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Avoiding Nuclear War in the “State of Nature”: America’s Responsibility

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So the nature of war consists not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.”-Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651

The “time” to which the seventeenth century English philosopher refersis that calculable interval spent in the “State of Nature.” This anarchic “State,” emphasizes Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, is correctly described as a “State of War.” In such an unpredictable context – a context which corresponds to tangibly long periods in world political history – “…every man is enemy to every man….” Significantly, whenever such a pervasive and recalcitrant enmity prevails among nations, the “life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

               Hobbes offers further analytic clarifications. Though he supposes that such a fearful anarchy does not actually obtain among individuals living in a State of Nature, it is accurately descriptive of international relations. More specifically, we may learn from a philosopher whose ideas were central to making the United States Constitution: “. …in all times, states, “because of their independency, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators.”[1]

                Today we are in a time of reckoning. Struggling in the midst of worldwide biological “plague” and a simultaneously expanding nuclear arms race. humankind should finally acknowledge anarchy’s insecure “posture” as the critically defining background of world politics. Even during a patently serious disease pandemic, preventing nuclear war among so many state “gladiators” should remain an overriding species obligation. For the United States and other nuclear weapon states, the only meaningful way to meet this intellectual obligation is by way of continuously refined frameworks, theories and methodologies.[2]

               Throughout this process, any narrowly political orientations would be ill-suited and even destined to fail.

               There is considerably more complex content to these epistemological issues. Even while forced to confront worldwide viral onslaught, the risks of catastrophic nuclear war are continuously expanding for planet earth.[3] At the most conspicuous levels of pertinent risk arenas are intersecting and overlapping strategic developments now underway in China, North Korea, Iran, India and Pakistan. At their core, these inauspicious developments are integrally related to a still-ubiquitous belligerent nationalism and to certain corollary risks of strategic brinkmanship and/or decisional-miscalculation. Of equally primary concern are rapidly deteriorating U.S. relations with Russia regarding intermediate nuclear force deployments in Europe.

               In these most clearly prominent arenas of prospective nuclear confrontation, pertinent hazards could be further exacerbated by variously complex interactions taking place between assorted states.

               Any or all such interactions, whether foreseen or unforeseen, could become synergistic. These would represent “force-multiplying” situations wherein the tangible “whole” of any deleterious conflict effect would be greater than the presumptive sum of its constituent “parts.”[4] 

 Primacy of “Mind Over Mind”[5]

               Always, in such more-or-less matters, nuclear war avoidance should be approached as an intellectual problem. It is a problem, therefore, that will also need to be confronted in tandem with certain other major global challenges, notably terrorism, inequality, climate change and (whether directly or indirectly) pandemic disease. During the relentlessly anti-intellectual Trump years, a corrosive American era of cascading decision-making incoherence,[6] serious suggestions of scientific strategic assessment were routinely brushed aside at the White House. All too often, these dismissals were accompanied by unseemly gestures of indifferent or casual concern. In essence, during those bitter years of gratuitously rancorous policy-making, US national security problems were continuously framed by an ill-prepared American president in uselessly ad hominem terms. More often than not, these frameworks were founded upon strategically senseless appeals to acrimonious passions or coercion, and not on any meaningful  requirements of “escalation dominance.”[7]

               Among other things, and understood from the useful standpoint of disciplined analytic logic, such crudely illogical appeals exhibited assorted errors in correct reasoning, or fallacies. Most obvious of these errors was the self-evidently erroneous argument known formally as the argumentum ad bacculum.[8] From the start of his dissembling presidency, Donald J. Trump willfully compounded this egregious and potentially irremediable misrepresentation. When viewed vis-a-vis the North Korean nuclear threat, America is “just plain lucky” that Trump’s strategic derelictions did not immediately spawn a major war. At the time, Americans had been falsely reassured by the former president’s June 12, 2018 summit meeting with Kim Jung Un. Then, all salient issues were allegedly settled in just a few hours of “togetherness.”

               Trump had an “explanation” “We fell in love” was that president’s succinct explanation in Singapore. The most difficult element to explain about this absurdist response was not the starkly contrived personal reassurance, but the fact that Americans in general did not object strenuously to such evident nonsense. What really ought to have been expected from any civilized American democracy in such intellectually troubling circumstances was not some vacantly deferential approval of presidential fiat, but rather incessant public howls of incredulity.

               “How,” Americans should have queried, “could we reasonably be persuaded to accept manifest political gibberish as truth?”       

               Today, armed with greater attention to applicable intellectual factors, Americans should look determinedly forward. What happens next, now that the United States has a different and more capable president, one who has been inclined to replace injurious bravado and stultifying banalities with more genuinely serious intellectual thought? For the moment, what matters most are not the variously identifiable answers given to this key question, but only the fact that important questions are finally being raised.

American Obligations of True Learning

                There is more. It is time for Americans to be reminded that the core problems of decisional uncertainty in world politics are deeply structural and (correspondingly) psychological. Ipso facto, these are all analyticor intellectual problems.

               From the start of his strategic decision-making on North Korea, formerPresident Trump made no discernible intellectual sense. Instead, openly, unambiguously, he sought that unpredictable country’s “denuclearization,” an unrealistic objective that made absolutely no policy sense at the time and makes even less policy sense today. It follows, among many other things, that Trump’s current White House successor will need to identify more credible and achievable goals in this and other volatile theatres of potential nuclear conflict. In intellectually-supportable fashion, Joseph Biden will need to safeguard humankind’s still-anarchic and deeply-fragile world political system[9] from a rapidly emerging global chaos and from ever-growing nuclear perils.[10]

 The Place for Science and Mathematics

               Regarding variously indispensable responsibilities of world peace and global stabilization, capable thinkers will need to remind the current American president of two pertinent and always-interrelated criteria of strategic danger: probability and disutility. The first mentioned dimension concerns an issue of presumed likelihood. The second criterion deals with relevant matters of presumed physical suffering.         

               Dealing with the first dimension must inevitably become worrisome and problematic. To wit, in science and mathematics, true probabilities must always be based upon the discernible frequency of pertinent past events. But on the overriding issue of a nuclear war, there have been no such past events.[11]

               Analyses suitably based on “mind” could help to clarify ongoing threats.  From the standpoint of Pyongyang, accepting denuclearization (urged by both Trump and Biden), would represent an irrational option.  For Kim Jung Un, getting rid of his extant atomic arms and infrastructures must inevitably remain contrary to North Korea’s basic national security requirements. Hence, expecting any such removal is foolish US policy by definition.

               In June 2020, exactly two years after the Singapore Summit, Kim’s Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon announced that any earlier expressed hopes for accommodation with then President Trump had “shifted into  despair” and that any plausible prior reasons for optimism had “faded away into a dark nightmare.”[12] Not surprisingly, Trump’s idea that US nuclear security had somehow been enhanced when he and Kim “fell in love” descended into caricature.

               There is more. North Korea is not America’s only adversarial nuclear problem. For the United States, Iran also represents a compellingly relevant hazard.[13] This compelling assessment obtains, even though Iran is not yet nuclear.[14]  

               The reasons should now be plainly identified and elucidated.

The Nuclear Danger from Iran

               There are both direct and indirect causes for a prospective nuclear conflict between Washington and Tehran. To start, Iran remains capable of fighting a massive conventional conflict against Israel, America’s principal Middle Eastern ally. Conceivably, Tehran could prod the United States to consider using its nuclear forces on presumed behalf of Israel. At the same time, certain Sunni Arab states that are increasingly worried about an impending “Persian bomb” could sometime seek to obtain a countervailing nuclear capacity for themselves.[15]  Egypt and Saudi Arabia should most immediately come to mind.[16]

               What could happen next? What complex intersections or synergies might actually arise involving Iran and Israel? And what might be the concurrent effects of “plague” (Covid19 pandemic) upon some or all of the pertinent “players?”

               In  essence, however plausible conflict scenarios might be configured, all of these prospects are unprecedented and could portend authentically unprecedented outcomes.[17]

Russia and China

                Fully continuous US policy attention should also be directed toward ongoing and expanding nuclear developments in both Russia and China. As we are arguably in the midst of a second Cold War, a condition of tacit belligerence that was exacerbated by rancorous Trump Administration withdrawals from several arms control agreements, Russian and Chinese developments now define a strategic background for encouraging other perilous nuclear developments in Pyongyang and Tehran.

               There is more. “Cold War II”[18] represents a comprehensive systemic structure within which virtually all contemporary world politics could be meaningfully categorized and properly assessed. Current “Great Power” dispositions to war, however ascertained, offer variouslyauspicious analytic backgrounds for still-wider nuclear interactions. How can this portentous context be tempered or modified?

