Abstract: In his escalating war of aggression and genocide against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been recycling provocative elements of Soviet-era nuclear doctrine. One such element concerns the absence of any presumptive or codified “firebreak” between conventional and tactical nuclear force engagements. Moscow seemingly identifies the critical escalatory threshold as first use of high-yield, long range strategic nuclear weapons, not the first move from conventional to tactical, “theatre” or “small” nuclear weapons. In short order, this doctrinal identification – one not shared by the United States – could erode once-stabilizing barriers of intra-war deterrence between the two superpowers. Such erosion, whether sudden or incremental, could impact a deliberate or inadvertent nuclear war.
“Deterrence is not just a matter of military capabilities. It has a great deal to do with perceptions of credibility.”-Herman Kahn, Thinking About the Unthinkable (1962)
An Urgent Imperative: Clarifying “Firebreaks” of Nuclear Deterrence
There are plausible reasons to worry about a nuclear war stemming from the current Russian barbarisms in Ukraine. To clarify, any steady growth of Vladimir Putin’s tactical or theater nuclear forces could lower the threshold of actual nuclear weapons use, especially during unpredictable periods of expanding area warfare. Though nothing authentically scientific can ever be determined about such sui generis matters (i.e., matters without precedent), roughly-calculatedprobabilities could still be ascertainable.
At their functional core, such calculations must always be about dialectical thinking processes. Accordingly, when examined from the overridingly critical standpoint of deterrent threat credibility, tactical or theatre nuclear forces would likely appear more persuasive than strategic nuclear weapons. This is because their retaliatory use would appear markedly less “unthinkable.”
Though this argument might at first sound oddly counter-intuitive or even foolish, it still remains consistent with almost four generations of continuously self-refining strategic theory. Such meticulous theory has generally been focused not only on enemy threat capabilities (e.g., conventional versus nuclear destructiveness), but also on decipherable enemy intentions.Looking ahead, adversarial capabilities and intentions will both need to be examined in their widest conceivable assortment of intersectional possibilities.
Some of the most worrisome possibilities here could be synergistic.
Regarding Russia’s current war objectives in Ukraine, which appear to have been determined by Putin decision–makers who never heard of Clausewitz’ “political object,” there is more to examine. While the Soviet Union still existed. Moscow incorporated elements of “first use” thinking into its codified strategic doctrine. It would now appear that President Putin is actively re-committing to just such an earlier nuclear doctrine. Inter alia, it is a recommitment that could quickly prove to be profoundly destabilizing.
There is more. In such time-urgent strategic calculations, it will be important to bear in mind that traditional Soviet nuclear doctrine had minimized the more conspicuous and stabilizing “firebreak” between conventional and nuclear weapons. More particularly, this adversarial military doctrine focused on subtler and potentially less decipherable differences between theater/tactical nuclear forces and strategic nuclear forces. For the United States and NATO allies, to meaningfully understand these differences will represent more of an intellectual problem than a political one.
A Problem of Synergies and “Escalation Dominance”
Going forward with their assessments of such bewildering issues, Russian, American and other nations’ strategists could quickly find themselves overwhelmed by challenges of complexity. In the most plausible arenas of any prospective nuclear confrontation, latent and visible hazards could be exacerbated by variously unpredicted interactions of individual national doctrines. Whether foreseen or unforeseen, any or all such interactions could sometime become synergistic. By definition, such force-multiplying interactions would represent tangible fusions of doctrine wherein the presumptive “whole” of any deleterious conflict effect would be greater than the expected sum of its constituent “parts.”
Always, but especially now, nuclear war avoidance should be approached by national leaders as a daunting intellectual problem. For the United States in particular, such an imperative avoidance should represent a problem that will need to be confronted in tandem with other many-sided global challenges. During the relentlessly anti-intellectual Trump years, a corrosive American era of cascading decision-making incoherence on strategic matters, suggestions of scientific assessment were routinely brushed aside at the White House. All too frequently, these capricious dismissals were accompanied by distressingly witting gestures of complete indifference.
During those years of dissembling policy-making, major US national security problems were framed by an American president in gratuitously rancorous terms. Regarding this country’s present concerns about a nuclear war triggered by Russia’s rabidly criminal behaviors in Ukraine, these frameworks were founded upon militarily senseless appeals to assorted ad hominem likes and dislikes. They were not founded upon what was most genuinely needed. Among other evident deficits, the haphazardly constructed frameworks were not fashioned with any concern for meeting increasingly complex requirements of “escalation dominance.”
Routinely, as understood from the interrelated standpoints of disciplined doctrine and formal logic, Trump’s illogical appeals exhibited grave errors in strategic reasoning. Most obvious among these multiple and synergistic fallacies was the argument known asthe argumentum ad bacculum. Prima facie, from the start of his incoherent presidency, Donald J. Trump worked to compound this potentially irremediable misrepresentation.
Today, armed with greater attention to applicable intellectual factors, American planners and policy-makers should look more systematically forward. What will happen next in Vladimir Putin’s determinedly cruel war against Ukraine, a war of aggression and genocide waged against hospitals, schools, nursing home and child-care centers? How can the United States best prepare for nuclear war avoidance or genocide in a European theater being rendered more and more unstable? Playing Putin’s “nuclear firebreak” game, shall Washington now seek to persuade Moscow of America’s willingness to “go nuclear” if presumed necessary, or should the US accept less risky but simultaneously less advantageous operational moves?
