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Science, Security and American Nuclear Strategy: An Intellectual Challenge

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“…. science – 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….”José Ortega y’Gasset, Man and Crisis (1958)

Strategy and Truth: The Immutable Primacy of Intellect

Sometimes,truth is counter-intuitive. At first, observers might think, and especially during bewildering times of “plague,”[1] that verifiable considerations of science must outweigh any proposed remedies of politics. In fact, however, for the United States, this has been an historical moment of utterly rabid anti-intellectualism. Even more specifically, it has been a retrograde era, one in which conspicuous delusions and conspiratorial gibberish have often superseded Reason and Rationality.

               What has been happening? The resultant perils remain potentially existential; they ought not be ignored. In essence, by exhibiting a once-unimaginable level of citizen indifference to biology and medicine – an indifference vigorously applauded by former US President Donald J. Trump – millions of Americans wittingly surrendered their very lives. As we earlier learned from former White House Covid advisor Dr. Deborah Birx,[2] the American nation suffered more than a 400,000 unnecessary deaths[3] during virulent stages of the Covid19 pandemic.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian.“I believe because it is absurd.” We live at an unsteady time wherein faith in politicized absurdity could prove recurrently lethal, and not just in glaringly palpable matters of virology. Though less apparent, enhanced theoretic understanding is similarly indispensable for explanation and prediction in various other subject disciplines. These worrisome areas include military strategy in general and nuclear strategy in particular.[4] 

               This essay concerns the latter.

               To begin, variously unseen connections must be brought to the fore. A determinable disease trajectory could have tangible or calculable bearing on a country’s nuclear posture. It follows, in such cases, that learning more about certain pathogens (e.g., the Corona virus) could also prove useful to enhancing national security protections. Looking back systematically over several thousand years of recorded human history, those nation-states that were purposefully attentive to war-disease intersections likely fared much better in security terms than those that foolishly chose to downplay Reason.

               Even for experienced military planners and nuclear strategists, the core importance of refined strategic theory is all-too-frequently minimized or disregarded. Whenever this happens, no matter how savvy and sophisticated individual planners’ résumés may first appear, investigative conclusions (both tactical and operational) will prove too narrow or limited. There is a residual chance that these results could lead an otherwise capable analyst in productive policy directions, but there also exists no defensible reason for strategic inquiry to have been “backward” in the first place. 

               Irony can sometimes be detected in such circumstances. Today’s US military planners and strategists are impressively familiar with myriad and deeply complex aspects of war and defense; still, they simultaneously lack in certain closely associated and necessary philosophical skills. This tangible deficiency has nothing to do with any specifically methodological shortcomings. On the contrary, America’s relevant thinkers are visibly talented in virtually every pertinent area of data collection, data manipulation and analytic assessment. Nonetheless, such a pervasively unphilosophical spirit[5] does reflect a lamentable lack of acquaintance with philosophy of science.

               Significantly, for any such lack of acquaintance, there will be serious policy costs.

               There is more. One prospective policy cost is “epistemological.” This means it has to do with willful scholarly detachment from even the most elementary “rules” of concept formation, hypothesis creation, the so-called “problem of induction”[6] and an assortment of closely related intellectual expectations.[7] Going forward, the decipherable consequences of epistemological detachment, however inadvertent, could range from reassuringly trivial to plausibly catastrophic.

               There will be correct and incorrect ways to commence inquiry. In any scientific study of strategic military issues, inquiry must begin with an appropriate hypothesis.[8] Thereafter, and further to what we first learned from Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Karl Popper, Carl Hempel and various others,[9] this tentative explanation, with its identifiable and testable linkages between independent and dependent variables, would need to undergo apt deductive elaboration.[10] This “unpacking” would then be followed (wherever possible) by empirical testing of all logically “entailed” propositions.

               The hoped-for result of such systematic efforts must always be a detailed network of deductively interrelated propositions; that is, an intellectual construct more formally known as theory. Without suitable theoretical guidance, strategic thinking must inevitably be ad hoc, partial and problematic. A recent example is former President Donald J, Trump’s post-Singapore Summit conclusion that North Korea would “denuclearize” (instantly) because the two respective leaders had “fallen in love.”

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

               For US military planners – especially those with prospectively nuclear responsibilities – strategic theory should exhibit inestimable practical value. In all sectors of human knowledge, not just in US national security matters, refined theory provides the capable investigator with an indispensable “net.” Regarding such expressions of sustained and disciplined scientific thought, not merely ones regarding America’s strategic challenges, only those scholars who “cast” can expect to “catch.”[11]

World System Structure and America’s Nuclear Strategy

                To optimize their difficult and conscientiously non-political work, US strategists will need to begin at the beginning, acknowledging that global anarchy, the unchanging structural context of subsequent inquiries, is never just an idiosyncratic circumstance. As these strategists  should immediately learn to recognize, anarchy and chaos are both deeply rooted in the codified and customary foundations of modern world politics.[12] More than anything else, these legal and geopolitical structures point to still-expanding conditions of chaotic regional disintegration.

               Yet, even in chaos, which is never the same as anarchy, there may be discernible regularities, a sort of fixed “geometry”[13] which will then need to be properly identified and carefully studied.

               Out of the bewildering mêlée of what is now unraveling in widely-scattered American policy venues, US strategic thinkers can still identify a usable tableau for national survival, but only if they first choose to cast finely-crafted analytic “nets.” One current arena of concern is Russia’s ongoing military buildup near Ukraine. During the non-theoretic Trump years, Vladimir Putin   felt (understandably) that the American president was under Moscow’s will (Lenin and Stalin would have called Donald Trump “Putin’s Useful Idiot”), but this demeaning presumption is no longer warranted.

               There is more. World and regional politics remain notably multifaceted and bewildering. There can be no good argument for examining current and future threats to US national security as if each threat were expressly singular or logically unrelated to other threats. Always, there are foreseeable interactions between individual catastrophic harms, so-called synergies.

                Prima facie, these complex interactions could make the potentially existential risks of anarchy and chaos incrementally more pressing.

From Anarchy to Chaos

                 “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” warned the Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”  Now, assembled in almost two hundred armed tribal camps formally termed nation-states, all peoples coexist uneasily and more-or-less insecurely on a fractured planet. History takes no sharp corners. The  jurisprudential and civilizational[14] origins of this radically decentralized world lie in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), a foundational/civilizational treaty that ended the Thirty Years War and inaugurated the still-extant “balance-of-power” state system.[15]

               Now anarchy is more portentous than ever before. This enlarged vulnerability owes largely to the manifestly unprecedented fusion of chaoswith potentially apocalyptic weaponry. Even worse, such never-to-be-used weaponry is expected to expand or “proliferate.” Accordingly, in the United States, the head of STRATCOM, the country’s top nuclear commander, muses openly about deterioration of the American strategic triad. More specifically, Admiral Charles Richard worries that the aging Minuteman III ICBM force could be abandoned, and that a robust US bomber force would need to take its place as the always-ready leg of America’s nuclear deterrent.

               For the moment, only the missile-bearing submarines and ICBMs are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

               Russia, of course, has its own nuclear triad; China is progressing along very similar theoretic lines. Today, says Admiral Richard, what you have in the US “is basically a dyad.” In 2017, the Department of Defense announced that the USAF was preparing to put back nuclear bombers on 24-hour alert, but this vital step was never actually taken.

               What happens next? Will America allow itself to be guided by vacant political rhetoric and bravado (the Trump concept of nuclear strategizing) or take seriously the intellectual imperatives of fashioning sound strategic theory?[16] In a plausible worst case scenario, circumstances will obtain where there will be no safety in arms and no promising rescues from legitimate political authority. In time, recurrent wars could rage until every flower of sustainable culture is trampled and until all things human are more-or-less leveled in some primal disorder.The worst,” remarked Swiss playwright, Friedrich Durrenmatt succinctly, “does sometimes happen.”

               In history and world politics, the “worst” is a very old story. So, too, is anarchy. Chaos, however, is not.

               There are meaningful differences between anarchy and chaos. Oddly, chaos and anarchy may even represent opposite end points of the same dissembling continuum.Historically,”mere”anarchy, or the absence of viable central world authority, is “normal.” Chaos, however, is sui generis.[17] It is “abnormal.”