               Quo Vadis?

               Questions can lead to answers. Planning ahead, what explanatory theories and scenarios could best guide the Biden administration in its multiple and foreseeable interactions with North Korea, Iran, China and Russia? Before answering this many-sided question with both conceptual clarity and necessary specificity, a “correct” answer – any correct answer – will depend upon a more closely considered awareness of intersections and overlaps. Accordingly, some of these intersections and overlaps will be synergistic. Here, by definition, the consequential “whole” of any one particular interaction will be greater than the simple sum of its constituent “parts.”

               Going forward, the current American president’s advisors will have to consider one overarching assumption. This is the inherently problematic expectation of adversarial rationality. Depending upon the outcome of such bewildering consideration, the judgments these advisers make about this expectation will be decidedly different and more-or-less urgent.

               It now follows further that a primary “order of business” for American strategic analysts and planners will be reaching informed judgments about each specified adversary’s determinable ordering of preferences. Unequivocally, only those adversaries who would value national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences would be acting rationally.

               But what about the others?

Further Questions and Answers

               For scholars and policy-makers, additional basic questions should now be considered. First, what are the operational meanings of relevant terminologies and/or vocabularies? In the formal study of international relations and military strategy, decisional irrationality never means quite the same as madness. Nonetheless, certain residual warnings about madness ought still to warrant serious US policy consideration. This is because both “ordinary” irrationality and full-scale madness could exert comparable effects upon any examined country’s national security decision-making processes.

               There is nothing suitable here for the intellectually faint-hearted.[19] This is not an issue about “attitude” (the term Trump had used to describe what he regarded as most important to any diplomatic negotiation), but about fully science-based “preparation.”[20]

               Sometimes, for the United States, understanding and anticipating these ascertainable effects could display existential importance. In all such considerations, words could come to matter a great deal. In normal strategic parlance, “irrationality” identifies a decisional foundation wherein national self-preservation is not summa, not the very highest and ultimate preference. This preference ordering would have decidedly significant policy implications.

               An irrational decision-maker in Pyongyang, Tehran or elsewhere need not be determinably “mad” to become troubling for policy planning analysts in Washington. Such an adversary would need “only” to be more conspicuously concerned about certain discernible preferences or values than about its own collective self-preservation. An example would be those preferences expressed for feasible outcomes other than national survival.  Normally, any such national behavior would be unexpected and counter-intuitive, but it would still not be unprecedented or inconceivable. Identifying the specific criteria or correlates of any such survival imperatives could prove irremediably subjective and/or simply indecipherable.

               Whether a particular American adversary were sometime deemed irrational or “mad,” US military planners would still have to input a generally similar calculation. Here, an analytic premise would be advanced that the particular adversary “in play” might not be deterred from launching a military attack by American threats of retaliatory destruction, even where such threats would be fully credible and presumptively massive. Any such failure of US military deterrence could include both conventional and nuclear retaliatory threats.

               In fashioning America’s nuclear strategy vis-à-vis nuclear and not-yet-nuclear adversaries,[21] US military planners will have to include a mechanism to determine whether a designated adversary (e.g., North Korea or Iran) will more likely be rational or irrational. Operationally, this means ascertaining whether the identifiably relevant foe will value its collective survival (whether as a sovereign state or organized terror group) more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences. Always, this early judgment will need to be based upon defensibly sound analytic or intellectual principles.

               In principle, at least, this judgment should never be affected in any tangible way by what particular analysts might themselves simply “want to believe.”[22]

               A further analytic distinction is needed here between inadvertent nuclear war and accidental nuclear war. By definition, an accidental nuclear war would be inadvertent. Reciprocally, however, an inadvertent nuclear war need not always be accidental.[23] False warnings, for example, which could be spawned by mechanical, electrical or computer malfunction (or by hacking)[24] would not signify the origins of an inadvertent nuclear war. Rather, they would fit under the more clarifying conceptual narratives of an accidental nuclear war.

               Most worrisome, in such concerns, would be avoiding a nuclear war caused by miscalculation. In striving for “escalation dominance,” competitive nuclear powers caught up with multiple bewildering complexities in extremis atomicum could sometime find themselves embroiled in an inadvertent nuclear exchange. Ominously, any such unendurable outcome could arise suddenly and irremediably, even though neither side had wanted such a war.

               Summing up such scenarios, in facing off against each other, even under optimal assumptions of mutual rationality, President Biden and President Kim Jung Un would have to concern themselves with all possible miscalculations, errors in information, unauthorized uses of strategic weapons, mechanical or computer malfunctions and myriad nuances of cyber-defense/cyber-war. In other words, even if both Biden and Kim were abundantly capable, humane and focused – a generous assumption, to be sure – northeast Asia could still descend rapidly toward some form or other of uncontrollable nuclear conflagration. If this dire prospect were not sobering enough, it is also reasonable to expect that the corresponding erasure of a once-universal nuclear taboo would heighten the likelihood of nuclear risk-taking and conflict in certain other parts of the globe, especially southwest Asia (e.g., Pakistan and India) and/or the Middle East (e.g., Israel and Iran).

               Regarding the Middle East, there is nothing about the Trump-brokered “Abraham Agreements” that could significantly reduce any risks of a regional nuclear war. To the contrary, the intended effect of these agreements to weaken Shiite Iran is apt to backfire in several palpable ways. At the same time, Israel never really did need to worry about suffering a major war with Bahrain, Morocco or the United Arab Emirates. For Israel, the Abraham Agreements “put an end” to nonexistent hazards.

Authentic Rationality and Pretended Irrationality

               There is more. A corollary US obligation, depending in large part upon this prior judgment concerning enemy rationality, will expect strategic planners to assess whether a properly nuanced posture of “pretended irrationality” could effectively enhance America’s nuclear deterrence posture. On several occasions, it should be recalled, former President Donald Trump had openly praised at least the underlying premises of such an eccentric posture. Was such presidential praise intellectually warranted and/or properly justified?

               Ever?

               It depends. US enemies continue to include both state and sub-state foes, whether considered singly or in variously assorted forms of collaboration. Such forms could be “hybridized” in different ways between state and sub-state adversaries.[25] Moreover, in dealing with Washington, each recognizable class of enemies could sometime choose to feign irrationality.

               In principle, this could represent a potentially clever strategy to “get a jump” on the United States in any still-expected or already-ongoing competition for “escalation dominance.”[26]  Naturally, any such calculated pretense could also fail, perhaps calamitously. Accordingly, cautionary strategic behavior based on serious conceptual thinking should always be the US presidential “order of the day.”[27]

               There is something else. On occasion, these same enemies could “decide,” whether consciously or unwittingly, to actually be irrational.[28]  In any such innately bewildering circumstances, it would become incumbent upon American strategic planners to capably assess which basic form of irrationality –  pretended or authentic – is actually underway. Thereafter, of course, these planners would need to respond with a dialectically orchestrated and optimally counterpoised set of all possible reactions.

               Once again, especially in purely intellectual terms, this would represent an uncommonly “tall order.” It would not be a task for the intellectually faint-hearted.

                In this critical context, the term “dialectically” (drawn originally from ancient Greek thought, especially Plato’s dialogues) should be used with very precise analytic meanings. This is suggested in order to signify a continuous or ongoing question-and-answer format of strategic reasoning. For President Biden and his counselors, nothing less disciplined could suffice.

               By definition, any instance of enemy irrationality would value certain specific preferences (e.g., presumed religious obligations or personal and/or regime safety) more highly than collective survival. For America, as we have just seen, the grievously threatening prospect of facing some genuinely irrational nuclear adversary is prospectively most worrisome with regard to North Korea and (at least possibly, in a now rapidly closing future) Iran.[29] Apropos of all such more-or-less credible apprehensions, it is unlikely that they could ever be meaningfully reduced solely by way of formal treaties or other traditional law-based agreements.[30]

               Here, however, it would be well worth remembering seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ classic warning in Leviathan:  “Covenants, without the sword, are but words….”[31] If this enduring problem of global anarchy were not daunting enough for American strategists and decision-makers, it is further complicated by the largely unforeseeable effects of worldwide pandemic and (perhaps correspondingly) the opaque effects of any consequent chaos.