The core question is this: How can the United States best respond to the Russian war’s ambiguously engineered terrors, a hard-to-decipher military chaos that harbors variously latent nuclear perils.
Probability and Disutility
For the United States, it is high time for fewer clichés and greater intellection. Regarding their indispensable responsibilities for world peace and global stabilization (these goals can never be achieved by ordinary politicians of any ideological stripe), capable thinkers will need to focus on two always-pertinent and closely interrelated criteria of military danger: probability and disutility. This first dimension concerns issues of presumed likelihood. The second deals with assorted matters of presumed physical suffering.
“Cold War II” represents a comprehensive systemic context within which virtually all contemporary world politics could be meaningfully categorized and optimally assessed. Current “Great Power” dispositions to war, however ascertained, offer more-or-lessauspicious analytic backgrounds for still-wider nuclear interactions. But how can this portentous context be suitably tempered or decently modified?
Only the right questions can lead us to purposeful answers. Planning ahead, what explanatory theories and scenarios could best guide the Biden administration in its multiple and foreseeable interactions with North Korea, China and Russia? Before answering this many-sided question with suitable conceptual clarity, a “correct” answer will depend upon a more closely considered awareness of relevant intersections and overlaps.
Going forward with their understanding of Russian leadership orientations, President Biden’s advisors will have to consider one potentially overarching assumption: The always-troubling expectation of adversarial rationality. Depending upon the outcome of any such consideration, the determined judgments will be different and more-or-less urgent.
A primary “order of business” for America’s strategic analysts and planners will be reaching informed conclusions about any specified adversary’s ordering of preferences. By definition, only those adversaries who would value national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences would be acting rationally. Will this category include Putin’s Russia? And what about other prospective adversaries?
This question ought never be minimized, disregarded or cast aside.
Rationality, Irrationality and Madness
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 state’s national security decision-making processes.
There is nothing suitable here for the intellectually faint-hearted. 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 science-based “preparations.”
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 significant and palpable policy implications.
An irrational decision-maker in Moscow 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 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 or simply indecipherable.
Whether Putin were sometime deemed irrational or “mad,” US military planners would still have to input a generally similar calculation. Here, the analytic premise would be advanced that a 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. Further, 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, US military planners will have to include a mechanism to determine whether Russia 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 by what particular analysts might themselves “want to believe.”
Inadvertent and Accidental Nuclear War
A further analytic distinction is needed 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. False warnings, for example, which could be spawned by mechanical, electrical or computer malfunction (or by hacking) 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 Putin 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 Putin were suddenly judged humane and focused – a preposterous assumption, to be sure – Europe 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 should reduce any decipherable 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 tangible ways. At the same time, Israel never did need to worry about suffering a major war with Bahrain, Morocco or the United Arab Emirates. For Israel (it’s time for candor), the Abraham Agreements “put an end” only to nonexistent hazards.
Deterrence 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 meaningfully 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 justified?
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. 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.” 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.”
There is something else. On occasion, these same enemies could “decide,” whether consciously or unwittingly, to actually be irrational. 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, these planners would need to respond with a dialectically orchestrated and optimally counterpoised set of all possible reactions.
Once again, especially in expressly intellectual terms, this would represent an uncommonly “tall order.” Once again, it would not represent 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 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 possibly 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 war in Ukraine. 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.
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….” 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.
Chaos versus Anarchy
Careful conceptual clarifications are once again in order. Chaos is not the same as anarchy. Chaos is “more than” anarchy. Indeed, we have lived with anarchy or the absence of central government in modern world politics since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, but we have yet to descend into any worldwide chaos.
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.” For any American president conversant with the Constitution, international law 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.
Preemption, Asymmetry and Strategic Dialectic
How should the American president proceed with managing nuclear risks in Ukraine? At some point, at least in principle, the best option could sometime seem to be some sort of preemption; that is, a non-nuclear defensive first-strike directed against situationally appropriate hard targets. In actuality, it is already very late for launching any operationally cost-effective preemption against Russian forces. Any such action would come at much-too-substantial human and political costs.
In more specific regard to crisis decision-making, 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 the 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.
All this should now imply a primary obligation for the United States to focus continuously on various incremental enhancements to its nuclear deterrence posture; and to develop a wide and nuanced range of credible nuclear retaliatory options. The specific rationale of any such development 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 Russia over war in Ukraine could depend upon nuclear weapons that are deemed sufficiently low-yield or “small.”
Sometimes, in fashioning a national nuclear deterrence posture, counter-intuitive strategic insight is duly “on the mark,” When Donald Trump liked to remind his North Korean counterpart that though both have a nuclear “button,” his was “bigger,” the former president displayed a thorough unawareness of nuanced nuclear deterrent strategy.
Prevention versus Punishment
President Biden should continue to bear in mind that any US nuclear posture must remain focused on prevention rather than punishment. In 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 obligations. Any American nuclear weapons use that would be based on narrowly corrosive notions of revenge, even if only as a residual or default option, would be glaringly irrational.
These are all 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). 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. Significantly, too, there would be certain hard-to-foresee interactions or synergies taking place between US policy decisions and those of concerning American adversaries.
In those more perplexing matters involving an expectedly irrationalnuclear enemy, successful US deterrence would need to be based upon distinctly credible threats to enemy values other than national survival..
