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“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:

[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):

[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:

[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).

[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:

[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, 

[19] See, by this writer, at US News & World Report:  Louis René Beres,

[20] See, by this author, at US News & World Report, Louis René Beres: 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):

[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:

[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,

[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, See also, concerning US ally Israel:

[50] See, by this author (who was Chair of Project Daniel for Israeli PM Ariel Sharon): See also: and

[51]The prospect of sub-national nuclear foes brings to attention the threat of nuclear terrorism. See, by this author, Louis René Beres,

[52] See, for example, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Harvard National Security Journal:

[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:

[55] For much earlier similar warnings, by this author, see his October 1981 article at World Politics (Princeton):

[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.

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) Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Democracies failed attempt in Russia



The Soviet Union was already on the edge of disintegration in the late 1980s. The country’s economy was strained by a costly military intervention in Afghanistan, which began in December 1979. Domestic issues, such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, sparked fury among Soviet residents, who felt empowered to express their discontent thanks to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s democratic changes. These circumstances contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. More than a dozen new democracies erupted from the ashes of the Soviet Union. True democracy has a few fundamental qualities, such as free and fair elections, the role of the media, education, the judiciary, political parties, and religious tolerance, amongst many others. This research paper will look at how democracy hyped in the Soviet Union and the commonly used tools for democracy’s timely success and giving the theoretical perspective and also looking at the factors that proved to be hurdles in the way of liberal democracy for Russia.

Soviet Union was one of the world’s largest countries in the late 1800s. It stretches from Europe’s Black Sea to Asia’s Bering Straits in the Far East.  It was difficult to govern due of its enormous size. It almost had a population of over 125 million people. Ethnic Russians made up half of the group. The rest consisted of a vast number of; Germans, Poles, Slavs, Asians. Within the Empire, there were roughly twenty different nationalities. Each had their own dialect and traditions. Many people were unable to communicate in Russian. Within this diversified community, almost every major religion was represented. The Russian Empire was politically, economically, and socially backwards in comparison to Western Europe. There was minimal industry, and peasant farmers made up the vast majority of the population. In this research paper we will try to understand the factors involved in the fall of Soviet Union and the major events leading to the rise of democracy.

The Constructivist theory can be applied on the situation of Russia and the reason why democracy failed there. As according to the constructivist everything is socially constructed and generally accepted phenomena this makes anything widely right or wrong, acceptable or not acceptable. For example ruling or governing a country is more acceptable and proper when a democratic path is chosen and wrong when any other or slightly differing way is used. The western nations try to democratise the whole globe but it’s not possible, every nation should have a form of government that is suitable for its public not something that is induced by the west. Only considering the democratised nations modern and up to date is also because of the constructivist nature of the phenomena.

The Tsar

The Tsarist state system, which was well established in the Soviet Union, had taken a long time to build. The Tsar’s authority was bolstered by a number of factors. The ‘Pillars of Autocracy’ are what they’re called. Army, civil service, Orthodox, and Church were all mentioned. There was no elected parliament in the Empire until 1905, and there were no elections for government seats. Tsarist power could not be challenged through legal or constitutional means.  


A succession of Tsars presided over this large and diverse Empire. As autocrats, they ruled the country. This meant that only the Tsar could rule over Russia: Tsars felt that they had a divine right to rule Russia, and that God had bestowed their position and power upon them. Ministers were chosen by the Tsar, he could also remove them whenever he wanted. They were usually selected from the Royal family or the nobility. The civil service assisted the Tsar in running the empire by carrying out his orders and preserving his power. Their privilege was owed to the Tsar and was based on their services. This instilled loyalty since opposing him would result in the loss of power and status. The Russian civil service was considered as backward and greedy around the turn of the century: many civil officials were underpaid, resulting in widespread bribery. Years of service, rather than competence, were used to determine promotion. A massive police system enforced the Tsar’s order, reporting suspicious behaviour and destroying dissident groups: The secret police played a crucial role in tracking down and spying on adversaries. They had the authority to detain possible threats as needed. Okhrana agents worked undercover, infiltrating groups that could pose a threat to the Tsar. They acted on behalf of the Tsar and treated citizens as they thought would be proper. Torture and murder were among their tactics. Exile to a remote part of Siberia was a common punishment for opponents of the Tsar. Thousands of people who were considered enemies of the state were deported to Siberia. They were so far away that they had no prospect of posing a serious threat to Tsarist control.

Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas II controlled Russia in 1894. He and his German-born wife Alexandra were staunch supporters of autocracy. He was, however, a weak individual who considered the mundane task of a king to be tedious. He was more interested in his personal matters than running the state affairs. Tsar Nicholas II, who was unsure of himself and indecisive, was readily swayed by persuasive government workers. He was not a reformist like his grandfather neither an oppressor like his father, knowing no where to begin he invited everyone to his coronation including the peasants. Seeing free food and drinks the poor people which lead to a stampede and 1500 died and got injured, the Khodyna Tragedy happened in May, 30th 1896. Soon after the tragedy Nicholas went to a party with the French due to which he was referred to as Nicholas, The Bloody. The rule of Tsars was quickly becoming outdated and the people were in search of new form of government and. for many the solution was simple looking at the west republics, democracies and constitutional monarchies. But a small group of people rejected the idea of following the west and were more interested in giving birth to a new idea called Communism.  Bolsheviks’

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party gathered for their Second Party Congress on August 11, 1903, and the members voted. As a result, the Mensheviks (‘minority’) and the Bolsheviks (‘majority’) divided the party into two sections. In reality, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, were a minority party that did not gain power until 1922. Differing opinions on party membership and ideology caused the party to split. Lenin envisioned the party as a forerunner of people devoted to a proletarian revolution. This helped the Bolsheviks gain popularity, and their tough stance against the bourgeoisie appealed to the younger generation.

Bloody Sunday On Sunday, January 22, 1905, everything was up in the air. Unarmed people were fired upon by the Tsar’s army during a peaceful protest led by a preacher in St Petersburg. There were 200 people dead and 800 injured. The Tsar’s subjects would never trust him again.

 The Social Revolutionary Party became the major political party, establishing the October Manifesto later that year, riding on the subsequent surge of popular outrage. The Bolsheviks were pushed by Lenin to adopt violent action, but the Mensheviks opposed these demands as compromising Marxist values. The Bolsheviks had 13,000 members in 1906, while the Mensheviks had 18,000. The Bolsheviks remained a minority group in the party in the early 1910s. Because Lenin was exiled in Europe and the Duma elections were boycotted, there was no political platform from which to campaign or gather support. Furthermore, revolutionary politics were not in high demand. The years 1906-1914 were mostly peaceful, and the Tsar’s moderate reforms deterred extremist backing. Rallying cries for national unity put the Bolsheviks’ demands for reform on the back foot when the First World War broke out in 1914.

World wars and its impact on the Socio-Politics of USSR

The Russian empire of Czar Nicholas II was one of the empires that fell apart during World War I. Nicholas was the undisputed monarch of a realm of nearly 150 million people stretching from Central Europe to the Pacific from the edge of Afghanistan to the Arctic when he declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in July 1914. Nicholas was forced to abdicate less than three years later, in March 1917, after soldiers in Petrograd joined striking workers in protest of his authority. The Romanov dynasty’s three centuries of power came to an end in July when he and his family were dragged into a cellar by Bolshevik revolutionaries and shot and stabbed to death. The Soviet Union rose quickly from the ruins of the Russian empire to become a global force. Czar Nicholas II’s Russian empire was one of the empires that came apart during World War I. When Nicholas declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in July 1914, he was the unchallenged ruler of a realm spanning about 150 million people from Central Europe to the Pacific, from the edge of Afghanistan to the Arctic. Nicholas was forced to abdicate less than three years later, in March 1917, when soldiers in Petrograd joined strikers in defiance of his authority. In July, Nicholas and his family were carried into a cellar by Bolshevik revolutionaries and shot and stabbed to death, bringing the Romanov dynasty’s three centuries of dominance to an end. From the ruins of the Russian empire, the Soviet Union rose quickly to become a global force. Historians continue to dispute whether World War I was a game-changer that triggered the Russian Revolution or merely hastened the inevitable collapse of an outmoded monarchy unfit to compete in the contemporary world. Russia was at a critical juncture prior to the conflict. “Some believe that before 1914, Russia was progressively adopting more modern political and social structures, that it had a lively culture, a highly educated elite, that it had survived the turmoil of the 1905 revolution, and that it had the world’s fastest-growing economy,” Miner adds. However, as he points out, the Czarist administration faced numerous dangers to its stability, ranging from deplorable urban working conditions to labour unrest, which the Czar’s army attempted to quell in 1912 by massacring gold miners in Siberia. To make matters worse, Nicholas II began to reverse the meagre democratic reforms to which he had consented in 1905. As a result of the archaic czarist regime’s drive to maintain power, “the Russian Empire trailed behind the rest of Europe in terms of economic and industrial strength,” according to Lynne Hartnett, a historian. As the consequences of its manufacturers couldn’t produce enough weaponry and ammunition to equip the Czar’s 1.4 million-man army, Russia became vulnerable in a conflict. The Russians had 800,000 men in uniform at the outset of the war who didn’t even have rifles to train with, and those who did had to make do with antiquated weaponry that were nearly 40 years old. Some soldiers were forced to fight unarmed until they were able to obtain a weapon from a soldier who had been killed or injured. Because Russia’s initial bullet output was only 13,000 rounds per day, they had to make every shot count.

