“I learn a science from the soul’s aggressions.”-St. John Perse
Mar-a-Lago, Search Warrants and Beyond
The contentious issue of Trump’s “mishandled” national security documents has reached the very highest levels of public urgency. Above all, this issue now centers on the safety of US nuclear policy plans. Though the United States ought finally to be freed from the endless machinations of its former president, latest high-value document revelations could still produce unexpected benefits.
Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”
Unwittingly, to be sure, what is being revealed at Mar-a-Lago could help to focus educated Americans’ most rapt attention on the nation’s military nuclear perils. These are prospectively existential dangers. Prima facie, therefore, nothing could be more important.
But how should capable analysts and US government officials proceed?
There will arise several immediate questions. At most elementary levels of concern, all should promptly inquire: “What does the Mar-a-Lago document search suggest about the reasonableness and efficacy of US government protection procedures?”
“What are the linkages between wrongly-held public documents and always-necessary efforts to refine US nuclear doctrine and strategy?”
“What should these indispensable efforts include?”
Oddly, this last question, one upon which the physical survival of the United States must ultimately depend, is almost never addressed by non-specialist Americans.
To remediate, US military planners and strategists are impressively familiar with complex aspects of war and defense. Simultaneously, however, they generally lack needed background in associated philosophical skills. This stark deficiency has nothing to do with any intellectual or methodological shortcomings. On the contrary, America’s premier strategic thinkers remain talented in virtually every arena of data collection, data manipulation and reason-based assessment.
So what has gone so palpably wrong? On its face, this country’s “unphilosophical spirit” does reflect a lack of acquaintance with epistemological (philosophy of knowledge) and philosophical (philosophy of science) underpinnings. In consequence of this lack, there could arise a number of variably injurious policy costs. In absolutely worst case scenarios, these costs could prove existential.
What next? In any scientific study of strategic military issues, every inquiry must commence with an appropriate hypothesis. Such a tentative explanation would then need to undergo appropriately deductive forms of elaboration. This effort should be followed (wherever possible) by empirical testingof logically “entailed” propositions.
There is more. For US military planners, strategic theory should offer inestimable practical value. In all conceivable sectors of human knowledge, only a continuously refined and comprehensive theory can provide disciplined investigators with a suitable “net.” To round out the elucidating metaphor, only those who “cast” can expect to “catch.”
Anarchy and Chaos
US strategists will need to begin at the beginning, acknowledging, inter alia, that historic global anarchy is never just an eccentric or transient “background.” Rather, anarchy and chaos are both deeply rooted in the codified and customary foundations of modern world politics. More than anything else, these legal and geopolitical structures point to still-expanding conditions of chaotic regional disintegration. Nonetheless, even in chaos, which is never the same as anarchy, there may be discernible regularities. This vital “geometry” will need to be more expressly identified and studied.
Out of the bewildering mêlée of what is unraveling day by day at Mar-a-Lago, America’s strategic thinkers can expect to identify a usable tableau for national survival, but only if they would first decide to cast fine analytic “nets.” One obvious arena of current concern is Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine. During the expressly non-theoretic (no “nets”) Trump years, Vladimir Putin may have supposed that the a-historic American president was under Moscow’s effective will.
It would have been a plausible supposition.
And it could happen again.
“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” warns the Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Assembled in almost two hundred armed tribal camps formally termed nation-states, all peoples coexist uneasily and more-or-less insecurely on a fractured planet. History takes no sharp corners. Both the jurisprudential and strategic origins of this decentralized world lie in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), a foundational treaty that ended the Thirty Years War and inaugurated the still-existing “balance-of-power” system.
By morphing into chaos, anarchy is now more portentous than ever before. This enlarged vulnerability owes largely to the unprecedented fusion of chaoswith potentially apocalyptic weaponry. After all, such never-to-be-used ordnance is only expected to expand or “proliferate.” Russia, now committing Nuremberg-category crimes in Ukraine, has its own nuclear triad. So does China, the other major US strategic adversary in “Cold War II.”
What happens next? Will Americans again allow themselves to be guided by vacant political rhetoric, or instead will they take seriously the imperatives of sound strategic theory? In a credible worst case scenario, circumstances could obtain where there would be no safety in arms and no rescue from any legitimate political authority. But this worrisome narrative could still be prevented by maintaining an intellectual and science-based US national security orientation.
