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“Living On Mountains”: Antecedents of a Dignified and Secure World Order

Edvard Munch: The Human Mountain. Munch Museum, Oslo

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One must become accustomed to living on mountains, to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egotism beneath one.”-Friedrich Nietzsche, Zarathustra

During the dissembling Trump Era, perhaps more than ever before, Americans have had to endure the “wretched ephemeral chatter of politics.” Though this demeaning “chatter” recently became toxic to its core – deeply injurious to the United States as a once-dignified and secure nation-state[1] – there seem to be no promising paths of any prompt remediation. As a result, Americans have been unable to take sound counsel from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, to position themselves “on mountains.”

               Not yet have we been able to rise reassuringly above the Trump presidency’s multiple policy derelictions and its determinedly vulgar “syntax.”[2]

                In principle, at least, any such elevation would have been favorable to both national and global well-being. These two primary arenas of needed improvement are by no means separate or discrete. Rather, they are closely intersecting, mutually reinforcing and inextricably intertwined.

               Always, it must be understood, the world must be examined holistically.

               Always, whatever we decide to do, the “macrocosm,” the world, reveals a decisive but latent “oneness.”

               Still, Reason yields to anti-Reason. Americans have not yet positioned themselves for any genuine “world order reform.”[3] Quite the contrary. By its gratuitous and expressly belligerent nationalism, Trump’s “America First”[4] enhanced the dark forces of war,[5] terrorism[6] and utterly expansive lawlessness.[7]

               The key causes here are elementary. Unassailably, science and logic have often been minimized or disregarded in the United States. Our most plainly evident shortcomings in this regard were erected upon several overlapping fallacies. To be sure, the recent election of a new American president represents a plausibly auspicious transformation, but even this indispensable change can do nothing to improve the underlying and determinative structures of global consciousness.

               There is more. Over time, Americans have repeatedly been instructed that hyperbolic patriotism is an admirable and proper sentiment. Nonetheless, such self-congratulatory sentiments ought not be ones of exaggerated national superiority. To wit, what Americans might ordinarily have once considered to be a merely decent patriotism could now undermine this nation’s most vital national interests.

                It’s not all that complicated. We humans inhabit the same singe imperiled planet. Even by definition, we are conspicuously co-dependent upon one another. Whether we like it or not, our private errors and our collective fates have become deeply intersecting and intimately interconnected.[8] At times, they have also become tangibly synergistic.

               What does this imply, both broadly and specifically? At the point where certain specific intersections have become synergistic, the “whole” impact of any international intersection will exceed the sum of its constituent policy “parts.” In the conceivably next-to-worst case narrative, these cumulative impacts will be injuries of one sort or another, including some forms of catastrophic war. In the most genuinely worst case scenario, these war-inflicted harms would be nuclear[9] and be magnified by the assorted effects of microbial assault (pandemic). For the moment, Americans are not yet caught up in an all-consuming international conflict, but we are already the suffering victims of ongoing biological “plague.”

               Two questions arise immediately:

               (1) What correct policy inferences should be drawn from this by America’s national leaders?

               and

               (2) What impressively valid conclusions could we expect?

               To respond meaningfully, it must first become obvious that many apparent benefits of traditionally-defined patriotism are actually harmful and unpatriotic. Because the combined result of individual nation-state judgments that conflate belligerent nationalism with patriotism inevitably weaken all nation-states, it is high time for the incoming American president to think beyond any past or prospective iterations of  “American Exceptionalism.” From now on, the particular policy objectives coalescing around this falsifying mantra must be calculated more seriously.

                Soon, true American patriotism must come to mean significantly more than mumbled empty witticisms or nonsense cheers from an obedient public “mass.”[10]  

               As a start, or perhaps as a welcome resurrection of some pre-Trump levels of presidential literacy, incoming US President Joe Biden and his senior national security counselors should be reminded that history is worth close  study and deserves a corresponding pride of place. This seemingly obvious point was lost upon Biden’s manifestly illiterate predecessor.[11]  Biden and his senior appointees could soon be reminded, perhaps as an illuminating  prise de conscience,  that classical Greek and Macedonian war postures were based upon determinably sound theoretical foundations.[12]

               More succinctly stated, such ancient postures were founded upon variously calculable struggles of “mind over mind.” Whatever else their varying deficiencies, these postures were not crafted from the corrosively visceral chants of an unthinking “amen chorus.” They were not drawn from some atavistic mass that classical Greek thinkers would have called hoi polloi.[13]

               Over the years, though not always embraced, such enviable “mind-over-mind” orientations provided an overlooked but perpetually-prudent model of national security planning.[14] Nonetheless, across almost the entire globe, national military planning efforts remains narrowly focused upon correlations of individual force structure and on disparate elements of a wrongly-presumed national interest.

               Before improved analytic thought could be expected,[15] America’s national security policy planners would first need to become more attentive to complex policy intersections and interdependencies, including what we have called “synergies.”[16] In any synergistic interaction, the policy behaviors of rival states could produce outcomes that represent calculably “more” than the simple sum of their constituent parts. A timely example for President Joe Biden might be prospective US-North Korean policies of crisis escalation, policies in which one side or the other (or both) would casually mistake the other’s moves and where results could be much worse than any simple arithmetic summation would have predicted.

