/war-winning/

[35] For much earlier similar warnings, by this author, see his October 1981 article at World Politics (Princeton):  https://www.jstor.org/stable/2010149?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[36] Clausewitzian friction refers to the unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning strategic uncertainties; on presidential under-estimations or over-estimations of US relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

[37] This also brings to mind an apt warning by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917): “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” Today, when the United States exists under the openly anti-intellectual leadership of Donald J. Trump, the poet’s warning should have an especially clear and compelling resonance.

[38] Or “thorough study,” in the language of Sun-Tzu.

[39] The meaningless bifurcation of “attitude” and “preparation” was expressly invoked by Donald Trump before going off to his June 2018 “Singapore Summit” meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. In that curious distinction, the US President favored the former.

[40] This vital reminder is also drawn from the strategic calculations of ancient Greece. See, for example, F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (University of California, 1962).

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

[42] In this connection, says Thomas Hobbes in Chapter XXI of Leviathan, “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.”

[43] “I tell you,” says Nietzsche in Zarathustra, “ye have still chaos in you.”

[44] See Merton’s The Nonviolent Alternative, 1980. Similar sentiments can be found in the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s remark: “Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is  made, nothing entirely straight can be built.” This is my own translation from the original German: “Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert warden.” See: Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, xi (Henry Handy, ed., 1991) quoting Immanuel Kant’s Idee Zu Einer Allgemeinen Geschichte In Weltburgerlicher Absicht (1784).

[45] These ideas have been most closely associated with the French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, especially his modern classic The Phenomenon of Man (1955).

[46] Among some of the early books dealing with these effects ion a serious and informed way, see: Franklyn Griffiths and John C . Polanyi, editors, The Dangers of Nuclear War (1979); Arthur M. Katz, Life After Nuclear War (1982); and by this author, Louis René Beres: Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980).

[47] See Sophocles, Antigone, Speech of Creon, King of Thebes: “I hold despicable and always have….anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[48] See Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (1959).

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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Donald Trump and Nuclear Weapons: A Perilous “Fusion” For Israel

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“All accidental wars are inadvertent and unintended, but not vice-versa.”-Herman Kahn, On Escalation (1965)[1]

It stands to reason that any combination of Donald Trump and nuclear weapons is dangerous to the United States.[2] After all, this presidency has become unambiguously unhinged – one could  now reasonably say “deranged”[3] – and there is corresponding evidence of nuclear apprehensions in high places. This urgent assessment now includes some of the country’s senior military commanders.[4]

Not generally discussed, however, are the indirect security perils posed by this American president to various US allies. In this connection, which could at some point concern an authentic existential threat, Israel comes immediately to mind. This particular expectation is not on account of any reciprocal shortcomings in that country’s nuclear forces and/or decision-making processes (presumptive forces that remain “deliberately ambiguous”[5]), but “simply”[6] as a valid expression of ongoing strategic interdependence.[7]

No state exists alone in the world. No individual state’s military decisions can gainfully disregard the fundamentally systemic nature of world politics. These politics always constitute a system. It follows that when a particular element is strengthened or degraded within components of that system, the ramifications will be felt far and wide.

 For Israel, a country smaller than America’s Lake Michigan, this relationship would become most serious (perhaps even of existential import) when that specific element has its origins in United States nuclear decision-making. One might also affirm about any such scenario, incontestably, that the  US-Israel relationship could even go beyond “most serious” to “extremely urgent” whenever the superpower party was already embroiled in an atomic crisis; that is, in extremis atomicum.[8]

Whatever the contextual particularities, a plausible expectation of intersecting strategic outcomes between the United States and Israel could become existential if it were to involve an irrational,[9] misguided, miscalculated, accidental, unauthorized or otherwise inadvertent firing of American nuclear weapons.[10]

These are not matters for the intellectually faint-hearted, for those citizens who customarily seek refuge in narrowly political phrases or empty political witticisms. In all such complex military matters, there are correspondingly complex nuances of  explanation. As just a matter of definition, for example, an irrational presidential firing must be distinguished analytically from an unauthorized firing of nuclear weapons, and also from several primary forms of inadvertent nuclear war. In essence, an irrational nuclear event would involve a willful presidential order to fire despite the US leader’s anticipation of catastrophic reprisals.

