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Nuclear Challenges from Pyongyang: Preparing Joe Biden for the Next Chapter

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“For by wise counsel thou shall make thy war….”-Proverbs, 24/6

Understanding the Present Moment

Incoming US President Joseph Biden faces both direct and indirect threats of North Korean nuclearization.[1] During the rancorous and doctrinally-incoherent Trump presidency,[2] these risks were allowed to expand uncontrollably.[3] At this stage, they are already many-sided and grave. Ignored further, they could become more steeply unmanageable or even genuinely existential.

               In essence, for Biden, the basic nuclear crisis with North Korea is arguably “Job One.” What exactly shall be required of his new administration? Most important, the American president will need to understand that national security and war preparedness is always a theory-based matter of “mind over mind.” It is never merely a straightforward question of “mind over matter.”[4]  

               To begin, any now eleventh-hour elevation of  US strategic thought would need to be based upon a far greater presidential appreciation of persistently-intersecting political and military complexities. These include multiple “synergies” that were so wittingly and irresponsibly overlooked by Donald J. Trump.[5] Though the former president believed that he had somehow solved the North Korea nuclear problem  by “falling in love” with Kim Jung Un[6] (and, reciprocally, Kim with him), this purported “love” attachment was never more than a hideous parody.[7]

               How could it have been considered otherwise by serious thinkers and planners?

               In all synergistic intersections,[8] by definition, the “whole” of any particular outcome must be greater than the sum of its “parts.”[9] In such challenging analytic matters, US policy-making must be kept suitably distant from distracting considerations founded upon shallow wishful thinking or unsupportable extravagant hope. To recall the ancient 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….[10]

How to Begin?

               What “wise counsel” should now be offered? How should the Biden administration best proceed on all relevant and overlapping fronts? The ancient Greeks regarded war and war-planning as a daunting challenge of “mind over mind.” Effectively anticipating the later writings of Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz (On War, 1832), they typically based tactical and operational policies upon a coherent body of dialectical “conversations.” Here, it was already understood, the primary and preeminent battlefield would have to be carefully conceptualized before the onset of  any actual troop movements or engagements.

                Correspondingly, any foreseeable victory in such engagements would have to follow a mind-based articulation of strategic doctrine.[11]

               In  all such matters, comprehensive theory is indispensable. Always, the world, like the myriad human bodies who comprise it, must be recognized as a system.[12] Among the most serious specific implications of this explanatory metaphor, any more-or-less major conventional conflict in northeast Asia could heighten the prospect of  destabilizing international conflicts elsewhere, whether immediately or incrementally.

               These portentous prospects could include a regional nuclear war.

               There is more. Such worrisome risks could sometime be enlarged by misguided American searches for a no-longer plausible or reasonable outcome. An example of such a mistaken search would be one that is directed toward some tangible form of  “victory.”

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

               To clarify further, in most prospectively 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 actual field of battle might not in any calculable way reduce palpable and significant security threats to the United States. More precisely, such grave threats, whether foreseen or unforeseen, could include various sub-state aggressions (terrorism) and/or certain widening attacks upon regional and/or non-regional US allies.

               Always, the arena of world politics is a system.

               In the matter at hand, once acknowledged as a distinct foreign-policy objective, any declared US search for “victory” over North Korea would exacerbate strategic risks without enhancing any commensurate or derivative gains. Such a declaration could create a corrosively lethal escalatory dynamic with Pyongyang, one from which Washington would no longer expect tangible military advantages. This expectedly injurious creation could take place in unanticipated increments, or instead, suddenly, as an unexpected “bolt-from-the-blue” enemy attack.[13]

               In the foreseeable worst case, this unwitting US forfeiture of “escalation dominance” would signify authentically irreversible American losses, including chaotic conditions that could create (a) tens or even hundreds of thousands of prompt fatalities; and (b) still larger numbers of latent cancer deaths[14].

