Connect with us

Defense

Has “The Worst” Become Plausible?: Rising Risks Of A Nuclear War With North Korea

Published

on

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

World System Structure and National Security

More worrisome than other perils, North Korea’s recent missile tests suggest steadily rising risks of a nuclear war. In the end, these grave risks are not per se expressions of individual leadership personality. Rather, they reflect the anarchic structure of world politics, an inherently unstable foundation that could very quickly become chaotic.

For Americans, it’s time for non-partisan candor. In large part, former President Donald J. Trump’s multiple policy misunderstandings set the stage for the presently escalating crisis. While Mr. Trump ranted incoherently with strategically meaningless bluster – “attitude,” he alleged, was “more important than preparation” – Kim prudently readied his nation for “the worst.”[1]

For Americans, such a conspicuous asymmetry should never have been considered gainful. Now, President Biden’s overriding intellectual obligation on such urgent matters is clear and unrelated to domestic politics. Immediately, he should oversee an American security posture that is more genuinely analytic and history-based[2] than were Trump’s disjointed diatribes.[3] Above all, Joe Biden should begin to think more realistically and systematically about creating long-term nuclear deterrence relationships with North Korea.

There won’t be any North Korean “denuclearization.”

The Invariant Obligations of Correct Reasoning

               In the best of all possible worlds, American security interests would best be served by North Korea’s witting abandonment of nuclear weapons and nuclear doctrine. But this is not yet the best of all possible worlds, and Pyongyang will not willingly surrender its only tangible source of compelling global power. For now, at least, establishing stable nuclear deterrence relationships between these two adversarial states would represent a worthy American diplomatic achievement.

               Here, there are various pertinent specifics. During any still-upcoming negotiations, Mr. Biden should take scrupulous care not to exaggerate or overstate America’s military risk-taking calculus. Such indispensable diplomatic caution would derive in part from the absence of any comparable nuclear crises. In essence, because there has never been a nuclear war,[4] there can be no reliable way for this president (or anyone else) to meaningfully ascertain the mathematical probability of a US-North Korea nuclear conflict.[5]

               In world politics, as in any other subject of human interaction, probability judgments can never be derived ex nihilo, out of nothing. Always, such key judgments must be drawn from one decisional calculus only.  This quantifiable calculus is the determinable frequency of relevant past events. When there are no such events, there can be no meaningful probabilistic extrapolations.

               Period.

               This does not mean that US President Joe Biden’s senior strategists and counselors should steer away from clear-eyed assessments regarding potential nuclear costs and risks, but only that such assessments be drawn from shifting and hard-to-decipher geopolitical trends.[6] Such significant trends should include variously complex considerations of worldwide nuclearization.[7]  Though not yet there, Iran is already far along the critical trajectory of national nuclear weapons development.[8] In time, therefore, and in much the same fashion as in  its engagements with North Korea, the United States could find itself in extremis atomicum.

Intersections and Synergies

Always, in these complex geopolitical assessments, the world must be examined as a system. For American policy-planners focused on North Korea, there are fixed obligations to consider, including plausible intersections between Pyongyang’s threats and Tehran’s nuclearization. These obligations should take note of certain specifically synergistic intersections. By definition, in these circumstances, the “whole” of any worrisome outcome would be greater than the calculable sum of its “parts.”

There is more. These many-sided strategic issues ought never be approached from the narrow perspectives of domestic politics. Some component problems would emerge as more complicated and problematic than others. As relevant intellectual background, world security processes should always be approached as a totality What is happening now, in such far-flung places as India-Kashmir, China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen could sometime have significant “spillover effects” in the northeast Asian theatre and beyond. This is true, moreover, even while Covid-19 continues to rage in significant measure across these afflicted countries.

“My Button is Bigger Than Yours”

Military threats from an already-nuclear North Korea remain genuine, substantive and determinedly “robust.” Former President Donald Trump’s ill-suited metaphors notwithstanding, the fact that Biden’s nuclear “button” is “bigger” than Kim’s is anything but determinative. In all strategic deterrence relationships, a condition of relative nuclear weakness by one of the contending adversarial states need not imply any corollary diminution of national power. To the point. even the presumptively weaker party in such asymmetrical dyads could still deliver “unacceptable damage” to the stronger.

               Here, complexity will be defining. President Biden will need to bear in mind that many or all of northeast Asia’s continuously transforming developments could be impacted by “Cold War II,”[9] an oppositional stance with Russia and (somewhat comparably or derivatively) with China. Similarly, important will be this US leader’s willingness to acknowledge and factor-in the consequential limits of “expert” military advice. These widely unseen limits are not based upon any presumed intellectual inadequacies among America’s flag officers, but on the irrefutable knowledge that no person has ever fought in a nuclear war.

               In scientific terms (theory of probability) this bit of knowledge is incontestable and ought never be underestimated.

               By definition – and going forward with all time-urgent considerations of US – North Korea policy formation – American strategic calculations will always be fraught with daunting uncertainties. Still, it will be necessary that Joe Biden and his designated counselors remain able to consistently offer the best available war-related estimations. Among prospectively causal factors – some of them overlapping, interdependent or (again) “synergistic”[10] – the plausible risks of a nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang will ultimately depend upon whether such conflict would be intentional, unintentional or accidental.