To be sure, there are certain identifiable circumstances in which even a “crazy” order might still be technically rational –  more specifically, circumstances wherein the expected costs of not firing would exceed anticipated costs of firing – but allowing such dire circumstances to arise in the first place would be ominous prima facie, and should be anathema in both Washington and Jerusalem.

It’s time for aptly dialectical assessments. What could actually happen? In any such multi-factorial calculations, pertinent details would be required. In one conceivable scenario, an irrational U.S. presidential attack against a still-nuclearizing Iran –  one that would likely be defended by President Donald Trump as “anticipatory self-defense”[11] – could  produce highly destructive and prompt retaliations against Israel.[12]

In addition, or perhaps in lieu of any such immediate responses, Iran could (1) generate assorted long-term and incremental reprisals, and/or (2) incentivize state and sub-state allies (e.g., Hezbollah) to join collaboratively in the planned reprisals.

From the corollary standpoints of international law and justice,[13] Israel would likely be blameless in all such US-triggered developments. Still, and more meaningfully, that innocence would carry no palliative or exculpatory benefits. None at all.

In the end, these are not fundamentally legal or jurisprudential matters. This is not meant to suggest, inter alia, that characterizations of a preemptive American attack as anticipatory self-defense would necessarily be inappropriate,[14] but only that Jerusalem should always remain focused upon utterly core matters of national survival. Also worth pointing out is that any cascading harms brought upon Israel by an aberrant US presidential decision could sometime be “synergistic.”[15]

This means that the cumulative “whole” of any such harms to Israel would exceed the sum of its separate “parts.”[16]

There is more. In the exercise of US nuclear command authority, as is already generally known,[17] the “two man rule” of redundant nuclear safeguards does not apply at the highest or presidential level. And while it is increasingly under active discussion by certain concerned persons in the uniquely problematic “Trump Era,”[18] fears of presidential irrationality or nuclear error  had generally  been expressed only in surreptitious whispers, almost inaudibly, sotto voce. This tacit refusal to confront head-on an issue of overriding importance has been perilous, to say the least, but will become all the more so during the next several months or years, when President Trump can expect to be tested by Pyongyang. At some point, this ill-prepared US commander-in-chief  could have to make various time-urgent nuclear decisions concerning North Korea’s steadily expanding military nuclearization.

In this regard, Jerusalem will need to “stay tuned.

 There is more dialectical complexity to  be understood. Certain expected and irremediable methodological hindrances will  be at work. Above all, Israeli military planners will need to understand that attaching any scientifically meaningful assessments of probability to predictions of US presidential irrationality or error is not technically possible. Always, forecasting thinkers should be reminded as follows: Scientific affirmations of probability must always be based upon a determinable frequency of pertinent past events.

Significantly, in such matters, there have been no pertinent past events.

It is, of course, cumulatively good news that there have as yet been no clear examples of an American president making irrational decisions about U.S. nuclear weapons.[19] But even this alleged “good news” may not be entirely straightforward. During the Cold War Cuban missile crisis,[20] then President John F. Kennedy ordered his “quarantine” of Cuba (a euphemism or diplomatically sanitized alternative to “blockade,” which is traditionally a casus bellum) with an apparently full awareness of corresponding risks. More precisely, according to Theodore Sorensen, his biographer, JFK seemingly believed that even his intentionally softened escalatory response would carry portentous odds of an ensuing nuclear war with the USSR – odds, he noted at the time, that were “between one out of three, and even.”[21]

Although we now know that any such estimate was necessarily without any scientific foundation, what matters most is that JFK himself believed in these ominously high odds.

