“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.”Blaise Pascal, Pensées
The Primacy of Intellect
On matters of United States foreign and defense policy, it is high time to return to Reason. Why a “return?” During his four years as president, Donald J. Trump created an almost seamless web of policy derelictions and corresponding failures. In this humiliating history of calculated Unreason, Trump’s strategic declensions were the result of both witting dissemblance and outright irrationality.
Naturally, some of these evident failures were substantially worse than others. Of special concern today must be the former president’s error-marked postures concerning North Korea. Over time, though perhaps still not widely evident, these accumulated liabilities could produce intolerable outcomes. Where they would involve any sort of nuclear exchange, such failures could be altogether irremediable.
Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher, “I believe because it is absurd.” Donald J. Trump’s core misunderstandings of North Korea began with his misconceived primacy of personal leadership relationships. Most plainly, right after their 2018 Singapore Summit, Trump gushed about his new-found Pyongyang “partner,” Kim Jong Un:
“We fell in love.”
There is more. Foreign policy can be metaphor. In global politics, as in life generally, grievous missteps can prove cumulative. And often, in world diplomacy, vital policy roots can prove to be refractory and difficult to excise. Insidiously, in such always-intricate matters, past policy failures do not simply become benign.
From the start, Trump’s curious preference for “attitude” over “preparation” fostered serious derogations of American influence and power. To wit, while this president was cheerfully celebrating Kim Jong Un’s alleged “love,” the North Korean leader was actively expanding and modernizing his country’s nuclear arsenals. In essence, these expansions/refinements created variously destabilizing ripples in our presently anarchic and prospectively chaotic world system.
Unlike certain other US adversaries such as Iran, which are not yet “atomic,” North Korea is plainly nuclear and intermittently threatening. In early January 2021, after describing the United States as “our biggest enemy,” Kim Jong Un called openly for more advanced nuclear weapons and infrastructures. Then, during fully nine hours of blistering remarks at a January party conference in Pyongyang, Kim summarized his country’s basic strategic posture: “Our foreign political activities should be focused and redirected on subduing the United States, our biggest enemy….No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature of the US and its fundamental policies towards North Korea never change.”
“Subduing the United States….” That is a far-reaching and plausibly-apocalyptic ambition, one that ought not be subject to any cultivated refinements of US presidential “attitude.” For Pyongyang, the only “true nature” of American significance lies in Kim’s subjective assessment of White House intentions. Accordingly, it is time to inquire:
What tangible nuclear threats will likely face US President Joe Biden from North Korea?
How should the United States respond?
Despite their simple declarative style, these two intersecting questions exhibit near-staggering complexity. Among other things, pertinent threats are both direct and indirect. During the doctrinally-challenged Trump presidency, several corresponding and derivative risks were allowed to expand without any effective controls. Today, at a critical post-Trump point in American strategic planning, these risks have become conspicuously grave, many-sided and potentially existential.
For US President Joe Biden, growing nuclear uncertainties with North Korea represent hazards of exceptionally great urgency. What exactly shall be required of his administration in dealing with such core strategic matters? As a start, the new American president will need to acknowledge something that was never properly understood by his anti-intellectual predecessor. In essence, Trump ought to have understood, national security and war preparedness must always be theory-based, and thereby receive a dialectical imprimatur of “mind over mind.”
There is more. Any now eleventh-hour elevation of US strategic thought would need to be based upon greater presidential appreciation of persistently-intersecting complexities, both politicalandmilitary. These complexities include multiple “synergies” wittingly overlooked by Donald J. Trump. Though the former American president believed that he had “miraculously” solved the North Korea nuclear problem in one afternoon by “falling in love” with Kim Jong Un (and, reciprocally, by Kim falling in love with him), this purported attachment was never more than a caricatural metaphor.
In synergistic intersections, the “whole” of any particular outcome mustbe greater than the sum of its constituent “parts.” In such challenging analytic matters, US policy-making must be kept suitably distant from any distracting considerations founded upon wishful thinking or extravagant hope. To recall, in this connection, the 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….
Though several millennia old, this ancient warning remains timely and valid.
Beyond Strategic Simplifications
What helpful counsel shall now be offered to the White House? Donald J. Trump did not act upon any well-reasoned foundations of theoretical examination. Now, going forward, how should the Biden administration best proceed on all relevant and frequently overlapping fronts?
Study is indispensable. History deserves pride of place. The early Greeks regarded war and war-planning not as a purely personal or ad hoc activity, but rather as a daunting contest of “mind over mind.” Anticipating the later writings of Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz (On War, 1832), these ancients very typically based their tactical and operational policies upon a coherent body of dialectical “conversations.” At that stage, the primary and preeminent battlefield would always have to be conceptualizedand configured 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.
In many-layered matters, comprehensive theory remains necessary. Always, the interrelated world, like the myriad human bodies who comprise it, must be regarded as a system. Among the most serious implications of this metaphor, any more-or-less major conventional conflict in northeast Asia could heighten the prospect of destabilizing international conflicts elsewhere. This is the case, moreover, whether pertinent consequences would occur immediately or in assorted increments.
Among other possibilities, these fearful prospects could include a regional nuclear war. Such prospects could be enlarged by variously misguided American searches for a no-longer credible outcome. A clear example of such mistaken search would be one that is directed toward some allegedly decipherable form of “victory.”
There are markedly good reasons for offering 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 steadily over time. Inter alia, these are no longer the same meanings as those offered earlier by Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’ classic, On War (1832).
There is more. In most identifiable wars between nation-states, there no longer obtain any confirmable criteria of demarcation between victory and defeat. Even a so-called “victory” on some recognizable field of battle might not in any calculable way reduce significant security threats to the United States. Such grave threats, whether foreseen or unforeseen, could include sub-state aggressions (terrorism) and/or widening attacks upon regional and/or non-regional US allies.
Always, for policy planners and strategists, the arena of world politics must be understood not only as system , but also as an anarchic system, or a “state of nature” in classical philosophic terms.
Once acknowledged as a distinct foreign-policy objective, any declared US search for “victory” over North Korea would likely exacerbate America’s strategic risks without enhancing any derivative gains. To be sure, such a meaningless declaration could create corrosively lethal escalatory dynamics with Pyongyang, ones from which Washington could no longer expect any palpable military advantages. This expectedly injurious creation could take place in unanticipated increments, or instead, suddenly, as an unexpected or “bolt-from-the-blue” enemy attack.
