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Still Asking the Wrong Questions: A Perilous American Error



“The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.”-Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952)[1]

How did America get to this fragile place?

Often, history deserves pride of place. For Americans, much remains to be learned from the rise of European Nazism in the 1930s.[2]  German Philosopher Karl Jaspers captures the essence of such prospective learning in his classic work, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952): No nation can ever fix its core problems in the realm of politics.

               There is more. Taken by themselves, no election outcomes, however well-intentioned or reliable, can compensate for a pervasively “unphilosophical spirit.”

               Supporting evidence abounds. Even now, Americans generally fail to look meaningfully behind the news. What matters most is not whether Donald Trump will run again (he won’t), but identifying the retrograde forces that created such a dissembling presidency in the first place. This is not “just” a question of narrow historical interest. It must now be asked systematically and dialectically[3] to avoid a second and more lethal American retreat into anti-Reason.

               Donald J. Trump, though conspicuously law-ignoring and anti-science, was never America’s underlying problem. This “original” problem has always been something less tangible. It is  a society and polity willing to abandon intellect and justice for imaginations of conspiracy and patriotism.[4] Now, to prepare capably for an otherwise portentous future, Americans must look more closely at the broader society from which this president was drawn.

                Ultimately, as we must learn, the problem is not that the “average American” knows too little about matters of national consequence. It is that he or she wants to know very little.[5] Until Americans can finally escape from such a limiting lack of vision, another Donald Trump (e.g. Ted Cruz; Ron DeSantis; Josh Hawley) will be pacing in “the wings.”[6]

               There is more. Americans generally exhibit expectations of human rationality, an always-problematic expectation that is bound to disappoint. After all, the “true world,” as we may learn from Albert Camus and certain other classical thinkers (e.g., Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard and Freud) is not predictably rational, and disorienting divergences between expectation and reality can often produce outcomes “worse” than simple irrationality.

               They can produce “the absurd.”

               In Albert Camus’ deft clarification (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942 (Fr.): “The absurd is born of this confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”[7] Human need is effectively immutable. But human silence, an expression of absurdity, is a matter of volition.

A nation celebrating “common sense” over erudition

               Elucidating explanations are inter-related. Americans have typically valued a “practical” education. It was not by mere happenstance that Donald J. Trump rose to power in a country so openly proud of its sweeping historical and cultural illiteracy.[8] The fact that this president never read anything himself – literally, never, ever – was not generally taken as a liability. On the contrary, even today, mass publics in the United States reserve few intellectual expectations for America’s national leaders.[9] Still worse, obvious intellectual debility is often enviable.

               Prima facie, it is taken as a presidential asset.[10]

               Though grotesque and cumulatively lethal, the assertion is indisputable.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”[11]

               Next time, the “silence of the world” may not be “unreasonable.”

                Once upon a time, when some still-calculable number of Americans sought to consider mind-challenging books and annoyingly complex ideas (these two activities are “force multiplying” and gainfully reciprocal), Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his fellow citizens to embrace “plain living and high thinking.”[12] Today, this earlier philosophic plea for personal and social equilibrium (one trait shapes the other) has been too-casually cast aside. We ought also to be forewarned that any such sensible plea would be widely ridiculed.

               Under the aegis of former US President Donald Trump, legions of citizens saw no problem with suffering an anti-education president. In part, such ominous indifference to intellect and science could be traced to this country’s unrelieved barrage of crude and voyeuristic distractions, many of which currently center on sadism, torture and mass murder. Matters were not helped by Trump’s continuously open encouragements of corrosive public discourse, encouragements laced with incoherent argument, baseless rancor and a very dreary profanity.

                Finally, it’s time for candor. Very early in his defiling presidency, Donald J. Trump promised, at one of his Goebbels-style “rallies,”[13] to protect a nonexistent Article of the US Constitution. But even then, his unhidden historical ignorance was glossed over as minor or unimportant.  Nonetheless, it did represent another humiliating symptom of a wider and more insidious national “pathology.”

               The key question surfaces. What was this collective “disease,” one as virulent as Covid19? Above all, it was a presidential “victory” for “mass man.” “What the mob once learned to believe without reasons,” queries Friedrich Nietzsche in the Fourth Part of Zarathustra, “who could overthrow that with reasons?”

               Friedrich Nietzsche already understood. He had reflected (also in Zarathustra) that “When the throne sits upon mud, mud sits upon the throne.”[14]  Disregarding the millions who “with reasons” still refused to renounce his glaringly debased presidency, Trump never argued that American history should warrant serious study. Unsurprisingly, such study could have helped undo the lethal sovereignty of “mass man.”

               Ironies abound. How many Americans who energetically champion “gun rights” today have ever paused to consider that the Founding Fathers never expected modern automatic weapons? How many adrenalized “patriots” can sincerely believe that the Founders would have wanted 350 million privately-held weapons with rapid-fire capabilities, including many in the hands of citizens living in varying stages of derangement?

               There is more. Could any argument for “Second Amendment Rights” be more plainly disingenuous than those putting unimaginable sentiments into the mouths of 18th century revolutionaries? Perhaps there is one. In the last year of his administration, Trump asserted at a Goebbels-style “rally” that, during the American Revolution, Washington ‘s army “took control of all national airports.” This was by the same president who had earlier urged use of American nuclear weapons against hurricanes.

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

               What do Americans really know about their country’s cultural and intellectual beginnings? How many current citizens realize that their eighteenth-century Republic was the direct religious heir of John Calvin and a lineal philosophical descendant of both John Locke and Thomas Hobbes?[15] How many can appreciate that the fearful Hobbesian “state of nature” in Leviathan – a “state of war”[16] or “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes) – was deemed insufferable by the philosopher because therein “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”

               How man have even heard of Thomas Hobbes or John Locke?

               Hobbes strongly cautioned against any social order that might (wittingly or unwittingly) create this “dreadful equality.” After all, following any such creation, “…the life of man (would necessarily be) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

               Ominously, for President Trump, going back to “nature,” both nationally and internationally, could represent only a positive or welcome development. More exactly, in his disjointed Realpolitik view of the world, “might makes right” could have become a core part of “making America great again.”  

Becoming a “crowd.”[17]

               This is not the first time in modern history that a “crowd” has loved to chant in belligerent chorus. For one worrisome example, we need only recall the ritual chants of Joseph Goebbels heard at the Nuremberg Rallies before the War. What Goebbels did instruct, with a shrill and perverse genius – a lesson seemingly well learned by Donald Trump – is that the bigger the lie, the more believable it can become.