               Careful conceptual clarifications are once again in order. Chaos is not the same as anarchy. Chaos is “more than” anarchy.[32] Indeed, we have lived with anarchy or the absence of central government in modern world politics since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648,[33] but we have yet to descend into any worldwide chaos.[34]

               There is more. Even in the midst of anarchy, there can be law. Since the 17th century, international law has functioned according to an often indecipherable “balance of power.” Furthermore, for any American president conversant with the Constitution, international law[35] is integrally a part of United States law. When former President Trump actively sought to undermine the International Criminal Court, he was acting contrary to both overlapping and intersecting systems of law, national and international.[36]

Preemption, Asymmetry and Strategic Dialectic

               How should the American president proceed with managing nuclear risks? At some point, at least in principle, the best option could seem to be some sort of preemption; that is, a non-nuclear defensive first-strike directed against situationally appropriate North Korean or Iranian hard targets.[37] In actuality, it is already very late for launching any operationally cost-effective preemption against North Korea, and – even if it could somehow be properly defended in law as “anticipatory self-defense”[38] – any such action would come at much-too-substantial human and political costs.[39]

               In more specific regard to current and potentially protracted US-Iran enmity, the American side must consider how its nuclear weapons could best be leveraged in any plausible war scenario. A rational answer here could never likely include any actual operational use of such weapons. The only pertinent questions for President Biden’s strategic planners should concern the calculable extent to which an asymmetrical US threat of nuclear escalation could be rendered sufficiently credible.[40]

               By definition, as long as Iran should remain non-nuclear, any US nuclear threat would be asymmetrical.

               By applying all available standards of reason and logic (there are, after all, no usable historical points of reference in such unprecedented situations), Biden could most suitably determine that specific nuclear threats against Iran would serve American security interests only when Iranian military capacities, though still non-nuclear, were convincingly overwhelming. Any such daunting scenario, though difficult to imagine ex nihilo, might nonetheless still be conceivable. This theory-based “strategic dialectic” would hold most convincingly if Tehran were willing to escalate (a) to massive direct conventional attacks upon American territories or populations, and/or (b) to significant use of certain biological warfare capabilities.[41]

               Nowadays, and in literally any matter of prospective biological warfare, it will be worth noting that our planet is in the midst of a naturally-occurring biological “assault,” and that even in the complete absence of any specific adversarial animus or intent in Covid19, the injurious consequences of such a “plague” are already at the outer limits of human tolerance.

                 All this should now imply a primary obligation for the United States (c) to focus continuously on various incremental enhancements to its nuclear deterrence posture; and (d) to develop a wide and nuanced range of credible nuclear retaliatory options. The specific rationale of (d) (above), is the counter-intuitive understanding that the credibility of nuclear threats could sometime vary inversely with perceived levels of destructiveness. In certain foreseeable circumstances, this means that successful nuclear deterrence of Iran or even North Korea could depend upon nuclear weapons that are deemed sufficiently low-yield or “small.”

               Sometimes, in fashioning a national nuclear deterrence posture,[42] counter-intuitive strategic insight is duly “on the mark,” and therefore indispensable. This is likely one of these “multi-layered” times. When Donald Trump liked to remind his North Korean counterpart that though both have a nuclear “button,” and his was “bigger,” the former president displayed a wholesale unawareness of nuanced nuclear deterrent strategy.

                 There is more. President Biden should continue to bear in mind that any US nuclear posture must remain focused on prevention rather than punishment. In any and all identifiable circumstances, using any portion of its available nuclear forces for vengeance rather than deterrence would miss the essential point; that is, to most fully optimize US national security. Any American nuclear weapons use that would actually be based on narrowly corrosive notions of revenge, even if only as a residual or default option, would be glaringly irrational.

                These are complex intellectual issues, of course, and not simply political ones. America’s many-sided nuclear deterrent must be backed up by recognizably robust systems of active defense (BMD), especially if there should ever arise any determinable reason to fear an irrationalnuclear adversary. Although it is already well-known that no system of active defense can be reassuringly “leak-proof,” there is still good reason to suppose that certain BMD deployments could help safeguard US civilian populations (soft targets) and American nuclear retaliatory forces (hard targets).[43] This means, inter alia, that technologically advanced anti-missile systems should remain indefinitely as a steadily-modernizing component of America’s core nuclear deterrence posture.

               More precisely, among various other elements of permissible self-defense, this suggests continuously expanding emphases on laser-based weapon systems.

Deterrence, Defense and Mutual Vulnerability

               While it may first sound annoyingly obvious, it should still be remembered that in the bewildering nuclear age, even seemingly defensive strategies could be viewed by uneasy adversaries as offensive. This is because the secure foundation of any system of nuclear deterrence must be some reasonable presumption of mutual vulnerability. “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz in On War, “but even the simplest thing is still difficult.”

               To progress in its most vital national security obligations during a complicating time of pandemic, President Biden’s military planners should more expressly identify the prioritized goals of their country’s nuclear deterrence posture. Before any rationaladversary could be suitably deterred by an American nuclear deterrent, this enemy would first need to believe that Washington had capably maintained the capacity to launch appropriate nuclear reprisals for relevant forms of aggression (nuclear or biological/non-nuclear) and also the will[44] to undertake such consequential firings.

               About the first belief criterion, it would almost certainly lie beyond any “reasonable doubt.”

               The second expectation, however, could sometime prove problematic and thus “fatally” undermine US nuclear deterrence. In assorted ways that are not yet clearly understood, the necessary national will could be impacted by pandemic-related or pandemic-created factors.[45] Significantly, too, there would be certain hard-to-foresee interactions or synergies taking place between US policy decisions and those of involved and overlapping American adversaries.

                In those more perplexing matters involving an expectedly irrationalnuclear enemy,[46] successful US deterrence would need to be based upon distinctly credible threats to certain enemy values other than national survival. Here, too, the actual prospect of enemy irrationality could be more-or-less related to pandemic factors. In the most extreme cases, disease could even play a tangible and determinative role in producing a particular enemy’s decisional irrationality.

               These would be “uncharted waters.”

                More typically, America will need to demonstrate the continuously substantial invulnerability of its nuclear retaliatory forces to enemy first strike aggressions. It must remain in America’s long-term survival interests to continue to emphasize its variegated submarine-basing nuclear options.[47] Otherwise, as is plainly reasonable to contemplate, America’s land-based strategic nuclear forces could potentially present to a strongly-determined existential enemy (e.g., North Korea) as “too-vulnerable.”

               For the moment, this is likely not a serious concern, though President Biden will want to stay focused on any still-planned deployment of submarines by America’s Israeli ally in the Middle East. The general point of any such secondary sea-basing focus would be on strengthening Israeli nuclear deterrence, which – in one way or another – would also be to the strategic benefit of the United States.[48] Reciprocally, Israel’s nuclear deterrence could be affected by assorted pandemic-related variables, including some with serious plausible consequences for the United States.

Deterrence, Rationality and Diminished US Strategic Ambiguity

               There is more. Increasingly, America will have to rely on a broadly multi-faceted doctrine of nuclear deterrence.[49] In turn, like its already-nuclear Israeli ally,[50] specific elements of this “simple but difficult” doctrine could sometime need to be rendered less “ambiguous.” This complex and finely nuanced modification will require an even more determined focus on prospectively rational and irrational enemies, including both national and sub-national foes.[51]

               To deal most successfully with its presumptively irrational or non-rational enemies, whether or not impacted by pandemic factors, the United States will need to compose a continuously-updating strategic “playbook.” Here, it could become necessary for the president to consider, at least on some extraordinary occasion, various policies of feigned irrationality. In such analytically-challenging cases, it would become important for the American president not to react in any ad hoc or “seat-of-the-pants” fashion to each and every new strategic development or eruption, but instead to derive or extrapolate all specific policy reactions from a suitably pre-fashionedand comprehensive strategic nuclear doctrine.

               Without such a thoughtful doctrine as guide, pretended irrationality could quickly become a “double-edged sword,” effectively bringing more rather than less security harms to the United States.[52] During the patently-unsteady Trump years, this dire prospect was always impending, “in the wings.”

               There remains one penultimate but still critical observation.  It is improbable, but not inconceivable, that certain of America’s principal enemies would sometime be neither rational nor irrational, but mad. While irrational decision-makers would already pose very special problems for US nuclear deterrence – by definition, because these decision-makers would not value collective survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences – they might still be rendered susceptible to various alternate forms of deterrence.

                Here, resembling rational decision-makers, they could still maintain a fixed, determinable and “transitive” hierarchy of preferences. This means, at least in principle, that “merely” irrational enemies could still sometimes be successfully deterred.  This is an observation well worth further analytic study, especially at a time when sweeping disease effects remain both palpable and unexamined.

