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After The Abraham Accords: Nuclear Deterrence And Nuclear War In The Middle East

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Though the Trump-brokered Abraham Agreements[1] with selected Sunni Arab states might first appear sensible, there is actually little here to celebrate. In essence, these Agreements exhibit little more than just another self-serving contrivance of America’s former president. At best, these Agreements codify variously harmonious diplomatic relations between states that were never genuine adversaries. At worst, they further compromise Israel’s existential safety vis-à-vis Iran, a security diminution already exacerbated by Donald Trump’s May 8, 2018 withdrawal of the United States from JCPOA pact obligations.[2]

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian, “I believe  because it is absurd.” The JCPOA did exhibit substantial shortcomings as a prospective corrective to Iranian nuclearization, but this did not mean that Israel or the United States would necessarily fare better after America’s unilateral abrogation. In these earlier Trump policies contra Iran, the president’s conspicuous illogic was “impeccable.” In aptly philosophical terms, such illogic was exactly what one ought to have expected from a president guided not by reason, but by “mass.”

               The “mass man,” says 20th century Spanish thinker Jose Ortega y’Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses (1930), “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.” Donald J. Trump was Ortega’s “mass man” par excellence. On matters of national and international security, he learned only “in his own flesh.”[3]

               For Israel, it is high time for candor. Not many thinking Israelis will sleep better by presuming that, “post-Abraham,” they are less subject to aggressions from Morocco, Bahrain, Sudan and/or the United Arab Emirates. What should authentically disturb their sleep, however, is the sorely realistic prospect of still-deteriorating Israeli relations with Iran.

               As long as Israel’s Iranian adversary continues to nuclearize – a scenario that has not been rendered any less worrisome by the Abraham Accords – these Trump-fostered agreements must figure as a net-negative. These public-relations based Agreements have not only failed to reduce mutually belligerent sentiments between Jerusalem and Tehran, they have also had the effect of further marginalizing Iran. When the Shiite Islamic Republic feels more and more apprehensive about the new US-brokered alignments between a “composite” foe  – a prospective “super-enemy” comprised of Israel and certain Sunni Arab states – it could more likely consider various strategies of preemption.

               Always, the core struggle is intellectual. What sort of dialectical thinking can we expect on both sides?[4] Among other things, the likelihood of any such destabilizing decision would depend upon Tehran’s simultaneous assessment of aggressive enemy intentions and Sunni enemy state nuclearization. In those circumstances wherein the “whole” result of any worrisome military intersection would appear greater than the sum of all “parts,” the pertinent relationship would seemingly be synergistic.

               The attendant risks to Israel here would be additive to the previously-mentioned synergy obtaining between US JCOPOA withdrawal and US brokered Abraham Accords.

Understanding Analytic Background

               Always, there must be a suitable analytic background for correctly understanding such Agreements and their multiple implications.[5] Cicero’s epigraph to Emmerich de Vattel’s foundational work of international law, The Law of Nations, or the Principles of Natural Law (1758), offers a good place to  begin:  “…there is nothing on earth more acceptable to the Supreme Deity who rules over this whole world than the councils and assemblages of men bound together by law, which are called States.”[6] This classic observation remains significant for at least two compelling reasons: The statement (1) underscores critically primary connections between international law and natural law;[7] and (2) overstates the civilizational benefits of a nation-centric world politics.[8]

               Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the people of earth have countenanced a geopolitical system based on competitive power politics, belligerent nationalism and endless conflict. This corrosive system of Realpolitik was formally transformed into authoritative law by this landmark treaty.[9] When Realpolitik is joined with a world of proliferating nuclear weapons, the risks of remaining on a seventeenth-century course of international relations exceed all conceivable benefits.

               For relevant political leaders, there is much to learn. The Westphalian peace which put an end to the Thirty Years’ War (the last of the major religious wars sparked by the Protestant Reformation) acknowledged a world system that lacked any loci of central governance. This unstable condition of structural anarchystill stands in marked contrast to any neatly sanitizing or falsely reassuring assumption of solidarity between states.

               Such a “peremptory” expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption)[10] was already been mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis(533 C.E.); in Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625);and most plainly of all, in Emmerich De Vattel, The Law of Nations, or The Principles of Natural Law (1758).

               Vattel’s “first principle” of the Law of Nations is the mutual independence and dependence of sovereign states. Though “foreign nations have no right to interfere in the government of an independent state….” (II, sec. 57), these states are “bound mutually to promote the society of the human race…” and, correspondingly, “owe one another all the duties which the safety and welfare of that society require.” In brief, as Vattel clarifies in his Introduction: “What one man owes to other men, one Nation, in its turn, owes to other Nations.”[11]

Paths to a Nuclear War in the Middle East Involving Israel

               Before appropriately legal remedies can be identified and assessed, one key question needs to be asked: How, more-or-less exactly, might Israel ultimately find itself in some configuration or other of an actual nuclear war?[12] What, with still greater exactitude, are the more-or-less identifiable circumstances under which Israel could sometime discover itself involved (whether wittingly or unwittingly) with belligerent nuclear weapons use? To meaningfully answer these complex questions, capable analysts must integrate the expressly strategic aspects of their necessary investigations with the jurisprudential.[13]

               There can be no credibly successful ways of managing the latter without also understanding and applying the former.

               For the moment, all such concerns could appear extraneous, gratuitous or simply without useful foundation. Israel, after all, remains the only presumptive nuclear weapons state in the region. Nonetheless, certain still malleable order-of-battle considerations could change quickly and unexpectedly, perhaps even, from moment to moment.[14] In the always unpredictable Middle East, this “fluidity” is most specifically plausible in regard to future aggressions[15] from Iran.[16]

               Iran will not be easily deflected from its seemingly long-term nuclear ambitions. On the contrary, the implicit existential threat of the Abraham Accords will prod even more accelerated patterns of nuclearization. All things considered, Tehran’s confirmable membership in the Nuclear Club now appears more than likely within just the next several years. This “membership” is reasonable to expect following former US President Trump’s unilateral JCPOA withdrawal.[17]

Israeli Nuclear Deterrence and Non-Nuclear War

               Even in the absence of any actual Iranian nuclear adversary in the region,[18] the Jewish State could still find itself having to rely upon nuclear deterrence against certain biological and/or massive conventional threats.[19] Acknowledging such a prospectively existential reliance, the residual prospect of atomic weapons firings should never be ruled out prematurely or altogether.[20] In all cases, Israel’s nuclear strategy and forces must remain oriented toward successful deterrence; never to actual war fighting.[21] Already, with this in mind, Jerusalem has likely taken certain suitable steps to reject tactical or relatively low-yield “battlefield” nuclear weapons and any corresponding operational plans for counter-force targeting.

               For Israel, always and without exception, nuclear weapons can make sense only for deterrence ex ante; not for revenge ex post.[22]

               Contrary to conventional wisdom, both nuclear deterrence and associated forms of nuclear strategy, including preemption,[23] can possibly support the authoritative expectations of international law.[24] In the end, the adequacy of international law in preventing a nuclear war in the Middle East will depend upon much more than formal treaties, customs and “the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.”[25]  It will depend especially upon the success or failure of particular country strategies in the volatile region. If Israel’s nuclear strategy should successfully reduce the threat of nuclear war, either because of viable forms of nuclear deterrence or because of essential preemptive strikes,[26] this strategy could then be considered as an authentic component of international law enforcement.[27]

               Relevant threat scenarios should remind Israel of an always overriding need for applicable nuclear theory based upon coherent thought.[28] This core need would postulate a counter-value targeted nuclear retaliatory force that is recognizably secure from enemy first-strikes and is seemingly capable of penetrating an enemy state’s deployed active defenses. Inter alia, to best meet this imperative security expectation after the Abraham Accords and America’s JCPOA withdrawal, the IDF would be well-advised to continuously advance with its sea-basing (submarines) of designated portions of the country’s nuclear deterrent force.