               It follows, inter alia, that a great deal of specificity must be examined and taken into account  by incoming US President Joe Biden’s pertinent senior counselors. In a world where history and science could conceivably regain their proper pride of place, an American president could very usefully acknowledge that because nation-states no longer declare wars formally[15] or generally enter into legally binding war-termination agreements , the application of traditional criteria of “war winning” to interstate conflicts would no longer make legal sense. Plausibly, too, in the vastly complicated matters already at hand for America’s new president, ascertainable benefits might not lie in variously traditional forms of military expertise.

               Not at all.

Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense

                Exactly how much applicable military experience could American generals have garnered in starting, managing or ending a nuclear war? How much might the new president and his senior commanders see only what they would want to see, including perhaps a gainful prospect of military preemption.[16]  Here they should have to recall the ancient but still relevant observation of Julius Caesar at Chapter 18 of Caesar’s Gallic War: “…men as a rule willingly believe what they want to believe….”

               In these transitional nuclear times,[17]  any such selective perceptions could prove markedly injurious and irremediably mistaken. Though, at least in principle, an American president could still benefit from a preemption against an already nuclear North Korea in certain residual and extraordinary circumstances,[18]  it is incontestable that any US defensive first strike[19] would have catastrophic outcomes. Regarding the myriad complexities of any still-impending two-power nuclear competition where (a) there would exist substantial asymmetries in relative military power position; but (b) the “weaker” (North Korean) side would still maintain a verifiable potential to inflict unacceptably damaging first-strikes or reprisals upon the “stronger” (American) side, abundant policy-making caution is more important than ever.

               Ironically, at a time of rampant pandemic, a nuclear war – any nuclear war – would be a more conclusively terminal “disease.” The only reasonable “cure,” therefore, must lie in prevention.

               Under Joseph Biden, the United States will need a refined posture that can account for the rationality and intentionality of enemy decision-makers in Pyongyang. The new president should approach the still-growing North Korean nuclear threat from a more conspicuously disciplined and conceptual perspective. This means, inter alia, 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);[20] “….only those who cast, can catch.” In such bewilderingly complex strategic matters, nothing can ever prove to be more practical than good theory. Always, in science, a broadly elucidating generality is the key to uncovering specific meanings. It follows that having at hand such comprehensive policy clarifications could help guide US President Joe Biden beyond any otherwise vague or uselessly impromptu appraisals. 

               Under no circumstances, this new president should be reminded, should such multi-sided crisis possibilities be assessed (whether implicitly or explicitly) as singular or ad hoc phenomena.

Intentional versus Unintentional Nuclear War

               There is more. Going forward, capable American strategic analysts guiding the new president should enhance their pertinent nuclear investigations by carefully identifying the basic distinctions between (a) intentional or deliberate nuclear war, and (b) unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. The derivative risks resulting from these at least four different types of possible nuclear conflict are apt to vary considerably. Accordingly, those American analysts who might remain too completely focused upon a deliberate nuclear war scenario could too-casually underestimate a more serious nuclear threat to the United States.

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

               An additional conceptual distinction must now 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. To wit, any accidental nuclear war would have to be inadvertent; conversely, however, there could be identifiable forms of inadvertent nuclear war that would not be accidental. Most critical in this connection are various more-or-less significant errors in calculation committed by one or both sides – that is, reciprocal mistakes that could lead directly and inexorably to a nuclear conflict. Te most blatant example would concern assorted misjudgments of enemy intent or capacity that might somehow emerge during the course of any one particular crisis escalation.

               Such dire misjudgments would likely stem from an expectedly mutual search for strategic advantage occurring during any particular competition in nuclear risk-taking. In expressly strategic parlance, this would suggest a substantially traditional military search for “escalation dominance” in extremis atomicum.[21]

Rationality versus Irrationality

                There would also need to 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 foolishly-posturing American president who had too “successfully” convinced enemy counterparts of his own irrationality could spark an otherwise-avoidable enemy preemption.