               Looking ahead to still-plausible crises between Washington and Pyongyang, each side (assuming basic and bilateral rationality) will be seeking to achieve “escalation dominance” and, simultaneously, to maintain national survival.[17] It follows from all this that whatever one’s own political inclinations or affiliations, US President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” foreign policies were unpatriotic and actually destined to fail.[18]

               Years earlier, Sigmund Freud, while not directly concerned with the particular dynamics of world politics or international relations, examined similar issues at the microcosmic or “molecular” level, that is, at the always-critical level of individual human beings. Looking over such psychologically focused examinations, Freud’s most rudimentary conceptual understanding – that unfettered “liberty” among individual human beings must invariably lead to uselessly antagonistic or “zero-sum” social conflicts – applies equally to  nation-states. If left alone to pursue their collective lives “patriotically”- that is, within that anarchic global state-of-nature that seventeenth century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes had famously called a “war of all against all”[19] – the separate state actors would be forced to endure the dissembling conditions of  “permanent war.”[20]

               Amid any such continuously ferocious global anarchy – a structure of disorder originally bequeathed at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – there could never arise any satisfactory forms of civilization. The prospects would become even worse were traditional anarchy transformed into a genuine “chaos.”

               There is more. Notwithstanding the bitterly anti-intellectual stance of outgoing American president Donald J. Trump, history and learning still have an indispensable place in the United States. Recalling Thomas Hobbes Leviathan (1651, chapter XIII), the life of any states attempting to chase after narrowly nationalistic/populist goals must inevitably be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”[21] There would exist principal and palpable connections between traditional zero-sum notions of patriotism and what is now generally called “populism.”

               But how do we actually fix a global system founded upon and sustained by erroneous notions of patriotism? How should well-intentioned states (including the United States) plan their successful escape from the global “state of nature,” an escape for which there can be no viable alternative? There exist just two potentially coherent responses, and these responses need not be mutually exclusive.

               The first and most frequently recommended reaction focuses on changing a perpetually conflict-based mechanism of world politics. Even before the appearance of what was then called “World Order Studies” back at Yale and Princeton in the 1960s,[22] philosophers from Dante and Immanuel Kant to H.G. Wells, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Sri Aurobindo elaborated imaginatively on variable configurations of world government.[23] Today, even if we can convincingly oppose any or all such configurations, the underlying imperative to think in more disciplined fashion about “reordering the planet”[24] remains fully urgent.[25]

               The second reasonable response must transport analytic investigators back to true origins of the problem, that is, to the universally evident and undiminished imperfections of individual human beings. With this suitably intellectual posture, one that would correctly regard all world politics as epiphenomena or as mere manifestation of far deeper causes, the scholar’s (and eventually policymaker’s) overriding emphasis must be upon “fixing people.”[26]

                If the first reaction could be critiqued as “unrealistic” or “utopian,” the second would qualify even more plainly for such pejorative characterizations.

               But how shall we proceed?

               The most promising answers will require a consciously transformational focus upon the individual human being, on the microcosm and on his or her primary place in pertinent “global rescue” preparations. So long as it remains fully predicated upon erroneous definitions of patriotism, our nation-state system of world politics will still be incapable of serving humankind’s most basic security and justice obligations. Earlier, German-Swiss philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had exclaimed prophetically in Zarathustra that the “state is the coldest of all cold monsters,”[27] a darkly accurate view later reinforced by Spanish thinker Jose Ortega y’ Gasset.  Observed Ortega, “The state is the greatest danger.”[28]

                But even the most refined prescriptions for improved global coordination or governance will require antecedent changes in human behavior. This is the case, moreover, in spite of the apparent improbability of any such “molecular” changes. In other words, much as we might still think such changes unlikely or perhaps even impossible, we have no alternative.

               Quite literally, the present-day time-dishonored “Westphalian” world system is destined to fail.[29]

               In essence, it is now most urgent that we learn to supplant the relentlessly belligerent aspects of traditional patriotism with more gainful visions of cooperation, interdependence  and “oneness.” Apropos of such imperative learning, scholars and policy makers would be well-advised to recall the special wisdom of Jesuit French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “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.”[30]

                This incontestable warning in The Phenomenon of Man assumes especially powerful relevance regarding outgoing US President Donald J. Trump’s deeply injurious  emphases on “America First.” By definition, these retrograde emphases were incompatible with any reasonably sought-after outcomes of world peace and justice. Instead, they pointed directly and unambiguously toward enlarged prospects of human insecurity and human degradation.

               Though understood only by those who are still willing to undertake disciplined thought, there exist intimate connections between intra-national and inter-national power processes. Among other things, these linkages suggest that “fixing states” could represent the vital intermediary step between fixing individual human beings and fixing the wider world. Accordingly, in American universities, which are increasingly being given over to narrowly vocational forms of education, we need to bring-back and amplify “world order studies” as a designated field of respectable academic inquiry.[31]

               For those prospective students still determined to study business, computers or technology, it will be worth keeping in  mind that there can be no meaningful achievements of individual wealth or success when the world as a whole tilts only toward war, terror, genocide and pandemic.