Thus, a curious but indispensable question arises. Was JFK actually acting irrationally about unprecedented nuclear matters in October 1962? Was his declared “quarantine” a fully genuine instance of nuclear decisional irrationality, one that turned out to have been well-crafted and successful only by sheer happenstance or dint of circumstance, including Nikita Khrushchev’s abundant and commendable caution?  

Or was it rather an example of what I call, in my own most recent book, the “rationality of pretended irrationality?”[22] And isn’t this exactly the thinking that Israeli COGS and Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan had in mind when he allegedly once urged: “Israel must be seen as a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”?

If actually a deliberate “rationality of pretended irrationality” move, President Kennedy was playing a carefully calculated game of strategy in 1962, much like the game of  “Chicken” once played with automobiles by assorted teen-aged delinquents. In Chicken, where the contestants drive toward each other at high speed, the objective of each player is plainly twofold: (1) not to be chicken, but also (and more gainful) (2) not to be dead.

In offering an informed answer here, permit me two personal anecdotes.

First, regarding McNamara’s widely-reported post-crisis apprehensions of an “Armageddon scenario” over Cuba, I once had a face-to-face occasion to ask the former US Defense Chief about these reports. That was back in the Fall of 1967, during a small academic conference at Princeton. Sitting next to me at dinner one evening, in the fabled Nassau Inn, McNamara responded to my unambiguously direct query with a repetitive nod of his head, and with the simple remark, “I wouldn’t want to experience that again. Ever.”

Those were his exact words.

Second, regarding President Kennedy’s alleged assignment of very high odds to his 1962 quarantine announcement, Sorensen reported that JFK had made this seat-of-the-pants assessment only after telephoning Admiral Arleigh Burke, a former Chairman of the US JCS. When, in 1977, I became Admiral Burke’s roommate for several days in Annapolis, at the annual Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, or NAFAC (where Burke and I were serving co-chairs of  a senior panel on “The Use of Force”), I asked him explicitly about Sorensen’s probability numbers. Without any hesitation, the Admiral replied that the Kennedy biographer had reported Burke’s telephone response to Kennedy accurately.

In other words, the young, cool and seemingly unflappable American president may have actually accepted up to even odds of a global thermonuclear war as the expected result of his enforced “quarantine.”

A derivative question now rises. What could we reasonably expect from an old, volatile and (let us be charitable) “intellectually limited” Donald Trump? Indeed, he had “aced”  the cognitive function test by repeating a few words correctly (“the doctors were amazed”), and earlier, he had even demonstrated successfully the ability to drink a glass of water with only one hand, but a probable absence of severe dementia is hardly the proper standard to be applied here.

For Jerusalem, there is another reason why correctly forecasting President Trump’s upcoming nuclear policy decisions could never be based upon any scientifically-garnered probabilities. This reason is not just a question of  logical capacity to assess the odds of any future presidential irrationality involving US nuclear command authority. It is also a matter of Trump being unable to calculate himself the probable outcomes of any particular nuclear decision that he might sometime make.

There is more. This particular forecasting constraint has nothing to do with any specifically personal intellectual deficit on this president’s part, but only with the wholesale absence of pertinent past events. Accordingly, this problem is not an ad hominem issue for Israel, but “merely” a universally daunting artifact of scientific methodologies.

If, for example, this American president or his successor should sometime seek an “expert” probability assessment or prediction concerning a north Korean escalation to nuclear weapons (in the near term, such an escalation could more or less realistically relate to Japan, US forces in the region, and/or certain already-reachable targets in Alaska or Hawaii), there would be no suitably relevant history to draw upon. The same conclusion can now be reached regarding the expected results of any American defensive attack launched against Iran, one where enemy escalatory responses could include not only direct Iranian air attacks on Saudi and/or Gulf oilfields, but also variously indirect Hezbollah aggressions[23] against Israel.[24]

Once again, in any such scenario, there would be no opportunity to render a scientifically meaningful estimation of applicable probabilities.

