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Can Israeli Nuclear Threats Protect Against Non-Nuclear Attacks?

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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”[1] in Israeli nuclear deterrence, special attention is directed by Professor Beres toward a prospective policy shift from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” to “nuclear disclosure.”[2] Any such shift, whether sudden or incremental, would still depend upon enemy rationality.[3] 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.”[4]


“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[5] 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”[6] – 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.”[7]

               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.[8]

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.[9]

               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.[10]

               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.”[11]

               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.”[12]

               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.[13]

               After America’s defeat in Afghanistan, a not-yet-nuclear Iran could sometimes expect a less determined Israel.[14]

               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”[15] under Westphalian international law,[16] 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),[17] 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”[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

“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.[21] 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,[22] 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,[23]  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.[24]

               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.[25] 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.[26]  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,[27] 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.[28] 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.”

Summing Up

               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.[29] When one finally uncovers what is most utterly important to the vast majority of human beings, this factor is a presumptive power over death.[30] 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.[31]

               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.”[32] 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[33] and a corresponding willingness to approach overlapping issues from the convergent standpoints of science,[34] intellect and dialectical analysis.[35] 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.[36] 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.”[37]

[1] See by Professor Beres and Ambassador Zalman Shoval, Modern War Institute (West Point):

[2] 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).

[3] 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).

[4]This term is embraced by theoretical mathematician Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964).

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] See: Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964).

[8]. 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.

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] See by this author, Louis René Beres, at INSS (Tel Aviv):  file:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/adkan17_3ENG%20(3)_Beres.pdf

[12] 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.

[13] 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.”

[14] 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.


[15] 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).

[16]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.

.[17] 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.

[18]See 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).

[19]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.


[21]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.

[22]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.”

[23] 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.

[24] 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.

[25] 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.


.[26]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).

[27] 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.

[28] “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.

[29] 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.

[30] “I believe,” says Oswald Spengler in his magisterial The Decline of the West (1918), “is the one great word against metaphysical fear.”

[31] 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.

[32] 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.”

[33]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.”

[34]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).

[35] 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.

[36]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

[37] 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.

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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U.S. Sanctions and Russia’s Weapon Systems: A New Game in the Quest of High-Tech Microchip

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Modern warfare places a great deal of emphasis on semiconductors and microchips because they are the fundamental building blocks for a wide range of military technology, such as drones, radios, missiles, and armored vehicles. Russia has consistently used modern weapons in its military operations against Ukraine since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022, thereby prolonging the ongoing war.

In the year 2022, Moscow initiated a comprehensive military intervention in Ukraine, while the nation of Russia saw an increase in the importation of semiconductor technology, with a value of $2.5 billion, compared to $1.8 billion in the preceding year of 2021.  Microprocessors originating from Western countries are used in smartphones and laptops, which are progressively being integrated into Russia’s military inventory. Moscow has been procuring a higher quantity of superior Western technology by using intermediate nations, such as China.

The Russian military incorporates a diverse range of foreign-manufactured components throughout its 27 advanced military systems. These systems include various technologies such as cruise missiles, communications systems, and electronic warfare complexes. A significant majority, exceeding two-thirds, of the foreign constituents detected in Russian military equipment may be traced back to corporations based in the United States. Additionally, a portion of these components are sourced from Ukraine, as well as other allied nations like Japan and Germany. Russia continues to successfully import the essential Western-manufactured components required for its military operations. Nevertheless, the influx of microchips into Russia continues via trade lines through China, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and other nations, contributing to the expansion of the country’s prewar inventories.

China is the primary supplier of microchips and other technological components used in critical military equipment to Russia. This represents a substantial increase compared to the same period in 2021 when Chinese sellers accounted for just 33% of the imports. Furthermore, Moscow has seen a notable rise in its imports from nations situated in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East. In 2022, there was a notable increase in exports to Russia from Georgia, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan. This rise mostly consisted of automobiles, airplanes, and warships, which played a key role in driving the overall growth. Simultaneously, there was an increase in exports from the European Union and the United Kingdom to these nations, although their direct commerce with Russia saw a significant decline.

The increasing trade flows have led Western partners to advocate for expanding the number of countries participating in sanctions or imposing secondary restrictions on specific companies operating inside those countries to suppress Russia’s military capabilities.  In June 2023, the European Union implemented a fresh set of sanctions that include an anti-circumvention mechanism aimed at limiting the trade, provision, or export of specifically sanctioned commodities and technology to certain third nations serving as intermediaries for Russia. In addition, the aforementioned package expanded the roster of corporations that directly endorse Russia’s military by including 87 newly incorporated entities across several nations, including China, the United Arab Emirates, and Armenia. Furthermore, it imposed limitations on the sale of 15 specific technological goods that are often found in Russian military apparatus deployed in Ukraine.