               Mad or “crazy” adversaries, on the other hand, would have no such calculable hierarchy of preferences, and would not be subject to any strategy of American nuclear deterrence. Although it would likely be worse for the United States to have to face a mad nuclear enemy than a “merely” irrational one, Washington would have no foreseeable choice in this sort of emergency. This country, like it or not, will need to maintain, perhaps indefinitely, a “three track” system of nuclear deterrence and defense, one track for each of its still-identifiable adversaries that are presumptively (1) rational (2) irrational or (3) mad.

               This will not be task for narrowly political or intellectually adverse US strategic decision-makers. Among other things, it will require a capable assessment of pertinent synergies, some of them distressingly subjective. For the most notably unpredictable third track, special plans will also be needed for undertaking potentially indispensable preemptions, and for certain corresponding/overlapping efforts atballistic missile defense.

                There could be no reliable assurances that any one “track” would consistently present exclusively of the others. This means that American decision-makers could sometimes have to face deeply intersecting or interpenetrating tracks, and that these always-complicated simultaneities could be synergistic.[53]

               One final observation should now be noted. Even if America’s military planners could reassuringly assume that enemy leaderships were fully rational, this would say nothing about the accuracy of the information actually used by these foes in making their own calculations. Always, it should never be forgotten, rationality refers only to the intention of maximizing certain designated preference or values. It says nothing whatever about whether the information being used is correct or incorrect.

                In this extraordinary moment of global “plague,” any such intention – American or adversarial – could have pandemic-related determinants. At a minimum, this fact should be regarded as sobering to President Joe Biden and to America’s designated national security decision-makers. For these officials, this should represent an historical moment to disavow any wayward inclinations to hubris, that is, to excessive or overweening pride, and to accept, instead, a conspicuous abundance of decisional caution. Among other pertinent settings, one especially perilous place for such caution concerns all matters of a defensive first strike[54] or preemption.[55]

               One further distinction is called for. From the standpoint of international law, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking first in the expectation that the only foreseeable alternative is to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack, on the other hand, is not launched out of any concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of some longer-term deterioration in a prevailing military balance.

                In a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is presumptively very short; in a preventive strike, the anticipated interval is considerably longer. A related problem here for the United States is not only the practical difficulty of accurately determining “imminence,” but also that delaying a defensive strike until imminence were appropriately ascertainable could prove existential. In principle, at least, a United States resort to “anticipatory self-defense” could be nuclear or non-nuclear and could be directed at either a nuclear or non-nuclear adversary.

               Prima facie, any such resort involving nuclear weapons on one or several sides could prove catastrophic.

Disutility, Probability and Miscalculation

               America is not automatically made safer by having only rational adversaries. Even fully rational enemy leaderships could sometimes commit serious errors in calculation that would lead them toward a nuclear confrontation and/or to nuclear/biological war. There are also certain related command and control issues that could impel a perfectly rational adversary or combination of rational adversaries (both state and sub-state) to embark upon risky nuclear behaviors.

               It follows that even the most pleasingly “optimistic” assessments of enemy leadership decision-making could never reliably preclude certain authentically catastrophic outcomes.[56]

               For the United States, understanding that no scientifically accurate judgments of probability could ever be made about unique events (again, by definition, any nuclear exchange would be sui generis, or precisely such a unique event), the very best lessons for America’s current president should favor a determined decisional prudence and a posture of very deliberate humility. Of special interest, in this connection, is the always erroneous presumption that having greater nuclear military power than an adversary is automatically an assurance of some future bargaining or diplomatic success.

.              Why erroneous? Among other things, it is because the tangible amount of deliverable nuclear firepower required for deterrence is necessarily much less than what could ever be required for “victory.”[57] For President Joe Biden, this is a time for displaying nuanced and purposeful counter-intuitive wisdom in Washington, and not for any clichéd presidential thinking.For the current US administration, operating in the largely-unpracticed nuclear age, ancient Greek tragedy warnings about excessive leadership pride are not only still relevant, they are also palpably and irrefutably more important than before.

               For the United States, classical Greek commentaries concerning hubris, left unheeded, could bring forth once unimaginable spasms of “retribution.”[58] The ancient tragedians, after all, were not yet called upon to reason about nuclear decision-making. None of this is meant to build gratuitously upon America’s most manifestly reasonable fears or apprehensions, but only to remind everyone involved that competent national security planning must always remain a vastly complex struggle of “mind over mind.”[59]

               These remain fundamentally intellectual problems, challenges requiring meticulous analytic preparation[60] rather than a particular presidential “attitude.”[61] Above all, such planning ought never become just another calculable contest of “mind over matter;”[62] that is, never just a vainly reassuring inventory of comparative weaponization or a presumptively superior “order of battle.” Unless this rudimentary point is more completely understood by senior US strategic policymakers and by the current president of the United States – and until these same policymakers can begin to see the utterly overriding wisdom of expanded global cooperation and human “oneness”[63] – America could never render itself sufficiently secure from nuclear or biological war.

               Never.[64]

               Poetry, Policy and Public Chaos

               In his 1927 preface to Oxford Poetry, W.H. Auden wrote: “All genuine poetry is in a sense the formation of private spheres out of public chaos….” Looking ahead and perhaps with an appropriately avant-garde orientation,[65] American strategists should seek to carve out livable national “spheres” from a steadily expanding global chaos. Ultimately, following Nietzsche,  they must also understand that such chaos lies originally within each individual human being.[66]

               Nonetheless, at least for the moments of their present strategic deliberations, these planners should remain focused upon America’s collective survival in a persistently Hobbesian “state of nature.”

               With the further spread of nuclear weapons to additional states (and also, perhaps, to certain sub-national terror groups),[67] the historical conditions of nature bequeathed at the Peace of Westphalia (1648) could come to resemble the primordial barbarism of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Long before Golding, Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth-century English philosopher, warned insightfully in Leviathan (Chapter XIII) that in any such circumstances of human disorder there must exist “continual fear, and danger of violent death….”

               To best plan for America’s long-term strategic future, President Joe Biden will first need to understand the inexorable need for appropriate world system transformation; and to accommodate this transformation with more authentically imaginative policy thinking. In such crucial matters, recalling Italian film director Federico Fellini, “The visionary is the only realist.”

               Unlike anarchy, chaos is an intra-personal condition before it becomes an inter-national one. This means that the core problem of chaos must actually be “solved” at the behavioral level before it can be remediated in any larger arenas of US nuclear strategy, international relations or international law. On achieving this central understanding, one made substantially more urgent by global pandemic,[68] the US president faces not only a daunting challenge, but also a rare opportunity.

Planetization

                There is more. US foreign policy initiatives concerning nuclear war avoidance should ultimately shift from traditional notions of “realism” to the more enduring ideas of “planetization.”[69] Though seemingly utopian, these ideas are more realistic than any global continuance of Thomas Hobbes’ endlessly corrosive “state of nature.”

               For the time being, of course, pertinent American policies will still have to be founded upon intellectually supportable principles of nuclear deterrence and variously corresponding elements of “preparation,” but such many-sided foundations ought never be expected to last indefinitely.

               It follows, unassailably, that keeping the United States safely distant from nuclear conflagration will require an American leadership that can suitably navigate all current and foreseeable risks – including some hazards that are pandemic-related – and that can plan competently for the evolving future. In candor, this will never become a task for narrowly political “thinkers.”

               In the end, as illustrated by the more-or-less predictable effects of a nuclear war[70] and by long-established effects of “plague,” we humans are creatures of biology and mustfinally recognize themselves “in the other,” that is, in a ubiquitous and wholly reciprocal commonality. This also means a genuinely primal commonality, a determinative “oneness” worth adapting to absolutely all of America’s national security policies. Such structural interdependence underscores both our interpenetrating existential vulnerabilities as individual human beings and our leaders’ corollary obligation to place the polity in toto above any and all separate personal interests.[71]

               In the still-clarifying imagery of ancient Greek drama, the American president should become more conspicuously averse to any “monarchical-style” hubris than was his grievously dissembling predecessor. To assume that the continuously failing system of belligerent nationalism first bestowed at Westphalia in 1648 can reliably prevent a nuclear war in the long-term represents human arrogance and self-delusion at its imaginable worst. For the United States, reducing the still-growing threat of a catastrophic nuclear war should only be based upon a principled rejection of “America First” and of any other policy posture derived from comparably false presidential promises. Recalling French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (with the precise sentence I used to conclude my Ph.D. thesis back at Princeton more than fifty years ago): “Peace waits for us only at that point where we are able to witness a totalisation of the world upon itself, in the unanimous construction of a spirit of the earth.”[72]

                To be reasonable, America’s most immediate imperatives should be more modest, but nonetheless clear and ambitious. The core task should be to manage nuclear threats expeditiously and scientifically from wherever they might arise. A president’s orientation to national security should be based upon rigorous calculations and durable substance. In essence, this orientation must be based upon continuously refined intellectual foundations. For the moment, these foundations must be examined and worked-through in the context of a still- unmodified “State of Nature” – a condition of fundamentally unchanged Westphalian anarchy – but this perilous geostrategic context cam never be sustained indefinitely.[73]

               Though Thomas Hobbes believed back in the seventeenth century that the “State of Nature” in world politics must always be “less intolerable” than the “State of Nature” among individual persons, this belief is no longer supportable. More precisely, with the ongoing spread and increasing destructiveness of nuclear weapons, a nuclear war could effectively represent humankind’s “final epidemic.”[74] Significantly, this epidemic could arise concurrently with a disease pandemic, or even represent a direct or indirect outcome of one such pathological assault.[75]

               For now, the global State of Nature represents a uniquely precarious State of War.