               There is more. Since the seventeenth century, our anarchic world can best be described as a system.  What happens in any one part of this interconnected world necessarily affects what happens in some or all of the other parts.  When a deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one nation to another, the corrosive effects can undermine regional and/or international stability. When this deterioration is rapid and catastrophic, as it would be following the start of any unconventional war and/or act of unconventional terrorism, the corollary effects would be correspondingly immediate and overwhelming.

               These effects would be chaotic.

               Aware that even an incremental collapse of remaining world authority structures would impact America’s friends and allies as well as its foes, US leaders will need to heed Durrenmatt’s compelling observation about the “worst,” and advance precise and plausible premonitions of collapse. These fearful premonitions would be needed to chart more durably scientific paths to national security. Presumably, such critical awareness is not yet in place. It is, nonetheless, a meaningful warning.[18]

               Looking beyond Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and a political philosophy that formed much of the wellspring of America’s founding fathers and documents, the specific triggering mechanism of our beleaguered world’s incremental descent into chaos could originate from mass-casualty attacks, from similar attacks against other western democracies, from a mass-dying occasioned by disease pandemic or even from assorted synergies between these causes. Alternatively, it could draw literally explosive nurturance from the belligerent use of nuclear weapons in seemingly distant regions. If, for example, the first military use of nuclear weapons after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were initiated by North Korea or Pakistan, Israel’s nuclear survival strategy could then have to be re-considered and aptly modified.[19]

               The precise “spillover” impact on the United States of any nuclear weapons use by North Korea or Pakistan would depend, at least in part, upon the specific combatants involved, the expected rationality or irrationality of these combatants, the yields and ranges of the nuclear weapons actually fired and the aggregate calculation of civilian and military harms suffered in the affected areas. These would be intellectual calculations, not political ones.

Systemic Changes, Science and America’s Nuclear Strategy

               Any chaotic disintegration of the world system wouldfundamentally transform the American system. Again, recalling Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, such a transformation could ultimately involve total or near-total destruction. In anticipation, the US will soon have to orient its basic strategic planning to an assortment of worst-case prospects, thereby focusing far more deliberately on science than politics.[20] Such a re-orientation is already underway at STRATCOM with particular respect to America’s strategic triad.

                The State of Nations remains the State of Nature. For the United States, certain prominent but time-dishonored processes that are conveniently but erroneously premised on allegedly “scientific” assumptions of reason and rationality will have to be renounced.[21]  For Americans, the expectedly fragmenting situation in post US-withdrawal Afghanistan represent just a beginning. Here, wider patterns of anarchy, chaos and disorder are more-or-less inevitable. What might still be avoided by proper intellectual attention is mega-destruction.

               Such indispensable avoidance will require more than just good luck. It will demand a distinctly primary and antecedent awareness that in our current world politics, as in any other primordial state of nature, survival ultimately demands resolute courage, an openly intellectual imagination and the determined conviction that any huge short-term national losses are preferable to long-term collective disappearance. Any such awareness would represent a fundamentally intellectual challenge, not just a narrowly operational one.

Rationality, Irrationality, and Enhancements of American Strategic Planning

               Historically, a science-based correlation of forces approach to strategy has generally been applied as a tangible measure of competitive armed forces, ranging from quantitative considerations at the subunit level and extending to clarifying assessments of major military formations. It has also been used to compare resources and capabilities at operational levels of day-to-day strategy and at much higher levels of “grand strategy.” At times, this particular application has been related to the similar but less comprehensive strategic notion of”force ratios.”

               Presently, facing a conceivably broader and more ominous variety of existential security threats than before, perils originating from both state and sub-state adversaries, the United States must undertake various broader and more complex correlation of forces assessments.  In this new and determinedly scientific search, President Biden’s appropriate planners must consciously employ more than the traditionally “objective” yardstick for scientific measurement of potentially adversarial forces. Though US defense strategists routinely compare all available data concerning the numerical and qualitative characteristics of relevant units, including personnel, weaponry and equipment, field commanders will also need to cultivate certain newly subjective kinds of understanding.

               Such an unorthodox recommendation may appear to fly in the face of the usual military science emphases on tangible facts, but – in war as well as in peace – these “facts” are often the result of manifestly personal and particular interpretations.

               There is more. In exploiting a suitably improved concept of a science-based strategic theory, President Biden’s senior planners will seemingly have to reject a basic axiom of “geometry.” They will need to recognize, among other things, that certain critical force measurements must not only remain imprecise, but that such imprecision may also include important forms of strategic understanding. A particular enemy’s consuming dedication to certain presumed religious expectations, its utterly uncompromising strength of will,[22] could sometime resist any traditional sorts of measurement, but would still remain determinative.

               In science-based strategic assessments, just as in various judgments of human psychology, there are ascertainable variables that will remain refractory to measurement, but still be of considerable explanatory importance.[23]

               Always, history has primary pride of place. Several emerging hazards to America’s national security will be shaped by the durably “Westphalian” geometry of chaos. In this delicately unbalanced and largely unprecedented set of imprecise calculations, the “whole,” paradoxically, may turn out to be more (or less) than the sum of its “parts.” It follows, looking ahead, that US strategic planners will need to bring a still more nuanced and intellectually unorthodox approach to their science-based work. This means, especially, an original awareness that proper planning could sometimes presume enemy irrationality[24] and that such planning must also be able to distinguish between authentic enemy irrationality and pretended enemy irrationality.

                How can the American military planner recognize the difference between real and contrived irrationality? This is an increasingly urgent question; it cannot be answered by any standard references to more traditionalmodes of strategic analysis. Nor can it ever be answered by an American president who would value “attitude” over “preparation,” claiming, as did former President Donald J. Trump, that risks of a nuclear war had disappeared because two national leaders “fell in love.”

               Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.”

               Any such preposterous presidential claim ought to have elicited myriad howls of execration, not widespread public acquiescence or deafening silence.

               Any such presidential claim was caricatural, not intellectual.

               This ought already to have been obvious by definition.

               But it was the open and never-modified claim of US President Donald Trump following his June 12, 2018 Singapore Summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.[25]

               These same issues of rational decision-making will have to be looked at from the standpoint of optimizing America’s capacity to project purposeful images of strategic nuclear policy. Reciprocally, US planners will have to decide when (if ever) this country would be better served in its deterrence and war-fighting capabilities[26] by some deliberate projections of limitedor partial irrationality.Naturally, any such projection would be enormously problematic, and strategists would need to remain ever-mindful of pretended irrationality as a double-edged sword. Brandished too provocatively, after all, various strategic preparations could unexpectedly encourage enemy preemptions.

               By its improved use of science-based strategic thinking, the US president would need to seize every available operational initiative, including appropriate intelligence and counterintelligence functions, to best influence and control a particular enemy’s matrix of values and expectations. This is a tall policy order, of course, especially as multiple enemies could include both state and sub-state adversaries, (“hybrid” enemies), often with substantial and subtle interactions taking place between them. Moreover, at some point in an age of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the consequences of assorted strategic planning failures spawned by politics could become overwhelming. The only foreseeable remedy for such intolerable failures must be an antecedent national focus on science and intellect.

Moving Toward a Science-Based Correlation of Forces

               More precise strategy questions should now arise. In greater detail, with new and particular uncertainties arising, what should be the more holisticUS concept of a correlation of forces? Always, this is a proper question for science and intellect, not for politics.

               This concept must take careful account of all enemy leaders’ intentions as well as capabilities. Such an accounting is always more subjective than any more traditional assessments of personnel, weapons and basic logistical data.  Any such accounting will also need to be thoughtful and nuanced rather than based exclusively on behavioral profiles.

               It will not be enough for US plannersto judiciously gather and examine relevant hard data from all of the usual sources. It will also be important to put American planners directly into the “shoes” of each relevant enemy leader, president, king or terrorist, thus determining, among other things, what US capacity and vulnerability looks like to them. In the language of philosophy of science, such a perspective is commonly identified as “Verstehen.”[27]

               Next, expanding more precisely what has just been discussed, any properly scientific correlation of forces concept must take close account of enemy leaders’ presumed rationality.  Any adversary that does not conform to the rules of rational behavior in world politics might not be deterred by any US threats, military or otherwise. This is the case even where this country would possess both the capacity and resolve to make good on deterrent threats. 