               In general, before humanity can maximize any rule-based and value-based forms of global cooperation, there will first have to take place certain distinctly primary human changes. Although it may be premature to identify a systematic and sequential inventory of such required changes, the basic process is by no means ambiguous. Wittingly, this process would reject the distracting delusions of a society given over to amusements and would accept instead, much like the Founding Fathers,[32] a challenging set of intellectual imperatives.

               Ultimately, any suitably alternative forms of global cooperation will demand dialogue not only among endlessly fractious nation-states, but also among individual human beings.

               Such forward-looking and dynamic thinking can bring us back gainfully to French Jesuit philosopher Teilhard, and to the primary importance of system: “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature….Each element of the cosmos is positively woven from all the others.” Complementary “lessons” can be found in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata; these lessons conveniently recollect what used to be called “cosmopolitanism,” or a determined ideology of global integration :[33] “Then you should card it and comb it, and mingle it all/in one basket of love and unity,/Citizens, visitors, strangers, and sojourners – all the/entire, undivided community.”

               In the end, any state’s true patriotic interests can be met solely by cultivating a greater and more unqualified loyalty to humankind in general. In the United States, this rationally redirected loyalty, which would still likely be labeled “unpatriotic” by most Americans (even after the Trump horror) will require a prior and more robust development of intellect or “mind.”  Such a development, by design, would be at definitional odds with any once-exaggerated expectations of Trump-era “populism.”[34]

               Nothing truly useful could be solved by adding more and more adrenalized encouragements of technology or entrepreneurship.

               The overriding problem of “creating a future” in world politics will not be solved by any new multiplication of “personal devices.”

               It won’t help individuals to “win” in a “shark tank” competition if the tank itself has already been poisoned.

                There is more. We will need to replace the recognizably false communion of nation-states – a pattern, like the High Lama’s Lost Horizon prediction, that is close to collapsing – with a new and authentic harmony. When such an ambitious replacement is successful, or is at least discernibly underway, we could finally take seriously an earlier promise of Sigmund Freud. While Freud was not focused on world politics per se, he would surely still agree with the following proposition: A greatly expanded or fully supplanting power of global community can make sense only if there can first be rejected an inwardly-rotten “balance-of-power” global dynamic, a dynamic that is based on fear, trembling and a near-perpetual dread.[35]

               One last summary observation will be offered here, one that points toward a key potential barrier to creating a more just and viable future – toward overcoming an impediment to all conceivably plausible forms of human transformation. The worrisome “fly in the ointment” here concerns the continuously problematic assumption of human rationality. Even before Freud, and most markedly in Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, we may read with long-term benefit about “mystery” or the “whisperings of the irrational.”[36]

               Much as we might try to deny it, irrationality – not rationality – has often been the foundation of national decision-making in world politics.[37]

               Though daunting and seemingly out of place, literary/philosophic recognition of the “absurd” –  Credo quia absurdum; “I believe because it is absurd” – must be incorporated into all proposed nation-state programs for world order reform. Without such indispensable incorporation, every otherwise carefully worked-out prescription for international law[38] and global civilization could still fail.

               A counter-intuitive truth appears. Traditionally combative or zero-sum expressions of  nationalism can never be authentically patriotic. Though such expressions always “sound good,” they are nonetheless injurious to the celeb rants.

               Among even the most evident antinomies of the world, any truly promising spirit of patriotism must first acknowledge (1) the core singularity or “oneness” of our species;[39] and (2) the corollary interdependence of all nation-states. In the end, inter alia, any serious and decent forms of patriotism must plainly affirm that all human beings are enduringly and indissolubly interconnected.[40] The real enemy of the United States is never one particular ideology or another, but rather any orientation away from Reason, away from Science, away from Logic and away even from Truth.

               “The enemy,” in the words of 20th century German philosopher Karl Jaspers in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, “is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.” This has been the prevailing spirit of Trump Era patriotism in the United States.

                Its axiomatic. There can be no suitable foreign policy posture for the United States that is detached from the presumptive well-being of nation-states in general. Before this can be properly understood, however, it is vital that America’s still-serious political and legal thinkers heed Nietzsche’s timeless counsel from Zarathustra[41]: This is to “become accustomed to living on mountains, to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egotism beneath one.”[42]

               None of this will be created ex nihilo, out of nothing. It will require special and essentially unprecedented acts of “will.”[43] In the final analysis, America will need to  get far beyond what Nietzsche worriedly calls “national egotism.” This derivative ailment  is rooted in various common human associations of personal significance with the nation as a whole.

                For Hegel, in The Philosophy of Right, the association is sacred. “The state is the actuality of the ethical idea….” Indeed, continues Hegel, the state is nothing less  less than  “the march of God in the world.” In his posthumously published Lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed similarly: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.”[44] These corrosive views of Hegel and Treitschke represent the diametric opposite of what is required for a more decent and durable system of planetary politics. To wit, Treitschke ends his sacrilization of  the state with the bitterly grotesque observation: “War is the only remedy for ailing nations.”[45]

               War is not what still-rational human beings should ever be seeking. Always, in the end,  Realpolitik or power politics will prove its own insubstantiality. Therein, however, lies a grave dilemma. Though Nietzsche calls upon us to “become accustomed to living on mountains, to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egotism beneath one,” he still expects us to oppose the “egotism” of states energetically; that is, with suitably intellectual underpinnings and with a boldly philosophic determination.

