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North Korea’s Nuclear Shadow: A Worrisome Expansion

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Abstract: The nuclear news from North Korea remains clear and threatening.  Ignoring both political warnings and legal prohibitions, Kim Jong Un has continued testing shorter range weapons that could imperil U.S. allies South Korea and Japan. In September, the North tested a new cruise missile it intends to arm with nuclear warheads and demonstrated a new system for firing ballistic missiles from trains. Kim’s escalatory launch from rail cars came just hours before the South reported its first test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Tackling such complexities, the following article by Professor Louis René Beres recommends issue-specific forms of dialectical thinking to US planners and policy-makers. His focused recommendations include a US policy shift in strategic objective from enemy “denuclearization” to mutual nuclear deterrence.

“The worst does sometimes happen.”-Friedrich Durrenmatt, Swiss Playwright

 Pyongyang’s recent missile tests reveal more than narrowly technical information about advanced military hardware. These tests reveal that Kim Jong Un has no intention to “denuclearize.” A reciprocal question now arises for the United States: What should Washington do in response?

To begin, there should be no resumption of incoherent and needlessly belligerent escalatory threats by an American president. There should be, instead, a conscious refinement of conceptual understandings. Before the United States can limit Pyongyang’s determined capacity to expand ever-more aggressively with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, Washington will need to embrace much more deeply thoughtful ideas about military power and national security.[1]

What should this required “embrace” actually look like? First, President Joseph Biden will need to understand that even a tangible US superiority in delivery vehicles and nuclear firepower need not signify American safety or potential “victory.” Though not readily apparent, this presumed US advantage could encourage a false sense of national influence and a visceral pattern of strategic risk-taking.

Overall, there could be no “minor” nuclear crises. In essence, a nuclear confrontation with North Korea – any nuclear confrontation – could quickly spin out of control, leaving even the militarily “superior” nation with grievous losses or impairments.[2]  What then?

The Intellectual Imperative

For the United States, the core policy obligations are plain. Going forward, proper reactions to North Korean nuclear expansion must be based exclusively upon Science and Reason. Rejecting the previous American president’s announced preference for “attitude” over “preparation,” Mr. Biden should restore this country to intellectually defensible foreign policies.

During the rancorous Trump Era, all proposed presidential solutions to North Korean nuclearization became crudely ad hominem (“We fell in love,” said Donald Trump about Kim Jong Un). At this point, to restore basic coherence to US-North Korean diplomacy, pertinent strategic policies will need to be based upon a more significant American appreciation of decision -making complexities. Inter alia, this appreciation should include an awareness of various multiple “synergies.” 

What intersections should be included? In all synergistic intersections, the “whole” of any particular outcome must be greater than the sum of its “parts.” Additionally, among military planners, the term “force multiplier” is often used to communicate the same or similar principles.

                There is more. For American planners, specificity and generality[3] will both be required. Comprehensive theories are necessary.[4] Always, the prevailing world order,[5] like the myriad individual human bodies who comprise it, will need to be recognized as a system. No discernible effects could be entirely isolated or singular.

Among the clarifying implications of this central metaphor, any more-or-less major conventional conflict in northeast Asia could heighten prospects of international conflicts elsewhere. This is the case whether such prospects would be immediate or incremental.  These prospects could include a regional nuclear war. Significant risks of such a worst case scenario would be enlarged by American searches for no-longer plausible outcomes. An important example of such a mistaken search would be one that is directed toward “victory.”

Perils of Seeking “Victory”

               There is good reason for identifying this example. Here, a cautionary observation about “victory” is persuasive, at least in part, because all core meanings of victory and defeat have changed dramatically.[6] Inter alia, these are no longer the meanings offered by Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’ classic On War (1832). At a little-examined metaphysical level, the ultimate victory for any human being or institutionalized collection of human beings must be victory over death.[7]

               In most prospectively identifiable wars between nation-states, there are no longer any confirmable criteria of demarcation between victory and defeat. Even a “victory” on some actual field of battle might not in any calculable way reduce serious security threats to the American homeland or US allies. Such grave threats, whether foreseen or unforeseen, could include various sub-state aggressions (terrorism) and/or widening attacks upon regional or non-regional US allies.

               Once it was acknowledged as a distinct foreign-policy objective, any declared US search for “victory” over North Korea could create a corrosively lethal escalatory dynamic with Pyongyang, one from which Washington could no longer expect any derivative military advantages. Such predictably injurious creations could take place in variously unanticipated increments or as an unexpected (“bolt-from-the-blue”) enemy aggression.[8] In the foreseeable worst case, an unwitting US forfeiture of “escalation dominance” would signify starkly irreversible American losses. These losses could include chaotic conditions that create tens or hundreds of thousands of prompt fatalities and much larger numbers of latent cancer deaths.

               For US policy planners, a great deal of subject-matter specificity must soon be taken into close account. In a promisingly coherent post-Trump policy world where history and science regain proper pride of place,[9] a capable American president can finally acknowledge something too long disregarded. It is that because nation-states no longer declare wars or enter into binding war-termination agreements, the application of traditional criteria of “war winning” to interstate conflicts no longer make any legal sense.[10]

Even more important, the empty political rhetoric of “victory” carries no correspondingly objective assessment or evaluation. No one can ever really “know” whether a particular war has been won or lost. And if this ambiguity were not the case, the “winning” side might still remain substantially vulnerable to assorted enemy aggressions, whether state, sub-state or “hybrid” inflicted.

