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The American Triumph of “Mass-Man”: A Lethal Ascent

Max Ernst, The Horde
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“The mass-man[1] has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”-Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1930)

The starkly anti-intellectual ethos of Donald Trump’s presidency did not arise in an historical vacuum. Though uniquely ominous from the crucial standpoint of time, it was spawned by the same loathing of education, wisdom and science that had earlier animated the Third Reich. And while Trump’s unhappy and dissembling America is certainly not Nazi Germany – e.g., there exist here no purposeful programs of aggressive war or mass murder –  this nation’s leader has willfully abandoned reason and truth in favor of contrivance.[2]

If this abandonment were not sufficiently worrisome, the Trump-orchestrated pattern of deception and denial is now taking place together with unprecedented disease epidemic. This means, inter alia, a broadening variety of tangible intersections between political and biological hazards to the American People. Sometimes these reinforcing intersections will display more than simply additive or accreted effects.

In these especially fearful cases, wherever the “whole” cumulative impact exceeds the arithmetic sum of constituent “parts,” the pertinent intersections will be “synergistic.” This conclusion is not subject to any sensible evaluation. This is because it is true by definition.

Time deserves pride of place. Already, we are at the eleventh hour, well past the point of any ordinary citizenship apprehensions concerning bad governance. Without hyperbole, and at a moment when such a manifestly unfit president’s ideological anti-Reason coincides with worldwide disease plague, an entire nation is being challenged to draw deeply upon its dwindling intellectual reserves.

Without any exaggeration, this evolving and deteriorating American struggle will soon revolve around the most rudimentary elements of physical survival.

Whatever their plausible particularities, the alternative national outcomes here will include anything but “greatness.” Then, even presidentially hand-tossed red hats will not save the United States.

How did we get here, and –  more importantly – where should we reasonably expect to end up? In reply, Donald Trump represents the more-or-less predictable expression of a perishing society, one that keeps itself reassuringly distant from any mind-challenging thought. When Mr. Trump noted proudly, during his 2016 campaign, “I love the poorly educated,” it was by no means an off-the-cuff or seat-of-the pants observation. Rather, it was an updated and same-sentiments version of Joseph Goebbels 1934 Nuremberg rally shriek: “Intellect rots the brain.”

When Donald Trump argues (daily) that Covid19 deaths would decline if only the country performed less testing, there are too few audible gasps of disbelief. Similarly less than proportionate exclamations of citizen incredulity greeted the president’s earlier prescription for individual injections of commercial disinfectants, or his concurrent claim that only one-percent of infected patients suffer any palpable harms.

What exactly have the other 99% been experiencing?

Prima facie, how could all this not have elicited uniformly insistent calls for Trump’s immediate resignation? Could there possibly have been any more explicit or compelling evidence of presidential unfitness? What does one say about an “advanced” society that does not cringe collectively at such abhorrent nonsense, and refuses to make clear that gibberish is intolerable to rationality-based calculations of a modern nation-state?

If this is all an example of Trump’s “America First,” it is also the reductio ad absurdum of a country that continuously accelerates its own misfortune.

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”

There is more. Before the pandemic, US citizen excursions into absurdity were witnessed most predictably at Trump “rallies.” At these intentionally incoherent gatherings, replete with obscenity-laced screams and ritualistic phrases, the president’s faithful chanted in atavistic unison, in a crudely meaningless and deranged primal chorus. Now that such gatherings are no longer deemed safe, even for those who ordinarily take comfort in rhymes, Trump-organized expressions of anti-reason and anti-science have shifted to the streets.

There is ample precedent here. Said Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, “Whoever can dominate the street will one day conquer the state, for every form of power politics and any dictatorship run state has its roots in the street.”

More recently, US President Donald J. Trump threatened: “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a  certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

“Bikers for Trump?” This proud endorsement from a president who never sets foot at any university and who openly questions the medical insights of accomplished epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci? Credo quia absurdum. Albeit reluctantly, we must respond in this once-unimaginable moment,  “I believe because it is absurd.”

For the United States, at least in principle, there may exist some still-promising supplications to reason and science. But any such foreseeable entreaties would first require a society that can take itself seriously, not that has wittingly exchanged banal observations and empty chatter for genuine intellect and learning. Under no imaginable circumstances could these sensible pleas be spawned by a servile society of suffocating mass-men or mass-women.