The use of microchips originating from the United States is contributing to the enhancement of Russia’s military capabilities, even amidst the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, facilitated via clandestine channels including intermediate nations like China. American technological companies like Intel, Micron Technology, Texas Instruments, and others produce a portion of these microchips. The United States and other Western countries have put restrictions in place to make it more difficult for Russia to trade certain technologies.

While the Russia-Ukraine war is ongoing, Hong Kong ranked as the second-largest exporter of microchips to Russia in terms of monetary value and as the third-largest exporter in terms of transaction volume.  In 2022, Finland ranked as the fifth-largest supplier of microchips to Russia in terms of dollar value and Germany ranked as the third-most significant supplier of microchips to Russia in terms of dollar value and held the fifth position in terms of the number of transactions conducted. Germany is a significant supplier of semiconductor equipment to the Russian market. In 2022, the Netherlands and Estonia held the position of being the fourth-largest exporters of microchips to Russia in terms of dollar value. ASML Holding NV, a prominent Dutch company, is globally recognized as the foremost provider of lithography equipment, a critical component in the production of sophisticated microchips.

Subsequently, the United States has implemented sanctions on Russia, which include prohibiting the shipment of American semiconductors, as well as items manufactured using American equipment, software, and designs, to Russia. The United States has engaged in collaborative efforts with its allied nations, including the European Union, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand, to effectively enforce such limitations. The United States Commerce Secretary has issued a warning over the potential termination of Chinese firm’s access to essential American technology required for chip manufacturing in the event of their non-compliance with the ban on chip supply to Russia. The United States has also called upon China to participate in international endeavors aimed at exerting pressure on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. The United States employs diverse methodologies to oversee and trace the transportation of chip shipments that have the potential to reach Russia. 

The sanctions imposed on Russia have had a substantial and diverse effect on its military capability. To develop modern weapons, Russia is heavily dependent on purchasing a variety of high-tech goods from Western nations, such as microchips, engines, composite materials, and semiconductor machinery.  The implementation of Western sanctions has limited Russia’s ability to produce and maintain its modern military hardware, including aircraft, missiles, drones, tanks, and radar systems. Russia’s military-industrial complex, which includes more than 800 businesses engaged in defense and related industries, is largely responsible for the country’s defense capabilities. Western sanctions have been imposed on several companies, including Rostec, Mikron, Tactical Missiles Corporation, Sukhoi, MiG, and Kalashnikov Concern. The implementation of these sanctions has resulted in the cessation of their ability to get funding, access technological advancements, and engage in market activities, leading to a decline in their overall financial gains and profitability.

The Russian economy and energy industry exhibit a significant reliance on the exportation of oil and gas to Western countries. The industries have also been subject to Western sanctions, which have imposed limitations on their ability to access financial markets, technology, and services. This resulted in a decrease in their ability to produce new weapons. Additionally, this has led to a decline in the government’s foreign exchange reserves, both of which are essential for funding its military activities and defense expenditures. Also, these sanctions have resulted in the isolation of Russia from the international community since they have curtailed Russia’s ability to engage in diplomatic, political, and security collaborations with other nations. Russia’s influence and power in regional and international affairs have decreased, which has also made it more vulnerable to pressures and challenges from abroad. Furthermore, this has undermined Russia’s perceived credibility and standing as a dependable and trustworthy collaborator.

In conclusion, the imposition of Western sanctions has effectively sent a resolute and unified message from Western nations in reaction to Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine. However, there is little proof that these sanctions have caused Putin to behave differently or withdraw from Ukraine.  Hence, the efficacy of the imposed restrictions in restraining Russia’s military aspirations remains uncertain.

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Three Sahelian Interim Military Leaders Sign Security Pact

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Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Mali)

Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have taken an admirable strategic step by signing trilateral security pact in collective efforts to battle extremism and terrorism threats in the Sahel region. It is an opportunity, especially this critical moment, to work relentless for peace and tranquility, a necessary factor that could determine their sustainable development.

These three Sahel states are under the interim military administration. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the 15-member regional bloc, has put political pressure on them to return to constitutional democracy since after removing the elected civilian governments. The African Union (AU) and the ECOWAS have jointly suspended their membership, and further imposed stringent sanctions on them. 

Backed by the AU, ECOWAS has even gone as far as threatening the use of force to reinstate constitutional governance in Niger. In response, Mali and Burkina Faso have solemnly pledged to extend their support to Niger if it is eventually attacked by ECOWAS Standby Forces. Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger also have considerable strain on their relationships with neighboring states and international partners.