[1] Leviathan, Chapter 13.

[2] This does not mean trying to account for every potentially pertinent explanatory variable. Clarification of this very important caveat can be found at “Occam’s Razor” or the “principle of parsimony.” In essence, it stipulates analytic preference for the simplest explanation that is still consistent with scientific method. Regarding current US nuclear war concerns, it suggests, inter alia, that the president’s military planners not seek to identify and examine every seemingly important variable, but rather to “say the most, with the least.” This presents a too-often neglected imperative. Too often, strategists and planners mistakenly attempt to be too inclusive in processes of explanation, thereby distracting themselves from more efficient and “parsimonious” theory.

[3] Ironically, however, the pandemic could provide a species-wide source of commonality and co-operation, a step back from Hobbes’ global “State of Nature.’ See by the present author at Horasis (Zurich): Louis René Beres: https://horasis.org/the-pandemic-as-opportunity/

[4] For early accounts by this author of nuclear war risks and effects, see: 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, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[5] The ancient Greeks and Macedonians looked upon all such “balance of power” contests as analytic struggles of “mind over mind,” not just of “mind over matter.” See, on such earlier conceptualization, F. E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War, 1962.

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

[7] See by this author, at The War Room (Pentagon):  Louis René Beres,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/

[8] See, by this author, at US News & World Report, Louis René Beres: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2017-08-17/how-donald-trump-fails-logic-and-presidential-thinking.   Always, “America First,” the gratuitously belligerent nationalismof Donald Trump, stood in sharp contrast to authoritative legal principles concerning solidarity between states. These jurisprudential standards concern a presumptively common legal struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, had already been mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[9] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://horasis.org/getting-beyond-power-politics-narratives-for-a-human-centered-world-order/ (Switzerland).

[10]This condition of anarchy is structural, and dates back specifically to the historic Peace of Westphalia in 1648. 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.

[11]The use of atomic bombs against Japan in August 1945 did not represent a genuine nuclear war, but rather a nuclear event in an otherwise conventional conflict.

[12] The Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman observes correctly that “Man’s heart is in his weapons….in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself…when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanisms that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies….”

[13]This hazard was substantially enlarged and exacerbated by Donald J. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA (2015). See: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/JCPOA-at-a-glance. Now, President Joseph Biden will have to calculate how best to re-establish viable diplomatic relations with Tehran. Trump’s core intellectual error in abrogating JCPOA was the plainly fallacious judgment that because the pact was allegedly imperfect, the US would necessarily be better off without it.

[14] For early warnings about Iranian nuclearization from a specifically Israeli perspective, see Louis René Beres (Chair of Project Daniel/PM Sharon), Jerusalem: Israel’s Strategic Future: http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.

See also, by Professor Louis René Beres, at Harvard Law School: https://harvardnsj.org/2014/06/staying-strong-enhancing-israels-essential-strategic-options-2/

[15] For earlier conceptualizations of this capacity, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983) and Louis René Beres, America Outside the World: The Collapse of U.S. Foreign Policy (1987).

[16]In this connection, there is nothing about the Trump-brokered “Abraham Accords” that might suggest any impact concerning such intentions or inclinations.

[17]See special monograph at Tel Aviv University coauthored by Professor Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry McCaffrey, https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[18] Identifying “Cold War II” means expecting the world system to become increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[19]The Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin coined a new term to denote the vital sphere of intellect or “mind.” This term is “noosphere;” it builds upon Friedrich Nietzsche’s stance well-known (especially in Zarathustra) that human beings must always challenge themselves, must continuously strive to “overcome” their otherwise meager “herd”-determined yearnings.

[20] Says 20th-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis: “…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.”

[21] For a recent analysis of deterring not-yet-nuclear adversaries in the case of Israel, see article co-authored by Professor Louis René Beres and (former Israeli Ambassador) Zalman Shoval at the Modern War Institute, West Point (Pentagon): https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[22] Recall here the classic statement of Julius Caesar: “Men as a rule believe what they want to believe.” See: Caesar’s Gallic War, Book III, Chapter 18.

[23] Reminds Herman Kahn in his On Escalation (1965): “All accidental wars are inadvertent and unintended, but not vice-versa.”

[24] This prospect now includes the plausible advent of so-called “cyber- mercenaries.”

[25] This “hybrid” concept could also be applied to various pertinent ad hoc bilateral state collaborations against US strategic interests. For example, during June 2019, Russia and China collaborated to block an American initiative aimed at halting fuel deliveries to North Korea. The US-led cap on North Korea’s fuel imports had been intended to sanction any continuing North Korean nuclearization. Prima facie, this narrowly visceral plan was intrinsically futile.

[26] On “escalation dominance,” see article by Professor Louis René Beres at The War Room, US Army War College, Pentagon:  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making-and-nuclear-war-an-urgent-american-problem/

[27]Anticipating 20th century Spanish thinker Jose Ortega y’Gasset (cited above), the seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarks prophetically in Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought…It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further upon René Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.

 

[28] In his own work, Sigmund Freud sought to “excavate” certain deeper meanings concerning irrational human behavior. Always, he was a modern-day philosophe, a proud child of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, one who discovered profound analytic and therapeutic advantages in exploring sometimes-arcane literary paths to psychological knowledge. Freud maintained an extensive personal collection of antiquities which suggested various penetrating psychological insights to him. Some of his collection was placed directly on his work desk; reportedly, he would often touch and turn the individual artifacts while deeply engaged in some challenging thought.

[29] See, also by this author, Louis René Beres, at Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School): https://harvardnsj.org/2013/10/lessons-for-israel-from-ancient-chinese-military-thought-facing-iranian-nuclearization-with-sun-tzu/

[30] See, for example, by this author, at Yale:  Louis René Beres, https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/nuclear-treaty-abrogation-imperils-global-security

[31] Regarding “covenants,” US decision-makers should nonetheless be continually attentive to relevant considerations of law as well as strategy. More particularly, under authoritative law, states must judge every use of force twice: once with regard to the underlying right to wage war (jus ad bellum) and once with regard to the means used in conducting an actual war (jus in bello). Following the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) and the United Nations Charter (1945), there remains no defensible legal right to waging an aggressive war. However, the long-standing customary right of post-attack self-defense does remain 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 standards. 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 Hagueand Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all (state and sub-state) belligerent calculations.

[32]Whether it is described in the Old Testament or other major sources of ancient Western thought, chaos can also be viewed as a source of human betterment. In essence, chaos is that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. Further, as its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but where all civilizational opportunity must inevitably originate. Appropriately, the great 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.” Even in the pagan ancient world, the Greeks thought of such a desert as logos, which indicates to us that it was presumed to be anything but starkly random or without conceivable merit.

[33]International law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian” 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.

[34]Though composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan may still offer us a prophetic vision of this prospective condition in modern world politics. During chaos, which is a “time of War,” says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery.”):  “… every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Still, at the actual time of writing Leviathan, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition extant among individual human beings. This was because of what he had called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature concerning the ability to kill others. Significantly, this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the continuing manufacture and spread of nuclear weapons, a dispersion soon apt to be exacerbated by an already-nuclear North Korea, by a not-yet-nuclear Iran and by the largely unpredictable effects of an ongoing disease pandemic.

[35]For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice; done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, 3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

[36]To wit, during his tenure in office, former President Donald J. Trump instructed his Secretary of State and Attorney General to openly denounce the International Criminal Court’s then-planned investigations of alleged US war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. This direction represented a fundamental contradiction of America’s peremptory obligation to both national and international law. In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 184) (per curiam) (Edwards, J. concurring) (dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985) (“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[37] In legal terms, a preemptive strike could   constitute the crime of “aggression.”  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.