               Where an enemy state or sub-state would not value its own continued survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences, the standard logic of deterrence could be immobilized. Correspondingly, all bets would be off concerning probable enemy reactions to US retaliatory threats. What then?

               Insofar as assassination/targeted killing may be considered a particular form of preemption (“anticipatory self-defense[28] under international law),[29] it is plausible that the United States could sometime abandon any operational plans for more standard and recognizable forms of a defensive first-strike, but still remain more or less willing to selectively target enemy leaders and/or nuclear scientists. In essence, viewed from the standpoint of an expanded and science-based strategic orientation, this could mean a more formal inclusion of assassination[30] and sabotage within this country’s overall strategic doctrine.[31] It goes without saying that any such inclusion would be fraught with both legal and operational difficulties.

                There is more. US strategic planning assessments will also need to consider the organization of changing enemy state units; their training standards; their morale; their reconnaissance capabilities; their battle experience; and their suitability/adaptability to the prospective battlefield.  Traditionally, these sorts of assessment are quite ordinary, and not exceedingly difficult to make or innovate on an individual or piecemeal basis.  But now, suitably creative policy planners will be those who are best able to conceptualize such ordinarily diverse factors together, in tandem.  Recalling Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War,one vital purpose of this new strategic holism should be to avoid protracted warfare. The ancient Chinese strategist’s observation that “No country has ever profited from protracted warfare….” is always meaningful to American strategic thought. Now it should be even more meaningful. This is because the longer a particular conflict proceeds, the greater may be compelling national incentives to escalate to progressively higher forms of military destructiveness.

                Always, US assessments must consider scientifically the cumulative capabilities and intentions of America’s non-stateenemies; that is, the entire configuration of anti‑American terrorist groups. In the future, such assessments must offer more than any simple group by group consideration. The particular groups in question should be considered in their entirety, collectively, as they may interrelate with one another vis-à-vis the United States.  These several hostile groups might also need to be considered in their particularly interactive relationship with certain core enemy states. This last point would best be characterized as an essential science-based search for prospective synergies between assorted state and sub-state adversaries.

               This brings our analysis to the concept of “asymmetric warfare.” Today, especially in the Middle East and southwest Asia, crucial asymmetries may lie not in particular force structures or ratios, but rather in hard-to-measure levels of determination or strength of will. Clausewitz, in his Principles of War (1812), speaks of a comparable need for “audacity.” This special quality represents a potentially crucial variable for American strategic planners. Still, by definition, it must elude any kind of sharply precise or tangible measurement.

               Finally, and once again recalling Sun Tzu – this time, his spatial injunction that “If there is no place to go, it is fatal terrain” –  US strategic planning judgments should take suitable note of still-ongoing metamorphoses of fragmented non-state adversaries into sovereign state adversaries.  To wit, in post-US withdrawal Afghanistan, Taliban elements could rapidly undergo such worrisome transformations. Similar concerns could resurface with Hezbollah elements in a once-again deteriorating Lebanon. Here, nothing accomplished by former US President Trump’s Abraham Accords could be helpful or remediating.

Synergies and Force-Multipliers

               In the inherently bewildering matter of synergies, American strategic planners will need to consider and search for new “force multipliers.” A force multiplier is a collection of related characteristics, other than weapons and force size, that may make any military organization more effective in combat. A force multiplier may be generalship; tactical surprise; tactical mobility; or certain command and control system enhancements. It could  include less costly forms of preemption such as assassination[32] and sabotage. It could include certain well-integrated components of cyber-warfare, and also a reciprocal capacity to prevent and blunt incoming cyber-attacks.

               Now, this particular force multiplier could prove more decisive than any others. Though plainly nonexistent in times of Sun-Tzu and Clausewitz, “cyber-audacity” already represents a core component of America’s broadened scientific approach to nuclear strategy.

               There is more. The insertion of certain force multipliers may create synergy.

Before this can happen, senior strategists must ensure that their analyses and consequent recommendations are systematically detached from any false hopes. Accordingly, the ancient advice of Thucydides (416 BCE), writing on the ultimatum of the Athenians to the Melians during the Peloponnesian War, should remain instructive: “Hope is by nature an expensive commodity, and those who are risking their all on one cast find out what it means only when they are already ruined….” A good recent example of such a perilous leadership contrivance was former President Donald Trump’s dissembling assurance to Americans that North Korea would no longer be a threat because he and Kim Jong Un had “fallen in love.”

               The overriding objective of any science-based strategic nuclear plan must be to inform leadership decisions about two complementary variables: (1) perceived vulnerabilities of the United States; and (2) perceived vulnerabilities of enemy states and non-states. This means, inter alia, gathering and assessing crucial accessible information; for current example, information concerning the expected persuasiveness of this country’s nuclear deterrence posture. To endure well into the increasingly-uncertain future, such information, and not a concocted series ofunfounded political hopes, must always remain at the core of US nuclear strategy

                Conceptually, in a world of growing international anarchy and possible chaos,[33] this means that science-based US strategy  include (1) recognizing enemy force multipliers;  (2) challenging and undermining enemy force multipliers;  and (3) developing and refining America’s own force multipliers.

               It is routinely assumed that US security from enemy missile attack is ensured by American nuclear deterrence, however opaque. But any such vital strategy of dissuasion must depend upon many complex and interpenetrating conditions and perceptions. Per se, America’s possession of nuclear weapons can never automatically bestow real national security.

               A rational nation-state enemy of the United States will always accept or reject a first-strike option against this country or America’s allied states by comparing the costs and benefits of each available alternative. Where the expected costs of striking first were presumed to exceed expected gains, this enemy would be deterred. But where these expected costs were believed to be exceeded by expected gains, deterrence would fail. Here, an American ally could be faced with enemy nuclear attack, whether as a “bolt from the blue” or as outcome of anticipated or unanticipated crisis-escalation.

               An example would be crisis in northeast Asia involving North Korea and US security guarantees of “extended deterrence” to South Korea and/or Japan. Here, in extremis atomicum, contendingstates vying for “escalation dominance” could suddenly find themselves in midst of uncontrollable nuclear war,[34]

 Strengthening America’s Science-Based Nuclear Deterrent

               In thinking about science and strategy, an immediate task for Washington will be to strengthen its nuclear deterrent such that any enemy state will always calculate a first-strike to be irrational. This means taking all proper steps to convince these enemy states that the costs of such a strike will always exceed the benefits. To accomplish this overriding objective, America must convince prospective attackers that it maintains both the willingness and the capacity to retaliate with presumptively calibrated (not “one size fits all”) nuclear weapons.

               Should an enemy state considering an attack upon a US ally be unconvinced about either one or both of these essential components of nuclear deterrence, it might then choose to strike first, depending upon the particular value or “utility” that it places on the expected consequences of such an attack. In part, it is precisely to prevent just such an “unconvincing” nuclear deterrence posture that the United States should now consider revealing still more specifics of its pertinent nuclear force.

               To protect itself against enemy nuclear strikes, particularly attacks that could carry intolerable costs, US defense planners will need to prepare to exploit every relevant aspect and function of their nation’s nuclear arsenal. The success of America’s effort here will depend not only upon its particular choice of targeting doctrine (“counterforce” or “counter value”), but also upon the extent to which this choice is made known in advance to enemy states and their sub-state surrogates. Before such enemies could be suitably deterred from launching first strikes against US allies, and before they could be deterred from launching retaliatory attacks following any American-supported preemptions, it may not be enough for them to know that this country maintains a vast nuclear arsenal.

               Regarding US ally Israel, American planners working on a more science-based strategic paradigm will need to understand the following: Removing the bomb from Israel’s “basement” could enhance Israel’s nuclear deterrent to the extent that it would enlarge enemy perceptions of secure and capable Israeli nuclear forces.[35] Any such calculated end to deliberate ambiguity could also underscore Israel’s willingness to use these nuclear forces in reprisal for certain enemy first-strike and retaliatory attacks. From the standpoint of a science-based Israeli nuclear deterrent, IDF planners should always proceed on the assumption that perceived willingness is just as important as perceived capability.