Candor is indispensable. Truth is exculpatory. At this point, actually meeting the entry-level requirements of a thoughtful society must remain little more than a vague hope.Nonetheless, a simple though dignified model for national improvement does remain available. To wit, back in the nineteenth century, Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had called upon his fellow Americans to embrace “plain living and high thinking.”

Today, of course, it is all too evident that Emerson’s sensible nineteenth-century plaint for enhanced equilibrium  (personal and social) went unheeded.

In the glaringly rancorous “Trump Era,” there is no longer any credible pretense concerning  integrity or “mind.” Plainly, intellect and dignity are both strikingly out of political fashion. At least in the most cantankerous Trump-dominated realms of decision-making, “high thinking” is no longer regarded as worthwhile or advantageous. For this president, who seemingly learned a great deal from his de facto kindred spirit, Joseph Goebbels, it is very obviously a liability.

It was Goebbels, too, let us not forget to mention, who “taught” that the most utterly stupendous lies are sometimes most readily believed. A pertinent example would be the Final Solution and corresponding Holocaust denial.

There is more. Though heavily ironic and not generally understood, looking behind the news is every American’s first obligation of good citizenship. In these once sacred domains, spaces where discernible residues of reason are still permitted to dwell, we may discover certain immutably core truths of American political life. Accordingly, when citizens look conscientiously behind the news, they will better understand that even the tiniest hint of science or “high thinking” is being treated by Donald Trump as an affront, as an epithet, as an unseemly sign of independent thinking.

Could there be any conceivable excuse for not looking in this direction?

Always, let us be fair. The organized and corrosive subordination of intellect by a US president was by no means an original “contribution” of  Donald J. Trump. After all, American society has never been a conspicuous example of appropriate obeisance to learning or enlightened considerations of “mind.”  But it does remains a defining and defiling signature of this fully dissembling American presidency.

 For sensible and still-thinking Americans, there should be little residual ambiguity about what is currently unraveling. Beyond any reasonable doubt, this unhappy country backs further and further away from any merit-based  standards of policy assessment. Now locked fixedly into a regressive trajectory of political and cultural decline, America’s cumulative ambitions are systematically being reduced to narrowly shallow credos and derivatively empty witticisms.

“I love the poorly educated,” said candidate Trump back in 2016.

“Intellect rots the brain,” said Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

There is more. Relevant policy examples abound. It should hardly come as a surprise that virtually all Americans are already victims of this president’s once-vaunted “trade wars” and “currency wars.” The principal long-term beneficiaries of  this Trump-induced incoherence, of course, will be Russia and China. The only corollary question, therefore, should be this one:

Why is such gravely injurious presidential irrationality still acceptable to millions of rhythmically chanting and “loyal” citizens?

As fearful disease combines with a foolishly belligerent Trumpian nationalism, what can these deluded citizens possibly be thinking?

These questions need to be suitably answered. Always, science must begin with identifiably tangible questions. These core queries cannot be overlooked, minimized or ignored. Americans, it follows, must much more sincerely inquire:

“How can a US president so willfully ignore and accept his Russian counterpart as his  puppet master?”

 Even in the wholesale absence of “high thinking” within the Trump White House, it should at least be unambiguous that one superpower president has become the all-too-witting marionette of the other. Could any observation be any more apparent?

At what point do Americans candidly acknowledge that in any measured comparisons with geopolitical reality, the current US presidency might effectively represent The Manchurian Candidate on steroids?

There are even more serious questions. As a nation, when shall we finally agree to bear truthful witness on Constitutional governance?[3] Can there be any doubt that there is vastly more significance to these founding principles than the oft-misinterpreted Second Amendment? Surely this country must ultimately be about much more than just some basic  right to bear arms. Surely we ought to be more than merely perplexed or bemused when a sitting president declares that he may choose not to accept the results of the upcoming election.

“The man who laughs,” warned dramatist Bertolt Brecht about an earlier European charlatan, “has simply not yet heard the terrible news.”

Do Donald Trump’s “faithful” supporters believe that Mr. Trump actually has lawful authority to defy an election outcome? How could they have such a belief? Have they ever glanced at the US Constitution?

It’s a silly question. The president himself has never looked at this document, or at any of the associated judicial histories or decisions, If he has no need of facts – that is, if he can learn sufficiently “in his own flesh” – why should ordinary citizens leave the card room or the golf course?

