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Donald Trump, Insurrection and the American “Horde”

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“The mass man has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”

Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1930

Though officially a pathology of the past, the toxic effects of Donald Trump’s grim presidency will resonate for years. To explain this lamentable durability, history deserves pride of place. But how, precisely, should we proceed with such necessary background?

               In logical sequence, clarifying queries are now in order.[1] First off:

               What were the discernible origins of this American declension, a barbarous retrogression capped by attempted insurrection; a fall so steep it was long unimaginable in the United States?

               This is a complex and disconcerting query, one Americans ought not sweep casually under the rug. Donald Trump’s grotesque authoritarianism did not arise mysteriously, spontaneously, out of nowhere, without history, ex nihilo. On the contrary, it was the  evident and even predictable result of a society too-frequently bereft of reason-based decision-making. In essence, the thoroughly beaten-down America that suffered a presidentially-incited insurrection on January 6, 2021 was a nation afflicted.

                Even now, even after suffering Mr. Trump’s most sorely palpable and continuously lethal derelictions, America remains, as a society, widely averse to serious learning or intellectual obligation.  Unsurprisingly, it is a “horde”[2] directed nation, one susceptible to utterly deranged conspiracy theories and vulnerable to assorted violence-oriented antipathies of the “mass.”

Conceptual Background of the Trump Horror

               “The mass,” said 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.”  Embracing Trump, and in a plausibly fatal deference to Ortega’s “crushing” force, the intellectually un-ambitious American not only agreed to wallow lazily in nonsensical political and cultural phrases of a glaringly naked emperor, he/she also accepted a shallow national ethos of personal intellectual surrender.

                Queries continue. How shall such incomprehensible behaviors be explained most sensibly and gainfully? At one level, at least, the answer is obvious. Under Donald Trump, America was no longer a society sincerely wanting to value knowledge, education or learning. For four dissembling years, led by a retrograde man of commerce who never read books – indeed, who very proudly and conspicuously read nothing  – America became a quintessential “know nothing” country. This meant, inter alia,  a nation that wittingly and shamelessly spurns intellect and truth.[3]

               For variously intersecting reasons, the docile Trump minions had sought desperately to keep themselves “anesthetized.” This sordid search outlasted the Trump presidency. It continues to this day.

               There is more. In their active form of complicity with individual and collective self-destruction, surrendering Americans were not passive victims. Rather, they insistently held themselves captive by harboring a lengthening string of false presidential reassurances and by clinging to endlessly mindless Trump simplifications of multi-sided problems.[4]

               There were generic antecedents. In  her magisterial two-volume work, The Life of the Mind (1971), political philosopher Hannah Arendt already highlighted the “manifest shallowness” of historical evil-doers. In so doing, she hypothesized that the most critically underlying causes of pertinent harms were neither evil motives nor common stupidity. Instead, she concluded, controversially but convincingly, that the root problem is a literal thoughtlessness, a more-or-less verifiable human condition that makes any unsuspecting  individual subject to the presumed “wisdom” of clichés, stock phrases and narrowly contrived codes of political expression.

               Who are these individuals? There are, of course, many who will be “susceptible.” Always. This does notmean only those men or women who lack a decently respectable formal education. Significantly, in Donald Trump’s fragmenting America, just as it was earlier, in the Third Reich,  well-educated and affluent persons joined forces with ritualistic gun worshippers and vulgar street fighters. The unseemly alliance had a purpose. It was created as a tactical measure, to meet certain overlapping objectives.

               In the end, as we may learn from  both history and logic, each faction would suffer grievously alongside the general citizenry.

               Both sides, therefore, were destined to “lose.”[5]

               In the future, a similar sort of loss could be existential and irremediable.

               In the future, it could include a nuclear war.[6]

The Literal Absence of Thought

               For Hannah Arendt, the core problem was always a tangible absence of thinking. In her own learned and lucid assessment, menacing evil is not necessarily calculable according to some specific purpose or ideology. For the philosopher, it is deceptively commonplace and plausibly predictable. Evil, as we may learn from Arendt, is “banal.”

               There is more. Fundamentally, the “mass  man”  or “mass woman” (a Jungian term[7] that closely resembles Hannah Arendt’s evildoer) who cheers wildly in rancorous presidential crowds, and who chants whatever the articulated gibberish of the particular horde, prefers whatever is easiest to memorize. This means favoring a constant flow of empty witticisms over any meaningful insights of logic or science. Living in a commerce-driven society that has been drifting ever further from any still-residual “life of the mind,” this susceptible American became the perfect “recruit” for Trumpian dissemblance or conversion.

               There is more. It was in stubborn defiance of meaningful thought that such persons mounted their twisted attack on the Capitol of the United States. The ironies are unassailable;  they are also worrisome in the longer term.

               This “obedient” citizen, often like his unregenerate representatives in the Congress, has no use for study, evidence or critical thinking of any kind. And why should he/she? Der Fuhrer, the nation was promised, would do each person’s “thinking” for him.[8]

               Could anything have been more “convenient?”