The Limits of Military Acumen, Rationality and Prediction

 There is more. In the very complicated matters at hand, ascertainable benefits might not lie in any traditional forms of military expertise. A core question arises: Exactly how much applicable experience could American generals have garnered in starting, managing or ending a nuclear war? To what extent might the president and his senior commanders see only what they would want to see, including perhaps a seemingly gainful prospect of US military preemption?[11]

               In these opaque nuclear times, selective perceptions could sometimes prove to be mistaken. In principle, even after sober consideration of retaliatory consequences, an American president might still discover tangible benefit in launching specific preemptive strikes against an already nuclear North Korea. This prospect arises at least in exceptionally residual circumstances.[12] Accordingly, there could exist certain definable crises where refraining from striking first would appear more costly than gainful (irrational). These would be crises that allow North Korea to implement certain severely-complicating protective measures.[13]

               What’s the “bottom line” on US defensive first strikes against an already nuclear North Korea? It is that even such an American preemption could sometimes be rational, but only in utterly last resort strategic calculations.

               How can America tap pertinent military expertise on such critical existential judgments? All things considered, it is reasonable to expect that the generals could have no adequate expectation of pertinent “dialectics;”[14] that is, about Pyongyang’s selected response. Still, by no means does this candid expectation represent any ad hominem or gratuitous criticism of professional military planners. It is merely a dispassionate analytic reflection on the historical uniqueness of nuclear conflict.

There have been no nuclear wars; hence, there can be no experts on nuclear warfare.

               This incontestable conclusion is most urgently compelling in regard to the myriad complexities of any two-power nuclear competition: (1) one where there would exist substantial asymmetries in relative military power position; and (2) one where the “weaker” (North Korean) side could maintain a verifiable potential to inflict unacceptably damaging first-strikes or reprisals upon the “stronger” American side.

               Again, no truly reliable probability estimations can ever be undertaken in reference to unprecedented or sui generis situations. In science, authentic probability judgments must always be based upon a carefully calculated frequency of relevant past events.

               There are other problems in seeking an ultimate “victory” over North Korea. Recalling the “good old days,” which extend into the twentieth-century, nation-states have generally had to defeat enemy armies before being able to wreak any wished-for destruction upon the adversary’s cities and infrastructures. In those earlier times of more traditional doctrinal arrangements concerning war and peace, an individual country’s demonstrated capacity to “win” was necessarily prior to a sought-after capacity to destroy. An appropriate and well-known example to US military thinkers would be the case of Persia and Greece at the 480 BCE Battle of Thermopylae. Today, unlike what was purportedly the case at Thermopylae, a state needn’t be able to defeat enemy armies in order to inflict calculably gainful harms. Even if the US were to “win” against North Korea in a war, that “defeated” adversary could still inflict vast harms upon American citizens, institutions and infrastructures.

At a minimum, such an enemy could enlist destructive proxy forces, such as bio-terrorist surrogates.

The Capacity to Deter is Distinct from the Capacity to Win

               For President Biden and his counselors, there does remain some “good news.” The United States needn’t be able to win a particular conflict in order to credibly threaten a significant foe like North Korea (deterrence) or to inflict retaliatory harms upon this enemy. What this “good news” means today is that the capacity to deter is no longer necessarily identical to the capacity to win. For the United States, the principal war-planning or war-deterring lesson of any such ongoing transformations now warrants serious study.

               For the United States, the only prospective “victory” of immediate consequence is an intellectual victory. Conceptually, what matters most will be an American capacity to win bewilderingly complex struggles of “mind over mind.” Going forward, American planner must diligently work through variously dialectic forms of struggle with Pyongyang, not just enter into ad hoc or visceral contests of “mind over matter.”

               There are also various relevant points of law to be considered.[15] This is because jurisprudencehas its own proper place in such bewildering strategic calculations. More specifically, in terms of applicable law, winning and losing may no longer mean much for successful strategic planning. This tangible devaluation of victory and defeat should also become more obvious with regard to America’s wars on terror. Now, after Afghanistan, pressing conflict issues will need to be examined within continuously transforming US military plans and objectives regarding not just North Korea but also Syria, Iraq, Yemen and assorted other places.

               Regarding “victory,” he U.S. can never meaningfully “win” any upcoming wars with Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS-K, Taliban, etc. In part, this is the case because national leaders could never know for certain whether a presumptively zero-sum conflict with virulent sub-state or “hybrid” adversaries was actually “over.” On pertinent definitional matters, a “hybrid” enemy would refer to any adversary that combined state and sub-state elements in changing ratios of composition.

  Operationally, winning and losing are now fully extraneous to America’s collective interests, or, in those foreseeable cases where “victory” might still be expressed as a high-priority national objective, fully harmful. Ironically, a narrowly static American orientation to “winning” against North Korea could sometime lead the United States toward huge and irreversible losses. Such loses would likely ensue from various critical American misjudgments on “escalation dominance.”