For explanations, cultural context remains vital, even determinative. Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency did not arise ex nihilo, out of nothing. Recalling classic American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson, what exactly has gone so terribly wrong with American “high thinking?” How, more precisely, have we managed to allow a once-still-promising and rising nation to slide uncontrollably toward national misfortune?  

Again, the core element of time deserves pride of place. In our inherently unsteady nuclear age, any such misfortune could sometime include irreversibly catastrophic wars.  With such a dreaded inclusion, We the people might even need to witness a wholly unanticipated fusion. This would be an explosive alloy of disease plague and apocalypse.

 It could not be a pleasing fusion.

Before answering such critical queries – and any properly serious replies must take informed account of expanding worldwide nuclear proliferation – the operational genre we select must be precise. In this connection, for example, whenever we speak of Donald Trump we ought not speak of “tragedy.” Authentic  tragedy, unlike common buffoonery, chicanery or gratuitously-induced misfortune, is ennobling.   

From Aristotle to Shakespeare, true tragedy has demanded a victim, whether individual or societal, who suffers undeservedly.

This key demand has not been met today.

In the incessantly profane play being directed by US President Donald J. Trump, a national leader who reads literally nothing, nothing at all, Americans are not tragic figures. After all, we are not just the passive victims of a disjointed and contrived presidency forced illegitimately upon us in 2016. As long as we refuse to speak out at less delicate levels of truth-telling – and this refusal means much more than just showing up to vote in 2020 – we will  richly deserve our consequent losses.

In America, the “emperor” is naked, stark naked He has always been naked. His policies, drawn from deepening swamps of incoherence, will not improve. They cannot improve. Ever.

In the nuclear age, it now bears repeating, our future losses could be incalculable and irremediable.

More immediately, they could be unendurable.

At that point we Americans would not represent the tragic victims of some unstoppable national decline. Instead, we would stand for the pathetic “spillover” of a hideous and once-preventable melodrama.

At that point, continuing the theatrical metaphor, our defining genre will have become parody and pathos. It will be as humiliating as it is lethal. In all likelihood, that finally expressed Trump-induced genre would represent a dreadful and hideous farce.

There is more. Amid all these consequential “theatrical” matters, we may have less to learn from Aristotle or Shakespeare than from 20th century psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Even a cursory glance at the two seminal thinkers from Vienna and Zurich should remind us of ever-present dangers posed by “mass.”

 Freud and Jung were both strongly influenced by the Danish Existentialist thinker Soren Kierkegaard (who personally preferred the term “crowd” to “mass”) and by German-Swiss philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who spoke woefully and without guile of the “herd.”[4]

Whatever term analysts might now decide to favor, one key point remains unassailable: When an entire nation and society abandon the most basic obligations of critical thinking, “mind” and “reason” (this observation about “reason” should also bring us to the insights of  German post-War philosopher, Karl Jaspers[5]), we can expect incremental deformity and eventual tyranny.  Nietzsche, in his masterpiece, Zarathustra, was even more specific.

“Do not seek the higher-man in the marketplace,” the prophet had warned presciently. But the demeaning marketplace is exactly where America found and elected Donald J. Trump. Translated into the more prosaic terms of our current American presidential dilemma, this ought to remind us that the mundane skill sets acquired in the worlds of real-estate bargaining and casino gambling do not “carry over” to high-politics and diplomacy.

As one might say right here, back home in Indiana, “Not hardly!”

Now, in essence, American national leadership requires some serious figures of historical literacy and tangible erudition, not the crudely half-educated impresarios of “deals.” In America, snake oil can still be sold under the various sacrilizing markings of some alleged public policy. But the product still remains snake oil.

In the end, every society represents the sum total of its individual souls seeking some sort or other of “redemption.” This search is never properly scientific – after all, there can be no discernible or tangible referent for a human “soul” – but some important answers may still occasionally lie outside mainstream scientific investigations.[6] Though science must always be our signal analytic guidepost, these sorts of “eccentric” answers ought not be disregarded.

At times, they should be consciously sought and carefully studied.

Not only the blustering American emperor, but also those still awed by his mind-stifling parade of gibberish, are “naked.” Shamelessly naked. Recalling American poet T S Eliot, in President Donald Trump’s deeply fractionated American republic, We the people cheerlessly inhabit a “hollow land”[7] of stultifying submission, crass consumption, dreary profanity and immutably shallow pleasures. Bored by the embarrassing banalities of American daily life, and beaten down by the grinding struggle to stay hopeful amid ever-widening polarities of disease versus health,  wealth versus poverty, weary US citizens (people who have every right to vote, but not to keep their teeth[8]) grasp anxiously for any available lifelines of distraction.