               With Arendt and Jung, the core culprit of anti-Reason is fully unmasked. This “banal” malefactor is the once-still-individual human being who ceases to be an individual, the one who wittingly becomes the reliable enemy of intellect and the correlative ally of thoughtlessness. Following such antecedent triumphs of anti-Reason here in the United States, it becomes more easy to understand the hideous rise and seeming political survival of  former American President Donald J. Trump.

               Most ominously in all of this American decline is that  Reason remains widely out of fashion. No matter how compelling and expansive the evidence of Trump’s myriad derelictions became, millions of dedicated or “base” adherents stayed steadfastly loyal to Der Fűhrer. Faith, not facts, are what matter most to these willfully self-destructive Trump adherents. For them, the familiar Third Reich phrase “I believe” is all that counts. For these dutiful hordes, “I think” remains wholly unknown or distinctly subordinate.

               Back in the eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson, chief architect of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and a future American president, exclaimed with an unhesitating erudition: “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” US President Donald Trump, “learning only in his own flesh,” swore an oath of “eternal support” for such an insufferable tyranny. Earlier, he had returned from his June 12, 2018 Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un  declaring that the calculable risks of a bilateral nuclear war had now been removed. This was because he and Kim had fallen “in love.” Later, on a different subject, Trump offered his own personal assessments of assorted drug efficacies against the Corona virus.

               These assessments were de facto instances of crimes against humanity.[9]

               Simultaneously, Trump responded to authoritative science-based prescriptions – the ones to which Americans actually ought to have been listening all along – with glib dismissals, capricious denials or a recognizably open unconcern.

               For the United States, Trump’s stream-of-consciousness excursions into gibberish and incoherence represented far more than just a national embarrassment. At a time of palpable biological “plague,” such presidential declensions became insistently and immediately life-threatening. In law,[10] they came very close to becoming genocide-like crimes.[11]

                In essence, America’s political processes and institutions were pitifully inadequate in dealing with this former president’s most chaotic instincts. Still, till the end, a large portion of this afflicted nation continued to display near-infinite forbearance for Trump’s  inane and potentially tragic commentaries. This forbearance endured even after the Trump-inspired assault on America’s Capitol. The resultant withering of a declining nation’s heart and mind pointed unerringly to existential threats. While various mega-death scenarios of relentless pandemic were the most plainly far reaching and immediately credible hazards, the more “normal” dangers of war[12] and terrorism had not simultaneously disappeared. Today, these dangers persist. They are more urgent than ever before.

               Now, in the United States, a new president is left to pick up the pieces, a task including repairs to a Trump-fractured corpus of foreign and strategic policies.

An Unphilosophic Spirit

               America’s most insidious enemy during the suffocating Trump Era should now be easier to recognize and uncover. This foe is an unphilosophical national spirit that knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.[13] Then facing unprecedented and overlapping crises of health, economics and law,[14] sizable elements of “We the People” felt at their best when they could chant anesthetizing Trump-inspired gibberish in mesmerizing chorus.  “We’re number one; we’re number one,“these Americans shouted out reflexively, even as their country’s capacity to project global power withered minute by minute, and even as the already ominous separations of rich and poor had come to mimic (and sometimes exceed) what is discoverable in the most grievously downtrodden nations on earth.

               “USA; USA” – the amplified cry of a people who confused gibberish with true patriotism.

               Most alarmingly, among manifold catastrophic American declensions, the Trump-wounded American nation allowed itself to be led by a visibly ignorant pied piper, by a would-be emperor who was “naked” from the start and who finally managed to bring the United States to fearful levels of suffering. In this connection, the Corona Virus pandemic was not of his own personal making, but this relentless plague became infinitely more injurious under President Donald J. Trump’s unsteady dictatorial hand.

               Nonetheless, even now, the champions of anti-Reason in America still rise to defend their Fuhrer,[15] sometimes on the basis of vague and easily-discredited conspiracy theories. Trump did  not create this growing plague, we are reminded by these champions. He was, rather, just another victim of unavoidable biological circumstance. So why keep “picking on” this innocent and brilliant man (“a very stable genius”)? Instead, let us stand loyally by his enduringly sagacious counsel.

                Sound familiar?

               Recalling philosopher Hannah Arendt, such determinedly twisted loyalties and explanations stem originally from massive citizen thoughtlessness. Though Donald Trump was not responsible for the original biological menace of  “plague,” he still willingly weakened the American nation’s most utterly indispensable medical and scientific defenses.[16] It is worth mentioning too, on this particular count, that meaningful national defense must always entail far more than just large-scale weapons systems and infrastructures.[17]

               Looking ahead, for example, this country has far more to gain from a coherent and science-based antivirus policy than from a patently preposterous “Space Force.”[18]

                Earlier, Thomas Jefferson, Chief architect of the Declaration of Independence, observed the imperative congruence of viable national democracy with wisdom, learning and virtue. Today, however, many still revere a former president whose proud refrain  during the 2016 election process was “I love the poorly educated.” Among other humiliating derelictions, this perverse refrain represented a palpable echo of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ 1935 Nuremberg rally comment: “Intellect rots the brain.”