               There is more. United States military planners could look usefully to “The East.” Long ago, famed Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu had reasoned simply: “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” To meet current US national security objectives vis-à-vis North Korea and other potential nuclear adversaries, this ancient Chinese military wisdom suggests that Washington now openly seek deterrence rather than victory. Any such necessary discontinuance should remain connected to the stringent requirements of maintaining optimal control over all necessary military escalations.

               If, in the future, these requirements were somehow minimized or disregarded, a resultant regional conflict could have “spillover” implications for other nation-states and for other parts of the world. Different elements of chaos notwithstanding, world politics and world military processes are always expressive of an underlying system. This elucidating characterization must lie continuously at the core of any coherent US strategic doctrine. 

Final Strategic Calculations

               Before these systemic connections can be understood and assessed, however, US planners must realize that the complicated logic of strategic nuclear calculations demands a discrete and capably nuanced genre of decision-making. This would be a genre that calls for considerable intellectual refinement in extremis atomicum. As an example, casually expecting an American president to convincingly leverage Chinese and Russian sanctions on behalf of the United States would miss at least two vital and intersecting points: (1) the regime in Pyongyang will likely never back down on its overall plan for nuclearization, however severe sanctions might seemingly become; and (2) counting upon meaningful sanctions from Beijing or Moscow would become inherently problematic for the United States.

 Both China and Russia remain substantially more worried about their traditional national enemy in Washington than about future dangers arising from Pyongyang.

               Truth will out. In world politics, as in law,[16] truth is exculpatory.  Like it or not, a nuclear North Korea is a fait accompli. Soon, President Biden will have to focus upon creating stable nuclear deterrence with North Korea (a) for the benefit of the United States; (b) for the benefit of America’s directly vulnerable allies in South Korea and Japan; and (c) for the benefit of its indirectly vulnerable allies elsewhere, including Israel in the still-dissembling Middle East.

               However inconspicuous, these important allies remain integral components of the same organic world system; they can never be helpfully separated from the palpable consequences of American geopolitical posture.

               “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” observed 20th century French Jesuit scholar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “no matter whom….” Nowhere is this interrelatedness more obvious or more potentially consequential than in the continuing matter of a nuclear North Korea and US foreign policy decision-making. This urgent threat from Pyongyang will not subside or disappear on its own. Immediately, it must be America’s sober responsibility to better understand all relevant American security obligations as well as their derivative complications.

Nuclear Warfighting Scenarios

 Should nuclear weapons ever be introduced into any future conflict between the United States and North Korea, actual instances of nuclear war-fighting could occur. This would be the case as long as: (a) US conventional first-strikes against North Korea would not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) US conventional retaliations for a North Korean conventional first-strike would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) US preemptive nuclear strikes would  not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capability; and (d) US conventional retaliations for North Korean conventional first strikes would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability.

Any US nuclear preemption would be potentially catastrophic and hence implausible. Reciprocally, assuming rationality, any North Korean nuclear preemption against the United States or its allies would be unlikely or altogether inconceivable. Can we reasonably and continuously assume North Korean rationality? Kim Jong Un has been steadily accelerating his testing of advanced nuclear missiles and supporting infrastructures. There is no persuasive basis to doubt that his vast commitment to nuclear weapons is in any manner reversible.

In January 2021, after describing the United States as “our biggest enemy,” Kim Jong Un called openly for more advanced nuclear weapons and infrastructures. At that time, during fully nine hours of blistering remarks at a party conference in Pyongyang, Kim summarized his country’s basic strategic posture: “Our foreign political activities should be focused and redirected on subduing the United States, our biggest enemy…No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature of the US and its fundamental policies towards North Korea never change.”

               Now, capable strategic analysts guiding American president Joseph Bien should enhance their nuclear investigations by carefully identifying basic distinctions between intentional or deliberate nuclear war and unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. The risks are apt to vary considerably, especially if rationality is also factored into the manty-sided calculation. Those American analysts who would remain too singularly focused upon a deliberate nuclear war scenario could all-too-casually underestimate a far more serious nuclear threat to the United States.

               This means the increasingly credible threat of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war.

                An additional conceptual distinction must be inserted into any US analytic scenario “mix.” This is the subtle but still important difference between an inadvertent nuclear war and an accidental nuclear war. Any accidental nuclear war would have to be inadvertent; conversely, however, there could be forms of inadvertent nuclear war that would not be accidental. Most critical, in this connection, would be significant errors in calculation committed by one or both sides – that is, more-or-less reciprocal mistakes that lead directly and/or inexorably to nuclear conflict.

The most blatant example of such a mistake would concern assorted misjudgments of enemy intent or capacity that emerge during the course of any ongoing crisis escalation.

Wider Implications of Chaos

               What about “chaos?” How would this indecipherable condition impact pertinent models of rational decision-making? Whether described in the Old Testament or in other evident sources of Western philosophy, chaos could become as much a source of human improvement as decline.[17] It is this prospectively positive side of chaos that is intended by Friedrich Nietzsche’s dense remark  in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883): “I tell you, ye have still chaos in you.”