The war swiftly devolved into a fiasco, with Russia suffering a humiliating defeat in the Battle of Tannenberg only a few weeks in. Approximately 30,000 Russian soldiers were killed or injured, and the Germans captured approximately 100,000. As the months went on, things didn’t get any better. The Russian empire had lost over one million troops by the end of the year. Russia’s ammunition supplies were nearly depleted, and the country’s infrastructure was ill-equipped to replace troops efficiently. Despite the fact that peasant soldiers suffered the most casualties, the most serious losses for regime stability were within the officer corps, when push came to shove in 1917, the army was not a reliable supporter of the monarchy. Despite the fact that Russia produced enough food to sustain its population during the war, Russians went hungry. The issue was not manufacturing but distribution and transportation, which resulted in frequent shortages. The czarist state’s inefficiencies began to erode political support. Russia had won World War I, the struggle that had brought an end to the Czarist monarchy, but there would be no peace. Later that year, civil war broke out between the Bolsheviks and regime opponents. The Bolsheviks eventually won, and a treaty establishing the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was signed in 1922.

The tale of the Soviet Union in World War II is one of many wars. When World War II began, the Soviet Union was virtually allied with Nazi Germany in a rather standard European interstate conflict. Despite the fact that the Germans did the most of the combat in Poland, the Soviet Union took control of the eastern half. The Soviet Union supplied Nazi Germany with huge supplies of crucial raw resources until June 22, 1941, when Germany began Operation Barbarossa. In addition, the Soviet Union provided Germany with access to the Far East, particularly rubber, which was transported across Siberia. It also battled Finland in the 1939–1940 “Winter War” and invaded Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and what is now Moldova in 1940. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, wanted Germany to provide greater technological assistance than it was willing to provide.  Part of Hitler’s motivation for conquering the country was to acquire its natural resources. The second war was fought over control of the Mediterranean and did not involve the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, the Germans launched an attack on the Soviet Union, possibly the largest single component of World War II. The Soviet Union became an ally of the United Kingdom and a beneficiary of US Lend-Lease aid almost overnight. In the Soviet Union and Russia, the “War on the Eastern Front” is known as the “Great Patriotic War.” It lasted 1,418 days, and between 26 and 27 million Soviet citizens, largely civilians, died as a result. The Soviet Union continued to engage the majority of German forces even after the Western Allies landed in Europe. The total number of Soviet soldiers killed on the battlefield was 8.7 million. Following Germany’s defeat, the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War, which had begun on December 7, 1941, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The Soviet Union attacked the Japanese Army in Manchuria on August 9, 1945, and it surrendered eight days later. The Soviet endeavour, particularly the sudden turn of events in 1942 and 1943, transformed a “pariah state” experimenting with a new economic and political system into a successful proponent of the same, as well as a space-bound superpower with resurrected imperial trappings. For example, the Soviet nuclear programme began in 1942. During the Cold War, the importance of its armed forces to the overall Allied victory was overlooked in the West. However, the reconciliation effort that began in the 1980s and the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 changed this.

End to the Mighty Soviet Union

During the Russian Revolution of 1917, revolutionary Bolsheviks deposed the Russian tsar and formed four socialist republics. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed in 1922 when Russia and her far-flung republics merged. Vladimir Lenin, a Marxist revolutionary, was the first leader of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was billed as “a pure democracy,” but it was just as restrictive as the czarist monarchy that preceded it in many ways. It was dominated by a single party, the Communist Party, which insisted that every Russian citizen pledge loyalty to it. Following the Dictator Joseph Stalin’s rise to power in 1924, the state took entire control of the economy, overseeing all industrial activities and constructing collective farms. It was also in charge of all aspects of political and social life. Those who spoke out against Stalin’s policies were either jailed and transported to gulags or executed. Stalin’s ruthless actions were criticised by Soviet authorities after his death in 1953, but the Communist Party remained in power. They concentrated on the Cold War with Western countries, in which they engaged in an expensive and deadly “arms race” with the US while using military force to suppress anticommunism and establish their hegemony in Eastern Europe.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, a long-serving Communist Party official, was elected President of the Soviet Union in March 1985. He came into office with a stagnating economy and a political system that made reform nearly impossible. Gorbachev enacted two sets of policies in the hopes of making the USSR a more rich and productive country. Glasnost, or political openness, was the first of them. Glasnost removed remnants of Stalinist repression, such as book bans and the ever-present secret police, and granted Soviet citizens unprecedented freedoms. Political detainees have been released. Newspapers might publish government criticism. For the first time, elections were open to parties other than the Communist Party.