[38] For a Israeli example, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, https://www.usnews.com/opinion/world-report/articles/2017-09-06/10-years-later-israels-operation-orchard-offers-lessons-on-north-korea

[39]Nonetheless, at least in principle, an American president could still benefit from a preemption against an already nuclear North Korea if refraining from striking first would allow North Korea to implement certain additional protective measures. Designed to guard against preemption, these measures would involve the attachment of “hair trigger” launch mechanisms to nuclear weapon systems and/or the adoption of “launch on warning” policies, possibly coupled with identifiable pre-delegations of launch authority. This means, increasingly, that the US could be incrementally endangered by steps taken by Pyongyang to prevent a preemption. Optimally, this country would do everything possible to prevent such steps, especially because of the expanded risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks against its own or allied armaments and populations. But if such steps were to become a fait accompli, Washington might still calculate correctly that a preemptive strike would be both 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 failure of “anti-preemption” protocols.

[40]In regard to such questions, US strategic thinkers must inquire whether accepting a visible posture of limited nuclear war would merely exacerbate enemy nuclear intentions or whether it could actually enhance this country’s overall nuclear deterrence. Such questions have been raised by this author for many years, but usually in more explicit reference to broadly theoretical or generic nuclear threats. See, for example, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1972); Louis René Beres, Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979; second edition, 1987); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016).

[41]“Theory is a net,” 20th century philosopher Karl Popper learned from the German poet Novalis, “only those who cast, can catch.” See epigraph to Popper’s classic The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).

[42] Such fashioning would need to distinguish elements of strategy from elements of doctrine. Military doctrine is not the same as military strategy. Rather, doctrine “sets the stage” or foundation 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.

[43] On the prospective shortcomings of Israeli BMD systems, from which certain authoritative extrapolations could be made about US systems, see: Louis René Beres and (Major-General/IDF/ret.) Isaac Ben-Israel, “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Louis René Beres and M-G Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,” Washington Times, June 10, 2007; and Professor Louis René Beres and M-G Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009.

[44] The modern philosophy origins of the term “will” lie in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps even more importantly upon Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic 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 occasion of 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).

[45] A prospectively positive impact, however, could center on improved opportunities for world-wide cooperation. See, on this hopeful point, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://www.21global.ucsb.edu/global-e/march-2020/virulent-pathogens-and-global-solidarity-unseen-benefits-covid-19

[46] See, on deterring a prospectively irrational nuclear Iran, Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. Though dealing with Israeli rather than American nuclear deterrence, these articles authoritatively clarify the common conceptual elements. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[47] On the Israeli sea-basing issue, see Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney, “Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: A Larger Role for Submarine-Basing,” The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2014; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney, “A Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent for Israel,” Washington Times, September 5, 2014. Admiral Edney was NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT).

[48] See, in this connection, by Professor Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy and America’s National Security;  https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[49] On the primary importance of doctrine, by this author, see Louis René Beres, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/01/louis-beres-seeking-plausible-strategic-goals-iran/ See also, concerning US ally Israel: https://strategicassessment.inss.org.il/wp-content/uploads/antq/fe-676949421.pdf

[50] See, by this author (who was Chair of Project Daniel for Israeli PM Ariel Sharon):  http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm See also: https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/israel-nuclear-ambiguity/ and https://www.idc.ac.il/he/research/ips/Documents/2013/%D7%A0%D7%99%D7%99%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%AA/LouisReneBeres.pdf

[51]The prospect of sub-national nuclear foes brings to attention the threat of nuclear terrorism. See, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1410&context=gjicl

[52] This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?

[53] See, for example, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Harvard National Security Journal:  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/

[54]Before the nuclear age, Swiss scholar Emmerich de Vattel took a position in strong favor of anticipatory self-defense. Vattel concludes The Law of Nations (1758) as follows: “The safest plan is to prevent evil, where that is possible. A nation has the right to resist the injury another seeks to inflict upon it, and to use force and every other just means of resistance against the aggressor.” (See 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). Vattel, in the conspicuously earlier fashion of Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius, (The Law of War and Peace, 1625) drew widely upon ancient Hebrew Scripture and Jewish law.

[55]In law, permissible preemption is normally expressed as “anticipatory self defense.” The Caroline concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally been sufficient in law to justify certain appropriate militarily defensive actions. In a formal exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then US Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for national self defense that did not require antecedent attack. Accordingly, the authoritative jurisprudential framework now permitted a military response to threat as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.”

[56] In this connection, expressions of decisional error (including mistakes by the United States) could take different and overlapping forms. These forms 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 internal dissonance generated by any authoritative structure of collective decision-making (e.g., the US National Security Council).

[57] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Oxford University Press: https://blog.oup.com/2011/10/war-winning/

[58] For much earlier similar warnings, by this author, see his October 1981 article at World Politics (Princeton):  https://www.jstor.org/stable/2010149?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[59] Clausewitzian friction refers to the unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning strategic uncertainties; on presidential under-estimations or over-estimations of US relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

[60] Or “thorough study,” in the language of Sun-Tzu.

[61] The meaningless bifurcation of “attitude” and “preparation” was expressly invoked by Donald Trump before going off to his June 2018 “Singapore Summit” meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. In that curious distinction, the former US President favored the former.

[62] This vital reminder is also drawn from the strategic calculations of ancient Greece. See, for example, F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (University of California, 1962).

[63] Accordingly, we may learn from ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “”You are a citizen of the universe.” A broader idea of such “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality.” By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a Respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking at Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Only in its relationship to the universe itself was the world correctly considered as a part rather than a whole. Said Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, of course, the idea of human oneness can be fully justified and explained in more purely secular terms of analytic understanding.

[64] In this connection, says Thomas Hobbes in Chapter XXI of Leviathan, “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last as long, and no longer, then the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.”

[65]See, by this author, Louis René Beres (Israel), https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/improving-israeli-military-strategy-through-avant-garde-analysis/

[66]Says the philosopher in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: “I tell you, ye have still chaos in you.”

[67]See, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1410&context=gjicl; and also   https://repository.uchastings.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1274&context=hastings_international_comparative_law_review

 

[68] Similar sentiments can be found in the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s remark: “Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be built.” This is my own translation from the original German: “Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert warden.” See: Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, xi (Henry Handy, ed., 1991) quoting Immanuel Kant’s Idee Zu Einer Allgemeinen Geschichte in Weltburgerlicher Absicht (1784).

[69] These ideas have been most closely associated with the French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, especially his modern classic The Phenomenon of Man (1955).

[70] Among some of the early books dealing with these effects ion a serious and informed way, see: Franklyn Griffiths and John C. Polanyi, editors, The Dangers of Nuclear War (1979); Arthur M. Katz, Life After Nuclear War (1982); and by this author, Louis René Beres: Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980).

[71] See Sophocles, Antigone, Speech of Creon, King of Thebes: “I hold despicable and always have…anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.” Furthermore, criminal responsibility of leaders under international law is not limited to direct personal action nor is it limited by official position.  On the principle of command responsibility, or respondeat superior, see:  In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1945); The High Command Case (The Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb), 12 Law Reports of Trials Of War Criminals 1 (United Nations War Crimes Commission Comp., 1949); see Parks, Command Responsibility For War Crimes, 62 MIL.L. REV. 1 (1973); O’Brien, The Law Of War, Command Responsibility And Vietnam, 60 GEO. L.J.  605 (1972); U.S. Dept. of The Army, Army Subject Schedule No. 27 – 1 (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907), 10 (1970).  The direct individual responsibility of leaders is also unambiguous in view of the London Agreement, which denies defendants the protection of the act of state defense.  See AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Stat.  1544, E.A.S.  No. 472, 82 U.N.T.S.  279, art. 7.

[72] See Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (1959).

[73] Accordingly, warned Sigmund Freud: “Wars will only be prevented with certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central legal authority to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed over. There are clearly two separate requirements involved in this: the creation of a supreme agency and its endowment with the necessary power. One without the other would be useless.” (See: Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, cited in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10 (1973-73), p, 27.)

[74] This term was the actual title of a prominently authoritative book published back in 1981 by Physicians and Scientists on Nuclear War: The Final Epidemic (ed. By Ruth Adams and Susan Cullen), Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science. This writer, Professor Louis René Beres, was an early member of both International Physicians Against Nuclear War and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

[75] To make proper intellectual sense of nuclear war-pandemic connections, strategic planners would first need to think in terms of a dynamic and continuous feedback loop; to wit, one wherein the investigator systematically considers the various ways in which the anarchic structures of world politics can still impact control of the pandemic and, reciprocally, how the affected pandemic could then still impact these “Westphalian” global structures. In principle, at least, there should be no necessarily final or conclusive end to this dynamic cycle. Rather, each successive impact would be more-or-less transient and temporary, setting the stage for the very next round of reciprocal changes, and so on.