A National Antipathy to Serious Thought

                Americans remain polarized not only by race, ethnicity and class, but also by inclination or disinclination to serious thought. For most of this dreary and unhappy country, any inclination toward a “life of the mind” is still anathema. In irrefutable evidence of this preference, trivial or debasing entertainments remain America’s only expected compensation for enduring a shallow national life of tedious obligation, financial exhaustion, ill-protected health and premature death. This sizable portion of the populace, kept “safely” distant from authentic personal growth by almost every imaginable engineered obstacle, desperately seeks residual compensations. For the most part, these are revealed in abundantly silly slogans, promises of status-bearing affiliations, or other manifestly deranging promises of Trump Era political chicanery. 

               Even at this “post Trump” eleventh hour, Americans must learn to understand that no nation can be “first”[19] that does not first hold each individual “soul”[20] sacred. At one time in our collective history, shortly after American Transcendental philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of personal accomplishment actually earned high marks. Then, young people especially, strove to rise interestingly, not as the embarrassingly obedient servants of destructive personal power and raw commerce, but as the proud owners of a unique and personal Self.

                Alas, today this Self  “lives” together with increasingly unbearable material and  biological ties.  Whether individual Americans would prefer to become more secular or more reverent, to grant government more authority over their lives, or less, a willing submission to multitudes remains this nation’s most unifying national “religion.” Regarding the pied piper in the Trump White House, many Americans came to accept even the most patently preposterous presidential claims of enhanced national security.

               This from a president who was himself the conspicuously servile marionette of his Russian counterpart.

               This from an American president who came to resemble The Manchurian Candidate on stilts and steroids.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher: “I believe because it is absurd.”[21]

                Upon returning to Washington DC after the June 2018 Singapore Summit, President Trump made the following statement: “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”[22] Prima facie, it was a ridiculous assertion, one so blatantly foolish that it ought to have raised incontestable “red flags” wherever there still remained some residual scintilla of human Reason.

               Immediately.

               But it’s not just America that remains subject to dictates of anti-Reason. Unseemly crowd-like sentiments like those of the Trump-era have a long and diversified planetary history. We are, to be fair, hardly the first people to surrender to crowds. The contemporary crowd-man or woman is, in fact, a primitive and universal being, one who has lazily “slipped back,” in the words of Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, on to the age-old stage of civilization.”

               This grotesque stage is not bare like the stages of a farce by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. On the contrary, this stage is littered with the corpses of dead civilizations.[23] What else ought to have been expected of societies governed by the “horde,” the “crowd,” the “mass?”

               Indiscriminately, the mass defiles all that is most gracious and promising in any society. Charles Dickens, during his first visit to America, observed portentously back in 1842:  “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country in the failure of its example to the earth.”

                To this point, even after the world-defiling Trump-horror, Americans have successfully maintained their core political freedom from traditional forms of political tyranny and oppression. Nonetheless, we have already come to accept in once unimaginable terms the kind of presidential manipulation and bullying that can shred and pull apart even the most well-established constitutions. As corollary, Americans have cravenly surrendered their indispensable liberty to become authentic persons. By openly deploring a life of meaning and sincerity, a stubbornly anti-intellectual nation confused wealth with success. Blurting out rhythmic chants of allegedly patriotic celebration even as their cheerless democracy vanished into meaninglessness, Americans followed pandemic disease toward a potentially irremediable despair.   

               Whatever its origin, there is an identifiable cause lying behind such feverishly synchronized delirium. In part, at least, Trump- orchestrated babble sought to protect Americans  from a terrifying and unbearable loneliness. In the end, however, it proved a contrived and lethal remedy . In the end, it offered just another Final Solution.[24]

The Indispensable “Single One”[25]

               With all of our declensions, there remain certain individual American citizens of integrity and courage. Still, the fearlessly resolute individual who would actively seek to escape from the steadily-poisoning “crowd,” the One who opts heroically for disciplined individual thought over effortless conformance, must feel quite deeply alone. “The most radical division,” asserted José Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity…. those who make great demands on themselves…and those who demand nothing special of themselves…” In 1965, the Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, offered an almost identical argument. Lamenting, “The emancipated man is yet to emerge,” Heschel then asked each One to inquire:

               “What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?”

               Why were these same questions so casually pushed aside by servile American supporters of a rancorous president who opposed “emancipation” in any conceivable form?

                Always, there are lessons to  be learned. It is time for camouflage and concealment in the pitiful American crowd to yield to what Abraham Joshua Heschel called “being-challenged-in-the-world.” Individuals who would dare to read books for more than some transient entertainment, persons who are willing to risk social and material disapproval in exchange for exiting the imprisoning crowd (for “emancipation”), offer America its only real and lasting hope. To be sure, these rare souls can seldom be found in politics, in universities,[26] in corporate boardrooms or almost anywhere (there are some exceptions still) on radio, television or in the movies. Always, their critical inner strength lies not in pompous oratory, catchy crowd phrases, or observably ostentatious accumulations of personal wealth (“Trump. Trump, Trump“),  but in the considerably more ample powers of genuineness, thought and Reason.