               To satisfy the equally important and complex requirements of “penetration-capability,” Tel-Aviv will have to stay visibly well ahead of foreseeable enemy air defense refinements. All such recommendations, if duly followed, could convincingly enhance not only Israel’s national security, but, correspondingly, the more general prospects for nuclear war avoidance in the Middle East. “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz, in his classical discussion of “friction” in On War, “but the simplest thing is difficult.”[29]

Taking the Bomb out of the Basement

               Sooner rather than later, Jerusalem will need to consider a partial and possibly sequenced end to its historic policy of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.”[30] By selectively beginning to remove the “bomb” from its metaphoric “basement,” Israel’s national strategic planners would be better positioned to enhance the credibility of their country’s vital nuclear deterrence posture and the safety of the region. Any enhancements of Israel’s deterrent would effectively enhance the wider objectives of pertinent international law.

               In Israel’s strategic nuclear planning, would-be aggressors, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, must be systematically encouraged to believe that Jerusalem maintains the required willingness to launch measured nuclear forces in retaliation and that these nuclear forces are sufficiently invulnerable to any-contemplated first-strike attacks. Additionally, these enemies must be made to expect that Israel’s designated nuclear forces could reliably penetrate all their already-deployed ballistic-missile and related air defenses.

                Though perhaps counter-intuitive, Israel and also the wider region could benefit from Jerusalem releasing certain broad outlines of the country’s evolving strategic configurations. Without a prior and well-fashioned strategic doctrine, no such release could make sufficiently persuasive deterrent sense. At the same time, a too-pointed release could be interpreted as a too-explicit rejection of NPT (Nonproliferation Treaty) objectives –  a Treaty to which Israel is not a party (and is therefore not directly beholden by law), but which nonetheless is generally regarded as an authoritative regional nuclear “benchmark.”

                Selectively released Israeli nuclear information could support the perceived utility and security of Israel’s nuclear retaliatory forces. Once disclosed, it should center purposefully upon the targeting, hardening, dispersion, multiplication, basing, and yield of national ordnance. Under certain conditions, the credibility of Israeli nuclear deterrence could vary inversely with the perceived destructiveness of its relevant weapons.     

        Unsurprisingly, there will be many interrelated policy concerns, all with some measure or other of prospectively legal significance. One such concern underscores that Israel will need to prepare differently yet subtly for engagements with an expectedly rational nuclear adversary than for an expectedly irrational foe. In such variously nuanced and unprecedented circumstances, national decision-makers in Jerusalem would need to distinguish precisely and meaningfully between genuine enemy irrationality and feigned enemy irrationality.

               How should they be reasonably expected to make such highly imprecise distinctions? 

Judgments of Rationality and Irrationality

               In studies of world politics, rationality and irrationality have taken on variously specific meanings. An actor (state or sub-state) is determinedly rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational actor might not always display such a determinable preference ordering. Apropos of the scientific limitations already discussed, ascertaining whether such an adversary (e.g., Iran) were rational or irrational could prove to be a distressingly inexact undertaking.[31]

               In actual practice, operationalizing these potentially indecipherable distinctions would present staggeringly complex intellectual challenges; they would need to take account, inter alia, of whether the scrutinized adversaries were (1) fully or partially sovereign states; (2) sub-national terrorist groups;[32] or (3) “hybrid” enemies comprised of assorted state and sub-state foes.[33] A subsidiary but still daunting task would be to ascertain the effective ratio of decision-making responsibilities among all hybridized foes.

               But how should this multi-layered assessment be carried out?

               In principle, at least, such a task might prove not just daunting, but literally impossible.

               At a minimum, this would not be a task for the intellectually faint-hearted. To successfully preserve the nuclear “lid” in this volatile region, Joe Biden’s foreign policy will need to be rendered more coherent, predictable and law-oriented than was its predecessor. More precisely, the White House will need to better clarify its position on a Palestinian state, Iranian nuclearization and, reciprocally, on any prospective Sunni nuclear weapons preparations seemingly oriented toward deterring Shiite Iran.

               This last point could mean closely monitoring and eventually supporting or opposing certain increasingly plausible nuclearizing steps undertaken by Saudi Arabia and/or Egypt.

               Whatever calculable nuances will be encountered in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (political leadership/IDF leadership), the only rational way for Israel to successfully meet these growing and overlapping challenges will be to stay well ahead of its adversaries through the inestimable powers of strategic erudition and qualitative scholarship. Already, in classical Greece and Macedonia, the linked arts of war and deterrence were being described by military planners as theoretic challenges of “mind over mind;” and not merely as crude ad hoc contests of “mind over matter.” For Israel and the wider Middle East, such ancient descriptions remain entirely valid today.[34]

               There is one further relevant observation concerning Israel’s nuclear strategy and American national security. Although analysts generally examine the foreseeable impact of US nuclear guidance upon Israel, it would be equally valid and important to consider the impact of Israel’s nuclear strategy upon US national security. In essence, though largely unrecognized, there is an ongoing and reciprocal connection between these two factors, a sort of continuous policy feedback-loop.  Going forward, this “loop” should more routinely be examined as a mutual and dynamic relationship than as merely a static and one-directional connection.

               One evident conclusion here must be that the suitability and durability of Israel’s nuclear strategy will impact not only the Middle East, legally as well as strategically, but also American security risks and benefits. To the extent that Israel’s nuclear strategic policies could have certain “spillover” effects for the United States, America would become the unintentional beneficiary of Israel’s own strategic scholarship and planning. It also follows that should Israel’s nuclear posture somehow fail to meet that country’s most urgent or existential security expectations, the derivative effect upon the United States would be correspondingly negative.[35]

               Simultaneously, this effect would concern appropriate international law.

America and New World Security Patterns

               Virtually any Israeli scholarship focused on nuclear war avoidance will be in response to certain world security configurations shaped by the United States. In this connection, Jerusalem will need to pay special attention to the growing importance of “Cold War II,”[36] an adversarial expansion between Washington and Moscow with more-or-less conspicuous manifestations and reverberations throughout the wider world. If, for example, geopolitical competition between the superpowers should become more tangibly war-oriented in Asia[37] –  most notably in regard to ongoing North Korean nuclearization – that could have determining effects upon Israel’s nuclear posture and a Middle Eastern nuclear war.

               Earlier, North Korea had helped Syria build a nuclear reactor, the same facility that was later destroyed by Israel in its Operation Orchard, on September 6, 2007. Although, unlike earlier Operation Opera, this preemptive attack, in the Deir ez-Zor region, was presumptively a second expression of the so-called “Begin Doctrine.” It also illustrated, because of its express North Korea connection, a much wider globalthreat to Israel .

               Deleterious effects would likely be most dramatic if there were to take place any genuine nuclear exchange between the United States and North Korea, circumstances in which the nuclear war threshold had actually been crossed. Similar connections could obtain in the aftermath of an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange,[38] and would depend largely upon specific and still-ascertainable Russian/American alignments with either Delhi or Islamabad. In both of these prospective conflict dyads – US-North Korea and India-Pakistan – any expression of nuclear belligerence, however indirect, could immediately and gravely impact Israel’s nuclear strategy and any resultant regional security.

               For Israel, greater familiarity with certain jurisprudential principles could advance the nation’s legal as well as strategic obligations, most plainly those that William Blackstone had famously expressed in his Commentaries on the Law of England (Book 4 “Of Public Wrongs”): “Each state is expected, perpetually,” noted Blackstone, “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.”

                Such ideas don’t just “pop up” in a theoretic vacuum. Blackstone is ultimately indebted to Cicero’s antecedent description of natural law in The Republic: “True law is right reason, harmonious with nature, diffused among all, constant, eternal; a law which calls to duty by its commands and restrains from evil by its prohibitions….”

               “Just wars,” wrote Hugo Grotius, the unchallenged founder of modern international law, “arise from our love of the innocent.”[39] Now, however, it is plain, by definition, that a nuclear war could never be “just” and that certain earlier legal distinctions (e.g., just war vs. unjust war) must be continuously conformed to the ever-changing technologies of military destruction. The only sensible adaptation in this regard must be to acknowledge the persisting connections between international law and natural law, and then to oppose any retrograde movements by powerful nation states to undermine such acknowledgments.