In 2016, this presumed lifeline was a false prophet of American “greatness.”

In 2016, legions of Americans unaccustomed to reading anything of consequence were easily taken in by a staggering mountain of cheap red hats and breathtakingly inane slogans.

For Donald Trump, cynical simplifications represented his planned and eventually successful path to electoral victory. In this regard, nothing has changed.

“Intellect rots the mind” said Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1935.

“I love the poorly educated,” said US Presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

Such points considered, it is small wonder that the cavernous American Opiate Crisis is already deep enough to drown entire libraries of a once-sacred poetry.

Small wonder, too, that in a nation of so much institutionalized pain and private desperation there exists a pervasively growing cry for a delusionary “anesthesia.”

In part, because of the indifferent and ineffectual stewardship of America’s current president, both this singular nation and the wider planetary system of which it is a part are at significant (even existential) risk. Where, then, shall we meaningfully seek any still-lingering public demands for human improvement and collective survival? Where might we still discover any usefully reinforcing visions of social cooperation and personal growth?  

In principle, at least, more thoughtful concepts are now de rigeur. Misdirected by the incessantly hollow claims of “American Exceptionalism” and “America First,” we have somehow managed to forget that world politics is essentially a system. It follows, among other things, that US prosperity is perpetually linked to the calculable well-being of other states and other societies.

We are not alone on this crumbling planet.

It’s not terribly complicated. In brief, this is an historical moment where one simplifying gastronomic metaphor can actually make succinct sense:  We are all, incontestably, in the “soup” together.

There is more. Until now, we have unceremoniously ignored the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s altogether clear warning from The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

We have also ignored almost everything else of commendably real intellectual importance. Should there remain any sincere doubts about this indictment, one need only look at the current state of American higher education.  In many ways, this is now just another obvious expression of Nietzsche’s (Zarathustra’s) “marketplace.”

In Donald Trump’s America, we the people are no longer shaped by any suitably generalized feelings of reverence or compassion, or, as has already been amply demonstrated, by even the tiniest hints of some plausibly complex thought. Now, our preferred preoccupation,  unhidden, lies with a closely- orchestrated hysteria of indulgence in other people’s private lives and (with even greater and more visceral enthusiasm) their palpable sufferings. In German, there is even a specially-designated word for this pathology of the human spirit.

 The Germans call this schadenfreude, or taking an  exquisite pleasure in the misfortunes of others.

For the most part,  this voyeuristic frenzy is juxtaposed against the always-comforting myth of American superiority. In the end, this particular myth, more than any other, is apt to produce further declension and despair. This is the case even when an American president chooses to physically wrap himself in the flag, a once-frequent Trump embrace of rare and visually defiling repugnance.

I belong, therefore I am.” This is assuredly not what philosopher René Descartes had in mind when, back in the 17th century, he urged greater thought and expanding doubt. It is also a very sad credo. Unhesitatingly, it screams loudly that seeming social acceptance is equivalent to physical survival, and that even the most sorely pretended pleasures of inclusion are worth pursuing.

A push-button metaphysics of “apps” reigns supreme in America. This immense attraction of smart phones and social networks stems in large part from our barren society’s machine-like existence. Within this increasingly robotic universe, every hint of human passion must be shunted away from any caring human emotions, and then re-directed along certain uniform and vicariously satisfying pathways.

There are jurisprudential issues. Though international law obliges the United States to oppose all crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity – and despite the fact that this binding international law is an incorporated part of the municipal law of the United States[9] – America’s president remains silent on war crimes, whether committed by America’s allies or by its adversaries. In part, these terms of relationship must be bound together because  it has become substantially unclear in Trump’s inverted universe exactly who is friend and who is foe.

When Donald J. Trump says of North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un “We’re in love,” the rest of us are in real trouble.

There is more. We may still argue, and quite correctly, that human beings are the creators of their machines, not their servants. Yet, there exists today an implicit and hideous reciprocity between creator and creation, an elaborate and potentially murderous pantomime between the users and the used. Quite openly, our fragmenting American society is making a machine out of Man and Woman.