               When expressed in aptly neutral tones, chaos represents that condition which prepares the world for all things, whether sacred or profane. It reveals that yawning gulf of “emptiness” where nothing is as yet, but where variously remaining civilizational opportunity can still originate. The 18th century German poet Friedrich Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic, which stands at the roots of the things, and which prepares all things.”

               Insightfully, in the ancient pagan world, Greek philosophers thought of this “desert” as logos, a primal designation which indicates that chaos is anything but starkly random or without merit.

One core conclusion is beyond reasonable question. It is that the only rational use for American nuclear weapons in any forthcoming US-North Korea negotiation must be as diplomatic bargaining elements of interstate dissuasion/persuasion. Barring any sudden crisis initiated by North Korean nuclear strike – a crisis that would immediately place the American president in extremis atomicum –  there could be absolutely no gainful use for such weapons as actual implements of war. If there could sometime arise a strategically rational justification for nuclear war-waging, one in which the expected benefits of nuclear weapons use would seemingly exceed expected costs, the planet as a whole could be imperiled, perhaps even irremediably.

Prima facie, there can be no credible guarantees that US-North Korean relations will not sometime descend into tangible nuclear conflict. “The worst,” warns Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “does sometimes happen.” For the United States, the best way to avoid any such irreversible folly with North Korea would be to reluctantly accept that belligerent country into the “nuclear club,” but still take intellect-based steps to ensure that it remains subject to American nuclear deterrence.


[1] “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another,” asks Samuel Beckett philosophically in Endgame, “of seeking justification always on the same plane?” Thought the celebrated Irish playwright was certainly not thinking specifically about world politics or national security, his generalized query remains well-suited to this strategic inquiry. As competitive power-politics has never worked, why keep insisting upon it as a presumptively viable doctrine?

[2] For informed assessments of plausible consequences of nuclear war fighting, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, SURVIVING AMID CHAOS: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016/2018); Louis René Beres,  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres,  MIMICKING SISYPHUS: AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1983);  Louis René Beres, REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U S FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington MA;  Lexington Books, 1984);  and Louis René Beres, ed.,  SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[3] The need for generality notwithstanding, strategic thinkers should never lose sight of the human consequences of their abstractions. By definition, theory is a simplification, one purposely excluding from consideration those factors deemed unessential to analytic explanation. This indispensable exclusion comes at a cost, however, because it involves the palpable sacrifice of espirit de finesse or the individual human element of any catastrophe. Recalling the poet Goethe’s observation in Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is gray, and the golden tree of life is green.” (Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grűn des Lebens goldner Baum.”)

[4] “Theory is a net,” observes German poet Novalis,” and “only those who cast, can catch.” This apt metaphor was embraced by philosopher of science Karl Popper as the epigraph to his classic work on philosophy of science:  The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934).

[5] The term “world order” has its contemporary origins in a scholarly movement begun at the Yale Law School in the mid- and late 1960s and later “adopted” by the Politics Department at Princeton University in 1967-68. The present author was an early member of the Princeton-based World Order Models Project, and wrote several of the early books and articles in this once still-emergent academic genre.

[6]See by this writer, at The Hill: Louis René Beres: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-military/347395-opinion-victory-in-afghanistan-has-no-serious-meaning

[7]Throughout history, notions of ultimate “victory” have been associated with personal immortality. To wit, 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.

[8] See especially: 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.

[9] “Intellect rots the brain” shrieked Joseph Goebbels at a Nuremberg Germany rally in 1935. “I love the poorly educated” echoed American presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 rally in the United States. Perhaps to authenticate his anti-intellectualism, Trump went on to propose household bleach as a Covid19 treatment, urge the use of nuclear weapons against hurricanes and praise American revolutionary armies in the 18th century for “gaining control of all national airports.”

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

[11] As a legally permissible form of such a preemption, “anticipatory self-defense” is rooted in customary international law (see note immediately below), Customary international law is identified as an authoritative source of world legal norms at Art. 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice. International law, an integral part of the legal system of all states in world politics, assumes a general obligation of states to supply benefits to one another and to avoid war wherever possible. This core assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, that is, one that is not subject to any reasonable question. It can be found, inter alia, in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis, Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625) and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law (1758).

[12] In law, any such defensive first-strikes, if permissible, could be considered “anticipatory self-defense.” The normative origins of such defense liein customary international law, more precisely, 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).

[13]Designed to guard against any US preemption, these measures could involve the attachment of “hair trigger” launch mechanisms to nuclear weapon systems and/or the adoption of “launch on warning” policies, possibly coupled with pre-delegations of launch authority. This means, incrementally, that the US could find itself endangered by certain steps taken by Pyongyang to prevent a belligerent preemption. Optimally, the United States would do everything possible to prevent such steps, especially because of expanded risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks launched against its own or allied armaments/ populations. But if such steps were to become a fait accompli, Washington could still calculate correctly that a preemptive strike would be legal and cost-effective. This is because the expected enemy retaliation, however damaging, could still appear more tolerable than the expected consequences of enemy first-strikes –  strikes likely occasioned by the antecedent failure of “anti-preemption” protocols.

[14] “Dialectic” is Plato’s term for what science and philosophy “do.” It is rooted in the Greek word for conversation, and stipulates that only through conversation can one genuinely discover “what each thing is” (Republic 533b).