               There is much yet to learn. Even today, hardly a glimmer of intellectual originality animates America’s public discussions of politics and economics. Even now, even after America’s largely self-deceiving citizenry had lost all residual sense of intellectual awe in the world, this national public not only avoids authenticity, it positively loathes it. Indeed, in a nation that has lost all recognizable regard for the Western literary canon, our American crowdsgenerally seek aid, comfort and fraternity in a very strange place.

               It is in a conveniently shared public illiteracy.

               Inter alia, the classical division of American society into Few and Mass represents a useful separation of those who are imitators from those who could still initiate real understanding. “The mass,” said Jose Ortega y Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.”  Very recently, in foolish and prospectively fatal deference to this Mass, the intellectually un-ambitious American not only wallowed reflexively in nonsensical political and cultural phrases of a demonstrably naked emperor, he or she also applauded a shallow national ethos of personal and collective surrender.  

               “America First,” yes, we were. But only in Covid-19 mortality.[27]

               By definition, the Horde, or Mass, or Crowd, can never become Few. Yet, someindividual members can make the very difficult transformation. To begin, those who are already Few must announce and maintain their determined stance, not abstractly, but in tangible reference to dissembling public policies. “One must become accustomed to living on mountains,” says Nietzsche, “to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egotism beneath one.”

               It was Nietzsche, too, who warned presciently in Zarathustra: “Never seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.”

               Aware that they may still comprise a vital barrier to America’s spiritual, cultural, intellectual and political disintegration, the Few  must always knowingly refuse to chant in chorus. Ultimately, this should remind us all of something very important. It is that individually and collectively, doggedly staying the course of self-actualization and self-renewal – a lonely course of lucid consciousness rather than self-inflicting delusion – is the only honest and purposeful American option  

                 In their endlessly misguided work, Trump Era cheerleaders in all walks of life drew feverishly upon the sovereignty of an unqualified Mass. This Mass depended for its very breath of life on the relentless withering of personal dignity, and on the continuing servitude of  independent citizen consciousness. Oddly, “We the people,” frightfully unaware of this dangerous parasitism, were already being passively converted into fuel for the omnivorously murderous machine of Trumpian “democracy.”

               This was a pathologic system of governance in which the American citizenry were still generally permitted to speak and interact freely, but which was also a determinedly anti-intellectual plutocracy.

Reason and Anti-Reason

               In the early 1950s, Karl Jaspers, well familiar with the seminal earlier writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, sought to explain what a dissembling “Crowd” had  brought to his native Germany and to Germany’s captive nations. Publishing Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time  in 1952, the distinguished thinker explained the formidable difficulties of sustaining Reason among the many who keenly prefer “the fog of the irrational.” Jaspers’ earlier observations about Nazi Germany may apply equally well to explaining Donald Trump’s America:

Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition.[28]

               Here, in essence, Jaspers underscored the “fraudulent freedom of obedience” in any society that might seemingly will itself to be a democracy, but is actually just an oblique celebration of tyranny, the arch-tyranny of anti-Reason. In earlier times, such hideous celebrations were unexceptional or even de rigeur, but they also “set the stage” for what Americans experienced so painfully during “Trump Time.” To some extent, at least, for America to be fully freed from the false promise of obedience will demand that the whole society be placed in status nascens, that is, as if newly born.

,              When, in 1633, Galileo Galilei kneeled before the Inquisitorial Tribunal of Rome and was forced to renounce the compelling science of Copernicus, he revealed the terrifying vulnerability of  Reason to assorted mortal seductions of anti-Reason. This storied renunciation is not “just” history. For Americans, it is also a warning of where such seductions could bring us in the future (a future already imperiled by both epidemic disease and nuclear war) and what must be done to forestall such endings.

               Like Max Ernst’s “Horde” or Soren Kierkegaard’s “Crowd,” the Mass is “untruth.” Before this can be expected to change  in America, Americans will need more attention to spare for intellect and reasoning. After Trump, there can remain no conceivable excuse for learning by ceaseless imitation or instinct, that is, by relying upon the visceral resources of our “own flesh.”

               For Americans to finally accept the manifold responsibilities of serious thought is anterior to any serious enhancements of citizenship. An American is what he or she wills himself/herself to be.[29] Always, this core goal must be to resemble Kierkegaard’s “Single One.” We ought never will ourselves to once again become captive in the Danish philosopher’s “primeval forest of evasion,” that is, to lose ourselves in the Crowd.

               Next time, for the United States, and even without evident insurrection, any corresponding national costs could prove terminal.

————–


[1] “Man cannot receive an answer,” warns Paul Tillich (The Courage to Be, 1952) “to a question he has not asked.”

[2] Max Ernst’s The Horde is essentially an avant-garde artist’s rendering of Jose Ortega y’Gasset’s “mass man.” There is, however, nothing surreal about Trump-era declensions. Horde was already a term used by Sigmund Freud, likely an adaptation from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd.” Conceptually, “horde,” “herd” and “mass” are all similar to Soren Kierkegaard’s “crowd,” which the Danish philosopher famously summarized (Point of View: “That Individual”) as “untruth.”

[3] In this regard, one may consider the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s succinct warning in Zarathusrtra: “Never seek the higher man at the marketplace.” More than anything else, Donald Trump was quintessentially a “man of the  marketplace.”