 In what must amount to an unforgivable inversion of Genesis, it now seems plausible that we have actually been created in the image not of God, but of the machine. Mustn’t we now ask, at least those residually few Americans who would courageously remain determined thinkers and policy doubters, “What sort of redemption is this?”

 For the moment, we Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and stultifying mass. By relentlessly disclaiming any dint of interior life, we are somehow able to proceed with our imitative lives, very tentatively, of course, and – in absolutely every existential sphere – at the lowest possible common denominator.

Expressed in more tangible pre-pandemic terms, our air, rail and land travel is too often insufferable, especially when compared to other western democracies. Our universities, institutions in which I have lived for more than the past half century, are generally bereft of anything that might ever hint at serious learning. For the most part, these places have obligingly become submissive adjuncts to the larger corporate and entrepreneurial worlds. Unsurprisingly, they are not generally places of any analytic education.

 America’s universities have been effectively dedicated more than anything else to private wealth accumulation and correspondingly to institutional self-promotion. In this country, let us be candid: “You are what you buy.” Or in what amounts to a grotesque inversion of Descartes, “I don’t think, therefore I am.”

In the blatantly anti-intellectual Trump Era, this already intolerable trend merely continues to worsen. Considered together with ongoing disease pandemic intersections, some of which could be authentically synergistic, this trend could become literally murderous or even quasi-genocidal.

There is still more pertinent detail to consider. Across the beleaguered American landscape, the “hollow land,” our once traditionally revered Western Canon of literature and art has largely been replaced more “practical” emphases on job preparation, loyalty-building sports and “branding”(quantitative rankings.) Apart from their unhappy drunkenness and broadly tasteless entertainments, the once-sacred spaces of “higher education” had managed, pre-pandemic, to become something wholly unrelated to learning. Most visibly, though rarely acknowledged, our universities had been morphing into a vocational pipeline to mostly nonsensical and unsatisfying jobs.

Sometimes, as in the unambiguous case of onetime “Trump University,” they are incapable of meeting even these minimal expectations.

 It is high time for candor. For most of America’s young people, learning has become an inconvenient and burdensome commodity, nothing more. At the same time, as virtually everyone already understands, commodities exist for only one overriding purpose. They exist, like newly minted college graduates themselves, to be bought and sold.

Beware, warns Zarathustra, of ever seeking virtue or quality at the marketplace. This is a place only for buying and selling. It is a venue for “deals.”

Though faced with genuine threats of plague, war,  impoverishment and terror, millions of Americans still choose to amuse themselves to death with assorted forms of morbid excitement, public scandal (remember Schadenfreude), inedible foods, and the stunningly inane repetitions of a wholly illiterate political discourse. Not a day goes by that we don’t notice some premonitory sign of impending catastrophe. Still, our bewildered and  drug-numbed country continues to impose upon its exhausted and manipulated people a devaluation of challenging thought and a breakneck pace of unrelieved and unrewarding work.

Small wonder that “No Vacancy” signs continue to hang securely outside our psychiatric hospitals, childcare centers and ready-to-burst prisons, not just at our Covid19 intensive care units.

In all purposeful societies, as Ralph Waldo Emerson had already understood, the care of individual “souls” remains the most urgent responsibility. Conceivably, there could emerge a betterAmerican Soul,”but not until we should first agree to shun the variously inter-penetrating seductions of mass culture  –  that is, (1) rank imitation; (2) shallow thinking;  (3) organized mediocrity; and (4) a manifestly predatory politics of  ethnicity, race and class. Of course, any such far-reaching rejection will not be easy. It will take time. And time is something we no longer have.

The alternative would be for us to embrace an intolerably “hollow” future, one offering not a national life of any excellence or promise, but the American poet’s “cactus land” –  a decaying country ever more willing “to receive the supplication of a dead man’s hand.” This would represent an unalterably lethal embrace, one earlier described in generic terms by 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard as “a sickness unto death.”

Amid this existential pathology, hope would quickly give way to abject surrender and to a dreadfully expanding despair.

When an aspiring tyranny fuses its doctrine of anti-science with a spreading plague or pandemic, the myriad dangers of “mass-man” can become insurmountable. Moreover, these intersecting and potentially synergistic dangers can turn most glaringly portentous when the citizenry no longer has any attention to spare for critical reasoning. At that woeful point of declension, longtime democratic traditions notwithstanding, it could agree to follow a misguiding piper anywhere.