               “Cobid19 will disappear by itself.” “Injections of household disinfectant should be considered as therapy.” At first, such phrases don’t seem to make any sense, but if a leader chants often enough against “crooked” opponents and “fixed” elections, fewer will expect to see any “crookedness” on the chanting side.

               Such “logic” makes no evident sense. It is contrary to every recognizable standard of correct reasoning.  Still, to the end, it continued to work well for former President Donald Trump.

               “Intellect rots the brain,” warned Goebbels.

               “I love the poorly educated,” intoned Donald Trump.

               Not much difference here. As malignant planners of very precisely calculated deceptions, both screamers were “on the same page.”

               During his tenure, Mr. Trump, with nary a hint of any painstaking analysis, blithely encouraged additional countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons (e.g., Japan and South Korea). At a minimum, the former president’s misconceived encouragement had been spawned by his unawareness that possession of nuclear weapons does not automatically create credible deterrence. In the language of nuclear strategic theory – a language with which this author has been quite intimate for over fifty years in Washington, Geneva and Jerusalem –[18] the relevant fallacy has a suggestive name.

               It is called the “porcupine theory.”[19]

               Here, violators of strategic logic falsely equate nuclear weapons states with porcupines, assuming that because porcupines (presumably) leave each other alone in the forest, so too would nuclear weapon states steer clear of each other in world politics.[20] One problem with such metaphoric thinking concerns prospects of inadvertent or accidental nuclear war. Another concerns an always-present risk of decisional irrationality.[21]

The problem of simplifications

               In the end, America’s presidential selections are too often shaped by primal disfigurements. Many of this country’s cumulative political ambitions remain integrally bound up with embarrassing simplifications and stupefying clichés. The elaborately welcomed appearance of Duck Dynasty as principal “speaker” before Mr. Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention already represented the reductio ad absurdum of a declining civilization.

               Yet, it was not generally criticized.

               Why not? Because it was fully consistent – without causing tangible electoral disadvantage – with Donald Trump’s terminally proud aversion to refinement, syntax, intellect, law, and learning in any conceivable form[22] At deeper levels,  it was expressive of America’s more general celebration of low-level and degrading public entertainments. For this former president, there was more instructional value in Roseanne than in Shakespeare.

               For millions of Trump’s fellow citizens, that demeaning preference was no cause for criticism.

                Among many others, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his generation of American Transcendentalists would have winced. Our earliest presidents, after all, were individuals of meaningful accomplishment and at least some original thought.

               In July 1776, over one short Philadelphia weekend of dreadful heat and no modern conveniences, a then-future American president composed more infinitely valuable prose than the country’s president with all modern conveniences could produce in several contiguous lifetimes. Thomas Jefferson did not arrive at his presidency with a well-honed expertise in casino gambling or financial manipulations but with an elevating background in agriculture, architecture, science and philosophy.

               “One must never seek the higher man,” warned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra, “at the marketplace.” Years ago, it seems, America still stood for something more than buying, selling and an abundantly raw commerce. Years ago, America’s national debates did not center on killing and the right to arm oneself with military-style assault weapons. It may be that this country has never been ready to embrace Plato’s “Philosopher King,”[23] but there were discernible times in America’s national past that its philosophical debates sounded more like a mind-expanding university seminar than a self-defense course on tactical weapons.

               Americans remember their earlier presidents not for their transient commercial successes in a frenetic marketplace of goods screaming to be bought or sold, but for their historically auspicious presence in a mind-focused marketplace of ideas. For these increasingly-enviable presidents, it was more important to build a leadership legacy upon wisdom and learning than to show off shallow symbols of personal wealth. Donald Trump did not create “conspicuous consumption,” but neither did his electoral defeat put an end to such patterns.

The wider background

                The full horror of the Trump presidency – a horror still cheerfully accepted as “progress” by millions – began with the intellectually unambitious American citizen, that is, with the insistently flawed “microcosm.” The American electorate can never rise any higher than the amalgamated capacities of its members. Now, by virtue of “synergy,” the whole of the American polity has become more despoiled than the aggregate sum of its “parts.”

                Ultimately, for better or for worse, every democracy must come to represent the sum total of its constituent “souls,” those still-hopeful citizens who would seek some sort or other of personal “redemption.”[24] In today’s deeply fractionated American republic, however, We the people – more and more desperate for a seemingly last chance to “fit in” and/or “get ahead” –   inhabit a vast wasteland of lost human and intellectual opportunity. Within this desiccated society of cheap and abysmal entertainments, of political leaders without a scintilla of courage or any hint of integrity,[25] millions of “hollow men” (and women) remain chained to exhausting cycles of unsatisfying work.

               Manifold ironies are wrapped together here. While generally unrecognized, this de facto servitude is sometimes felt by the very very rich as well as the very very poor. This reflects a paradoxical “artifact” of American privilege, one that is based upon entire lifetimes spent on empty personal goals and sterile forms of accumulation.

                Given what most Americans are familiar with in their own daily lives, the country’s most spirited national debates continue to be about guns and killing, and not about history, literature, music, art, philosophy, or beauty.[26] Within this vast and predatory nether-world, huge segments of a nation’s unhappy population cheerlessly drown themselves in oceans of alcohol and drugs. Incrementally, this submersion, relentless and intractable, is becoming deep enough to swallow up entire centuries of national achievement and a once-sacred poetry.

               At its core, America’s “opiate addiction problem” is not about drugs per se. It is about rampant individual unhappiness and irremediable social despair. Now, moreover, the tangible residue of this problem can be found scattered as toxic litter over thousands of America’s beaches and playgrounds. In the end, this litter will instruct as the squalid symbol of a larger social disintegration, of a society that is now expansively complicit in its own unheroic demise.

                Small wonder that so many millions of Americans cling so desperately to their smart phones and related electronic devices. Filled with a deepening and ultimate horror of ever having to be left alone with themselves,[27] these virtually connected millions are visibly frantic to claim some still-recognizable membership in the leveling public mass. Earlier, Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had foreseen and understood this omnivorous mass, long before the “rise” of social media.

               “The crowd,” opined the prophetic 19th century thinker, “is untruth.”

               Later, in the twentieth century, and in a portentously similar insight, Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset foresaw the perilous consequences of “mass,” a term resembling Sigmund Freud’s “horde” and quite nearly identical to Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s “mass.”