Returning to the core issue of any prospective U.S. presidential irrationality regarding nuclear weapons, it is conceivable, in principle, that such consequential missteps could become less likely over time, on the more-or-less logical assumption that experience in office would correlate favorably with increased caution.  But it is already the closing days of this president’s current term in office, and that optimistic conclusion could offer only a “common sense” reprieve. At best, in fact, it would represent a “tricky” or contrived extrapolation from certain earlier historical eras, one wherein the main argument would have made some sense in a pre-nuclear past.

In any event, during any still-upcoming nuclear crisis involving the United States, President Trump would have to strike an optimal balance between the always-unavoidable search for “escalation dominance,” and the closely matching need to avoid being locked into any desperate sequence of geo-strategic move and countermove.

Expressed as an appropriately dynamic process, one driven by its own unstoppable inner momentum, this escalatory sequence could create a self-limiting pattern of extrication that would then lead inexorably to either a controlled nuclear exchange or to full-blown nuclear war. Either immediately or over time, the disparate costs of any such war could severely impact Israel, and perhaps assorted other regional states, as well as the United States itself.

Strategic risk-taking can be significantly advantageous up to a point, but figuring out exactly where that critical point should be established is by no means a handily calculable task. Well-documented histories of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis all seem to agree that the superpowers had then come very close to a starkly different and authentically calamitous sort of conclusion. Once again, back at Princeton in 1967, I had heard this cautionary conclusion directly from the US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara.

Nuclear strategy is a game that various sane national leaders must sometimes learn to play, but never with any reassuringly plausible assurances of probable outcomes. The only way this “probabilistic unpredictability” can ever change is if, in the years ahead, some actual examples should accumulate of specific nuclear escalations and outcomes. Of course, this sort of accumulation is not something we ought ever to wish for. Instead, it would be far better for us to continue to have to concede a structural incapacity to more reliably “figure the odds” of any nuclear crisis engagement, or of any resultant nuclear war.

 Analysts may learn from this exceedingly complex dialectic that we can’t yet determine usefully just how likely it is that America’s unpredictable sitting president would ever give an irrational order to use American nuclear weapons. But scholars can still reasonably advise Mr. Trump and his counselors that unprecedented nuclear dangers lurk not only (or even primarily) in sudden “bolt from the blue” enemy attacks, but also in certain unanticipated and uncontrolled forms of nuclear escalation[25]. As far as any pretending irrationality is concerned – a tactic that may or may not have figured importantly in the Cuban Missile Crisis, depending upon one’s own particular interpretation of JFK’s 1962 strategic calculations – it could rapidly become a double-edged sword for Donald Trump.

In those circumstances, when centered on the Middle East, the self-destructive sword’s “edge” could inflict measureless or nearly measureless harms upon the United States and upon Israel.

Most purposeless of all would be a President Trump who naively confused copious bluster and bravado with some genuinely convincing rendition of irrationality. From the start, Trump has persistently hinted at the alleged benefits of pretending irrationality in foreign relations, but there is yet no compelling evidence that he also understands the corollary requirement of a policy “follow through.” No doubt, Moshe Dayan had once made a promising point in his own strategic argument that Israel should  be seen as a “mad dog,” but it remains credible that he would have strongly favored certain attendant preparations to ensure Jerusalem’s “escalation dominance.”

These vital preparations would have been based upon a carefully-prepared and incrementally nuanced “ladder” of sequenced retaliations and counter-retaliations.

To be sure, under certain circumstances, the “rationality of pretended irrationality” tactic could represent a manifestly sane move in the bewilderingly complex game of nuclear strategy, but it must always be undertaken together with variously inherent and immutable limitations. Above all, at least for the foreseeable future, this means fashioning national strategic policies without any substantially precise or scientific estimations of probable outcome. Looking ahead, for Israel, it follows that there can be no adequate substitute for maximum caution and prudence in absolutely every instance of strategic risk-taking.

This includes those prospectively fearful circumstances triggered by recognizable instances of US presidential irrationality or miscalculation on nuclear decisions.