               What now? Can these two seemingly contradictory imperatives – calm detachment and activism – ever be reconciled? How, precisely, shall we soar above fevered “herds” of the state and simultaneously acknowledge that the conflict-centered world still desperately needs “repair”?[46]

               Heraclitus tells us that “Men who love wisdom must inquire into very many things.”[47] Should we eventually fail in this many-sided inquiry, it will be because we have failed to recognize ourselves as the fundamental locus of responsibility and change. The plausible idea that humankind produces its own misfortunes has endured for millennia. Accordingly, Aeschylus, Homer and Hesiod were correctly convinced that it is our species’ persisting  disregard for wisdom that accounts for its endlessly murderous history.

               “In the end,” says Goethe, “we are creatures of our own making.”[48] Such callous disregard for wisdom (which, since Plato, includes virtue) spawns a sea of boundless ruin. In such a turbulent sea, comments the King of Argos in The Suppliant Maidens, “Nowhere is there a haven from distress.”

               Significantly, the Greek idea of Fate does not imply any absence of human control or responsibility. But it does carry a penalty for failures to cultivate justice and peace. Though Realpolitik has ancient origins – at least in terms of its core dynamic of zero-sum competition – its actual celebration  is a modern development. Also known as Machstaat, or power politics, per se glorifications of the state represent a distinct break with the traditional political “realism” of Thucydides, Thrasymachus (Plato) and Machiavelli.[49]

               From Hegel and Fichte to Ranke and Treitschke, Realpolitik has consistently undermined any residual human opportunities for dignified world order.

               Why then should it be encouraged to continue?

               Why should Trump’s grievously derelict “America First” have ever been thought purposeful or worthwhile?

               In the  beginning, in that starkly primal promiscuity wherein the modern swerve toward Realpolitik first occurred, forerunners of modern world politics established a system of struggle and bitter competition  that could never succeed. Still captivated by this failed system, the Trump-led United States allowed the pernicious spirit of power politics to spread across the entire spectrum of international interactions, like a palpable gangrene on the surface of the earth. Rejecting wisdom, virtue and all proper standards of logic, this spirit could never impose effective limits upon itself.

                It continues to be rife despite its evidence-based rebuffs. It still takes its long history of defeat for meaningful advances. In essence, this spirit has never “learned” anything.

               Now, the post-Trump United States may have a last opportunity to confront refractory derangements of Realpolitik as a palpable curse, and encourage the eclipse of these lethal “insults” with Reason and Virtue. In the absence of such needed confrontation, future civilizations will likely examine the skeletal remains of this last prenuclear war epoch with an audible sneer. Far better for us and our descendants that the United States and other major states now move toward obligatory acknowledgement  of international interdependence and human “oneness.”

               Then, finally, we could realistically take up Friedrich Nietzsche’s enduringly sound advice for “living on mountains.”


[1] “There is no longer a virtuous nation,” prophesied the Irish poet W B Yeats, “and the best of us live by candle light.”

[2] Goethe says famously, in Faust, Part One: “Speak not to me about the motley rabble, Whose sight no inspiration can abide. Preserve me from the tumult and the babble, That sweeps us helpless in its vulgar tide.” Still, faced with the residual horrors of outgoing president Donald J. Trump, Americans don’t have the luxury of the great German poet. In essence, variously appropriate remedial programs must now be conceptualized and suitably implemented..

[3] The term world order reform has its contemporary origins in a scholarly movement begun at the Yale Law School in the mid-and late 1960s, and then “adopted” at the Politics Department at Princeton University in 1967-68. The present author, Louis Rene Beres, was a original member of the Princeton-based World Order Models Project, and wrote several early books in this scholarly genre.

[4] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2019/06/louis-beres-america-first/  See also, by Professor Beres, at Yale Global Online: https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/what-trumps-foreign-policy-ignores

[5] “Man’s heart is in his weapons,” observes the Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, “in the arts of death, he outdoes Nature herself…..”

[6] Under international law, terrorist movements are always Hostes humani generis, or “Common enemies of mankind.” See: Research in International Law: Draft Convention on Jurisdiction with Respect to Crime, 29 AM J. INT’L L. (Supp 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King v. Marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615)(“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).

[7] On Donald Trump’s most egregious violations of national and international law – violations of Nuremberg-category obligations – see by former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz: https://www.yahoo.com/news/nuremberg-prosecutor-warning-trump-war-090342221.html

[8] Regarding such core intersections, we may learn from Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “”You are a citizen of the universe.” A still-broader idea of human “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE, and with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality.” By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the medieval notion of a Respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single community. Here, below the level of God and his presumed heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was considered as one living “body.” This is because all the world had seemingly been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide  the necessary background for the primal drama of human salvation. Only in its relationship to the universe itself was this world to be correctly considered as a part rather than whole. Clarifies 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, the idea of human oneness can and should be justified in more conspicuously secular terms of human legal understanding.

[9] For early accounts by this author of expected 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

[10] “The mass-man,” says Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses,””has no need for reason. He learns only in his own flesh.” Outgoing US President Donald J. Trump is the quintessential “mass man.”