               In the final analysis, to successfully prevent a nuclear war in the Middle East, it will be necessary to resist mightily any world system declensions toward further belligerent nationalism. Among other things, especially in the United States, this will require serious safeguards against another “mass man” as president. For the next four years at least, reassuringly, it does not appear that America need worry about another Trump-type strategic retrogression.

               There is more. Nuclear deterrence and conventional deterrence are never separate security postures. Always, these seemingly discrete protective strategies are structurally interrelated and mutually reinforcing .

                A nuclear attack or nuclear war in the Middle East is never quite out of the question; it is never a casually dismissible prospect, even if Israel should remain the only nuclear weapons state in the region. But how is this possible? The correct answer lies in the irremediably complex and deeply nuanced structure of nuclear warfare possibilities, in the Middle East especially, but also anywhere else that such conflict is logically possible.[40]

               A bellum atomicum could arrive in Israel not only as a “bolt-from-the-blue” enemy nuclear missile attack, but also as a result, intended or unwitting, of certain dynamic escalations. If, for example, particular Arab/Islamic states or Iran were to begin hostilities by launching “only” conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem could then decide to respond, sooner or later, and foolishly or wisely, with precisely calculated and correspondingly graduated nuclear reprisals. Alternatively, if these enemy states were to commence conflict by releasing certain larger-scale conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem’s own conventional reprisals could then be met, at least sometime in the future, with assorted enemy nuclear counterstrikes.

               In the past, Israeli conventional preemptions have figured importantly in presumptive resolution of nuclear threat possibilities. If it hadn’t been for Israel’s earlier defensive first-strike operations against Iraq and Syria (Operations Opera and Orchard,respectively), the Middle East would likely already have suffered certain critically destabilizing impacts of Arab/Islamist nuclear forces. Looking back upon these literally unprecedented examples of anticipatory self-defense, Israel effectively ensured that assorted terror groups (e.g., ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah) would not already have become nuclear.

               The generally unrecognized benefits of these extraordinary operations have impacted not only Israel, but also the United States and some of its allies.[41]

                The regional future, however, is rapidly apt to become substantially less secure. With a still aspirational nuclear Iran, certain derivative risks of nuclear terrorism could become increasingly intolerable.[42] Some of these newer risks might not stay reassuringly confined to the Middle East. Instead, in one form or other, they could “carry over” to certain scarcely well-protected American and/or European homelands.

               By maintaining a credible conventional deterrent, Israel could reasonably expect to reduce its exposure to eventual nuclear war fighting.[43] A fully persuasive Israeli non-nuclear deterrent, at least to the extent that it could reliably prevent enemy conventional attacks, might thereby lower the country’s overall risk of exposure to nuclear escalatory vulnerabilities. More precisely, and in the exquisitely arcane lexicon of dialectical nuclear strategy, Israel could reap meaningful security gains by always staying in conspicuously firm control of “escalation dominance.”[44]

               In such intra-crisis calculations, being “conspicuous” is always potentially very important.

               Meaningful security gains, moreover, could sometime turn out to have genuinely existential benefits.

               Still, a further prior question should now also be raised. Why, after all, should Israel require a conventional deterrent at all? Wouldn’t its presumed nuclear deterrent, taken by itself, and whether still ambiguous or more explicitly disclosed,[45] convincingly deter any and all state-generated aggressions? Wouldn’t all enemy states, at least those that were determinedly rational,[46] resist launching “merely” conventional attacks upon a presumptively nuclear Israel?

               This welcome reluctance would stem from a determinably well-founded fear of Israeli nuclear retaliations.

                The underlying “dialectic” here will need to be carefully charted and understood. Assuming that Israel would cross the specifically nuclear threshold only in highly unusual and existentially threatening circumstances, enemy states could remain convinced, rightly or wrongly, that as long as their own initial attacks were to stay entirely conventional, Israel’s “proportionate” response would remain similarly non-nuclear. This means, at least by reasonably calculated inference, but also by virtue of the documented history of Israel’s several wars, that the only way for the Jewish State to successfully deter a large-scale conventional war over time must be by maintaining large-scale, capable and reciprocally secure conventional forces.

               Certain noteworthy strategic possibilities now warrant special mention. Any rational Arab/Islamic enemy states considering first-strike attacks against Israel using chemical and/or biological weapons could take much more seriously Israel’s nuclear deterrent. This argument suggests, inter alia, that a strong conventional capability will still be needed by Israel to deter or preempt any anticipated conventional attacks, more-or-less plausible strikes that could quickly lead (perhaps via starkly unpredictable escalations) to some form or other of unconventional war.

               Inevitably, in seeking to continually reassess their own power positions, Israel’s enemies will strive to determine just how Jerusalem views its own conventional weapon opportunities and limitations. If Arab/Islamic enemy states did not perceive any Israeli sense of an expanding conventional force weakness, these states, animated by certain expectations of an Israeli unwillingness to escalate to nonconventional weapons, might then opt rationally to attack. The net result in this revealing scenario could include: (1) defeat of Israel in a conventional war; (2) defeat of Israel in an unconventional (chemical/biological/nuclear) war; (3) defeat of Israel in a combined conventional/unconventional war; or (4) defeat of Arab/Islamic enemy states by Israel in an unconventional war.

               Ironically for Israel, even the presumptively “successful” fourth possibility could prove catastrophic. This counter-intuitive conclusion should once again bring to mind the closely related and similarly counter-intuitive matter of Israel’s “bomb in the basement,” its deliberate nuclear ambiguity. In essence, the credibility of Israel’s still hidden or “opaque” nuclear deterrent must always depend on the perceived “usability” of its nuclear arsenal. Should Israel’s own nuclear weapons be regarded by pertinent prospective attackers as high-yield, indiscriminate, “city-busting” (counter-value) weapons, rather than minimal-yield, “war fighting” (counterforce)  ordnance, they might not meaningfully deter.[47]

               Conceivably, and contrary to virtually all prevailing conventional wisdom on the subject, successful Israeli nuclear deterrence could sometime vary inversely with perceived destructiveness. Going forward, this means that Israel’s indispensable nuclear deterrent will require not only recognizably secure second-strike forces, but also weapons that seemingly could be used effectively in “real war.” It also suggests that any continued Israeli policies of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” could encourage variously erroneous calculations by certain prospective attackers. On one occasion or another, such an out-of-date and unsystematic policy could significantly undermine Israel’s nuclear deterrent, perhaps irretrievably.

               In complex matters of Israeli nuclear deterrence, it must never be minimized that enemy perceptions will be determinative. Unintentionally, to be sure, by insistently keeping its nuclear doctrine and capacity in the “basement,” Israel could actually be contributing to a growing impression among regional enemies that its nuclear weapons are not operationally usable. In these sorely problematic circumstances, starkly recalcitrant enemies, now not-quite convinced of Israel’s alleged willingness to employ its nuclear weapons, might calculate the presumed cost-effectiveness of striking first themselves.

               Depending upon the particular circumstances, any such adversarial acceptance could be reluctant or enthusiastic, but with the same or similar outcomes for Israel.

               For Israel, any such adversarial presumptions could sometime prove “unacceptable.”

               There is more. A nuclear war would not respect political boundaries. Because of the particular manner in which nuclear explosions behave in the atmosphere, the altitude reached by a distinctive mushroom-shaped cloud would depend primarily upon tangible forces of the explosion. For yields in the low-kiloton range, this cloud would remain situated in the lower atmosphere. Its effects, therefore, would be almost entirely “local.” For those yields exceeding thirty kilotons, parts of the cloud of radioactive debris could “punch” into the stratosphere, thereby afflicting the launching state and certain noncombatant states together.[48]

               To best prevent a regional nuclear war, especially as Iran will likely continue to approach full and effectively irreversible membership in the “nuclear club,” Israel will need to field a dependable nuclear deterrent. At the same time, it cannot properly rely exclusively upon this one necessary basis of national security doctrine any more than it can depend solely upon conventional deterrence. It must depend, instead, upon increasingly complementary nuclear/conventional forces and doctrine, appropriately intersecting systems of anti-missile defenses, and even the residual availability of certain eleventh-hour preemption options.