Since the seventeenth century, our anarchic world can still be described as a system. What happens in any one part of this interconnected world necessarily affects what happens in some or all of the other parts. When a deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one nation to another, the corrosive effects can undermine regional and/or international stability. When this deterioration is rapid and catastrophic, as it would be following the start of any unconventional war and/or act of unconventional terrorism, the effects would be overwhelming.
These corollary effects would be chaotic.
There is more. Specific triggering mechanism of our beleaguered world’s descent into genuine chaos could originate from mass-casualty attacks, from similar attacks against other western democracies, from a mass-dying occasioned by disease pandemic or even from assorted synergies between these separate factors. Alternatively, it could draw literally explosive nurturance from the belligerent use of nuclear weapons in seemingly distant regions. If, for example, the first military use of nuclear weapons after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were initiated by North Korea or Pakistan, Israel’s nuclear survival strategy could then have to be re-considered and aptly modified.
The precise “spillover” effect on the United States of any nuclear weapons use by North Korea or Pakistan would depend, at least in part, upon the specific combatants involved, the expected rationality or irrationality of these combatants, the calculable yields and ranges of the nuclear weapons being fired and the aggregate calculation of civilian and military harms suffered in the affected areas. Always, these would need to be intellectual calculations, not just political ones.
Reason and Rationality in the State of Nations
By definition, although thus far widely ignored, any chaotic disintegration of the world system would transform the American system. In anticipation, the US will have to orient part of its basic strategic planning to an assortment of worst-case prospects, focusing more deliberately on science than politics.
The State of Nations remains the State of Nature. For the United States, certain prominent but time-dishonored processes that are conveniently but erroneously premised on allegedly “scientific” assumptions of reason and rationality will have to be renounced. For Americans, Russian Crimes against Peace in Ukraine represents just the newest form of fragmentation (US Afghanistan withdrawal came earlier). Wider patterns of anarchy, chaos and disorder are to be expected.
State and Sub-State Nuclear Adversaries
Facing a broader and more ominous variety of existential security threats, perils originating from both state and sub-state adversaries, the United States must undertake certain “correlation of forces” assessments. In this more determinedly scientific strategic effort, American planners should employ more than traditionally “objective” yardsticks for the scientific measurement of adversarial and prospectively adversarial forces. Among other things, this would mean a far better understanding that advanced weapon systems are never sufficiently meaningful in themselves.
History will always deserve a primary pride of place. Several emerging hazards to America’s national security will be shaped by the durably “Westphalian” geometry of chaos.In this delicately unbalanced and largely unprecedented set of calculations, the “whole” may turn out to be more or less than the sum of its “parts.” It follows that US strategic planners will need to bring a more nuanced and intellectually unorthodox approach to their science-based work. This means, among other things, an original awareness that proper planning ought sometimes presume enemy irrationality and that such planning must be able to distinguish between authentic enemy irrationality and pretended enemy irrationality.
US strategic assessments should always consider the cumulative capabilities and intentions of sub-stateenemies; that is, the entire configuration of anti‑American terrorist groups. In the future, such assessments should offer more than any simple group by group consideration. Always, the particular groups in question should be considered in theirentirety, collectively, and as they may interrelate with one another vis-à-vis the United States.
These several hostile groups might also need to be considered in their particularly interactive relationship with certain enemy states. This last point would best be characterized as an essential science-based search for prospective synergies between assorted state and sub-state adversaries. Ipso facto, such search must elude any kind of sharply precise measurements.
Finally, US strategic planning judgments should take useful note of still-ongoing metamorphoses of fragmented non-state adversaries into sovereign state adversaries. In post-US withdrawal Afghanistan, for example, Taliban elements could rapidly undergo variously worrisome transformations. Similar concerns could also surface with Hezbollah elements expanding in a once-again “byzantine” Middle East.
Force Multipliers and Nuclear Strategy
In the bewildering matter of strategic synergies, American policy planners will need to consider “force multipliers.” A force multiplier is a collection of related characteristics other than weapons and force size that may make a military organization more effective in combat. A force multiplier may be generalship; tactical surprise; tactical mobility; or certain command and control system enhancements. It could include less costly forms of preemption such as assassination and sabotage. It could mean certain well-integrated components of cyber-warfare and also a reciprocally refined capacity to prevent or blunt incoming cyber-attacks.
The overriding objective of any US science-based strategic nuclear plan must be to inform leadership decisions about two complementary variables: (1) perceived vulnerabilities of the United States; and (2) perceived vulnerabilities of enemy states and non-states. This means gathering and assessing crucial accessible information concerning the expected persuasiveness of this country’s nuclear deterrence posture.