[11] This is not by any means a baseless or gratuitous criticism of Donald J. Trump. Unassailably, this soon-to-be former president not only never reads, he remains conspicuously proud of this deliberate illiteracy. See, by Professor Beres, at Yale Global Online: https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/trump-and-destruction-american-mind

[12] “Theories are nets,” reminds Karl Popper, citing to the German poet Novalis, “only he who casts, will catch.” See Popper’s epigraph to his classic, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959). Ironically, Novalis’ fellow German poet, Goethe, declared, in his early Faust fragment (Urfaust): “All theory, dear friend, is grey. But the golden tree of life is green.”

[13] Similar anti-populist sentiments would have been discovered among the Founding Fathers of the United States. See, by Professor Beres, at Oxford University Press: https://blog.oup.com/2018/04/american-people-hamilton-trump/

[14] See F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (1962).

[15] Recall, in this connection, Bertrand Russell’s timeless warning in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death.”

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

[17] See, by this writer, Louis René Beres,  https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/28931

[18] Such failure, of course, would be most “palpable” and consequential when this country finds itself in extremis atomicum.

[19] A bellum omnium contra omnes. This is, of course, a purely philosophic term. In pertinent jurisprudence, there are certain more explicit criteria of a “state of war.” More precisely, under authoritative international law, the question of whether or not a true “state of war” exists between states remains generally ambiguous. To wit, traditionally, it was held that a formal declaration of war was necessary before a true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius even 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 obtains only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated 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, declarations of war may be tantamount to admissions of international criminality, because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law, and it could therefore represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to formal and prior declarations of belligerency. It follows that a state of war may now exist without any formal declarations, but only if there exists an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”

[20] Also, see Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (1758),  “The first general law, which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations, is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”

[21] Significantly, Hobbes’ Leviathan was well-familiar to the founding fathers of the United States, especially Thomas Jefferson.

[22] This author, Louis René Beres, was a part of this original disciplinary inauguration at Princeton in the 1960s. In turn, much of this Princeton-based inauguration was derived from still earlier work done by Myres McDougal and Harold Lasswell at the Yale Law School.

[23] My own doctoral dissertation at Princeton, completed in 1971, explored the logical foundations of global legal centralization. See: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10, Monograph No.3., 1972-73), 93pp; also Louis René Beres and Harry R. Targ, Reordering the Planet: Constructing Alternative World Futures (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1974).

[24] See Louis René Beres, Reordering the Planet: Constructing Alternative World Futures (1974), above.     

[25] Here we may learn from the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s Endgame: “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking justification always on the same plane?”

[26] Rabbi Eleazar quoted Rabbi Hanina who said: “Scholars build the structure of peace in the world.” The Babylonian Talmud, Order Zera’im, Tractate Berakoth, IX

[27] The classic contra-view is offered by Friedrich Hegel in The Philosophy of Right,, which calls the state “the march of God in the world” and “the actuality of the ethical idea.” This contra notion of the state as a sacred phenomenon was most dramatically formalized by fascist movements in the 20th century. Inter alia, the modern roots of such state-worshiping behavior lie most prominently in Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation and also in the assorted writings of Heinrich Treitschke.

[28] “The   State,” explains Ortega in The Revolt of the Masses, “after sucking out the very marrow of society, will be left bloodless, a `skeleton,’ dead with that rusty death of machinery, more gruesome even than the death of a living organism.”

[29] One may think here of the detailed warning by the High Lama in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon: “The storm…this storm that you talk of….It will be such a one, my son, as the world has not seen before. There will be no safety by arms, no help from authority, no answer in science. It will rage until every flower of culture is trampled, and all human things are leveled in a vast chaos….The Dark Ages that are to come will cover the whole world is a single pall; there will be neither escape nor sanctuary.”

[30] Such falsity is plainly evident in attempts by certain individual nation-states to secure themselves against Covid19 harms without any regard to the welfare of other nation-states.  https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/11/10/un-experts-decry-covid-vaccine-hoarding-no-one-is-secure-until-all-of-us-are/

[31] See, for example, Louis René Beres and Harry R. Targ, Planning Alternative World Futures: Values, Methods and Models (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975).

[32]The Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by American historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), p. 145.

[33] A wonderful “summary text” of these complex issues remains W. Warren Wagar’s Building the City of Man: Outlines of a World Civilization (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1971), 180 pp.

[34] Still the best source of explanations for this “barrier” is Jose Ortega y’ Gasset’s seminal The Revolt of the Masses (1930).

[35] Always a key component of this dynamic is the imperative of national self-defense in a “Westphalian” (anarchic) world system. Integral to this imperative is the idea of a permissible preemption or “anticipatory self-defense.” The customary right of anticipatory self-defense has its modern origins in the Caroline incident, an event that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada, against British rule. Following this incident, the mere threat of a serious armed attack could sometimes be taken as sufficient legal justification for preemptive military action. In an historic exchange of notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require a prior attack. Here, a proportionate and discriminate military response to military threat was judged permissible, as long as the danger posed was determinably “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” The term “Westphalian” references the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which formally created the current system of global Realpolitik.