                In principle, at least, this tripartite distinction could prove vitally important to any hoped-for success in US nuclear war prediction and prevention processes.

                In facing future North Korean negotiations, it will be necessary that competent US policy analysts capably examine and carefully measure all foreseeableconfigurations of relevant nuclear war risk. Expressed in the useful game-theoretic parlance of formal military planning, shifting configurations in the “state of nations”[11] could present themselves singly, one-at-a-time (the expectedly best case for Washington) or suddenly, unexpectedly, with apparent “diffusiveness” or in multiple and overlapping “cascades” of strategic complexity.

Quo Vadis?

               What is to be done? To properly understand such bewildering cascades will require properly-honed, well-developed and formidable analytic skills. This will not be a suitable task for the intellectually faint-hearted. It will require, instead, sharply refined combinations of historical acquaintance, traditional erudition and a demonstrated capacity for advanced dialectical thinking. Clarifying elucidations of such disciplined thinking go back to the dialogues of Plato and to the ancient but timeless awareness that reliable analysis calls for the continuous asking and answering of interrelated questions.

               There is more. This challenging task could require American strategic thinkers who are sometimes as comfortable with classical prescriptions of Plato and Descartes as with the more narrowly technical elements of modern military theory and hardware. Consequently, this will not be an easy requirement to fulfill.

Not all nuclear wars would have the same origin. It is conceivable that neither Washington nor Pyongyang is currently paying sufficient attention to residually specific risks of an unintentional nuclear war. To this point, each president would seem to assume the other’s decisional rationality.[12] After all, if there were no such mutual calculation, it would make no ascertainable sense for either side to negotiate further security accommodations with the other.

               None at all.

               Viable nuclear deterrence (not denuclearization) must become the overriding US strategic goal vis-a-vis North Korea. But this complex objective is contingent upon certain basic assumptions concerning enemy rationality. Are such assumptions realistic in the particular case of a potential war between two already-nuclear powers?

If President Biden should sometime fear enemy irrationalityin Pyongyang, issuing any threats of a US nuclear retaliation might make diminishing diplomatic sense. Instead, at that literally unprecedented stage, American national security could come to depend upon some presumptively optimal combinations of ballistic missile defense and defensive first strikes. Nonetheless, by definition, determining such complex combinations would lack any decisional input or counsel from concrete and quantifiable historical data.

               In an imaginably worst case scenario, the offensive military element could entail a situational or comprehensive preemption – a defensive first strike by the United States – but at that manifestly late stage, all previous hopes for bilateral reconciliation would already have become moot. There would then obtain no “ordinary” circumstances wherein a preemptive strike against a North Korean nuclear adversary could be considered “rational.”[13] What then?

               It’s an intellectual question, not a political one.

               None of these difficult strategic decisions should ever be reached casually or easily. With the steadily expanding development of “hypersonic” nuclear weapons, figuring out optimal US policy combinations from one North Korean crisis to another could quickly become overwhelming. Though counterintuitive amid any such prominently intersecting complications, the fact that one “player” (the US) was recognizably “more powerful” than the other (North Korea) could quickly prove irrelevant.

Law and Nuclear Strategy

 In all foreseeable circumstances, there would obtain certain overlapping issues of law and strategy. Under international law,[14] which remains an integral part of US law,[15] the option of a selective or comprehensive defensive first-strike might sometime be correctly characterized as “anticipatory self-defense.” But this could be the case only if the American side could argue persuasively that the security “danger posed” by North Korea was recognizably “imminent in point of time.” Such discernible “imminence” is required by the authoritative standards of international law; that is, by the formal criteria established after an 1837 naval incident famously called “The Caroline.”[16]

               Presently, in the still-expanding nuclear age, offering aptly precise characterizations of “imminence” could prove sorely abstract and densely problematic.

               For the moment, at least, it seems reasonable that Kim Jung Un would value his own personal life and that of his nation above every other imaginable preference or combination of preferences. Despite his conspicuous bluster, Kim appears to be visibly and technically rational, and should therefore remain subject to US nuclear deterrence.[17] Still, going forward, it could become important for a negotiating American President Biden to distinguish between authentic instances of enemy irrationality and instances of contrived or pretended irrationality.[18]

               This vague prospect adds yet another layer of complexity to the bewildering subject at hand, one that could sometime include certain assorted force-multiplying biological synergies.

               In history, wars have too often been the result of leadership miscalculation. Although neither side here would likely ever seek a shooting war, either Kim or Biden could still commit various errors in the course of rendering their respective strategic calculations. At times, such consequential errors could represent an unintended result of jointly competitive searches for “escalation dominance.”[19] Significantly, these errors are plausibly more apt to occur in circumstances where one or both presidents had first chosen to reignite hyperbolic verbal rhetoric.

