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Risks of a Nuclear War With North Korea: The Obligation of Intellect-Based Remedies

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“Is it an end that draws near, or a beginning?”-Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age (1951)

Intellect and National Security

In the end, nothing could be gained by approaching the North Korean nuclear threat with Trump-era seat-of-the-pants remedies. Without more systematic and intellectually disciplined orientations, United States security could once again become contingent on narrowly ad hoc assessments of pertinent leadership personalities. First, President Joseph Biden will need to understand that the regime in Pyongyang would never accept any conceivable forms of denuclearization.

Ipso facto, basing US nuclear policy on contrary assumptions would prove strategically self-defeating.

               All core lessons here are clear and straightforward. Former US President Trump had little evident use for intellect or critical reasoning, in pandemic policy or foreign policy.[1] Accordingly, he emphasized certain presumed advantages of “attitude” over “preparation,” an expressly anti-science posture that essentially ignored the North Korean nuclear threat.

 Despite Trump’s oft-repeated assertion about Kim’s reciprocal affections – “we fell in love” – the North Korean dictator responded by accelerating his ballistic missile development and testing programs. During the while that Trump ranted incoherently with strategically meaningless bluster, Kim systematically readied his nation for an eventual “final battle.”[2] For the United States, this conspicuous asymmetry could never have been considered gainful, especially from the vital standpoint of credible deterrence.

               Today, President Biden’s overriding obligation on such matters is unmistakable.  Regarding North Korea’s continuously ongoing nuclear expansions, he must fashion an American security posture that is more analytic and history-based[3] than were Trump’s disjointed diatribes.[4] Above all, America’s current president should begin to think more realistically about creating long-term nuclear deterrence relationships with North Korea.

Strategic Obligations of Correct Reasoning

               In the best of all possible worlds, American (possibly also North Korean) interests would be best served by Pyongyang’s complete denuclearization. But this is not the best of all possible worlds, and North Korea will not willingly surrender its only tangible source of genuine global power. For now, at least, establishing stable nuclear deterrence relationships between these two adversarial states would represent a sufficiently worthy American achievement.

               There are also pertinent specifics. During any still-upcoming negotiations, Mr. Biden should take scrupulous care not to exaggerate or overstate America’s military risk-taking calculus. Such indispensable diplomatic caution would derive in part from the absence of any comparable nuclear crises. Because there has never been a nuclear war,[5] there could be no reliable way for this president (or anyone else) to meaningfully ascertain the mathematical probability of a US-North Korea nuclear conflict.[6]

               In world politics, as in any other subject of human interaction, probability judgments cannot be concocted ex nihilo, out of nothing. Always, such key judgments must be drawn from one quantifiable calculus only.  This calculus is the determinable frequency of relevant past events. When there are no such events, there can be no such needed extrapolation.

               Period.

               This does not mean that President Joe Biden’s senior strategists and counselors should ever steer away from clear-eyed assessments regarding potential nuclear costs and risks, but only that such assessments be drawn knowingly from constantly shifting and hard-to-decipher geopolitical trends. At this time, such trends should include variously complex considerations of generally expanding worldwide nuclearization.[7]  Though not yet there, Iran – now led by a more insistently hardline president – is far along the trajectory of national nuclear weapons development.[8] In time, in much the same fashion as with North Korea, the United States could unexpectedly find itself in extremis atomicum.

Intersections and Synergies

For American policy-planners focused on North Korea, there will be corresponding obligations to consider plausible intersections between Pyongyang threats and Tehran nuclearization. Inter alia, these obligations will take note of specifically synergistic intersections. Here, by definition, the “whole” of any worrisome outcome would be greater than the calculable sum of its component “parts.”

               For certain, among multiple and overlapping concerns, some attendant problems would emerge as more complicated and problematic than others. As relevant intellectual background, world security processes must always be approached in toto, as a totality, as a more-or-less coherent system. What is happening now, in such far-flung places as India-Kashmir, China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, could have significant “spillover effects” in the northeast Asian theatre and beyond. This is true, moreover, even while Covid-19 continues to rage in some measure across these afflicted countries.

               Rather than ignore complex and seemingly distant effects altogether, US President Joe Biden will have to accord them a more appropriate position of foreign policy-making priority.

“My Button is Bigger Than Yours”

 Military threats from an already-nuclear North Korea remain genuine, substantive and determinedly “robust.” Former President Donald Trump’s ill-suited metaphors notwithstanding, the fact that Biden’s nuclear “button” is “bigger” than Kim’s is less than determinative. To wit, in all strategic deterrence relationships, a condition of relative nuclear weakness by one of the contending adversarial states need not imply any corollary diminution of power. Remembering the “bottom line,” even the presumptively weaker party in such asymmetrical dyads could deliver “unacceptable damage” to the stronger.

               Complexity will be defining. President Biden will need to bear in mind that many or all of northeast Asia’s continuously transforming developments could be impacted by “Cold War II,”[9] an oppositional stance with Russia and (somewhat comparably or derivatively) with China. Similarly, important will be this new US leader’s willingness to acknowledge and factor-in certain consequential limits of “expert” military advice. These widely unseen limits are not based upon any presumed intellectual inadequacies among America’s flag officers, but only on the irrefutable knowledge that no person has ever fought in a nuclear war.

               In scientific terms (theory of probability) this particular bit of knowledge ought never be underestimated.

               By definition – and going forward with all time-urgent considerations of US – North Korea policy formation – American strategic calculations will always be fraught with daunting uncertainties. Still, it will be necessary that Joe Biden and his designated counselors remain able to consistently offer the best available war-related estimations. Among prospectively causal factors – some of them overlapping, interdependent or (again) “synergistic”[10] – the plausible risks of a nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang will ultimately depend upon whether such conflict would be intentional, unintentional or accidental.