“Deliberate Ambiguity” and Adversarial Madness
America will have to rely on a broadly multi-faceted doctrine of nuclear deterrence. In turn, like its already-nuclear Israeli ally, 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. This means eschewing any “seat-of-the-pants” attraction to each and every new strategic development or eruption, and (instead) to derive or extrapolate all specific policy reactions from a pre-fashionedand comprehensive strategic nuclear doctrine.
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 Russian aggressions have become de rigeur.
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 averse 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.
Overlapping Problems of Imperfect Information and Miscalculation
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.
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.
Any such resort involving nuclear weapons on one or several sides could quickly prove catastrophic.
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 a 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 authentically catastrophic outcomes.
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 president should favor a determined decisional prudence and a posture of conspicuously 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.” For President Joe Biden, this is a time for displaying nuanced and purposeful counter-intuitive wisdom in Washington, and not for clichéd political 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 more important than ever before.
For the United States, classical Greek commentaries concerning hubris, left unheeded, could bring forth once unimaginable spasms of “retribution.” The ancient tragedians, after all, were not yet called upon to reason about nuclear decision-making. None of this is meant to build ad hoc upon America’s most manifestly reasonable fears or apprehensions, but only to remind those involved that competent national security planning must always remain a complex and detailed struggle of “mind over mind.”
These issues remain fundamentally intellectual problems, challenges requiring meticulous analytic preparation rather than any particular presidential “attitude.” Above all, such planning ought never become just another calculable contest of “mind over matter;” 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” – America could never render itself sufficiently secure from nuclear war.
In Ukraine, the historical conditions of nature bequeathed at the Peace of Westphalia (1648) could soon 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….”
In the still-clarifying imagery of ancient Greek drama, the American president should become more openly averse to any “monarchical-style” hubris than was his 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 continuously refined intellectual foundations.
Escalating crises between Washington and Moscow will not really be about relative capabilities for strategic destruction. They will be about “perceptions of credibility,” perceptions that could be erroneous and asymmetrical. These perceptions, moreover, could prove crucial in the inevitable search for “escalation dominance,” a galvanizing search that might cause Russia and/or the United States to leapfrog the sequential rungs of any considered nuclear escalation “ladder.”
There could obtain no historically-based templates of purposeful action. All possible outcomes would remain highly unpredictable and sorely problematic. Accordingly, for President Joe Biden and the United States, this time should be recognized as an 11th hour moment of prudent policy-making, a time directed not by any seat-of-the pants strategic thinking, but by a rigorously dispassionate and well-reasoned strategic dialectic.
In the end, assorted differences between Russian and American views on nuclear “firebreak” theory may not prove conclusive or policy-determinative, but they nonetheless warrant Washington’s close analyticattention. As the Russians may already be re-cycling their Soviet-era doctrines on tactical nuclear weapons, these updated iterations will still need to be expertly vetted and continuously re-assessed. Among other things, such obligatory examinations by American strategists should focus on the plausible meanings of lower yields and shorter ranges in Russian military calculations.
If Putin should sometime prove willing to cross the conventional-tactical nuclear firebreak (on the assumption that such a move would likely not invite a reciprocal cycle of nuclear escalation with the United States), the American president would face an incomparably tragic choice: capitulation or nuclear war. Though it would be best for the United States to avoid ever having to reach such a fearful decisional cross-road, there could still be no guarantees of sustaining “mutual assured prudence” between Washington and Moscow. It follows that the growing existential hazards of Russia’s nuclear doctrine must be countered incrementally and intellectually. Though there are good “answers” for the United States and its allies in this unprecedented matter, they can be determined only by capable dialectical struggles of “mind over mind.”
Looking ahead, American security and survival will hinge on fostering vital “perceptions of credibility,” Regarding Russia’s nuclear doctrine, only dedicated analytic minds can distance Planet Earth from World War III. In essence, Vladimir Putin’s nuclear doctrine is creating existential hazards for the United States. The solely rational response from Washington should be to fully understand these unsustainable hazards, and then to plan appropriately for their most efficient minimization.
The core problem here is intellectual, not political, and should be dealt with accordingly.
 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.
See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, opened for signature, December 9, 1948, entered into force, January 12, 1951, 78 U.N.T.S. 277. Although the criminalizing aspect of international law that proscribes genocidal conduct may derive from a source other than the Genocide Convention (i.e. it may emerge from customary international law and be included in different international conventions), such conduct is dearly a crime under international law. Even where the conduct in question does not affect the interests of more than one state, it becomes an international crime whenever it constitutes an offense against the world community delicto ius gentium. See M.C. Bassiouni, International Criminal Law: A Draft International Criminal Code 30‑44 (1980). See also Bassiouni, “The Penal Characteristics of Conventional International Criminal Law,” 15 Case W. Res. J. Int’l 27‑37 (1983).
 On Russia’s forcible transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia as genocide, see Professor Laurie Blank: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/04/laurie-blank-russia-invasion-ukraine-genocide/
 For very early analysis of these distinctions, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power (University of Denver, 1973; Louis René Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (University of Denver, 1975); and Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980).
 See, by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Horasis (Zürich): https://horasis.org/capping-existential-nuclear-crisis-in-ukraine/
 “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).
 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/
 The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s strategy vis-à-vis Iran, the following operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1) a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.
This key term was made famous among nuclear thinkers by Herman Kahn in seminal works On Thermonuclear War, Thinking About the Unthinkable (1962) (above) and Thinking About the Unthinkable in the 1980s (1984).