Such information should always remain at the vital core of US nuclear strategy
Willingness and Capacity
In thinking about science and strategy, an immediate task for Washington will be to strengthen the nation’s nuclear deterrent such that any enemy state would always calculate a first-strike to be irrational. This means taking all proper steps to convince these enemy states that the costs of such a strike will exceed the benefits. To accomplish this objective, America must convince prospective attackers that it maintains both the willingness and the capacity to retaliate with presumptively calibrated (not “one size fits all”) nuclear weapons.
Should an enemy state considering an attack upon a US ally be unconvinced about either one or both of these essential components of nuclear deterrence, it might then choose to strike first, depending upon the particular value or “utility” that it places on the expected consequences of such an attack. It is precisely to prevent just such an “unconvincing” nuclear deterrence posture that the United States should now consider revealing more specifics of its pertinent nuclear force. Though counter-intuitive, the prospective benefits of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” may now be vanishing for the United States as well as for US ally Israel.
Any such purposeful revelation must be the product of informed intent and be supported by appropriate theory. It could never flow legally or prudently from any deliberate mishandlings of national security documents by a former American president. The “ironic side effect” being discussed here is not meant to encourage any future national security document mishandlings, but rather to make the best of a wrongly conceived Trump decision. Under no circumstances could it ever be lawful or prudent for an American president or former president to allow any seat-of-the-pants nuclear disclosures.
We turn back to antecedent strategic theory. To protect itself against enemy nuclear strikes, particularly attacks that could carry intolerable costs, US defense planners will need to exploit every relevant aspect and function of the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The cumulative success of America’s effort here will depend not only upon choice of targeting doctrine (“counterforce” or “counter value”), but upon the extent to which this choice is made known in advance to enemy states and/or their sub-state surrogates. Before such enemies could be suitably deterred from launching any first strikes against US allies, and before they could be deterred from launching retaliatory attacks following any American-supported preemptions, it may not be enough for them just to know that this country maintains a vast nuclear arsenal.
There will be much more to know. There are determinable moments in which a science-based nuclear deterrence strategy could lead American planners to consider different preemption options. This conclusion obtains because there could sometime arise circumstances in which the existential risks of continuing to rely upon variable combinations of nuclear deterrence and active defenses would become too great. In such bewildering circumstances, US decision-makers would need to determine whether such essential defensive strikes, known jurisprudentially as expressions of “anticipatory self-defense,” would expectedly be cost-effective.
Here, decisional judgments would depend upon a number of potentially intersecting and critical factors, including: (a) expected probability of enemy first-strikes; (b) expected cost (disutility) of enemy first-strikes; (c) expected schedule of enemy unconventional weapons deployments; (d) expected efficiency of enemy active defenses over time; (e) expected efficiency of active defenses over time; (f) expected efficiency of hard-target counterforce operations over time; (g) expected reactions of unaffected regional enemies; and (h) expected world community reactions to US preemptions.
The single most important factor in any science-based judgments concerning preemption would be the expected rationality of enemy decision-makers. If these leaders could be expected to strike the US or a US ally with nuclear forces irrespective of anticipated counterstrikes, deterrence would cease to work. This means that enemy strikes could then be expected even if enemy leaders already understood that the US and/or US ally had “successfully” deployed its nuclear weapons in survivable modes; that its nuclear weapons were believed to be capable of penetrating the enemy’s active defenses; and that leaders were conspicuously willing to retaliate.
In war “…. the simplest thing is still difficult”
Facing potentially new forms of chaotic regional disintegration, it is time for the United States to go beyond its already-expanded strategic paradigm of numerical military assessments. Within this wider and more self-consciously scientific paradigm, US planners should focus, among other areas, upon the cumulative and interpenetrating importance of unconventional weapons and on low-intensity warfare in the region. This is an area of concern that is complex and increasingly urgent. “Geometrically,” it suggests that the “whole” of security threats now facing the US and certain US allies is prospectively greater than the calculable sum of its discrete and more-or-less observable “parts.”
“Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but the simplest thing is still difficult.” For American strategy, this means an always overriding obligation to forge sound strategic theory – that is, an intellectually coherent network of interrelated propositions from which suitable policy options could be identified, rank-ordered and selected. In more starkly conceptual terms, this suggests a systematic consideration of (1) all plausible interactions between available strategic options; and (2) all plausible synergies between expected enemy attacks, both state and sub state.
