“What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking justification always on the same plane?”-Samuel Beckett, Endgame
The Adversarial Chessboard
In response to the growing aggressiveness of its North Korean nuclear adversary, the United States needs to fashion its pertinent policy positions on comprehensive analytic foundations. More precisely, Kim Jung Un’s latest threats to consider a full-scale nuclear retaliation for variously tangible American acts against leadership figures in Pyongyang (1) will have to be assessed in prudent detail and (2) will need to include multiple scenarios of US policy reaction. Among other things, these specific narratives will need to focus on assorted strategic, doctrinal and legal criteria of assessment. Though the US is evidently “more powerful” than North Korea, any actual nuclear exchange between these two countries would assuredly prove catastrophic for both. This is likely to be the case even in the absence of alliance partner interventions rendered on behalf of North Korea.
There will be relevant particulars, many of them bewildering and intersecting. Details will be critical. Immediately, the American president and his counselors will have to determine the plausible contours of Kim Jung Un’s expected rationality.To the extent that the North Korean leader would appear convincingly irrational (i.e., actually willing to resort to his recently-threatened first use of nuclear weapons), the usual and essential premises of stable deterrence would no longer obtain.
There would also arise complementary issues concerning North Korea’s self-reaffirmed right of nuclear preemption. In proper jurisprudential terms, Kim would seek to justify this alleged right of defensive “first use” as a legitimate expression of “anticipatory self-defense.” At the same time, of course, following any actual first use of nuclear weapons, refined questions of law would promptly become moot.
Kim Jong Un has been expanding and modernizing his country’s already-substantial nuclear arsenals. These expansions and refinements are creating destabilizing ripples in our anarchic world legal system. Whether suddenly or incrementally, certain long-prevailing patterns of global power management could devolve from the “mere” absence of global authority structures to total or near-total world system instability.
Such an authentic chaos would be much worse than “Westphalian” anarchy.
Meanings of Atomic Chaos vis-a-vis North Korea
In January 2021, after describing the United States as “our biggest enemy,” the North Korean dictator called for more advanced national nuclear weapons and infrastructures. At that moment, Kim summarized his country’s basic strategic posture succinctly and ominously: “Our foreign political activities should be focused and redirected on subduing the United States, our biggest enemy. No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature of the US and its fundamental policies towards North Korea never change.”
“Subduing the United States….” For Pyongyang, the only “true nature” of specifically American significance lies in Kim’s worrisome assessment of White House intentions. Accordingly, it is high time to inquire:
Going forward, what expressly tangible nuclear threats from North Korea will face US President Joe Biden?
What intangible or “opaque” nuclear threats should America’s decision-makers now take into careful and increasing account?
What should the United States do in response to both intersecting forms of nuclear threat?
Despite their simple declarative style, these questions entail near-staggering complexity. Among other things, pertinent threats to the United States from Pyongyang are now both direct and indirect. Today, at a critical tipping point in American strategic planning, these risks have become conspicuously grave, many-sided and potentially even existential.
A compelling query arises: What should and should not be done about North Korean nuclear threats?
For the US president, growing nuclear uncertainties with North Korea represent hazards of palpable urgency. What exactly shall be required of his relevant planners in dealing with such urgent strategic matters? As a start, Jo Biden will need to acknowledge something that was never properly understood by his predecessor. After all, Donald J. Trump promised the American people that he had taken care of the North Korea nuclear problem by “falling in love” with Kim Jung Un. And this after calling for the use of American nuclear weapons against hurricanes.
Prima facie, it was an ill-fated “romance.” The dissembling former president never understood that national security and war preparedness must be science-grounded and theory-based. Always, he could never acknowledge, it must receive the dialectical imprimatur of “mind over mind.”
Overall, regarding North Korean nuclear developments and threats, the United States is already in its “eleventh hour.” Any foreseeable elevations of US strategic thought would need to be based upon an ever-greater American appreciation of relevant complexities, politicalandmilitary. These persistently intersecting complexities would likely include multiple “synergies.”
What would all this imply? To begin, in synergistic intersections, the “whole” of any particular outcome mustbe greater than the sum of its “parts.” Further, in such challenging analytic matters, US policy-making must always be kept suitably distant from any distracting considerations founded upon wishful thinking. Recall, in this connection, Greek historian Thucydides’ summary assessment of the Peloponnesian War: “Hope is by nature an expensive commodity, and those who are risking their all on one cast find out what it means only when they are already ruined….
Though several millennia old, this ancient warning remains timely and valid.