               Even now, when the expected costs of any preemption against Iran could already be unacceptably high, Israel should not disavow absolutely all last-resort options for anticipatory self-defense. By definition, there might still be some eventually recognizable consequences of not-preempting that are expectedly greater than the foreseeable costs of a properly focused preemption.[49]

                In the volatile Middle East, strategic deterrence is a “game” that sane national leaders may sometime have to play, but it ought always be a game of strategy, not merely one of chance. In Jerusalem, this means, among other things, a continuing willingness to respect the full range of relevant doctrinal complexity – both its own military doctrines, and those of its pertinent enemies – and a willingness to forge ahead with appropriate and reciprocally complex security policies. Inevitably, to successfully influence the choices that prospectively fearsome adversaries could make vis-à-vis Israel, Jerusalem will first need to clarify unambiguously that its conventional and nuclear deterrence are seamlessly intersecting, and that Israel stands ready to counter enemy attacks at absolutely every conceivable level of possible confrontation.

               There remain two last but still very important and related points to be made.

                First, whether Israel’s intersecting and overlapping deterrent processes are geared primarily toward conventional or to nuclear threats, their success will ultimately depend upon the expected rationality of the nation’s relevant enemies. In those residual cases where such rationality appears implausible, Jerusalem could then find itself under considerable pressures to strike first preemptively. If Jerusalem’s own expected responses were to be judged rational themselves, they might then also need to include a conclusive and operationally-reliable option for expressing anticipatory self-defense. For Israel, it goes without saying that regional conflict prospects should always be curtailed at the very lowest possible levels of controlled engagement, and that under no circumstances should Israel ever need to find itself having to preempt against an already nuclear adversary.[50]

               To prevent such unacceptable but still imaginable circumstances should be Jerusalem’s altogether overriding security obligation.[51]

               Second, even the most meticulous plans for preventing a deliberately-inflicted nuclear conflict would not automatically remove all attendant dangers of an inadvertent or accidental nuclear war. While an accidental nuclear war would necessarily be inadvertent, there are certain forms of inadvertent nuclear war that would not necessarily be caused by mechanical, electrical or computer accident. These particular but still-consequential forms of unintentional nuclear conflict could represent the unexpected result of sheer misjudgment or simple miscalculation, whether created as a singular error by one or both sides to a particular (two-party) nuclear crisis escalation; or by certain still unforeseen “synergies” arising between any such singular miscalculations.

               It follows from such vital obiter dicta that the only predictable aspect of any nuclear crisis involving Israel would be its vast and utter unpredictability. More than anything else, this conclusion implies an insistent obligation, in Jerusalem, to remain not only vigilant about comprehensive enemy capabilities and intentions, but also to be relentlessly cautious and studiously modest about Israel’s own capacities to control all prospectively “untoward ” nuclear events.

                Israel, though perhaps largely unaware, is entering into a period of trembling uncertainty. While certain national leaders may presently calculate that security matters are “looking up” – that is, that the expected benefits of the Abraham Accords and corollary normalization agreements (Sudan and Morocco) will outweigh the risks – such simplistic calculations would eventually be forced to confront a far less congenial strategic reality. Even if US President Joseph Biden should succeed in bringing the United States back into calculably viable JCPOA arrangements, the severe harms caused by Trump-generated errors on Iranian nuclearization are unlikely to be tangibly reversed. For Jerusalem, this signifies, above all else, a basic obligation to fashion a continuously refined national strategy of nuclear deterrence and nuclear war avoidance.

               For this preeminently intellectual task, American assistance would be largely beside the point.


[1]See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ Also to be considered as complementary in this connection is the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).

[2]https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/trumps-jcpoa-withdrawal-two-years-on-maximum-pressure-minimum-outcomes/

[3]In a similar vein, says Swiss psychologist and philosopher Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self (1957): “The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.” .

[4]The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s strategy  vis-à-vis Iran, the following operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1)  a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.

[5]This should bring to mind Sun-Tzu’s strategic suggestion to “embrace the unorthodox.” For a specific application of Sun-Tzu to Israel’s prospective calculations, see: Louis René Beres, “Lessons for Israel from Ancient Chinese Military Thought: Facing Iranian Nuclearization with Sun-Tzu,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, posted October 24, 2013.

[6] Cicero, Somnium Scipionis.

[7] According to William Blackstone’s Commentaries (Book IV, “Of Pubic Wrongs,” Chapter V): “All law results from those principles of natural justice in which all the learned of every nation agree….” In legal philosophy, the classic definition of Natural Law is given by Cicero in The Republic: “True law is right reason, harmonious with nature, diffused among all, constant, eternal….”

[8]Dostoyevsky inquires about such benefits: “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. MacAndrew, trans., New American Library, 1961)(1862).

[9] On the global power management system originally codified and effectively “sanctified” at the end of the Thirty Years’ War and the Peace of Westphalia: 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.

[10] See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, May 23, 1969, art. 53, 1155 U.N.T.S. 344; reprinted in 8 I.L.M. 679 (1969).

[11] This legal assumption of solidarity between states in a presumptively common struggle against aggression and terrorism is also already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925)(1690).

[12] This question, in turn, is drawn from the basic and incontestable premise that every state’s first responsibility is to assure and maintain national protection, and that citizen allegiance is therefore contingent upon such assurances.  Most famously, in pertinent political theory, is the classic statement of seventeenth-century Englishman Thomas Hobbes at Chapter XXI of his Leviathan: “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last so long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.” Parenthetically, one of Israel’s deployed Dolphin-class submarines (acquired from Germany) is the INS (Israeli Navy Submarine) Leviathan.

[13] For a useful example of such expected overlap, Israel will continuously need to consider various conceivable forms of preemption, or defensive first-strike. When permissible under authoritative international law, any such preemption could permissibly be termed as “anticipatory self-defense.”  Significantly, both nuclear and non-nuclear preemptions by Israel of enemy unconventional attacks could sometime lead to nuclear exchanges.  This grievous outcome would depend, in large part, on the effectiveness and breadth of Israeli targeting, the surviving number of enemy nuclear weapons and the willingness of enemy leaders to risk certain Israeli nuclear counter-retaliations. 

[14]  Considerations impacting Israel’s security may form an intricately interconnected network. Capable assessments of such considerations must include a patient search for synergies and for potential cascades of synergies that could represent one especially serious iteration of security failure. Other risk properties that will warrant careful assessment within this analytic framework include contagion potential and persistence.

[15] Punishment of aggression is a firm and longstanding expectation of international criminal law.  The peremptory principle of Nullum Crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its origins in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728 – 1686 B.C.E.);  the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 B.C.E.);  the even earlier Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the law of exact retaliation, or Lex Talionis, presented in three separate passages of the Torah

[16] This author, Professor Louis René Beres, was Chair of Project Daniel for PM Sharon (2003).

http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm  See also: https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/Parameters/articles/07spring/beres.pdf  See further, regarding Iran in particular, with US General (USAF/ret.) John T. Chain: Louis René Beres and John T. Chain: “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran”?, The Atlantic, August, 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[17]https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/05/08/iran-advances-nuclear-program-withdrawal-jcpoa/

[18] At some point, of course, a major Sunni Arab state in the region (most notably Egypt and/or Saudi Arabia) could also choose to “go nuclear,” more plausibly because of Shiite Iran than Jewish Israel.

[19] See by this author:  https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/30198   See also by Professor Beres:  https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/israel-nuclear-deterrence/

[20] For generic assessments of the probable consequences of nuclear war fighting by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 2018);   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 MA:  Lexington Books, 1983);  Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA;  Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed.,  Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[21] Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese military theorist, Sun-Tzu, counseled, inThe Art of War:“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” (See: Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”).

[22] This assumption was a dominant premise of this writer’s Project Daniel Report to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon:  See, Louis René Beres, Chair, Project Daniel: Israel’s Strategic Future (Tel Aviv, 2004).

