Abstract: It is widely assumed that a state’s nuclear weapons and strategy are irrelevant to non-nuclear threats. A contrary argument is advanced by Louis René Beres with particular reference to the State of Israel. Urging greater “seamlessness” in Israeli nuclear deterrence, special attention is directed by Professor Beres toward a prospective policy shift from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” to “nuclear disclosure.” Any such shift, whether sudden or incremental, would still depend upon enemy rationality. A related problem would concern various associated risks of unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. All things considered, the best time for Israel to upgrade its formal decision theory processes regarding nuclear deterrence and non-nuclear threats is the present. Unavoidably, on these critical processes, even the most nuanced and refined outcomes would represent some form of “glorified belief.”
“Formal decision-theory does not depend on data…. The task of theory is confined to the construction of a deductive apparatus, to be used in deriving logically necessary conclusions from given assumptions.”
Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964)
Nature of the Problem
Though counter-intuitive and still unverifiable, Israel’s nuclear weapons and strategy remain at least potentially relevant to non-nuclear threats. Determining precise levels of relevance, however, would be inescapably difficult and depend upon such “fuzzy” factors as enemy rationality and the plausibility/destructiveness of non-nuclear harms. This anticipated dependence would apply both to first strike attacks and to retaliatory or counter-retaliatory strikes.
There are several associated details. To begin, it would be unreasonable to argue that Israel’s nuclear deterrence posture should always parallel (or roughly parallel) prospective enemy destructiveness, and/or that non-nuclear enemy threats – whether issued from individual states, alliances of states, terror-group adversaries or state-terror group “hybrids” – should be symmetrically countered.
At first look, a “symmetry hypothesis” could appear to make perfect sense. Nonetheless, strategic truth is inherently complex and can prove stubbornly recalcitrant. Also, because virtually all Israel-related nuclear scenarios are sui generis (without any determinable precedent), nothing of authentic scientific value could be extrapolated. Concerning Israeli nuclear decision-makers’ usable “probabilities,” all that they would really be asked to accept would be variously convincing iterations of “glorified belief.”
These are all very “dense” analytic matters. In addition to applicable history and law, Israel’s core strategists will need to be informed by appropriate philosophies of science. In this very significant connection, any meaningful assessments of hypotheses concerning “asymmetrical deterrence” and Israeli national security should be founded upon formal deductive examinations. This fixed imperative indicates, among other things, that intelligence assessments devoid of tangible empirical content can still be suitably predictive. In essence, these assessments should be supportable by stringent logical standards of internal consistency, thematic interconnectedness and dialectical reasoning.
Enemy Threats of Biological War, Biological Terrorism and/or Large Conventional Attack
Now, how best to proceed? A good place for working strategists would be within the “grey area” of enemy non-nuclear threats that is nonetheless unconventional. Most obvious here would be ascertainably credible enemy threats of biological warfare and/or biological terrorism. While non-nuclear by definition, biological warfare attacks could still produce grievously injurious or near-existential event outcomes for Israel.
In principle, Israeli policies of calibrated nuclear reprisal for biological warfare (BW) attacks could exhibit compelling deterrent effectiveness against very limited types of adversary. Such policies would be inapplicable, prima facie, against any threats issuing from terror groups that function alone, without recognizable state alignments. In such residual cases, Israel – lacking operational targets more suitable for nuclear targeting – would need to “fall back” upon more usual arsenals of counter-terrorist methods. Such a tactical retrogression would be required even if the particular terror group involved (e.g., Sunni ISIS-K; Shiite Hezbollah; Shiite Houthi) had revealed plausible nuclear threat capabilities.
There is more. Because such terrorists could identify personal death as an expression of religious martyrdom, Israeli planners would have to draw upon continuously challenging psychological factors.
What about enemy conventional threats that would involve neither nuclear nor biological hazards, but were still prospectively massive enough to produce existential or near-existential harms to Israel? On its face, in such all-too-credible cases, a prospective conventional aggressor could still reasonably calculate that Jerusalem would make good on some of its decipherable nuclear threats. Here, however, Israel’s nuclear deterrent threat credibility could prove dependent upon certain antecedent doctrinal shifts from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” (the so-called “bomb in the basement”) to “nuclear disclosure.”
Why? Any correct answer must hinge on Israel’s presumed operational flexibility. In the absence of any prior shift away from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity,” a would-be aggressor state might not understand or accept that the State of Israel had available a sufficiently broad array of graduated nuclear retaliatory responses. In the presumed absence of such an array, Israeli nuclear deterrence could be more-or-less severely diminished.
Additional nuances arise. As a direct consequence of any presumptively diminished nuclear ambiguity, Jerusalem could signal its then relevant adversary or adversaries that Israel would wittingly cross the nuclear retaliatory threshold to punish all acts of existential or near-existential aggressions. Using more expressly military parlance, Israel’s recommended shift to certain apt forms of nuclear disclosure would be intended to ensure the country’s indispensable success in “escalation dominance.”
Inter alia, the nuclear deterrence advantages for Israel of moving from traditional nuclear ambiguity to selective nuclear disclosure would lie in the signal it could “telegraph” to non-nuclear foes. This signal would warn such adversaries (e.g., Iran) that Jerusalem was not limited to launching retaliations that employ massive and/or disproportionate levels of nuclear force. A still-timely Israeli move from nuclear ambiguity to nuclear disclosure – as long as such a doctrinal move were suitably nuanced and incremental – could improve Israel’s prospects for deterring large-scale conventional attacks with consciously “tailored” nuclear threats.
After America’s defeat in Afghanistan, a not-yet-nuclear Iran could sometimes expect a less determined Israel.
There is more. Stipulated Israeli nuclear deterrence benefits against non-nuclear threats could extend to certain threats of nuclear counter-retaliation. If, for example, Israel should sometime consider initiating a non-nuclear defensive first-strike against a pre-nuclear Iran, a preemptive act that could conceivably represent “anticipatory self-defense” under Westphalian international law, the likelihood of suffering any massive Iranian conventional retaliation might be correspondingly diminished. In essence, by following a properly charted path from deliberate nuclear ambiguity to nuclear disclosure, Jerusalem could expectedly upgrade its overall deterrence posture vis-à-vis both nuclear and non-nuclear threats.