                In principle, at least, this tripartite distinction could prove vitally important to hoped-for success in US nuclear war prediction and prevention processes.

                In facing any future North Korean negotiations, it will be necessary that competent US policy analysts capably examine and measure all foreseeableconfigurations of relevant nuclear war risk. Expressed in the useful game-theoretic parlance of formal military planning, shifting configurations in the “state of nations”[11] could present themselves singly, one-at-a-time (the expectedly best case for Washington) or suddenly, unexpectedly, with apparent “diffusiveness” or in multiple and overlapping “cascades” of strategic complexity.

Quo Vadis?

               What is to be done? To properly understand such bewildering cascades will require carefully-honed, well-developed and formidable analytic skills. This will not be a suitable task for the intellectually faint-hearted. It will require, instead, sharply refined combinations of historical acquaintance, traditional erudition and demonstrated capacity for advanced dialectical thinking. Elucidations of such especially disciplined thinking go back to dialogues of Plato and to the ancient but timeless awareness that reliable analysis insistently calls for the continuous asking and answering of interrelated questions.

               There is more. This challenging task could even require American strategic thinkers who are sometimes as comfortable with classical prescriptions of Plato and Descartes as with more narrowly technical elements of modern military theory and hardware. This will not be an easy requirement to fulfill.

Not all nuclear wars would have the same origin. It is conceivable that neither Washington nor Pyongyang is currently paying sufficient attention to certain residually specific risks of an unintentional nuclear war. To this point, each president would seem to assume the other’s decisional rationality.[12] After all, if there were no such mutual calculation, it would make no ascertainable sense for either side to negotiate further security accommodations with the other.

               None at all.

               Viable nuclear deterrence (not denuclearization) must become the overriding US strategic goal vis-a-vis North Korea. But this complex objective is contingent upon certain basic assumptions concerning enemy rationality. Are such assumptions realistic in the particular case of a potential war between two already-nuclear powers? If President Biden should sometime fear enemy irrationalityin Pyongyang, issuing any threats of a US nuclear retaliation might make diminishing diplomatic sense. Instead, at that literally unprecedented stage, American national security could come to depend upon some presumptively optimal combinations of ballistic missile defense and defensive first strikes. But by definition, determining such complex combinations would lack any decisional input or counsel from concrete and quantifiable historical data.

               In an imaginably worst case scenario, the offensive military element could entail a situational or comprehensive preemption – a defensive first strike by the United States – but at that manifestly late stage, all previous hopes for bilateral reconciliation would already have become moot. There would then obtain no “ordinary” circumstances wherein a preemptive strike against a North Korean nuclear adversary could be considered “rational.”[13] What then?

               It’s an intellectual question, not a political one.

               None of these difficult strategic decisions should ever be reached casually or easily. With the steadily expanding development of “hypersonic” nuclear weapons, figuring out optimal US policy combinations from one North Korean crisis to another could very quickly become overwhelming. Though counterintuitive amid any such prominently intersecting complications, the fact that one “player” (the US) was recognizably “more powerful” than the other (North Korea) could quickly prove irrelevant.

Law and Nuclear Strategy

 In all foreseeable circumstances, there would obtain certain overlapping issues of law and strategy. Under international law,[14] which remains an integral part of US law,[15] the option of a selective or comprehensive defensive first-strike might sometime be correctly characterized as “anticipatory self-defense.” This could be the case only if the American side could also argue persuasively that the security “danger posed” by North Korea was recognizably “imminent in point of time.” Such discernible “imminence” is required by the authoritative standards of international law; that is, by the formal criteria established after an 1837 naval incident famously called “The Caroline.”[16]

               Presently, in the still-expanding nuclear age, offering aptly precise characterizations of “imminence” could prove sorely abstract and densely problematic. For example, in justifying his assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, former President Trump used the term “imminence” incorrectly (sometimes even confusing “imminence” with “eminence”) and without any convincing factual evidence.

               For the moment, especially in the continuing midst of a worldwide health crisis, it seems reasonable that Kim Jung Un would value his own personal life and that of his nation above every other imaginable preference or combination of preferences. In any conceivable scenario, Kim appears to be visibly and technically rational, and must therefore remain subject to US nuclear deterrence.[17]But going forward, it could still become important for a negotiating American President Biden to distinguish between authentic instances of enemy irrationality and instances of contrived or pretended irrationality.[18]

               This vague prospect adds yet another layer of complexity to the subject at hand, one that could sometime include certain force-multiplying biological synergies.

               In history, wars have too often been the result of leadership miscalculation. Although neither side here would likely ever seek a shooting war, either Kim or Biden could still commit errors in the course of rendering their respective strategic calculations. At times, such consequential errors could represent an unintended result of jointly competitive searches for “escalation dominance.”[19] These errors are plausibly more apt to occur in circumstances where one or both presidents had first chosen to reignite hyperbolic verbal rhetoric.

               Portentously, even in reassuringly calm periods of polite and congenial diplomatic discourse, major miscalculations, accidents or “cyber-confusions” could accumulate. And such ill-fated accumulation could sometime be hastened by unpredictable effects of widespread disease pandemic. What then?

               In plausibly worst case scenarios, negotiations gone wrong could result in a nuclear war.[20] This prospect ought never to be overlooked. In the words of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “The worst does sometimes happen.”[21]

Origins of Inadvertent Nuclear War with North Korea

An inadvertent nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang could take place not only as the result of misunderstanding or miscalculation between fully rational national leaders, but as the unintended consequence (singly or synergistically) of mechanical, electrical, computer malfunctions or of “hacking”-type interventions. Going forward, these interventions could include clandestine intrusions of “cyber-mercenaries.”