               Whether one speaks of a “crowd,” “horde,” or mass,” the selected noun can speak volumes about how a non-reading and non- writing former president remains able to claim the enthusiastic support of millions. While seeking such support, there was never any compelling reason for Mr. Trump to bother reconciling his so-called policies with any verifiable facts. In this pernicious presidency, hypocrisy was always unhidden and undisguised.

               At the end of his criminalized presidency,[28] Donald J. Trump called openly for armed insurrection against the United States. Nonetheless, rather than generate a reaction of nation-wide horror and disbelief, this once-incomprehensible call elicited far-reaching exclamations of support. When these many millions of Americans stood proudly against the US Constitution and against the rule of law – allegedly as “patriots”- the extant political system provided no viable mechanisms of remediation.[29] Though flagrantly beyond the pale, such destabilizing citizen behavior is sometime apt to be repeated or even accelerated, especially as long as a major US political party (the party of President Donald Trump) chooses to remain a witting “co-conspirator.”

Looking ahead: “a world in stupor lies”[30]

                For the moment, at least, Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and airless “crowd” or “herd” or “mass.”  Disclaiming any residual interior life, “We the People” proceed tentatively, and in almost every palpable sphere, at the lowest common denominator. Expressed in more easily grasped terms, even America’s vaunted “freedom” is becoming a contrivance.

                The simplifying American context offers a regrettable but ubiquitous solvent, a caustic solution dissolving almost everything of intellectual or analytic consequence. In education, the once revered Western Canon of literature, art and music has been replaced by more generalized emphases on “branding.” Already, apart from their pervasive drunkenness and enthusiastically tasteless entertainments, the once-sacred spaces of higher education have been transformed into a steadily rusting pipeline to ritualistic jobs and utterly numbing vocations.

               Soon, even if we should somehow manage to avoid nuclear war and nuclear terrorism – an avoidance not to be taken for granted –  the swaying of the American ship will become so violent that even the hardiest lamps will be overturned.[31] Then, the phantoms of great ships of state, once laden with silver and gold, may no longer lie forgotten. Then, perhaps, we will finally understand that the circumstances that could send the compositions of Homer, Maimonides, Goethe, Milton, Shakespeare, Freud and Kafka to join the disintegrating works of forgotten poets were neither unique nor transient.

.              In all societies, as Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists also recognized, the scrupulous care of each individual”soul” is what is most important. There can be a “better”American soul,[32] and also an improved American politics,but not until we are first able to acknowledge a more starkly prior obligation. This obligation references a national responsibility to overcome the always-staggering barriers of a Kierkegaardian “crowd” culture, and to embrace once again the liberating imperatives of Emersonian “high thinking.”

               In the end, the Donald Trump presidency was “merely” the most debilitating symptom of a much deeper American pathology, one that has yet to be conquered. In the United States, the most genuinely underlying disease remains a sweeping national unwillingness to think seriously. Left unchallenged, such reluctance could eventually transform the floundering nation into the lacquered corpse of a once-promising American Civilization.

                The ill-founded Trump presidency did notend with a catastrophic nuclear war, but even that “happy ending” represents just a temporary reprieve. Accordingly, unless citizens begin to work much harder at halting American society’s steep indifference to intellect, reason and law, they will have to face precisely the ominous kinds of metamorphoses Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard famously termed a “sickness unto death.” For those Americans who can still understand more than the empty witticisms stitched into red baseball caps, the truest work should begin not with politics directly (all politics are ultimately just reflection, or “epiphenomenal”)[33], but with a deliberate and purposeful fixing of private “selves.”[34]

               The American democracy, as we may yet learn from Thomas Jefferson, was never expected to flourish without an informed citizenry. Once this unassailable reasoning is properly understood and accepted, a still-imperiled nation could better guard itself against another grievously unfit president. The next time we are faced with an aspiring American dictatorship of empty slogans and tawdry deeds, a barbarous insurrection might quickly become more significantly destructive.

               Could there possibly be any more important sort of national awareness?[35] Evidence abounds that millions of Americans remain comfortably submerged in a common and recalcitrant unconsciousness, a stultifying paralysis that may make plausible every kind of authoritarian rule. To suitably combat this expressly an-democratic and anti-American inclination, responsible citizens will need to do much more than simply prepare to vote. The “enemy,” as foreseen by philosopher Karl Jaspers, is never merely a particular political leader, however malignant and dishonest.

                America’s true enemy is a pervasively “unphilosophical spirit,” one that desperately “wants to know nothing of truth.” There is no imaginable path to coexistence with such a primal adversary. We can’t live with such a perilous spirit indefinitely. To assume anything else means we are still asking the wrong questions.

[1]Seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarks prophetically in Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought…It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing additionally from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge. And early in the 20th century, Guillaume Apollinaire observed: “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” See: “The New Spirit and the Poets” (1917). See also, by this author, Louis René Beres

[2]This writer, Louis René Beres, came to the United States as a post-Holocaust refugee from Switzerland, in April 1947. He arrived, together with his parents, on liberty ship SS Marine Falcon, sailing to New York City from the French port of Le Havre.

[3] Dialectical thinking originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions.

[4] During the “Trump Era,” such abandonment led to major crimes against international as well as national law. Concerning violations of Nuremberg-category rules, see (by former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz:)

[5] Recall, in this connection, Bertrand Russell’s timeless warning in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death.”

[6]The mass man or woman is a primitive and universal being, one who has “slipped back,” in the words of 20th century Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y’ Gusset, “through the wings, on to the age-old stage of civilization.” This meaning of Ortega’s “mass man” is essentially the same as C. J. Jung’s “mass man” and Soren Kierkegaard’s “crowd person.”

[7]See also, by this author, Louis René Beres at Horasis (Zurich):

[8] On America’s long and injurious history of anti-intellectualism, see,  by this author, Louis René Beres:

[9]This may be due in part to diminishing impacts of higher education.

[10]America’s Founding Fathers, however, were often genuine intellectuals, In the words of distinguished 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 magisterial Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Knopf, 1964), p. 145.

[11]As literary genre, the “theatre of the absurd” is highlighted by Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Adamov and Jean Genet. One can discover pertinent intellectual roots in the earlier writings (and paintings) of Surrealism, Zurich Dada and – especially for Albert Camus – Franz Kafka. The core problem here is not that absurdity is per se murderous or problematic, but that it can produce such harms if first allowed to become “malignant.”

[12]See Emerson’s classic essay, “Self Reliance” (1841).