Escalation Dominance and Inadvertent Nuclear War
In protecting itself from any deliberate nuclear attack, Israeli strategists must accept certain core assumptions of enemy rationality. But even if these assumptions were well-founded, there will still remain variously attendant dangers of unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. These fully existential dangers could be produced by enemy hacking operations, computer malfunction (an accidental nuclear war) or by decision-making miscalculation (whether by the enemy, by Israel itself, or by both/all parties.) In the portentous third scenario, damaging synergies could arise that would prove extremely difficult or impossible to halt or reverse.
To a largely unforeseeable extent, the geo-strategic search for “escalation dominance” by all sides to a potentially nuclear conflict would enlarge the decipherable risks of an inadvertent nuclear war. These risks include prospects of a nuclear war by accident and/or decisional miscalculation. The “solution” here could not be to simply wish-away the common search for “escalation dominance” (ipso facto, any such wish would be contrary to the “logic” of balance-of-power world politics), but instead to manage all prospectively nuclear crises at their lowest possible levels of destructiveness. Plainly, wherever feasible, it would be best to avoid such crises altogether, and to maintain in place reliable “circuit breakers” against strategic hacking and technical malfunction.
The above discussion has been highly abstract. To a conspicuous extent, however, such abstractness is indispensable. This is because generality is an inherent trait of all serious meaning in military theorizing and strategizing.
There is more. There does exist a co-equal need for relevant facts and usable empirical content. Today, this should bring to mind recently-changed ties between Israel and certain Sunni Arab states, and more-or-less corresponding threats (both explicit and implicit) from Shiite Iran. How, therefore, Israeli nuclear strategists should competently inquire, will Trump-era “Abraham Accords” and America’s recent defeat in Afghanistan affect such major threats? Have these Accords actually given Israel reason for greater security confidence, or did they really enhance “peace” where there were never any actual adversaries? Have former President Trump’s contrived Accords (they were designed for domestic political interests only) effectively hardened the Middle East Sunni-Shia dualism and made Iran a still-greater threat to Israel?
At present, Israel has no regional nuclear adversaries, but the steady approach of a nuclear Iran could encourage rapid nuclearization among such Sunni Arab states as Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Also, following the turnover of Afghanistan to Taliban and (possibly) other Islamist forces, non-Arab Pakistan will likely become a more direct adversary of both the United States and Israel. The Pakistani jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out the large-scale Mumbai, India attack in 2008.
There is more. Pakistan is an already nuclear Islamic state with substantial ties to China. And Pakistan, like Israel, is not a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or NPT.
“Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but the simplest thing is very difficult.”
On September 1, 2021, Israel officially moved into the U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of responsibility. Taking over from European Command (EUCOM), Jerusalem likely sees its new role as defending U.S. and Israeli interests simultaneously, primarily by countering Iran within CENTCOM’s designated sphere of authority. This countervailing power would be directed at Iran-backed anti-Israel insurgents (especially Hezbollah and Houthi) and at a quickly expanding Iranian nuclearization.
In regard to the second objective, Israel should consider where there could ever be an auspicious place for issuing nuclear threats against its still non-nuclear Shiite adversary in Tehran. In part, at least, the “answers” here would depend upon Jerusalem’s prior transformations of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” (the “bomb in the basement”) into variously recognizable postures of “deliberate nuclear disclosure.” Though all such considerations would necessarily concern matters that are sui generis or without historical precedent, Israel has no logical alternative to launching appropriately deductive investigations.
Palestine, Preemption and Nuclear Threats to Israel
Salient issues of Israeli nuclear deterrence against non-nuclear threats could be impacted by Palestinian statehood. To wit, while never ever mentioned “in the same breath,” the creation of Palestine could meaningfully affect Israel’s inclination to preempt against Iran. Because of Israel’s manifestly small size, its inclination to strike first at enemy hard targets could sometime become palpably high. Deprived of its already minimal “strategic depth,” Israel might not be able to hold out for as long as was possible when Palestine was merely a pre-state “authority.”
It is plausible that once Palestine came into de jure formal existence as a state, any shift in Israel’s nuclear strategy from deliberate ambiguity to nuclear disclosure could reduce Israel’s Jerusalem’s incentive to preempt against Iran. But this expectation could make strategic sense only if Israel were first made to believe that its nuclear deterrent threat, in determinable consequence of this shift, was now being taken with abundant seriousness by Iran. On its face, any such unique determination would be problematic at best.
Several corollary problems would also need to be considered. First, how would Israel’s leadership ever actually know that taking its bomb out of the “basement” had improved its nuclear deterrence posture? To a certain unpredictable extent, the credibility of Jerusalem’s nuclear threats would be contingent upon the variable severity of different provocations. It might prove believable if Israel were to threaten nuclear reprisals for provocations that endanger the very survival of the state, but it would almost certainly be unbelievable to threaten such reprisals for relatively minor territorial infringements or for absolutely any level of terrorist incursions. Whatever analysts might conclude on such questions, because there exists no discoverable frequency of pertinent past events, any judgments of probability by IDF/MOD planners would represent only “glorified belief.”
There are other problems. To function successfully, Israel’s nuclear deterrent, even after any conspicuous removal from the “basement,” would have to appear secure from enemy preemptive strikes. Israel would need to be especially wary of “decapitation,” of losing the “head” of its military command and control system by result of enemy first strikes. Should Israel’s existential enemies (presently all still non-nuclear) remain unpersuaded by Jerusalem’s move away from deliberate ambiguity, they might sometime initiate such strikes as could effectively immobilize Israel’s order of battle.
By definition, any such scenario would be unacceptable to Israel.
But there are various contrary arguments. One such argument, about the effects of Palestine on Israel’s inclinations to preempt, suggests that because of Israel’s expanded vulnerability, its nuclear deterrent could actually become more credible. As a result, goes this contrary argument, Jerusalem could better afford not to strike first than when it still controlled/administered disputed Palestinian territories. In this particular situation, the principal benefit to Israel of shifting from nuclear ambiguity to nuclear disclosure would seem to lie in an explicitly-identified “escalation ladder,” a metaphoric process revealing a systematically broad array of considered Israeli reprisals. Optimally, these reprisals would range from certain limited conventional responses to measured nuclear strikes.