               There is more. While an accidental nuclear war would necessarily be inadvertent, certain forms of inadvertent nuclear war would not necessarily be caused by mechanical, electrical or computer accident. These difficult to anticipate but consequential forms of unintentional nuclear conflict would represent the unexpected result of specific misjudgment or miscalculation, whether created by singular decisional error by one or both sides to a two-party nuclear crisis escalation or by still-unforeseen “synergies” arising between singular miscalculations.

In any still-impending crisis between Washington and Pyongyang, each side will inevitably strive to maximize two critical goals simultaneously. These goals are (1) to dominate the dynamic and largely unpredictable process of nuclear crisis escalation; and (2) to achieve “escalation dominance” without sacrificing vital national security interests. In the final analysis, this second objective would mean preventing one’s own state and society from suffering any catastrophic or existential harms.

               This recalls a prior point concerning accurate assessments of relative military power. When former President Trump in an early verbal competition with Kim Jung Un stated that the North Korean president may have his nuclear “button,” but that the American president’s was “bigger,” Trump revealed a major conceptual misunderstanding. It was that in our still advancing nuclear age, atomic superiority is potentially per se insignificant and could lead the presumptively “stronger” nuclear adversary toward certain lethal expressions of overconfidence.

               In any such paradoxical circumstances, having had a “bigger button” would have become the dominant source not of strength, but of weakness. Here, size would actually matter, but only in an unexpected or counter-intuitive way. As Donald Trump should have understood, even an enemy with a smaller “nuclear button” could inflict “assuredly destructive” harms[22] upon “bigger button” United States and/or its allies in Japan, South Korea or elsewhere. It follows, inter alia, that to have taken earlier comfort from observing that North Korea had been testing “only” shorter-range ballistic missiles was to miss the point. To clarify further, and now for the benefit of President Biden, several of North Korea’s Trump-era nuclear test firings expressed a yield at least 16X larger than the Hiroshima bomb.

That 14KT WW II bomb produced almost 100,000 immediate fatalities.

               All such vital understandings about nuclear “button size” must continuously obtain as long as Kim Jung Un’s “inferior” nuclear arms remain seemingly invulnerable to any American preemptions and seemingly capable of penetrating ballistic missile defenses deployed in the United States, Japan or South Korea. Because of the extraordinary prospective harms generated by even “low-yield” nuclear weapons, a small percentage or tiny fraction of Kim’s “inferior” nuclear arsenal should still appear as unacceptably destructive in Washington, Tokyo or Seoul. Worth noting, too, is that in all of these critical dimensions of strategic judgment, the only reality that would figure tangibly in any ongoing adversarial calculations would be perceived reality.

Dealing with Staggering Complexity

               The bottom line of such informed assessments concerning a US – North Korea nuclear war is that underlying issues of contention and calculation are starkly complicated and potentially indecipherable. Faced with endlessly challenging measures of complexity, both operational and legal, each side must proceed warily and in a fashion that is aptly risk-averse. Though such prudent counsel may seem to run counter to variously inter-linking US obligations of “escalation dominance,” any still-expected Biden-Kim negotiations would involve very deep and uncharted “waters.”

               Looking ahead, any aggressive over-confidence (or what the ancient Greeks called “hubris” in tragic drama) by President Biden or President Kim will have to be avoided. While everything at some upcoming negotiation might first appear simple and calculable, history calls to mind Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s sobering observations about “friction.” This ubiquitous fly-in-the-ointment represents “differences between war on paper, and war as it actually is.” In certain altogether imaginable cases, these differences could suggest total war.

               To avoid intolerable outcomes between the United States and North Korea, a prudent, science-based[23] and informed nuclear posture must be fashioned, not with Trump-era clichés and empty witticisms, but with refined intellect and cultivated erudition. Much earlier, the ancient Greeks and Macedonians already understood that war planning must be treated as a continuously disciplined matter of “mind over mind,” not just one of “mind over matter.”[24] Today, in specific regard to US-North Korea nuclear rivalry, a similar understanding should hold sway in Washington.

Averting “Nightmare”

It would be best for the United States to plan carefully for all strategic eventualities and not to stumble into a nuclear war with North Korea – whether deliberate, unintentional or accidental. The fact that any such “stumble” could take place without adversarial ill will or base motive should provide little palpable consolation for prospective victims. For them, an ounce of diplomatic prevention will have been well worth avoiding an unstoppable strategic nightmare.

               Nightmare. According to the etymologists, the root is niht mare, or niht maere, the demon of the night. Dr. Johnson’s famous Dictionary claims this corresponds to Nordic mythology, which identifies all nightmare as some unholy product of demons. This would make it a play on the Greek ephialtes or the Latin incubus. In any event, in all of these fearful interpretations of nightmare, the idea of demonic origin is absolutely integral and indispensable.

               But our current worries are of a different and more secular sort. Now there are certain inherent complexities in problem solving that must always be accepted, understood and overcome. At a time when our planet is imperiled by the simultaneous and potentially intersecting threats of a nuclear war, there can be no suitable alternative to accepting proper analytic emphases.

               Recalling twentieth-century philosopher Karl Jasper’s Man in the Modern Age (1951), what “draws near” between North Korea and the United States should be assessed on intellectual foundations, not ones of “attitude.” By correctly acknowledging that North Korean denuclearization is a futile expectation and a diplomatic non-starter – Kim Jung Un would never accept such a condition of codified inferiority – President Biden could focus upon creating a viable system of mutual deterrence. Though such an “egalitarian” focus might appear unsatisfactory or demeaning for a “Great Power,” national security policy must be founded upon accurate theoretical assumptions.

               Always.

In these critical matters, science and intellect deserve absolute pride of place.


[1] “Intellect rots the brain,” said Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. “I love the poorly educated” said presidential candidate Donald J. Trump in 2016.

[2]See: https://www.businessinsider.com/kim-jong-un-tells-north-korea-officials-prepare-us-confrontation-2021-6

[3] This means, inter alia, an emphasis on dialectical thinking.  Such thinking likely originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions. From the standpoint of necessary refinements in US strategic planning vis-à-vis North Korea, this knowledge should never be taken for granted.