 See, for example, by this writer: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980).
 See Karl von Clausewitz’s classic discussion of “War as an Instrument of Policy” in On War (1832).
 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
 As part of this problem, Sun-Tzu’s Art of War calls for gaining the upper hand through the “unorthodox.” In Chapter 5, on “Strategic Military Power,” Sun-Tzu states succinctly: “In general, in battle, one engages with the orthodox and gains victory through the unorthodox.” The ancient Chinese author’s idea of “battle” would surely include present-day nuclear deterrence. After all, as he says elsewhere in the Art of War, at Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives:” “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting, is the true pinnacle of excellence.”
 See, by this writer, Louis René Beres: https://jewishwebsite.com/opinion/folly-redux-the-deeper-meanings-of-a-second-trump-presidency/79330/
 North Korean nuclearization was allegedly kept “under control” by Trump because Kim Jong Un had “fallen in love” with the American president. But that “love” was not lasting. Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers: “I believe because it is absurd.”
 During his dissembling tenure in the White House, little or no attention was directed toward Donald J. Trump’s undisguised 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.
This brings up the jurisprudential issues of Nuremberg-category criminality. Three principal categories of criminality were identified at the London Charter (August 1945) and in the subsequent Nuremberg Tribunal indictments. Similar but not identical terms were used at the later Tokyo Trial of Japanese war criminals. For the Nuremberg prosecutions, see: Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 14 November 1944‑1 October 1946, 42 vols., IMT Secretariat, Nuremberg, 1947‑9. Cited by A.P. D’entreves, Natural Law 110 (1951).
 See, by this author, at The War Room (Pentagon): Louis René Beres, https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/
 See, by this writer, at US News & World Report: Louis René Beres, https://www.usnews.com/opinion/op-ed/articles/2017-07-13/donald-trump-and-the-triumph-of-anti-reason-in-america
 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. As policy, “America First” always stood in sharp contrast to authoritative legal principles concerning solidarity between states. These jurisprudential standards concern a presumptively common legal struggle against aggression, genocide and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, was already 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).
In law, responsibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin for such crimes is not limited by his official position or by any requirement of his direct personal actions. 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, 71 (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 for crime s of war, genocide and genocide-like crimes is 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 Strat. 1544, E.A.S. No. 472, 82 U.N.T.S. 279, Art. 7. Under traditional international law, violations were the responsibility of the state, as a corporate actor, and not of individual human decision-makers in government or the military. Today, even if Putin could somehow argue persuasively that Russian military violations in Ukraine were being committed without his express authorization, he would remain legally responsible.
International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, and known thereby as the law of The Hague and the law of Geneva, these rules seek to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into belligerent calculations. On the main corpus of jus in bello, see: Convention No. IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, With Annex of Regulations, Oct. 18, 1907, 36 Stat. 2277, T.S. No. 539, 1 Bevans 631 (known commonly as the “Hague Regulations”); Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T. 3114, T.I.A.S. No. 3362, 75 U.N.T.S. 85; Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T. 3316, T.I.A.S. No. 3364, 75 U.N.T.S. 135; Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T. 3516, T.I.A.S. No. 3365, 75 U.N.T.S. 287.
But neither international law nor US law specifically advises particular penalties or sanctions for states that choose not to prevent or punish genocide by others. All states, most notably the “major powers” belonging to the UN Security Council, are bound, among other things, by the peremptory obligation (defined at Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties) known as pacta sunt servanda, to act in continuous “good faith.” This pacta sunt servanda obligation is itself derived from an even more basic norm of world law commonly known as “mutual assistance.” This civilizing norm was famously identified within the classical interstices of international jurisprudence, most notably by eighteenth-century Swiss legal scholar, Emmerich de Vattel, in The Law of Nations (1758).
 There are pertinent legal questions and answers here. According to William Blackstone, echoing Vattel (supra), each state and nation is expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law….” See: 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone ask about the significance of Blackstone for American jurisprudence, one need only remind that his Commentaries represent the core foundation of United States law.
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.
 See recently, by this author: Louis René Beres, “Nuclear War Avoidance: Why It Is Time to Start Worrying, Again,” Air and Space Operations Review, Spring 2022, United States Air Force, Pentagon, pp. 69-81.
Identifying “Cold War II” means expecting the world system to once again become increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of such an 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.
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.
 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.”
 For 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/
 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.
 Reminds strategic theorist Herman Kahn in his On Escalation (1965): “All accidental wars are inadvertent and unintended, but not vice-versa.” In his seminal writings, Kahn introduced a novel distinction between a surprise attack that is more-or-less unexpected and a surprise attack that arrives ex nihilo or “out of the blue.” The former, he counseled, “…is likely to take place during a period of tension that is not so intense that the offender is essentially prepared for nuclear war….” A total surprise attack, however, would be one without any immediately recognizable tension or warning signal. This particular subset of a surprise attack scenario could be difficult to operationalize for any tangible national security policy benefit. See: Herman Kahn, Thinking About the Unthinkable in the 1980s (Simon & Schuster, 1984).
 This prospect now includes the plausible advent of so-called “cyber- mercenaries.”