Perestroika, or economic restructuring, was the name given to the second series of reforms. Gorbachev believed that loosening the government’s control on the Soviet economy was the best way to resuscitate it. Individuals and cooperatives were allowed to own enterprises for the first time since the 1920s because he believed that private initiative would lead to innovation. Workers were given the freedom to strike in order to demand better pay and working conditions. Gorbachev was also a proponent of foreign investment in Soviet businesses.

These reforms, however, took a long time to produce fruit. The “command economy” that had kept the Soviet state afloat had been destroyed by Perestroika, but the market economy took time to evolve. Gorbachev’s initiatives seemed to have only one result: rationing, shortages, and long lines for scarce products. As a result, people became more dissatisfied with his government. Gorbachev believed that improving the Soviet economy necessitated improved relations with the rest of the world, particularly with the United States. Even as President Ronald Reagan dubbed the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire” and began a massive military build-up, Gorbachev declared that he would not participate in the weapons race. He declared that Soviet forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan, where they had been fighting since 1979, and that the Soviet military presence in the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe would be decreased. This noninterventionist policy had significant consequences for the Soviet Union–for starters, it caused the Eastern European alliances to “crumble like a dry saltine cracker in just a few months,” as Gorbachev put it. The first revolution of 1989 occurred in Poland, where non-Communist trade unionists in the Solidarity movement negotiated with the Communist government for more liberal elections, which they won handily. As a result, nonviolent revolutions erupted across Eastern Europe. In November, the Berlin Wall came down, and in the same month, Czechoslovakia’s Communist government was overthrown by the “velvet revolution.”

This sense of possibilities rapidly spread throughout the Soviet Union. Frustration with the dismal economy, along with Gorbachev’s laissez-faire attitude toward Soviet satellites, sparked independence movements in republics on the periphery of the Soviet Union. The Baltic republics (Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia) declared their independence from Moscow one by one. Concerned members of the Communist Party in the military and government placed Gorbachev under house arrest on August 18, 1991. The official explanation for his detention was that he was “unable to lead due to health issues,” but the public knew otherwise. The coup leaders announced a state of emergency. The military advanced on Moscow, but human chains and residents erected barricades to protect the Russian Parliament. Boris Yeltin, the then-chairman of parliament, rallied the masses by standing on top of one of the tanks. After three days, the coup failed. On December 8, a newly liberated Gorbachev proceeded to Minsk to meet with the presidents of the Republic of Belarus and Ukraine, signing a deal that separated the two republics from the Soviet Union and established the Commonwealth of Independent States. “The Soviet Union as a topic of international and geopolitical reality no longer exists,” the accord stated. After a summit in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, eight of the nine remaining republics declared their independence from the USSR a few weeks later. (Georgia became a member two years later.) Back in Moscow, Gorbachev’s star was fading, while Boris Yelstin, the man who had stood atop that tank in front of parliament, now controlled both parliament and the KGB. Gorbachev’s departure as president was unavoidable, and he stepped down on Christmas Day, 1991, declaring, “We’re now living in a new world.” The Cold War, the weapons race, and the country’s insane militarization, which have wrecked our economy, public attitudes, and morality, have all, come to an end.” The once-mighty Soviet Union had been demolished.

Democracies Failed attempt in Russia

Each of the liberal democratic canon’s features has been adopted in Russia, although in a strangely warped form. Its democracy reflected in a samovar, to quote Trotsky. Economic disintegration, rampant crime, the collapse of public morals, growing death rates, loss of international influence, and the continuation in power of most of the old communist-era elite have all accompanied its stumbling steps down the road to democracy. Western liberals generally blame these problems on Russia’s political culture or the personal traits of its leaders, rather than questioning the applicability and appropriateness of their own democratic model. Russia has failed democracy, not democracy that has failed Russia. In fact, limiting democracy to a collection of ideals and institutions using a checklist method is extremely foolish. Any consideration of politics is missing, including the struggle for resources and clashes of ideas among various social and political groupings. The premise is that once democratic norms and institutions are in place, political parties will arise to compete for votes, and sensible policies and effective governance would follow. Rather than a forum for policy resolution, democracy is considered as a source of political legitimacy. After all, according to the market democracy paradigm, the new Russian government had no choice but to liberalise the market. When you think about it, it’s a strange kind of democracy that starts by telling people they don’t have any other options.


The western nations need to learn the lesson that any political ideology is not forcibly induced upon a nation especially a country like Russia with a strong history of authoritarian regimes. Every nation has its own set of ways and rules to modernize its society and economy. For the most part, democracy in the USSR or Russia is not defined by what is contained in decent Western constitutions or university textbooks. It’s what happened once Communism fell apart in the country. Before 1991, democracy was regarded to be the best form of government. However, in Russia, elections were rigged, elderly people died hungry, tanks blew up the parliament, and colonial wars were launched. The Russians were all perplexed as to whether or not this was democracy. They looked to the West for guidance because western democratic governments were the ultimate source of guidance for them. However, due to differences in society’s upbringing and cultural norms, democracy could not flourish as much as it could in the West, and a more authoritarian regime was established.