A Presumed Inevitability of War and Enemy Vulnerabilities
In weighing different arguments concerning the effect of Palestine upon Israeli nuclear deterrence, specific attention should be directed toward Israel’s own recognizable presumptions about the inevitability of war and its long-term expectations for Arab and Iranian strategic vulnerability. Should Israel’s leaders conclude that the creation of Palestine would make another major war more-or-less inevitable, and that, over time, enemy vulnerability to Israeli strikes would actually diminish, Jerusalem’s inclination to strike first against Iran could be increased. To a certain extent, Israel’s tactical/operational judgments on preemption would be affected by various antecedent decisions on nuclear strategy.
Namely, these critical decisions would concern “counter value” vs. “counterforce” objectives.
Should Israel opt for nuclear deterrence based on an “assured destruction” (“counter value”) strategy, Jerusalem would likely choose a relatively small number of weapons that might be relatively inaccurate. A “counterforce” strategy, on the other hand, would require a larger number of more accurate weapons, ordnance that could destroy even the most hardened enemy targets. To a certain extent, “going for counterforce” could make all Israeli nuclear threats more credible. This conclusion would be based largely on the assumption that because the effects of war-fighting nuclear weapons would be more precise and controlled, they would also be more amenable to actual use.
War-fighting postures of Israeli nuclear deterrence would be more apt to encourage an Israeli preemption. And if counterforce targeted nuclear weapons were ever fired, especially in a proliferated regional setting, the resultant escalation could produce extensive counter value nuclear exchanges. Even if such escalations were averted, the “collateral” effects of counterforce detonations could still prove devastating.
In making its nuclear choices, Israel will have to confront a paradox. Credible nuclear deterrence, essential to Israeli security and survival in a world made more dangerous by the creation of Palestine, would require “usable” nuclear weapons. If, after all, these weapons were patently inappropriate for any reasonable objective, they would not deter. At the same time, the more usable such nuclear weapons become in order to enhance nuclear deterrence, the more likely it is, at one time or another, they will actually be fired. While this paradox would seem to suggest the rationality of Israel deploying only the least-harmful forms of usable nuclear weapons, the fact that there could be no coordinated agreements with enemy states on deployable nuclear weapons points to a starkly different conclusion.
Unless Israel were to calculate that the more harmful weapons would produce greater hazards for its own population as well as for target populations, there could exist no tactical benefit to opting for the least injurious nuclear weapons. For the moment, at least, it appears that Israel has rejected any nuclear warfighting strategies of deterrence in favor of a still-implicit counter-value engagement posture. But this could change in response to the pace and direction of ongoing Iranian nuclearization. Significant, too, is that non-Arab Islamic Pakistan has adopted a nuclear warfighting strategy of deterrence vis-à-vis India, and has underscored this adoption by its deployment of certain low-yield nuclear missile forces.
The Bottom Line
All things considered, Israel, if confronted by a new state of Palestine, would then be especially well-advised to do everything possible to prevent the appearance of any Arab and/or Iranian nuclear powers, including calculably pertinent (cost-effective) non-nuclear preemptions. Under all conditions, Israel would require a believable (and hence usable) nuclear deterrent, one that could be employed against certain non-nuclear threats without igniting “Armageddon” for the regional belligerents. In the worst case scenario, these Israeli nuclear weapons could also serve certain damage-limiting military purposes against Iranian weapons (both nuclear and non-nuclear) should nuclear deterrence fail.
In sum, the creation of a fully sovereign Palestine could have dramatic effects on Israel’s decisions concerning anticipatory self-defense. Israel’s own presumptive nuclear weapons status and strategy would strongly influence this decision. More precisely, should Jerusalem determine that Israel’s nuclear weapons could support preemption by deterring hostile target states from retaliating, this status might encourage Israeli defensive first strikes. If, on the other hand, Jerusalem were to calculate that these target states would be unimpressed by threats of any Israeli nuclear counter-retaliation, this status would likely not encourage any such Israeli attacks.
A key question surfaces. Could the precise form of Israel’s nuclear strategy make a difference in these unique circumstances? Relying upon nuclear weapons not to deter enemy first strikes, but to support its own preemptive attacks, Israel would then have to choose between continued nuclear ambiguity (implicit threats) and nuclear disclosure (explicit threats). That choice should now be perfectly clear. Israel’s only rational posture, going forward, is to selectively remove “The Bomb” from its “basement.”
The Question of Israel’s National “Will”
In view of what is now generally believed throughout the Middle East, and, indeed, all over the world, there is every good reason to assume that Israel’s nuclear arsenal does exist and that Israel’s assorted enemies share this assumption. The most critical question about Israel’s nuclear deterrent, however, is not about capability, but will. How likely is it that Israel, after launching non-nuclear preemptive strikes against enemy hard targets, would respond to enemy reprisals with a nuclear counter-retaliation?
To answer this core question, Israel’s decision-makers will first have to put themselves into the shoes of various enemy leaders. Will these leaders calculate that they can afford to retaliate against Israel, i.e., that such retaliation would not produce a nuclear counter-retaliation? In asking this question, they will assume, of course, a non-nuclear retaliation against Israel. A nuclear retaliation, should it become technically possible for Iran, would invite a nuclear counter-retaliatory blow.
Depending upon the way in which the enemy decision-makers interpret Israel’s authoritative perceptions, they will accept or reject the cost-effectiveness of a non-nuclear retaliation against Israel. This means that it is likely in Israel’s best interests to communicate the following strategic assumption to all its existential enemies: Israel could be acting rationally by responding to enemy non-nuclear reprisals to Israeli preemptive attacks with a nuclear counter-retaliation. Naturally, the plausibility of this assumption would be enhanced considerably if enemy reprisals were to involve chemical and/or biological weapons.
All such “glorified belief” calculations assume enemy rationality. In the absence of calculations that compare the costs and benefits of all strategic alternatives, what will happen in the Middle East could remain a matter of endlessly visceral conjecture. The prospect of non-rational judgments in the region is always plausible, especially as the influence of Islamist/Jihadist ideology remains determinative among Iranian decisional elites. Still, various dangers of a nuclear war will obtain even among fully rational adversaries, both deliberate nuclear war and inadvertent unclear war.