Never to be taken lightly, in this regard, is Sigmund Freud’s trenchant observation that history remains littered with the corpses of millions spawned by some form or other of national leadership irrationality or miscalculation.[26] Conspicuously, that observation was offered before nuclear weapons. Today, from a crucial standpoint of nuclear war avoidance, it should be closely pondered in Jerusalem as well as Washington.

For Israel, still more precisely, such concern should derive in large measure from binding alliance ties between the two countries.


[1] Herman Kahn is among the first prominent thinkers associated with the post-war genre of strategic nuclear war. His more important works are On Thermonuclear War (1962) and Thinking About the Unthinkable (1962). Back at Princeton in the mid-1960s, his work became a conceptual  mainstay of our advanced graduate courses dealing with military affairs and world order. His most memorable observation, as I can recall, is that “After a nuclear war, the survivors would envy the dead.”

[2] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/ See also, by Professor Beres,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ (Pentagon).

[3] What else can one say after an American president makes repeated medical claims that contradict his own most authoritative scientific advisors; asserts that Joe Biden, his rival, “hates and wants to hurt God…;” recommends injecting household disinfectants as therapeutic or prophylactic agents for Covid19 infection; says that children are “almost immune” to Corona virus; and maintains that “only 1%” of those infected” suffer any palpable harms?

[4] See, for current assessments: https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/06/politics/trump-advisers-fears-military-options/index.html 

[5] See by this writer, Louis René Beres, https://www.inss.org.il/publication/changing-direction-updating-israels-nuclear-doctrine/; with USN Admiral (ret.) Leon “Bud” Edney,  https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/02/11/facing-a-nuclear-iran-israel-must-rethink-its-nuclear-ambiguity; and with USAF General John T. Chain, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/could-israel-safely-deter-a-nuclear-iran/260947/. General Chain served as Commander-in-Chief, US Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC); while Admiral Edney is a former Supreme Allied Commander/NATO (SACLANT).

[6] “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz, in his classic discussion of “friction” in On War, “but the simplest thing is difficult.” Herein, friction refers to the unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning inevitable strategic uncertainties; on presidential under-estimations or over-estimations of US relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence, and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

[7] In this regard, see jointly authored monograph at Tel Aviv University by Professor Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy and America’s National Security (2016) https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[8] For the moment, the arguments presented here are “Trump specific,” but they are also all prospectively generic; that is, they could inhere in the US-Israel relationship per se, and apply irrespective of any particular US White House incumbent.

[9] US presidential expressions of decisional irrationality could take different and 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 internal dissonance generated by any authoritative structure of collective decision-making (e.g., the US National Security Council).

[10] Also problematic for the United States and its pertinent allies, especially Israel, would be the firing of American nuclear weapons due to Russian cyber-attacks/cyber-intrusions. In the final analysis, this cyber-war threat is of potentially greater existential import than threats of any continued Russian meddling in America’s elections. Moreover, the threat is still growing while President Trump stubbornly exonerates Vladimir Putin and simultaneously vilifies the FBI plus his own intelligence community. Why?

[11] This president, of course, would have no knowledge about any such matters of national and international law himself. Nonetheless, for the designated lawyers, anticipatory self-defense would represent a permissible use of force before an enemy attack has already been experienced or absorbed. While the usual national obligation to wait until one’s own country has been struck first is formally codified at Article 51 of the UN Charter, the corollary right of anticipatory self-defense derives from customary international law. Moreover, all authoritative sources of international law are sequentially identified at Article 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice.