[15] Under international law, every use of forcemust be judged twice: once with regard to the underlying right to wage war (jus ad bellum) and once to the means used in conducting a war (jus in bello). Following the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and the United Nations Charter, there can be absolutely no right to aggressive war. However, the long-standing customary right of post-attack self-defense remains codified at Article 51 of the UN Charter. Similarly, subject to conformance, inter alia, with jus in bello criteria, certain instances of humanitarian intervention and collective security operations may also be consistent with jus ad bellum. The law of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring “discrimination” (aka “distinction”), “proportionality” and “military necessity” into belligerent calculations.

[16] International law is always part of the law of the United States. For early decisions on the US “incorporation” of authoritative international law by Chief Justice John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).

[17] “Is it an end that draws near,” inquires Karl Jaspers in Man in the Modern Age (1951) “or a beginning.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Defense

US military presence in the Middle East: The less the better

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It may not have been planned or coordinated but efforts by Middle Eastern states to dial down tensions serve as an example of what happens when big power interests coincide.

It also provides evidence of the potentially positive fallout of a lower US profile in the region.

Afghanistan, the United States’ chaotic withdrawal notwithstanding, could emerge as another example of the positive impact when global interests coincide. That is if the Taliban prove willing and capable of policing militant groups to ensure that they don’t strike beyond the Central Asian nation’s borders or at embassies and other foreign targets in the country.

Analysts credit the coming to office of US President Joe Biden with a focus on Asia rather than the Middle East and growing uncertainty about his commitment to the security of the Gulf for efforts to reduce tensions by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirate and Egypt on the one hand and on the other, Turkey, Iran, and Qatar. Those efforts resulted in the lifting, early this year, of the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.

Doubts about the United States’ commitment also played an important role in efforts to shore up or formalise alliances like the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has de facto acknowledged its ties with the Jewish state even if Riyadh is not about to formally establish relations. In a sign of the times, that did not stop then Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu from last year visiting the kingdom.

To be sure, changes in Washington’s priorities impact regional defence strategies and postures given that the United States has a significant military presence in the Middle East and serves as its sole security guarantor.

Yet, what rings alarm bells in Gulf capitals also sparks concerns in Beijing, which depends to a significant degree on the flow of its trade and energy from and through Middle Eastern waters, and Moscow with its own security concerns and geopolitical aspirations.

Little surprise that Russia and China, each in their own way and independent of the United States, over the last year echoed the United States’ message that the Middle East needs to get its act together.

Eager to change rather than reform the world order, Russia proposed an all-new regional security architecture modelled on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) adding not only Russia but also China, India, and Europe to the mix.

China, determined to secure its proper place in the new world order rather than fundamentally altering it, sent smoke signals through its academics and analysts that conveyed a double-barrelled message. On the one hand, China suggested that the Middle East did not rank high on its agenda. In other words, the Middle East would have to act to climb Beijing’s totem pole.

For China, the Middle East is always on the very distant back burner of China’s strategic global strategies,” Niu Xinchun, director of Middle East Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), China’s most prestigious think tank, told a webinar last year.

Prominent Chinese scholars Sun Degang and Wu Sike provided months later a carrot to accompany Mr. Niu’s stick. Taking the opposite tack, they argued that the Middle East was a “key region in big power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in a new era.”

Chinese characteristics, they said, would involve “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution.

On that basis, the two scholars suggest, Chinese engagement in Middle Eastern security would seek to build an inclusive and shared regional collective security mechanism based on fairness, justice, multilateralism, comprehensive governance, and the containment of differences.

In the final analysis, Chinese and Russian signalling that there was an unspoken big power consensus likely reinforced American messaging and gave Middle Eastern states a further nudge to change course and demonstrate a willingness to control tensions and differences.

Implicit in the unspoken big power consensus was not only the need to dial down tensions but also the projection of a reduced, not an eliminated, US presence in the Middle East.

While there has been little real on-the-ground reduction of US forces, just talking about it seemingly opened pathways. It altered the US’ weighting in the equation.

“The U.S. has a habit of seeing itself as indispensable to regional stability around the world, when in fact its intervention can be very destabilizing because it becomes part of the local equation rather than sitting above it,” noted Raad Alkadiri, an international risk consultant.

While important, the United States’ willingness to get out of the way is no guarantee that talks will do anything more than at best avert conflicts spinning out of control.

Saudi and Iranian leaders and officials have sought to put a positive spin on several rounds of direct and indirect talks between the two rivals.

Yet, more important than the talk of progress, expressions of willingness to bury hatchets, and toning down of rhetoric is Saudi King Salman’s insistence in remarks last month to the United Nations General Assembly on the need to build trust.

The monarch suggested that could be achieved by Iran ceasing “all types of support” for armed groups in the region, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

The potential monkey wrench is not just the improbability of Iran making meaningful concessions to improve relations but also the fact that the chances are fading for a revival of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

“We have to prepare for a world where Iran doesn’t have constraints on its nuclear program and we have to consider options for dealing with that. This is what we are doing while we hope they do go back to the deal,” said US negotiator Rob Malley.