To the extent that Israel might one day believe itself confronted with non-rational enemies, particularly ones with highly destructive weapons in their arsenals, its incentive to preempt could suddenly become overwhelming. Should such enemies be believed to hold nuclear weapons, Israel might then decide, quite rationally, to launch a nuclear preemption against these enemy weapons. This would appear to be the only calculable circumstance in which a rational Israeli preemptive strike could ever be nuclear. And though it remains impossible to offer any science-based probability predictions about unique events, ordinary dialectical reasoning would still seem to support such “glorified belief.”
There is more. Israel’s nuclear deterrent must always remain oriented toward dominating escalation at multiple and intersecting levels of conventional and unconventional enemy threats. For this to work, however, Israeli strategic planners must continuously bear in mind that all future operational success will depend upon prior formulations of suitable national doctrine or strategic theory. In the end, the truest forms of Israeli power, whether expressed as anticipatory self-defense or as some other form of deterrence-maximizing effort, will have to reflect “a triumph of mind over mind” rather than any mere triumph of “mind over matter.”
The most persuasive forms of military power on planet earth are not guns, battleships or missiles. Rather, they are conveniently believable promises of “life everlasting” or personal immortality. When one finally uncovers what is most utterly important to the vast majority of human beings, this factor is a presumptive power over death. Accordingly, and regrettably, individuals all over the world too often see the corrosive dynamics of belligerent nationalism (e.g., former US President Donald Trump’s “America First”) as a preferred path to personal immortality.
Why else, in essentially all global conflict (international and intranational) would each side seek so desperately and conspicuously to align with God? Always, the loudest nationalistic claim is manipulatively reassuring: “Fear not,” the citizens and subjects are counseled, “God is on our side.” In our present analytic context, what promise could possibly prove more heartening to Israel’s enemies and more worrisome to Israel?
Ultimately, Israel’s most compelling forms of strategic influence will derive not from high technology weaponry (an always ongoing preoccupation in Tel-Aviv), but from the immutably incomparable advantages of intellectual power. These always-overriding advantages must be explored and compared according to two very specific but overlapping criteria of assessment: law and strategy. In certain circumstances, these complex expectations would not be helpfully congruent or “in synch” with each other, but contradictory or diametrically opposed. Here, the underlying “mind over mind” challenges to Israel would become excruciatingly difficult; nonetheless, successful decision-making outcomes could still be kept in plain sight and remain credible.
What would be required, always, will be a suitably theoretical appreciation of decisional complexity and a corresponding willingness to approach overlapping issues from the convergent standpoints of science, intellect and dialectical analysis. In principle, at least, cumulative policy failures could produce broadly existential outcomes. Acknowledging this, Israel’s policy planners and decision –makers, wherever possible, should strive to ensure that the beleaguered country’s nuclear deterrent can protect against large-scale non-nuclear attacks. The first step in accepting such necessary assurance should be the systematic elaboration of formal decision-theory.
This expressly deductive enterprise would not depend on any historical precedent or data, and could offer firm intellectual support to Israeli decision-makers’ most vital expressions of “glorified belief.”
 See by Professor Beres and Ambassador Zalman Shoval, Modern War Institute (West Point): https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/
 The author’s first comprehensive examination of this issue was: Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986). See also his more recent: Louis René Beres, 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
 Expressions of enemy irrationality could take different or overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).
This term is embraced by theoretical mathematician Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964).
 In world politics and law, a state or insurgent-group is determinedly rational to the extent that its leadership always values collective survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Of course, an insurgent/terrorist force will not always display such a clarifying or “helpful” preference ordering. Pertinent current examples regarding Israel are Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah.
 Following US defeat in Afghanistan, the Taliban led government in Kabul will likely cooperate closely with Islamist groups opposed to Israel, including Palestinian Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Congratulating the Taliban on August 17, 2021, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh observed: “The demise of the US occupation of Afghanistan is a prelude to the demise of the Israeli occupation of the land of Palestine.” See: Dan Diker, “The Taliban’s Palestinian Partners: Implications for the Middle East Peace Process,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, September 5, 2021.
 See: Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964).
. The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s strategy vis-à-vis Iran, the following operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1) a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.
 We well know that a naturally occurring biological threat now confronts all states and peoples (Covid19). Though unrelated to threats of bio terror and bio war per se, there are various ways in which this “pandemic variable” could become pertinent to strategic questions here at hand. Accordingly, strategists would first need to think in terms of a dynamic and continuous feedback loop; to wit, one wherein the investigator systematically considers different ways in which the anarchic structures of world politics impact medical control of the pandemic and, reciprocally, how the pandemic could then impact “Westphalian” or “everyone for himself” (“state of nature”) global structures. In principle, there would be no final or conclusive end to this dynamic cycle. Rather, by definition, each successive impact would be more-or-less transient/temporary, thereby setting the stage for the next round of reciprocal changes, and so on.
 See, for example, by this author: Louis René Beres, “Martyrdom and International Law,” Jurist, September 10, 2018; and Louis René Beres, “Religious Extremism and International Legal Norms: Perfidy, Preemption and Irrationality,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No.3., 2007-2008, pp. 709-730.
 See by this author, Louis René Beres, at INSS (Tel Aviv): file:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/adkan17_3ENG%20(3)_Beres.pdf
 Embedded in attempts to achieve this success would be variously credible threats of “assured destruction.” This term references ability to inflict “unacceptable damage” after absorbing an attacker’s first strike. In the traditional nuclear lexicon, mutual assured destruction (MAD) would describe a stand-off condition in which an assured destruction capacity is possessed by both (or all) opposing sides. Counterforce strategies would be those which target only an adversary’s strategic military facilities and supporting infrastructure. Such strategies could 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 would refer to harms done to human and non-human resources as a consequence of strategic strikes directed at enemy forces or military facilities. Even such “unintended” damage could quickly involve large numbers of casualties/fatalities.
 In effect, Israel’s posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity was already breached by two of the country’s prime ministers, first, by Shimon Peres, on December 22, 1995, and second, by Ehud Olmert, on December 11, 2006. Peres, speaking to a group of Israeli newspaper and magazine editors, then stated publicly: “…give me peace, and we’ll give up the atom. That’s the whole story.” When, later, Olmert offered similarly general but also revelatory remarks, they were described widely (and benignly) as “slips of the tongue.”