[12] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep24333?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents    https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/165-MONOGRAPH-Beres-What-Happens-to-Israel-if-the-US-and-Iran-Go-to-War-web-2.pdf

[13] Our system of world politics remains essentially “Westphalian.” The reference here is to the Peace Of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the still-existing decentralized or self-help “state system.” For pertinent legal bases, see: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[14] The earlier-mentioned customary right of “anticipatory self-defense” has its modern origins in The Caroline incident, which revolved around the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 against British rule in Upper Canada. Following this incident, a serious threat of armed attack became generally accepted as adequate justification for certain otherwise-proper preemptive actions. In a formal exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require a prior armed attack. Military preemption, therefore, was to be judged permissible, at least as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” By extrapolation, today, in the nuclear age, this permissibility ought to be of even greater latitude. See: The Caroline, 2 John B. Moore, A Digest of International Law 412 (1906); reprinted in Louis Henkin, et. al., International law: Cases and Materials 622 (2nd ed., 1987).

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

[16] This is sometimes considered as similar to the concept of a “force multiplier.” A force multiplier is a collection of related characteristics, other than weapons or force size, that may intentionally render a military organization more effective in war. It may include generalship; tactical surprise; tactical mobility; or even certain command and control system enhancements. It could also include imaginative and less-costly forms of preemption, such as assassination or targeted killing; also sabotage. Looking ahead, it could embrace variously integrated components of cyber-defense and cyber-warfare, including a reciprocal capacity to prevent or blunt any incoming cyber attacks. Again, the need for such components could have its conceptual origins in the sorely incoherent and problematic Trump presidency.

[17] I first wrote of such U.S. nuclear authority matters in an earlier book,  Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics, The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

[18] See, for example, the new book by former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Tom Colinna, https://newbooksnetwork.com/w-j-perry-and-t-z-collina-the-button-the-new-nuclear-arms-race-and-presidential-power-from-truman-to-trump-benbella-books-2020/

.

[19] See forthcoming book by Jim Sciutto, The Madman Theory: Trump Takes on the World (Harper Collins, August 2020).

[20] Regarding current US-Russia relations, we are now plausibly in the midst of “Cold War II.” Hypothesizing the emergence of this second Cold War  means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

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

[22] See especially Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy. https://www.amazon.com/Surviving-Amid-Chaos-Strategy-Destruction/dp/1442253258

[23] On the crime of “aggression” see: RESOLUTION ON THE DEFINITION OF AGGRESSION, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No. 31) 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631, 1975, reprinted in 13 I.L.M. 710, 1974; and CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS, Art. 51.. Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945,  59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, Bevans 1153,  1976, Y.B.U.N. 1043.

[24] This brings to mind the need for identifying ways in which a nuclear war involving Israel might begin directly with events in the Middle East.  There are certain plausible and also more-or-less probable paths to actual nuclear war-fighting in the Middle East: (1) enemy nuclear first-strikes against Israel (not yet a possibility, at least so long as non-Arab Pakistan is excluded  as an enemy state); (2) enemy non-nuclear WMD (weapons of mass destruction) first-strikes against Israel, that elicit Israeli nuclear reprisals, either promptly, or as a consequence of incremental escalatory processes; (3) Israeli nuclear preemptions against hard targets in enemy states with nuclear assets (excluding Pakistan, still not a present possibility); (4) Israeli non-nuclear preemptions against hard targets in enemy states, with nuclear assets, that elicit enemy nuclear reprisals, either promptly, or via incremental escalation processes (also not yet a possibility); and (5) Israeli non-nuclear preemptions against hard targets in enemy states, without nuclear assets, that elicit substantial enemy biological warfare reprisals, and, reciprocally, Israeli nuclear counter-retaliations. In principle, at least, other paths to nuclear war fighting in the region could include accidental/unintentional/inadvertent/unauthorized nuclear attacks between Israel and pertinent enemy states. Analysts will also have to consider the real prospect of escalations arising from certain WMD terrorism against Israel.

[25] On these issues as a more generic problem, see: Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964) and Herman Kahn, On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios (1965). See also, by this writer, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1973).

[26] In his exact words: “Fools,  visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great  roles at all times in the history of mankind….Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He stressed that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing of the presentation

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

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

Questions and Answers Section

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

Russia won’t be part of that geopolitical game” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

My own questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From our partner International Affairs

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Hiroshima and the Peace of the Bomb

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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