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

[14]See, by this author at Yale Global, on “Courage: A Reading List,” Louis René Beres:

[15] The idea of Natural Law/Higher was integral to philosophies of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, and therefore to the creation of US domestic law. Natural Law also figured importantly at the post-world War II Nuremberg Trials. In his opening statement to the International Military Tribunal, US Chief Prosecutor Justice Robert Jackson commented: “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.” William Blackstone’s Commentaries, the starting point of all US law, recognize and reaffirm that all law “results from those principles of natural justice, in which all the learned of every nation agree….” See William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, adapted by Robert Malcolm Kerr (Boston; Beacon Press, 1962), Book IV, “Of Public Wrongs,” p. 62 (Chapter V., “Of Offenses Against the Law of Nations.”) The first volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries appeared in 1765, the fourth in 1769. An American edition of the full work was printed in Philadelphia in 1771-72

[16] Under authoritative international law, which is generally part of US law, the question of whether or not a “state of war” exists between states is too often ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal declaration of war was necessary before any true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chs. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war can obtain only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated, inter alia, that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, formal declarations of war could be tantamount to admissions of international criminality because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law. It could, therefore, represent a jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to prior declarations of belligerency. It follows, further, that a state of war may exist without any formal declarations, but only if there should exist an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”

[17]Says Soren Kierkegaard in “Point of View, `That Individual,’ “It is in every man’s power to become what he is, an individual. From becoming an individual, no one, no one at all, is excluded, except he who excludes himself by becoming a crowd.” Later, the Danish philosopher adds: “The most ruinous evasion of all is to be hidden in the crowd in an attempt to escape God’s supervision of him as an individual….” Significantly, though religion-based on its face, this argument stands just as formidably on secular moral foundations.

[18]For several years, Professor Beres was a regular contributor to BESA (Israel);Israel Defense (Tel Aviv) and Chair of “Project Daniel” (Jerusalem, PM Sharon): See, Louis René Beres,;; and

[19] A somewhat analogous fallacy in domestic politics is revealed in easy private access to guns and in arming teachers to deter school shootings. It makes little sense to argue (as did Donald Trump) that a disturbed individual with access to firearms would best be deterred by a “loving teacher” with a concealed handgun. Also worth noting is that in several thousand years of western philosophy, a hallmark of a civilized society has been “the centralized force monopoly of the community,” not an “every man for himself” vigilante system favored by former US President Donald Trump.

[20] One of this writer’s first scholarly assessments of the “porcupine” fallacy was published in Parameters: The Journal of the US Army War College (Department of Defense) in September 1979. See; Louis René Beres, “The Porcupine Theory of Nuclear Proliferation: Shortening the Quills,” Parameters, Vol. IX, No. 3, September 1979, pp. 31-37. More recently, see Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 2nd edition 2018.

[21]Recalling 20th-century German philosopher, Karl Jaspers: “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.” This complex insight can be found in Jaspers’ “Historical Reflections” on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

[22] Former President Trump never showed awareness that international law is an integral part of the law of the United States. Recalling the precise 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.'”).

[23]See, by this author: Louis René Beres,  Plato’s theory, offered in the fourth century B.C.E, seeks to explain politics as an unstable realm of sense and matter, an arena formed and sustained by half-truths and distorted perceptions.  In contrast to the stable realm of immaterial Forms, from which all genuine knowledge must be derived, the political realm is dominated by myriad uncertainties of the sensible world. At the basis of Plato’s political theory is a physical-mental analogy establishing a correlation between head, heart and abdomen and the human virtues of intelligence, courage and moderation. 

[24]See C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957).

[25]See, for example:

[26]See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Oxford University Press:

[27]See by this author, Louis René Beres, at Princetonian (Princeton University) (2011):

[28] See:

[29]See, by this author, at Princetonian (Princeton University): Louis René Beres,

[30] See by the poet W.H. Auden: “Defenseless under the night, a world in stupor lies.”

[31] See, by this author, Louis René Beres:; reprinted from Yale Global Online (Yale University).

[32] However ironic, Sigmund Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he most strenuously objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism” and its seemingly corollary commitment to crude forms of materialism. America, thought Freud, was “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

[33] Within this reflective activity, each citizen minimizes himself/herself into a quantité négligeable, an irrelevant being.

[34]“The self is sacred,” opines Ralph Waldo Emerson in several of his most classic essays.

[35]“Man cannot receive an answer,” warns philosopher Paul Tillich in Existence and the Christ (1951) “to a question he has not asked.”

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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The American Initiative for a “Better World” and its difference with the Chinese Belt and Road



During their summit held at the end of July 2021 in the city of “Cornwall” in Britain, the leaders of the countries (the Group of Seven major economic leaders “G7” led by Washington) have been announced the launch of an ambitious global initiative called “Rebuilding a Better World”. It is internationally, known as:

Build Back Better World (B3W)

  The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative aims to (meet the massive financing requirements for infrastructure needs). The most important differences and distinguishes between (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road and the American initiative to build a better world), are highlighted, through:

1) The intense Chinese interest in doing (development initiatives that are not politically conditional, unlike the American tool that sets political goals and conditions as a condition for the work of projects or the provision of loans, as well as China’s interest in infrastructure and community projects), and this is the most obvious and famous reason for the “Belt and Road” initiative, whereas the maps showed China’s roads, railways, and pipelines networks extending with partner countries, in addition to cooperation in (the field of digital technologies, educational and social institutions, and security services), which creates a network of relations that will continue in the future, in contrast to the US case or initiative.

  2) We find that while (the leaders of the seven major economic countries neglected to develop long-term strategic plans in their initiative for a better world to serve poor and developing peoples), the vision of the “Belt and Road” has been more clearly manifested through the spread of many other developmental initiatives and the other extensions with it, which include the “Silk Road” for its projects, such as: (The Health Silk Road Initiative to combat “Covid-19”, and the launch of the “Digital Silk” initiative, known as (Information Silk Road).

 3) At a time when Washington and its allies ignored the interests of developing countries, China has contributed to (leading the global development initiatives, especially the Healthy Silk Road to help countries affected by the spread of the pandemic), an initiative mentioned for the first time in the (White Book of Chinese Policy in  2015), Chinese President “Xi Jinping” announced officially the “Health Silk Road” that was presented in a 2016 speech delivered by the Chinese President in Uzbekistan, as well as the new road and the most recent Chinese initiative, known as the “Polar Silk Road”, which also known as the “Ice Silk Road”, which stretches across the “North Pole”, it was first highlighted in 2018.