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The Fate of Ukraine: Can the West Stop Russia?



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The options of financial containment are exhausting as Russia bristled through the last obstacle to its domination in the Luhansk province of Donbas. With the anticlimactic fall of the city of Lysychansk, Russian troops have turned to Kramatorsk and Slovyansk – the forefront cities in the neighboring Donetsk region. A heavy shower of artillery rocks both the cities as Russian forces (alongside the separatist fractions) are tilting toward drawn-out ground warfare to triumph over Ukraine’s southeast –  cementing a formation extending down to Crimea, the former southern-Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014. The strategic victory over Donbas would compensate for the initial failure in central Ukraine and allow Russia to regroup to eventually pressure Kyiv into surrender. Despite visible attrition in Russian forces, intense missile strikes have resumed in Kyiv and Kharkiv while Ukrainian defensive forces are preparing to launch a counteroffensive to reclaim Kherson. The Western coalition is privy to this subtle shift in momentum – albeit reacting a little too late!

The G7 summit was a mockery of the supposed resolve the West wished to portray. Banning gold imports from Russia and debating on an oil price cap was the highlight of the meeting (looking past the crude retorts by soon to be the ex-prime minister of the UK). Admittedly, the embargo on gold exports would hurt the Russian economy. Russia holds approximately $100-140 billion in gold reserves – about 20% of the total holdings of its central bank. Budgetary estimates reveal that gold is Russia’s second-most profitable export commodity – secondary only to energy exports. The ban would significantly dent trade as almost 90% of the gold export revenue comes from the G7 economies. And while Russia would still be able to streamline gold to alternative economies in Asia, the embargo would effectively “[deny] access to about $19 billion of revenues a year,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his interview with CNN. Thus, the US is seemingly determined to tumble the Russian economy to cripple the Kremlin’s ambitions in Ukraine. The mantra is the same – cutoff maximum revenues to the point that Russia struggles to finance its war of attrition. Unfortunately, such strategies are not enough.

Placing an oil price cap on Russian supplies is trickier than banning gold imports. For starters, gold is not essential for economic and social survival and, frankly, not the basis of upheaval in many developed economies struggling with skyrocketing inflation. While gold exports cannot flow easily to alternate markets, Russia has been sufficiently successful in replacing Europe as the prime market for its crude supplies.

Six months since the invasion and revenues earned by Russia from oil exports are already up by more than 50%, according to a market report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Since the invasion, Europe has relatively reduced its reliance on Russian oil while the US has absolutely banned crude imports from Russia. Still, India has procured roughly one-fifth of total Russian exports since the invasion – up from less than 1% pre-war quota. According to an exclusive Reuters report, Indian customs documents reveal that companies are rapidly replacing the US dollar to evade sanctions and purchase Russian energy supplies. In June alone, India imported roughly 44% of its 1.7 million tonnes of Russian coal via non-dollar settlements – either in yuan or the Hong Kong dollar. In July, that number increased over a fifth to a record high of 2.06 million tonnes.

Alternatively, China has been the core defiant force against Western pressure – despite not outright supporting Putin – terming sanctions against Russia as “illegal” and “Immoral”. China has also been a crucial economic lever for Russia – both symbolically and practically. According to the General Administration of Customs China, bilateral trade with Russia increased by 29% YoY during the first seven months this year. The most notably traded commodity is the Russian crude. Beijing imported roughly 55% more Russian oil in May compared to the same period last year, prodding Russia to replace Saudi Arabia as its biggest oil supplier. In combination, China and India have counterbalanced the revenue shortfall by $24 billion in energy imports from Russia – more than $13 billion in revenue compared to 2021. The US should now question: how exactly can a price cap work in this scenario?

According to official sources, the G7 coalition is considering placing a cap at $40-60 per barrel of Russian oil. However, the mechanism of implementation is still hazy. As of now, the ambitious plan to cap Russian oil revenues is still very much an ambition, without any concrete structure or broader consensus. On one hand, the G7 is considering to cap the oil revenues of Russia. On the other hand, the EU is easing payment restrictions for oil supply from Russian monopolies like Gazprom Neft and Rosneft. Many experts have questioned the viability of such a theoretical (and contradictory) policy. “The price cap policy would not put Russia under the immediate fiscal stress many expect,” said Mark Mozur, a market analyst at S&P Global Commodity Insights.