Nevertheless, in a significant development on September 16th, three West African Sahel states came together to ink a security pact. Currently grappling with formidable challenges of combating Islamic insurgents associated with groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), this accord offers the possibility to tackle any rebellion or external aggression. 

The security pact, known as the Alliance of Sahel States (ASS), unequivocally indicated that an assault on the sovereignty or territorial integrity of any of its signatory nations would be deemed an aggression against all parties involved. The agreement outlined their unwavering commitment to provide assistance, either individually or collectively, and further categorically stipulated the deployment of armed forces.

The signed charter binds the signatories to assist one another – including militarily – in the event of an attack on any one of them. “Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracting parties shall be considered as an aggression against the other parties and shall give rise to a duty of assistance… including the use of armed force to restore and ensure security,” it states.

Malian leader, Col. Assimi Goita, announced the establishment of the Alliance of Sahel States through his social media account. He emphasized their primary objectives of establishing a framework for collective defense and mutual assistance. Its aim is to “establish an architecture of collective defence and mutual assistance for the benefit of our populations”, he wrote.

The Liptako-Gourma region – where the Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger borders meet – has been ravaged by jihadism in recent years. A jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012 spread to Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.

“This alliance will be a combination of military and economic efforts between the three countries. Our priority is the fight against terrorism in the three countries,” Mali’s Defence Minister Abdoulaye Diop also said after the signing the document.

Mali and Burkina Faso have vowed to come to Niger’s aid if it is attacked. “Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracted parties will be considered an aggression against the other parties,” according to the charter of the pact, known as the Alliance of Sahel States.

The three French-speaking West Africa states were previously members of the France-backed G5 Sahel alliance joint force, (with with Chad and Mauritania) initiated in 2017 to combat Islamist extremist groups in the region. However, Mali withdrew from this alliance following its own military coup, and relations between France and these three Sahel states have severely deteriorated. France has been compelled to withdraw its military presence from Mali and Burkina Faso, leading to a tense standoff with the junta that assumed power in Niger after requesting the withdrawal of French troops and its ambassador. France has firmly declined to recognize the authority of the interim military governments.

The situation in the Sahel region including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger still remains extremely difficult with internal conflicts, extremism and militant attacks, economic development is undeniably at its lowest points in history. In fact, Sahelian states are consistently looking for strategic ways to effectively address the sustainable development in the region. These three French-speaking states and the entire Sahel region are the most volatile and have large impoverished population in Africa.

The African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union (EU), the United States and the United Nations (UN) are all asking for quick transition to civilian governments, and that efforts are taken to resolve outstanding issues relating to sustainable development and observing strictly principles of democracy in these French-speaking states in West Africa. 

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Depleting Water Resources and Growing Risks of Water Wars



Climate change, often regarded as byproduct of modern industrial society, has gradually transformed into a challenge with global ramification. The most concerning factor regarding climate change is the unpredictable nature of consequences it can cause. One of the grave impacts of climate change is the depleting fresh water resources available to humanity. The Earth’s surface is predominantly covered with water, accounting for approximately 70 percent of its total area. Within this vast water coverage, a staggering 97 percent is composed of saltwater found in the Earth’s oceans while only 3 percent is fresh water. This 3 percent is distributed among various sources, with the majority, approximately 69 percent, residing in glaciers and about 30 percent is situated underground. The remaining fraction, less than 1 percent, can be found in lakes, rivers, and swamps. This suggests that mere 0.33 percent of planet’s fresh water is directly available to humanity and other animal life forms. To put into perspective, if the world’s water supply was 100 liters, then usable fresh water supply would be mere 0.003 litre (one-half teaspoon approximately).

According to the United Nations, by 2025, two-thirds of the global population could be living under water-stressed conditions and around 1.8 billion people will be living in areas with absolute water stress. The depletion of fresh water sources is generating friction between nations and thus increasing the risks of water wars in vulnerable regions.

Conflict over water is not a new phenomenon and over 1298 conflicts over water have been recorded in human history. In modern times, factors like climate change, expansion of population, and shrinkage of water sources have further increased the likelihood of water-conflicts. There are growing concerns that the competition over water sources will yield conflicts between nations in near future. There are four regions in particularly, including South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, and North-East Africa, which are highly vulnerable to water induced conflicts. Besides suffering from water scarcity, these regions are under-developed and have history of political instability and mutual hostilities.

Perhaps the biggest flash point of water wars is South Asia, or more specifically India and Pakistan.  Both nations, being the second and fifth most populated countries in world, are overwhelming dependent on rivers emerging from Himalayan Glaciers. These glaciers, located in territorially disputed Kashmir region, have the most snow covered land area after Antarctica and Arctic. Melting of ice due to global warming on one side has increased the intensity of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF), while on other side it has significantly reduced the volume of frozen water deposits in Himalayan region.