Already, Israeli politicians, unhappy with the original nuclear deal and the Biden administration’s effort to revive it, are taking a more alarmist view than may be prevalent in their intelligence services.

In Washington this week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that Iran was “becoming a nuclear threshold state.” Back home Yossi Cohen, a close confidante of Mr. Netanyahu, who stepped down in June as head of the Mossad, asserted at the same time that Iran was “no closer than before” to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

There is no doubt, however that both men agree that Israel retains the option of a military strike against Iran. “Israel reserves the right to act at any moment in any way,” Mr. Lapid told his American interlocutors as they sought to resolve differences of how to deal with Iran if a revival of the agreement proves elusive.

Meanwhile, a foreplay of the fallout of a potential failure to put a nuclear deal in place is playing out on multiple fronts. Tension have been rising along the border between Iran and Azerbaijan.

Iran sees closer Azerbaijani-Israeli relations as part of an effort to encircle it and fears that the Caucasian state would be a staging ground for Israeli operations against the Islamic republic. Iran and Azerbaijan agreed this week to hold talks to reduce the friction.

At the same time, Iran, Turkey and Israel have been engaged in a shadow boxing match in predominantly Kurdish northern Iraq while a poll showed half of Israeli Jews believe that attacking Iran early on rather than negotiating a deal would have been a better approach.

Taken together, these factors cast a shadow over optimism that the Middle East is pulling back from the brink. They suggest that coordinated big power leadership is what could make the difference as the Middle East balances between forging a path towards stability and waging a continuous covert war and potentially an overt one.

A Johns Hopkins University Iran research program suggested that a US return to the nuclear deal may be the catalyst for cooperation with Europe, China, and Russia.

“Should the United States refuse to re-join the agreement following sufficient attempts by Iran to demonstrate flexibility in their negotiating posture, Russia and China will ramp up their economic and security cooperation with Iran in a manner fundamentally opposed to US interests,” the program warned.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh announced this week that Russia and Iran were finalizing a ‘Global Agreement for Cooperation between Iran and Russia’ along the lines of a  similar 25-year agreement between China and the Islamic republic last year that has yet to get legs.

Even so, Iran scored an important victory when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in which China and Russia loom large last month agreed to process Iran’s application for membership.

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Defense

The U.S. may not involve military confrontation in the South China Sea

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The guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville during a replenishment-at-sea with the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Harris/U.S. Navy/Flickr

Although the US with its highest military budget, and maintaining the largest number of military bases around the globe, and the largest number of troops in foreign countries, and keeping the largest number of alliances, yet may avoid a direct military confrontation in the South China Sea. It does not mean that the US will give up, but, may exert political and diplomatic pressure, or opt for cold war strategies. The US is very well aware of the consequences and scared of spreading the conflict into other parts of the world, initiating the third world war (WWIII). It might be a nuclear war and disaster for the whole world.

Today, the piles of lethal weapons, especially nuclear weapons, are enough to destroy the whole world. If the escalation starts, it might not be limited to a small region, or continent, it might get out of control and spread to other parts of the world, and engulf the whole world. The highly hostile geopolitics are heading toward more volatility and entering dangerous limits.

As a part of the US cold war strategy, they are pushing the region toward war. On one hand creation of AUKUS, instigating Taiwan, and supporting India, pressurizing China, leaving no option except war, is extremely dangerous. The US may be once again miscalculating that, push the regional countries into war, while keeping the US away from the war zone will benefit Americans. In the recent past, all US dreams turn against their expectations, and such a dream to push China into war and enjoy the destruction of the region, keeping itself away, may not realize.

As a result of undue support to Taiwan, may instigate Taiwan for war. Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivered an important speech at a commemorative meeting marking the 110th anniversary of the Revolution of 1911 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 9, 2021. He said that the Taiwan question arose out of the weakness and chaos of the Chinese nation, and it will be resolved as national rejuvenation becomes a reality. “This is determined by the general trend of Chinese history, but more importantly, it is the common will of all Chinese people,” he noted.

National reunification by peaceful means best serves the interests of the Chinese nation as a whole, including compatriots in Taiwan, said Xi, while calling on compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to stand on the right side of history. Xi described secession aimed at “Taiwan independence” as the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end,” he said, adding that they will be disdained by the people and condemned by history. The Taiwan question is purely an internal matter for China, one which brooks no external interference, Xi noted. “The complete reunification of our country will be and can be realized,” he stressed.

By nature, the Chinese are peace-loving and never like aggression or wars. China has been observing patience for a long, and expects, that the people of Taiwan may opt for peaceful reunification. Although China has the capacity to take over Taiwan by force, yet, China preferred reunification through dialogue and negotiation peacefully. China understands the consequences too and will observe patience to the last moment. If the people of Taiwan are smart and wise they must take the right decision, and a timely decision will be in their interest. A unified China will make them proud too. They may also be beneficiaries of Chinese economic developments. Reunification, will definitely, raise the economy of Taiwanese and improve individuals’ standard of life. There are many incentives for Taiwan and unlimited opportunities.

However, in case of war, no foreign country will come to help Taiwan, especially the US will not rescue them. In fact, the role of the US is to instigate others and push them into war and keep themselves aside, watching only, they may join the winner side later on. The US is not sincere with Taiwan, but playing dirty politics only and selling expensive weapons to gain economic benefits to save its ailing economy. The US will not proactively involve in any war in the South China sea.