[4] One may usefully be reminded here of Bertrand Russell’s trenchant observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death.”

[5] Said Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1934: “”Whoever can conquer the street will one day conquer the state.” Later, in 2019, Donald Trump echoed this dreadful sentiment: “I have the support of the street, of the police, of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.” In a similar vein, during a 2016 rally in Las Vegas, Trump told a wildly cheering crowd that he’d “like to punch the protestors in the face.” “I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they’re in a place like this, they’d be carried out on a stretcher,” Then, identifying a specific target person in the audience, Trump added: I’d like to punch him in the face.”

[6]See: https://www.yahoo.com/news/doomsday-clock-set-100-seconds-152553567.html In the worst case scenario, such a war could coincide with disease pandemic, a fusion with incalculable synergistic effects. By definition, these are effects wherein the catastrophic “whole” would actually be greater than the sum of its “parts.”

[7] See pertinent writings of Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, especially The Undiscovered Self (1957).

[8] A recent example is flag-waving Trump supporters holding signs blaming distinguished epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci for “tyrannical” closure policies, and simultaneously urging greater medical authority for President Donald J Trump.

[9] De facto, rather than de jure, because of the likely absence of mens rea, or “criminal intent.” Nonetheless, from the standpoint of the many American victims of Trump’s “medical advice,” they remained just as dead as if there had been malicious intent.

[10] Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration never understood that international law is part of the law of the United States. 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.'”).

[11] Professor Beres is the author of several  major books and many law journal articles on genocide-like crimes. See, for example, Louis René Beres, “Genocide and Genocide-Like Crimes,” in  M. Cherif Bassiouni., ed., International Criminal Law: Crimes (New York, Transnational Publishers, 1986), pp. 271-279.

[12] Under international law, the question of whether or not a formal “state of war” exists between states is generally ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a 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 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.”

[13]  Apropos of truth in Plato’s The Republic: “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”

[14] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/the-trump-presidency-a-breathtaking-assault-on-law-justice-and-security/

[15] See, by this author, at JURIST: Louis René Beres, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/louis-beres-america-rise-and-fall.  On the mutual reinforcements of the “crowd” and crowd leader (Fuehrer), see Kierkegaard’s lucidly summarizing statement: “In the outside world, the crowd is busy making a noise. The one makes a noise because he heads the crowd, the many because they are members of the crowd.” See the philosopher’s: Point of View: “That Individual.”

[16] “This virus is going to disappear,” said Trump unambiguously, on February 27th, 2020.

[17] On this matter, of course, one ought also note this president’s ill-considered withdrawal from treaties with Russia and from the United Nations World Health Organization. Credo quia absurdum.

[18] The United States Space Force was created by US President Donald J. Trump on December 20, 2019, under terms of the National Defense Authorization Act. Although it was allegedly intended to bolster this country’s overall military power in any expanding strategic competition with Russia, Space Force’s actual effects will  likely be contractive, corrosive and destabilizing. The critical underlying US policy error committed in this creation was conceptual and historic. In essence, it consists of failing to recognize that millennia of belligerent geopolitical competitions have resulted not in peace, but in multiple forms of  international war. At a unique time when the United States faces a new and unpredictable set of dangers from worldwide disease pandemic, shifting large sums of money needed for public health to a space-centered arena of future international conflict represents sorely mistaken national priorities. Of course, from what we ought already have learned about Reason and Anti-Reason, before this miscalculation can be changed, America’s leaders may have  to appreciate the fundamentally deficient intellectual antecedents of US foreign policy decision-making.

[19] This former president’s self-serving  refrain of “America First” ignored an overarching empirical truth: America is “first” in Covid-19 deaths, but not in any other tangibly enviable standard of civilizational quality or improvement. Always, we have the biggest bombs and missiles, but little else to show for even the most basic expectations of human empathy and compassion. For this president and his retrograde followers, caring about others remains a sign of “weakness.”To wit, in the former president’s most evident and egregious example, wearing a mask against Covid-19 infection was described as “political correctness.”

[20] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung provides a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either one in any ordinary religious sense. For both psychologists, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the anti-intellectual American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and to crudely material accomplishment would occasion sweeping psychological misery. Looking around this unhappy country in 2021, it would be difficult to argue that Freud was mistaken on this point.

[21] See Tertullian,  De carni Christe.

[22] The worst expression of such incoherent presidential  reassurance would likely be a nuclear war.  For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[23] Dostoyevsky reminds us soberly: “And what is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is to develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development, man will yet learn how to enjoy bloodshed. Why, it has already happened….Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.” (See Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground, 108 (Andrew R. Mac Andrew, tr., New American Library, 1961 (1862).

[24] As a Europe-born Holocaust refugee, I fully recognize and  appreciate the special sensitivity of this term. Still, it is important to understand that there was nothing uniquely or inherently monstrous about the German people or German nation in the 1930s, and that present-day Americans could sometime fall into line with even the most utterly barbarous national policies.

[25] See Soren Kierkegaard, Point of View: “That Individual.”