 It’s now a very delicate regional balance of power for Israel to negotiate. For years, a Salafi/Deobandi (Sunni) Crescent has emerged to challenge the Shiite Crescent. The objective is an attempt by Al Qaeda and other Salafi/Deobandi Islamist groups to counter the Crescent created by Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The recent fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban suggests, inter alia, growing Salafi/Deobandi power vis-à-vis Israel, Iran and the United States.
 This lawful option can be found in customary international law. The most precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in such authoritative law lie in the Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925) (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).
The Peace of Westphalia (1648) concluded the Thirty Years War and created the still-existing 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.” Incontestably, since this Peace put an end to the last of the major religious wars sparked by the Reformation, the “state system” has been ridden with evident strife and recurrent calamity. As a global “state of nature” characterized by interminable “war of all against all” (a bellum omnium contra omnes), the conspicuous legacy of Westphalia has proven disappointing and frightful.
. The idea of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is merely a modern variant – has never been more than facile metaphor. Oddly, it has never had anything to do with ascertaining equilibrium. As such, balance is always more-or-less a matter of individual subjective perception. Adversarial states can never be sufficiently confident that identifiable strategic circumstances are actually “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, each side must perpetually fear that it will be left behind, a fear creating ever-wider patterns of world system insecurity and disequilibrium.
See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ Also to be considered as complementary in this connection is the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).
Seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, instructs that although international relations (the state of nations) is in the state of nature, it is nonetheless more tolerable than the condition of individual men in nature. This is because, with individual human beings, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” Now, with the advent of nuclear weapons, there is no reason to believe that the state of nations remains more tolerable. Rather, nuclear weapons are bringing the state of nations closer to the true Hobbesian state of nature. See, also, 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, Pufendorf argues that the state of nations is not quite as intolerable as the state of nature between individuals. The state of nations, reasons Pufendorf, “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” And similarly, 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.
For much earlier original writings by this author on the prospective impact of a Palestinian state on Israeli nuclear deterrence, see: Louis René Beres, “Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel’s Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options,” Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, “After the `Peace Process:’ Israel, Palestine, and Regional Nuclear War,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 15, No. 2., Winter 1997, pp. 301-335; Louis René Beres, “Limits of Nuclear Deterrence: The Strategic Risks and Dangers to Israel of False Hope,” ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY, Vol. 23., No. 4., Summer 1997, pp. 539-568; Louis René Beres, “Getting Beyond Nuclear Deterrence: Israel, Intelligence and False Hope,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE AND COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, Vol. 10., No. 1., Spring 1997, pp. 75-90; Louis René Beres, “On Living in a Bad Neighborhood: The Informed Argument for Israeli Nuclear Weapons,” POLITICAL CROSSROADS, Vol. 5., Nos. 1/2, 1997, pp. 143-157; Louis René Beres, “Facing the Apocalypse: Israel and the `Peace Process,’” BTZEDEK: THE JOURNAL OF RESPONSIBLE JEWISH COMMENTARY (Israel), Vol. 1., No. 3., Fall/Winter 1997, pp. 32-35; Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why Golan Demilitarization Would Not Work,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XXIV, No. 1., Winter 1996, pp. 75-76; Louis René Beres, “Implications of a Palestinian State for Israeli Security and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 17., No. 2., 1999, pp. 229-286; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” CROSSROADS: AN INTERNATIONAL SOCIO-POLITICAL JOURNAL, No. 31, 1991, pp. 97-104; Louis René Beres, “The Question of Palestine and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” THE POLITICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 62, No. 4., October-December 1991, pp. 451-460; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Palestine and Regional Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF PEACE PROPOSALS, Vol. 22., No. 2., June 1991, pp. 227-234; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State: Implications for Israel’s Security and the Possibility of Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF THE JERUSALEM INSTITUTE FOR WESTERN DEFENCE (Israel), Vol. 4., Bulletin No, 3., October 1991, pp. 3-10; Louis René Beres, ISRAELI SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS, PSIS Occasional Papers, No. 1/1990, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, 40 pp; and Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, Palestine and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp. 48-55.
Contending Palestinian authorities still remain unable to meet variously codified expectations of statehood identified at the 1934 Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. This “Montevideo Convention” is the treaty governing statehood in all applicable international law. Jurisprudentially, Palestine still remains a “Non-Member Observer State.”
 It is important to understand that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that any Palestinian state remain “demilitarized” was not merely unrealistic’ it was also inconsistent with pertinent international law. On this point, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter, 1998, pp. 347-363.
 These complex and nuanced expectations bring to mind Sun-Tzu’s suggestion (in military matters) to embrace the “unorthodox.” For a recent and specific application to Israel of Sun-Tzu’s ancient wisdom, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Lessons for Israel from Ancient Chinese Military Thought: Facing Iranian Nuclearization with Sun-Tzu,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, posted October 24, 2013.
 Strategists should be reminded here of a warning speech of Pericles (432 BCE). As recorded by Thucydides: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies, is our own mistakes.” See: Thucydides: The Speeches of Pericles, H.G. Edinger, tr., New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1979, p. 17.
.The modern philosophic origins of “will” are discoverable in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Friedrich Nietzsche drew just as importantly upon Arthur Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic twentieth-century work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas;1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).
 From a jurisprudential point of view, any use of nuclear weapons by an insurgent group would represent a serious violation of the laws of war. These laws have been brought to bear upon non-state participants in world politics by Article 3, common to the four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and by the two protocols to the conventions. Protocol I makes the law concerning international conflicts applicable to conflicts fought for self-determination against alien occupation and against colonialist and racist regimes. A product of the Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts that ended on June 10, 1977, the protocol (which was justified by the decolonization provisions of the U.N. Charter and by resolutions of the General Assembly) brings irregular forces within the full scope of the law of armed conflict. Protocol II, also addition to the Geneva Conventions, concerns protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts. Hence, this protocol applies to all armed conflicts that are not covered by Protocol I and that take place within the territory of a state between its armed forces and dissident armed forces.
 “Military doctrine” is not the same as “military strategy.” Doctrine “sets the stage” for strategy. It identifies various central beliefs that must subsequently animate any actual “order of battle.” Among other things, military doctrine describes underlying general principles on how a particular war ought to be waged. The reciprocal task for military strategy is to adapt as required in order to best support previously-fashioned military doctrine.
 In world politics, says philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, any deeply-felt promise of immortality must be of “transcendent importance.” Seehis Religion in the Making, 1927.