In the foreseeable worst case, any unwitting US forfeiture of “escalation dominance” could signify irreversible American losses. These include chaotic conditions that could create (a) tens or even hundreds of thousands of prompt fatalities; and (b) tangibly larger numbers of latent cancer deaths. Factoring in the additional factor of worldwide disease “plague,” or pandemic, this presumptive “worst case” could sometime get much worse.
Technically, we are discussing an evident oxymoron; nonetheless, the derivative meanings are both palpable and plausible.
A great deal of specificity must be examined and taken into account by US President Joe Biden’s designated senior counselors. In a world where history and science could conceivably regain their proper stature, an American president could then usefully acknowledge that because nation-states no longer generally declare wars or enter into war-termination treaties, the application of traditional criteria of “war winning” to interstate conflicts would no longer make any legal sense. Expectedly, too, in the vastly complicated matters already at hand for America’s current president, ascertainable benefits might not lie latent in traditional forms of military expertise.
Who are the Recognizable Experts?
Exactly how much applicable military experience could American generals have garnered in starting, managing or ending a nuclear war? How much might the president and his senior commanders see only what they would want to see, including perhaps some seemingly gainful prospect of military preemption. Here they should have to recall the ancient but also still relevant observation of Julius Caesar at Chapter 18 of his Gallic War: “…men as a rule willingly believe what they want to believe….”
In these transitional nuclear times, such selective perceptions could prove grievously injurious and irremediably mistaken. Though, at least in principle, an American president might still benefit from a particular preemption against an already nuclear North Korea in certain residual and extraordinary circumstances, it is still incontestable that any US defensive first strike 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 where (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, calibrated policy-making cautions would become more important than ever before.
Ironically, at this time of rampant pandemic, a nuclear war – any nuclear war – could quickly become “terminal.” The only reasonable “cure” for any such devastating pathology must lie in prevention.
There is more. Under Joseph Biden, the United States will need a refined policy posture that can capably account for the rationality and intentionality of enemy decision-makers in Pyongyang. Always, the new American president should approach the still-growing North Korean nuclear threat from a disciplined and conceptual perspective. This means, among other things, factoring into any coherent US nuclear threat assessment (a) the expected rationality or irrationality of all principal decision-makers in Pyongyang; and (b) the foreseeable intentional or unintentional intra-crisis behaviors of these adversarial decision-makers.
“Theory is a net,” quotes philosopher of science Karl Popper from the German poet Novalis in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959):  “….only those who cast, can catch.” In such bewilderingly complex strategic matters, nothing can ever prove more practical than good theory. In science, continuously, a broadly elucidating generality offers the key to uncovering variously specific meanings.
Generality is a trait of all true meaning. Soon, it follows that having at hand such comprehensive policy clarifications could help guide US President Joe Biden beyond any otherwise vague or uselessly impromptu strategic appraisals. Under no circumstances, this president must likely be reminded, should such multi-sided crisis possibilities be assessed implicitly or explicitly as singular or narrowly ad hoc phenomena.
The Matter of Strategic Intention
Capable strategic analysts guiding the new American president should enhance their nuclear investigations by carefully identifying the basic distinctions between (a) intentional or deliberate nuclear war and (b) unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. The risks resulting from these at least four different types of possible nuclear conflict are apt to vary considerably. 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 would mean the increasingly credible threat of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war.
An additional conceptual distinction must be inserted into any US analytic scenario “mix.” This is the subtle but still important difference between an inadvertent nuclear war and an accidental nuclear war.
To this point, 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 certain significant errors in calculation committed by one or both sides – that is, more-or-less reciprocal mistakes that lead directly and/of inexorably to nuclear conflict. The most blatant example of such a mistake would concern assorted misjudgments of enemy intent or capacity that emerge during the course of some ongoing crisis escalation.
In all likelihood, such dire misjudgments would stem from an expectedly mutual search for strategic advantage occurring during a particular competition in nuclear risk-taking.In appropriate strategic parlance, this would suggest a traditional military search for “escalation dominance” during nuclear crisis, in extremis atomicum.
Logic and Strategy
There is more. Also needed would be various related judgments concerning expectations of rationality and irrationality within each affected country’s decision-making structure. One potential source of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war could be a failed strategy of “pretended irrationality.” In this connection, a foolishly-posturing American president who too “successfully” convinced enemy counterparts of his own irrationality could thereby spark an otherwise-avoidable enemy preemption.
During his tenure as president, strategists may recall, Donald Trump frequently mused without any intellectual substance about purported advantages of feigned irrationality.
Relevant scenarios could also be “played” in the other direction. An American president who had begun to take seriously Kim Jong Un’s own presumed unpredictability could 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. Nonetheless, in such inherently “dicey” circumstances, US strategists charged with fashioning an optimal strategic posture would do well to recall Carl von Clausewitz’s timeless warning in On War concerning “friction.”
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 called “attitude.”
America’s new president, unlike his persistently unreasoning predecessor, ought to be well-grounded in science and logic. Though rarely acknowledged, however, no truly scientific or reliable probability estimations can be undertaken regarding unprecedented or sui generis situations. More specifically, in science and mathematics, potent probability judgments must always be based upon a carefully calculated frequency of relevant past events. On matters concerning nuclear war, there have been no such past events. By definition, such events would be unique. The American bombings of Japan in August 1945 did not constitute a nuclear war. Rather, they were “only” examples of atomic weapons being used during a conventional war. The difference is meaningful.
President Biden’s strategic advisors must take appropriate heed. This sort of “behind-the-news” analytic assessment is not reasonably controversial. Not only 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 especially volatile Asian “theatre,” US President Joe Biden should approach pertinent war scenarios soberly, with recognizable humility. Here, the ancient Greek philosophers would be warning against “hubris,” and doing so with very considerable war-reluctance. Here, what an American president does not know could hurt him and a great many others.