[4] During his dissembling presidency, too little attention was directed toward Donald J. Trump’s open loathing of science and intellect and his prominent unwillingness to read. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by the distinguished American historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), p. 145.

[5] The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 do not properly constitute a nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons to conclude an otherwise conventional conflict. Significantly, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were no other atomic bombs still available anywhere on earth.

[6] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[7] See: https://sipri.org/media/press-release/2021/global-nuclear-arsenals-grow-states-continue-modernize-new-sipri-yearbook-out-now

[8] See, on deterring a prospectively nuclear Iran, 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. Though dealing with Israeli rather than American nuclear deterrence, these articles clarify common conceptual elements. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[9] In essence, 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.

[10] See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School:  Louis René Beres,  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/  See also, by this writer, at West Point:  Louis René  Beres https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/

[11] Seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes notes that although the “state of nations” is in the anarchic “state of nature,” it is still more tolerable than the condition of individuals in nature. With individual human beings, he instructs, “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” But with the continuing advent of nuclear weapons, there is no persuasive reason to believe that the state of nations remains more tolerable. Now, nuclear weapons are bringing the state of nations closer to the true Hobbesian state of nature. See, in this connection, David P. Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 207. As with Hobbes, philosopher Samuel Pufendorf argues that the state of nations is not quite as intolerable as the state of nature between individuals. The state of nations, reasons the German jurist, “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” In a similar vein, Baruch Spinoza suggests “that a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See, A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II (Clarendon Press, 1958), p. 295.

[12] In world politics, rationality and irrationality have very specific meanings. More precisely, an “actor” (state or sub-state) is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences. An irrational actor would not always display such a determinable preference ordering.

[13] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/foreign-policy/344750-rationality-cant-be-assumed-in-potential-north-korea

[14] In essence, international law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian.” System. This historical referent is the Peace Of Westphalia (1648), a treaty which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the now still-existing decentralized or self-help “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 treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia. For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE, Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, 3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

[15] See especially art. 6 of the US Constitution (“The Supremacy Clause”) and the Pacquete Habana (1900). In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[16] See Beth Polebau, National Self-Defense in International Law:  An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age, 59 N.Y.U. L. REV. 187, 190-191 (noting that the Caroline case transformed the right to self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a customary legal doctrine).

[17] 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”).

[18] Expressions of decisional irrationality in US dealings with North Korea 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).

[19] On this concept, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, at The War Room, US Army War College, Pentagon:  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making-and-nuclear-war-an-urgent-american-problem/

[20] There is now a substantial literature that deals with the expected consequences of a nuclear war.  For earlier works by this author, see, for example:  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); MIMICKING SISYPHUS:  AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1983); REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1984); and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON:  ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[21] Often, in history, this ‘worst” has stemmed from a presumptively life-preserving identification of individual human beings with the fate of their respective countries. In his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end in itself, drew its originating strength from the doctrine of “sovereignty” advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above ordinary law. When it is understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the corrosive notion that states lie above and beyond legal regulation in their various interactions with each other. Concerning “ordinary law,” however, it is always subordinate to “Natural Law.” This Natural Law is based upon the acceptance of certain principles of right and justice that prevail because of intrinsic merit.  Eternal and immutable, they are external to all acts of human will and interpenetrate all human reason.  The core idea and its attendant tradition of human civility runs continuously from Mosaic Law and the ancient Greeks and Romans to the present day.  For a comprehensive and far-reaching assessment of the Natural Law origins of international law by this author, see Louis René Beres, “Justice and Realpolitik:  International Law and the Prevention of Genocide,” The American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 33, 1988, pp. 123-159. 

[22] Assured destruction references an ability to inflict “unacceptable damage” after absorbing an attacker’s first strike.  Mutual assured destruction (MAD) describes a condition in which an assured destruction capacity is possessed by both or all opposing sides.  Counterforce strategies are those which target an adversary’s strategic military facilities and supporting infrastructure.  Such strategies may be dangerous not only because of the “collateral damage” they might produce, but also because they could heighten the likelihood of first-strike attacks. Collateral damage refers to harms done to human and non-human resources as a consequence of strategic strikes directed at enemy forces or military facilities.  Even this “unintended” damage could involve large numbers of casualties/fatalities.

[23] “Science,” says philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis (1958) “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.”

[24] See: F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), p. 63.

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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Defense

India’s Maritime Security Strategy in the ‘Century of Seas’

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21st century has been very aptly called the “Century of the Seas”. The core argument of the “Father of Sea Power,” Alfred Thayer Mahan’s- “The Influence of Sea Power” was that the secret to Empire building was the Sea Power or the Naval Strength of a nation. This has been proved repeatedly and still holds a lot of relevance today, specifically for a country like India which possesses a very strong maritime asset having a coastal length of 7516.6 km with world’s second largest peninsular area of 2.07 million sq. km. Regrettably, India has suffered from an intellectual vacuum historically with regards to policy making in the maritime domain in spite of being one of the oldest seafarers in the world, its maritime history dating back to 3000 BC (Indus Valley Civilization). But with the shift in power dynamics from Euro Atlantic to Indo Pacific, it has realized that its geopolitical aspirations cannot be fulfilled without giving the due importance to Maritime domain. The Government certainly thinks that India is ready to explore and expand its maritime domain by not just observing from the shore but by obtaining a larger stake in it.