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Defense

China Says U.S.-China War Is Imminent

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China has now publicly announced that, unless the United States Government will promptly remove from China’s Taiwan province the military forces that it recently sent there, China will soon send military forces into that province, because, not only did the U.S. secretly send “special operations forces” onto that island, but because, “since the US has exposed the news through anonymous officials, it has taken a step forward to undermine, from covertly to semi-overtly, the key conditions for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Chinese mainland and the US.” That statement — threatening to cut off diplomatic relations with the U.S. — comes from the Chinese Communist Party’s newspaper, Global Times’s editorial, on October 8th. Its editorials speak for the Chinese Government, at least as much as statements from the U.S. White House speak for the U.S. Government.

The Chinese editorial went on to explain that: 

The mainland must respond to the US’ new provocations to make both Washington and the island of Taiwan fully realize the severity of their collusion. Otherwise, in the next step, US military staff may show up in Taiwan island, publicly wearing uniforms and their number may increase from dozens to hundreds or even more to form a de facto US garrison in the island

In other words: America’s “special operations forces” might be killed when China sends its military forces into Taiwan so as to deal with the insurrection that’s now occurring in this province. China is saying that it will be sending those troops and planes onto the island before America publicly invades the island, in order to be in a better position to deal with the U.S. invasion if and when it occurs. China is clearly aiming here to avoid there being “a de facto US garrison on the island.” China — if it is going to kill U.S. troops on that island — wants to be killing only those few “special operations forces” personnel, and NOT any “garrison.” It wants to minimize the damage.

The U.S. Government has officially recognized that Taiwan is — as the Chinese Government itself says — a province of China, not a separate nation. Therefore, what the U.S. Biden Administration is now doing is actually in violation of official (and actually longstanding) U.S. Government policy on the matter.

As I had reported on September 14th, under the headline that “China and U.S. are on the brink of war”:  

Right now, the neocons that Biden has surrounded himself with are threatening to accuse him of having ‘lost Taiwan’ if Biden backs down from his many threats to China, threats that the U.S. Government will reverse America’s “One China” policy, which has been in place ever since the 28 February 1972 “Shanghai Communique”, when the U.S. Government signed with China to the promise and commitment that “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.”

Quietly, but gradually, the U.S. Government, in recent years, has been giving increasing signs that it will abrogate this policy and grant to Taiwan official recognition and an embassy in Washington. For it to do that would contrast blatantly, not only against the 28 February 1972 “Shanghai Communique”, but against other official U.S. policies.

For example, consider Crimea, which the U.S. Government demands to be a part of Ukraine and not a part of Russia. Regarding the relationship between Crimea — which was a province of Russia between 1783 and 1954 but was then suddenly and arbitrarily transferred to Ukraine by the Soviet dictator Khruschev in 1954 — and Ukraine, the U.S. Government is demanding that Crimea must be as Khruschev arbitrarily ruled it to become in 1954: a part of Ukraine. The U.S. has this policy though public opinion polls that the U.S. Government itself commissioned to be performed of Crimeans both back in 2013 before the February 2014 U.S. coup in Ukraine and after that coup, showed overwhelming public support by Crimeans for Crimea’s being restored to Russia, no longer a part of Ukraine (as had been the case since 1954). The U.S. Government demands that Crimeans — who by more than 90% prefer to be part of Russia instead of part of Ukraine — have no right to determine what their nationality will be, but that Taiwaners (who might predominantly want to not be a part of China) have a right to determine what their nationality will be). The U.S. Government demands that Crimea be restored to Ukraine, which the residents of Crimea had always opposed (and still do), but now also demands that Taiwan NOT be restored to China (which was part of China since 1683 and until Japan conquered Taiwan in 1895 and held it until Taiwan became restored to China in 1945. 

America’s pretenses to supporting democracy in international affairs are blatantly a fraud in order to continue the U.S. empire that has become established after World War II by means of numerous sanctions, coups, and invasions.

Andrew Bacevich, the President of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, headlined on September 30th, “‘A Horrible Mistake’: Recovering From America’s Imperial Delusions”, and he wrote:

Rather than picking sides in regional disputes — Saudi Arabia vs. Iran, Israel vs. Hamas and Hezbollah — the United States should reposition itself as a genuinely honest broker. Rather than chiding some nations for violating human rights and giving others a pass, it should hold all of them (and itself) to a common standard. Rather than flooding the region with advanced weaponry, it should use its influence to reduce arms transfers. Rather than selectively opposing nuclear proliferation, it should do so consistently across the board. Rather than scattering U.S. forces across the region, it should drastically reduce the number of bases it maintains there. At most, two should suffice: an air base in Qatar and a naval facility in Bahrain.

The same applies regarding such matters as Taiwan and Crimea. Bacevich concluded (referring to the example of Afghanistan) that,

The ultimate “horrible mistake,” to repurpose Secretary of Defense Austin’s phrase, dates from the immediate aftermath of the Cold War when the United States succumbed to a form of auto-intoxication: imperial delusions fueled by an infatuation with military power.