Recalling the “good old days” which extend well into the twentieth-century, nation-states have generally had to defeat enemy armies before being able to wreak any wished-for destruction upon a specific adversary. In those earlier days of more traditional doctrinal arrangements concerning war and peace, an individual country’s demonstrated capacity to “win” was necessarily and understandably prior to achieving any needed capacity to destroy. An example well-known to US military thinkers at such venerable institutions as the US Army War College and West Point would be the ancient belligerency between Persia and Greece at the 480 BCE Battle of Thermopylae.
Today, unlike what seemingly took place at Thermopylae, a state enemy needn’t be able to defeat American armies in order to inflict grievous harms upon the United States. Inter alia, this enemy could enlist selectively destructive proxy forces on its behalf, such as bio-terrorist surrogates. What happens then, especially to the so-called “balance of power?” Significantly, throughout history, this has always been a “balance” without any corresponding equilibrium.
For President Biden and his counselors, there is some prospectively “good news.” The United States needn’t be able to “win” a particular conflict in order to credibly threaten a dangerous foe (deterrence) or to inflict “assured destruction” upon such an enemy. What this “good news” means today is this: The capacity to deter is not identical to the capacity to win. Reciprocally, for the American president’s defense counselors, the principal war-planning or war-deterring lesson of such ongoing transformations warrants further advanced study.
What will really matter here is not “personal attitude” (previous President Donald Trump’s self-described “ace in the hole”), but rather intellectual preparation. What matters most, going forward, will be a capacity to win bewilderingly complex struggles of “mind over mind,” and not variously ad hoc or visceral contests of “mind over matter.” In time, moreover, such critical strategy lessons could apply well beyond the North Korean nuclear issue.The world is always a system; what happens at one place always impacts assorted other places and outcomes.
Accordingly, US national security scholars must remain focused on systems.
The Jurisprudential Imperative
Various relevant points of law remainto be considered. Indeed, jurisprudencehas its own proper and cumulative place in strategic calculations. More specifically, in terms of applicable law, winning and losing may no longer mean very much for successful strategic planning. The consequential devaluation of victory as an operational goal should already be obvious with regard to America’s now seemingly-latent wars on terror. 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 upcoming 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 a calculable loss incurred.
There is still more for the new American president to consider. Operationally, winning and losing are nowextraneous 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 an imperative “escalation dominance.”
Above all, under President Joe Biden, U.S. military posture should cease being shaped according to starkly barren expectations of clamorous clichés, irrelevant analogies or thoroughly inexpert advice. Properly calculated US policy ought always be based upon the most expressly disciplined theses and antitheses of dialectical strategic thought. This proven pattern of analysis goes back to Plato and to his perpetually illustrative dialogues.
Finally, America’s new president and his military planners should look more usefully to the East, not just regarding prospective adversaries, but also prospective counsel. Long ago, famed Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu reasoned simply and succinctly: “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” To meet current U.S. national security objectives vis-à-vis North Korea and other potential nuclear adversaries, this ancient Chinese military wisdom suggests that Washington now openly emphasize deterrence over victory. This is not a time to continue any caricatural presidential threats about the comparative size of national “buttons.” President Trump, we may recall, said of Kim Jong Un, “He also has a button, but my button is bigger than his button.” This assertion was not an example of sophisticated strategic thought.
At the same time, any necessary US discontinuance of strategic competition should remain connected to the problematic requirements of maintaining control over 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, ipso facto, for other parts of the world. Assorted elements of chaos notwithstanding, world politics and world military processes always remain expressive of some underlying system.
There is more. This characterization is clarifying and elucidating. It must lie continuously at the core of any coherent US strategic doctrine. Before these systemic connections can be adequately understood and assessed, President Biden must realize that the complicated logic of strategic nuclear calculations demands a discrete and capably nuanced genre of decision-making, one that calls for self-consciously rigorous intellectual refinement. Casually expecting an American president to 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 be inherently problematic for President Biden. This is because both China and Russia remain far more worried about their traditional and mutual enemy in Washington than about any future dangers arising from Pyongyang.
Truth and Strategy
In world politics, as in law and life generally, 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 (e.g., Israel).
However inconspicuous, these important allies remain an integral component of the same organic world system. They can never be helpfully separated from the expectedly palpable consequences of American geopolitical posture. “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” says the 20th century French Jesuit scholar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “no matter whom….” Nowhere is this core interrelatedness more obvious or potentially consequential than in the continuing matter of a nuclear North Korea and US foreign policy decision-making.
This consistently urgent threat will never subside or disappear on its own. It will be the new US president’s continuing imperative to understand all relevant American security obligations as well as their ensuing complications. It will be a matter of “mind over mind,” not just “mind over matter.”
In accepting this complex imperative, it would prove especially wise for President Biden to bear in mind the ancient Funeral Speech warning of Pericles. As recalled most famously by Thucydides: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies,” said the wise Athenian leader, “are our own mistakes.” In the best of all possible worlds, an American president could soon prepare to go beyond Realpoliitk and its endlessly belligerent nationalism – a perpetually futile dynamic that has never succeeded and remains destined only for continued failure – but this is not yet the best of all possible worlds.
Our steadfastly battling world is simply not yet ready for any such primal transformation.
Not at all.
If, however, that auspicious time should arrive sometime in the future, the key task will be to focus attention upon the essential interrelatedness or “oneness” 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 far more reliable and generalized patterns of cooperation between systems.
Donald Trump’s “America First” was not a step in the right direction.
Not at all.
“Just wars,” wrote Hugo Grotius, the acknowledged founder of modern international law, “arise from our love of the innocent.” Now, however, it is plain 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 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 that could still undermine such vital acknowledgments.
To successfully prevent a nuclear war in Asia or anywhere else, it will be necessary to resist mightily any national strategy declensions toward further Trump-era misconceptions. During this former president’s negotiations with Kim Jong Un, Trump was fond of saying that both countries have “the button,” but “my button is bigger than his.” Aside from its gratuitous belligerence, this facile metaphor misrepresented the many-sided nature of nuclear deterrence and nuclear war. Though North Korea is plausibly “less powerful” than the United states, that “weaker” country could still deliver an unacceptable nuclear blow to this country or its regional allies, whether as an aggressive first strike, a retaliation or as a calculated counter-retaliation.