[23] For early scholarly examinations of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, and with particular reference to Israel, see:  Louis René Beres,  “Preserving the Third Temple:  Israel’s Right of Anticipatory Self-Defense Under International Law,”  Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law,  Vol. 26,  No. 1,  April 1993,  pp. 111- 148;  Louis René Beres,  “After the Gulf War:  Israel, Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  Houston Journal of International Law, Vol. 13,  No. 2,  Spring 1991,  pp. 259 – 280;  and Louis René Beres,  “Striking `First’: Israel’s Post Gulf War Options Under International Law,” Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Journal  Vol. 14,  Nov. 1991,  pp. 1 – 24.

[24] The precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie 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).

[25] See art. 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice.

[26]Regarding such strikes, the obvious Israeli precedents for any such defensive moves would be Operation Opera directed against the Osiraq (Iraqi) nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981, and, later (though lesser known) Operation Orchard against Syria on September 6, 2007. In April 2011, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that he bombed Syrian site in the Deir ez-Zoe region of Syria had indeed been a developing nuclear reactor. In this writer’s judgment, both preemptions were fully lawful assertions of Israel’s core “Begin Doctrine.”

[27] Nuclear war and genocide need not be considered as mutually exclusive.  War might well be the means whereby genocide is undertaken.  According to Articles II and III of the Genocide Convention, which entered into force on January 12, 1951, genocide includes any of several listed acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such….”  See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Done at New York, Dec. 9,  1948.  Entered into force, Jan. 12, 1951.  78 U.N.T.S.  277.

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

[29] Here, this concept refers to the unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties; on Israeli and Iranian under-estimations or over-estimations of relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence, and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,”

Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

[30] See, for example, by this author:  https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2018/11/15/israels-nuclear-ambiguity-would-a-shift-to-selective-nuclear-disclosure-enhance-strategic-deterrence

[31]Expressions of decisional irrationality could take various different and overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[32] Some current Israeli supporters of a Palestinian state argue that its prospective harms to Israel could be reduced or even eliminated by ensuring that state’s immediate “demilitarization.” For informed reasoning against this naive argument, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter 1998, pp. 347-363; and Louis René Beres and Ambassador Shoval, “On Demilitarizing a Palestinian `Entity’ and the Golan Heights: An International Law Perspective,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vo. 28., No.5., November 1995, pp. 959-972.

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

[34]This calls to mind the obligations of formal doctrine. Such doctrine defines the framework from which any state’s strategic goals should be suitably extrapolated. Generically, in “standard” or orthodox military thinking, such doctrine describes the tactical manner in which national forces ought to fight in various combat situations, the prescribed “order of battle,” and variously assorted corollary operations. The literal definition of “doctrine” derives from Middle English, from the Latin doctrina, meaning teaching, learning, and instruction. Always, a central importance of codified military doctrine lies not only in the way it can animate, unify and optimize pertinent military forces, but also in the way it can transmit certain desired “messages” to an enemy.

[35] See jointly-authored monograph in Israel by Professor Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey   https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

General McCaffrey is the most decorated 4-star general in United States history.

[36] Hypothesizing the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of any such 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.

[37]On the growing dangers of further North Korean nuclearization, by this author, at West Point (Pentagon): See: Louis René Beres,  https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[38]https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1318&context=auilr

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

[40] The North Korea-United States rivalry should come immediately to mind. Though Donald Trump vainly sought North Korean denuclearization, Joe Biden ought instead to be refining America’s overall capacities for long-term nuclear deterrence. In this Asian theatre of possible nuclear conflict, a  context which bears certain marked differences from the Middle East, US forces can never expectedly function as a compelling conventional deterrent. Here, their only true role could be as a “trip wire” for generating more-or-less rapid American escalations to nuclear levels.

[41] On vital interconnections between US and Israeli nuclear security, see previously referenced 2016 monograph (published at Tel Aviv University) co-authored by Professor Beres and US General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey:

See also: http://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/Articles/07spring/beres.pdf

[42] See, by Professor Beres: http://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1410&context=gjicl

[43] The avoidance of nuclear war fighting in any form was a major conclusion of the Project Daniel Group in its 2003 report to Prime Minister Arik Sharon: 

Click to access 2905LouisReneBeres.pdf

[44] See, for example:  http://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/28836

[45] The reference here is to modifying or ending “deliberate ambiguity,” Israel’s longstanding policy of a “bomb in the basement.”  See: http://www.herzliyaconference.org/eng/_Uploads/dbsAttachedFiles/LouisReneBeres.pdf

[46] In absolutely all matters of calculable deterrence, whether conventional, nuclear or both, a presumption of enemy rationality is sine qua non. It follows that in those foreseeable circumstances wherein enemy rationality cannot be expected, security methods other than deterrence must immediately be sought.

[47] On such issues, see the latest book by Professor Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). See also, by Professor Beres: http://www.inss.org.il/uploadImages/systemFiles/adkan17_3ENG%20(3)_Beres.pdf  and, from Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School: http://harvardnsj.org/?s=louis+rene+beres

[48] For an early book by Professor Beres dealing with the expected effects of a nuclear war, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980).  https://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Nuclear-Catastrophe-World-Politics/dp/0226043606/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8   See also, by Professor Beres: http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1318&context=auilr

[49] From the standpoint of international law, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking an enemy first in the expectation that the only 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, however, is launched not out of genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but for fear of a longer-term deterioration in a pertinent military balance.  Hence, in a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is very short, while in a preventive strike the interval is considerably longer. A problem for Israel, in this regard, is not only the practical difficulty of determining imminence, but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained imminence is acknowledged ,could be fatal.

[50] Among other more obvious dangers, if Israel should refrain from striking first until an enemy state or states had actually acquired nuclear weapons, these new nuclear powers could implement protective measures that would then pose additional hazards to the Jewish State. Designed to guard against preemption, either by Israel or by other regional enemies, these measures could involve the attachment of “hair trigger” launch mechanisms to nuclear weapon systems, and/or the adoption of “launch on warning” policies, possibly coupled with certain pre-delegations of launch authority.  This means, in essence, that Israel would be increasingly endangered by steps taken by its nuclear enemies to prevent a preemption. Optimally, Israel would do everything possible to prevent such steps, especially because of the expanded risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks against its own armaments and populations. Yet, if such steps were to become a fait accompli, Jerusalem might still calculate, correctly, that a preemptive strike would be legal and cost-effective. This is because the expected enemy retaliation, however damaging, might still appear more tolerable than the expected consequences of enemy first-strikes  –  strikes likely occasioned by the failure of “anti-preemption” protocols.

[51] Although it cannot be ruled out that an Israeli non-nuclear preemption would lead to nuclear exchanges (this would depend on the effectiveness and breadth of Israeli targeting, the surviving number of enemy nuclear weapons, and the willingness of some enemy leaders to risk Israeli nuclear counter-retaliations), such exchanges appear more likely if Iran were ultimately allowed to deploy nuclear weapons without any meaningful interference. Should such deployment ever take place, Israel could conceivably confront a rationally-compelling incentive to launch a nuclearpreemption. In the plainly worst-case scenario for Jerusalem, one where even properly intersecting levels of conventional and nuclear deterrence had failed to protect Israel and where Israel had undertaken a nuclear preemption without any confirmable success (i.e., without destroying an essential number of enemy missiles and warheads), literal survival of the State would then essentially rest upon the country’s multiple and closely-interlinkedactive defenses. 

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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AUKUS: Human-made disaster

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AUKUS is a new military alliance that emerged recently, among Australia, UK, and The US. Under this alliance, it has been declared that Australia will be equipped with nuclear submarines. There exists a panic in the region as Australia was not a declared nuclear state and if equipped with a nuclear submarine, whether or not, it is safe? Scholars and intellectuals have various opinions, but, agreed on one point that it will promote a nuclear race in the region. I believe, the spread of nuclear weapons, especially those who have no experience of handling nuclear submarines, maybe not be safe. It can be mishandled or accidentally, can cause any incident of disaster not only for Australia but for the whole region. Keeping nuclear weapons, need special safeguards and different temperament. To be a mature and responsible state is a prerequisite for having nuclear weapons, it also needs different ethics and principles to be equipped with such lethal weapons.