               “Played” in the other direction, an American president who had begun to take seriously Kim Jung Un’s own presumed unpredictability could sometime be frightened into striking first. In this alternate case, the United States would become the preempting party that might then claim legality for its allegedly defensive first-strike. In  such inherently “dicey” circumstances, those US strategists charged with fashioning an optimal strategic posture would do well to recall Carl von Clausewitz’s oft-quoted warning in On War concerning “friction.” In essence, this “Clausewitzian” property represents the difference between “war on paper” and “war as it actually is.”

               Always, it represents an unerringly vital difference, one never determinable by what former US President Trump had naively called “attitude.”

                America’s incoming president, unlike his unreasoning predecessor,[22] ought to be sufficiently well-grounded in science and logic. Though rarely acknowledged, however, no truly scientific or reliable probability estimations can ever be undertaken in regard to unprecedented situations. In science, authentic probability judgments must always be based upon the carefully calculated frequency of relevant past events.

               Incontrovertibly, on matters regarding a nuclear war, there have been no such past events. By definition, such events would be unique or sui generis. 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.

               President Biden’s strategic advisors must take heed. This sort of “behind-the-news” analytic assessment is not reasonably controversial. Not only there has there never been a nuclear war, there have also never been the sorts of asymmetrical nuclear standoffs 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 “theatre,” US President Joe Biden should approach any pertinent war scenarios very soberly, with recognizable humility (the ancient Greek philosophers would be warning here against “hubris”) and with considerable war-reluctance.

                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 wished-for destruction upon an adversary’s cities and infrastructures. In those earlier days of more traditional doctrinal arrangements concerning war and peace, any individual country’s demonstrated capacity to “win” was necessarily and understandably prior to achieving any needed capacity to destroy. An appropriate and well-known example to US military thinkers at such venerable institutions as the US Army War College or West Point would be the case of Persia and Greece at the long-studied 480 BCE Battle of Thermopylae.

               Today, unlike what seemingly took place at Thermopylae, a state enemy needn’t first be able to defeat American armies in order to inflict grievous harms on the United States. As an example, such an enemy could enlist selectively destructive proxy forces on its behalf, such as  various bio-terrorist surrogates. What happens then to the prevailing “balance of power?”

               For President Biden and his counselors, there is still some prospectively “good news.” Accordingly, the United States needn’t be able to win a particular conflict in order to credibly threaten  a significant foe (deterrence) or to inflict upon such an enemy considerable retaliatory harms (punishment). What this “good news” means today is that the capacity to deter is not necessarily identical to the capacity to win.[23] Reciprocally, for the new American president’s defense counselors, the principal war-planning or war-deterring lesson of any such ongoing transformations warrants further study.

               What will matter here is not “personal attitude” (previous President Donald Trump’s self-described “ace in the hole”),  but intellectual preparation.[24]What matters most, going forward, will be a capacity to win bewilderingly complex struggles of “mind over mind,” not just ad hoc or visceral contests of “mind over matter.”[25] In time, moreover, critical strategy lessons could apply beyond the specifically North Korean nuclear issue.

Points of Law

               There are various relevant points of law to consider.[26] Jurisprudencehas its own proper place in strategic calculations. Specifically, in terms of applicable law, winning and losing may  no longer mean very much for successful strategic planning. The consequential devaluation of victory and defeat as operational goals should be  increasingly obvious with regard to America’s now seemingly-latent wars on terror. More precisely, pertinent conflict issues will need to be examined within continuously transforming US military plans and objectives regarding Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, Russia, Yemen and assorted other places.

                Prima facie, the U.S. can never meaningfully “win” any wars with Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, etc. This is because its leaders could never know for certain when a tangible victory had actually been achieved or loss incurred.

               There is still more for the incoming American president to consider.  Operationally, winning and losing are now fully extraneous to America’s indispensable collective interests, or, in those foreseeable cases where “victory” might still be expressed as a high-priority national objective, overwhelmingly harmful. In principle, and not without substantial irony, a narrowly static orientation to “winning” could sometime lead the United States toward huge and irreversible losses via critical American misjudgments regarding “escalation dominance.”Above all, under President Joe Biden, U.S. military posture should cease being shaped according to the starkly barren expectations of clamorous clichés,  inexpert advice or irrelevant analogies.  