[36] See Karl Jaspers, Reason and anti-Reason in Our Time (1952): “There is something inside all of us that earns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational….” (p. 67).

[37] One element here is the always-crucial link between religious faith and diminished death fear. “`I believe,'” says Oswald Spengler, “is the great word against metaphysical fear, and at the same time it is an avowal of love.'” See his The Decline of the West, his Chapter on “Pythagoras, Mohammed, Cromwell.”

[38] International law is ultimately deducible from Natural Law. According to Blackstone, each state and nation is always expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law….” See: 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone ask about the significance of Blackstone, one need only point out that Commentaries are the original and core foundation of the laws of the United States.

[39] Says the Talmud: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.” On this human singularity, the most evident and unassailable commonality is our mortality. Whatever our other differences, in the end, we all die.  Moreover, Epicureanism, Stoicism and Buddhism all acknowledge an harmonious conflation of self and world. While each instructs that the death of self is meaningless, perhaps even a delusion, all still agree that the commonality of deathcan overcome corrosive divisions. This recognized “oneness” can provide humankind with certain authentic sources of expanding global cooperation. Whether or not we can ever get beyond our fear of death, it is only this conspicuous commonality that can lift us far enough above planetary fragmentation and explosive global disunity.

[40] To be sure, any such affirmation seems improbable. Nonetheless, reminds Italian film director Federico Fellini insightfully: “The visionary is the only realist.” Similarly, from the German philosopher Karl Jaspers: “Everyone knows that the world-situation in which we live is not a final one.” (Man in the Modern Age, 1951).

[41] In “The drunkards song,” a passage in Zarathustra, Nietzsche sums it all up with unparalleled simplicity and insight: “Tief ist ihr Weh” (“Deep is it’s pain”) says the philosopher about the world. This “lied” was put to music by Gustav Mahler in his Third Symphony, 4th Movement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aM9hezKudY&list=RDuPQSokfeQN8&index=2

[42] For now, large numbers of Americans, misdirected by a president who opposed Reason and Law at every turn,  decry science and medicine in a calculated preference for ignorance.  Twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gassett clarifies the generic bases of such a leader-induced declension in his The Revolt of the Masses (1930):  “It’s not that the vulgar believes itself to be superexcellent and not vulgar, but rather that the vulgar proclaim and impose the rights of vulgarity or vulgarity itself as a right.” It is precisely this perverse “right of vulgarity” that still animates docile Trump legions of cultivated thoughtlessness and inconscience.

[43] The modern philosophic origins of “will” lie most prominently in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially his 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 twentieth-century work, The Revolt of the Masses (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very lofty 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).

[44] See by this author, Louis René Beres, at Horasis: Switzerland https://horasis.org/soaring-above-politics-death-time-and-immortality/

[45] Treitschke, of course, lived before the nuclear age. Would he have proposed this same “remedy” were his country discoverable in extremis atomicum?

[46]See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.21global.ucsb.edu/global-e/march-2018/repairing-world-its-source

[47] Fragment, 49.

[48] Faust, Part One.

[49] In the Melian Dialogues, Thucydides notes famously about the Peloponnesian War, “The standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel,” and that “the strong do what they have the power to do, and the weak accept what they have to  accept.”  In Book 1 of The Republic, Plato has Thrasymachus explain to Socrates that “Justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.” Machiavelli’s Prince  places the presumed advantages of raw power at the very center of his political theory.

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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Biden: No More “Favourite Dictators”

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

 Former US President Donald Trump shared a strong personal rapport with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Trump made no bones about the fact, that he got along well with authoritarian leaders – especially in the Middle East. At the G7 Summit in 2019, Trump while looking for Egyptian President had even said, “Where’s my favourite dictator?”

Statements made by Biden before taking over as US President

On the other hand, Joe Biden before taking over as US President had repeatedly criticized Erdogan, MBS and Sisi for their poor human rights record, and had unequivocally stated that none of them would have a free pass in a Biden Presidency.  Biden had on numerous occasions flagged the dismal Human Rights record of Saudi Arabia, especially MBS’ involvement in the murder of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and lashed out at Trump for soft pedaling on the issue because of his personal rapport with MBS. Similarly, in August 2020, Biden had dubbed Erdogan as an ‘autocrat’ and also expressed the view that the US needed to lend support to opposition parties in Turkey. Biden had also issued a warning to Sisi, saying that there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favourite dictator’.”

How President Biden has approached relations with the three leaders

During the Biden Administration, ties with Saudi Arabia have witnessed a change. A report which clearly points to MBS’ role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was released (Trump had refused to release this report). The US has withdrawn support for the Saudi war in Yemen, and defence agreements signed between the US and Saudi Arabia, during the Trump Administration have been put on hold. Yet, Biden while sanctioning Saudi officials in connection with the Khashoggi case, in addition to those sanctioned by the Trump administration, refused to impose sanctions on MBS owing to the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East (Saudi support is essential for the revival of the Iran Nuclear Deal/Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action-JCPOA) and the strong US-Saudi relationship. It would be pertinent to point out, that Biden’s decision not to impose sanctions on MBS has drawn strong criticism from many including members of his own party.