This brings to mind the nuclear deterrence issue of “deliberate ambiguity,” a doctrinal issue most commonly associated with Israel in the Middle East. In the end, nuclear deterrence is as much a matter of perceived intent as perceived capacity. Israel’s posture of “deliberate ambiguity” has centered on the latter; that is, on the country’s presumptive possession of nuclear weapons. For the United States, however, now facing prospects of a nuclear engagement with Russia over Ukraine, any matters of deliberate ambiguity could focus only on the former. Here, the only plausible issues of doubt would concern the credibility of American nuclear intent.
 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.
 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/
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.
 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.
 See, for example, by this author, at Yale: Louis René Beres, https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/nuclear-treaty-abrogation-imperils-global-security
 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'”).
In reference to such questions, US strategic thinkers must inquire whether accepting a visible posture of limited nuclear war would exacerbate enemy nuclear intentions or whether it would 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).
 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.
 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).
 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
 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
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
 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/
 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).
 See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Oxford University Press: https://blog.oup.com/2011/10/war-winning/
 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
 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.
 Or “thorough study,” in the language of Sun-Tzu.
 The meaningless bifurcation of “attitude” and “preparation” was invoked by Donald Trump before going off to his June 2018 “Singapore Summit” meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. In that embarrassing distinction, the former US President favored the former.
 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).
 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.
Russian and Latin American Parliamentarians Share Thoughts on Geopolitical Situation and Economic Cooperation
Russia is certainly back to Latin America, the backyard to the United States. In this fast-growing multipolar world, Russia is assertively stamping its feet, intensifying serious coordinated efforts, this time in Latin America. And the State Duma, the lower house of Russian legislators, holds the lead towards off-setting the dominance of unipolarism and U.S. hegemony, ‘authoritarianism and exceptionalism’ and most importantly to strengthen its post-Soviet presence especially due to the rapidly changing global political situation.
On September 29 – October 2, the first international Parliamentary Conference ‘Russia – Latin America’ was held in Moscow at the initiative of the State Duma. More than 200 participants, including parliamentarians from different countries of Latin America and the Caribbean attended. In March 2023 for instance, Russia held the second inter-parliamentary conference ‘Russia-Africa’ and that was followed by a summit late July. Now late September was the turn of Latin America.
Russia has long ago recognized the high potentials in the region, so it is reviewing its weaknesses and strength, and attempting to take more strategic measures in consolidating policy fixtures with ‘friendly’ countries Latin America. As experts speculated, it may continue attempts to circumvent sanctions, form new alliances and agree on more investment while pushing for expanding trade in the region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at the opening session on September 29, emphasized the fact that the presence of high-ranking legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean re-affirmed the common desire and willingness to develop a comprehensive beneficial partnership with Russia. “We are convinced that promoting direct dialogue between parliaments will open up opportunities for deepening cooperation and expanding it through new areas of joint activity,” he told the gathering of parliamentarians.
Putin, whose speech resonates with such historical names Salvador Allende, Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro as selfless fighters for justice and social equality, ceased the chance to utterly slammed United States’ military aid for Ukraine and economic sanctions on Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela and other developing nations in across the world. He vehemently argues for wholesale reforms at the global financial institutions, a faster transition to settlements in national currencies, and the creation of channels for financial and banking cooperation, as well as of new transport and logistics chains – all this facilitates the further development of mutual trade.
Referring to BRICS is an organisation which provides a forum for coordinating approaches and developing mutually acceptable solutions based on sovereignty, independence and respect for one another, Putin said Russia would support Latin America to join BRICS. Russia takes over the rotating chairship from January 2024.
Putin holds the view that, in this new polycentric architecture, countries of Latin America, that have enormous economic potential and human resources and want to pursue a sovereign, independent foreign policy, will have a leading role in the world. Russia hopes the countries in the Latin American region to make progressive and dynamic developments and further strengthen their positions in the world economy and politics. It follows that Russian politicians always advocated for Latin America, for its unity, strength and diversity.
Today with the changes taking place around the world, Latin American countries are showing a pattern in the political approach to may significant issues in the process of support to the formation of a multipolar system. In order to achieve this and their individual national goals, parliaments are expected to play its part. Apparently, the role of parliamentary diplomacy in strengthening cooperation between Russia and Latin American countries, and there is really nothing new, as it known to cut most notably across the board: in politics and security, as well as socioeconomic and humanitarian spheres.
In the Latin American region, Russia has few economic footprints, and there are huge possibilities to create new business, engage in scientific and cultural exchanges and increase tourism in both directions. It currently has a nuclear research and technology centre is being built in Bolivia, that joint biopharmaceutical enterprises are expanding their activities in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and that a metallurgical plant is being upgraded in Cuba.
In his speech, Putin also pointed to Russian-Latin American projects in medicine and public health, and biological and epidemiological security are being implemented with good results. During the coronavirus pandemic, Russia was among the first to supply Latin America with large shipments of vaccines, test systems, sanitary and hygiene products, and other medical and humanitarian goods.
Statistics show that nearly half a million Russians have fully integrated into the society in Latin American region, compared Latinos in the Russian Federation. It explicitly points to the extent how closed has become Russian society, especially being vocal on multipolarism. Simply, both inbound and outbound tourism are down, despite Russia claims to have established visa-free travel system which currently includes 27 Latin American countries.
There were roundtable sessions with themes including – Equal and mutually beneficial economic cooperation: role of the parliaments; Development of humanitarian ties between Russia and Latin America: contribution of the parliaments; Just multipolar world: role of the parliamentary diplomacy; and Security for all: position of the parliaments.