 “I believe,” says Oswald Spengler in his magisterial The Decline of the West (1918), “is the one great word against metaphysical fear.”
 In the nineteenth century, 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 the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of legal regulation in their interactions with each other.
 Through the ages, and with “God on our Side,” conflicting states and religions have asserted that personal immortality can sometimes be achieved, but only at the sacrificial expense of certain despised “others,” of “heathen,” “blasphemers,” “apostates.” When he painted The Triumph of Death in ca. 1562, Peter Bruegel drew upon his direct personal experience with religious war and disease plague. Already in the sixteenth century, he had understood that any intersection of these horrors (one man-made, the other natural) could be ill-fated, force-multiplying and even synergistic. This last term describes results wherein the “whole” outcome exceeds the calculable sum of all constituent “parts.”
At the same time, strategists cannot be allowed to forget, that theoretical fruitfulness must be achieved at some more-or-less tangible costs of “dehumanization.” Accordingly, Goethe reminds in Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, And the golden tree of life is green.” Translated by Professor Beres from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.”
In the words of Jose Ortega y’Gasset: “Science, by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual, is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…. The latter is not possible without the former.” (Man and Crisis, 1958).
 This does not mean trying to account for absolutely every pertinent explanatory variable. Clarifications can be found at “Occam’s Razor” or the “principle of parsimony.” This stipulates preference for the simplest explanation still consistent with scientific method. Regarding current concerns for Israel’s nuclear strategy, it suggests, inter alia, that the country’s military planners not seek to identify and examine every seemingly important variable, but rather to “say the most, with the least.” This presents an important and often neglected cautionary, because all too often, policy-makers and planners mistakenly attempt to be too inclusive. This attempt unwittingly distracts them from forging more efficient and “parsimonious” strategic theories.
See: RESOLUTION ON THE DEFINITION OF AGGRESSION, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No. 31) 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631, 1975, reprinted in 13 I.L.M. 710, 1974; and CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS, Art. 51. Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945, 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, Bevans 1153, 1976, Y.B.U.N. 1043
 Throughout this essay, the term “glorified belief” is used not as a pejorative, but as a science-backed description of what is predictable in global military interactions that are sui generis.
A Glimpse at China’s Nuclear Build-Up
The People’s Republic of China is now the second largest military spender after the United States, and the country has proven that it has the technical capability to develop revolutionary outer space technology, which is often related to military purposes. Nevertheless, China’s armed forces continue to lag behind when it comes to nuclear military technology, as Beijing only has 270 to 350 nuclear warheads, slightly more than the French armed forces.
Thus, China is investing in innovative research on civilian thorium nuclear facilities to become a leader in civilian nuclear, while it is reportedly not investing as much in the military nuclear sector.
This article explores the latest developments concerning “Made in China” nuclear weapons to explain why China’s armed forces are rather sluggish to increase the number of warheads due to the parallel development of other components of the military (e.g. nuclear submarines).
A brief history of Chinese nuclear weapons
China’s first nuclear weapons experiment took place in 1964, followed by its first hydrogen bomb test in 1967. Further development continued well until 1996, when China signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
In order to do so, China started building uranium enrichment plants in Baotou and Lanzhou as early as 1958, followed by a plutonium facility in Jiuquan and the Lop Nur nuclear test site in 1960. It is no secret the Soviet Union assisted in the early stages of the Chinese programme by sending advisers to the fissile material production facilities, having even agreed to provide a prototype bomb, missiles and related technology in October 1957.
In 1958, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told Mao that he planned to discuss arms control with the United States and Great Britain, while Beijing was adamantly opposed to Khrushchev’s policy of “peaceful coexistence” after the fall of Stalin. Although Soviet officials assured the Chinese leadership that the country will remain under the Soviet nuclear umbrella, the disagreements widened the emerging Sino-Soviet rift. In June 1959, the two nations formally terminated their military and technological cooperation agreement, and all Soviet assistance to China’s nuclear programme was abruptly terminated by July 1960, with all Soviet technicians withdrawn from the programme.
This brief history of nuclear weapons in China tells us a lot about the current reason for Chinese weak nuclear capabilities, which had to be developed without the support of the USSR since the 1960s. Moreover, the desire for nuclear capabilities is closely related to the conflict with Taiwan and, as such, Beijing does not need to radically increase its capabilities since the island remains a non-nuclear territory to this day. Furthermore, increasing capabilities would worry the United States and Russia, the other two major nuclear powers—and Beijing had no interest in doing so, especially during the Cold War.
China’s nuclear posture and policy
The Chinese approach is focusing on quality over quantity, which explains the low number of warheads to this day. As of today, most nuclear warheads built during the Cold War can be intercepted by anti-missile systems in NATO and Russia as they are relying on outdated technology, which explains Russia’s desire to build the hypersonic glide vehicle such as the “Avangard”.
The same is true for China. As the U.S. strengthens its missile defenses capabilities, China is likely to further modify its nuclear posture to first ensure the credibility of its retaliatory strike force, including deploying hypersonic glide vehicles rather than increasing the number of warheads.
Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has maintained a “low alert level” for its nuclear forces and keeps most of its warheads in a central storage facility in the Qinling Mountain Range, although some are kept in smaller regional storage facilities around the country. Although there are rumors that China has coupled warheads to some of its missiles to increase their availability, we have not seen official sources confirming this. In fact, the latest Pentagon report explicitly states that “China almost certainly retains the majority of its peacetime nuclear force—with separate launchers, missiles, and warheads”.
Both the United States and Russia operate early warning systems to detect nuclear attacks and launch their missiles quickly, and a Chinese early warning system could also potentially be designed to enable a future missile defense system to intercept incoming missiles. The latest Pentagon report indicates that China is developing an HQ-19 mid-course missile defense system that could intercept Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBMs) and possibly intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs), although this would take many more years to develop. In addition, the Chinese government has a long-standing policy of not using nuclear weapons first and not using nuclear capabilities against non-nuclear countries or nuclear-weapon-free zones.
Military nuclear capabilities on land, air and sea
China has continued to field the DF-26, a dual-capable mobile IRBM, and is replacing the older DF-31A road-mobile ICBM launchers with the more maneuverable DF-31AG launcher. It is also in the early stages of commissioning the new DF-41, a road-mobile ICBM that would be capable of carrying multiple independent target re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) like the old DF-5B based on a liquid fuel silo.