Failure to bring India and China on board would automatically tune the futility of the plan before it even gets launched. European insurance services provided to Russian oil cargoes could be replaced by Asian counterparts, assuming that the European companies would comply instead of overriding the cap to avoid a retaliatory cut back on oil supply from Russia. The recent slash in gas supplies through Nord Stream 1 (NS1) pipeline hints that Russia could potentially choke oil supply to Europe if a price cap is enacted. “As far as I understand, we won’t be supplying oil to those countries which would impose such price limits. And our oil (and oil products) will be redirected to the countries which are ready to cooperate with us,” said Elvira Nabiullina – Governor Russian Central Bank. According to the Russian Ministry of Finance, fossil fuel revenues have already surpassed last year’s budget projections. Thus, Russia is not short on finance for the remainder of this year. Yet a winter without Russian oil or gas would be a nightmare for a Europe already grappling with hyperinflation. Citing recent estimates by JP Morgan, if Russia resorts to retaliatory output cuts, the global oil prices could soar to around $380 per barrel. Hence, despite cutting export volumes, profits from oil sales would still flourish the Russian coffers. Ultimately, the superficial policy of a price cap could only spell doom – not just for Europe but for the entire global economy teetering on the cusp of a recession.

Mr. Richard Connolly – Director of the Eastern Advisory Group – perfectly sums my position: “For as long as the political will is there in the Kremlin and for as long as export prices remain high, I don’t see any immediate financial constraints confronting the Kremlin.” Thus, the desperate cartel-like strategies by the G7 economies only highlight the West’s constrained toolkit. Russia has successfully projected force in eastern Ukraine while simultaneously pressing intensely for Kyiv. The West, on the other hand, has focused on fortifying its own security instead of resolving the conflict in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly exuded optimism – refusing to cede the captured territory to Russia and hoping to negotiate from a position of strength. However, that position would almost certainly falter by 2023 when Western aid starts to dry up. “No one expects another $54 billion [in aid to Ukraine],” said Peter Baker, the Chief White House correspondent for The New York Times.

The truth is, while the NATO expansion might detain Putin from launching another invasion in Europe; it would not impede Russia from further dismantling Ukraine. Perhaps the Western bloc should pause and consider a few harsh realities. Firstly, the prospective expansion of NATO was the very catalyst that sparked the invasion in the first place. And secondly, an embargo on Russian commodities would not substantially damage the Kremlin unless Asia (predominantly India and China) supports the western consensus. And that support would certainly not be gained by pressuring India or evoking tensions over Taiwan with China.

The skewed western logic evades common sense sometimes. The West is cautious not to supply advanced weaponry to Kyiv; avoid tilting the war against Russia to the point of risking a nuclear retaliation from Putin. However, advancing Ukraine to retrieve captured territory in the south is somehow a safer strategy. It is unbelievably naive! And I believe the US already realizes this paradoxical reality yet continues to push forward – to save face and prolong the defeat of its pseudo-democratic rhetoric. Understandably, a push for diplomacy with Russia – though the ethical path to prevent further bloodshed – would be a swift political death to President Biden, as he prepares his bid for re-election in 2024. Therefore, we should be ready for two outcomes: a segregated Ukraine or mass destruction in Europe.

Ultimately, these sanctions and strategies, the NATO induction of Finland and Sweden, and the supposed candidacy of Ukraine to the EU have done nothing to derail Russia. Putin shows no sign of distress while political and economic attrition is gradually gaining a foothold in the US-led coalition. And expecting Putin to hang his gloves just because the West is exhibiting its renewed post-cold war cohesion is as fantastical as expecting a Ukrainian victory against Russia without detrimental consequences. Wishful at best!

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The Moscow–Tehran Axis: Alliance without Rigid Obligations



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Russia and Iran are finding ever more points of convergence in their foreign policies and across the domain of economic cooperation. It is no coincidence that a record number of high-level visits between the two countries have taken place this year, the most recent being Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran to take part in the Syria summit of the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Fostering relations with Iran, along with the continued functioning of the Astana Process, demonstrate Moscow’s increasing use of pragmatism in its foreign policy: any non-Western power is a welcomed partner, even if there are contradictions and inconsistencies in its relations with Russia.

Biden in the Background

The Astana summit and Putin’s visit to Tehran came immediately after U.S. President Joe Biden’s tour of the Middle East. Despite numerous commentators suggesting that the Russian leader’s visit to Iran was a “response” to the initiative of the American president, there is no real substance to this argument. What Biden’s trip does do is place the trilateral meeting in the Iranian capital into a wider context.

The Middle East is one of those regions where the presence of the United States and Russia matters, although the dynamics of their engagement are diametrically opposed to one another. While Washington is gradually pulling out of the region that holds less and less allure for the White House, Moscow is doing exact the opposite, being increasingly pulled into the processes unfolding in the Middle East.