On the enhancement of economic cooperation, trade turnover between Russia and Latin American countries has increased by about a quarter and now amounts almost to US$20 billion. “We are convinced that a new world order is being built, and Russia is one of the pillars of this order, one of the main pillars that contribute to the development of multilateral approaches and establishment of mutually beneficial relations,” emphasized the Special Representative of the President of Nicaragua for Russian Affairs Laureano Ortega Murillo.
In his contribution to that, Félix Martínez Suárez, the head of the Commission on Economic Affairs of the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba, spoke about cooperation between Russia and Cuba. In 2023, exchanges and visits between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Cuba at the parliamentary level were significant. “There was a large delegation of parliamentarians with him. The agenda was intense: together with the Cuban side, six relevant working groups were created to address all the important issues of strategic bilateral cooperation in the main areas of our economies. These are finance, investment, agriculture, tourism, energy, education and legislation,” he said at the session in the State Duma.
On countering US interference in internal affairs, it was noted that in March 2023, the President of the Russian Federation approved a foreign policy strategy. And one of the priorities is cooperation on a mutually beneficial basis with Latin American countries. Security issues are key issues today, they are important for the whole world.
Deputy Chairwoman of the State Duma, Irina Yarovaya, in her speech, emphasized the special importance for Russia of cooperation with those countries in the region, where the United States of America and its allies are trying to interfere in the internal affairs.
“Nicaragua, like many other countries, was a victim of invasions and robbery by the Yankee imperialists and their allies. They have impoverished our people by destabilizing, financing terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking and arms trafficking,” said Filiberto Jacinto Rodríguez López, Chairman of the Committee on Peace, Defence, Internal Affairs and Human Rights of the National Assembly of the Republic of Nicaragua.
Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs of the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba José Luis Toledo Santander recalled that “Cuban society has been living under a monstrous blockade by the United States and its allies for 70 years, and they are trying to destroy our country.”
Chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, noted the contribution to the development of relations between Russia and Venezuela made by the Presidents Vladimir Putin and Nicolás Maduro. The task of the parliaments is to reach an absolutely new level of dialogue, to provide legislative support for the implementation of the agreements reached by the heads of states, according to Volodin.
“We have great opportunities to make our own contribution to the development of relations between our states, our nations. Venezuela and Russia are connected not only by ties of friendship and long-standing relations. We are counterparts and like-minded people, we stand for a multipolar world, building a just world order,” emphasized the Chairman of the State Duma.
“The world is not unipolar anymore. There is no more global policeman who told us what we should do and with whom we should cooperate. Just like you, we stand for a multipolar world – a world based on the principles of cooperation, respect, respect for the right to independence and sovereignty,” said Jorge Rodríguez Gómez.
“We are supporters of building a multipolar world, we stand for a just world order and believe that every country should have the opportunity to develop and plan its future,” emphasized Volodin at the meeting with the President of the National Congress of the Republic of Honduras Luis Redondo Guifarro. And also with Brazilian Veneziano Vital do Rêgo Segundo Neto.
Volodin held special bilateral meeting the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power and the Council of State of Cuba Juan Esteban Lazo Hernández. Volodin recalled the first meeting of the Commission on Cooperation between the State Duma and the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba was held in Havana in April. Among the priority areas of joint projects between Russia and Cuba, included the extraction and processing of mineral resources, the production of cane sugar, tourism, and solar energy, humanitarian and education cooperation.
The emerging polycentric world is the right time to bolster the interparliamentary format of Russia’s relations with Latin American countries, so also with Asia and Africa. The development of parliamentarism has become one of the platforms to further in-depth discussions on a number of issues facing Russia in the changing world. Latin American parliamentarians gathered there for a four-day international forum (September 29 to October 2) at the initiative of the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russian Federation.
BRICS Cooperation Mechanism Gives Hand to Global South
The 15th BRICS summit has kicked off in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 22, and the following year will bring the summit to Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan region.
As of now, more than 40 countries openly demonstrate their willingness to join the informal grouping, as the current BRICS host South Africa recently stated. In this respect, it’s worth asking what the BRICS is and what the BRICS is not.
The BRICS that started as a grouping of fast-growing economies not only withstood the test of time, but also fully transformed its identity since the first summit in 2009. Remaining an informal exclusive group, the BRICS pushes forward discussion on more than 30 distinct topics including several ones not presented in the agenda of the G20, namely regional security, tourism, and culture. It does not make the BRICS an alliance of any kind—it lacks formality including any form of sanctioning in a case of non-compliance with the decisions made on annual summits.
Neither the BRICS is a club for groundless discussions, as most of the multilateral decisions are implemented quite successfully, according to the results of a multi-year study conducted by a joint collective of Russia-Canada think-tanks, indicating average compliance surpassing 75 percent.
Also it would be too much to think of the BRICS in general and the BRICS-inspired multilateral institutions such as the New Development Bank—the group has never claimed to replace any of global organizations. The idea here is not to substitute but to compensate some of the most significant drawbacks of the international order.
The BRICS cannot promote obligatory decisions, but it has great potential in formulating the common ground in some spheres of high importance. I assume that the BRICS might be a suitable place to formulate new approaches to the Internet governance system reform, since the discussion on its key aspects (cybersecurity in particular) stagnates.