On the other hand, while NATO is there and Quad was created to specifically counter China, was there any genuine need for creating a new alliance like AUKUS? Is NATO abandoned? How the NATO member state thinks to ward AUKUS, one can imagine. Anyhow, they are hurt and mistrust has been created among NATO and the US.  First of all, The US is not at its peak to offend or compel any other country, like EU member states, and on other hand, the US economy is not in such a state, where it can support the luxury of defense expenditure like before. It is right to approach to cut defense expenditures and spend more of the socio-economic welfare of the country, but to create a new alliance is negating such an approach.

Many EU member states are confused and upset and in the days to come, the gap may widen further. First of all, some of the EU countries are in close cooperation with China economically. China has become the largest trading partner and investor for many EU countries. Dependency on the US has reduced considerably.

Especially, France is offended as it was in the advanced stage of negotiations with Australia for a similar deal but suddenly hijacked by the US and UK. France has lost a big opportunity and it’s her right to react and protest. France has called back its Ambassadors from Australia and the US. This is an initial reaction, but, more actions may be seen in the near future.

France, in a reaction, has announced to collaborate with India in a similar manner, which is not welcomed by Asian partners, as it will create a race in the region. Furthermore, India is in the hands of an extremist Hindu political party – RSS. RSS is a fanatic party and can go to any extent, without thinking about the consequences. It is not safe for the region to equip India with nuclear submarines.

This region is highly populous, China with its population of 1.4 billion, India itself is 1.2 billion, and the rest of countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Maldives, collectively constitutes almost half of the world’s population. If any misadventure happened in this region, half of the population of the whole world is under threat.

It will be not a wise decision to promote nuclearization, either by the US, UK, or France. One mistake cannot be compensated for by making another one. It will be a total disaster for humankind.

Humankind needs peace and prosperity. Human-made disasters can be averted and must be averted. It is the right time to take appropriate measures to stop nuclearization and the promotion of the nuclear race in this part of the world or any other part of the world. It is our individual’s responsibility to raise our voice and bring public awareness of such human-made disasters. Collectively we may avert such disasters, all peace-loving nations and individuals must join efforts to neutralize such deals and agreements. Countering China, to take such extreme actions is not justified. The US may review its decisions and avert disaster to humankind.

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Presidential Irrationality and Wrongdoing in US Nuclear Command Authority

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Credit: U.S. Air Force

Abstract: In post-World War II memory, no greater political danger has confronted the United States than the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Endowed with nuclear command authority, this unstable and openly law-violating American leader pointed the United States toward existential harms.[1] Recognizing this threat to the nation’s physical survival, General Mark Milley acted honorably and effectively to protect an imperiled republic. By expanding pertinent safeguards against any presidential abuse of nuclear command authority,[2] the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff did what was necessary and proper. The following assessment by Professor Louis René Beres, who has been publishing on nuclear war-related issues[3] for more than half a century, underscores what should never again be allowed to defile America’s national security decision-making. “The safety of the people,” reminds Cicero in The Laws, “shall be the highest law.”

——————

“As to dangers arising from an irrational American president, the best protection is not to elect one.”

General Maxwell D. Taylor, from personal letter to the author, 14 March 1976[4]

Meanings of Decisional Irrationality

Strictly speaking, irrationality is not a proper medical or psychiatric term; rather, it is a more-or-less scientific description of human distortion and behavioral disposition.[5] Still, as a convenient shorthand for exploring mental or emotional debility in US presidential decision-making, this colloquial reference is adequate, timely and potentially useful. In essence, though now just retrospective, America’s most senior general officer revealed assorted verifiable grounds for questioning former President Donald J. Trump’s mental stability. Now, looking ahead, it is necessary to take a longer term and generic look at US presidential nuclear authority.

               This look must become a task for disciplined strategic thinkers, not politicians.

               How to begin? This uniquely critical area of presidential decision-making – one that has remained ambiguous or deliberately “opaque” – concerns both the right and capacity to order a launch of US nuclear weapons. To be tangibly meaningful, these intersecting decisional components must always be examined together. This is the case though any presidential nuclear capacity functioning without correct antecedent authority would be worrisome per se.

               By definition, as I have discovered personally over the past half century, these are all complicated intellectual matters. In 1976, then just five years out of Princeton as a newly-minted Ph.D., I began work on an original book about nuclear war and nuclear terrorism.[6]  From the start, I focused especially on US presidential prerogatives to order the firing of nuclear weapons.  I was most particularly interested in the potentially-plausible prospect of presidential nuclear irrationality and/or wrongdoing.

               In technically scientific terms, this did not mean a US president who was “clinically insane” (obviously the most fearsome sort of scenario), but “only” a Head of State who might sometime value some specific preference or combination of preferences more highly than American national survival. Today, at least until General Milley’s revelations, we worry more about leadership irrationality in certain other countries, most conspicuously in North Korea and Iran.[7] Nonetheless, as the JCS Chair recently disclosed, the worst atomic decisional errors could happen here. Even if this were not the case, there could still take place  variously unforeseen decisional synergies between (1) a fully rational American president and his irrational negotiating counterparts in Pyongyang or Tehran;[8] or (2) an irrational American president and his expectedly rational counterparts in such conspicuously adversarial states.[9]

In the Beginning

               Back “in the early days” of apocalyptic nuclear issues, and with an expressly American decision-making focus in mind, I entered into ongoing communication with then-former JCS Chairman Maxwell Taylor. In my last correspondence with the distinguished and decorated general, he responded with a handwritten letter (attached hereto) dated 14 March 1976. As the Taylor response explicitly referenced only the dangers of an “irrational American president,” I could legitimately undertake no automatic extrapolation of his diagnosis to other strategic risks.[10]

Still, there are various related hazards that ought never be disregarded prima facie.  For example, we must become better prepared to deal with a US Chief Executive who appears more than irrational. This means a president who was seemingly “crazy,” “insane,” or “mad.”[11]

               It is difficult for me to imagine that General Taylor would have hesitated to adapt these characterizations of more advanced decisional “pathology” to the extant subject-matter scope of nuclear decision making. This is the case even though such characterizations could never be seriously scientific. To obtain authentically scientific assessments of nuclear event probability, there must first exist a determinable frequency record of pertinent past events. Unassailably (and fortunately), there has never been a nuclear war from which to draw valid strategic inferences.

               There is more. Any US presidential order to launch nuclear weapons would be effectively sui generis. The US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II did not constitute a nuclear war, but rather the American use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional war. In August 1945 (the month of my own birth in war-torn Europe), there were no other atomic bombs anywhere on earth.

               Not a one.

Whether concerned with presidential irrationality or madness, present analytic concern should be focused upon an emotionally or mentally debilitated president.[12]  Whichever applies, the truly vital questions going forward will have to do with Constitutional, statutory and other recognizable sources of US war-making authority, especially presidential right to order the use of nuclear weapons.

International Law and US Law

Urgent questions here will relate to assorted and sometimes subtle intersections of international law and US law. From the beginning of the United States, international law has been an integral part of its national law. Early on, Chief Justice John Marshall asserted and reasserted that all international law – whatever its source – had been incorporated into the domestic law of the United States.[13] Before Marshall, William Blackstone’s Commentaries on The Law of England clarified that the “law of nations” is always “a necessary part of  the law of the land.”

These Commentaries represent the authoritative foundation of all United States law.

               Under current US law, whatever its apparent jurisprudential origins, a president may correctly use military force once Congress has declared a war or after the US (and/or its citizens) have been attacked.[14] As to the permissible kinds of force and levels of force, these operational decisions would have to be determinable according to longstanding laws of war of international law (the comprehensive law of armed conflict or humanitarian international law), and also the municipal law of the United States. In any such foreseeable circumstances, there would exist no clearly identifiable prohibitions against nuclear force per se.[15]

               For better or for worse, non-weapon-specific prohibitions would apply broadly, to the extent that any US retaliation or counter-retaliation would violate the always-binding expectations of discrimination (sometimes called “distinction”), proportionality,[16] or military necessity.[17]

               Both the US Constitution and the War Powers Act place strict limits on any president’s authority to initiate hostilities with a foreign power, whether by conventional or nuclear means. A significant grey area has to do with the Commander-in- Chief’s right to strike first defensively or preemptively; that is, as a presumptive expression of “anticipatory self-defense.[18] Here, the authorizing component of permissibility must be the perception of any grave danger that is “imminent in point of time.”