The basic approaches of the two sides differ as well. The United States has become accustomed to finding allies in the region so that they can become conductors of its policy, while at the same time looking for key troublemakers that it can try to contain and isolate. Russia, on the other hand, does not have friends or enemies in the region. Over the past decade, Moscow has been trying to act as a universal mediator, maintaining relations with all the key forces in the Middle East.

Against the backdrop of the events in Ukraine, the United States has set about trying to turn Russia into an international pariah. Moscow sees the Middle East as a possible route to circumventing the sanctions, even if partially, so it is only logical that Washington would seek to isolate Russia in the region. This is proving somewhat difficult, however, even with its impressive list of allied states and the lukewarm reaction of Middle Eastern countries to Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. For one thing, no one in the Middle East wants to be faced with a choice between Moscow and Washington. In the Middle East, Russia remains a player to be reckoned with, and its interests coincide with those of almost all the countries in the region—including Washington’s partners—on a whole range of issues.

Take Turkey, for example, a NATO member who has serious disagreements with Russia over Syria, Libya and the South Caucasus. Worse still, Ankara has openly criticized Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, lending active support to Kiev by supplying hi-tech weapons. At the same time, Turkey, much as Russia, does not hide its annoyance at the U.S.-established order in the regions adjacent to its territory, notably the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Let’s not forget Russia–Iran trade relations as trade turnover between the two amounted to some $33 billion in 2021 and the bilateral trade is expected to reach even greater heights by year-end 2022. Given this, Ankara will clearly want to continue dialogue with Moscow, both with regard to Syria and on other issues.

A somewhat similar situation has been the case for the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf. Not a single one of these has joined the Western sanctions against Russia, and the United Arab Emirates is turning into something of a hub for Russian capital. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has made it clear that his country places its agreements with OPEC+, where Russia is a key player, above U.S. interests, and Joe Biden’s visit did nothing to change this.

Outside the Persian Gulf, President of Egypt Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has also refused to pursue a policy to isolate Moscow. Cairo has been one of the biggest importers of Russian weapons in recent years. And, like the United Arab Emirates, the country is also cooperating with Russia on Libya. Finally, there is another important U.S. partner, namely, Israel. Despite some friction with Moscow, Tel Aviv is still willing to cooperate with Russia to sustain its policy of containing the Iranian threat in Syria. In other words, all these players have more than enough reason to turn their backs on the binary approach that Washington imposes on them, where they are forced to choose between the United States and Russia.

The Astana Model

It would be quite a mistake to dub Joe Biden’s tour of the Middle East a complete failure. He got some wins here and there, such as the Saudi decision to open flights to and from Israel. Besides, it is unlikely that the U.S. was harboring any real hopes to reverse the regional alignment, including the attitudes towards Russia, all in a single trip. What is telling here is the situation as such. The events in Ukraine were indeed a turning point in relations between Moscow and the West—however, the Middle East did not undergo any major changes until February 24, 2022, and later.

Today, the situation in the region is much different to the Cold War-style polarization that analysts bring up so frequently. The Middle East of 2022 is a complex combination of multi-vector approaches of various countries. All this is not so much a reflection of Washington’s weakness as it is an illustration of the fact that Russia continues to be an important and legitimate player for Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and this is unlikely to change any time soon.

It is this difficult political climate that gave rise to the Astana format, a platform where the parties with different approaches—and even waging a proxy war against each other—can come to the negotiating table as partners who resolve issues. True, this format may only have worked in relation to the Syrian dossier in years gone by, but the most recent summit took the paradoxical relations between the countries to a new level. Turkish drones carry out targeted attacks on the Russian Army, which in turn shoots them down. But this did not prevent Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan from sitting at the same table and having a constructive conversation at the meeting in Tehran. Moreover, one of the main topics on the summit’s side-lines did not even have anything to do with the region, and that was finding a solution to the issue of exporting grain through the Black Sea.

This has nothing to do with banal hypocrisy on the part of sides with opposing interests. The participants in the Astana summit were not hiding behind smiles, sticking their middle finger up at each other from inside their pockets… no, they held a constructive dialogue. The grain issue was eventually resolved thanks to the negotiations between Turkey and Russia, and the summit in Tehran was largely responsible for getting the two together in the first place.

The Astana summit is swiftly turning into a model that reflects the basic principles of Russia’s foreign policy. What this model essentially boils down to is political realism in its purest form, where everyone is invited to cooperate, regardless of accumulated problems and disagreements, assuming the sides have overlapping interests.