If one were to look at the case of Turkey in recent months, the Turkish President has himself toned down his Anti-West rhetoric and described his meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the recent NATO Summit as fruitful. While commenting on the meeting with Biden, Erdogan stated that ‘ We believe there is no problem that cannot be resolved in Turkey-US relations,’

The US President also said, that the meeting with Erdogan was positive and expressed hope that the bilateral relationship would improve in days to come.

While the meeting between Biden and Erdogan was positive, differences between both sides still persist over Turkey’s purchase of S400 missiles (the Trump administration had imposed sanctions in its final days and Turkey had also been removed from its F-35 fighter jet program)

Turkey’s strategic relevance

Turkey has stated that it is willing to play a role in security in Afghanistan, and guard Kabul airport, after the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Turkish President did say that Turkey would require diplomatic, logistic and financial support that the United States. The Biden administration’s outreach to Turkey indicates that in spite of differences over key issues, Istanbul’s potentially important role post the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is something, the US will not ignore. Erdogan on his part needs to have a reasonable relationship with US, given the fact that the Turkish economy has slowed down significantly.

If one were to look at the case of Egypt, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi role in the ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, was acknowledged by the Biden Administration. While the US President during a telephonic conversation hailed Sisi for his ‘successful diplomacy’ in the Israel-Palestine ceasefire, the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said:

‘We have had in Egypt a real and effective partner in dealing with the violence, bringing it to a close, relatively quickly. And now, we are working closely together to build something positive’

It would be pertinent to point out, that during his telephonic conversation with Sisi, in May 2021, Biden did flag the need for a ‘constructive dialogue’ on human rights in Egypt

Conclusion

While it is easy to criticise Joe Biden, he has the onerous responsibility of striking a  balance between values, which he has repeatedly referred to even after taking over as President, with US interests. Given the complex geopolitics of the Middle East, Biden while refraining from taking steps, which may be counterproductive has flagged his concerns with regard to Human Rights, and sent out a strong message that bilateral relations will be dictated by substance and not mere personal chemistry or optics. At the end of the day it is important not to forget Miles’s law — ‘where you stand depends upon where you sit’.

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The liberal international order has not crumbled yet

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Since 2017 when Donald Trump took office, the “liberal international order” erected in 1991 has been under serious challenges raised by the United States’ relative decline, the Trump administration’s isolationist policy, and on top of that, the outbreak of COVID-19. Indeed, this order is greatly plagued, which is evidenced by its dysfunction. Against this backdrop, its endurance in the upcoming time is questionable. Nevertheless, the liberal international order has not collapsed yet. It will even revive, and endure in the post-pandemic era.

The victory of Biden 

Notwithstanding facing great threats, the liberal international order is far from crumbling. On the contrary, it is gradually reviving. In the Western world, countries are making effort to reform their order that is on the verge of collapse. This is true in the US – the world democracy’s leader. Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump may be a positive signal for the US and the global democracy. As a strong advocate for values including democracy, multilateralism and international trade, at no doubt, President Biden will be opposite to Trump in his policy, both domestic and foreign ones. Indeed, during his first 100 days, Mr.Biden has implemented some meaningful things. Regarding the pandemic, he has a stricter approach than his predecessor’s: Mandatory mask wearing, a $1.9-trillions bill, historical vaccination campaign, to name a few. All of Biden’s actions have been so far effective, when the new cases and deaths are steadily declining, and the number of vaccinated people is substantially high. This lays a foundation for Biden to reinvigorate his country’s ruined democracy and governance system, as his efficiency in countering COVID-19 may help him regain American people’s trust on the future of American democracy.

In terms of foreign policy, President Biden has some radical changes compared to that of Trump, which might be favorable to the Western world. At first glance, Biden embraces multilateralism much more than his predecessor, with the hope of saving the American global leadership. He supports Washington’s participation in international institutions, which is illustrated by the rejoining of WHO, Paris Agreement and several multilateral commitments. In tandem with this, Biden values the US’ alliances and strategic partnership as vital instruments for the US’ hegemony. Unlike Trump’s transactional approach, Biden prioritizes early and effective engagement with allies to tackle regional and global issues, especially major ones like NATO, G7. In Asia, he also seeks for further cooperation with traditional allies such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and deepening partnership with Vietnam, Singapore, India and ASEAN countries.

More importantly, President Biden’s policies towards the US’ competitors and “rogue states” are far different from Trump’s. Granted, despite seeing China as the biggest threat to the American global leadership, Biden adopts a more flexible and multilateral policy. His administration looks to cooperate and compete with China, which implies a different trajectory of the US-China relationship in the upcoming time. Additionally, as noted above, instead of unilaterally escalating tensions with China as Trump did, Biden has been forging relations with traditional and potential Asian allies to contain China together, given China’s increasing assertiveness. With regard to Iran, Washington is now working on the Iran Nuclear Deal with other six parties, promising a potentially positive future on the relations of Iran with the US and the West. The bottom line is, a radical change in Biden’s foreign policy will be a clear message to the world that the US will still try to save the liberal international order and make this world safer for democracy.