               Logically, the relevant criteria of “imminence” could not reasonably be the same today as they were back in a pre-nuclear 1837. That was the year of the Caroline, the classic case setting the correct legal standard for all subsequent preemptive national action.[19]

Matters of Chronology and Crisis

               What should we have expected from former President Donald Trump if he had sometime reasoned that a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies was “imminent in point of time?” Should we have remained comfortable with leaving such a prospectively existential judgment to his own personal decisional standards of the moment? Or should this eleventh-hour option have been be a matter of more plainly shared or “concurrent authority” with the US Congress?[20]

               In actual state practice, applicable questions of law are apt to be subordinated to the overarching and ubiquitous assumption[21] that any  president’s final authority in defending the United States should never be challenged during an impending or already-ongoing crisis. This sort of assumption would become especially worrisome in circumstances where an enemy nuclear attack could be contemplated and anticipated. In brief, this means that a verifiably irrational or mad American president would likely have his military commands obeyed, up to and including an order to use nuclear weapons. This reasoning applies also to preemptive American strikes, whether launched in retaliation or counter-retaliation. It also means that while a wide variety of redundant safeguards already exists to prevent unauthorized uses of American nuclear weapons up and down the identifiable nuclear chain of command, no parallel safeguards can exist at the top or apex of this unique decisional hierarchy.

               This was the precise conclusion reached in General Maxwell Taylor’s 1976 letter to me (attached hereto) on nuclear command authority.

               There is more. It remains possible, of course, and even potentially desirable, that a presidential order to use nuclear weapons would be disobeyed at one or another recognizable level of implementation. Strictly speaking, however, as any such expression of disobedience would be “illegal,” it is not sufficiently probable or reliable in extremis atomicum. The staggering irony of actually having to hope for certain high-level instances of disobedience or chain-of-command failures ought not be too casually set aside.

               Prima facie, this irony reveals that extant US nuclear-decision safeguards are sorely and overwhelmingly inadequate.

The Best Protection Lies with the American Voter           

               Is the US nuclear presidential authority dilemma remediable in any still-promising ways? “The best protection,” I learned from General Maxwell Taylor almost fifty years ago, is “not to elect” an irrational president. But now, as such straightforward advice cannot be acted upon retroactively, the residually “best protection” must lie elsewhere Among potentially gainful sources, this suggests more vigilant statutory oversight by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor and certain select others. This oversight also includes a more predictably reliable willingness – either singly or in appropriate collaboration with the others – to disobey any presumptively irrational or insane presidential nuclear command.

               Such willingness could be correctly defended as law-enforcing under those universally binding Nuremberg Principles (1946)[22] that obligate all persons (especially senior government officials everywhere)  to resist “crimes of state.” Because war and crimes against humanity are not mutually exclusive, compliance with overriding Nuremberg Principles could become necessary not only to limit aggression, but also to prevent genocide.[23]

               Ultimately, America’s best chance of avoiding or surviving such a grievous threat could depend less upon any codified law or tangible institutions than the last-minute or impromptu courage of a handful of senior officials. Though any such estimation must be less than ideal or optimal, it may simply be “realistic.” To wit, it was the courage and insight of a single senior decision-maker, JCS Chair Mark Milley, that firmed up necessary Constitutional protections against a severely debilitated commander-in-chief.

Buttressed by national and international law, it is incumbent upon voting American citizens to act upon General Maxwell Taylor’s 1976 warning.[24] That earlier alarm, which cautioned “not to elect” a potentially “irrational” American president, should be extended to include even a potentially “insane” Commander-in-Chief. In the final analysis, however, we may not be able to rely upon prudential and law-oriented voters to effectively save the United States from itself – that is, from prospectively aberrant nuclear decision-making. In that intolerable case, all narrowly statutory or technical directions on nuclear decision making would be overtaken by  visceral expectations of American “mass.”[25]

               Then it would be too late.

 American democracy owes a sincere debt to US General Mark Milley. In the sycophancy-driven Trump world, a world of determined anti-reason, Milley’s reliance upon law and virtue was much more than merely acceptable.[26] For US national integrity and survival, it was indispensable.

But what should we do now?


[1] For informed accounts by this author of nuclear attack effects, see: Louis René Beres,  The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1973); Louis René Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1975);  Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago and London: 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); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016; 2nd ed., 2018).

[2] This expansion included urgent consultations with chiefs of the armed forces and conversations with foreign leaders concerned about Trump-induced US instabilities.

[3] These publications have been both strategic and legal in focus.

[4] General Taylor was an earlier Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. His handwritten letter to Professor Beres follows this article and the author’s bio. On August 18, 2017, Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill to the US House of Representatives that would have required President Donald Trump to undergo a mental health examination to determine if he is emotionally stable enough to remain in office. The proposed legislation expressly invoked the 25th Amendment, a rarely-used Constitutional provision allowing the vice-president and members of the Cabinet to remove a president from office. Rep. Lofgren’s bill did not become law.

[5] “Science,” says 20th-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis, ” by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual – is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…. the latter is not possible without the former.”

[6] This book was published by the University of Chicago Press as Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980).

[7]Irrational adversaries would likely not be 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).

[8] Expressions of decisional irrationality could take different or overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[9] Nuclear risks threatening US security could form an intricately interconnected network. Capable assessments of such risk must eventually include a patient search for synergies, and also for possible cascades of failures that would represent one especially serious iteration of synergy. Other risk properties that will warrant careful assessment within this genre include contagion potential and persistence.

[10] One such generally ignored risk is “playing to the audience,” that is, seeking personal popularity at the expense of national security. Accordingly, see Sophocles, Antigone, Speech of Creon, King of Thebes: “I hold despicable and always have…. anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[11] Donald Trump’s presidency brings to mind those 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.

[12] Significantly, neither the irrational/rational nor insane/sane distinction is narrowly dichotomous. There are, rather, multiple or “continuous” variations of each pairing, an indisputable fact that makes any more far-reaching psychological or legal analysis of these already-complex nuclear decision-making issues even more problematic.

[13]  See also “Supremacy Clause” of the US Constitution (Article VI); The Paquette Habana, 175 US 677,700 (1900); and Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726, F.2d. 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) per curiam).

[14] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp. (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[15] See, on such issues: Summary of the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (Advisory Opinion), 1996.

[16]  The principle of proportionality has its jurisprudential and philosophic origins in the Biblical Lex Talionis, the law of exact retaliation. The “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” can be found in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah, or Biblical Pentateuch.

[17] The principle of “military necessity” is defined authoritatively as follows: “Only that degree and kind of force, not otherwise prohibited by the law of armed conflict, required for the partial or complete submission of the enemy with a minimum expenditure of time, life, and physical resources may be applied.” See: United States, Department of the Navy, jointly with Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps; and Department of Transportation, U.S. Coast Guard, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, NWP 1-14M, Norfolk, Virginia, October 1995, p. 5-1.

[18] Long before the nuclear age, Swiss scholar Emmerich de Vattel took a position in strong favor of anticipatory self-defense. Vattel concludes The Law of Nations (1758) as follows: “The safest plan is to prevent evil, where that is possible. A nation has the right to resist the injury another seeks to inflict upon it, and to use force and every other just means of resistance against the aggressor.” (See 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). Vattel, in the conspicuously earlier fashion of Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius, (The Law of War and Peace, 1625) drew widely upon ancient Hebrew Scripture and Jewish law.

[19] The Caroline concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally been sufficient in law to justify certain appropriate militarily defensive actions. In a formal exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then US Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for national self-defense that did not require antecedent attack. Accordingly, the authoritative jurisprudential framework now permitted a military response to threat as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” Naturally, this standard could sometimes be more easily met in our time-compressed and prospectively apocalyptic nuclear age.