Calculating such a dense amalgam of propositions or hypotheses will present US strategic nuclear planners with a computational task on the highest order of difficulty. But there exist no other rational security policy options. Whatever else these planners may decide is best in executing their ongoing strategic assessments, they ought never lose sight of a central fact: Their most basic task concerns continual scientific struggles of “mind over mind,” never just contests of “mind over matter.”
There is one last compelling observation to be made about science, strategic doctrine and strategic nuclear posture. It is that this incomparably vital component of national security planning must include an ever-present and dynamic “avant garde, a structural commitment to “advance” that would continuously enrich US strategic studies. By embracing this military notion of a constantly changing and cross-fertilizing intellectual vanguard, America’s nuclear planners could best position themselves to remain creatively useful in meeting their daunting security obligations.
The Primacy of US Nuclear Thinking
For the United States, no subject could conceivably prove more important than nuclear strategy, a set of problems that would never yield to commonly visceral intuitions or to the banalities of politics. Accordingly, America must return to its earlier post-World War II awareness that any such set of problems warrants a preeminently scientific and law-enforcing response. It’s a tall order, but Americans may have reaped an unexpected benefit from former President Donald J Trump’s egregious mishandling of nuclear-related documents. Such document mishandling ought never to be wished-for or approved, but the tangible harms of so many far-reaching Trump derelictions cannot simply be wished away. Simultaneously, however, already at the eleventh hour, a too-long-anesthetized US population could at least begin to focus or re-focus on the ever-growing risks of nuclear crises and nuclear war. Ironically, if this focus or re-focus should actually take place, it would represent an unanticipated benefit of former president Donald J. Trump’s most unforgivable wrongdoing.
At that very strange point of curious circumstances, Americans could still “learn a science from the soul’s aggressions.”
 In his sweeping defense of Reason, 20th century German philosopher Karl Jaspers writes generically: “The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of Truth.” See, Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (Archon Books, 1971; first English edition, 1952).
 Arguably, this lack derives from an even broader anti-intellectual orientation in the United States. To wit, a far-reaching contempt for any “life of the mind” in this country has been detectable from the very beginning. On this lamentable contempt, see Perry Miller, The Life of the Mind in America (New York: Harcourt Brace and World 1965). This book appeared six years after another “classic” treatise appeared on the same general topic: Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1959).
 A hypothesis is a necessary guide. It does not emerge spontaneously when inquiry is concluded. It should function throughout the entire conduct of inquiry, organizing and integrating all empirical findings into a single coherent system. Without a tentative “answer” in the express form of a hypothesis, there would exist no usable criterion for properly judging whether considered “facts” are relevant or irrelevant.
 A hypothesis is said to be “scientific” only where it is expected to yield deductive consequences that are suitably testable by experience.
 The scholar’s “cast” must always be linked to expressly dialectical thought processes. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerged as the preferred form of early scientific investigation. Plato describes the dialectician as one who knows how to ask and then to answer questions. In fashioning a usable strategic theory, US planners will first need to better understand this core expectation – even before they proceed to the usual analytic compilations of facts, figures, orders of battle and regional balances of power.
 This jurisprudential/strategic reference is to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War, and created the still-enduring state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1, Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two agreements comprise the Peace of Westphalia. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan was first published in 1651, just three years after the Peace of Westphalia. It is at Chapter XIII that Hobbes famously references the Westphalian “state of nature” as an anarchic situation characterized by “continuall feare; and danger of violent death….” Not much has changed.
 The term “geometry” is used here merely as an elucidating metaphor, not in the more technically usual or Newtonian sense of a method of decipherable and verifiable calculation.
 On various intersections of Israel’s nuclear strategy and US nuclear strategy, see: Professor Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey, ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY AND AMERICA’S NATIONAL SECURITY, Tel Aviv University, Israel, and Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, Tel-Aviv, December 2016.
 Niccolo Machiavelli joined Aristotle’s earlier plan for a scientific study of politics with various core assumptions about geopolitics or Realpolitik. His best known conclusion focuses on the eternally stark dilemma of practicing goodness in a world that is generally evil. “A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything, must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good.” See: The Prince, Chapter XV. Although this argument is largely unassailable, there is also a corresponding need to disavow “naive realism” and to recognize that, in the longer term, the only outcome of “eye for an eye” orientations to world politics will be universal “blindness.”