               This is not about “rallies.”

               It must be about “wise counsel.”

               Always.

               Calculated US posture ought always be based upon the most expressly disciplined theses and antitheses of dialectical strategic thought, a proven pattern of analysis that goes back to Plato and his perpetually illustrative dialogues.

               Finally, America’s new president and his military planners could look more usefully to the East. Long ago, famed Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu had 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 rather than victory. This is not a time to continue any buffoon-like presidential threats about the size of national “buttons.” President Trump, we may recall, once said of Kim Jung Un, “He also has a button, but my button is bigger than his button.”

               This childlike assertion was hardly an enviable example of sophisticated strategic thought.

               At the same time, any necessary discontinuance of strategic competition should remain connected to the most stringent requirements of conducting  or maintaining control over plausible military escalations. If, going forward, these requirements were somehow minimized or disregarded, a resultant regional conflict could have decisive “spillover” implications for other nation-states and for other parts of the world. Once again, assorted elements of chaos notwithstanding,[27] world politics and world military processes are always expressive of an underlying system.

               This characterization is clarifying and elucidating. It must lie continuously at the core of absolutely any coherent US strategic doctrine. 

Forging US Strategic Doctrine

               Before these systemic connections can be adequately understood and assessed, the new US president must realize that the complicated logic of strategic nuclear calculations demands a discrete and capably nuanced genre of decision-making, one that calls for rigorous intellectual refinement in extremis atomicum. As an example, casually expecting an American president to convincingly leverage Chinese and Russian sanctions on behalf of the United States could miss at least two vital and intersecting points: (1) the regime in Pyongyang will never back down on its overall plan for nuclearization, however severe such sanctions might seemingly become; and (2) counting upon meaningful sanctions from Beijing or Moscow will become inherently problematic for President Biden.

               This is because both China and Russia remain more worried about their traditional national enemy in Washington than about any possible future dangers arising from Pyongyang.[28]

Remembering that North Korea is Already Nuclear

               In world politics, as in law, truth is exculpatory.  Like it or not, a nuclear North Korea is a fait accompli. Soon, President Biden should focus upon creating stable nuclear deterrence with North Korea (a) for the obvious 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, including Israel in the still-dissembling Middle East.[29]

               However inconspicuous, these important allies remain an integral component of the same organic world system; they can never be helpfully separated from expectedly palpable consequences of an 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 consistently urgent threat will never subside or disappear on its own. It will be the new US president’s continuing role to understand all relevant American security obligations and their ensuing complications.

               In accepting this grave responsibility, it would prove especially wise for the new US president 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,” said the wise Athenian leader, “are our own mistakes.” Of course, in the best of all possible worlds, an American president could finally prepare to go beyond Realpoliitk and its endlessly belligerent nationalism[30] – a perpetually futile dynamic that has never succeeded and is destined for continued failure – but the world is not yet ready for any such transformation.[31]

               If, however, that auspicious time should arrive sometime in the future, President Biden’s key task will be to focus upon the essential interrelatedness or “oneness”[32] 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 variously constituent national and sub-national systems. In both examples, microcosm and macrocosm, survival will require more reliable and generalized patterns of cooperation between systems.

               “Just wars,” wrote Hugo Grotius, the acknowledged founder of modern international law,  “arise from our love of the innocent.”[33] Now, however, it is plain, and again by definition, that a nuclear war could never be “just,” and that certain earlier legal distinctions (e.g., just war vs. unjust war) must be continuously conformed to the ever-changing technologies of military destruction. The only sensible adaptation in this regard must be to acknowledge persisting connections between international law and natural law, and then to oppose any retrograde movements to undermine such vital acknowledgments.

               In the final analysis, to successfully prevent a nuclear war in Asia or anywhere else, it will be necessary to resist mightily any world system declensions toward further belligerent nationalism.

               Plainly and incontestably, the best use for American nuclear weapons in any ongoing US-North Korea negotiation must be as elements of dissuasion or persuasion, and not as actual weapons of war. In this regard, the key underlying principle goes back even before the advent of nuclear weapons. Remembering the ancient Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu in his On War (Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”): “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.”