 4) In the belief of China to lead global development efforts, in contrast to ignoring the “Better World Initiative”, it was represented in China’s leadership in the field of “climate and environmental governance”, so the Chinese government initiated the launch of the “Green Silk Road Fund”, which was established by Chinese investors to promote (Chinese projects that take into account environmental standards), and the latest and most advanced here is the Chinese announcement of the “Space Silk Road”, which is the development of the Chinese “Beidou” system for artificial intelligence technology, and others.

5) Here, we find that at a time when China’s desire to support and modernize all African and poor countries is increasing, the American initiative, which is alleged to be an alternative to the Chinese plan, has come to China’s interest in projects (the Chinese satellite navigation system), and it is scheduled to be used and developed China as an alternative to GPS services.

 6) The American President “Joe Biden” adopted the “Building Better for the World” project, stressing that its mainly focus on the (climate, health, digital sector, and combating social inequality), because the “Belt and Road” initiative – as stated by assistants to US President “Biden” – has transformed from a series of unauthorized projects connected to infrastructure, a cornerstone of Beijing’s foreign policy strategy, and the initiative supported China with raw materials, trade links, and geopolitical influence, so the “White House” wants to engage in projects with greater environmental and labor standards than those funded by China, and with complete transparency regarding financial terms. Perhaps that point raised by Washington towards China comes without (the United States of America presenting concrete evidence of the validity of those accusations to China, as well as Washington’s failure to penetrate deep into the African continent compared to the Chinese side).

 7) American reports accuse Beijing of being (the reason for the decline of its influence on the African continent, and the United States faces many obstacles and challenges to regain its influence again in Latin American countries, which considers China as a trading partner and an important and vital investor in the African and Latin region).  For example, bilateral trade between Brazil – the largest economy in South America, and China increased from $2 billion in 2000 to $100 billion in 2020.  Perhaps this in itself (supports China’s credibility with its development projects to serve African and developing peoples, in contrast to African and Latin rejection, for example, of American influence and penetration in their countries).

8) The most important analytical thing for me is that the relationship of the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” with African countries supports “the call of China and Chinese President “Xi Jinping” towards a multilateral and multipolar world”. Therefore, we find that (China’s agreement with these African countries came in their support for multipolarity in the world, which the United States rejects), while African countries and the developing world mainly welcome the “Belt and Road Initiative”, which meets the needs of economic development in their countries, which the alleged American initiative will be unable to meet.

 9) It also represents the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road (a prelude to the China-Pacific cooperation road to link China and Latin America more closely, through the 21st century Maritime Silk Road from China to Latin America, which the United States strongly opposed, which reduces travel time between them, it works on developing infrastructure and connectivity, and investing in port works and ocean corridors between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Which (made the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean consider cooperation with Beijing a huge investment opportunity and a support for economic and social development plans, as well as an improvement in the region’s competitiveness).

 10) It is worth noting that what distinguishes (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road from the American Better World Initiative, is its “sweeping popularity globally”), especially if we know that more than 100 countries have joined the Beijing initiative, which made it stronger politically and diplomatically. China signed cooperation documents on Belt and Road construction with 171 countries and regions around the world, and the trade value between China and countries along the Belt and Road amounted to about 1.35 trillion dollars in 2020, accounting for 29.1 percent of the total value of China’s foreign trade which (the United States of America will be unable to provide in light of the current economic crisis, unlike China). The investment cooperation between them amounted to about $17.7 billion, and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce stated that the companies of the “Belt and Road” countries have established 4,294 institutions in China, with an investment value of $8.27 billion.

 11) and even came (confessions by well-known American bodies of China’s developmental role in confronting the United States of America), for example, a report by the “American Council on Foreign Relations” confirmed that: “Since the launch of the “Belt and Road” initiative in 2013, Chinese banks and companies have funded and the construction of power stations, railways, highways, and ports, as well as communications infrastructure, fiber-optic cables and smart cities around the world, and if the initiative continues to implement its plans, China will be able to stimulate global economic growth, and meet the needs of developing countries for the long term”.  This is an American testimony and a clear acknowledgment of the strength of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and its development projects around the world.

12) It remains to be noted here that (the American attempts to put forward alternative development initiatives for the Chinese Belt and Road is a kind of American political competition with China, so the question here is: Why did the United States not provide real development projects over the past long years), so we understand that the Belt Initiative  The road is the largest infrastructure program in the world, and indeed it has become an economic and political challenge for Washington.  Experts believe that the preoccupation of the United States with its financial and economic crises has contributed greatly to giving China the opportunity to extend its economic and development influence among the countries of the world. The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative comes among other US initiatives to try to confront and confront China, such as the Ocos Defense Security Agreement with Britain and Australia, as well as the first meeting of the “Quad Quartet” with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia. The “Biden administration” is also seeking to hold bilateral talks with countries in order to promote the American initiative, and recently talks were held with Indian Prime Minister (Narendra Modi), especially since India has refused to join the Belt and Road Initiative due to border disputes with China.  Therefore, we understand (the targeting of the United States of America to countries with conflict with China to attract them to its alternative initiative, in contrast to the openness of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative to the whole world).

    Accordingly, we arrive at an important analysis that says that the term “rebuilding better in the American sense” ignores and neglects development initiatives to serve the people, a better world, which is (an American political initiative rather than a development one such as the projects of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative). Here it becomes clear to us that the American initiative for a better world appears to be (influenced by the slogans and policies of both US President “Joe Biden” and British Prime Minister “Boris Johnson”), Rebuilding Better is the slogan of the American campaign, but without setting specific agreed plans or a timetable for everyone.

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Russia and the United States Mapping Out Cooperation in Information Security



Authors: Elena Zinovieva and Alexander Zinchenko*

The first committee of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution on international information security sponsored by Russia and the United States by consensus. The document has a record number of co-sponsors, with 107 countries putting their name to the document, although it is Russia and the United States that promote the document as its main sponsors. While the draft resolution still needs to go through a vote at the UN General Assembly this December, we can assume the vote will go more as less the same way it did in the committee.

The very fact that Russia and the United States came up with a joint draft resolution is a significant step forward in the bilateral cooperation in the field of international information security, especially given the fact that the United Nations hosted two competing platforms operating between 2019 and 2021, the Open‑Ended Working Group (the OEWG) established at Russia’s initiative and the Group of Governmental Experts (the GGE) led by the United States.