For conceptualizing this last prospect, one need only consider a scenario wherein the United States had resorted to a nuclear retaliation after absorbing a major North Korean first strike (nuclear or non-nuclear), an escalation leading Pyongyang to some nuclear form of counter-retaliatory response.
In all such perplexing scenarios, it will be most important to bear in mind that much less is predictable than unpredictable. By definition – because these all represent unprecedented circumstances – no scientifically valid statement of probabilities could be ventured. Among other things, this suggests that the American president proceed in all such interactions with utterly maximum levels of decisional modesty and intellectual prudence.
More than anything else, going forward, Trump-style hubris must be scrupulously avoided and expressly renounced.
Meaningful truth in these matters is unambiguous. The only rational use for American nuclear weapons in any forthcoming US-North Korea negotiation must be as diplomatic bargaining elements of interstate dissuasion and/or persuasion. Barring a sudden crisis initiated by North Korean nuclear strike – a crisis immediately placing the American president in extremis atomicum – there could be no credible use for such weapons as implements of war. If there could sometime arise a strategically rational justification for nuclear war-waging – one in which the expected benefits of nuclear weapons use would reasonably exceed expected costs – the planet itself could be imperiled, perhaps irremediably.
Looking to the Longer Term
In his modern classic, Janus: A Summing Up, Arthur Koestler identifies the stubborn polarity between self-assertive and integrative tendencies as a universal characteristic of human life. Here, the reader is informed, order and stability can prevail only when these two basic tendencies are “in equilibrium.” It follows from this reasoning that if one tendency should be allowed to dominate the other, the result must be the end to an indispensable delicate balance.
Looking beyond the United States and North Korea, such a fundamental balance must finally be created among all the states in world politics. To create the needed equilibrium, to get beyond the deeply flawed Westphalian dynamics of 17th century Realpolitik, major states like the United States must begin to fashion their foreign policies upon a generally new set of premises. In essence, such a set would define each state’s own presumed national interest in terms of what is believed best for the world system as a whole.
This won’t be easy. To be sure, any such suggestion must first appear wildly idealistic or utopian. Nonetheless, by consciously supplanting competitive self-seeking (belligerent nationalism) with cooperative self-seeking, states could begin to move earnestly beyond a longstanding social Darwinist ethic that would otherwise ensure only endless war and eventual oblivion. Only by building upon the understanding that it is in each individual country’s own interest to develop foreign policy from a broadly systemic vantage point could all states plan seriously to survive.
In a post-Trump world of expanding and proliferating nuclear weapons, the importance of such an imperative cannot be exaggerated or overstated.
Since its inception in 1648, the state of nations has offered humankind only in security and false communion. A communion based upon fear, dread and ad hoc nuclear deterrence, its cumulative effects must inevitably include a deep desolation of the human spirit. To finally repair this lamentable and intolerable situation, all states must learn to care for themselves and for others at the same time.
It’s a tall order. Can it work? Can world leaders like the new American president meaningfully grasp this calculus of potentiality, reaffirming the sovereignty of Reason over the deceptions of Violence? Can any of these states be expected to tear down the barrier walls of belligerent nationalism, and replace them with the permeable membranes of a spirited and more universally gainful cooperation?
Most plausibly, of course, the pragmatic answer is “no.” Yet, we are locked into a fiendish dilemma. There remains literally no alternative to such “membranes.” Somehow, it follows, they must be rendered believable.
In the short run, to be sure, more refined strategic counsel could conceivably reduce the risk of a nuclear war between the United States and North Korea. But even this enviable triumph of “mind over mind” could offer us only a temporary reprieve. Over time, during the meaningfully “longer run,” the global power-management system of threat and counter-threat, of seeking “escalation dominance” in a nuclear setting, can’t possibly endure. In the end, as Italian film director Federico Fellini observes in another context, “The visionary is the only realist.”
Without visionaries in world politics, there can be no indispensable “return to reason.” This is the truest meaning of national security, both for the United States in particular and for the rapidly-dissembling planet as a whole. Let US President Joe Biden labor to “think well” about such important nuclear policy matters. Armed with a suitably vital awareness of the “primacy of intellect,” he could then place this Trump-attenuated nation on sounder strategic foundations.
 From the standpoint of western thought, this Pascal observation also brings to mind the seminal observations of René Descartes, especially the philosopher’s Discourse on Method and his Meditations. By rejecting the desolate “metaphysics” of a strategically illiterate predecessor, Joseph Biden should immediately embrace the Cartesian primacy of analytic doubt and return the United States to polices founded upon discernible facts and logical argument. During the time of his incoherent presidency, Donald Trump’s core orientation to national security was narrowly visceral and “seat-of-the-pants” determined. Focusing on personalities rather than real issues, Trump’s orientation was never scientific or remotely intellectual.
 This was a president, let us recall, who recommended using nuclear weapons against hurricanes; suggested ingestion of household disinfectants for Covid19 therapy; and commended the 18th century American revolutionary army for “taking control of all national airports.”
 Should nuclear weapons ever be introduced into any future conflict between the United States and North Korea, actual nuclear war-fighting at various conceivable levels could ensue. This would be the case as long as: (a) US conventional first-strikes against North Korea would not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) US conventional retaliations for a North Korean conventional first-strike would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) US preemptive nuclear strikes would not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capabilities; and (d) US conventional retaliations for North Korean conventional first strikes would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability. To be sure, prima facie, any US nuclear preemption would be implausible and potentially catastrophic. Reciprocally, assuming rationality, any North Korean nuclear preemption against the United States or its allies would by inconceivable
 See at Oxford: https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095647630
 See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, https://harvardnsj.org/2020/03/complex-determinations-deciphering-enemy-nuclear-intentions/
 When meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong Un on June 11, 2018, Trump dismissed all usual presidential obligations to prepare. Instead, he emphasized offhandedly: “I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s all about attitude.”
 This system dates back to the 17th century and the Peace of Westphalia (1648), a treaty which ended the Thirty Years War. Looking ahead, there are good reasons to expect that “mere” anarchy (absence of centralized world legal authority) will be replaced by a genuine chaos. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648., 1, Consol. T.S. 119.