               A nuclear war with North Korea would resemble any other terminal pathology. The only reasonable hopes lie in disease prevention.

—————


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

[2] “The masses have followed the magicians again and again…Socrates and Plato were the first to take up the struggle against them in clear awareness of what was at stake.”  (See: Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time; 1952).

[3] This acceleration was due in part to US President Donald J. Trump’s singular focus on personal public relations. In this regard, analysts and scholars may usefully consult not just their daily newspapers, but also Sophocles, Antigone, Speech of Creon, King of Thebes: “I hold despicable and always have….anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

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

[5]Pertinent synergies could clarify or elucidate the world political system’s current state of hyper-disorder (a view that would reflect what the physicists prefer to call “entropic” conditions), and could be conceptually dependent upon each national decision-makers subjective metaphysics of time. For an early article by this author dealing with interesting linkages between such a subjective chronology and national decision-making (linkages that could shed additional light on still-growing risks of a US-North Korea nuclear war), see: Louis René Beres, “Time, Consciousness and Decision-Making in Theories of International Relations,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. VIII, No.3., Fall 1974, pp. 175-186.

[6]  “We fell in love,” said US President Donald J. Trump at his Singapore summit in June 2018.

[7]The Trump White House consistently sought to persuade Americans by way of very deliberate simplifications and falsifications. See, on the plausible consequences of any such deceptive measures, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s core observation in On Certainty:  “Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry….”

[8] 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/

[9] For early accounts by this author of certain potentially synergistic 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] Drawn from aptly famous statement of Athenians to the Melians (a colony of Sparta) from “The Debate on the Fate of Melos” (416 BCE).

[11] Elements of such essential doctrine could sometimes be 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.

[12] 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…”

[13] In his seminal writings, strategic theorist Herman Kahn introduced a further distinction between a surprise attack that is more-or-less unexpected, and a surprise attack that arrives entirely “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).

[14] 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).

[15] 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 now 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.”

[16] In law, such a defensive first-strike, if permissible, would be termed “anticipatory self-defense.” The precise origins of such defense liein customary international law, in The Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified 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).

[17] “In a dark time,” says the Poet Theodore Roethke, “the eye begins to see.”

[18] 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 a 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 itself prove “fatal” (existential).

[19] Customary international law, which must be the jurisprudential justification for any permissible defensive first strike or preemption, is an authoritative source of world legal norms identified 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 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).

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

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

[22] During his dissembling presidency, too little attention had been directed toward Donald J. Trump’s open loathing of science and intellect, and to his corresponding unwillingness to read, anything. Ironically, 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. A conclusion ought to surface: How far we Americans have fallen.

[23] 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).

[24] When  meeting in Singapore with Kim Jung Un on June 11, 2018, Trump dismissed all usual presidential leadership obligations to study and prepare. Instead, he emphasized, again and again, offhandedly: “I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s all about attitude.”[24]

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

[26] 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.'”)

[27] Whether it is described in the Old Testament or any other major sources of ancient Western thought, chaos can be viewed as something positive, even as a source of human betterment. Here, chaos is taken as that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. As its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos further represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but where all civilizational opportunity must inevitably originate. Appropriately, the classical German poet Friedrich Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic which stands at the roots of the things and which prepares all things.” Even in the pagan ancient world, the Greeks thought of such a desert as logos, which should indicate to us today that it was never presumed to be starkly random or without evident merit.

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

[29] Though US “good offices” under Trump played a decisive role in creating new Israeli ties to UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, these ties will do little to alleviate the most fundamental and underlying strains of discord in the region. See also latest book by this author, Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed., 2018). http://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/content/surviving-amid-chaos-israels-nuclear-strategy

[30] 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/

[31] More plausibly, especially after malignant years of corrosive Trump neglect and disharmony, the world resonates with the succinct warning offered by Hermann Hesse in Steppenwolf (1927): “This world, as it is now, wants to perish….” Or quite similarly, in 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.”