At sea, China is adding two more ballistic missile submarines and developing a new type. Additionally, China has recently reassigned a nuclear mission to its bombers and is developing an air-launched ballistic missile to have a nuclear capability.
It is estimated that China has produced a stockpile of about 350 nuclear warheads, of which about 272 are intended to be launched by more than 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers. The remaining 78 warheads are expected to arm additional land- and sea-based missiles that are being installed.
The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, supervised by General Zhou Yaning (commander) and General Wang Jiasheng (political commissar), is in charge of the ground nuclear forces. Since the Cold War, China is continuing the gradual modernization of its nuclear-capable ground missile force, and it is estimated that the PLA rocket force has about 240 land-based missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Of these, about 150 can strike parts of the United States (Hawaii). The number of ICBMs that can strike the continental United States is smaller: about 90 missiles with some 130 warheads.
These capabilities are easily explained by the fact that land-based missiles have a greater range than sea- and air-based ones, at least until China upgrades its sea-based systems. Thus, land-based missiles increase range and allow targeting of distant nuclear counterparts—the United States, France and the United Kingdom—while ensuring capabilities against the other four nearby nuclear powers: Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan. It is likely that land-based capabilities will remain a major component until submarine capabilities are expanded. Once submarines are as advanced as those of other nations, then—like the United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom—China is likely to focus more and more on submarines rather than land-based capabilities.
China has introduced six Jin-class (Type 094) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), which are based at the Longposan naval base near Yulin on Hainan Island (only four of them are currently operational). The two newest SSBNs, which were handed over to the PLA Navy in April 2020, are said to be variants of the original Type 094 design, known as Type 094A. These boats have a more prominent hump, which has led to a speculation that they could carry up to 16 JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (CSS-N-14), instead of the usual 12. However, satellite images confirm that the new submarines are equipped with 12 launch tubes each.
Each JL-2 is equipped with a single warhead and, possibly, penetration assistance. The JL-2, which is a modified version of the DF-31, is supposed to have a range of about 7,200 km, although U.S. estimates of the range have varied over the years. Such a range would be sufficient to target Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, as well as Russia and India, from waters near China.
Unlike the land-based approach, the nuclear submarine can move around the world, have an unknown destination and a changing position, and it can retaliate up to several months after a nuclear conflict has ended. As such, submarines are now the main component of the French and British nuclear forces, and are vital to the U.S. and Russia. However, this requires advanced technology, which China does not yet have (nor do India and Pakistan). Therefore, the People’s Liberation Army is upgrading its submarine capabilities and technology, which should lead to increased relevance of submarines for nuclear operations in the long term. China’s new-generation Type 096 SSBNs will carry an extended-range SLBM, the JL-3, which, according to unofficial sources, could have a range of over 9,000 km. Chinese media describe the JL-3 as an SLBM “equivalent or similar to the French M51,” pointing out that its diameter has been increased compared to the JL-2 and that it incorporates a carbon-fiber casing, giving it an increased range.
China developed several types of nuclear bombs and used aircraft to carry at least 12 of the nuclear weapons it detonated as part of its nuclear test programme between 1965 and 1979. However, the PLA Air Force’s nuclear mission remained dormant until the 2000s, presumably because its older bomb-equipped aircraft were unlikely to be relevant in a nuclear conflict.
Countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and India, are not focusing on long-range bombers, as they are easier to track, they move slowly and they are no major asset compared to submarines and land-based missiles. In this respect, only two nuclear powers—the United States and Russia—are investing in bombers. China wishes to become the third nuclear power and has therefore developed the H-6 bomber, which is technologically advanced enough to compete with its American counterparts Northrop Grumman B-2 “Spirit”, Rockwell B-1 “Lancer” and Boeing B-52 as well as the Russian Tupolev Tu-22M, Tupolev Tu-95 and Tupolev Tu-160. The Chinese H-6 should be complementary to the Xian H-20, as the bomber world is rapidly evolving with the introduction of the new American Northrop Grumman B-21 “Raider” and the Russian Tupolev PAK DA.
In conclusion, China is most certainly on its way to becoming the third largest nuclear power with growing capabilities to rival Washington and Moscow. In order to do so, it will need to increase its nuclear submarine capabilities to catch up with France and the United Kingdom, as well as the continued development of the H-20 bomber project to compete with the United States and Russia. Beijing has surely decided to invest in quality rather than quantity, preferring to slowly and precisely increase the number of warheads when it will first have the ability to defeat anti-missile systems.
Interestingly, China’s military nuclear approach is more about catching up with the other nuclear powers, in contrast to the civilian nuclear sector where the country is more innovative, as evidenced by the two thorium nuclear reactors under construction in the Gobi Desert (China plans to bring thorium reactors into commercial operation by 2030). Thus, China could become the leader in civil thorium nuclear power before it closes the gap as a military nuclear power.
From our partner RIAC
Developments on Korean Peninsula risk accelerating regional arms race
A week full of missile tests; this is the current environment on the Korean Peninsula. On Wednesday, North Korea fired two rounds of ballistic missiles into the East Sea while South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) just a few hours later. Wednesday’s tests follow a week of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the consequences of which can be felt beyond the two Koreas.
North Korea ramps up tensions
According to North Korean state-run media reports, the reclusive state carried out a series of successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend while referring to the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance”. Calling the weapon ‘strategic’ may imply a nuclear-capable system. Although North Korea is banned from using ballistic technologies due to U.N. Security Council resolutions, these same rules do not apply to cruise missiles.
Despite the tests, Washington maintained its position to resume dialogue with the North and “to work cooperatively with the DPRK to address areas of humanitarian concerns regardless of progress on denuclearization,” US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim said on Tuesday. Still, the US Indo-Pacific Command did acknowledge the cruise missile launches and said the tests highlight the “DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community.”
China reacted to the test by calling for restraint by all relevant parties and for a ‘dual track’ approach to be followed involving “phased and synchronized actions to continuously advance the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue.”