Indirect vulnerabilities would be those derivative threats made manifest in other countries or in other country relations. Under certain readily imaginable circumstances, America’s indirect and/or direct vulnerabilities could sometime become existential.
 “The masses have followed the “magicians again and again. Socrates and Plato were among 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).
 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.”
 For early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy
 Says philosopher of science Karl Popper, citing to German poet Novalis: “Theory is a net. Only those who cast, can catch.” See Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).
Dialectical thinking originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions. From the standpoint of currently necessary refinements in US strategic planning vis-à-vis North Korea, this knowledge should never be taken for granted.
 This principle was axiomatic among the ancient Greeks and Macedonians. See. F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (1957).
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-maker’s 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.
The Trump White House consistently sought to persuade Americans by way of deliberate simplifications and falsifications. See, on the plausible consequences of any such deceptive measures, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observation in On Certainty: “Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry….”
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/
Drawn from the aptly famous statement of Athenians to the Melians (a colony of Sparta) from “The Debate on the Fate of Melos” (Thucydides, 416 BCE).
 Elements of such essential doctrine could sometime prove counter-intuitive. For example, from the standpoint of stable nuclear deterrence, the likelihood of any actual nuclear conflict between states (inter alia) could be inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms. Nonetheless, this is only an “informal presumption” because we are here considering a unique or unprecedented event, one that is sui generis for purposes of determining any true mathematical probabilities.
 In the words of French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man (1955): “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom…” This existence of interconnectedness has certain legal or jurisprudential manifestations as well. To wit, the core legal rights assured by the Declaration and Constitution can never be correctly confined to citizens of the United States. This is because both documents were conceived by their authors as codifications of a pre-existing Natural Law. Although fully unrecognized by the Trump administration, the United States was expressly founded upon the Natural Rights philosophies of the 18th century Enlightenment, especially Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau. Thomas Jefferson, an American president before Donald J. Trump, was well acquainted with the classic writings of political philosophy, from Plato to Diderot. In those very early days of the Republic, it is presently worth recalling, an American president could not only read serious books, he could also write them.
 To best remedy such dissembling anarchy, Sigmund Freud observed: “Wars will only be prevented with certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central authority to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed over. There are clearly two separate requirements involved in this: the creation of a supreme agency and its endowment with the necessary power. One without the other would be useless.” (See: Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, cited in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10 (1973-73), p, 27.) Interestingly, Albert Einstein held very similar views. See, for example: Otto Nathan et al. eds., Einstein on Peace (New York: Schoken Books, 1960).
The seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, instructs that although international relations are in a “state of nature,” it is nonetheless a more benign condition than the condition of individual man in nature. With individual human beings, Hobbes reflects, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” Now, however, with the advent and spread of nuclear weapons, there is no longer any reason to believe that the state of nature remains more tolerable. Because of this significant transformation of the state of nations into a true Hobbesian state of nature, states such as North Korea are increasingly apt to search for a presumptively suitable “equalizer.”
 In his seminal writings, strategic theorist Herman Kahn once introduced a further distinction between a surprise attack that is more-or-less unexpected and a surprise attack that arrives “out of the blue.” The former, he counseled, “…is likely to take place during a period of tension that is not so intense that the offender is essentially prepared for nuclear war….” A total surprise attack, however, would be one without any immediately recognizable tension or warning signal. This particular subset of a surprise attack scenario could be difficult to operationalize for tangible national security policy benefit. See: Herman Kahn, Thinking About the Unthinkable in the 1980s (Simon & Schuster, 1984).
 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).
 Under authoritative international law, which is generally part of US law, the question of whether or not a “state of war” exists between states is ordinarily ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal declaration of war was necessary before any true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chs. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war can obtain only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated, inter alia, that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, formal declarations of war could be tantamount to admissions of international criminality because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law. It could, therefore, represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to prior declarations of belligerency. It follows, further, that a state of war may exist without any formal declarations, but only if there should exist an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”
 According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a treaty is always an international agreement “concluded between States….” See Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M., 679 (1969).
 In law, such a defensive first-strike, if permissible, could be termed “anticipatory self-defense.” The origins of such a defense liein customary international law, more precisely, in The Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, 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).
 “In a dark time,” says the American poet Theodore Roethke, “the eye begins to see.”
 From the standpoint of international law, it is necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking first in the expectation that the only foreseeable alternative is to be struck first oneself. A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack. A preventive attack is launched not out of any genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in some pertinent military balance. In a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is presumptively very short; in a preventive strike, the anticipated interval is considerably longer. A related problem here for the United States is not only the practical difficulty of accurately determining “imminence,” but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained urgencies can be acknowledged could prove “fatal” (existential).
 Customary international law, which must be the jurisprudential justification for any permissible defensive first strike or preemption, is identified as an authoritative source of world legal norms at Art. 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice. International law, an integral part of the legal system of all states in world politics, assumes a general obligation of states to supply benefits to one another, and to avoid war wherever possible. This core assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, that is, one that is not subject to any reasonable question. It can be found, inter alia, in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis, Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625) and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law (1758).
 See Karl Popper’s classic work, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).
 The Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman (1903) observes: “Man’s heart is in his weapons….in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself….”
 In assessing the risks and benefits of such a search, analysts would have to pay close attention to specific scenarios of a “limited nuclear war.”
 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 distinguished 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 worrisome conclusion ought now to surface: How far we Americans have fallen.
 Because war and genocide are not mutually exclusive, either strategically or jurisprudentially, taking proper systemic steps toward war avoidance could reasonably reduce the likelihood of certain egregious “crimes against humanity.”
Assured destruction capacity refers to the ability to inflict an “unacceptable” degree of damage upon an attacker after absorbing a first strike. Mutual assured destruction (MAD) describes a condition in which an assured destruction capacity is possessed by opposing sides. Counterforce strategies are those which target an adversary’s strategic military facilities and supporting infrastructure. Such strategies may be dangerous not only because of the “collateral damage” they might produce, but also because they may heighten the likelihood of first-strike attacks. In this connection, collateral damage refers to the damage done to human and non-human resources as a consequence of strategic strikes directed at enemy forces or at military facilities. This “unintended” damage could nonetheless involve large numbers of casualties and fatalities.
 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).
Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Blaise Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further upon René Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.