               Portentously, even in reassuringly calm periods of polite and congenial diplomatic discourse, major miscalculations, accidents or “cyber-confusions” could accumulate. Moreover, such ill-fated accumulation could be hastened by certain unpredictable effects of widespread disease pandemic. What then?

               In plausibly worst case scenarios, negotiations gone wrong could result in a nuclear war.[20] This tangible prospect ought never to be overlooked. In the words of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “The worst does sometimes happen.”[21]

Causes of an Inadvertent Nuclear War with North Korea

An inadvertent nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang could take place not only as the result of misunderstanding or miscalculation between fully rational national leaders, but as the unintended consequence (singly or synergistically) of mechanical, electrical, computer malfunctions or “hacking”-type interventions. Going forward, these interventions could include clandestine intrusions of “cyber-mercenaries.”

 While an accidental nuclear war would necessarily be inadvertent, certain forms of inadvertent nuclear war would not necessarily be caused by mechanical, electrical or computer accident. These difficult to anticipate but consequential forms of unintentional nuclear conflict would represent the unexpected result of some specific misjudgment or miscalculation, whether created by singular decisional error by one or both sides to a two-party nuclear crisis escalation or by still-unforeseen “synergies” arising between assorted singular miscalculations.[22]

In any still-impending crisis between Washington and Pyongyang, each side will inevitably strive to maximize two critical goals simultaneously. These goals would be to (1) dominate the dynamic and largely unpredictable process of nuclear crisis escalation; and (2) achieve “escalation dominance” without sacrificing vital national security interests. In the final analysis, this second objective would mean preventing one’s own state and society from suffering any catastrophic or existential harms.

               This recalls a prior point concerning accurate assessments of relative military power. When former President Trump, in an early verbal competition with Kim Jung Un, stated that the North Korean president may have his nuclear “button,” but that the American president’s was “bigger,” Trump revealed a major conceptual misunderstanding. It was that in our still-advancing nuclear age, atomic superiority is potentially per se insignificant and could lead the presumptively “stronger” nuclear adversary toward lethal expressions of overconfidence.

               In any such paradoxical circumstances, having had a “bigger button” would become the dominant source of weakness, not strength. Here, size would actually matter, but only in an unexpected or counter-intuitive way. As Donald Trump should have already understood, even an enemy with a smaller “nuclear button” could inflict “assuredly destructive” harms[23] upon “bigger button” United States and/or its allies in Japan, South Korea or elsewhere. It follows that to have taken earlier comfort from observing that North Korea had been testing “only” shorter-range ballistic missiles was to miss the point. To clarify further, now for the benefit of President Biden, several of North Korea’s Trump-era nuclear test firings expressed a yield at least 16X larger than the Hiroshima bomb.

That 14KT WW II bomb produced almost 100,000 immediate fatalities.

               All such vital understandings about nuclear “button size” must continuously obtain as long as Kim Jung Un’s “inferior” nuclear arms remain seemingly invulnerable to any American preemptions and seemingly capable of penetrating ballistic missile defenses deployed in the United States, Japan and/or South Korea. Because of the extraordinary prospective harms generated by even “low-yield” nuclear weapons, a small percentage or tiny fraction of Kim’s “inferior” nuclear arsenal should still appear as “unacceptably destructive” in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. Worth noting, too, is that in all of these critical dimensions of strategic judgment, the only reality that would figure tangibly in any ongoing adversarial calculations would be perceived reality.

Dealing with Unprecedented Complexity

               The bottom line of such informed assessments concerning a US – North Korea nuclear war is that underlying issues of contention and calculation are starkly complicated and potentially indecipherable. Faced with endlessly challenging measures of complexity, both operational and legal, each side must proceed warily and in a fashion that is aptly risk-averse. Though such prudent counsel may seem to run counter to variously inter-linking US obligations of “escalation dominance,” any still-expected Biden-Kim negotiations would involve very deep and uncharted “waters.”

               Looking ahead, any aggressive over-confidence (or what the ancient Greeks called “hubris” in tragic drama) by President Biden and/or President Kim will have to be avoided. While everything at some upcoming negotiation might first appear simple and calculable, history calls to mind Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s sobering observations about “friction.” This ubiquitous fly-in-the-ointment represents “differences between war on paper, and war as it actually is.” In certain altogether imaginable cases, these differences could suggest total war.

               To avoid intolerable outcomes between the United States and North Korea, a prudent, science-based[24] and informed nuclear posture must be fashioned, not with Trump-era clichés and empty witticisms, but instead with refined intellect and cultivated erudition. Much earlier, the ancient Greeks and Macedonians had already understood that war planning must be treated as a continuously disciplined matter of “mind over mind,” not just of “mind over matter.”[25] Today, in specific regard to US-North Korea nuclear rivalry, a similar understanding should hold sway in Washington.

Averting “Nightmare”

It would be best for the United States to plan carefully for all strategic eventualities and not to stumble into a nuclear war with North Korea – whether deliberate, unintentional or accidental. The fact that any such “stumble” could take place without adversarial ill will or base motive should provide little palpable consolation for prospective victims. For them, an ounce of diplomatic prevention will have been well worth avoiding a strategic nightmare.