[32] 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 analytic understanding.

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

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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Global Warming And COP26: Issues And Politics

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The president’s massive social services and infrastructure package is under consideration by Congress.  The problem is Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.

Not only is West Virginia a coal-producing state but Mr. Manchin owns two coal companies.  Although in a blind trust operated by his son, it is clear that coal companies make money when they sell coal.

But coal is a serious polluter, possibly the worst among fossil fuels.  Any serious attempt to reduce the impact of climate change will replace coal with at least natural gas — available in abundance and emitting almost 50 percent less CO2 according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Republicans — many of whom deny global warming following Trump’s lead — adamantly oppose the plan en bloc, so Senator Manchin’s vote is crucial.  For the moment then, the fate of the planet lies in the hands of one man because, quite simply, if the US backs off, China will be relieved of pressure — also Russia which has an abundance of fossil fuels.

Hence the importance of the COP26 climate summit scheduled for October 31 – November 2 in Glasgow.  Originally planned for 2020, the meeting was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.  The town is preparing for an influx of 25,000 people as lobbyists, conference attendees and demonstrators arrive. 

It is an interesting meeting, liked by some to a teacher requiring a class to prepare and bring term papers.  The 200 countries represented will be bringing their plans to meet the goals of the Paris accords.  These require the signatories to commit to enhance ambitions every five years — thus 2020 postponed to 2021 — under the so-called ‘ratchet mechanism’.  The Paris Accords aimed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius and to aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As often, people leak documents to help their agenda.  This time a huge leak shows how important fossil fuel using and producing countries are attempting to modify a crucial scientific report.  Oil producer Saudi Arabia, coal producer Australia and heavy user Japan are among those questioning a rapid change from fossil fuels.  Saudi Arabia for one also lobbied previously in 2015 with some success.

This time the lobbying effort consists of more than 32,000 submissions (by governments, corporations and other interested parties) to the team of scientists preparing scientific reports designed to coalesce the best science on tackling global warming.  One can imagine the headache for the scientists, who for the most part have a regular job, often as professors.  Produced as “assessment reports” by IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) these represent a consensus of the views of different governments, and are used by them to decide what action will be needed. 

The many bodies involved, the complicated murky politics and the enormous pressure from different parties all point to the crucial fact that billions of dollars are involved now in today’s dollars versus promises of a better and distant future.  We can only hope we have  decision makers with foresight, and leaders without Trumpian climate change ignorance and excess.

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America’s Two-Tiered Justice System

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The Constitution states only one command twice. The Fifth Amendment says to the federal government that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, uses the same eleven words, called the Due Process Clause, to describe a legal obligation of all states. These words have as their central promise an assurance that all levels of government must operate within the law and provide fair procedures to all its citizens.

In this politically divisive climate, the central promise has been broken with little to no assurance that one can trust the American democratic system where some courts have disavowed their responsibility to uphold the Constitution’s meaning of the laws passed by Congress. For instance, the Bill of Rights was passed because of concepts such as freedom of religion, speech, equal treatment, and due process of law were all deemed so fundamental to protect every legal resident in the nation; yet we are now witnessing politically charged judicial appointments eradicating these principles under which all persons and entities are accountable to equally enforce and independently adjudicate, as well as being consistent with international human rights.

On the heels of the Chinese coronavirus, there is an escalating epidemic of unequal justice and character assault where much of the news media is politically aligned with the rulers in turning a blind eye or complicit in the coverup; and in some cases, ravenously endorses the demise of what has essentially now become political dissidents falsely accused, intimidated, and jailed. While many Americans are attempting to scrape by in difficult times, they remain astute to the moral failure of the elites in power as well as the tacit elected opposition’s assiduous silence in whitewashing the legal duplicity. Historical trends over centuries of betraying the peasants eventually succumbs to a reckoning where the privileged corrupt politician and their corporate fascists will be exposed and held accountable in some fashion.  