 For the United States, international law remains a part of this nation’s core domestic law. In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination. For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.” See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900). See also: The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”) Also, for pertinent decisions by John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).
 One such place concerns the codified right to “self-defense.” The right of self-defense is a peremptory or jus cogens norm under international law. According to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “…a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M. 679 (1969).
 According to the rules of international law, every use of force must be judged twice: once with regard to the right to wage war (jus ad bellum), and once with regard to the means used in conducting war (jus in bello). Today, in the aftermath of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, and the United Nations Charter, all right to aggressive war has been abolished. However, the long-standing customary right of self-defense remains, codified at Article 51 of the Charter. Similarly, subject to conformance, inter alia, with jus in bello criteria, certain instances of humanitarian intervention and collective security operations may also be consistent with jus ad bellum. The laws of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at the Hague and Geneva Conventions (and known thereby as the law of the Hague and the law of Geneva), these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into belligerent calculations.
 It was an example of “mass” thinking. The “mass-man,” we may learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses, “learns only in his own flesh.” This is not a propitious way to learn.
 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 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.
 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.
 To look behind the news, beyond the specific adversarial issues of US-North Korea nuclear relations, we might best consider the wise and overarching insight of 20th century German philosopher Karl Jaspers: “The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.” It was this spirit, quintessentially, that from the start overwhelmed and misdirected former US President Donald J. Trump.
 Further to an earlier comment about world system “anarchy,” international law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian” system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia. Nonetheless, in international law, there are always certain core obligations that each state owes to other nations. See, accordingly, by Louis René Beres: https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/jurist-us-abandons-legal-obligations-syria; and
 More plausibly, after four years of corrosive Trump-sowed neglect and disharmony, the world resonates with a warning offered by Hermann Hesse in Steppenwolf (1927): “This world, as it is now, wants to perish….” See also the fearful metaphors of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man: “A rocket rising in the wake of time’s arrow, that only bursts to be extinguished; an eddy rising on the bosom of a descending current – such then must be our picture of the world.”
 As we may learn from ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “”You are a citizen of the universe.” A broader idea of such “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality.” By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a Respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking at Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Only in its relationship to the universe itself was the world correctly considered as a part rather than a whole. Said Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, of course, the idea of human oneness discussed here can be justified and explained in more secular terms of purely analytic understanding.
 See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace 70 (William Whewell, tr.), London: John W. Parker, 1853(1625).
 Under international law, the contemporary crime of aggression, derivative from earlier criminalizing codifications at Nuremberg’s 1945 London Charter and the 1928 Pact of Paris, has nothing to do with the particular nature of weaponry employed (conventional or unconventional). See: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No.31) 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631, 1975, reprinted in 13 I.L.M. 710, 1974.
 In this regard, one must also take into account policy miscalculation or outright irrationality of an American president. On these matters, by this author, see: Louis Rene Beres, https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/
 The final (second) impeachment of Donald Trump also brings to mind certain fragments of Euripides that concern tragic endings. Here, we may learn from the classical playwright, “Whom God wishes to destroy, He first makes mad.” Inter alia, Greek tragedy explores the wider civil harms that any deranged “sovereign” mind can produce. Looking at the United States today, struggling with rampant “plague” and with extraordinary domestic instability, there is a still-discoverable wisdom in classical Greek tragedy.
 This question raises certain antecedent matters of “will.” Modern philosophic origins of this diaphanous term lie in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps even more importantly upon Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948), and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).
 This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?
 “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another,” asks Samuel Beckett philosophically in Endgame, “of seeking justification always on the same plane?” Thought the celebrated Irish playwright was certainly not thinking specifically about world politics or national security, his generalized query remains well-suited to this strategic inquiry. As competitive power-politics has never worked, why keep insisting upon it as a presumptively viable doctrine?
Roads and Rails for the U.S.
For those who expect the newly announced $2 trillion Biden infrastructure program to be a goodbye to potholes and hello to smooth-as-glass expressways, a disappointment is in store. The largest expenditure by far ($400 billion) is on home/community care, impacting the elderly or disabled. The $115 billion apportioned to roads and bridges is #4 on the list.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) keeps tabs on our infrastructure and their latest report (2020) gave it an overall grade of C-. Although bridges worsened, this is a modest improvement on the previous report (2017) when the overall grade was D+. If $115 billion in spending sounds adequate, one has to remember it costs $27 billion annually for upkeep.
Astounding it might be the backlog in spending for roads and bridges runs at $12 billion annually. Go back 20 years and we have a quarter trillion shortfall. Add all the other areas of infrastructure and the ASCE comes up with a $5 trillion total. It is the gap between what we have been spending and what we need to. Also one has to bear in mind that neglect worsens condition and increases repair costs.
One notable example of maintenance is the Forth rail bridge in Scotland. A crisscross of beams forming three superstructures linked together, it was a sensation when opened in 1890 and now is a UN World Heritage Site. Spanning 1.5 miles, its upkeep requires a regular coat of paint. And that it gets. Rumor has it that when the unobtrusive painters reach the end of their task, it is time to start painting again the end where they began — a permanent job to be sure though new paints might have diminished such prospects.
Biden also proposes $80 billion for railways. Anyone who has travelled or lived in Europe knows the stark contrast between railroads there and in the U.S. European high-speed rail networks are growing from the established TGV in France to the new Spanish trains. Run by RENFE, the national railway, Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) trains run at speeds up to 310 km/h (193 mph) — a speed that amounts to a convenient overnight trip between Los Angeles and Chicago.
The hugely expensive new tracks needed can be considered a long-term investment in our children’s future. But it will take courage to contest the well-heeled lobbies of the airplane manufacturers, the airlines and big oil.
If Spain can have high-speed rail and if China already has some 24,000 miles of such track, surely the US too can opt for a system that is convenient for its lack of airport hassle and the hour wasted each way in the journey to or from the city center. Rail travel not only avoids both but is significantly less polluting.
Particularly bad, airplane pollution high above (26 to 43 thousand feet) results in greater ozone formation in the troposphere. In fact airplanes are the principal human cause of ozone formation.