Lemming-like, and with nary a serious thought, the American mass would then march dutifully, in humiliating lockstep, and, if “necessary,” toward collective extinction. In a cumulatively grotesque American “triumph” of mass-man, it would know how to end the unraveling story. This means it would “rally” boisterously above the now endless fields of corpses, declaring unreservedly, and with commonly self-satisfied convictions, “America is Great Again.”


[1] As used herein, of course, the term “mass-man” is gender neutral, and applies equally to male and female citizens of the United States.

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

[3] https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/07/Beres-president-trump-impeachment1/

[4]“To lure many away from the herd, for that I have come. The people and the herd shall be angry with me. Zarathustra wants to be called a robber by the shepherds.” (See Zarathustra, Part 1).

[5] See especially Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952).

[6] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but clearly it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[7]See, T S Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925).

[8] One has to wonder just how many Americans can even afford to have essential dental care. As a practical matter, for a great many Americans (both poor and aged) teeth are simply no longer affordable.

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

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Americas

The latest Kissinger: Leadership and the eavesdropping on history

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In the first lines of the introduction to his most recent book, Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy, which was released this summer in the Penguin Random House Publishers in New York; Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger seems unintentionally, of course, to hand his anti-Kissinger reader and nine-tenths of his ideas, policies, and behaviors an eloquent opening key confirming the validity of opposing the book or even reluctance to read it. He writes: “Any society, whatever its political system, is in a state of constant transition between a past that shapes its memory and a vision of the future that inspires its development. Along these lines, leadership is indispensable: decisions to be made, trust earned, promises kept, and a way forward proposed.”

This is because the contradictions of all of these, and many others, in reality, remained the norms of ‘leadership’ that Kissinger assumed from very sensitive positions in American foreign policy: as National Security Adviser, Secretary of State, and architect of the agreement with the Soviet Union and China, and a driver in the Paris negotiations that established Conclusion/way out of decades of US war crimes in Vietnam. In addition, of course, to engineering military coups here and there in the world, especially Chile, against the democratically elected President Salvador Allende, complicity in the Heinous massacres in Pakistan and Bangladesh and here and there in the world as well, and raising the maximum nuclear alert in the White House without the knowledge of the president to pressure the Soviets and reverse the trend. The war on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts in 1973, etc. are many, varied, outrageous…

There is, therefore, a need for a principled critical perspective that is suitable to assist a reader of another type, which means standing on the basis of what Kissinger sees and what theorizes and foresees when he is 99 years old, and issues the 19th book of his books on international politics. But is it correct, first mentally, then critically, and morally, for the reader to follow what Kissinger gropes about these six, without arming himself with strict, highly discerning, and scrutiny filters that list the author’s sins against the very people whose politicians he analyzes?

‘At the heart of human institutions, states, religions, armies, corporations, and schools, leadership is dictated by the need to help people get from where they are to where they have never been before or where they rarely imagined reaching,’ Kissinger writes in an introduction to his conception of leadership. Not far away, the reader must keep recalling what the owner of these metaphorical representations reached when he led American foreign policy in the east and west of the earth, and in recovering more than one deadly, sinful, and criminal ‘recipe’ to address crises, problems, and conflicts. Here are the items that should not be forgotten from the Kissinger list:

Advising the Israeli occupying state to crush the first intifada, in a ‘brutal, comprehensive, and swift manner, These are Kissinger’s literal words, as deliberately leaked by Julius Berman, the former president of American Jewish organizations.

– The famous ‘anatomical’ position on the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, in calling on Bush Sr. to carry out ‘surgical’ strikes that would affect the cultural, social, and economic depths of Iraq (the country and the people, before the regime and its military and political machine).

Publicly calling for ‘the extraction of Iraq’s teeth without destroying its ability to resist any foreign invasion that might appeal to its eager neighbors’ in a resounding article entitled ‘The Post-War Agenda’ published in early 1991.

– Reprimanding the team of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, because what they contracted with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in Oslo and then in the White House is nothing but a dynamic Mechanism that will sooner or later lead to a Palestinian state (which he rejects wherever it comes and wherever it is established, It is equal for him that it is created from a pure ‘Waliyat’ or turns into less than a municipality).