The joint draft resolution and a step towards an institutionalization of the dialogue came as a result of the agreements reached at the summit between President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Joe Biden of the United States on June 16, 2021. Four rounds of expert consultations have already taken place under the auspices of the security councils of the two countries, says Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States.

Besides, the Russian diplomat pointed to the successes in suppressing hacker activity and combating the criminal use of ICTs. The fight against cybercrime is one the main concerns voiced by the U.S. in this area, especially after the high-profile ransomware attacks on the energy and food industries in 2021. Subsequent dialogue led to a restoration of interaction in this area, which is occurring within the framework of the 1999 bilateral agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, a document that allows the parties to exchange information on cybercriminals in pretrial detention, including in matters when it comes to collecting evidence of the person’s guilt. Cooperation between the two countries has involved the United States transferring materials for the legal suppression of the activities of such international cybergroups as Evil Corp, TrickBot and REvil. In turn, Russia has informed the American colleagues that Moscow has managed to thwart the activities of a criminal group using the Dyre/TrickBot malware and prosecute those responsible.

Additionally, there has now been greater interaction between Russian and U.S. centers for responding to computer incidents, the Federal Security Service’s National Computer Incident Response and Coordination Center (the NCIRCC) and the Department of Homeland Security’s US–CERT. However, the sides still harbor their concerns, pointing to the fact that there is room for cooperation to be fostered and enhanced. For example, most attacks on Russian infrastructure in 2020, the NCIRCC suggests, were carried out from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. By the same token, the Western media continues to level mostly unsubstantiated accusations against Russia for its supposed involvement in cyberattacks, while cyber defence activities have become overly politicized.

Meaningful interaction, once it produces positive results, facilitates an atmosphere of trust between the parties, opening the door for closer cooperation to establish a universal international regime for information security, including with respect to the issues that are more global and complex in their scope. Russia’s agenda in bilateral negotiations is not limited to combating cybercrime—Sergey Ryabkov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, has stressed—as it includes a broad range of issues relating to international information security, including military and political use of ICT, which is the major threat to international stability today. Moreover, since 1998, Russia has been calling for a global regulation of international interaction in information security and for rules to be formulated under the auspices of the United Nations to guide responsible behaviour of states in this area.

The dialogue and the joint work in this area have been reflected in the draft resolution, and it takes Russia’s priorities into account. Specifically, the document sets out the important principles and rules of the responsible behaviour of states in the information space, which Russia has been advocating for since 1998: encouraging the use of ICTs for peaceful purposes, preventing conflicts arising in its use, preventing the use of ICTs for terrorist and criminal purposes. The document places a particular emphasis on the importance of preventing cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure.

The draft resolution also welcomes the 2021 report adopted by the Open‑Ended Working Group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security, making special note of how important the renewed group’s proceedings will be for 2021–2025. At the same time, the resolution suggests that the OEWG’s activities may well result in a binding UN document on international information security to be adopted.

It would seem the United States and Russia have sent a positive signal to the international community, recognizing the threats to international information security and acknowledging the importance of norms to be devised that would guide responsible behaviour of states in the information space. These norms would underpin the international regime for information security, as is envisioned by the Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on International Information Security adopted by the Russian President on April 12, 2021. The document aims to strengthen peace and international security, which are increasingly dependent on the advances in information and communications technologies. “The international community has proven in practice that it is capable of negotiating and working out acceptable solutions when it comes to resolving fundamental issues of national and international security,” noted Andrey Belousov, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

First published in our partner RIAC

*Alexander Zinchenko, Ph.D. in History, Lead Expert at the Centre for International Information Security, Science and Technology Policy at MGIMO University

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How the Republican Party Has Tightened U.S.-Taiwan Ties



Taiwan, also known as the sovereign Republican of China (ROC), set up in the aftermath of the revolution in 1911 in China. The U.S. government recognized the ROC as the legal government of China till the end of 1978 and has thereafter maintained a non-diplomatic relationship with the island after its official recognition of People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legal government of China in 1979. Even though the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is deemed as “unofficial” by the U.S. Department of State, official contacts between the two governments based on the Taiwan Relations Act have never ceased, the most important of which includes U.S.-Taiwan arms sales. The “strategic ambiguity” embedded in the three U.S.-PRC Joint Communiqués in 1972, 1979 and 1982 allows the U.S. to maintain its involvement in the regional security of Taiwan Strait under a statutory framework despite PRC’s countless opposition.

America’s long-standing commitment to Taiwan and involvement in the region is not only bound by the jurisdiction of the Taiwan Relation Act, but has created “historical and ideological connections”. The support for Taiwan, especially when in the face of an increasingly aggressive China, is usually bipartisan in the U.S., but the Republican party seems to be more provocative when it comes to defending Taiwan from the threat of mainland China. Historically, Republican politicians usually stroke first to take a pro-Taiwan stance when disputes across the Taiwan Strait arose. Meanwhile, the ongoing “asymmetric polarization” in the U.S. – the Republican Party is turning conservative more than the Democratic Party turning liberal – is influencing Washington’s policies involving the Taiwan Strait. In 2020, conservative Republican senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz introduced the Taiwan Defense Act (TDA) and Taiwan Symbols of Sovereignty (Taiwan SOS) Act respectively, both of which aimed at defending Taiwan from Chinese Communist Party’s oppression and even invasion. As Republicans are rapidly turning more conservative, is it likely that the U.S.-Taiwan relations will enter a honeymoon phase? And how that would affect U.S.-Taiwan arms sales?

Historical links between U.S. Republican Party and Taiwan

  1. 1949 – 1971: The China Lobby

Throughout the history U.S.-Taiwan relations, there have been multiple times when conservative Republican officials and public figures have worked at the forefront of campaigning for closer U.S.-Taiwan ties, often along with anti-PRC policies.The Republican Party’s intimacy with Taiwan dates back to 1949 when the Chinese Civil War ended. The defeat of Chiang Kai-shek split U.S. policymakers on the issue of whether to defend Taiwan if Communists from China initiated an attack. Democratic Secretary of State Dean Acheson was prone to abandon the island while Republican Senators Robert Taft and William Knowland, together with former Republican President Hoover adamantly demanded that America should protect Taiwan.