Imagine a comfortable train with space to walk around, a dining car serving freshly cooked food, a lounge car and other conveniences, including a bed for overnight travel; all for a significantly less environmental cost. When we begin to ask why we in the US do not have the public services taken for granted in other developed countries, perhaps then the politicians might take note.
Congress and the Biden administration should end FBI immunity overseas
The FBI notably has an extended international presence running 63 offices in select countries overseas. The offices are called “legats” and are situated at the US Embassy in the host country. One of the major reasons for FBI’s international presence is fighting international terrorism.
The FBI legat personnel at the US embassies are fully accredited diplomats enjoying full diplomatic immunity but that poses several questions that are worth asking, such as: how is it possible for law enforcement to be diplomats and is that a good idea, legally speaking?
Police work should not enjoy diplomatic immunity because that opens the door to abuse. Does the FBI’s immunity overseas mean that the FBI attaches can do no wrong in the host country? How do we tackle potential rights infringements and instances of abuse of power by the FBI towards locals in the host country? The DOJ Inspector General and the State Department Inspector General would not accept complaints by foreigners directed at the FBI, so what recourse then could a local citizen have vis-a-vis the FBI legat if local courts are not an option and the Inspector Generals would not look into those cases?
This presents a real legal lacuna and a glitch in US diplomatic immunity that should not exist and should be addressed by Congress and the new Biden administration.
While FBI offices overseas conduct some far from controversial activities, such as training and educational exchanges with local law enforcement, which generally no one would object to, the real question as usual is about surveillance: who calls the shots and who assumes responsibility for potentially abusive surveillance of locals that may infringe upon their rights. It’s an issue that most people in countries with FBI presence around the world are not aware of. The FBI could be running “counter-terrorism” surveillance on you in your own country instead of the local police. And that’s not nothing.
When we hear “cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism”, as recent decades show, there is a great likelihood that the US government is abusing powers and rights, without batting an eyelash. That exposes local citizens around the world to unlawful surveillance without legal recourse. Most people are not even aware that the FBI holds local offices. Why would the FBI be operating instead of the local law enforcement on another country’s territory? That’s not a good look on the whole for the US government.
The legal lacuna is by design. This brings us to the nuts and bolts of the FBI legats’ diplomatic immunity.
Diplomatic immunity is governed by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, under Chapter III on privileges and immunities. The US is also a state party to the Convention, along with most states around the world. While there could be some variations and disagreements on bilateral basis (including on weather for example one state could be hosted and represented through the embassy of another state in a third state), on the whole there is a universal consensus that the Vienna Convention sets the rules establishing diplomatic immunities and privileges.
Under the Vienna Convention, only top diplomats are given the highest degree of immunity from the law. This means they cannot be handcuffed, arrested, detained, or prosecuted by law enforcement officials of the country in which they’re stationed. Diplomatic immunities and privileges also include things like diplomatic “bags” (with very peculiar cases of what that could entail) and notably, protection and diplomatic immunity for the family of diplomats.
It is a universal consensus that not everyone who works at an Embassy has or should have diplomatic immunity. Immunity is saved for diplomats whose role has to be protected from the local jurisdiction of the country for a reason. Not all embassy staff should enjoy diplomatic immunity. Granting law enforcement such as the FBI full legal immunity for their actions is bad news.
Only the top officials at an embassy are diplomats with an actual full immunity — and that’s for a reason.
It makes sense why a diplomat negotiating an agreement should not be subjected to local courts’ jurisdiction. But the same doesn’t go for a law enforcement official who acts as a law enforcement official by, for example, requesting unlawful surveillance on a local citizen, in his law enforcement capacity, while thinking of himself as a diplomat and being recognized as such by the law.
Law enforcement personnel are not diplomats. Dealing with extraterritorial jurisdiction cases or international cases is not the same thing as the need for diplomatic immunity. If that was the case, everyone at the export division at the Department if Commerce would have diplomatic immunity for protection from foreign courts, just in case. Some inherent risk in dealing with international cases does not merit diplomatic immunity – otherwise, this would lead to absurdities such as any government official of any country being granted diplomatic immunity for anything internationally related.
The bar for diplomatic immunity is very high and that’s by design based on an international consensus resting upon international law. Simply dealing with international cases does not make a policeman at a foreign embassy a diplomat. If that was the case every policeman investigating an international case would have to become a diplomat, just in case, for protection from the jurisdiction of the involved country in order to avoid legal push-back. That’s clearly unnecessary and legally illogical. Being a staff member at an embassy in a foreign country does not in and of itself necessitate diplomatic immunity, as many embassy staff do not enjoy diplomatic protection. It is neither legally justified nor necessary for the FBI abroad to enjoy diplomatic immunity; this could only open up the function to potential abuse. The FBI’s arbitrary surveillance on locals can have a very real potential for violating the rights of local people. This is a difference in comparison to actual diplomats. Diplomats do not investigate or run surveillance on locals; they can’t threaten or abuse the rights of local citizens directly, the way that law enforcement can. Lack of legal recourse is a really bad look for the Biden administration and for the US government.
The rationale for diplomatic immunity is that it should not be permitted to arrest top diplomats, who by definition have to be good at representing their own country’s interests in relation to the host state, for being too good at their job once the host state is unhappy with a push back, for example. The Ambassador should not be exposed to or threatened by the risk of an arrest and trial for being in contradiction with the interests of the host state under some local law on treason, for example, because Ambassadors could be running against the interests of the host state, by definition. And that’s contained within the rules of diplomatic relations. It’s contained in the nature of diplomatic work that such contradictions may arise, as each side represents their own country’s interests. Diplomats should not be punished for doing their job. The same doesn’t apply to the FBI legats. Issuing surveillance on local citizens is not the same as representing the US in negotiations. The FBI legats’ functions don’t merit diplomatic immunity and their actions have to be open to challenge in the host country’s jurisdiction.
The FBI immunity legal lacunae is in some ways reminiscent of similar historic parallels, such as the George W. Bush executive order that US military contractors in Iraq would enjoy full legal immunity from Iraqi courts’ jurisdiction, when they shouldn’t have. At the time, Iraq was a war-torn country without a functioning government, legal system or police forces. But the same principle of unreasonable legal immunity that runs counter international laws is seen even today, across European Union countries hosting legally immune FBI attaches.