The European Union is recovering 

Things are happening in the same pattern in Europe. European leaders are also closely cooperating, both inside and outside the bloc, to defeat COVID-19. That said, they are ardently supporting multilateralism. So far, the EU has spent billions of dollars in vaccine development as well as humanitarian support, demonstrating its solidarity in the battle against COVID-19. As such, if EU leaders can successfully lead their bloc out of the current crisis, they can reform this currently plagued institution in the post-pandemic era. Not only seeking further intra-bloc cooperation, but also European leaders are working with other major actors around the world to substantiate the global battlefront against COVID-19. Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her country and China to jointly develop COVID’s vaccine in an open, transparent way, and to a further extent, maintain good and stable bilateral partnership, regardless of two sides’ differences.

Similarly, the EU has been putting the Transatlantic relationship among the priorities of its foreign policy agenda. After Biden’s election, the European Commission has proposed refreshing the US-EU alliance and establishing a Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council, being seen as an informal tech alliance with the US to prevent China from dominating this critical sector. The Transatlantic relationship is perhaps one of the pillars for the liberal international order, given its long history and its contribution to maintain the global stability. In the last decades, this axis has been damaged by numerous issues, from economic to security, which is one of the main causes for the decline of liberal international order. Thus, a fresh Transatlantic relationship is conducive to the re-emergence of this order. In this respect, the EU’s effort to strengthen the Transatlantic alliance, despite being questionable in terms of feasibility and outcome, is still paving the way for reinvigorating of liberal international order. More notably, the most recent G7 Summit has illustrated the Western’s solidarity, when there is a convergence in most issues related to global governance and maintaining the Western-based order. This may be a harbinger of the liberal international order’s revival, at least in a foreseeable future.

Non-Western world is struggling 

The dynamics outside the Western world is also changing in a more favorable direction. Many non-Western countries, once were effective in combating against the pandemic, are now struggling with a greater threat. Taiwan, in spite of being praised as one of the most successful states in the battle against COVID-19, is currently facing another wave of pandemic when the new cases in this island are surging recently. Other successful stories, let us say Thailand, Japan or South Korea, are questionable of maintaining their momentum in preventing the virus, showcased by their relatively inefficiency during this new wave, in implementing strong measures and getting their people vaccinated. This raises question about these countries’ model of governance, which was used to be praised as a better alternative for a plagued, dysfunctional Western one, thanks to its merits in helping those above-mentioned states contain COVID-19.

Major non-Western blocs are in the midst of COVID-19 crisis as well. The clearest example is the BRICS. Except China, all other countries in this bloc have been tremendously suffering from the pandemic. Due to this, they are far from being recovered quickly. This failure in dealing with the virus undermines the bloc’s previous effort in establishing its position as a major, effective one, not to mention building a new, non-Western international order. This is also the case with ASEAN, as the organization was sharply divided by COVID-19. There are countries doing well with controlling the pandemic such as Vietnam, Singapore, but the Philippines and Indonesia are unable to do so, making this bloc suffering from institutional sclerosis without having any coherent COVID-19 policy. Therefore, non-Western blocs and countries are far from being more efficient than Western ones, implying they are unable to come up with any better international orders than the current liberal international one.

More importantly, Western values underpinning the liberal international order are universal. This is noteworthy when arguing for the long-lasting of Western order, as its existence and endurance mainly hinge on the universality of Western values. These values have been embraced by many countries for a very long time. Hence, despite being deteriorated in recent years, they cannot be easily changed. On the other hand, non-Western values are also not as highly embraced as Western ones. China, desiring to topple the US, is initiating numerous projects and agreements to spread its values around the world, making the world less Western and more Chinese/Asian. Nonetheless, Beijing has yet achieved any remarkable achievements in making their values more widespread and embraced by the rest of the world. Even worse, its image has been tarnished due to its rising assertiveness. Its projects in developing countries, especially BRI-related projects, have been notorious for a large number of problems related to environment or local corruption, and it is raising strategic uncertainty in the region by its increasing militarization, particularly on the South China Sea. These movements have turned China into a “malevolent” major power, hindering its process of disseminating and socializing its values to the world.

It is also worth noting that although Western values have declined, they have been proven to be benevolent for this world. Most recently, it is Western countries that have successfully developed good COVID-19 vaccines to save themselves and save the world from this unprecedented health crisis. Non-Western countries, for instance China and Russia, have their own vaccines, but they are not as welcome as other developed countries in the West in the vaccine race, because their vaccines are relatively less effective than Western-produced ones. Democracy, liberty, lassaiz faire are values that help Western countries or ones embrace such things able to produce massive amount of effective vaccines, and more broadly to develop a strong science and technology foundation. Producing and distributing vaccine for the rest of the world would make the West become a savior, which is good for saving the liberal international order.

Without doubt, the liberal international order has been in its worst time since 1991 when it reached its heyday. However, thanks to its merits, the liberal international order will not die. Instead, most countries will jointly save it, because they have been benefitting from this order for a long time, and will be so in the future. The order’s founding members are recovering, and cooperating closely to reform it, as well as there are no better international orders that can replace the existing one. Given these circumstances, the liberal international order would re-emerge as a dominant form of ordering this world after the pandemic, and would be perpetuated.

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Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?

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With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.

Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.

Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.

In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.

Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?

In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.

This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.

President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.

What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.

If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.

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