Americans are confounded by the coronavirus decrees requiring masks to be worn for thee and not for me double standards. The politicians hammer away at enforcing mask mandates on the common folk, yet they do not adhere to their own edicts while attending fine dining with their elite backers. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Californian Governor Gavin Newsome, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot all violated their own mask mandates in public venues while the masked servants waited on them.

President Biden was caught on video walking maskless through a swanky Washington restaurant in violation of the District’s laws on facial coverings, yet regular citizens are subject to civil penalties which result in fines of $1000.00 or revocation of licenses during the COVID-19 emergency. In defending the emperor, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said we should ‘not overly focus on moments in time that don’t reflect overarching policy.’ These double standard by the progressives are a far cry from Americans being punished and ostracized all over the country for not wearing a mask.

Identity politics has resulted in two systems of justice – one where BLM rioting and looting is described by the media as peaceful demonstrations and where assaulting police has no criminal consequences; yet the January 6th actions at the Capital has resulted in the largest round up of protesters ever seen in America. It is estimated that the Federal Government has upwards to 70 rioters/trespassers in solitary confinement and they are only let out in a larger area for one hour at 2 am due to COVID. Some of those being held in detention have been charged with trespassing on restricted grounds, others with assault and obstruction, and some haven’t been charged with anything. There are no bail hearings for these political activists yet BLM and Antifa rioters typically spend one night in the brig and let out the next day to rejoin the frontlines of carnage.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vocally pushed for the January 6th ‘insurrectionists’ to be added to the TSA no-fly list. Civil liberties are being trampled by exploiting insurrection fears with people in attendance no longer permitted to take a flight in their own country and they have not been convicted of a crime. This action by the government had previously only happened to suspect foreign terrorists, and now it is happening to Americans under suspicion. We see no similar actions taken against the militant Antifa anarchists who attacked and torched federal buildings in Portland.

Washington DC has essentially been abusing these inmates in captivity. There have been complaints on the nourishment of their fellow Americans where they are served white bread and a packet of tartar sauce. This is ultimately a violation of the 8th Amendment that prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, nor cruel and unusual punishments, and from inflicting unduly harsh penalties. Some judges are expressing concern at the length of these pretrial incarcerations, however they’ve largely deferred to the Justice Department. Meanwhile anarchists who burn down buildings and shoot projectiles at police officers and federal buildings have charges dismissed. Justice is not equal.   

One female trespasser was shot dead by police during the Capital unrest and there was no outcry or charges against the officer. She was white and a Trump supporter. Federal prosecutors are not seeking criminal charges against the police lieutenant whose single shot killed Ashli Babbit, the 14-year veteran who served four tours with the US Airforce. If the unarmed Babbit committed any crime, it would have been for trespassing, a misdemeanor that should have seen her arrested and not slain. The lieutenant’s life was not at risk nor was he saving the lives of others as he stood with numerous police officers in riot gear and strapped with submachine guns. If a member of BLM was shot dead by police during an unlawful riot, there would have been an immediate racial outcry from political elites and from across the news media for justice followed by looting local retailers and ransacking a police precinct. The action by BLM is considered righteous violence whereas the slain Babbit had it coming to her.  

On a very disturbing and new level of injustice is the threatening actions being taken against parents of schoolchildren by the Department of Justice. Most Americans are familiar with the Patriot Act following 9-11 where the National Security Division conducts counterterrorism operations against foreign adversaries planning suicide bombings and stealing nuclear secrets. Now the Biden Administration, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, has turned the NSD’s crosshairs against everyday Americans conducting their civil duties and free speech as school board meetings.

Garland’s actions followed the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) claim that American public schools and its education leaders are under immediate threats and intimidation as parents grow frustrated over the divisive neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory being injected into their children’s curricula. This is clearly an injustice to weaponize the DOJ and FBI investigators to intimidate and arrest parents under the same counterespionage to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Parents may be angry, but they are certainly not domestic terrorists in taking on the powerfully partisan school unions who somehow believe they are justified to influence civilization by indoctrinating their children.        