India’s approach to Maritime security is quite holistic, it is not just about deploying battleships or policing the seas like Britain did in 19th century and China is doing now. Our intentions were made noticeably clear on the international forum when Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high- level debate on maritime security in the United Nations Security Council in the month of August last year. This unanimous adoption of the “Presidential statement” was the UNSC’s first ever outcome document on this theme in which issues like piracy, economic development, marine environment, and illegal fishing were discussed. SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) initiative taken in 2015, focused on Sustainable use of oceans with cooperative measures. As a part of this policy, our Navy assisted many countries in the Indian Ocean Region in tackling piracies, disaster relief, search and rescue. A framework for security, safety, and stability in the region was the key objective of this mission. India aims to create a holistic and congenial maritime environment for not just its neighbors but for all the international players.

India’s soft power was always ahead of its hard power but for the last decade it has been trying to strike a balance by cautiously and carefully expanding its Maritime Power so that it does not threaten its neighbors while protecting its interests. Indian Navy has stepped up its overseas deployment by securing agreements with other strategically located nations for military access to their bases which include Indonesia’s Sabang Port, Oman’s Duqam port, America’s base at Diego Garcia and French base on reunion island. India has also invested in commercial ports like Chabahar which is under controversy at present but to build a large information radar network and boost cooperation with partners across the region, investment in commercial ports present in countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and Mauritius etc. must be given priority.

To demonstrate its pursuit through interoperability, India has become a part of various bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral partnerships and has drastically improved its Naval Diplomacy. It conducts and participates in a plethora of complex Naval Exercises with countries which share common interests and strategic convergence like UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Vietnam, Britain, Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Indonesia, Singapore, Brazil, and Quad members. These exercises serve the objective of demonstrating a shared vision of free and open Indo-Pacific. India also hosted the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) meet where the respective NSAs

discussed and agreed to setup their cooperation around Marine Security in 2021, it also invited these members were also invited to be a part of MILAN 2022 exercise in which more than 40 countries participated. Walter Ladwig argued that Indian Naval Expansion, thus shaping the maritime strategy existing today, involves three things: prevent intrusion from hostile powers, project power based off India’s interests, protection of the SLOCs[1].

The Naval Strategy forms a major part of Maritime Security Strategy, and the latest Doctrine by the Indian Navy released in 2015 -” Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy” is the revised and updated version of the previously outlined strategy released in 2007- “Freedom to Use the Seas: India’s Maritime Military Strategy”. A bold change in tone and sharpening of India’s   Maritime aspirations can be observed. Primary areas of interest as understood from the doctrine involve India’s immediate coastal neighborhood, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, the Andaman Sea, the gulfs of Aden and Oman, Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. A significant amount of emphasis is given to the commanding of the sea and controlling of the chokepoints thereby securing the sea lines for open trade and communication. Indian Ocean has a roof over its head, which is not a good thing for a water body because the only entry and exit points in it are through 9 choke points or the navigational constrictions. These can easily give rise to transnational crimes which are dangerous from geostrategic aspect. From developmental aspects in the Indo-Pacific and the Asia-Pacific regions, the major chokepoints to be protected are Strait of Malacca which hosts 50% of world’s merchant fleet capacity, the Bab-el-Mandeb, which has principal oil shipping lanes, and the Strait of Hormuz, 40% seaborne crude oil passes through it.

Secondary area of India’s Strategic Maritime interest includes the South and East China Sea, Southeast Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, the Western Pacific Ocean, Antarctica, and the West coast of Africa. To increase its Naval presence in these areas, India has started pushing towards marine expansion, power projection and naval modernization. India’s maritime force is transitioning into a “building navy” which was previously considered as a “buying navy”, that confirms its alignment with India’s “Make in India” for attaining self-sufficiency and self-reliance. The strategy of modernization and indigenization of the aircraft carriers, frigates, destroyers, submarines, corvettes, combat aircrafts and patrol crafts may sound promising but will only be effective if the delay gaps between the dates of delivery and actual commissioning are reduced. Ensuring Secure Seas states that “in order to ensure sustained presence, the Indian Navy will comprehensively address the twin issues of ‘reach’ and ‘sustainability’ of naval forces.”[2] This will include the concepts of longer operational cycles, mixing the force ratio between strike groups, enhancing logistical support and extending reach through naval air power.

There are many driving actors that influence the changing paradigm of India’s Maritime Security Strategy. The nuclear-powered countries, Pakistan, China, United States, and other non-state actors play a vital role. Pakistan Navy’s face value does not seem to be capable of posing a threat to India, but it does possess sea-based nuclear armament and under-sea warfare elements which present a significant challenge. Just like any other nation in the region, Pakistan also has economic stakes in the Indian Ocean. Typically, it does not have any “Blue-water” aspirations but when combined with the strength of PLAN, it can indeed become formidable to be countered. China, is clearly marching towards becoming the global superpower by directing its energy towards the sea

1 Walter Ladwig, “Drivers of Indian Naval Expansion,” in The Rise of the Indian Navy: Internal Vulnerabilities, External Challenges, ed. Harsh V. Pant (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012), 25.

2 Directorate of Strategy, Concepts and Transformation, Ensuring Secure Seas.

or in theoretical terms following the Mahanian principle. It has exponentially increased its footprint in the Indian Ocean region in recent years which is directly posing a threat to the stability of this area. But the document ‘Ensuring Secure Seas’ see China as a partner in maritime cooperation and not as a threat. According to John Garver, the PLAN has sufficient capability “to seize the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal as an effort to control the Strait of Malacca chokepoint.” In terms of technology, Indian and Chinese navies are equally equipped but India has an advantage in aircraft carriers whereas China in undersea warfare.

US Navy is one of the most powerful navies in the world, and being an economic superpower, Indian Ocean Region is of great strategic concern for US. PRC’s growing relations with Pakistan has strengthened US’s relations with India, it has emerged as a strategic maritime partner. Deals signed between Ministry of Defence, India and American contractors have further built up the cooperative security in the region so even after being capable, US navy certainly does not have the intent to dominate India in the maritime domain. India’s Naval Doctrine has mandated that the “Indian Navy will project combat force in and from the maritime domain, and undertake offensive action for national defence.” This projection of combat force will involve a consolidated effort across the spectrum of maritime warfare to include anti-surface, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare demonstrated from all platforms in the navy’s inventory. The Indian Navy’s aspirations for power projection and sea control are similar in maritime doctrine to the United States, whose proven combat operations at sea can attest to success of said doctrine.[3] This conceptual mirroring will allow for better cooperation among the two maritime nations.