[26] See by this author, Louis René Beres, at The Daily Princetonian: https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[27] “America First” ought to have had an especially disturbing resonance for the United States in historic-legal terms. American law was largely founded upon the learned jurisprudence of Sir William Blackstone, which acknowledged, inter alia, the ubiquitous obligation of states to help one another. According to Blackstone, each state 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 for current US national security policies, one need only point out that Commentaries were an original and core foundation of the laws of the United States. This fact remained unknown to former US President Donald Trump and his visibly less than learned counselors.. Trump’s force-based (argumentum ad bacculum) policies of “America First” represented the diametric opposite of what Blackstone would have had urged or could ever have even expected.

[28] See Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (supra).

[29] In modern philosophy, the provenance of this elucidating term lies in Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Goethe. also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work discussed above, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s 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).

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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Early Elections in Canada: Will the Fourth Wave Get in the Way?

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On August 15, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal Party, announced an early parliamentary election and scheduled it for September 20, 2021. Canadian legislation allows the federal government to be in power up to 5 years, so normally, the elections should have been held in 2023. However, the government has the right to call early elections at any time. This year, there will be 36 days for the pre-election campaigns.

At the centre of the Liberals’ election campaign is the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic in Canada and the economic recovery. The coronavirus has also become a motivator for early elections. In his statement, Justin Trudeau emphasised that “Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better. Canadians deserve their say, and that’s exactly what we are going to give them.” Thus, the main declared goal of the Liberals is to get a vote of confidence from the public for the continuation of the measures taken by the government.

The goal, which the prime minister did not voice, is the desire of the Liberal Party to win an absolute majority in the Parliament. In the 2019 elections, the Liberals won 157 seats, which allowed them to form a minority government, which is forced to seek the support of opposition parties when making decisions.

The somewhat risky move of the Liberals can be explained. The Liberals decided to take advantage of the high ratings of the ruling party and the prime minister at the moment, associated with a fairly successful anti-COVID policy, hoping that a high level of vaccination (according to official data, 71% of the Canadian population, who have no contraindications, are fully vaccinated and the emerging post-pandemic economic recovery will help it win a parliamentary majority.

Opinion polls show that the majority of Canadians approve Trudeau’s strategy to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Between the 2019 elections and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau’s government was unpopular, with ratings below 30%. Unlike Donald Trump, Trudeau’s approval rating soared after the outbreak of the pandemic to 55%. During the election campaign, the rating of the Liberal Party decreased and was 31.6% on September 16, which reduces the chances of a landslide victory.

Trudeau left unanswered the question of whether he’d resign if his party fails to win an absolute majority in the elections.

Leaders of opposition parties—the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party—criticised Trudeau’s decision to call early elections, considering the decision inappropriate for the timing and situation with regard to the risk of the fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic. They stressed that the government’s primary task should be taking measures to combat the pandemic and restore the economy, rather than trying to hold onto power.

The on-going pandemic will change the electoral process. In the event of a fourth wave, priority will be given to postal voting. Liberal analysts are concerned that the registration process to submit ballots by mail could stop their supporters from voting, thereby undermining Trudeau’s drive to reclaim a majority government. However, postal voting is the least popular among voters of the Conservative Party, and slightly more popular among voters of the Liberal and New Democratic parties. The timeframe for vote-counting will be increased. While ballots are usually counted on the morning after election day, it can take up to five days for postal voting.

One of the key and most attractive campaign messages of the Liberal Party is the reduction of the average cost of childcare services. Liberals have promised to resolve this issue for many years, but no active action has been taken. Justin Trudeau noted that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of this issue.

As in the 2019 elections, the Liberal Party’s key rival will be the Conservative Party, led by new leader Erin O’Toole. The Conservative Party’s rating a five days before the election was 31.3%. Conservatives suggest a different approach to childcare—providing a refundable child tax subsidy that covers up to 75% of the cost of kindergarten for low-income families. Trudeau has been harshly criticised by the Conservatives in connection with the scale of spending under his leadership, especially during the pandemic, and because of billion-dollar promises. In general, the race will not be easy for the conservative O’Toole. This is the first time he is running for the post of prime minister, in contrast to Justin Trudeau. Moreover, the Conservative Party of Canada is split from within, and the candidate is faced with the task of consolidating the party. The Conservative will have to argue against the billion-dollar promises which were made by the ruling Liberals before the elections.

The leaders of the other parties have chances to increase their seats in Parliament compared to the results of the 2019 elections, but they can hardly expect to receive the necessary number of votes to form a government. At the same time, the personal popularity of Jagmeet Singh, the candidate from the New Democratic Party, is growing, especially among young people. The level of his popularity at the end of August was 19.8%. Singh intends to do everything possible to steal progressive voters from the Liberal Party and prevent the formation of a Liberal-majority government. Singh will emphasise the significant role of the NDP under the minority government in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight that it was the New Democratic Party that was able to influence government decisions and measures to support the population during the pandemic.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, whose popularity level was 6.6%, intends to increase the Bloc’s presence in Parliament and prevent the loss of votes in the province of Quebec in favour of the Liberal Party. According to him, it is fundamentally important to protect the French language and the ideas of secularism. The Bloc Québécois is also not interested in the formation of a majority government by the Liberals.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul is in a difficult position due to internal party battles. Moreover, her rating is low: 3.5%. Higher party officials have even tried to pass a no-confidence vote against her. Annamie Paul’s goal is, in principle, to get a seat in Parliament in order to be able to take part in voting on important political issues. The Greens are focused on climate change problems, the principles of social justice, assistance to the most needy segments of the population, and the fight against various types of discrimination.