[20] Reflecting this second point-of-view, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D, LA County) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D, Massachusetts) introduced H.R. 669 (Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017) back on 24 January 2017. Although this proposed legislation would have prohibited the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a Congressional Declaration of War, it’s not clear that it could also have dealt satisfactorily with the irrationality/insanity issues herein under discussion. Moreover, the proposed legislation seemed to make no meaningful distinction between a nuclear first-strike and a nuclear first-use. https://lieu.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressman-lieu-senator-markey-introduce-restricting-first-use-0

[21] In part, at least, this implicitly core assumption is rooted in our continuously-anarchic system of international relations, a decentralized structure often referred to by the professors as “Westphalian.” The reference here is to the landmark Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty-Years War and created the still-extant state 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 major agreements comprise the historic “Peace of Westphalia.”

[22] See Affirmation of the Principles of International Law Recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, Adopted by the UN General Assembly, 11 December 1946. Inter alia, these Principles underscore the formal jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between states. This peremptory expectation, known in formal law as a jus cogens assumption, was already evident in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 The Law of War and Peace (1625; Chapter 20); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (1758; Chapter 19).

[23] See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 9 December 1948; Entered into force, 12 January 1951.

[24] “The safety of the people,” Cicero warns prophetically in The Laws, “shall be the highest law.”

[25] The “mass-man,” we may learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset The Revolt of the Masses, “learns only in his own flesh.” Seem, also, by Professor Beres, at Yale: Louis Rene Beres,  https://archive-yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/call-intellect-and-courage; and at Princeton: Louis Rene Beres: https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness

[26] There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

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Defense

American Weaponry in the Hands of the Taliban

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Source: Twitter

The hasty withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan attests to both the indifference of the U.S. administration as regards the future of Afghanistan as a state and the neglect for its obligations to its allies. Besides, Washington has clearly violated the current UN Security Council sanctions regime against the Taliban, which was established in accordance with Resolution 1988 (2011).

Paragraph 1, subparagraph (c), of the Resolution calls on all countries to “prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of arms and related material of all types including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts” to the Taliban and other individual groups, undertakings and entities associated with them [1].

Washington faced serious backlash for violating the UN sanctions regime upon abandoning weaponry and ammunition during an abrupt evacuation of troops from the country—such as when U.S. troops left Bagram, the largest airbase in Afghanistan, without warning the local Afghan army in early July, 2021. General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, the new commander of Bagram Air Base, stated that Afghan soldiers only later learned of the Americans having departed, once they had all “disappeared into the night.” This is important as this proves that the Americans did not transfer weaponry and ammunition to the Afghan army through official channels. Since U.S. troops had turned off electricity at the airbase, looters soon found their way in, with barracks and storage tents ransacked. Among the “trophies” left by the Americans were hundreds of armored vehicles and ammunition, all of which ended up in the hands of the Taliban, either that very night or after Bagram being taken over (see image 1).

Image 1: Armored vehicles (left) and ammunition (right) deserted by the Americans at Bagram Airbase.

Source: RIA Novosti (left) and Haroon Sabawoon – Anadolu Agency (right)

According to The Military Balance, a military journal published annually, Afghan government forces had 640 MSFV armored security vehicles, 200 MaxxPro armored fighting vehicles and several thousand Hummers at their disposal. The Afghan Air Force had 22 EMB-314 Super Tucano (А-29) light attack aircraft (see image 2), four C-130H Hercules transport aircraft, 24 Cessna 208B and 18 turboprop PC-12s. The Army Air Corps boasted 41 MD-530F light turbine helicopters and as many as 30 multi-mission UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters (see image 2).

Image 2: A light attack EMB-314 Super Tucano (А-29) aircraft captured by the Taliban at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport (left) and a light MD-530 F multi-role helicopter (center); a multi-mission UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter in the sky above Qandahar with what seems to be a person hanged by the Taliban (right).

Source: Twitter

On August 17, 2021, Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Advisor, confirmed that a significant amount of U.S. weapons had fallen into the hands of the Taliban. “And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport,” he noted, thus confirming that the United States allowed the indirect transfer of weapons to what the UN Security Council has designated a terrorist organization.

This is not the first time that Washington has violated a UN Security Council Resolution. For example, a statement by Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, suggests that the United States released four Taliban members from Guantanamo in 2014, all of whom were on the Security Council sanctions list, to send them to the Middle East.

This was quite in line with the U.S. policy incepted back in 2010 and aimed at engaging in direct dialogue with the Taliban. This led to the UN Security Council Committee—established pursuant to Resolution 1267 on sanctions against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda—breaking up into two independent sanction mechanisms[2]. The UN Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1988 devised procedures that allow for a more liberal approach to the Taliban list (compared to those involved with Al-Qaeda), excluding those mentioned in consolidated lists of persons, groups and entities subject to restrictions.

Such facts should, in fact, be subject to the scrutiny of the UN Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1988 (including its Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team), in whose proceedings the Russian Federation takes part and whose mandate implies monitoring compliance with Taliban-related sanctions as well as presenting periodic reports on sanctions measures to the Security Council.

Prospects of the U.S. imposing sanctions against Russia in connection with the Taliban

It is important to recognize that the “Taliban issue” could become somewhat of a scapegoat for Washington, especially in the eyes of its allies, to impose even more anti-Russia sanctions. In addition to the Executive Order on Blocking Property with Respect to Specified Harmful Foreign Activities of the Government of the Russian Federation signed on April 15, 2021, the White House published a Fact Sheet outlining key accusations against Russia, which include reports on rewards for the murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. According to the document, the Biden administration is taking measures following the intelligence reports of Russia having encouraged Taliban attacks on the U.S. and alliance contingent in Afghanistan. Since such allegations directly affect the safety and well-being of U.S. troops, a solution can be found through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels.

Biden’s executive decree foresees the introduction of blocking sanctions for attempts to challenge the credibility of elections in the United States and allied countries, malicious hacker activities, spreading corruption internationally, crackdowns on dissidents and journalists, undermining security and stability in countries and regions important for U.S. national security interests, and the violation of international law, including the territorial integrity of states.

The reason for the Biden administration’s concern is likely a story published in The New York Times in June 2020 claiming that Russian military intelligence had offered Taliban-affiliated militia a reward for the murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Sources of the newspaper claimed to have uncovered such information during interrogations of Afghan militia.

As a result, senator Robert Menendez suggested in September 2020 that the U.S. Congress move forward with yet another anti-Russia sanctions package, the Russia Bounty Response Act of 2020. The Act implied freezing assets, visa restrictions for President Vladimir Putin, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and other high-ranking officials, as well as restrictions on defense enterprises. The initiative was supported by Dem. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. In an interview with MSNBC, she emphasized the need to immediately impose sanctions against Russia for “colluding” with the Taliban.

In his turn, however, former President Donald Trump called The New York Times story “a fake,” stating that the article had been ordered for political reasons. Trump went on to state that the U.S. intelligence had acknowledged the information used in the publication was misleading. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said there was no evidence of a “conspiracy” between Russia and Taliban officials. The Taliban also denied information from The New York Times about existing ties with Russia.

One should bear in mind that the United States and Russia are adopting more polarized stances regarding the situation in Afghanistan, which became evident during the UN Security Council meeting on August 30, 2021, when Moscow and Beijing refrained from supporting the West-drafted resolution on Afghanistan. Thus, Washington will look for any excuse to discredit Russia. An effective instrument in counteracting such sanctions, hoaxes and other foul play common for the United States should be that of keeping a meticulous record of Washington’s violations of the UN Security Council sanctions regime against the Taliban to present the findings to the international community.

  1. The Taliban is a terrorist organization that is banned in Russia under Decision No. 03-116 of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated February 14, 2003, which entered into force on March 4, 2003.
  2. Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization that is banned in Russia under Decision No. 03-116 of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated February 14, 2003, which entered into force on March 4, 2003.

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