And the invitation has effectively been extended to the West: despite the proxy conflict waged between Europe and Russia on the Ukrainian soil and despite the economic war in the form of sanctions, Moscow is nevertheless prepared to sell oil and gas to Europe. “Gazprom has always fulfilled and will continue to fulfil its obligations in full. If that’s what European countries want, of course, as they are the ones closing the pipes,” Vladimir Putin noted calmly at a press conference following the Tehran summit.

At the same time, the Astana format stands at odds with the traditional integration models of the West, which believes similar values to be a prerequisite for alliances. Certainly, the Americans do not always follow this approach. Still, even those relationships where common values typically play little if any role—such as that between the United States and Saudi Arabia—become bogged down by human rights issues (in this case, Biden’s condemnation of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi). In the present situation, we see that the Astana model of radical realism allows Russia, in such a difficult situation, to pursue dialogue with all players in the Middle East, while the United States is facing problems talking to its traditional allies.

Engaging Iran

With the relations with the West collapsed owing to the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s policy towards Iran is increasingly perceived as a policy case that could be heading in a promising direction. Putin’s trip to Iran did not bring any significant breakthroughs, although news reports about the summit and events surrounding it were overwhelmingly positive. One newsworthy item, for example, was the launch of the rial/rouble pair on the Tehran Currency exchange on the day of the summit, while another was a memorandum signed between National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Gazprom to involve investments of approximately $40 billion into Iran’s oil sector.

Some important news came out shortly after the Russian President’s visit, such as the decision to increase the number of flights between Russia and Iran up to 35 per week, or the announcement that an agreement on the supply of aircraft parts and maintenance work was being drawn up, or plans to earmark $1.5 billion for the development of railway projects in Iran.

It must be noted here that there is no guarantee that all these initiatives will be successful in the end. For one, timelines have not been set out for most of the projects, and not all of them will even reach the stage of implementation. And those that do—for example, the supply of aircraft parts—will concern a limited set of products. The Iranian aviation industry has been in a rut for a number of years now, thanks to the sanctions. They have learned to make certain things on their own, sure, but most parts are either imported through third countries or stripped from old planes that no longer fly.

Despite all this, some projects might turn out to be rather successful. The number of areas where cooperation between the two countries is possible is clearly expanding, and this is thanks to the sudden spike in interest on the Russian side in Iran. In addition to this, traditional pockets of cooperation are getting a new push. For example, the export of Russian agricultural products against the backdrop of the global food problem is fast becoming a key element of Iran’s food security. And the North–South Transport Corridor, which has been operating in test mode for the past few years, could very well become the main export route for Russian products.

A certain rapport can also be witnessed in the domain of foreign policy. Iran’s reaction to the events in Ukraine was more positive than that of the other Middle Eastern states. During his meeting with Vladimir Putin in Tehran, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, stressed that NATO would have started a war with Russia on the pretext of Crimea if it had not been stopped in Ukraine. Certain changes can also be seen in Syria, where Russia’s responses to the actions of Israel are becoming increasingly harsh. Finally, the hallmark of the trilateral summit in the Iranian capital was the attempt of Tehran and Moscow to convince Ankara to abandon its military operations in Syria.

Be that as it may, there is no way the alignment between Russia and Iran would turn into a full-fledged alliance. The main reason why this will never happen is because of Russia’s image in Iran, which is riddled with negative historical connotations. Distrust of Tehran and a poor understanding of its policies can be found among the Russian elite as well. Besides, the sides disagree quite strongly on a number of issues, including their respective policies in the Middle East and how to resolve the territorial disputes over the Caspian Sea.

Also keep in mind that Russia and Iran are competitors in the energy market. The agreement with Gazprom largely stems from Russian efforts to gain leverage over the Iranian oil and gas industry. Exactly how much leeway the Iranian side will give to Russian companies remains to be seen.

However, paradoxical as it may sound, the bunch of contradictions that has accumulated in Russia–Iran relations does not stand in the way of rapprochement between the two countries. Russia is realistic in its approach, and this makes it possible to focus on areas of common interest, even when there are far more problems in bilateral relations, for example in Moscow’s relations with Ankara. At the same time, both Moscow and Tehran are extremely interested in an alternative to the West-dominated economic order. Neither country can do this alone, but these two “political outcasts” countries are better suited to the task than anyone else.

Here, positive developments were reflected in the conclusion of a long-term strategic agreement between Russia and Iran similar to the documents that Tehran signed with China and Venezuela. Judging by what Russian officials said, the project will be finalized quite soon. Importantly, the agreement will take the form of a memorandum—a formal confirmation that the intentions do not impose any direct obligations on the two countries. The “Russia–Iran axis” will continue to move in more or less the same direction. Relations between the two countries may well expand and deepen with each passing year to never-before-seen levels, but the sides harbor no intention of taking any unwanted obligations, including becoming allies.

From our partner RIAC

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