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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American Democracy Remains Under Peril

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The democratic system of government in the United States underwent an unprecedented test two years ago when supporters of President Donald Trump attempted to reverse his election loss—some through illegal schemes, others through a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol. American democracy has started to function better and its prospects have improved since that moment in history.

Extreme election deniers suffered defeats in crucial swing states like Arizona and Pennsylvania in the 2022 elections, which were successfully performed. The riots that attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the role that former US President Donald J. Trump played in inciting them were thoroughly documented by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol. Elections for president were held peacefully in Colombia while candidates with questionable commitments to democracy were rejected in Brazil and France.

The most powerful authoritarian governments in the world are currently having difficulties. The idea of a resurgent Moscow was dispelled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disastrously planned and carried out war in Ukraine. China’s attempt to overtake the United States as the world’s greatest economy and most powerful nation has failed due to President Xi Jinping’s poor mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak. Xi’s domestic popularity has been further weakened by China’s real estate boom, a 20 percent young unemployment rate, a politically motivated crackdown on the private sector, and soaring local government debt.

However, despite their diminished power, Beijing and Moscow continue to constitute a significant threat to democracy. They will need to disparage other forms of administration and criticize their democratic rivals more and more as their domestic issues get worse. Beijing and Moscow are launching a campaign of deception that targets and amplifies the vulnerability of American democracy as a result of this. Russia and China both, This propaganda campaign tries to delegitimize Western-style democracy in order to quell calls for democratic reforms. In the long run, it aims to establish a new, fragmented international order that prioritizes “national sovereignty” over human rights. It also aims to oust and support friendly governments, as well as combat the growing perception that cooperating with Beijing and Moscow has negative effects on local citizens.

Because Western democracies are weak, Beijing and Moscow are supported in this endeavour. Trump keeps questioning the validity of the 2020 election, and he might soon be charged with a crime. Gridlock, partisan investigations and impeachment attempts, as well as cynical new initiatives to erode rather than restore confidence in the American voting system, may well dominate Capitol Hill for the next two years. Conspiracy theories and misinformation continue to abound on social media, and corporate content moderation attempts have fallen short. With the quick development of generative AI software, which can create deep fakes in which famous personalities appear to be talking and doing things they never said or did, the assault on reality is likely to get exponentially worse. For the two superpowers of disinformation in the world, China and Russia, all of this is a blessing. The propaganda is more effective the more reliable the content.

The decline of democracy in the US aids in the delegitimization of democracy by Beijing and Moscow. American democracy must be strengthened at home if it is to once again serve as a model that may inspire others. The fight for global soft power can only be won by Washington at that point.

Both domestic and foreign security issues are raised by the state of the American democracy. Principal authoritarian rivals of the United States, China and Russia, have taken advantage of (and made worse) America’s democratic divides and struggles in the race for world leadership. In order to recover the upper hand, the United States must simultaneously strengthen its own democracy and raise its profile as an advocate for democracy abroad. The democratic movement needs to attack.

A significant investment in American soft power will be needed for this. Public diplomacy spending in the United States peaked at $2.5 billion in 1994 (inflation-adjusted) and nearly surpassed that amount in 2010 and 2011. However, since then, as new problems have emerged, American efforts have remained unchanged, with total expenditures only amounting to $2.23 billion in 2020.

Washington must reenter the struggle for international soft power in a way that upholds American ideals. It must convey the truth in ways that appeal to and influence people around the world. The objective must be to advance democratic values, concepts, and movements in addition to effectively combating misinformation with the truth. Multiple trustworthy streams of information are required to combat misinformation and report the truth that autocracies repress. Additionally, they must be independent; even though the US government may give them financial support, they must run without editorial oversight. They will appear independent, which they are, in this manner.

One option would be to change the Voice of America to resemble the British Broadcasting Corporation more closely. Its goal should be to serve as a role model for the values of the American democratic experiment by offering completely unbiased news on all nations, including the United States. Truth, independence, and expertise in reporting are necessary, but they are not sufficient to win the information battle. A decentralised, pluralistic web of high-quality media is also necessary. In autocracies, local media are ideally situated to collect and distribute evidence of corruption,

Serious policy mistakes and violations of human rights. In order to report the news and provide critical commentary in the absence of media freedom, the United States and its democratic allies must elevate and strengthen the underfunded local media. Funding for public interest media will be needed in the billions of dollars, much of which should go through the nongovernmental International Fund for Public Interest Media (including media operating in exile). The fund is a nonpartisan alliance of multinational foundations that can provide funding for regional independent media while preserving their independence.

Together with its democratic allies, Washington should explore fresh geopolitical and technological avenues for assisting closed regimes to overcome Internet censorship and social media surveillance. Autocracies will be less stable when those living in them have easier access to unbiased information and more secure means of communication with one another. In order to prevent autocracies from seizing control of international Internet standards and protocols, democracies must engage in active and coordinated diplomacy. The biggest flagrantly false and dangerous content must be removed. Social media companies must also take more action to combat the malicious manipulation of their platforms by foreign governments. And by tightening social media regulation, the US and other democracies should support these initiatives. TikTok should be removed from American devices as a first step.

But the democracy in America is not secure. The last Congress failed to pass legislation aimed at reducing the influence of money, strengthening and expanding voting rights, ending gerrymandering, ensuring ethical standards for elected officials, and enhancing election security, and there is little chance that it will succeed in the following one. Even worse, numerous states have taken action to limit voting rights and make it more challenging for minorities to cast ballots. Most concerning, several state legislatures with Republican control, led by North Carolina, are attempting to construct a doctrine of “independent state legislatures,” which would allow these bodies to rig election results and even draw partisan gerrymandered voting districts.without being subject to judicial, executive, or redistricting commission oversight. If domestic politics in the United Nations turn into a collection of one-party states, the country will be unable to confront autocracies on a global scale. The revival of American democracy and domestic achievement will be key to countering autocratic deception.

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Friction Between United States & Iran: The Tension and Its Impact

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Background Study

The relationship between the United States (US) and Iran has a long and complex history. In the early 20th century, the United States (US) played a key role in the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government and the installation of a pro-Western monarchy under the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. This led to a deep mistrust of the United States by many Iranians. In the 1970s, the Shah’s regime was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The new Islamic Republic of Iran was deeply anti-American and took 52 American hostages in the US embassy in Tehran. The hostage crisis lasted for 444 days and severely damaged US-Iran relations. In the following decades, the US has had a policy of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation towards Iran, citing its support for terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran has also been known to support groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are designated as terrorist groups by the US.

In recent years, there have been some attempts at improving relations between the two countries. The Obama Administration negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, which lifted some sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program. However, the Trump Administration withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Currently, the US and Iran are in a situation of high tension, with both sides engaging in a series of hostile actions against each other, such as the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by a US drone in 2020. The US has continued to put sanctions on Iran and labelled several Iranian organisations as terrorist organisations. In summary, the relationship between the United States and Iran has been characterized by a long history of mistrust, hostility and mutual accusations, with both sides engaging in actions that have escalated the tensions between them.

The Tension:

There are several accusations and actions that have contributed to the high tension conflict between the United States and Iran.

From the perspective of the United States, the main accusations against Iran include:

Supporting terrorism: The US government has long accused Iran of providing financial and military support to groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, which the US has designated as terrorist organizations.

Pursuit of nuclear weapons: The US has accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, despite Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Human rights abuses: The US has also accused Iran of widespread human rights abuses, including the repression of political dissidents and minorities, and the use of torture and execution.

Threat to regional stability: The US has accused Iran of destabilizing the Middle East through its support for groups like the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria.

From the perspective of Iran, the main accusations against the United States include: –

Interference in Iranian internal affairs: Iran has long accused the United States of attempting to overthrow its government and interfere in its internal affairs.

Supporting Iran’s enemies: Iran has accused the United States of supporting its regional rivals, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, and of providing military and financial support to groups that seek to overthrow the Iranian government.

Violation of human rights: Iran has also accused the US of violating human rights, pointing to actions such as the use of drone strikes and the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Economic sanctions: Iran has accused the US of imposing economic sanctions on Iran, which it claims have caused significant harm to its economy and people.