We may learn from philosopher Karl Jaspers, Reason and Existence (1935): “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.”
 On deterring a prospectively irrational nuclear Iran, see: 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. General Chain (USAF/ret.) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).
 In his Utopia, published in 1516, Thomas More offered a curious but clarifying juxtaposition of foreign policy stratagems and objectives. Although the Utopians are expected to be generous toward other states, they also offer rewards for the assassination of enemy leaders (Book II). This is not because More wished to be gratuitously barbarous, but rather because he was a realistic utopian. Sharing with St. Augustine (whose City of God had been the subject of his 1501 lectures), a fundamentally dark assessment of human political arrangements, Thomas More constructed a “lesser evil” philosophy that favored a distinctly pragmatic kind of morality. Thomas More understood that the truly tragic element of politics is necessarily constituted of conscious choices of evil for the sake of good. With regard to this investigation of US security and correlation of forces, this suggests that assassination must always be seen as disagreeable in the “best of all possible worlds” (for example, the Leibnizian world satirized by Voltaire in Candide), but that it may still offer an indispensable expedient in a world that remains distressingly imperfect.
 See latest book on this subject by the author, Louis René Beres: https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy
 On pertinent Israeli liabilities of ballistic missile defense, see: Louis René Beres and (Major General/IDF/ret.) Isaac Ben-Israel, “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Louis René Beres and MG Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,” Washington Times, June 10, 2007; and Professor Louis René Beres and MG Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009.
 Even before the nuclear age, legal theorists took strong positions in support of anticipatory self-defense. Emmerich de Vattel, the Swiss scholar, concludes in The Law of Nations (1758): “The safest plan is to prevent evil, where that is possible. A nation has the right to resist the injury another seeks to inflict upon it, and to use force and every other just means of resistance against the aggressor.” Vattel, similar to Hugo Grotius in The Law of War and Peace (1625) drew upon ancient Hebrew Scripture and derivative Jewish Law. The Torah contains a provision exonerating from guilt a potential victim of robbery with possible violence if, in capable self-defense, he struck down and, if necessary even killed the attacker, before he committed any crime (Exodus, 22:1.) Additionally, says Maimonides, “If a man comes to slay you, forestall by slaying him.” (Rashi, Sanhedrin, 72a). Finally, apropos of pertinent legal criteria here, the Talmud expressly categorizes a war designed “to diminish the heathens, so that they shall not march against them” as milhemet reshut,” or discretionary (Sotah, 44b).
 An antecedent or corollary concern must also be the ethical or humanitarian calculus in these particular circumstances. Although an ideal world order would contain “neither victims nor executioners,” such an optimal arrangement of global power and authority is assuredly not yet on the horizon. (This phrase is taken from Albert Camus, Neither Victims nor Executioners (Dwight Mc Donald., ed., 1968)). Confronting what he called “our century of fear,” Camus asked his readers to be “neither victims nor executioners,” living not in a world in which killing has disappeared (“we are not so crazy as that”), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate. This is a fine expectation of the philosopher, but certainly not one that can be purposefully harmonized with strategic or even jurisprudential realism. Deprived of the capacity to act as lawful executioners, both states and individuals within states facing aggression, terrorism and/or genocide would be forced by Camus’ reasoning to become victims. The core problem with Camus’ argument, therefore, is that the will to kill remains unimpressed by others’ commitments to “goodness.” This means that both within states, and also between them, executioners must still have their rightful place, and that without these executioners, there would only be more victims.
 An expression of such a “new form” would be Russia’s substantial buildup of military forces in Syria following the collapsed ceasefire back in September 2016. This build up included more trained personnel to operationalize the then newly-delivered S-300 surface-to-air missile system. During his own presidential tenure, Donald Trump did nothing to meaningfully interfere with Vladimir Putin’s geo-strategic ambitions, treating Russia more as a valued ally than as a feared adversary.
 For earlier looks at the expected consequences of specifically nuclear attacks, by this author, 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).
 For this generically useful distinction, I am indebted to F.E. Adcock’s classic volume, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), especially Chapter IV.
 More generally, on the search for an avant garde in strategic studies, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, “On the Need for an Avant Garde in Strategic Studies,” Oxford University Press, OUP Blog, July 4, 2011.
 US decision-makers should be continually attentive to variously relevant considerations of law as well as strategy. Under authoritative rules, each state 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 that 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 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.