The mockery of some ‘amateur boys’ in the White House, who confuse ‘business’ with morals, and trade with human rights (in the example of China); They do not discriminate in the trade wars between Euro-American sectarianism and the law of universal sharing of a vast market as much as it is narrow (the GATT pacts and its sisters)…

In an extensive article entitled ‘Lessons for an Exit Strategy’ dating back to the summer of 2005, Kissinger disclosed much of what had been hidden, although he was practically exposed from the start, about the existing or potential analogs between the US military involvement in Vietnam and the US occupation of Iraq, on the one hand, and the consequences of the military defeat there, and the consequences of the impossibility of the American director here, on the other hand. In addition, from that classic and correct lesson forever: that winning any war does not mean winning its peace, or perhaps achieving any peace!

The article contained that shocking paragraph: ‘It is certain that history does not repeat itself accurately. Vietnam was a Cold War battle; As for Iraq, it is an episode in the struggle against radical Islam. The challenge of the Cold War was understood to be the political survival of the nations – the independent states allied with the United States surrounding the Soviet Union. But the war in Iraq is not about the geopolitical issue as much as it is about the clash of ideologies, cultures, and religious beliefs. And because the Islamic challenge is far-reaching, the outcome in Iraq will have more profound significance than it was in Vietnam. What was striking in this conclusion was not limited to the reduction of the American military invasion (and then the British, for a useful reminder) to superficial and shallow stereotyping of radical Islam. Rather, on the inability of the history professor to absorb the lessons of history, which will not take long for them to unfold and take root and Kissinger will live long enough to see them with his own eyes, even as he puts the last lines in the manuscript of his 19th book.

No less surprising, of course, is that he concludes the chapter on Sadat in a poor metaphor, combining the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten’s desire to establish a monotheistic religion in contrast to the Egyptian Gods, with Sadat’s partnership with Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin; And how the current steps of normalization between the occupying state and each of the Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan are due to Sadat’s initiative, which nonetheless remains an ‘incomplete legacy’ and incomplete, according to Kissinger himself. More decreasing, and more exposing the methodologies of the book in general, that the peoples remain the largest absent, absent intentionally and deliberately, over the 528 pages of a volume that claims reading the leadership problem across two axes: the first, between the past and the future; The second, between the fixed values ​​and the aspirations of those who lead. That is some of the reasons why we do not agree with Kissingerry’s opinion, if the percentage is so, about the fate of the leadership in Nixon America, where the ‘Watergate’ scandal transports the leader to the ranks of the eavesdropping eavesdropper; or in Thatcher’s Britain, where the leadership fist was not struck more forcefully than it did against unions and the public sector; As for Egypt, one has the right to elaborate and elaborate, and there is nothing wrong with it.

Whatever the opinion of the Six Strategies as Diagnosed by Kissinger, the use of strict filters to read the book remains an indispensable prior strategy, first or seventh… Same!

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It’s as-if voters want to remain deceived

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an example:

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

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

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

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

Gabbard had asserted during the July 31st Democratic debate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Adversarial Chessboard

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

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

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

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

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

Meanings of Atomic Chaos vis-a-vis North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contests of “Mind Over Mind”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Preemption Option?

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

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

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

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

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

Four Types of Nuclear Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

The Question of Rationality

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

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

               In science, this is an especially critical datum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions of International Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expectations of Stable Nuclear Deterrence

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

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

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

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

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

               Not at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

               Everything, again, is part of a system.

Getting Beyond “Westphalian” International Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[4] The origins of such a defense liein customary international law, more precisely in The Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, even the threat of an armed attack, if sufficiently grave or existential, could potentially justify certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925 (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[37] Each pertinent thought or idea presents a complication that then moves onward to the next pertinent thought or idea.  Contained in this dialectic is an unending obligation to continue thinking, an obligation that can never be fulfilled altogether (because of what the philosophers call the “infinite regress problem”), but that must still be attempted as fully and as capably as possible. The core term, “dialectic,” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation.  Today, the most common meaning is that dialectic is a method of seeking truth via correct reasoning.  From the standpoint of present nuclear concerns, the following operations may be identified as essential but also nonexclusive components of a strategic dialectic: (1) a method of refutation by examining logical consequences;  (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species;  (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted;  (4) formal logic;  and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to a synthesis of these opposites.  Dialectic has its likely beginnings in the 5th century B.C.E., as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, was recognized by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophical/analytic method.  In one of these dialogues, Plato describes the dialectician as someone who knows how to ask and to answer questions.  This is what should now be adapted to the US study of North Korean nuclear threats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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