               Nightmare. According to the etymologists, the root is niht mare, or niht maere, the demon of the night. Dr. Johnson’s famous Dictionary claims this corresponds to Nordic mythology, which identifies all nightmare as some unholy product of demons. This would make it a play on the Greek ephialtes or the Latin incubus. In any event, in all of these fearful interpretations of nightmare, the idea of demonic origin is integral and indispensable.

               But America’s current worries are of a different and more secular sort. Now there are certain inherent complexities in problem solving that must always be accepted, understood and suitably overcome. At a time when our planet is imperiled by the simultaneous and potentially intersecting threats of a nuclear war and disease pandemic (not to mention climate change) there can be no reasonable alternative to proper analytic emphases.

               What draws near between North Korea and the United States should always be assessed on solid intellectual foundations. By correctly acknowledging that North Korean denuclearization is a futile expectation and diplomatic non-starter – Kim Jung Un would never accept such a condition of codified inferiority – President Biden could finally focus upon creating a viable system of mutual deterrence. Though such an “egalitarian” focus might first appear unsatisfactory or demeaning for a “Great Power” like the United States, national security policy should be founded upon rigorously accurate theoretical assumptions.

 Washington should bear in mind, always, that “The worst does sometime happen.”


[1]See: https://www.businessinsider.com/kim-jong-un-tells-north-korea-officials-prepare-us-confrontation-2021-6

[2] This means, inter alia, an emphasis on dialectical thinking.  Such thinking likely originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions. From the standpoint of necessary refinements in US strategic planning vis-à-vis North Korea, this knowledge should never be taken for granted.

[3] During his dissembling presidency, too little attention was directed toward Donald J. Trump’s open loathing of science and intellect and his prominent unwillingness to read. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by the distinguished 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.

[4] The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 do not properly constitute a nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons to conclude an otherwise conventional conflict. Significantly, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were no other atomic bombs still available anywhere on earth.

[5] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[6] Sometime in the next several months, the Department of Defense is scheduled to release its 2022 Nuclear Posture Review. See, in this regard:   https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/01/21/nuclear-security-infrastructure-us/

[7] See: https://sipri.org/media/press-release/2021/global-nuclear-arsenals-grow-states-continue-modernize-new-sipri-yearbook-out-now

[8] See, on deterring a prospectively 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 clarify common conceptual elements. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[9] In essence, hypothesizing the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming 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.

[10] See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School:  Louis René Beres,  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/  See also, by this writer, at West Point:  Louis René  Beres https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/

[11] Seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes notes that although the “state of nations” is in the anarchic “state of nature,” it is still more tolerable than the condition of individuals in nature. With individual human beings, he instructs, “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” But with the continuing advent of nuclear weapons, there is no persuasive reason to believe that the state of nations remains more tolerable. Now, nuclear weapons are bringing the state of nations closer to the true Hobbesian state of nature. See, in this connection, David P. Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 207. As with Hobbes, philosopher Samuel Pufendorf argues that the state of nations is not quite as intolerable as the state of nature between individuals. The state of nations, reasons the German jurist, “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” In a similar vein, Baruch Spinoza suggests “that a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See, A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II (Clarendon Press, 1958), p. 295.

[12] In world politics, rationality and irrationality have very specific meanings. More precisely, an “actor” (state or sub-state) is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences. An irrational actor would not always display such a determinable preference ordering.

[13] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/foreign-policy/344750-rationality-cant-be-assumed-in-potential-north-korea

[14] In essence, international law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian.” System. This historical referent is the Peace of Westphalia (1648), a treaty which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the now still-existing decentralized or self-help “state system.” See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia. For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: 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.

[15] See especially art. 6 of the US Constitution (“The Supremacy Clause”) and the Pacquete Habana (1900). 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. 1984) (per curiam) (Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[16] See Beth Polebau, National Self-Defense in International Law:  An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age, 59 N.Y.U. L. REV. 187, 190-191 (noting that the Caroline case transformed the right to self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a customary legal doctrine).

[17] Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese military theorist, Sun-Tzu, counseled, inThe Art of War:“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” (See: Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”).

[18] Expressions of decisional irrationality in US dealings with North Korea could take different or overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[19] On this concept, see, by this author: 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/

[20] There is now a substantial literature that deals with the expected consequences of a nuclear war.  For earlier works by this author, see, for example:  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); MIMICKING SISYPHUS:  AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1983); REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1984); and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON:  ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[21] Often, in history, this ‘worst” has stemmed from a presumptively life-preserving identification of individual human beings with the fate of their respective countries. In his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end in itself, drew its originating strength from the doctrine of “sovereignty” advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above ordinary law. When it is understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the corrosive notion that states lie above and beyond legal regulation in their various interactions with each other. Concerning “ordinary law,” however, it is always subordinate to “Natural Law.” This Natural Law is based upon the acceptance of certain principles of right and justice that prevail because of intrinsic merit.  Eternal and immutable, they are external to all acts of human will and interpenetrate all human reason.  The core idea and its attendant tradition of human civility runs continuously from Mosaic Law and the ancient Greeks and Romans to the present day.  For a comprehensive and far-reaching assessment of the Natural Law origins of international law by this author, see Louis René Beres, “Justice and Realpolitik:  International Law and the Prevention of Genocide,” The American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 33, 1988, pp. 123-159. 