The maritime strategy of a country must be in alignment with the economic and political realities of it. Indian Navy’s new doctrine “Securing the seas” elevates it above its previously assigned ‘Cinderella Service’ role. India has high diplomatic, economic, and military stakes in the Indian Ocean Region. Interestingly, last decade has witnessed the shifting contours of India’s attitude, it has become more aggressive, upfront, and competitive in this domain. India is already a key player and the main security provider in the region, if it sustains the momentum that it has set, China’s assertiveness cannot stop it from becoming the leader in the evolving Maritime architecture.

[1] Walter Ladwig, “Drivers of Indian Naval Expansion,” in The Rise of the Indian Navy: Internal Vulnerabilities, External Challenges, ed. Harsh V. Pant (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012), 25.

[2] Directorate of Strategy, Concepts and Transformation, Ensuring Secure Seas.

[3] Century of the seas- unlocking Indian maritime strategy in 21st century

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Defense

The Profits Side of the War in Ukraine

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Image source: war.ukraine.ua

The war business is extremely profitable, because governments are willing to spend anything in order to win. In a country such as Russia, where all of the weapons-manufacturing firms are 50%+ owned by (controlled by, and serve) the Government itself, profits are not the main objective, national-defense is; but, in a fully (or nearly fully) capitalist country, such as the U.S. and its allies, the people who control the decisions are actually private investors, and profits are their main (or only) objective; and, so, the controlling investors in ‘defense’ firms hire agents (including politicians) in order to control each of their main markets, which are their own country and the countries that those investors are allied with. Also, in order for their weapons to be able to be used, target-nations are needed, whom those armaments-investors (and their news-media) declare to be their nations’ “enemies” and consequently to be lands that their weapons should be targeted against (if “enemy”) or to defend (if “ally”). Both “allies” and “enemies” are needed, in order for these investors to have a thriving armaments industry; and both “allies” and “enemies” are needed in order for those companies to have markets (their own nation, and its “allies”) and to have targets (the “enemies”). The key here is that in order to maximize the profits of armaments-firms’ investors, they need to control their own Government, because that Government will determine which other nations are also markets (“us”), and which other nations are instead targets (“them,” or “enemies”). These investors therefore need to control, above all, their own Government, in order for them to succeed, to be, themselves, “winners” at the investing-game. These investors also tend to control their nation’s ‘news’media, because those businesses validate the Government’s “allies” and “enemies”; and thereby validate its invasions (so as to pump their weapons-sales). And this is the way that capitalism functions; and it is the way that imperialism (which is a natural adjunct to capitalism, because capitalism serves investors above all — not workers, nor consumers, but specifically investors) has always functioned, in order to produce wars (which serve only the wealthiest).

Perhaps the world’s largest and most effective marketing organization for U.S.-and-allied armaments manufacturers is NATO, but many others (perhaps not so well known) also exist, and sometimes provide more candid information to the public. 

Here are relevant highlights from an interview with Ukraine’s Government, at a major recent international trade-show by U.S.-and-allied weapons manufacturers, as published by the trade magazine for America’s armaments-industry, National Defense, whose publisher is the National Defense Industrial Association:

——

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2022/6/15/ukraine-to-us-defense-industry-we-need-long-range-precision-weapons

https://archive.ph/Hwrwq

“BREAKING: Ukraine to U.S. Defense Industry: We Need Long-Range, Precision Weapons (UPDATED)”

by Stew Magnuson, 15 June 2022

The war-torn nation desperately needs artillery and artillery rounds, but what can truly give it the upper hand over its Russian invaders are long-range precision weapons such as armed Predator drones, loitering munitions and the multiple launch rocket system.

Denys Sharapov, Ukraine’s deputy minister of the defense in charge of procurement, support for weapons and equipment, and Brig. Gen. Volodymyr Karpenko, land forces command logistics commander, spoke with National Defense Editor in Chief Stew Magnuson and other reporters through an interpreter in the Ukraine Ministry of Defense’s booth at the Eurosatory conference in Paris on June 15. …

At Eurosatory this week, you’re meeting a lot of defense companies. What are your expectations since they normally sell through their own countries? What’s the purpose of talking with companies and not countries?

Sharapov: So those are parallel processes. There are constant government negotiations on all levels, diplomatic levels, military levels, ministry-to-ministry — both ministers of foreign affairs, ministers of defense — I believe this is not only an ongoing dialogue, but this is unprecedented dialogue.

It doesn’t matter whether we work with private enterprises or government enterprises, any weapon transfer is made upon the decision of the government. So that’s why we are really hoping for the support of those governments. …

Our readers are about 1,800 corporate members of the defense industrial base in the United States. What message do you have for them? And what do you need from them urgently?

Sharapov: The [Ministry of Defense] is concentrating currently on fulfilling all the needs of the armed forces. You asked a question about needs. First, you have to understand that the frontline is 2,500 kilometers long. The frontline where there is active combat in more than 1,000 kilometers long. That’s like from Kyiv to Berlin. … As of today, all the people in all of our armed forces and within the defense and security sector is up to one million people. And we have to support them all. We have to supply them with small arms, with personal protection gear and with the means of communication. …

We have received a large number of weapon systems, but unfortunately with such a massively expendable resource, it only covers 10 to 15 percent of our needs. We need artillery, we need artillery rounds, infantry fighting vehicles, combat vehicles, tanks. We really need air-defense systems and the multiple launch rocket system.