In the 1950s, the China Lobby, a broad network of people who shared the common goal of support Chiang Kai-shek’s recovery of mainland China from Mao Zedong-led communism, represented the apex of Taiwan’s success in America. It involved both Nationalist Chinese officials and right-wing American politicians who were mostly Republican politicians, including Senator Barry Goldwater, Jesse Helms, Senator Bob Dole, and Representative Dana Rohrabacher. Although not every supporter of Chiang actually cared about Taiwan issues since many of them simply took advantage of it to advance their own political agendas, the China Lobby, supported by the Republican Party, was capable of arguing for their cause aggressively and intimidating dissidents.

2.2 1971-1991: The Sino-US Normalization – Inner Conflicts among Republicans

Republican President Nixon won bipartisan support for his trip to China in 1972, which marked the end of U.S. efforts to isolate People’s Republic of China. Praises for Nixon’s China initiative came not only from leading congressional Democrats such as Senator Ted Kennedy and Mike Mansfield, but liberal communist James Reston. However, domestic controversy and criticism also arose and mostly came from conservative Republicans who complained that the preliminary rapprochement undermines America’s longtime ally – Taiwan. As the conclusion of Nixon’s visit to China, the “U.S.-PRC Joint Communique (1972)” was issued, which incurred opposition and even wrath of Nixon’s conservative Republican supporters who were upset by the gradual reduction in U.S. forces in Taiwan as implied by the communique.

A decade later, Republican President Ronald Reagan issued the “U.S.-PRC Joint Communique on Arms Sales” – also known as 1982 Communique – which clarified that the U.S. intended to gradually decrease its arms sales to Taiwan, but Reagan’s secret Memorandum on the 1982 Communique specified that the reduction in U.S. sales of arms to Taiwan was “conditioned absolutely upon the continued commitment of China to the peaceful solution of the Taiwan-PRC differences”. As a matter of fact, not only did the Reagan administration have Republicans in Congress reassured through his written clarification that the communique would not disadvantage Taiwan, but he continued to work to assuage potential criticism from the pro-Taiwan Republicans by selling twelve C-130H military transport aircraft to Taiwan in 1984.

2.3 1992-2016: The Gradual Revival of Republican-Taiwan Ties

In 1992, an agreement was reached by PRC and ROC governments in the name of “1992 Consensus” in which the commitment of “one China, respective interpretations” was shared and seen as the foundation of the rapprochement between the two sides of Taiwan Strait ever since. Douglas H. Paal, the Director of American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) between 2002 and 2006, buttressed the 1992 Consensus by emphasizing its critical importance to maintaining cross-strait peace in 2012, days before the presidential election of Taiwan. However, the former Republican Senator Frank H. Murkowski supported Tsai Ing-wen’s challenge to the 1992 Consensus – “Taiwan consensus”, and claimed that Tsai’ proposal “represents the will of the Taiwan people”.

Two years after the proposal of 1992 Consensus, the Clinton administration sought to upgrade the U.S.-Taiwan relations but still restricted high-level Taiwanese government officials’ access to U.S. visas. In the same year, Republicans swept the mid-term elections, which led to a growing movement in the Congress that favored closer relations with Taiwan. In 1995, Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House as well as the conservative Republican representative of Georgia stated that president of ROC should not only be able to visit the United States, but ROC itself deserved a seat in the United Nations.

The majority of House Republicans’ support for Clinton Administration’s efforts into bringing China into WTO was surprising, but harsh criticism against China also came from Republican politicians and public figures such as Representative Chris Smith, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, and 1992 Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, most of whom were allies of conservative forces that held anti-PRC and pro-sentiment.

2.4 2017 – present: Increasingly Conservative Republicans and Closer U.S.-Taiwan Ties

After winning the 2016 U.S. president election, the Republican president-elect Donald Trump had a 10-minute conversation with the President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, an unprecedented move for a soon-to-be U.S. president and Taiwan’s top leader. This led many people to label Trump as a pro-Taiwan president and some even speculate his intention to support the independence of Taiwan.

The conservative Republican president’s policies toward Taiwan were as bold and aggressive as his domestic policies. Even though some may claim Trump’s attitude was “neither new nor Taiwan-specific”, it cannot be denied that his leadership, directly or indirectly, accelerated Republican Party’s right-leaning dash and that came with more pro-Taiwan policies that got under Beijing’ nerve. In 2018, Trump “gladly signed” the Taiwan Travel Act that encourages all levels of U.S. government officials to travel to Taiwan and high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the U.S.. The bill was introduced by the Republican representative Steven Chabot and won bipartisan support before being signed into law by Trump. In 2020, the Republican Senator Josh Hawley introduced the Taiwan Defense Act (TDA) to ensure America’s obligations of defending Taiwan from Chinese Communist Party’s invasion. In the same year, the Republican Senator Ted Cruz recognized Taiwan’s National Day and introduced Taiwan Symbols of Sovereignty (Taiwan SOS) Act.

The conservative Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also known for his staunch support for Taiwan. During the final days of Trump’s presidency, Pompeo announced that the U.S. was lifting restrictions on U.S.-Taiwan relations by allowing U.S. government contacts with Taiwan despite an increasing risk of invoking Beijing to trigger a new cross-strait crisis. Even in the post-Trump era, Republicans does not seem to put a stop to their pro-Taiwan cause. In April 2021, the Republican Representative John Curtis introduced the “Taiwan International Solidary Act” to condemn China’s overreach of the sovereignty of Taiwan – a year after he authored the “Taipei Act” to strengthen Taiwan’s international diplomatic recognition and had it passed by bipartisan support. The ongoing partisan divide has yet to show a sign of deceleration after Trump left the office. Based on the redder Republican Party’s historical favor toward Taiwan, it is likely that there will be more Republicans initiating anti-PRC and pro-Taiwan policies, including increasing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Asymmetric Polarization in the U.S.

As early as in the 1990s, themes of polarization, division, and fragmentation started to be discussed by media and political commentators of American politics. The editor of the Columbia Journalism Review declared the conservative politician Patrick Buchanan’s speech at the Republican convention in 1992 a “culture war” and asserted “There is increasing polarization in American society over race, religion, family life, sex education and other social issues”. Similar perceptions include “the sharpening cultural polarization of U.S. society after the mid-1970” and the two dividing values camps in America – the “culturally orthodox” and the “culturally progress”. As shown in Figure 1, Republican legislators have been turning more conservative and Democratic legislators more liberal, which makes the Senate and House more divided than ever since the end of the first World War.