Maintaining a Viable Preemption Option

               There are determinable circumstances in which a science-based nuclear deterrence strategy would lead American and/or Israeli planners to consider certain preemption options. This conclusion obtains because there could sometime arise circumstances in which the existential risks of continuing to rely upon some combination of nuclear deterrence and active defenses would  become too great.[36] In such perilous circumstances, US decision-makers would need to determine whether such essential defensive strikes, known jurisprudentially as expressions of “anticipatory self-defense,”[37] would be cost-effective. [38] Here, their judgments would depend upon a number of potentially intersecting and critical factors, including:  (a) expected probability of enemy first-strikes; (b) expected cost (disutility) of enemy first-strikes; (c) expected schedule of enemy unconventional weapons deployments; (d) expected efficiency of enemy active defenses over time; (e) expected efficiency of active defenses over time; (f) expected efficiency of hard-target counterforce operations over time; (g) expected reactions of unaffected regional enemies; and (h) expected world community reactions to US and/or Israeli preemptions.

               No doubt, US strategic planners will note that rational American and/or Israeli inclinations to strike preemptively would be affected by the particular steps taken by prospective target states (e.g., Iran, North Korea) to guard themselves against preemption. Science-based planners must presume that such policies could sometime call for the retaliatory launch of bombers and/or missiles upon receipt of warning that an enemy attack is already underway. By requiring launch before the attacking US or Israeli warheads actually reached their intended targets, any enemy reliance of launch-on-warning processes could carry very grave and expanded risks of catastrophic atomic error.

               The single most important factor in rendering science-based judgments on preemption must be the expected rationality of enemy decision-makers. If, after all, these leaders could be expected to strike the US or a US ally with nuclear forces irrespective of anticipated counterstrikes, deterrence would cease to work. This means that certain enemy strikes could be expected even if the enemy leaders fully understood that the US and/or US ally had “successfully” deployed its nuclear weapons in survivable modes; that its nuclear weapons were believed to be capable of penetrating the enemy’s active defenses; and that leaders were conspicuously willing to retaliate.

               Also conceivable is that pertinent foes would sometime be neither rational nor irrational, but mad. While irrational enemy decision-makers would already pose special problems for nuclear deterrence, they might still be rendered susceptible to certain alternate forms of deterrence. This means, much like fully rational enemy decision-makers, that they could still be expected to maintain a fixed, determinable and “transitive” hierarchy of preferences.

               Genuinely mad adversaries, on the other hand, would display no such calculable hierarchy of preferences and would not be subject to any ordinary strategies of nuclear deterrence. Although it would be worse for the US or pertinent US ally to face a mad nuclear adversary than a “merely” irrational one, Washington would have no meaningful say in such a matter. Conceptually, this means that America and certain of its allies will need to maintain a “three-track” system of nuclear deterrence and defense, one track each for adversaries that are presumed to be rational, irrational, or mad.

               A seriously complicating factor in utilizing any such trichotomous distinction would be the practical difficulty of sorting out the correct enemy inclination in particular moments of adversarial confrontation and decision.

Science, Asymmetry and Nuclear War Fighting

                 Now facing variously new forms of chaotic regional disintegration,[39] it is time for the United States to go beyond its already-expanded science-based paradigm of numerical military assessments to various additional considerations. Within this wider and more self-consciously scientific  strategic paradigm, US planners should focus, among other areas, upon the cumulative and interpenetrating importance of unconventional weapons[40] and low-intensity warfare in the region. This is an area of concern that is uniquely complex and increasingly urgent; “geometrically,” it suggests that the “whole” of security threats now facing the US and certain US allies is prospectively greater than the calculable sum of its discrete and more-or-less observable “parts.”

               “Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in his On War, “but the simplest thing is still difficult.” For America, looking forward, this means, inter alia, an overriding obligation to forge, dialectically and deductively, sound strategic theory – that is, a coherent network of interrelated propositions from which suitable policy options could be readily identified, rank-ordered, and selected. In more starkly conceptual terms, this means a self-consciously theoretical consideration of (1) all plausible interactions between available strategic options; and (2) all plausible synergies between expected enemy attacks (state and sub state).

               Always, these are proper matters for science, not politics.

               Various additional nuclear narratives now demand US scientific attention. Certain terror attacks could draw in one or more of America’s state enemies, or the adversarial terror group itself could become more-or-less independently nuclear. In this plausibly more ominous second scenario, the expected danger would arrive not in the form of any “chain reaction” nuclear weapons attack, but instead as a relatively tolerable “dirty bomb.”

               Taken by itself, the dirty-bomb variant of nuclear terrorism would pose no authentic hazards of mass destruction; yet, at least in some expected synergies with other kinds of attack, both state and sub-state, the overall security costs could still prove considerable.

The Overall Strategic Challenge:  A Bewildering Contest of “Mind Over Mind”

               Figuring out a dense amalgam of propositions will present US military nuclear planners with a computational task on the highest order of intellectual difficulty. But there is no other serious option. Whatever else these planners may decide is best in their ongoing strategic assessments, they must never lose sight of the central fact that their most basic task concerns a continual scientific struggle of “mind over mind,” never merely one of “mind over matter.”[41]

               There is one last compelling observation to be made about science, doctrine and America’s strategic posture. It is that this incomparable component of national security planning must include an ever-present and dynamic “avant garde, a commitment to “advance” that could continuously enrich US strategic studies. In essence, by embracing this originally-military notion of a constantly changing and cross-fertilizing intellectual vanguard, America’s nuclear planners could be best positioned to remain creative and useful in executing their complex and daunting security obligations.[42]

                According to Thucydides, when the ancient Athenian leader Pericles delivered his first Funeral Speech at the start of the Peloponnesian War, he cautioned: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies is our own mistakes.” It is such imperishable wisdom that should now guide US nuclear strategists in the uncertain years ahead. This means avoiding not merely the most conspicuously worthless kinds of strategies –  e.g., former President Donald J, Trump’s incoherent conclusion at the June 12, 2018 Singapore Summit that North Korea was no longer a nuclear problem because he and Kim Jong Un had “fallen in love”[43] – but also more seemingly sensible and fact-based strategies. These strategies would be anti-science orientations and policies founded upon an apparent “common-sense.”[44]  

               For the United States, no subject could be more urgently important than nuclear strategy, a set of problems that will never yield to narrowly visceral intuitions or to the related banalities of domestic politics. Going forward in the current Biden Era, America must return to an earlier post-World War II awareness that any such set warrants a response that is inherently and conspicuously intellectual.[45] To be sure, recalling Trump’s presidential nuclear promises regarding both North Korea and Iran, reassuringly simplistic phrases of ordinary political discourse would appear less daunting and thus more popular. Inevitably, however, offering such disingenuous palliatives (akin to saying that a grave pandemic disease would “disappear on its own”) would prove embarrassing, foolish and dangerously wrong.

               At that late date, it would be too late to elevate science-based strategy over a perpetually futile politics.

               On June 22, 1633, the Inquisition delivered its final verdict on astronomer-scientist Galileo Galilei. “We say, sentence and declare that you, Galileo, by reason of the evidence arrived at in the trial, and by you confessed as above, have rendered yourself in the judgment of this Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy.” Galileo had gotten in trouble for using scientific observation to support evidence-based Copernican theory that the Earth was in orbit around the sun. More precisely, ruled the Inquisitors, Galileo had believed in a doctrine “false and contrary to divine Scripture” that the Sun (not the earth) is the center of the universe. It was perhaps the quintessential example of humankind’s most refractory and anti-intellectual inclinations. Ultimately, it was driven by the ubiquitous religious promise of human salvation, an always-compelling promise that duly compliant individuals can acquire power over death.[46]

               By definition, there can be no greater form of power on planet Earth.


               Though no longer in a seventeenth century grip of doctrinal anti-reason, the present day United States is facing certain similar problems of faith and science. Even today, there are various dominant orthodoxies animating citizen politics, and such fear-based orientations to human reasoning are also casually indifferent to verifiable scientific truth. Now, when such deeply entrenched belief-systems come up against properly fashioned hypotheses, systematically-gathered data and diligent analysis, it is too-often the former that emerge triumphant. Soon, should such an ironic triumph of incoherence and anti-reason take hold in matters of American nuclear deterrence, the cumulative result could be worse than the forced confession of a great, gifted and honorable scientist.