North Korea then upped tensions further by conducting yet another missile launch on Wednesday. This test marked the first time the DPRK launched a missile off a train-mounted ballistic missile delivery system, which they referred to as the “Railway Mobile Missile Regiment”. According to Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the missiles were believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The location of the landings don’t seem to be a coincidence as earlier that day North Korean state media had criticized Japan’s newly unveiled defense budget, referring to the country as a “war criminal state”.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga strongly condemned the latest tests, calling North Korea’s behavior “outrageous” and a “threat” to “the peace and security of our country and the region”. The US State Department also called the tests “a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” while emphasizing the Biden administration’s commitment to trilateral diplomacy and cooperation with Japan and South Korea.
What’s more, North Korea appears to have resumed activities at its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, according to a report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month. The report stated that “The DPRK’s nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern” while adding that “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.”
In July, North Korea warned of a “major security crisis” in protest against the combined summertime military exercise between South Korea and the United States. This increase in rapid missile testing seems to be the result of North Korea’s dissatisfaction with both Seoul and Washington’s actions over the last few months.
South Korea joins in on the missile testing
Although the international community is used to hearing about North Korean missile tests over the years, what is much less common is to hear about a missile test conducted by the South. Hours after the North fired its missiles, South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong—the sister of leader Kim Jong Un— was quick to respond to the tests the same day, warning of the “complete destruction of inter-Korean ties” and criticized Seoul’s “illogical, antiquated and foolish attitude”, according to North Korean state media.
Through the test, South Korea became the first country without nuclear weapons to launch an SLBM. Besides the SLBM, South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that the ROK military had also developed other new missiles, including a supersonic cruise missile to be deployed in the near future, and a new ballistic missile that has “overwhelming counterattack capability” by firing a larger warhead. Indeed, South Korea’s arms industry has grown exponentially over the last two deacades and continuous to expand rapidly. According to he SIPRI arms transfer database, South Korea rose from the 31st ranked arms exporting country in 2000 to number six in 2020.
Besides South Korea, Japan is also beefing up its military capabilities. Last month, Japan’s Defense Ministry sought a record $50 billion annual budget that would entail the largest percentage jump in spending in eight years. China was quick to criticize the move, accusing Japan of “trying to find excuses to justify their decision to increase military spending,” On the other hand, Japan blames China for “unilaterally changing the regional status quo,” affecting “the security of the Taiwan Straits, but also Japan’s security.”
The missile tests conducted by both Koreas this week further exacerbates the security situation in the region, negatively impacting far beyond the peninsula alone. The recent developments also don’t bode well for improving inter-Korean relations or US-DPRK ties. Diplomatic negotiations between the US and North Korea have been stalemated ever since the 2019 Hanoi Summit fell apart. So far, Biden has only verbally expressed interest in resuming talks, but is unlikely to do so unless North Korea makes concrete commitments to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Inter-Korean relations are also unlikely to improve in the near future, given the time constraints. South Korea’s President Moon has roughly six months left in office, and it is unlikely significant diplomatic progress can be made in this timeframe.
HTS enters Turkey’s plot against the Kurds
Ever since Turkey entered the 2017 Astana agreement with Russia and Iran Ankara has been relentless in its efforts to sell the international community the idea of absolute necessity of Turkish military presence in North-East Syria to support the moderate opposition and deter the Assad government.
The Astana meetings that followed the initial agreement indeed resulted in making Turkey responsible for the state of the Syrian opposition in Idlib and Aleppo provinces but – and there is always a but when it comes to the decade-long Syrian conflict – Ankara’s mission was never defined as ‘support’ of the opposition. Instead, Turkey volunteered to perform an arduous task of separating moderate Syrian armed groups from those who were considered radical and posed a potential security threat on both regional and global levels. This process, dubbed ‘delimitation of the Syrian opposition,’ is hardly any closer to completion now than before raising the question of the extent of Ankara’s ability – and intention – to fulfill its pledge.
Turkey’s insistence on supporting the moderate opposition conveniently combines with the recent attempts of Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which is de-facto dominant power in the Idlib de-escalation zone, to recast the image of the group. Although HTS is considered a terrorist organization by the UN and a number of global powers al-Joulani made a number of high-profile media appearances to promote the group’s vision of the future of Syria and confirm that its ambitions are confined to national scale only.
Talking to the Turkish version of The Independent al-Joulani spoke against any foreign military presence in Syria, making no special mention of the Turkish army. Meanwhile in Idlib, a position of the Turkish military located next to those of HTS is a common, even natural occurrence. This co-existence of regular armed forces and radical terrorists is not affected neither by hard evidence of HTS involvement in committing war crimes, nor even by the fact that HTS is listed as a terror group by Turkey’s authorities.
In his interview to The Independent al-Joulani has also touched upon the position of the Syrian Kurds, another key axis of Turkey’s policy in Syria. Commenting on the current developments in Afghanistan the HTS leader suggested that the aftermath of the US surprise withdrawal from Kabul will also have an impact on the Kurds or, as he put it ‘the US-backed enemies of the Syrian revolution.’ He also accused the Kurds of conducting attacks in living quarters in the areas of the “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield” operations carried out by the Turkish military in Northern Syria.
HTS has never been in direct confrontation with the Kurds. However, al-Joulani’s words highlighted his open hostility towards the Kurdish administration, that, as the HTS leader purports, is only able to control a huge swath of Syria and maintain relative stability thanks to the US support. This Kurdish dream will crumble as soon as the last US plane takes off from the Syrian soil, according to al-Joulani.
Does this opinion reflects Turkey’s intention to put an end to the ‘Kurdish threat’ should the US withdraw from Syria? The events in the Afghanistan provide enough evidence to conclude that it’s entirely possible. Indeed, such concerns have been expressed in a number of articles authored by both local and international analysts.
The bottom line
Turkey’s regional policies and HTS leader’s statements confirm that Ankara seeks to transform HTS into a bully of sorts. The group’s primary task would be to exercise pressure on other armed units to facilitate the delimitation process orchestrated by the Turkish authorities. As the US grip over the region gradually loosens and HTS control over Syria’s north-west tightens thanks to its efforts to achieve international recognition with the tacit support of Turkey, the Kurds are facing an uncertain future. Moreover, close coordination between Turkey and HTS harbors negative consequences not only for the Kurds but rather for all of Syria.
To prevent this, the international community must intervene and deny HTS the opportunity to position itself as a part of the moderate opposition and gain the right to establish legitimate administrative bodies. Otherwise Syria will face law-twisting terrorists running their own statelet with all the support that Turkey is able to provide as a prominent regional power.
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