The abovementioned study shows that since the introduction of information technologies-related agenda to the BRICS in 2015, the average compliance score has surpassed 90 percent, indicating willingness of the member states to cooperate. China and Russia are the leading parties in this respect, contributing the most to the agenda development.
Taking into account a growing interest towards the BRICS from other countries of the world, it’s worth discussing the establishment of a new global partnership on the Internet governance reform with some “BRICS characteristics.” The BRICS might give a hand to those who would inevitably become the emerging forces in the Internet governance in decades to come, thanks to continuing economic transition and population growth—African and Latin American countries.
The brand-new partnership presents an attractive alternative to previously launched exclusive formats that mostly ignored the interests of the developing world. Voices from the Global South would grant recognition and support to the BRICS multilateral initiatives, among which might be the reform of some of the key Internet governance institutions including the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the Internet Society, making them more transparent and accountable.
Also, the information security agenda might flourish without direct interference from the Western parties which intend to keep their privileged negotiation position during talks on cybersecurity and cyberwarfare.
Any tangible result is achievable if only the discussed agenda becomes the main working track within the broad BRICS agenda. South Africa’s presidency this year and forthcoming Russia’s presidency in 2024 will be a high time to start.
From our partner RIAC
How Putin’s Coup-Proofing Measures Have Undermined Russia’s War Effort in Ukraine
Authoritarian leaders like President Vladimir Putin are faced with a dilemma: they require their military forces to competently conduct campaigns against external enemies, but these same capabilities make them more capable of successfully initiating coups to remove the incumbent leader. Putin, like other leaders of his ilk, is forced to balance policies which promote competence in the armed forces with measures that ensure regime survival. The latter are referred to as ‘coup-proofing’ measures, the implementation of which, to some extent explain the underperformance of the Russian war effort in Ukraine.
Counterbalancing and Parallel Forces
The coup-proofing measure of most consequence to Russia’s military performance in Ukraine is ‘counterbalancing’. This involves the introduction of new security forces to counterbalance the military and each other. A splintered security sector filled with various armed groups are in competition with each other for funding, recruits, and supplies, as well as the ruling autocrat’s attention, which is ultimately vital for attaining the aforementioned resources.
Counterbalancing confers three advantages. Firstly, it promotes loyalty by encouraging competition and distrust between militarized factions who must demonstrate allegiance to the leader to secure resources. Secondly, it deters coups because the officers and senior figures distrust their counterparts in other organizations; and thirdly, it prevents the likelihood of a coup succeeding as it is more difficult for military and security forces operating under disparate chains of command to coordinate and cooperate effectively.
To quote, a 2017 paper appearing in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, ‘If coups are akin to coordination games, counterbalancing can be understood as an effort to add additional players to the game – actors who lack the incentive to move in concert with the others.’
Counterbalancing is rarely used in isolation and may be combined with other coup-proofing measures. For example, authoritarian leaders frequently favour loyalty over meritocracy when selecting staff for senior military and security positions.
Mercenaries as Parallel Forces
Several parallel armed groups exist outside of the Russian military’s chain of command. The most high-profile example is the use of mercenaries from Wagner Group, formerly led by Yevgeny Prigozhin until his demise in August 2023. Wagner Group employs an estimated 50,000 soldiers, 40,000 of which are believed to be released prison convicts. For Putin, the introduction of mercenaries to the war in Ukraine conferred several benefits including a degree of plausible deniability, less domestic blowback from casualties, and an alternative source of manpower which was especially valuable prior to the partial mobilization in September 2022.
From a coup-proofing perspective, the introduction of a private military company (PMC) with overlapping responsibilities to the regular military promoted greater competition between senior leaders. This rivalry was exacerbated by the contest for vital resources like ammunition, supplies and personnel.
The feud between Wagner’s late leader with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov was especially bitter. Prigozhin frequently levelled scathing criticism at the two men, and other senior military officers for their handling of the war, accusing them of stealing the credit for Wagner’s battlefield successes in Ukraine, and even attempting to sabotage the PMC’s efforts by withholding vital ammunition.
For a time, this suited Putin. Prigozhin was careful to avoid directly criticizing the Russian president himself which helped to deflect any blame Putin might receive from the public onto his generals. Moreover, Prigozhin’s actions appeared to fit a preestablished pattern in Russian politics whereby senior figures jostle against each other to secure the president’s favour.
There are several Russian PMCs in addition to Wagner Group. Konstantin Pikalov, once thought to be Prigozhin’s right hand man and the head of Wagner operations in Africa, heads his own mercenary group called ‘Convoy’, which were founded in occupied Crimea in Autumn 2022. Another group is ‘Redut’, which was likely formed to provide security for Russian-owned facilities in Syria, but it believed to have been one of the first PMCs to provide personnel during the invasion of Ukraine in February last year.
The Russian energy giant Gazprom also has mercenaries in the guise of ‘private security organizations’, which energy companies were permitted to create after a new law was passed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in February 2023. It is unclear whether the various groups associated with Gazprom subsidiary Gazprom Neft will exclusively guard the company’s energy facilities or whether they will take on active combat roles in Ukraine.
Other Parallel Forces
Mercenaries are not the only parallel forces at play. In 2016, Putin formed the Rosgvardiya (National Guard) under the leadership of Viktor Zolotov, the president’s former bodyguard. The formation of the Rosgvariya entailed the reorganization of preexisting internal security forces into a new agency which directly reports to Putin. Ostensibly, the Rosgvardiya’s responsibilities largely concern public order, policing, and counterterrorism, but the 300,000 to 400,000 strong force certainly acts as a deterrent to would-be coup-plotters. The Rosgvardiya has also reportedly seen action in Ukraine.
Similar examples of counterbalancing can be seen in the intelligence sphere. Three of the country’s most important intelligence services, the GRU, the SVR, and the FSB, each have their own elite special forces contingents. Competition and mutual distrust between the three is rife due to a high degree of overlapping tasks and low degree of cooperation. The FSB have attracted a particularly high degree of rancour from the GRU and SVR because of its increasingly proactive role conducting operations beyond its domestic remit. Additionally, counterintelligence officers from the FSB are embedded directly within the armed forces to monitor signs of dissent.
Finally, there are parallel forces provided by the Russian republics. Just two days after the invasion of Ukraine, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed leader of Chechnya, confirmed that the 141st Special Motorized Regiment – better known as the Kadyrovites – were operating in the country. The Kadyrovites are essentially a paramilitary organization loyal to Kadyrov, functioning as his private army.
Like Prigozhin, Kadyrov has been highly critical of the Russian military leadership but avoided levelling such critiques at Putin. By emphasizing the effectiveness of Chechen fighters over regular Russian forces, Kadyrov may have been hoping to make himself appear more indispensable to Putin.
How Coup-Proofing Degrades Military Effectiveness
The introduction of several players incentivized to hold each other in mutual suspicion is not conducive to an effective and unified war effort, as events in Ukraine have demonstrated. As explained by James M. Powell, coup-proofing ‘undermines the fighting capacity of a military by creating coordination challenges in the field.’ Unity of command is necessary for a coup to be effective, but it is just as necessary for conducting a war. The absence of unified command has thus jeopardized the entire Russian war effort.
The lack of a unified command structure was evident in the early stages of the war. In the first months following the invasion, Western and Ukrainian intelligence agencies and analysts were unable to identify a single overall commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine. Instead, it was believed that separate formations were drawn from each of Russia’s four military districts and placed under the command of senior officers from each district, with Putin taking on an oversized role, sometimes reportedly giving orders to field formations. Last April, Army General Aleksandr Dvornikov was finally named as overall commander but there have been at least three reshuffles at the top since then.
Wagner’s increasing share of frontline duties further undermined unity of command, with Prigozhin and his mercenaries not subject to the authority of the regular armed forces. Tensions between Prigozhin and the miliary leadership culminated in Wager Group’s mutiny in June. A civil war or coup seemed momentarily possible in Russia until a deal was brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Prigozhin was later killed in a plane crash in August removing him from the chessboard altogether, but his insubordination was a clear sign that Putin had miscalculated and allowed the rivalries simmering between the members of his inner circle to burn too hot.
Beyond Prigozhin’s dramatic rebellion, Coup-proofing has created other unintended consequences which have hindered Russia’s military efforts. An overemphasis on loyalty at the expense of competence coupled with fierce competition between the security and defence services have created incentive structures that have undermined honesty and integrity, inter-service cooperation, and professionalism.
These trends were identified by analysts as being particularly pervasive in the Russian intelligence community even before the invasion of Ukraine. For example, a 2021 Congressional Research Service report noted that ‘Agencies compete with each other for greater responsibilities, budgets, and political influence, often at the expense of other agencies.’ As Mark Galeotti puts it, ‘The competition for presidential approval is especially strong and has led to a perverse competition to tell the boss what they think he wants to hear, not what he needs to hear.’ This culture likely incentivised the Russian intelligence community to provide briefings to Putin prior to the invasion that confirmed his preconceptions that Ukraine would offer little resistance.
It is equally questionable if the most competent officers have been granted the responsibility to lead Russia’s war on Ukraine. Sergei Surovikin, a veteran of several conflicts and broadly considered to be capable officer by most military analysts, was made the overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine in October 2022. However, Surovikin was replaced in January the following year by Valery Gerasimov, despite the latter having already attracted much of the blame for implementing a faulty strategy in his role as the Chief of the General Staff. In August, Surovikin was then stripped of his role as the commander of the Russian aerospace forces due to suspicions that he was linked to the Wagner rebellion.
Other officers have met similar fates. On July 12, Major General Ivan Popov, who led the 58th Combined Arms Army stationed in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhya region, disclosed that he had been relieved of his command after he made complaints to Gerasimov regarding the lack of troop rotations. He also highlighted issues his soldiers were having with counterbattery radar and artillery reconnaissance. Popov’s dismissal indicates that senior military personnel are seemingly unable to report the facts on the ground to their superiors without facing charges of disloyalty or disciplinary action. Such a culture, especially within the Russian military’s highly hierarchal command structure will make it increasingly difficult for commanders to make informed decisions based on accurate information.
Thus far, Putin’s coup-proofing strategy has succeeded in fragmenting the Russian security elite sufficiently to secure his hold on power, despite Prigozhin’s short-lived insubordination. However, these same measures which have enabled Putin to safeguard his rule have seriously undermined Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. The constituent parts of Russia’s defence and security apparatuses fail to act as a whole and there is ample evidence that senior leaders have been promoted on the basis of perceived loyalty over competence. A culture of competition and distrust has hindered cooperation, coordination, and honesty, which has led to poor decision-making, the results of which have played out on the battlefields of Ukraine since February last year.
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