The Indus Water Treaty (1960), which delineates the sharing of the Indus River’s waters between the two nations, has historically maintained a fragile equilibrium. However, with growing shortage of fresh water and subsequent construction of new dams by India at Indus upstream, occasional tensions and lack of co-operation regarding treaty have been observed between New Delhi and Islamabad. With disputed Kashmir region still awaiting resolution, any water-crisis can further exacerbate already strained relations between both nuclear armed neighbors. Under current circumstances, it’s highly probable that South Asian region will be at the verge of water-war in near future if both nations failed to undertake credible Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) regarding water resources.

In Central Asia, the climate change, coupled with growing populations, has also intensified competition over shared water resources. The construction of upstream dams by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, under the rubric of hydroelectric development, has raised concerns about downstream water availability for Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. The drying-up of Aral Sea and gradual reduction of water in Caspian Sea is exacerbating the water-crisis further. Similarly, the fertile land of densely populated Ferghana Valley, known for its near perfect faming conditions, is now heading towards desertification primarily due to global warming. Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan converge in this valley which is gradually becoming a flash-point for water-based conflict. In April 2021, a border clash erupted between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over dispute of irrigation water distribution. The conflict killed 40 people and displaced more than 30,000 residents. The confrontation stopped after Russia led diplomatic settlement but the core issue still persists.

With 61 percent population living in high water stress areas, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the most water scare region in the world. Approximately 60 percent of fresh water resources in MENA region flows across international border, and thus is source of political tensions between states already suffering from water scarcity and political instability. Against this backdrop, Euphrates and Tigris Rivers which are critical source of water for Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, have strained relations since 1960. Factors like erratic weather patterns, global warming, increasing population, and uncoordinated water management projects, are diminishing fresh water availability in Euphrates-Tigris basin. Instead of crafting a equitable and sustainable trans-border agreement for countering water deficiency, the four riparian stated have securitized water relations with neighboring countries. As a result, the risk of regional water-induced conflicts has increased substantially.

Moreover, militancy in region has also significantly contributed in intensification of water related crisis. For example, in 2014, attempts by ISIS to use Mosel Dam at Tigris River in Iraq for Hydro-Terrorism was also timely thwarted by security forces and a major water-disaster was successfully averted. Similarly, few months ago a border conflict ignited between security forces of Iran and Afghanistan in Zabu district of Sistan. The major cause of military clash was distribution of Helmand River water which flows from Afghanistan into Iran. Being among the most effected region of climate changes, both nations are vulnerable to frequent and intense droughts. Persistence of political instability and lack of co-operation has undermined the prospects of resolution of water issue in these regions.

In North-East Africa, the Nile water crisis has the potential to ignite a multifaceted conflict involving Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan due to their overwhelming dependence on the Nile River’s waters. Ethiopia’s construction of the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has raised concerns in Egypt and Sudan as both are concerned over potential reductions in downstream water flow. In particular, Egypt, historically reliant on the Nile’s waters, views the GERD as a direct threat to its water security. In recent past, Egypt has even threatened military action against GERD if Ethiopia fails to address Cairo’s concerns. Despite several negotiation efforts, these African nations have failed to agree on a mutually acknowledged framework regarding distribution of Nile water.

Israel is often regarded as benchmark for overcoming the shortage of fresh water. Once a country suffering from acute fresh water shortage, Israel now has ample fresh water availability to meet the domestic, agricultural and industrial requirements. Israel achieved this fate by building robust water Desalination infrastructure. However, Israel’s example cannot be used as a template for highly populated regions with varying geopolitical and demographic dynamics.

Technological advancements have provided new solutions for conservation of new water resources. Beside desalination, many similar water conservation technologies like, drip irrigation, fog & rain water harvesting, nano-filtration, and aquifer recharge etc. have been developed to extract, purify, and store fresh water. However, adaptation of these technologies on national scale is very expensive and, therefore, beyond the economic capacity of majority of developing nations.

Abruptly changing weather patterns are disturbing water cycle and rapidly declining availability of fresh water. The intensifying water scarcity can potentially act as conflict flashpoint with far reaching consequences. Therefore, it’s crucial that international society should realize the magnitude of problem and adapt to the changing realities of a warming planet. Collaborative efforts are essential to; undertaking scientific research for finding affordable and innovative technological solutions, water diplomacy for establishing effective water-sharing agreements, and adopting water-saving practices for sustainability of fresh water resources. If humanity fails to timely resolve this issue, it will not only undermine the global strategic stability, but will also threaten our existence as modern civilization.

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