In terms of actions that have escalated tensions, from the US side:

  • The killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by a US drone in 2020.
  • The US has continued to put sanctions on Iran and labelled several Iranian organisations as terrorist organisations.
  • Increasing military presence in the Gulf region.

From the Iranian side:

  • Continuing to develop its nuclear program, in spite of the US sanctions.
  • Seizing of foreign oil tankers and ships.
  • Attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that were blamed on Iran.
  • Shooting down of a US drone in 2019

It’s worth noting that the situation is complex and multifaceted and both sides have taken actions that have escalated the tensions between them.

Its Impact.

The tension between the United States and Iran has had a significant impact on the international community. It has led to increased instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, with both sides engaging in actions that have the potential to escalate into a larger conflict. This can disrupt the oil supplies and lead to an economic crisis. The tension has also had an impact on the security of other countries in the region, as many of them are allied with the United States or Iran and could be caught in the middle of any potential conflict. This has also affected global oil prices due to the potential disruption of supplies from the Middle East. This has also had an impact on the ongoing negotiations and agreements between other countries and Iran, such as the Nuclear Deal. The US withdrawal from the deal and imposition of sanctions has affected other countries’ ability to do business with Iran and has also affected the ongoing negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

Moreover, many countries have had to navigate the delicate balance between maintaining good relations with both the United States and Iran, as both countries are major powers with significant economic and military influence. This has led to some countries, particularly those in the Middle East, to align more closely with one side or the other, potentially damaging their relationships with the other. Secondly, the tension between the US and Iran has also affected the ability of countries to engage in business and trade with Iran, as the US has imposed economic sanctions on Iran. This has led to some countries to scale back their trade and investment with Iran, or to find ways to circumvent the sanctions. Thirdly, the tension has also affected the efforts of countries to mediate and resolve the conflict. Many countries have tried to act as intermediaries to de-escalate the tensions and find a peaceful resolution, but the deep mistrust and hostility between the US and Iran have made this a difficult task. Fourthly, the tension has also affected the security of other countries in the region, as many of them are allied with the United States or Iran, and they could be caught in the middle of any potential conflict.

Overall, the tension between the United States and Iran has had a significant impact on the formulation of foreign policies in the international borders, as many countries have had to navigate the delicate balance between maintaining good relations with both countries, while also addressing the economic stability and security implications of the tension.

Conclusion.

The tension between the United States and Iran is a complex and longstanding issue, and there is no easy solution to melting down the tension. However, some steps that could potentially help to alleviate the tension include:

Diplomatic negotiations: Direct talks between the United States and Iran could be an important step in resolving the tension, provided that both sides are willing to come to the table with open minds and a willingness to compromise.

Support from the international community: Other countries could play a role in mediating talks between the United States and Iran and in putting pressure on both sides to de-escalate the tension. The support of other countries in the region would be particularly important.

Lifting of economic sanctions: The lifting of economic sanctions on Iran could help to improve the country’s economy and reduce the impact of the sanctions on the Iranian people, which may reduce some of the hostility towards the United States.

Addressing mutual concerns: The United States and Iran have many concerns about each other’s actions, such as human rights abuses, support for terrorism, and destabilizing activities in the Middle East. Addressing these concerns in a direct and honest way could help to build trust between the two countries.

De-escalation of military activities: Both sides should avoid any action that could escalate the situation into a military conflict.

Evidently, these steps would likely be difficult to achieve, but they could help to reduce the tension between the United States and Iran, and provide some relief to the international community.

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The World is Entering A Period of Transformation: Can the West lose?

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The world is witnessing a complex mix of escalating tensions, in the context of which some see that the US’s grip is beginning to loosen, and its hegemony and influence over the international system has begun to disintegrate. The shifting world order is giving way to a diverse mix of protectionist nationalism, spheres of influence and regional projects of the major powers. It cannot be denied that there is a deeper crisis, linked to liberal internationalism itself, and to get rid of the deeply dysfunctional characteristics of the global economic and social system, policy makers and those in control of the fate of the planet need to rediscover the principles and practices of statecraft, and collective action against the tendency towards chaos and the destruction of human structures. Likewise, the multilateral global institutions of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund and below need to be reformed to reflect this new global reality.

With one of the permanent members of the Security Council violating international law, and the principle of not changing borders by force, which is the case that the US and its allies have been doing for decades as well, the United Nations with all its structures remains mostly marginalized. Meanwhile, dealing with Ukraine as part of the East-West confrontation would spoil for decades any prospect of bringing Russia and the West in general, and Russia and Europe in particular, into a cooperative international order. And if Ukraine is to live and prosper, it should not be the outpost of either side, east or west, against the other, but should, as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger estimated, act as a bridge between them. Russia must accept that trying to force Ukraine into dependence, and thus move Russia’s borders once again, would condemn Moscow to repeating its history of self-driving cycles of mutual pressure with Europe and the US. The West must also realize that for Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign state. A geopolitical dynamic, in the context of which the Biden administration seems keen to restore the reputation of the US, and restore its image, after four years spent under the rule of former US President Donald Trump. It wants to clearly distinguish between the behavior and values of the US on the one hand, and the behavior and values of its opponents such as China and Russia on the other.

In the process, Washington wants to re-establish itself as the linchpin of a rules-based international order, but the it, torn internally, will become less willing and able to lead the international stage. It will be difficult to restore its image in the Middle East, especially. For a long time, unquestioned the US support for Israel has allowed it to pursue policies that have repeatedly backfired and put its long-term future in even greater doubt. At the forefront of these policies is the settlement project itself, and the absolutely undisguised desire to create a “Greater Israel” that includes the West Bank, confining the Palestinians to an archipelago of enclaves isolated from each other, the familiar clichés related to the two-state solution, and “Israel’s right to defend itself.” It loses its magical incantatory power with the rise to power of the fascist far right. The US, which considers itself a mediator in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is still offering the Palestinians empty rhetoric about their right to live in freedom and security, while supporting the two-state solution. It’s claim to a morally superior position seems blunt, tinged with hypocrisy in Stephen Walt’s words. And if the US had normal relations with Israel, the latter would receive the attention it deserved, nothing more.

Chomsky, who seems keen to criticize neoliberal democracy, and wants to rid democracy of the power of money and class inequalities, which cause the success of populism. He sees that there are people who are angry, and dissatisfied with the existing institutions, which constitutes, for the demagogues, a fertile ground for inciting people’s anger towards the scapegoats, who are usually from the weak groups, such as European Muslim immigrants or African Americans and others, but at the same time, it leads to a kind of popular reaction that seeks to overcome these crises. There are many uprisings against oppressive regimes, and most of them are due to the impact of neoliberal programs over the last generation. Almost everywhere, in the US and Europe, for example, the rate of concentration of wealth, which has stagnated so great for the majority, has undermined democratic forms, just as elsewhere the structural adjustment programs in Latin America, which has produced decades of backwardness. The negative effects of globalization on the lower and middle social classes, coupled with national resentment against immigration, and a sense of loss of control over sovereignty fueled violent populist reactions against the principles and practices of the liberal order. With the intensification of the crisis due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as the Iranian nuclear file and its faltering paths, Europe appears between a rock and a hard place, although in reality it does not like acts of hatred and imposing sanctions against Moscow, or against Tehran, due to the intertwining of its economic interests, but they must follow the US. As described by Chomsky. Whoever does not comply with it will be expelled from the international financial and economic system. This is not a law of nature, but rather Europe’s decision to remain subservient to the “master tutor” in Washington. The Europe and many other states do not even have a choice, and although some peoples and states have benefited from hyperglobalization, the latter has ultimately caused major economic and political problems within liberal democracies. Here Mearsheimer agrees with Chomsky that it has seriously eroded support for the liberal international order. At the same time, the economic dynamism that came with excessive globalization helped China quickly transform into a superpower, as it rearranged itself in a way close to or superior to other major powers, and this shift in the global balance of power put an end to unipolarity, which it is a precondition for a rules-based liberal world order.

When Mikhail Gorbachev presented his vision for managing the post-Cold War era, he proposed what was then called the Common House of Europe. This was one of the options for a unified Europe and Asia region extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok without any military alliances. Today, the world is witnessing a revival of some of the worst aspects of traditional geopolitics. The wars of the major powers in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region, with the increase in Israel’s extremist and racist policies, and the possibility of Iran causing instability in the Middle East, have combined to produce the most dangerous moment since World War II. As great power competition, imperial ambitions, and conflicts over resources intensify, the stakes are how to manage the collision of old geopolitics and new challenges. It is inconceivable that there is a state that represents the backyard of any other state, and this applies to Europe as much as it applies to US, Asia and every other region in the world.

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