Garland’s poster boy for his hideous partisan support of the NSBA is a Virginia father who was arrested at a school board meeting when he attempted to raise the alarm over his young daughter being raped in the school washroom. The father became the symbol of angry parents confronting school officials when he was taken down by several police officers and apprehended for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He became vocally upset when school officials denied the attack on his daughter, but he was not physically confrontational.

The father said it is scary that our government will weaponize themselves against parents and they’re using my video across the nation to spread fear; while the school officials did not seem to want to listen to him regarding his daughter being assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt who took advantage of transgender rules to access the girl’s washroom. The boy has now been charged with two counts of forcible sodomy, one count of anal sodomy, and one count of forcible fellatio related to the incident at that school. At a later date, the same boy was charged for a similar attack at neighboring school where he allegedly forced a victim into an empty classroom where he held her against her will and inappropriately touched her.  Regardless of the raped daughter, Garland and the NSBA still have their video of the father being wrestled down to support the use of the FBI against parents and send a chilling effect on harmless dissent.  

The Russian collusion narrative against then President Donald Trump may seem dated, however it can never be swept aside or forgotten in what may well have been the biggest political scandal and injustice to a man in American history. The country endured four years investigating Russian collusion into the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 presidential win with senate and congressional impeachment hearings over a Clinton-paid-for fake dossier, the biased Obama hatchet men overseeing the FBI and CIA shirking the law, a frenzied media that never let up on Trump’s guilt, and a special counsel comprised of Clinton partisans that turned over every leaf that eventually found the nearly crucified Trump to be innocent of the false charges. The former president had to withstand an incessant blitzkrieg of injustice through his entire presidency while leading the most powerful country in the world.   

On the hand, there is compelling evidence that President Joe Biden spent years while in government enriching himself through family ties, specifically his son Hunter, to the tune of millions of dollars in foreign money from China, Russia, and Ukraine. The foreign players simply used the unqualified son to leverage access to Biden while satisfying Hunter’s greed and questionable lifestyle. Biden has little to no ability to stand up to China or Russia knowing they are holding damaging transactions over his head. There have been no investigations into Biden’s quid-pro-quo against Ukraine or the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Biden family members, no impeachments, and the news media buried these stories; including damaging information found on Hunter’s laptop during the 2020 presidential election. Had Trump and his sons engaged in these activities, there would have been a very different level of justice.   

What of this injustice that is making its mark on history? If we take a moment to think through the confusion of the moment and see the morale issue involved, then one may refuse to have this sense of justice distorted to grip power rather than for the good of the country. Those who have sown this unjust wind may eventually reap a whirlwind that provokes reform by convulsion of the people instead of a natural order of business. We must all remember that democracy lies with the people of this land and whether the nation will be stirred to stand for justice and freedom in this hour of distress and go on to finish in a way worthy of its beginning.  

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Biden’s Department of Justice: parents as domestic terrorists

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In recent developments in the United States, US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, and the FBI have put under the FBI radar parents as potential domestic terrorists. You heard it right. This is now a new formal legal policy contained in memos of the Department of Justice trying to reign in parents discussions on Biden’s new school curricula. They are not going after potential outbursts but outright terrorism. 

This is an attack on freedom of speech in the sense that parents have the right to discuss and disagree with the new Biden school curricula. This is where the issue originated: parts of Biden’s new school curricula are not accepted by many parents and if they disagree, the FBI treats them now as potential domestic terrorists as a matter of policy. Apart from a First Amendment case, this is also a case for international human rights law and I reported the development to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech this week hoping to get a statement.

The Department of Justice is referring to some constitutional provision on “intimidation of views” to override and take down one of the most firmly established rights, the right to freedom of speech, in quite frankly a ridiculous interpretation. Those parents that dare to speak up against controversial parts in the new text books could be investigated for domestic terrorism. This is the most incompetent interpretation on limitations of freedom of speech I have seen in awhile. 

Garland and the FBI have totally lost their marbles. The woke discussion is not funny to me anymore. It increasingly looks like a woke tyranny that has nothing to do with rights and equality anymore but simply serves as a vehicle to empower the FBI to run wild against regular people. This lunacy needs to be stopped.

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