[22] Regarding strategic “spillovers” from the Middle East, see Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy and America’s National Security, Tel-Aviv University, Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, December 2016:  https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[23] Assured destruction references an ability to inflict “unacceptable damage” after absorbing an attacker’s first strike.  Mutual assured destruction (MAD) describes a condition in which an assured destruction capacity is possessed by both or all opposing sides.  Counterforce strategies are those which target an adversary’s strategic military facilities and supporting infrastructure.  Such strategies may be dangerous not only because of the “collateral damage” they might produce, but also because they could heighten the likelihood of first-strike attacks. Collateral damage refers to harms done to human and non-human resources as a consequence of strategic strikes directed at enemy forces or military facilities.  Even this “unintended” damage could involve large numbers of casualties/fatalities.

[24] “Science,” says philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis (1958) “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.”

[25] See: F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), p. 63.

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.

Continue Reading
Comments

Defense

What makes India’s participation in the Quad intrinsically unique?

Published

on

From left, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wave hands ahead of the Quad leaders’ meeting in Tokyo, May 24. Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office of Japan

In this essay, I try to shed light on the geopolitical imperatives that make India’s involvement in the Quad intrinsically unique and distinct from the other members.

The prime ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the President of the United States met in Tokyo, for the second in-person Quad summit on 24 May 2022, coming three months after the foreign ministers of these countries met in Melbourne, for the fourth time in three years. In addition to two virtual summits in the month of March in 2021 and 2022, the leaders also met in-person in September, last year, in Washington DC. In the last two years, the Quad has gathered rapid momentum with regular multi-level interactions, and the scope of co-operation has widened.

While the Quad is not a formal collective security alliance, Japan and Australia are two of the ‘major non-NATO allies’ of the United States in the Indo-Pacific, meaning, the three countries are already allies, with or without the Quad, which brings us to the question of India’s participation. Indian involvement brings about an existential purpose to the four-nation grouping as it reflects the growing geopolitical heft of the Indian Ocean region and India as an emerging Asian power in the strategic thinking of the three countries, particularly of the United States, the de-facto leader of the grouping.

Growing strategic insecurity emanating from the perceived disruptive rise of China in the last two decades, especially after 2012, has been a factor that brought these four countries together, ever since the grouping was revitalized in 2017 after a gap of ten years since the idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ was put forward by the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. China and Russia are the only two countries in the world that outrightly rejects the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ and favours the usage of the term ‘Asia-Pacific’ instead, as they consider it as a US-led strategy to counter China.

The Russia factor

While India is a democracy, just like its three Quad partners, it also happens to be the only member of the grouping that has neither openly criticised nor imposed sanctions on Russia for its military intervention in Ukraine. Moreover, no other Quad member is as overwhelmingly dependent on Russian arms supply as India is, even though measures to diversify India’s imports are actively underway. Currently, up to 70 per cent of India’s military hardware is estimated to be of Russian origin.

The post-Cold War years saw India reaching out to Southeast Asia, a region that lies at the centre of the Indo-Pacific, and also to the United States. However, the fading aura of ASEAN-led regional institutional mechanisms, which India has been involving since 1992, in balancing mounting Chinese power can also be stated as one of the key factors that led to the rise of the alternative plurilateral groupings in the Indo-Pacific like the Quad and AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States security partnership) in the last few years.

Even after the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, the successor state of Russian Federation continued to be a close strategic partner and major defence supplier of India. Just last year, in 2021, India and Russia observed the golden jubilee of the signing of a landmark friendship treaty between the two countries during the Soviet-era. Russian President Vladimir Putin was welcomed in New Delhi in December 2021 for the annual India-Russia summit, and two months later, Russian forces breached the Ukrainian borders, pushing global political stability into the brink.

Varying geostrategic imperatives

Unlike the predominantly maritime geostrategic imperatives of other Quad members, India’s geography is connected with the Eurasian continental landmass, of which Russia has the commanding position, as much as it is connected to the Indo-Pacific oceanic continuum. In fact, the biggest and most pertinent of India’s security challenges arise from its land borders. While Japan is an archipelagic country located entirely in the northern Pacific, Australia lies in between the Indian and Pacific Oceans to the south, and the United States is sandwiched between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to its east and west respectively.

Moreover, India happens to be the only Quad member that shares a land border with China. The 3,488-km-long undemarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region is often regarded as the world’s longest disputed border. Apart from these differences, India also happen to be a participant in Russia and China led groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa grouping), which constrains India’s options in a full-fledged involvement in US-led groupings such as the Quad or any other. New Delhi views its involvement in the aforementioned groupings as an indicator of reformed multilateralism, which has been traditionally seen as West-dominated, and wishes to chart its own place in the emerging multipolar world order.