               Far worse.

               It could be a result, as portended in Hamlet, that “would harrow up thy soul.”

[1] Observes Albert Camus in The Plague: “At the beginning of the pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric…. It is only in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth, to silence.”

[2] See:

[3] Former US President Donald J. Trump, who received his own Covid19 vaccination in secret and consistently ridiculed mask wearing, advised Americans that the disease would eventually “disappear on its own,” that “only about 1 per cent” of afflicted individuals would suffer any palpable discomfort and that injecting household disinfectants could have a useful therapeutic role. ( This was the same president who had earlier counseled the use of nuclear weapons against hurricanes and praised American Revolutionary War military forces for “taking control of all airports” during the 18th-centiry conflict.

[4] “Theory is a net,” philosopher Karl Popper learned from the German poet Novalis, “only those who cast, can catch.”

[5] In his sweeping defense of Reason, German philosopher Karl Jaspers writes generically: “The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of Truth.” See, Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (Archon Books, 1971; first English edition, 1952).

[6] Still the best discussion of the “problem of induction” is found at Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), especially Chapter 1. In essence, Popper explains “…it is far from obvious, from a logical point of view, that we are justified in inferring universal statements from singular ones, no matter how numerous.” And in his most famous passage, he continues: “…no matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this can never justify the conclusion that all swans are white.” (p. 27).

[7] One such expectation is known as “Occam’s Razor” or the “principle of parsimony.” In essence, it stipulates a preference for the simplest possible explanation still consistent with scientific method. Regarding our current concerns for American nuclear strategy, it suggests, inter alia, that this country’s military planner not seek to identify and examine absolutely every potentially-important variable, but rather to “say the most, with the least.” This presents a significant and often neglected cautionary idea, because, all too often, strategists and planners mistakenly attempt to identify every conceivably pertinent factor, effectively distracting themselves from forging more purposefully efficient or “parsimonious” theory.

[8] A hypothesis is a necessary guide. It does not emerge spontaneously when inquiry is concluded. It should function throughout the entire conduct of inquiry, organizing and integrating all empirical findings into a single coherent system. Without a tentative “answer” in the express form of an hypothesis, there would exist no usable criterion for properly judging whether considered “facts” are relevant or irrelevant.

[9] One should also recall, in this connection, Morris R. Cohen, Ernest Nagel, Rudolf Carnap and John Stuart Mill.

[10] A hypothesis is said to be “scientific” only where it is expected to yield deductive consequences which are then suitably testable by experience. A classic example would be Newton’s famous demonstration that Kepler’s early findings in Astronomia Nova (The New Astronomy) on planetary motion and elliptical planetary orbit was mathematically deducible from the law of universal gravitation.

[11] The scholar’s “cast” must always be linked to expressly dialectical thought processes. Back in the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerged as the preferred form of early “scientific” investigation. Plato describes the dialectician as one who knows how to ask and then to answer questions. In fashioning a usable strategic theory, US planners will first need to better understand this core expectation –  even before they proceed to the usual analytic compilations of facts, figures, orders of battle and regional balances of power.

[12] This jurisprudential/strategic reference is to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War, and created the still-enduring state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1, Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two agreements comprise the Peace of Westphalia. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan was first published in 1651, just three years after the Peace of Westphalia. It is at Chapter XIII that Hobbes famously references the Westphalian “state of nature” as an anarchic situation characterized by “continuall feare; and danger of violent death….” Not much has changed.

[13] The term “geometry” is used here merely as an elucidating metaphor, not in the more technically usual or Newtonian sense of a literally calculable and decipherable space.

[14] On the meaning of “civilizational,” it will be instructive to consider Michel Leiris’ (Born in Paris in 1901, a member of the Surrealist Group from 1924 – 1929) apt metaphor:  “However little taste one might have for proposing metaphors as explanations, civilization may be compared without too much inexactness to the thin greenish layer – the living magma and the odd detritus – that forms on the surface of calm water and sometimes solidifies into a crust, until an eddy comes to break it up.  All our moral practices and our polite customs, that radiantly colored cloak that hides the coarseness of our dangerous instincts, all those lovely forms of culture we are so proud of – since it is thanks to them that we can still call ourselves “civilized” – are ready to disappear at the slightest turbulence, to shatter at the slightest impact (like the thin mirror on a fingernail whose polish cracks or roughens), allowing our horrifying primitiveness to appear in the interstices, revealed by earthquakes, when these cosmic revolutions burst the fragile skin of the earth’s circumference and for a moment lay bare the fire at the center, whose wicked and violent heat keeps even the stones molten.”  See:  Michel Leiris, “Civilization,” in Brisees: BROKEN BRANCHES, San Francisco: North Point Press, 1989, p. 19.  Michel Leiris, a poet and member of the Surrealist Group, an art critic and an anthropologist, has had a major impact on French culture for many years.  His comment on “civilization” is offered in Brisees together with other nonfiction pieces, addressing such topics as Joan Miro, Stephane Mallarme, Pablo Picasso, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Marcel Duchamp.

[15] Recalling the Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman, Cicero, in The Letters to His Friends: “For what can be done against force, without force?” During the nuclear age, the traditional term, “balance of power,” has sometimes been replaced with a more appropriate “balance of terror.” For the actual origins of this replacement, se Albert Wohlstetter, “The Delicate Balance of Terror,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 37, No.2., January 1959, pp. 211-234.

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

[17] Whether it is described in the Old Testament or in other discernible sources of ancient Western thought, chaos can also be viewed as a source of human betterment. Chaos is that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. Further, as its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but where all civilizational opportunity must inevitably originate. Appropriately, the great German poet Friedrich Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic which stands at the roots of the things and which prepares all things.” Even in the pagan ancient world, the Greeks thought of such a desert as logos, which indicates to us that it was presumed to be anything but starkly random or without conceivable merit.

[18] Seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes argues convincingly that the international state of nature is “less intolerable” than that very same condition among individuals in “nature.” This is because, in the latter, the “weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” Significantly, with the spread of nuclear weapons, this critical difference is disappearing. Interestingly, perhaps, in the pre-nuclear age, Samuel Pufendorf, like Hobbes, was persuaded that the state of nations “…lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” Similarly, Spinoza suggested that “…a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” (See: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10, No.3., 1972-73, p. 65.)

[19] On various intersections of Israel’s nuclear strategy and US nuclear strategy, see: Professor Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey, ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY AND AMERICA’S NATIONAL SECURITY, Tel Aviv University, Israel, and Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, Tel-Aviv, December 2016.

[20] Niccolo Machiavelli joined Aristotle’s earlier plan for a scientific study of politics with various core assumptions about geopolitics or Realpolitik. His best known conclusion focuses on the eternally stark dilemma of practicing goodness in a world that is generally evil. “A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything, must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good.”  See: The Prince, Chapter XV. Although this argument is largely unassailable, there is also a corresponding need to disavow “naive realism” and to recognize that, in the longer term, the only outcome of “eye for an eye” orientations to world politics will be universal “blindness.”

[21] In this connection, as we may learn from the philosopher Karl Jaspers, Reason and Existence (1935): “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.”

[22] The modern philosophy origins of the term “will” lie in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps even more importantly upon Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948), and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[23] Oddly, perhaps, one of these variables is the promise of immortality, or primal power over death. This is always the ultimate form of conceivable power. US strategic planners may learn from Lucretius’ poem, On the Nature of Things. The core “message” of this ancient Epicurean text could have very serious current and future implications for America’s security. What the young Virgil, citing Lucretius, called “fear of the doom against which no prayer avails,” still leads many to wantonly destroy human life. Because the affected individual fails to understand the delicate life balance between destructive and creative forces, he/she is deeply anxious about personal dissolution. This individual, to use the precise mythical categories first set forth by Lucretius himself, will be on the “side of mars,” rather than “Venus,” thereby reaching out to the rest of the world aggressively rather than compassionately. Individuals, and therefore also certain states, have now largely accepted an attitude toward death that turns them directly toward the variously presumed and palpable pleasures of violence.  

[24] On deterring a prospectively irrational nuclear Iran, 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).

[25]This incoherent claim, founded upon an irreducible ethos of anti-intellectualism, could be compared to the former president’s observations about Covid-19 pandemic. Said President Donald J. Trump on April 23, 2020: “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And there is a way that we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs.” If this statement at a Covid-19 Task Force press conference were insufficient evidence of presidential incapacity, Trump then continued: “I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re going to test that too…. So, we’ll see, but the whole concept of the light, the way it kills in one minute, that’s pretty powerful.”

[26] Nuclear war fighting per se must never be an acceptable strategic option for Israel. Always, Jerusalem’s nuclear weapons and doctrine must be oriented toward deterrence, not actual combat engagements. This conclusion was central to the Final Report of Project Daniel: Israel’s Strategic Future, ACPR Policy Paper No. 155, ACPR, Israel, May 2004, 64 pp. See also: Louis René Beres, “Facing Iran’s Ongoing Nuclearization: A Retrospective on Project Daniel,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vo. 22, Issue 3, June 2009, pp. 491-514; and Louis René Beres, “Israel’s Uncertain Strategic Future,” Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College, Vol. XXXVII, No.1., Spring 2007, pp, 37-54. Professor Beres was Chair of Project Daniel (PM Sharon).

[27] The classic article explaining this useful concept is Theodore Abel, “The Operation Called `Verstehen,’” American Journal of Sociology, Vol., 54, 1948-49, pp. 211-218; reprinted in Edward H. Madden, The Structure of Scientific Thought (1960).

[28] The customary right of anticipatory self-defense is the legal expression of preemption, and has its modern origins in the Caroline Incident. This incident was part of the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. See Beth Polebau, “National Self-Defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U. L. REV. 187, 190–91 (noting that the Caroline Incident transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a customary legal doctrine). Following the Caroline, even the threat of an armed attack has generally been accepted as justification for a militarily defensive action. 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 does not actually require a prior armed attack. See Polebau, op. cit., citing to Jennings, “The Caroline and McLeod Cases,” 32 AM. J. INT’L L., 82, 90 (1938). Here, a defensive military response to a threat was judged permissible as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.”

[29] See, especially, Louis René Beres, “Facing Iran’s Ongoing Nuclearization: A Retrospective on Project Daniel,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 22, Issue 3, June 2009, pp. 491-514; Louis René Beres, “Religious Extremism and International Legal Norms: Perfidy, Preemption and Irrationality,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No. 3., 2007/2008, pp. 709-730; Louis René Beres, “On Assassination, Preemption and Counterterrorism: The View From International Law,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 21. Issue 4., December 2008, pp. 694-725. For earlier writings by this author on anticipatory self-defense under international  law, see: Louis René Beres, Chair, The Project Daniel Group, ISRAEL’S STRATEGIC FUTURE: PROJECT DANIEL, ACPR Policy Paper No. 155, ACPR (Israel), May 2004, 64pp (this paper was prepared for presentation to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and transmitted by hand on January 16, 2003);  Louis René Beres, SECURITY THREATS AND EFFECTIVE REMEDIES: ISRAEL’S STRATEGIC, TACTICAL AND LEGAL OPTIONS, ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, ACPR (Israel), April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, ISRAEL’S SURVIVAL IMPERATIVES: THE OSLO AGREEMENTS IN INTERNATIONAL LAW AND NATIONAL STRATEGY, ACPR Policy Paper No. 25, ACPR (Israel), April 1998, 74 pp; Louis René Beres, “Assassinating Saddam Hussein: The View From International Law,” INDIANA INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW REVIEW, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2003, pp. 847- 869; Louis René Beres, “The Newly Expanded American Doctrine of Preemption: Can It Include Assassination,” DENVER JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW AND POLICY, Vol. 31, No. 2., Winter 2002, pp. 157-177; Louis René Beres and (Col/IDF/Ret.),  Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, “Reconsidering Israel’s Destruction of Iraq’s Osiraq Nuclear Reactor,” TEMPLE INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW JOURNAL, Vol. 9, No. 2., 1995, pp. 437-449; 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. 10-24;  Louis René Beres, “On Assassination as Anticipatory Self-Defense: Is It Permissible?” 70 U. DET. MERCY L. REV. U., 13 (1992); Louis René Beres, “On Assassination as Self-Defense: The Case of Israel,” 20 HOFSTRA L. REV 321 (1991); Louis René Beres, “Preserving the Third Temple: Israel’s Right of Anticipatory Self-Defense Under International Law,” 26 VAND. J. TRANSNAT’L L. 111 (1993); Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense,” 13 HOUS. J. INT’L L. 259 (1991); Louis René Beres, “Israel and Anticipatory Self-Defense,” 8 ARIZ J. INT’L & COMP. L. REV. 89 (1991);  Louis René Beres, “After the Scud Attacks: Israel, `Palestine,’ and Anticipatory Self-Defense,” 6 EMORY INT’L L. REV. 71 (1992); and Louis René Beres, “Israel, Force and International Law: Assessing Anticipatory Self-Defense,” THE JERUSALEM JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Vol. 13, No. 2., 1991, pp. 1-14.

[30] International law is not a suicide pact. Assassination/targeted killing, subject to applicable legal rules of discrimination, proportionality and military necessity (humanitarian international law), may sometimes represent the least injurious form of permissible self-defense. Where genuinely genocidal attacks are being planned, the permissibility of assassination as anticipatory self-defense could even be unassailable. The residual permissibility of assassination derives originally from the “Westphalian” logic of international law. The authoritative world legal order is obligated to protect us all from clear and terrible infringements on our physical safety, yet our fundamentally anarchic system still lacks an independent centralized mechanism to fulfill this obligation. In the best of all possible worlds, assassination/targeted killing could have no defensible place in law and policy. But we do not yet live in such a world, and the manifestly negative aspects of such lethal remedies cannot be properly evaluated apart from other available options. Such aspects must always be compared to what would be expected of these other options. If the expected human costs of assassination/targeted killing should sometimes appear lower than the expected costs of alternative resorts to military force, such lethality can emerge as the rational and moral choice. However odious it might appear in isolation, assassination/targeted killing could, at least in certain circumstances, represent the best overall option. This option will always elicit widespread indignation, even by those who would find ordinary large-scale warfare appropriate. But the civilizational promise of achieving more genuine worldwide security is still far from being realized; inevitably, existentially imperiled states will still need to confront critical policy choices between employing assassination/targeted killing in doctrinally limited circumstances or renouncing such unsavory tactics at the possible expense of survival. In facing such difficult choices, these states could quickly discover that all viable alternatives to the assassination/targeted killing option must include large-scale violence, and these these alternatives are apt to exact a substantially larger cumulative toll in human life and suffering.

[31] From the standpoint of international law, it could also be reasonable to examine assassination/targeted killing as a possible and permissible form of ordinary self-defense; that is, as a forceful measure of self-help short of war that is undertaken after an armed attack occurs. Tactically, however, from a correlation of forces perspective, there are at least two serious problems with such a position: (1) In view of the ongoing proliferation of extraordinarily destructive weapons technologies, waiting to resort to post-attack self-defense could be unacceptably dangerous or even fatal; and (2) assassination/targeted  killing, while it may prove to be helpful in preventing an attack in the first place, is substantially less likely to be useful in mitigating further harms once an enemy attack had already been launched.

[32] In his Utopia, published in 1516, Thomas More offered a curious but clarifying juxtaposition of foreign policy stratagems and objectives. Although the Utopians are expected to be generous toward other states, they also offer rewards for the assassination of enemy leaders (Book II). This is not because More wished to be gratuitously barbarous, but rather because he was a realistic utopian. Sharing with St. Augustine (whose City of God had been the subject of his 1501 lectures), a fundamentally dark assessment of human political arrangements, More constructed a “lesser evil” philosophy that favored a distinctly pragmatic kind of morality. Sir Thomas More understood that the truly tragic element of politics is necessarily constituted of conscious choices of evil for the sake of good. With regard to this investigation of US security and correlation of forces, this suggests that assassination must always be seen as disagreeable in the “best of all possible worlds” (for example, the Leibnizian world satirized by Voltaire in Candide), but that it may still offer an indispensable expedient in a world that remains distressingly imperfect.