Traditionally, foreign policy remains a peripheral topic of the election campaign in Canada. This year, the focus will be on combating the COVID-19 epidemic, developing the social sphere, and economic recovery, which will push foreign policy issues aside even further.

The outcome of the elections will not have a significant impact on Russian-Canadian relations. An all-party anti-Russian consensus has developed in Canada; none of the parties have expressed any intention of developing a dialogue with Russia.

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Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.

It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships. Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to produce a political earthquake within the United States that would topple President Biden. No soul searching of the kind that Americans experienced during the Vietnam War is likely to emerge. Rather, Washington is busy recalibrating its global involvement. It is focusing even more on strengthening the home base. Overseas, the United States is moving from a global crusade in the name of democracy to an active defense of liberal values at home and Western positions abroad.

Afghanistan has been the most vivid in a long series of arguments that persuaded Biden’s White House that a global triumph of liberal democracy is not achievable in the foreseeable future. Thus, remaking problematic countries—“draining the swamp” that breeds terrorism, in the language of the Bush administration—is futile. U.S. military force is a potent weapon, but no longer the means of first resort. The war on terror as an effort to keep the United States safe has been won: in the last twenty years, no major terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil. Meantime, the geopolitical, geoeconomic, ideological, and strategic focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted. China is the main—some say, existential—challenger, and Russia the principal disrupter. Iran, North Korea, and an assortment of radical or extremist groups complete the list of adversaries. Climate change and the pandemic have risen to the top of U.S. security concerns. Hence, the most important foreign policy task is to strengthen the collective West under strong U.S. leadership.

The global economic recession that originated in the United States in 2007 dealt a blow to the U.S.-created economic and financial model; the severe domestic political crisis of 2016–2021 undermined confidence in the U.S. political system and its underlying values; and the COVID-19 disaster that hit the United States particularly hard have all exposed serious political, economic, and cultural issues and fissures within American society and polity. Neglecting the home base while engaging in costly nation-building exercises abroad came at a price. Now the Biden administration has set out to correct that with huge infrastructure development projects and support for the American middle class.

America’s domestic crises, some of the similar problems in European countries, and the growing gap between the United States and its allies during the Trump presidency have produced widespread fears that China and Russia could exploit those issues to finally end U.S. dominance and even undermine the United States and other Western societies from within. This perception is behind the strategy reversal from spreading democracy as far and wide as Russia and China to defending the U.S.-led global system and the political regimes around the West, including in the United States, from Beijing and Moscow.

That said, what are the implications of the Biden doctrine? The United States remains a superpower with enormous resources which is now trying to use those resources to make itself stronger. America has reinvented itself before and may well be able to do so again. In foreign policy, Washington has stepped back from styling itself as the world’s benign hegemon to assume the combat posture of the leader of the West under attack.

Within the collective West, U.S. dominance is not in danger. None of the Western countries are capable of going it alone or forming a bloc with others to present an alternative to U.S. leadership. Western and associated elites remain fully beholden to the United States. What they desire is firm U.S. leadership; what they fear is the United States withdrawing into itself. As for Washington’s partners in the regions that are not deemed vital to U.S. interests, they should know that American support is conditional on those interests and various circumstances. Nothing new there, really: just ask some leaders in the Middle East. For now, however, Washington vows to support and assist exposed partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.

Embracing isolationism is not on the cards in the United States. For all the focus on domestic issues, global dominance or at least primacy has firmly become an integral part of U.S. national identity. Nor will liberal and democratic ideology be retired as a major driver of U.S. foreign policy. The United States will not become a “normal” country that only follows the rules of realpolitik. Rather, Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.

In sum, the Biden doctrine does away with engagements that are no longer considered promising or even sustainable by Washington; funnels more resources to address pressing domestic issues; seeks to consolidate the collective West around the United States; and sharpens the focus on China and Russia as America’s main adversaries. Of all these, the most important element is domestic. It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

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AUKUS aims to perpetuate the Anglo-Saxon supremacy

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Image credit: ussc.edu.au

On September 15, U.S. President Joe Biden worked with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison together to unveil a trilateral alliance among Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS), which are the major three among the Anglo-Saxon nations (also including Canada and New Zealand). Literally, each sovereign state has full right to pursue individual or collective security and common interests. Yet, the deal has prompted intense criticism across the world including the furious words and firm acts from the Atlantic allies in Europe, such as France that is supposed to lose out on an $40-billion submarine deal with Australia to its Anglo-Saxon siblings—the U.K. and the U.S.