Also, high-precision weapon systems, because we believe that high-precision weapon systems will give us an edge over the enemy, the upper hand in this war.

There is a debate in the United States about whether to send Ukraine armed Predator drones. How important are they to your fight?

Sharapov: The party that will win in this war will be the party that will first start using contemporary high precision equipment and weapon systems. And those drones that you mentioned, they are a part of the modernized, highly accurate, highly precise, modern equipment. …

As of today, we have approximately 30 to 40, sometimes up to 50 percent of losses of equipment as a result of active combat. So, we have lost approximately 50 percent. Approximately 1,300 infantry fighting vehicles have been lost, 400 tanks, 700 artillery systems. …

Equipment that has gone to the rear of the frontline is maintained solely by Ukrainian specialists that have been trained by different foreign companies for that specific purpose. …

Quite unfortunately for us, we have become the biggest consumer of weapons and ammunition in the world. And we’re hoping to receive support from the entire Europe and the entire world. …

At Eurosatory this week, you’re meeting a lot of defense companies. What are your expectations since they normally sell through their own countries? What’s the purpose of talking with companies and not countries?

We really expect that the governments we’re cooperating with will fully support their weapons factories in support of Ukraine.

My first Eurosatory was 20 years ago. And all those years Ukraine was a seller of weapons. And this is the first exhibition when instead of being a seller of the weapons, we have become the largest consumer. This is the first year of Eurosatory where we are represented not by our industry, but instead by our ministry of defense, who is the consumer, who is the client, the purchaser of all these weapon systems. …

You can trust us with your weapons, your technologies, to use them to best of our abilities. We know how to use them. We know how to fight a war with them.

And it is largely due to the efforts of the Ukrainian armed forces that many foreign brands are currently on the front pages of newspapers. People are naming their children Javelin.

——

A good example of how this works is that Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which is one of America’s leading marketers of U.S. invasions and wars; and his Amazon Web Services subsidiary supplies the cloud-computing services to the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and entire Intelligence Community; so, he, himself (as Amazon’s top stockholder), is a major U.S. Government contractor. Subscribers to news-media in America are paying subscription fees in order to be inundated constantly with propaganda to increase the sales by contractors to the U.S. Government. The controlling investors derive part of their wealth (in Bezos’s case, a major part of it) from their Government, and another part of their wealth from selling to the subscribers to (and advertisers in) their publications and news-networks the propaganda that will cause the U.S. public to vote for their preferred political candidates and against the ones that those investors don’t prefer. This makes the entire operation “democratic,” even if the winning candidates of each of the two political Parties — both candidates — back even larger ‘defense’ expenditures by the one government in the world, the U.S. Government, that already spends approximately half of the entire world’s costs for ‘defense’.

The United States Government, and the Governments in Europe, don’t have enough money to protect the health of their people, and to provide the educational systems that they need, and to reduce crime, and to maintain and improve the infrastructure for them, but instead are prioritizing weapons-production, in order to defeat Russia on the battlefield of Ukraine, which borders Russia. That is their top priority. Ukraine has threatened Russia ever since Obama’s coup there in 2014. That was the opening round of World War III. Ukraine is an authentic national-security interest of Russia, because it’s on Russia’s doostep. That’s why Obama grabbed it. But Ukraine isn’t an authentic national-security interest of the United States, nor even of other nations in Europe. None of them were not only on Russia’s border but couped by the U.S. Government in 2014 and thereby transformed from being neutral to being rabidly anti-Russian. Russia struck back on 24 February 2022, which precipitated the current explosive boom for U.S.-and-allied armaments firms and their investors. Those investors are being well served by their Governments. But those nations’ publics are not. Is this democracy? Or is it instead fascism? Will one find reliable, trustworthy, evidence on that matter, in the newsmedia to which one has subscribed? In a time of war, should one seek-out to access, on a regular basis, especially newsmedia from countries that one’s own Government labels as being “enemies”? In a capitalist country, how can a person intelligently seek-out truth regarding international relations? It’s a real problem. Therefore, it is a problem that’s ridiculed (as ‘conspiracy theory’ or such) by all of the mainstream media in those countries. Sometimes, some things are too true to be publishable within the mainstream. That’s especially common in a dictatorship. Anyway, it is the case in U.S.-and-allied countries today.

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Defense

The New Nuclear Arms Race

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Nuclear weapons are currently an international security issue. Lessons learned from past events have contributed to a global fear of such weapons. Simultaneously current events are indicating a global trend in nuclear proliferation, especially among powerful actors. States in possession of nuclear weapons are focusing on developing their nuclear capabilities and expanding their programs. Why is that so? Why are states still building nuclear weapons? Are these states conscious of the dangerous consequences involved? Are we experiencing the threat of a nuclear war?

In this paper, we will first define the term nuclear proliferation since it is key to understanding the different aspects of international security. Next, we will look at the different existing models explaining the current trend of nuclear proliferation and link these models to past events. Eventually, we will try to understand the recent developments in the field of international insecurity and analyze whether there is currently an international source of a nuclear threat.

Nuclear proliferation

It is important to understand the term nuclear proliferation. To do so, we need to define “proliferation”. The Cambridge Dictionary offers the following definition: “the fact of something increasing a lot and suddenly in number or amount“ (Cambridge Dictionary 2022). To simplify this definition, proliferation can be understood as “growth and propagation” (Rizky 2022).

So, what is nuclear proliferation? Nuclear proliferation is “a spectrum of possible activities related to the exploration, pursuit, or acquisition of nuclear weapons by states” (Rizky 2022). Therefore, it refers to the sudden rise in the number of weapons in circulation. Indeed, powerful states are focusing on developing their nuclear capabilities by building new weapons, perfecting their capability to build such weapons as well as investing financially in nuclear technology and its sophistication.