[33] This actual condition of anarchy stands in stark contrast to the jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between all states in the presumably common struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a peremptory expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption), is 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); Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[34] See, by this author, Louis René Beres:

[35] See Louis René Beres, “Changing Direction? Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” INSS, Israel, Strategic Assessment, Vol. 17, No. 3, October 2014, pp. 93-106. See also: Louis René Beres, Looking Ahead: Revising Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity in the Middle East, Herzliya Conference Policy Paper, Herzliya Conference, March 11-14, 2013 (Herzliya, Israel); Louis René Beres and Leon (Bud) Edney, Admiral (USN/ret.), “Facing a Nuclear Iran, Israel Must Rethink its Nuclear Ambiguity,” US News & World Report, February 11, 2013, 3pp; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon (Bud) Edney, “Reconsidering Israel’s Nuclear Posture,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2013. Admiral Edney served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT).

[36] On pertinent Israeli liabilities of ballistic missile defense, see: Louis René Beres and (Major General/IDF/ret.) Isaac Ben-Israel, “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Louis René Beres and MG Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,” Washington Times, June 10, 2007; and Professor Louis René Beres and MG Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009.

[37] Even before the nuclear age, legal theorists took strong positions in support of anticipatory self-defense. Emmerich de Vattel, the Swiss scholar, concludes in The Law of Nations (1758): “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.” Vattel, similar to Hugo Grotius in The Law of War and Peace (1625) drew upon ancient Hebrew Scripture and derivative Jewish Law. The Torah contains a provision exonerating from guilt a potential victim of robbery with possible violence if, in capable self-defense, he struck down and, if necessary even killed the attacker, before he committed any crime (Exodus, 22:1.) Additionally, says Maimonides, “If a man comes to slay you, forestall by slaying him.” (Rashi, Sanhedrin, 72a). Finally, apropos of pertinent legal criteria here, the Talmud expressly categorizes a war designed “to diminish the heathens, so that they shall not march against them” as milhemet reshut,” or discretionary (Sotah, 44b).

[38] An antecedent or corollary concern must also be the ethical or humanitarian calculus in these circumstances. Although an ideal world order would contain “neither victims nor executioners,” such an optimal arrangement of global power and authority is assuredly not yet on the horizon. (This phrase is taken from Albert Camus, Neither Victims nor Executioners (Dwight Mc Donald., ed., 1968)). Confronting what he called “our century of fear,” Camus asked his readers to be “neither victims nor executioners,” living not in a world in which killing has disappeared (“we are not so crazy as that”), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate. This is a fine expectation of the philosopher, but certainly not one that can be purposefully harmonized with strategic or even jurisprudential realism. Deprived of the capacity to act as lawful executioners, both states and individuals within states facing aggression, terrorism and/or genocide would be forced by Camus’ reasoning to become victims. The core problem with Camus’ argument, therefore, is that the will to kill remains unimpressed by others’ commitments to “goodness.” This means that both within states, and also between them, executioners must still have their rightful place, and that without these executioners, there would only be more victims.

[39] An expression of such a “new form” would be Russia’s substantial buildup of forces in Syria since the collapsed ceasefire in September 2016. This build up includes more trained personnel to operationalize the newly-delivered S-300 surface-to-air missile system. In examining the consequences of this development dialectically, it will likely deter significant U.S. military actions in Syria. During his own dissembling presidential tenure, Donald Trump did nothing to interfere with Vladimir Putin’s geo-strategic ambitions, treating Russia more as an ally than adversary.

[40] For earlier looks at the expected consequences of specifically nuclear attacks, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1986).  See also, much more recently, by Ami Rojkes Dombe, “What Happens When a Nuclear Bomb Hits a Wall?”  Israel Defense, September 10, 2016.

[41] For this generically useful distinction, I am indebted to F.E. Adcock’s classic volume, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), especially Chapter IV.

[42] More generally, on the search for an avant garde in strategic studies, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, “On the Need for an Avant Garde in Strategic Studies,” Oxford University Press, OUP Blog, July 4, 2011.

[43] This Trump comment expressed the reductio ad absurdum of uninformed strategic thinking. The fact that it was not immediately and totally rejected by competent government and military authorities in the United States was both unfathomable and inexcusable.

[44] In philosophy of science terms, a key policy problem here concerns the difference between knowledge that is independent of experience (a priori) and knowledge that is rooted in experience (a posteriori). For pertinent philosophic origins of this important distinction, see Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781).

[45] The Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin coined a new term to denote the vital sphere of intellect or “mind.” This term is “noosphere;” it builds upon Friedrich Nietzsche’s stance well-known (especially in Zarathustra) that human beings must always challenge themselves, must continuously strive to “overcome” their otherwise meager “herd”-determined yearnings.

[46] See, by Professor Louis René Beres, at Horasis (Zürich):  Nonetheless, having been born augurs badly for immortality. In their desperation to live perpetually, human societies and civilizations have embraced a broad panoply of faiths that promise life everlasting in exchange for “undying” loyalty. In the end, such loyalty is transferred from the Faith to the State, which then battles with other States in what is generally taken to be a “struggle for power,” but which is often, in reality, a perceived Final Conflict between Us and Them, between Good and Evil. The advantage to being on the side of “Good” in any such contest is nothing less than the incomparable promise of power over death.

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) 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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Beyond the Battlefield

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Since the beginning of time, wars and conflicts have been an inextricable part of human history. As such, they have developed in lockstep with the complex interactions between social, political, and technological changes that have shaped our world. Warfare’s methods and goals have undergone a significant metamorphosis, moving from crude and simple engagements to ones that are sophisticated and complex. Armed conflicts have expanded to take on global proportions with the advent of destructive world wars, and are no longer restricted to simple tribal or regional skirmishes. In addition to transcending their religious roots, these conflicts are now driven by nationalistic imperatives, giving rise to wars with geopolitical goals.

However, in the fierce race to reach the pinnacle of technological achievement with the introduction of a revolutionary artificial intelligence-powered search engine, issues of veracity and the widespread dissemination of false information are the most crucial issues of our time. These worries are well-founded because the consequences of a poorly functioning search engine could distort reality, worsen the already virulent spread of false information, and cause irreparable harm to the fabric of truth.

Additionally, warfare has changed from being characterized by linear battles to being characterized by maneuver warfare, placing greater emphasis on flexibility, agility, and strategic maneuvering. Armed engagements have evolved from primitive first-generation manifestations to the complex dynamics of fourth-generation warfare. They now involve a variety of unconventional tactics such as asymmetric tactics, psychological operations, and information warfare. Thus, in order to successfully navigate the complexity of the modern battlefield, this evolution calls for both a thorough understanding of the many facets of modern warfare and the adoption of adaptive strategies.

Simultaneously, the concept of fifth-generation warfare, also known as hybrid warfare, denotes a paradigm shift in contemporary military tactics, where the importance of cultural warfare, information warfare, and unconventional methods surpasses the conventional use of brute force on the battlefield, as seen in third- and fourth-generation warfare. India is said to be using 5th-generation warfare strategies against Pakistan to sow seeds of enmity and spread false information in an effort to block Pakistan’s progress. Moreover, India is using all of its resources to undermine Pakistani society in a number of different domains. Pakistan to modernize its weaponry and armed forces given the strategic landscape of South Asia, which is becoming more complex and volatile, especially given India’s use of fifth-generation warfare against Pakistan.

Relatedly, information warfare has undeniably grown significantly important in the effort to effectively project Pakistan’s narrative both domestically and internationally. A well-calibrated national response reinforced by a clearly defined foreign policy is required in light of the double-edged nature of fifth-generation warfare. Modern times see a rapid spread of irregular wars across the spectrum of conflict, amid intensifying great power competition, as the nature of warfare changes continuously.

Modern warfare has undergone a sea change as a result of the advancement of information technology, which makes it easier for nontraditional actors like violent extremist groups to communicate. We find ourselves ensconced in a world permeated by high tension, accompanied by a flood of tweets, ranging from the tumultuous battlefields in Ukraine to a pernicious terrorist attack on mass transit inside the borders of the United States. Our insatiable appetite for knowledge is driven by a desire to protect our safety, show compassion for those who are suffering, or see wrongdoers brought to justice. Despite our desire for knowledge, we must maintain an appropriate level of skepticism toward the sources that provide it. After all, we are living in a time that is frequently referred to as the “golden age of fake news.