America’s sanctions, coups and military invasions, must end. As the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft might say (if they were more blunt): what the U.S. Government has been doing since 1945 is not “Responsible Statecraft.” These sanctions, coups and military invasions, are, instead, “Imperial Delusions,” just as Bacevich says they are.

However, America’s billionaires, whose donations determine which candidates will be politically competitive to stand even a chance of becoming nominated so as to stand a chance of then becoming elected into public offices in the U.S. federal Government, are essentially unanimous in favor of their military-industrial complex, which is the most profitable field for them to invest in. Consequently, neoconservatism — which is U.S. imperialism — is bipartisanly dominant in both of America’s political Parties, each Party being financed by a different group of billionaires. They are virtually unanimous for imperialism, both Parties voting in Congress overwhelmingly for U.S. imperialism — just about the only thing that they bipartisanly support — because it’s profitable for the billionaires that fund each of the two congressional Parties (or teams) . This is why Joe Biden continues, and generally intensifies, Donald Trump’s foreign policies, and why Donald trump had continued, and generally intensified, Barack Obama’s foreign policies — all recent U.S. Presidents have been (and the present one is) neoconservative (or imperialist), whatever else they might be. For an example of this: on 10 January 2021, just before the end of the Trump Presidency, Zero Hedge headlined “Washington ‘One-China’ Policy Dead As Pompeo Lifts Restrictions On US-Taiwan Relations”. Biden is simply intensifying Trump’s policy on China.

In fact: all of this U.S. imperialism has been enormously profitable for America’s billionaires, and especially for the ones who have been investing the most heavily in ‘defense’ industries. This has been most clearly and most blatantly so after the ‘ideological’ ‘justification’ (anti-communism) for the Truman-and-Eisenhower start, in 1945, of the Cold War, finally ended in 1991. Beginning at around 1990 — the very same period when G.H.W. Bush started secretly instructing America’s ‘allies’ that the Cold War would continue on the U.S. side even after the Soviet Union would break up and end its communism, and end its side of the Cold War — the “Cumulative Returns, Indexed to 1951,” for the total stock “Market” vs. for “Industrials” vs. for “Defense,” which three segments had previously moved in tandem with each other, sharply diverged after 1990, so that “Defense” has since been soaring, it’s rising much faster than the other two sectors, both of which other two sectors (“Market and “Industrials”) continued after 1990 rising in tandem with each other. That — 1990 — was the time when market valuations on America’s armaments producers suddenly took off and left the rest of the economy ever-increasingly behind. It’s all shown right there in that chart. This means that the decision by George Herbert Walker Bush to go for blood, instead of to serve the needs of the American people, has been vastly profitable for America’s aristocracy. Interesting, too, is that the period after 1990 has been when the U.S. Government became increasingly involved in invading the Middle East. The arms-markets there were growing by leaps and bounds. However, after 2020, the U.S.-and-allied regimes seem to be refocusing again on “great power competition” (including sanctions and other operations to promote “regime change” against any governments that don’t cooperate with the U.S. regime’s efforts against what it declares to be ‘America’s enemies’). They now openly equate economic “competition” against such targets, as being something that is legitimate to be dealt with by even military means. They openly presume that the military ought to serve their billionaires and no longer “national” (meaning public) defense. They openly presume that imperialism is right, and that it’s okay for nations to fight each other in order to further enrich their respective aristocracies.

This is what the U.S. regime’s support for Taiwan to become an independent country is actually all about: making America’s billionaires even richer.

Gideon Rachman’s Financial Times article, on 12 October 2021, “The moment of truth over Taiwan is getting closer”, provides excellent documentation that the U.S. regime (including its news-media) has been extremely successful in recent years at increasing the negativity of U.S. public opinion towards China’s Government, and that this success has increased the pressure on U.S. President Biden to go to war against China. However, Rachman there failed to note that on 26 July 2021, the U.S. military news site DefenseOne had bannered, concerning U.S. war-games which had just concluded against China, “‘It Failed Miserably’: After Wargaming Loss, Joint Chiefs Are Overhauling How the US Military Will Fight”, and they reported that if the Joint Chiefs’ “overhaul” becomes successful, it won’t be until 2030, at the earliest. So: if there will be a U.S. invasion soon against China, then America’s armed forces will likely lose that war, and the pressure upon Biden to go nuclear against China will then become enormous — so as to turn that defeat into ‘victory’. Perhaps America’s anti-China propaganda has been too successful, and will bring nuclear annihilation. Maybe the owners of firms such as Lockheed Martin, and of such firms as CNN — the people who have, effectively, placed America’s ‘elected’ leaders into power — will turn out to have been too effective at what they do. Right now, this situation is looking like a runaway train that’s heading for a catastrophic crash.

Perhaps the question right now is: How insistent are America’s billionaires, really, that the U.S. Government will become the world’s first-ever 100% encompassing empire, dictating to each and every other nation? Are they willing to risk nuclear annihilation for that supreme supremacist goal? After America’s successful coup against Ukraine in 2014, they’ve been buying luxurious deep-underground bunkers in preparation for this (WW III). But is that really the type of world that they want to live — and die — in? That’s the question.

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