India’s opportunities as the scope of co-operation in the Quad widens

Even after four summit-level meetings, four ministerials and numerous issue-specific working groups set in action, the Quad has not yet openly acknowledged the elephant in the room, i.e., China, or its higher purpose of balance of power, which essentially ought to give a security dimension to the grouping. But it is yet to see progress. Accommodating and reconciling India’s varying interests with the grouping’s larger collective agenda is a big challenge too. Items in the Quad’s agenda since the very first virtual summit in March 2021 include a partnership to manufacture and distribute vaccines to needy countries of the Indo-Pacific region drawing on each other’s strengths, critical and emerging technologies, climate resilience, cyber security, space, fostering people-to-people ties through educational opportunities, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and so on.

The launch of the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) at the recently-concluded Tokyo summit could enable information-sharing across the existing regional fusion centres. It can also bolster India’s involvement in an agenda item that is closely related to security – maritime data sharing. Being the regional leader in the Indian Ocean, India’s naval surveillance capabilities, including the Gurugram-based Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), can be better utilised to achieve the grouping’s collective objectives, aimed at identifying illegal activities in the region’s seas.

Another key initiative launched on the sidelines of the Tokyo summit is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), which adds a key economic pillar to Washington’s engagement in the region, especially in the backdrop of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which India also opposes due to concerns on its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moreover, India’s pharmaceutical industry can play a major role in the vaccine initiative announced last year, which is yet to materialise fully.

India’s ties with the US shapes its involvement in the Quad and vice versa

India’s deepening ties with the United States is also playing a significant role in shaping India’s participation in the Quad and in expanding the currently identified generic agendas of co-operation to a more security-oriented one, for which the recent signs are positive. While the previous Trump Administration subtly welcomed India again to the Quad, in 2017, the Biden administration cemented on the ties and has been largely following a policy of continuity towards India. The decision on whether to impose sanctions on India under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act), owing to the purchase of Russian weapons, is put on hold, and is unlikely to be imposed as the ties between the two countries continue to remain robust, despite the Russia factor, both bilaterally and under the Quad framework.

In 2018, the United States renamed its oldest and largest military command, the Pacific Command, to the ‘Indo-Pacific Command’, in a largely symbolic move acknowledging India’s growing importance in US strategic thinking and calculations for Asia. In the same year, the annual India-US ‘2+2’ ministerial dialogue was also inaugurated. Two years before that, in 2016, India was made a Major Defence Partner of the United States, followed by the inking of a series of foundational pacts for military inter-operability, the last one being the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), signed in 2020.

At the same time, while one Quad member Japan hosts the largest number of US military bases in the world, coming further under the US alliance protection and the nuclear umbrella, the other Quad member Australia is part of other US-led groupings in the region such as the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network, ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand and the United States) treaty and the recent AUKUS grouping. However, India has never been part of any security alliance right from its independence and has followed the path of ‘non-alignment’ (during the Cold War years), which later metamorphosed into ‘multi-alignment’.

India’s simultaneous involvement in a diverse set of groupings with varying purposes, goals, and participants, and being close to both Russia and the US at the same time is indeed sheer diplomatic skill. However, the fact that being a vibrant democracy and a key maritime power in the Indian Ocean region brings India closer to the Quad’s shared values and interests. The Quad today reflects the need for balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, where-in a power transition is underway with the rise of China. The Quad is largely reflective of a Western-led response to this power transition, while Indian interests are aligned both in being part of the Western-led response, i.e., Quad, IPEF and IPMDA, and also in acting as a key independent pillar in the changing regional and global order.

Continue Reading

Defense

Is Fatigue Causing Twists and Turns in Russia Ukraine War?

Published

on

Image source: war.ukraine.ua

As Russia Ukraine war completes three months, both sides are witnessing spectacular twists and turns, showing that reality is biting both sides. Few would have predicted a month ago that President Putin would be willing to swallow the bitter pill of Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, which effectively amounts to NATO’s eastward expansion, adding over a thousand kilometres of direct land border between Russia and NATO, and respond only with a weak warning to react to increased weapon deployment in these two countries.

Likewise, the rhetoric of Ukraine winning the war overhyped by US led NATO through exhaustive information and perception war, seems to be fading with surrender of over 2000 Azov fighters in Mariupol, cutting off of Ukraine from Sea of Azov, besides losing a large chunk of land in Donbass Region. President Zelensky acknowledgement of diplomacy being only answer, highlighting concerns for people and soldiers is not too late, if those interested in prolonging this war let him act on it.  

Parties to the Conflict

The war is sparing no-one in the world from inflationary pressures, having doubled the figures of global food insecure population, due to acute food shortage, triggering the blame game by both sides to seek concessions. While Russia can be accused of launching pre-emptive ground offensive on Ukraine, NATO can also be accused for creating conditions threatening Russia by continued eastward expansion and proxy war. While the kinetic, contact, hybrid war is on between Russia and Ukraine, the US led NATO is fighting a non-kinetic, non-contact, undeclared war in economic, information, diplomatic and political domains, against Russia; hence de-facto parties to the war.