Today’s conflicts are largely not fought between nation-states and their armies; instead, they are increasingly fought with the mighty arsenal of words rather than with traditional weapons. In recent years, policy discussions, popular discourse, and academic analyses have given priority to a particular breed of weaponry: “fake news” and viral disinformation. In reality, disinformation used in warfare in the digital age may not differ much from other forms of warfare; after all, wars are fought to establish power, with some reaping financial rewards while the most vulnerable suffer the most.

The problem of fake news has gotten worse since the Internet and social networks were invented. The conventional news model, which involved a small number of media outlets run by experienced journalists who interviewed reliable sources and meticulously verified the information before it was published, has been overturned by the current media environment. Today, there are numerous channels, a never-ending stream of messages, and an environment where contradictory information is frequently overlooked that all contribute to the relative ease with which conspiracy theories and rumors can spread. The temptation to cling to a simpler fiction rather than taking on the laborious task of dissecting a more complex reality grows as we are frequently presented with contradictory messages.

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United States Donates $9 million in Weapons, Equipment to Support Somalia National Army

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Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Zoe Russell.

Official reports here said the United States through its diplomatic office in Mogadishu has presented $9 million in weapons, vehicles, medical supplies and other equipment to the Somali National Army (SNA). The ceremony was attended by Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama and U.S. Ambassador Larry André.

Aside from heavy weapons, equipment included support and construction vehicles, explosive ordinance disposal kits, medical supplies, and maintenance equipment for vehicles and weapons.  Most of the supplies are already on their way to Hishabelle and Galmudug States to support SNA troops.

“We cheer the success achieved by Somali security forces in their historic fight to liberate Somali communities suffering under al-Shabaab,” said Ambassador André.  “This is a Somali-led and Somali-fought campaign. The United States reaffirms commitment to support country’s efforts.”

Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama thanked the United States, saying, “Allow me to convey the appreciation of the Federal Government of Somalia to the Government of the United States of America for the continued support to Somalia’s peacebuilding process and the support for the fight against terrorism.  This support comes at a critical time for our forces as we boost their capabilities to combat al-Shabaab.”

The Minister was joined by Chief of Defense Forces Brigadier General Odowaa Yusuf Rageh for the ceremony.  

The weapons, including light and heavy machine guns were purchased with U.S. Department of Defense funding. They are marked and registered pursuant to the Federal Government of Somalia’s Weapons and Ammunition Management policy, designed to account for and control weapons within the Somali security forces and weapons captured on the battlefield.  

Notification to the UN Security Council is conducted by the Federal Government of Somalia in close coordination with the Office of Security Cooperation of U.S. Embassy Mogadishu in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.

The weapons will support SNA-Danab battalions, including battalions currently participating in operations in Hirshabelle and Galmudug. The weapons will provide a significant increase in the lethality and mobility of the SNA-Danab units participating in these operations. Somalia and its neighbouring States have come under frequent heightened militant attacks in the Horn of Africa.

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From Strategic depth to Strategic Threat



On 30th December, in broad daylight, the hub of Peshawar and administrative center was targeted by the militants with the explosion of a deadly bomb, leaving behind 59 dead. the attack was claimed by the TTP Mohmand faction, whose leadership is allegedly residing in Afghanistan.

The issue of Afghanistan has occupied a consequential part of the strategic culture of Pakistan. Following the partition, with the specter of Pashtun Nationalism looming large on the horizon, policymakers in Pakistan opted for a policy of Islamic Nationalism, which became a cornerstone of strategic thinking during the era of General Zia-ul-Haq in the wake of the Afghan Jihad War in 1979.

Islamic nationalism was seen as only the means through which Pashtun Nationalism could be confronted and subdued.

With the adoption of this policy, swiftly and generously, aid from US, UAE and KSA began to inundate the territory of Pakistan, carrying each their national interests with it.

Within a short period, thousands of new madrassas were established, cultivating youngsters by inculcating the concept of Jihadism.

This formation of an alliance with the US in the Afghan Jihad war was driven by two factors; first, to subdue the dominant Pashtun Nationalism with Islamic Nationalism, and second, to establish an Islamabad-friendly regime in Afghanistan so that any terrorist group could not use Afghan territory while keeping New Delhi at bay, by not letting her establish any foothills in Afghanistan.

Fast forward to 2023, the facts on the group are now telling a different story. Islamabad’s once “strategic depth” is now becoming a distant dream as Pakistan is now confronted by insurmountable problems from all sides

According to the data collected by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies, Islamabad, in the past two years, Pakistan has encountered 100 terrorist attacks, and yet, the recent surge of terrorist activities shows no signs of cooling down in the formidable future. This is clearly evident from the news coming from the casualties on the daily basis of the security forces of Pakistan, mostly on the border areas, and the havoc it caused to the infrastructure. Officially, it is estimated that in the last six months, around 350 military personnel have lost their lives, while the outlawed group has claimed even more than that. These occurrences elucidate the failure of the Pakistani state to effectively persuade the Taliban regime not to let the Afghan territory be used against Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.

Now, who is to be blamed, if not our flawed policies, and the masters of shortsightedness. Lately, upon leaving his office, the ex-COAS scapegoated  Imran Khan who initiated the dialogue with the outlawed group, TTP. While Imran Khan, on the other hand, said that the army was on board when the negotiation decision with the TTP was taken. These inconspicuous but powerful statements  clearly reveal  the uncertainty of our policymakers while dealing with a sensitive topic. Besides that, it also shows how the wizards of policy making and governance are not on the same page while dealing with the Afghanistan issue.

Recently, a document was released by the National Counter Terrorism Authority and presented to the senate committee where discoveries pertaining to the ceasefire between the government of Pakistan and TTP were made. According to the report, the truce initiated by the PTI-led government last year had utterly emboldened the TTP.

With careful planning and shrewd utilization of resources, they were able to revive themselves both logistically and materially. Once the truce between the two parties was over, yet again, a surge in violent attacks was documented.

Beside the challenge of TTP, the Afghan Taliban shows no signs of a positive stance for the Durand line issue. In an interview, the information minister, Zabiullah  Mujahid, said, “The issue of the Durand line is still an unresolved one, while the construction of fencing itself creates rifts between a nation spread across both sides of the border. It amounts to dividing a nation”.

Another prominent concern is the time to time border shelling. On Dec 11, 2022, the Taliban forces heavily shelled a town on the outstrips of the Pakistani border leaving behind seven civilian casualties. A few days later, on Dec 15, another exchange of fire took place, claiming one more life. Although, not much heed has been given to such reports, it seems the genie is out of the bottle now.

Last but not least, the Taliban had even scapegoated Pakistan through which the US drone was flown that killed the top Al Qaeda leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri.

The cherry on top happens to be the readiness of the new system to exhibit the disposition of candour in their interactions with India.  The Taliban defense minister, Mullah Yahoob, has expressed his desire for the training of Afghan troops by Pakistan’s arch-rival India. If this goes according to the plan, the dependent policy of Afghanistan on Pakistan will diminish and create new challenges for Pakistan. India, by using Afghan soil, can embolden and logistically support the liberation movements in Balochistan and Sindh, thus exacerbating the already precarious situation.

It’s high time to call a spade a spade!

Our Policymakers must accept that the old strategic depth policy inside Afghanistan has begun to fail. Taliban 2.0 are entirely in contrast to its 1.0 version in terms of statecraft. They are more pluralistic in their policies, and economically, they are far more independent compared to the 90s. This time, they want to cut deals directly with the regional states. It may appear unilateral, but rather it’s a mutually desired engagement as other states have expressed interests in establishing relations with Afghanistan while   considering them a new and inevitable reality.

Meanwhile, China is feathering its own nest, and is more concerned about the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). She does not want Afghanistan to be used as a pawn by an insurgent group in the great game against China.

Considering these dynamic global realities, Pakistan must abrogate its old policy towards Afghanistan and focus on a unanimous policy towards Afghanistan. For the success of a cohesive and effective anti-terrorism strategy it is contingent for policymakers to align their viewpoints against the new resurgent groups.  And last but not the least , a collective action by the military, politicians and society is necessary.

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