               Some observers opine that AUKUS is another clear attempt by the U.S. and its allies aggressively to provoke China in the Asia-Pacific, where Washington had forged an alliance along with Japan, India and Australia in the name of the Quad. AUKUS is the latest showcase that three Anglo-Saxon powers have pretended to perpetuate their supremacy in all the key areas such as geopolitics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. In short, the triple deal is a move designed to discourage or thwart any future Chinese bid for regional hegemony. But diplomatically its impacts go beyond that. As French media argued that the United States, though an ally of France, just backstabs it by negotiating AUKUS in secret without revealing the plan. Given this, the deal among AUKUS actually reflects the mentality of the Anglo-Saxon nations’ superiority over others even if they are not outrageously practicing an imperialist policy in the traditional way.

               Historically, there are only two qualified global powers which the Europeans still sometimes refer to as “Anglo-Saxon” powers: Great Britain and the United States. As Walter Mead once put it that the British Empire was, and the United States is, concerned not just with the balance of power in one particular corner of the world, but with the evolution of what it is today called “world order”. Now with the rise of China which has aimed to become a global power with its different culture and political views from the current ruling powers, the Anglo-Saxon powers have made all efforts to align with the values-shared allies or partners to create the strong bulwarks against any rising power, like China and Russia as well. Physically, either the British Empire or the United States did or does establish a worldwide system of trade and finance which have enabled the two Anglo-Saxon powers to get rich and advanced in high-technologies. As a result, those riches and high-tech means eventually made them execute the power to project their military force that ensure the stability of their-dominated international systems. Indeed the Anglo-Saxon powers have had the legacies to think of their global goals which must be bolstered by money and foreign trade that in turn produces more wealth. Institutionally, the Anglo-Saxon nations in the world—the U.S., the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have formed the notorious “Five eyes alliance” to collect all sorts of information and data serving their common core interests and security concerns.

This is not just rhetoric but an objective reflection of the mentality as Australian Foreign Minister Payne candidly revealed at the press conference where she said that the contemporary state of their alliance “is well suited to cooperate on countering economic coercion.” The remarks imply that AUKUS is a military response to the rising economic competition from China because politics and economics are intertwined with each other in power politics, in which military means acts in order to advance self-interested economic ends. In both geopolitical and geoeconomic terms, the rise of China, no matter how peaceful it is, has been perceived as the “systematic” challenges to the West’s domination of international relations and global economy, in which the Anglo-Saxon superiority must remain. Another case is the U.S. efforts to have continuously harassed the Nord Stream 2 project between Russia and Germany.

Yet, in the global community of today, any superpower aspiring for pursuing “inner clique” like AUKUS will be doomed to fail. First, we all are living in the world “where the affairs of each country are decided by its own people, and international affairs are run by all nations through consultation,” as President Xi put it. Due to this, many countries in Asia warn that AUKUS risks provoking a nuclear arms race in the Asian-Pacific region. The nuclear factor means that the U.S. efforts to economically contain China through AUKUS on nationalist pretexts are much more dangerous than the run-up to World War I. Yet, neither the United States nor China likes to be perceived as “disturbing the peace” that Asian countries are eager to preserve. In reality, Asian countries have also made it clear not to take either side between the power politics.

Second, AUKUS’s deal jeopardizes the norms of international trade and treaties. The reactions of third parties is one key issue, such as the French government is furious about the deal since it torpedoes a prior Australian agreement to purchase one dozen of conventional subs from France. Be aware that France is a strong advocate for a more robust European Union in the world politics. Now the EU is rallying behind Paris as in Brussels EU ambassadors agreed to postpone preparations for an inaugural trade and technology council on September 29 with the U.S. in Pittsburgh. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared in a strong manner that “since one of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we need to know what happened and why.” Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for European affairs, went even further as he put it, “It is once again a wake-up call for all of us in the European Union to ask ourselves how we can strengthen our sovereignty, how we can present a united front even on issues relevant to foreign and security policy.” It is the time for the EU to talk with one voice and for the need to work together to rebuild mutual trust among the allies.

Third, the deal by AUKUS involves the nuclear dimension. It is true that the three leaders have reiterated that the deal would be limited to the transfer of nuclear propulsion technology (such as reactors to power the new subs) but not nuclear weapons technology. Accordingly, Australia remains a non-nuclear country not armed with such weapons. But from a proliferation standpoint, that is a step in the direction of more extensive nuclear infrastructure. It indicates the United States and the U.K. are willing to transfer highly sensitive technologies to close allies. But the issue of deterrence in Asia-and especially extended deterrence-is extremely complicated since it will become ore so as China’s nuclear arsenal expands. If the security environment deteriorates in the years ahead, U.S. might consider allowing its core allies to gain nuclear capabilities and Australia is able to gain access to this technology as its fleet expands. Yet, it also means that Australia is not a non-nuclear country any more.

In brief, the deal itself and the triple alliance among AUKUS will take some years to become a real threat to China or the ruling authorities of the country. But the deal announced on Sept. 15 will complicate Chinese efforts to maintain a peaceful rise and act a responsible power. Furthermore, the deal and the rationales behind it is sure to impede China’s good-will to the members of AUKUS and the Quad, not mention of their irresponsible effects on peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

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