Russian Stakes and Compulsions                

After three months of war, while Russia can draw solace by sizeable territorial gains and linking Donbas with Crimea after capture of Mariupol, but at a very heavy cost of men and material, besides an unprecedented economic stress due to crippling sanctions by the West. It has made President Putin revisit his stance on Finland and Sweden, as it is cost prohibitive for Russia to open another front with NATO on Finland borders. It therefore makes better sense for him to achieve the desired end state in ongoing conflict with Ukraine by liberating Donbass Region, landlocking Ukraine and deal with Finland later. Russia realizes its limitations in economic, diplomatic, information and political warfare domain; hence more territorial gains on ground to landlock Ukraine by extending land bridge between Crimea, Odesa to Transnistria and liberating Donbass is the best option for it, to gain better negotiating position, to have the sanctions lifted.

Ukrainian Stakes and Compulsions             

President Zelensky appears to recognise that neither he nor the western propaganda-based information war, which has made him a hero and outright winner, can be sustained in the long run, having lost more territory than size of some European countries, left with devastated towns, over four million refugees, heavy casualties, and the surrender of his overhyped Azov Regiments. While additional aid and weaponry with $40 billion cheque from US and $16.4 billion from EU can boost his combat power, but regaining lost ground from Russians is going to be extremely difficult, as they will use built up areas for defending their gains, as Ukraine did. Prolonging war doesn’t guarantee peace for Ukraine, but it may result in greater territorial loss, unending proxy war, and a long-term Russian threat.

NATO’s Stakes and Compulsions            

NATO seems to be emboldened by soft Russian response to the bid of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, with a confidence that Russia has been adequately weakened to challenge eastward expansion of NATO; hence, it is keen to add these two countries with strong militaries, to secure its northern flank and have a better collective security posture in the long run. It also makes sense in context of Sino-Russian footprints in Arctic region and North Atlantic Ocean. Towards that aim, it is ready to sacrifice some of its energy and economic interests for the time being.

It is too early to predict how long this show of unified strength will continue, because the war is certainly not making Europe peaceful, with millions of refugees and non-state actors activated and a longer border with belligerent Russia, which will reorganize itself, learning from its miscalculations. While NATO may be able to handle the objections of Turkey and Croatia with few concessions/addressing security concerns, but the disagreement regarding long term energy security may not be easy to handle, once the rhetoric of united NATO starts fading with economic fatigue and energy deficit.

Is USA the Beneficiary?

In short term USA can rejoice some immediate gains. It has been able to get control of NATO, weaken Russia, create market for its arms dealers, energy companies and infrastructure contractors. It has been able to block strategic Nord Stream1 and 2, and encourage EU to find alternate energy sources, thereby reducing Russian influence drastically.

It has, however, incurred certain long-term losses, the most serious of which is driving Russia into a stronger China-Russia Axis than ever before, which is beyond its individual capabilities to handle. True, this battle has revitalised NATO, but it has also strengthened the Russia-China-Iran nexus, or anti-West alliance. Sanctions have fueled calls for an alternative financial system to avoid financial paralysis caused by a monopolized dollarized financial system, which could harm the US in the long run.

The US’s global exhibition of backing proxy war by enabling Ukraine/Zelensky to fight to the bitter end in order to achieve its geopolitical aim of weakening Russia, with no American losses has tarnished the US’s reputation as an ally/partner. Indeed, more than $56 billion in funding for a proxy war in Ukraine, which is more than double the amount spent in Afghanistan’s 20-year war, reveals misplaced priorities, unless US is counting on making much more money from increased weapon sales by prolonging the war.

It has put Taiwan, Japan and South Korea on notice facing similar threat from aggressive China, to which US has been extremely shy of sanctioning it, despite later breaching territorial integrity of many democracies in South China Sea, violating Taiwanese air space at will, and incremental encroachment in Himalayas. The world, struggling with financial, food and energy crisis, doesn’t want any extension of war, on any pretext.

The visit of President Biden to Indo-Pacific is significant to restore declining confidence of allies and partners in Indo-Pacific, without which, taking on China challenge is difficult. Many in this region accuse Biden administration of reactivating Cold War 1.0 with Russia, diluting Cold War 2.0 with China, which is a bigger global challenge with better economic muscles. The proposed launch of Indo Pacific Economic Forum is to lure more regional countries to gain lost ground in economic engagement vis a vis China.

Way Ahead

In a situation where NATO continues to persuade Zelensky to fight, giving hopes to recapture entire territory of Ukraine, and the Russians continue incremental efforts to achieve an end state of landlocked Ukraine and independent Donbass, the war will continue. Neither the sanctions have deterred Russia, nor blocking gas flow by Russia will deter NATO. As long as Ukraine is ready to be used as a tool in big power contestation and NATO continues to add fuel to the fire, the chances of talks or any mediation seems to be a remote possibility. In Russia Ukraine war, there will be no winners, but a new set of security and economic challenges will impact entire world.