Congress and the Biden administration should end FBI immunity overseas. It can be argued that for any local rights infringements, it is the local law enforcement cooperating with the US Embassy that should be held accountable – but that would ignore that the actual request for unlawful surveillance on locals could be coming from the FBI at the Embassy. The crime has to be tackled at the source of request.
When I reached out to the US Embassy in Bulgaria they did not respond to a request to clarify the justification for the FBI diplomatic immunity in EU countries.
To prevent abuse, Congress and the Biden Administration should remove the diplomatic immunity of the FBI serving overseas.
Competition and cooperation between China and the United States and the eighth priority
In mid-March U.S. President Biden held his first press conference since taking office. Speaking about Sino-U.S. relations, Biden said: “I will prevent China from surpassing the United States of America during my term of office”. At the same time, he also stressed that he would not seek to confront China, but to keep up fierce competition between the two countries.
Focusing on competition between major powers is one of the important changes in U.S. foreign policy in recent years. As the strengths of China and the United States draw closer together, the United States increasingly feels that its own ‘hegemony’ is threatened. During Trump’s tenure, the United States has caused a trade war, a technology war, and even a complete disagreement with China in an attempt to curb China’s development momentum and erode Chinese positions.
The expansion of the competitive field and the escalation of the competitive situation have become the hallmarks of Sino-U.S. relations during this period. Although Biden’s policy line has made substantial changes to ‘Trumpism’, it still has much of its predecessor’s legacy with regard to its policy towards China.
The first foreign policy speech made by U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken listed China Challenge as the eighth priority, preceded by:
1) ending the COVID-19 pandemic;
2) overcoming the economic crisis, reviving the economy at home and abroad, as well as and building a more stable and inclusive global economy;
3) renewing democracy;
4) reforming immigration and creating a humane and effective immigration system;
5) rebuilding alliances, revitalising U.S. ties with allies and partners with the system that the military calls force multiplier;
6) tackling climate change and leading a green energy revolution;
7) securing U.S. leadership in technology; and
8) confronting China and managing the greatest geopolitical test of the 21st century, i.e. relations with China, which is the only country with economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the international system and equilibria.
The eighth medium-term guideline for the national security strategy sees China as an important competitor. These guidelines clearly show that competition still sets the tone in the way President Biden’s Administration’s manages relations with China, as was the case in the previous four-year period.
At a press conference on March 26, 2021, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the above statements were not surprising. It is clear that China and the United States are competing on different interest levels.
The key factor, however, is to compete fairly and justly and to improve oneself. The appeal to the other side is moderation and restraint, not life or death, or a zero-sum game. These words are along the same lines as Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statement when he spoke about Sino-U.S. relations at a session of the National Congress of People’s Representatives of the People’s Republic of China (the Chinese Parliament). It is not only a response to the U.S. strategy of competition with China, but it also provides a model for the future way in which superpowers should proceed together.
The reality of Sino-U.S. competition is unavoidable, but competition can be divided into benign and vicious. The former is a winning model for “improving oneself and understanding the needs of the other side”.
Since Deng Xiaping’s reforms and opening up to international trade, China has begun its own reconstruction. It has continuously widened the scope for benign competition and has changed its mindset by actively embracing the world’s different political parties and participating in international competition. It has also inspired enthusiasm for innovation and creativity and made progress in various fields.
At the same time, development has also provided ample opportunities for countries around the world and injected growth momentum into the global economy: this is a typical example of China’s good interaction and common development with all countries around the globe.
Conversely, fierce competition means breaking rules and systems and even breaking the demarcation line to prevent or contain the opponent, and this is usually followed by fierce conflicts.
The two World Wars of the last century were extreme examples of violent competition between great powers: the first as a clash between capitalist imperialisms in search of new markets; the second as a result of mistakes made in the peace treaties that ended the Great War, plundering the losers and causing misery, resentment and chauvinistic desires.
In today’s world, competition without respect for the other side has not disappeared from the scene of history. Trump Administration’s frantic anti-China activity over the last four years has not only failed to make the United States ‘great again’, but has caused a linear decline in its national competitiveness, at least according to the World Competitiveness Yearbook 2020 published by the Lausanne-based International Institute for Management Development, which sees the United States dropping from third to tenth place. Besides the fact that its international image has seriously plummeted and Sino-U.S. relations have hit the lowest ebb since the establishment of diplomatic relations. It can clearly be seen that fierce competition will only restrain its promoters and ultimately harm the others, themselves and the international community.
In December 2020 General Mark Alexander Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (a body that brings together the Chiefs of Staff of each branch of the U.S. military and the Head of the National Guard Bureau), said in an interview that ‘great powers must compete. This is the essence of the world’.
There is no problem with this statement: it is not wrong, but it is important to maintain a state of competition and contact between major powers, precisely to ensure that it does not turn into conflicts or wars that are fatal to mankind and the planet as a whole.
The gist of the speech shows that some U.S. elites also believe that China and the United States should adhere to the principle of ‘fighting without breaking each other’. The importance and the overall and strategic nature of Sino-U.S. relations determine that no one can afford the zero-sum game, which is a lose-lose as opposed to a win-win game – hence we need to ensure that competition between the two countries stays on the right track.
Competition between China and the United States can only be fair and based on rules and laws. This is the basic rule of international relations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations as its point of reference.
Regardless of the common interests of China, the United States or peoples in the world, both countries should make this system promote healthy and fair competition, thus turning it into the greatest value of sharing and cooperation.
China’s goal has never been to surpass the United States, but to advance steadily and become better and no longer a prey to imperialism and colonialism as it has been the case since the 19th century, when Great Britain waged the two Opium Wars (1839-1842 – 1856-1860) to have not only the opportunity, but also the right to export drugs to the Middle Empire – hence Great Britain was the first pusher empowered and authorized by the force of its weapons.
Although – by its own good fortune -the United States has never been England, it should not always be thinking of surpassing the others or fearing being overtaken by the others, but should particularly focus on Secretary of State Blinken’s first seven priorities and raise its expectations.
China should show its traditional political wisdom and manage Sino-U.S. relations in accordance with the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, so that Sino-U.S. relations can develop in a healthy and stable way for the good of the whole planet.
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