Figure 1: Increasing Polarization in Congress 1870-2010 based on DW-NOMINATE Index

Each point represents the discrepancy between two parties’ mean DW-NOMINATE scores. Higher values along the y-axis indicate stronger political polarization. (source: Moskowitz & Snyder, 2019)

The Republicans and Democrats in the U.S., with their ongoing conflicts commonly acknowledged, are not simply mirror images of each other. A wealth of studies find that the two parties are not moving away from the center at equal speeds. Scholars such as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson point out that the phenomenon “asymmetric polarization” – Republicans have marched much further right than Democrats have moved left – is what has escalated partisan conflicts, which is also demonstrated by Figure 2. Nolan McCarty, the professor of Politics and Publica Affair of Princeton University, asserts that the polarization is “a Republican-led phenomenon where very conservative Republicans have replaced moderate Republicans and Southern Democrat”. The disproportionate share of rising polarization is thereby greatly explained by Republican party’s march toward the ideological extreme.

Figure 2: Asymmetric Polarization based on DW-NOMINATE Scores

(source: Moskowitz & Snyder, 2019)

Correlations between U.S. Asymmetric Polarization and US-Taiwan Relations and Arms Sales

Compared to 1991 when it had more than 20 countries as suppliers of arms, Taiwan only has the U.S. as its supplier nowadays. America, however, remains Taiwan’s sole and largest supplier of arms by taking advantaging of the strategic ambiguity of the U.S.-PRC Joint Communique of 1982 and the Taiwan Relations Act. More importantly, keeping arms sales to Taiwan can be used as political leverage by the U.S. for the U.S.-RPC relations. The U.S. military sales agreements with Taiwan amounted to $9 billion and delivers totaled $12.3 billion between 1991 and 1998. During the Bush and Obama Administration, U.S.-Taiwan arms sales were oftentimes delayed or cancelled due to concerns over relations with the RPC or U.S. domestic political disputes in Taiwan. However, to counter the cross-Strait military imbalance, the arms sales to Taiwan during the Trump Administration exceeded any previous administrations over the last four decades, including seven packages of arms sales in 2017, C-130 and F-16 fighter parts and accessories in 2018 and 2019. As shown by Figure 3, the overall volume of U.S.-Taiwan arms sales experiences an increase between 1981 and 2010 despite some fluctuations.

 Figure 3: U.S. Government Arms Deliveries to Taiwan 1981 – 2010 ($billion, values not adjusted for inflation)

The scatterplot is composed by the author of this article (source: Arms Control Association, n.d.)

For years, Republicans constantly praise the common value shared by the U.S. and Taiwan and never attempt to hide their stance on defending Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act should China violate the peaceful status quo across the strait. The U.S. support for Taiwan is oftentimes dominated by Republicans who tend to convert their anti-CCP ideology to pro-Taiwan policies. Those prominent Republican politicians include Senator Marco Rubio, Senator John McCain, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Republicans’ pro-Taiwan impression culminated when Donald Trump, the Republican then-President-elect, had a phone call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, the first official U.S.-Taiwan conversation since 1979. Throughout history, most prominent pro-Taiwan Republican politicians have shown a higher level of conservatism than their colleagues based on DW-NOMINATE ideology scores, including Senator Barry Goldwater, Senator Frank H. Murkowski, and Senator John Curtis, whom of which have made great contributions to tightening the relations between the U.S. and Taiwan. According to those Republicans, Taiwan is a loyal friend of the United States who deserves their strong support which includes the timely sale of defensive arms.

With Republicans’ accelerating right-leaning dashing, the anti-China sentiment has been rising and a large portion of it has been translated into pro-Taiwan actions. The Trump Administration’s hardline reprimand of CCP has starkly juxtaposed Taipei and Beijing in the current international political environment. This has enhanced the image of Taiwan as “a tiny democratic ally threatened by a totalitarian neighbor”, which has given Republicans more legitimacy to take aggressive actions to defend democracy of Taiwan by means of promoting more arms sales to the island.

However, is the asymmetric polarization the only reason behind the increasing U.S.-Taiwan arms sales? Even the polarization of Republicans seems to proceed at a faster pace, Democrats’ process of radicalization is tagging along. The boundary between liberal and left had almost vanished by the end of the 1980s, and the self-identifying radicals started to be replaced by leftists relabeled as “progressive”. The progressive movement of Democrats has been accelerated by “neoliberal globalism” and the “Cyber Left” – an amalgamation of hundreds of thousands of online organizations, blogs, Twitter and Facebook groups. A study of Brookings finds that the ratio of progressive non-incumbent House winners to total democratic candidates was as high as 41% in 2018, a huge increase compared to 26% in 2016 and 17% in 2014. There is a chance that Democrats could also show stronger support for Taiwan to help the island stand up to the presence of increasingly aggressive China, which is also consistent with their emphasis on a harmonious global community and “social responsibility”. It is true that notable Democrats such as Senator Bob Menendez, Senator Ted Kennedy or Speaker Nancy Pelosi do have been open about their appeal for Taiwan’s rightful place on the global stage and have never been shy about celebrating Taiwan’s democracy. Whereas, it is also progressive Democrats’ pro-globalization stance that makes them tend to downplay anti-Communism ideology and thus provide insufficient legislative support for Taiwan. Therefore, military support for Taiwan is still and will be dominated by the conservative Republicans who uphold anti-Communism ideology and value a strong military power to increase security and peace.


The history has proven the Republicans’ overall pro-Taiwan stance from the perspective of ideological similarity, strategic purposes and common values. The increasingly right-leaning Republicans’ support for Taiwan is not only confined to the legislative branch, but has permeated the executive branch. Being regarded as the most pro-Taiwan president in the US history, Donald Trump lifted U.S.-Taiwan arms sales “to the next level” by not only upgrading the quality of arms, but significantly changing the frequency and procedure of sales.

Biden’s ambition to reunite the U.S. is not likely to happen on a short notice given the highly divided American society in terms of income inequality, identity politics, race divergence and so on. The ongoing asymmetric polarization is only going to get worse before it gets better, and that would lead more conservative Republicans, instead of moderate ones, to take power in the foreseeable future. Against the backdrop of deteriorating U.S.-PRC relations, hawkish policies for China will become the mainstream among Republicans. That may not necessarily increase the arms sales to Taiwan under the Biden Administration, but the partisan divide in the current American political environment has made and will make pro-Taiwan policies one of the few agendas that can reach a bipartisan agreement. Therefore, that would neither leave sufficient scope for the Biden administration to adjust its Taiwan policy nor make its China policy too different than his predecessor despites his eager to fix the relations with the second largest economy.

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