Having tested US responses in Ukraine, the growing Chinese aggressiveness in Indo-Pacific is a wakeup call to US to avoid losing influence in the region, especially after losing considerable strategic space in the Middle East and Af-Pak regions. Chinese footprints in the Solomon Islands surprised US and Australia. Regular violation of ADIZ of Taiwan, belligerent North Korea threatening South Korea and Japan, reassertion of Chinese and Russian claims against Japan indicate that US resolve is under greater threat in the Indo-Pacific, where it has obligation to defend Japan and South Korea and strategic necessity to save Taiwan. It is also not easy to find another Zelensky/Ukraine in Asia, willing to act as proxy of NATO. It is for this reason President Joe Biden needs partners in Indo-Pacific, strengthen/expand Quad, and put up viable alternative economic, infrastructure, technological and supply chain in Indo-Pacific with allies and partners. The UK Foreign Minister’s call for Global NATO seems far fetched at this point of time, but indicates desperation for global support to face the reality of threat from growing Chinese Russian alliance. 

Continue Reading

Defense

U.S.’ Unperturbed Response to Indian BrahMos Launch in Pakistan: Aberration or New Normal?

Published

on

As India’s nuclear-capable BrahMos cruise missile crashed into the territory of its nuclear-armed and ever-hostile adversary on the evening of March 9th almost pushing the two countries to the brink of catastrophic tit-for-tat exchange, the usually vociferous strategic experts and arms control enthusiasts in the USA maintained a cautionary conspicuous silence. Even it took the US State Department Spokesperson 06 days to issue a formal statement on the precarious issue and that too after being asked by a journalist during the daily press briefing. If one thinks for the USA – the self-proclaimed champion of nuclear safety and security – such a belated response to such a potentially hazardous “accident” constituted an anomaly, having a look at what the USA’s State Department’s spokesperson finally stated would be handy, which in essence uncritically endorsed the ambiguous and self-contradictory Indian viewpoint on the issue while refusing to make any further comments.

One does not need to wonder what would have been the reaction in the West had something of this character landed in India from Pakistan. Hell would have readily broken loose and the relevant academic, policy-advocacy, and policy-making circles in the West would have been up in the arms predicting a nuclear holocaust owing to irresponsible handling of sensitive weapon systems by Pakistan and making calls to fulfill their long-held desire of ‘securing’ Pakistan’s strategic arsenal. But given it was a breach on part of India, the belated and unperturbed response despite the profound precariousness associated with the fiasco makes complete sense. Anomaly! Not really, because the apparent aberration is all set to be the new normal: only those nuclear safety and security breaches would concern the Western (specifically the US) strategic community happening apropos countries considered on the other side of the geostrategic equation and India – given its geostrategic utility vis-à-vis China – is positioned on the same side as with the Western world so even the strategic blunders like the recent one would be conveniently brushed under the carpet. Reason: any criticism of Indian BrahMos blunder or even expression of concern about the safety and security of India’s cutting-edge weapons systems would have infuriated overly touchy souls in New Delhi, which Washington has been trying so desperately to woo. 

Though the convergence of geopolitical interests forms the most consequential and undoubtedly the umbrella reason for the USA’s unperturbed response to India’s BrahMos launch into Pakistan, it is not only the only one. Currently, the Indian diaspora constitutes one of the most powerful lobbies in the USA domestic political and electoral landscape augmented by their deep ingress into academia, policy advocacy, and policy-making spheres, where they primarily act as the arm of Indian foreign policy and security establishments essentially safeguarding and qualifying all rights and wrongs by New Delhi and by default working to discredit its prime adversary Pakistan using a wide range of means and mediums. The relegation of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute from a self-determination demand of nearly 20 million people once backed by the USA at international forums to a mere Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in complete concurrence with the Indian standpoint and conspicuous apologetic attitude of the USA government and intelligentsia over India’s now almost undisputed plunge into the abyss of fascism under Modi are the most vivid case studies of the lobby’s influence in the USA, though backed by the umbrella of convergence of geostrategic interests.

Though the USA and Pakistan being long-time allies have their own baggage of alleged betrayals, sanctions, and double-games, the steep decline in the goodwill for Islamabad during the past few decades is attributable to years-old concerted efforts by the Indian lobby and the muted reaction to India’s BrahMos launch in Pakistan even by the strategic and focusing on South Asia intelligentsia within the USA was another manifestation of the reality that the lobby has gained considerable check over the academic and policy discourse in the USA.

Ironically, the trend of overlooking India’s shenanigans at home and aboard and potentially catastrophic breaches of safety and security of destructive weapons systems is all set to be the new normal as the aforementioned factors of geopolitical convergence and the lobby’s role in influencing academic and policy discourse responsible for the setting the trends are only likely to be reinforced in the coming years and decades. However, there is a big question mark whether unwaveringly covering up New Delhi’s abysmal domestic and regional track records undermines the USA’s international legitimacy as the principal sponsor of “rules-based international order”? An unequivocal yes! But it appears policymakers in Washington are willing to let their legitimacy tarnish in barter for India’s utility vis-à-vis China – a characteristic case of power politics triumphing idealistic charades.       

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending