“Perceptions Of Credibility”: Existential Hazards Of Russian Nuclear Doctrine

Abstract: In his escalating war of aggression[1] and genocide[2] against Ukraine,[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]


“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[6] can ever be determined about such sui generis matters (i.e., matters without precedent),[7] roughly-calculatedprobabilities could still be ascertainable.              

               At their functional core, such calculations must always be about dialectical thinking processes.[8] 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.”[9]

               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.[10]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,”[11] 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.”[12] 

               Always, but especially now, nuclear war avoidance should be approached by national leaders as a daunting intellectual problem.[13] 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,[14] a corrosive American era of cascading decision-making incoherence[15] on strategic matters,[16] 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,[17] 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.”[18]

               Routinely, as understood from the interrelated standpoints of disciplined doctrine and formal logic, Trump’s illogical appeals exhibited grave errors in strategic reasoning.[19] Most obvious among these multiple and synergistic fallacies was the argument known asthe argumentum ad bacculum.[20] 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,[21] a war of aggression and genocide waged against hospitals, schools, nursing home and child-care centers?[22] How can the United States best prepare for nuclear war avoidance or genocide[23] 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,[24] a hard-to-decipher military chaos that harbors variously latent nuclear perils.[25]

Probability and Disutility

               For the United States, it is high time for fewer clichés and greater intellection.[26] 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”[27] 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?

               Quo Vadis?

               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.[28] 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.”[29]

               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,[30] 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.”[31]

 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.[32] False warnings, for example, which could be spawned by mechanical, electrical or computer malfunction (or by hacking)[33] 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.[34]

               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.[35] 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.”[36]  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.”[37]

               There is something else. On occasion, these same enemies could “decide,” whether consciously or unwittingly, to actually be irrational.[38]  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.[39]

               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….”[40] 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.[41] Indeed, we have lived with anarchy or the absence of central government in modern world politics since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648,[42] but we have yet to descend into any worldwide chaos.[43]

               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[44] 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.[45]

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.[46]

                 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,[47] 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,[48] 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.[49] In turn, like its already-nuclear Israeli ally,[50] specific elements of this “simple but difficult” doctrine could sometime need to be rendered less “ambiguous.” This complex and finely nuanced modification will require an even more determined focus on prospectively rational and irrational enemies, including both national and sub-national foes.[51] 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.[52]

 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.

Final Observations

               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.[53]

               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.”[54] 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.”[55] 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.”[56]

               These issues remain fundamentally intellectual problems, challenges requiring meticulous analytic preparation[57] rather than any particular presidential “attitude.”[58] Above all, such planning ought never become just another calculable contest of “mind over matter;”[59] 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”[60] – 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.

[1] 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.

[2]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).

[3] 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/

[4] 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).

[5] See, by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Horasis (Zürich):  https://horasis.org/capping-existential-nuclear-crisis-in-ukraine/

[6] “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).

[7] 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/

[8] The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s strategy  vis-à-vis Iran, the following operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1)  a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.

[9]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).

[10] See, for example, by this writer: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980).

[11] See Karl von Clausewitz’s classic discussion of “War as an Instrument of Policy” in On War (1832).

[12] 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

[13] 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.”

[14] See, by this writer, Louis René Beres: https://jewishwebsite.com/opinion/folly-redux-the-deeper-meanings-of-a-second-trump-presidency/79330/

[15] 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.”

[16] 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.

[17]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).

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

[19] 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

[20] 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).

[21]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.

[22]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.

[23]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).

[24] 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.

[25]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.

[26] 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.

[27]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.

[28]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.

[29] 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.”

[30] 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/

[31] 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.

[32] 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).

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

[34]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.

[35] 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.

[36] 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/

[37]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.


[38] 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.

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

[40] 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.

[41]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.

[42]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.

[43]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.

[44]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.

[45]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.'”).

[46]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).

[47] 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.

[48] 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).

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

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

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

[52] 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/

[53] 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).

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

[55] 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

[56] 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.

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

[58] 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.

[59] 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).

[60] 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.

Prof. Louis René Beres
Prof. Louis René Beres
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.