The main actors currently owning nuclear weapons are Russia, the United States, China, North Korea, Pakistan, India, Israel, France, and the United Kingdom (SIPRI 2021). However, not all of them are taking part in this pursuit of nuclear proliferation.

Reasons for the proliferation of nuclear weapons

Now that the meaning of nuclear proliferation is clear, another question emerges. Why do states still build nuclear weapons? International relations studies often offer an “obvious answer” to this question. Namely the idea of national security. States justify the building of nuclear weapons to ensure their national security in case of an external military threat. It is assumed that no alternative can guarantee their national security like nuclear weapons do (Sagan 1996).

However, this is an important question regarding the current global events and needs a more precise explanation. It is necessary to have a wide range of possible answers to envision the future of international security and its potential nuclear threat.

The answers can be divided into four different categories, respectively models. Namely the Security Model, which refers to the simple and basic answer found in most studies. The second one is the Norms Model, followed by the Domestic Politics Model and finally the Model we will be referring to as the Technological Race Model (Sagan 1996).

In Sagan’s article “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?” (Sagan 1996), he explains the three first models mentioned above. The first model refers to a state’s response to an external threat. States that have the financial resources, build nuclear weapons because it seems to be the safest option to ensure their national security. Weak states, however, states that could not invest in such expensive weapons, have the option to join alliances, such as an alliance with a nuclear power that would become an ally in case of a nuclear threat (Sagan 1996).

 Under this category, I believe there is also the idea of international anarchy. A powerful state hearing about another one building a nuclear weapon might consider this as a sign of potential threat. George Shultz explains this phenomenon as “Proliferation begets proliferation” (Shultz 1984).

Indeed, the proliferation started by one state will encourage another one to do the same and therefore take part in this nuclear proliferation as well (Sagan 1996). This phenomenon can be perceived as a post-war strategic reaction. In World War II the United States launched nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These events provoked the current trend of nuclear proliferation. The USSR, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, and Pakistan all reacted in a similar way. They invested in the development of nuclear weapons, widened their nuclear capabilities, and intensified their national research in nuclear technology (Rizky 2022).

This leads us to the next model, namely the Norms Model. Sagan explains this category as followed: “Nuclear weapons decisions are made because weapons acquisition, or restraint in weapons development, provides an important normative symbol of a state’s modernity and identity“ (Sagan 1996).

Indeed, nuclear weapons nowadays are a symbol of prestige and power. Therefore, powerful states follow this unwritten, international norm to ensure their global recognition. They take part in this nuclear proliferation race to show what they are financially and technologically capable of.

Sagan argues that the symbol of possessing nuclear weapons is similar to the symbol of a state’s Olympic team or national airline. In some states, national airlines are established more to demonstrate their technological capabilities and valuable human capital of scientists than to offer an additional domestic mode of transportation (Sagan 1996).

I believe this is also the motivation behind the third model of Technological Race. Globally, the United States (US) has been recognized as the leader in advanced technology and artificial intelligence. Especially when looking at Silicon Valley and its potential. Nonetheless, in the past few years, the US has been caught up by China, which has now become its biggest competitor. This indeed provoked the US to invest even more in its research and that is exactly what it did in its nuclear technology sector (Rizky 2022).

As we can see, this model refers to one country’s whole image as a leader in technology. But, this is only the case from a technological perspective. There exists another model from a political perspective, namely the Domestic Politics Model.

This category demonstrates nuclear proliferation as a tool to ensure domestic political interest. Not necessarily national interest, but the personal interest of at least one politician respectively, one political actor. Indeed, it could be the military influencing a political decision to get a larger national defense budget and acquire nuclear weapons. In such a case, the perception of an external threat could be worsened to promote the necessity of nuclear weapons (Sagan 1996).

Recent developments

For decades, the world has been focusing on disarmament and reducing the number of nuclear weapons in circulation. Especially the main actors mentioned above were dedicated to promoting different treaties to avoid the spread. However, these public announcements, coming from wealthy, powerful nations in possession of such arms are contradictory to the current trend in nuclear proliferation (Al Jazeera 2022).

Even more surprising is the fact that the idea of disarmament has suddenly disappeared after the Russian attack on Ukraine. In fact, in a matter of months, actors in possession of nuclear weapons have announced to invest in nuclear arms in order to increase, modernize and optimize their arsenal. Countries that wanted to get rid of nuclear arms are now putting strong importance on the capability of their weapons. Russia’s threat of using nuclear weapons against Ukraine has provoked a common global reaction to get ready for potential danger (Al Jazeera 2022).

Therefore, it seems like Russia’s war has already activated a nuclear proliferation trend, stronger and faster than in the past decades. A new nuclear arms race has started, altough this time it is not about technological capability and artificial intelligence. This time it is about being prepared and ready for a potential attack from a country possessing the world’s largest nuclear arsenal (Hille 2022).

Conclusion

To conclude, the Russian attack on Ukraine has provoked large, powerful nations to rush toward the development and modernization of their nuclear arms. This reaction has not only accelerated the proliferation of nuclear weapons but also created a threatening environment.

Nevertheless, I believe there will not be a World War III, even if Russia threatens to use its arsenal against Europe, because too much is at stake. The world is aware of the catastrophic consequences a nuclear attack can cause and has learned from the past lessons. Putin’s behavior is his way of showing the world how powerful he is, what resources he owns, and what he is capable of. There is no need for fear since his announcements are pure arrogance and bluff.

The large nations who joined the nuclear arms race are reacting to his threats as the world expects them to. Namely, appearing to act, preparing, and making sure their arsenal could be operated at any time, even if they are not sincerely planning on doing so. Governments expect to reassure their population by taking action and guaranteeing national security.

Therefore, the reason this nuclear arms race is happening is due to Russia’s threat of nuclear attack and led to international governments taking actions such as discussed in the Domestic Politics Model.

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