Contests of “Mind Over Mind”
For the White House and Pentagon, serious analytic methods will be necessary. As corollary, history will deserve a more conspicuous pride of place. The ancient Greeks regarded war and war-planning not as a purely personal or ad hoc activity, but as a daunting contest of “mind over mind.” Anticipating the later writings of Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz (On War, 1832), these thinkers seemingly based their tactical and operational policies upon a body of dialectical “conversations.” At that earlier stage, the primary and preeminent battlefield would have had to be conceptualized before the onset of any actual troop movements or military engagements.
Correspondingly, any foreseeable victories in such engagements would have had to follow a mind-based articulation of strategic doctrine.
In such many-layered strategic matters, comprehensive theory must remain necessary. Always, the interrelated geo-political world, like the myriad human beings who comprise it, must be regarded as a system. Among the most serious lessons of this metaphor, is this: Any more-or-less major conventional conflict in northeast Asia could heighten the prospect of destabilizing international conflicts elsewhere. This is the case, moreover, whether derivative consequences would occur immediately or in expectedly assorted increments.
At some point, and among other possibilities, these prospects could include a regional nuclear war. Such fearsome conclusions could be enlarged by misguided American searches for a no-longer credible strategic outcome. A clear example of such a gravely mistaken search would be one that is directed toward some allegedly decipherable forms of “victory.”
There are good reasons for offering such a paradoxical warning. A non-traditional observation about “victory” is persuasive, at least in part, because the core meanings of victory and defeat have been changing steadily over time. These are no longer the same meanings as those offered earlier by Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’ classic On War (1832).
There is still more to be considered. In most identifiable wars between nation-states, there no longer obtain any confirmable criteria of demarcation between victory and defeat. Even a so-called “victory” on some recognizable field of battle might not in any meaningfully-calculable way reduce security threats to the United States. Such threats, whether foreseen or unforeseen, could include sub-state aggressions (terrorism) and/or widening attacks upon regional and/or non-regional US allies.
Always, for policy planners and strategists, the broad arena of world politics must be understood not only as a system , but also as an anarchic system, a “state of nature” in classical philosophic terms.
There is still time for refined conceptual thought. Once acknowledged as a distinct foreign-policy objective, any declared US search for “victory” over North Korea would only exacerbate America’s strategic risks without enhancing its prospective gains. Such a patently meaningless declaration could create corrosively lethal escalatory dynamics with Pyongyang, ones from which Washington could no longer expect any palpable military advantages. Moreover, this injurious creation could take place in unanticipated increments or suddenly, as an unexpected or “bolt-from-the-blue” enemy attack.
In the foreseeable worst case, any unwitting US forfeiture of “escalation dominance” could signify irreversible American losses. These losses include chaotic conditions that could create (a) tens or even hundreds of thousands of prompt fatalities; and (b) tangibly larger numbers of latent cancer deaths. Factoring in the additional factor of another worldwide disease pandemic, this presumptive “worst case” could still get much worse.
Pertinent specificity must be examined and taken into account by US President Joe Biden’s designated senior counselors. In a world where history and science could sometime regain their proper stature, an intellectually-fit American president could acknowledge that because nation-states no longer generally declare wars or enter into formal war-termination treaties, the application of traditional criteria of “war winning” would no longer make legal or strategic sense. Furthermore, in the vastly complicated strategic matters already at hand, ascertainable benefits might no longer lie latent in the traditional forms of military expertise.
A Preemption Option?
Quo Vadis? How much applicable military experience could American generals have garnered in starting, managing or ending a nuclear war? How much might the US president and his senior commanders see only what they would want to see, including a prospectively gainful military preemption? Here they should recall the ancient but also still relevant observation of Julius Caesar at Chapter 18 ofhis Gallic War: “…men as a rule willingly believe what they want to believe….”
In these belligerently transitional nuclear times, such selective perceptions could prove grievously unacceptable. Though it is at least conceivable that an American president could sometime justify a preemptive strike against an already-nuclear North Korea, it also remains plain that any US defensive first strike here would have catastrophic outcomes. Concerning the myriad complexities of any still-impending two-power nuclear competition where (a) there would exist substantial asymmetries in relative military power position; but where (b) the “weaker” North Korean side would maintain a verifiable potential to inflict unacceptably damaging first-strikes or reprisals upon the “stronger” American side, carefully calibrated policy-making cautions could become in dispensable.
The United States will need a capably convincing nuclear policy posture that can account for the rationality and the intentionality of enemy decision-makers in Pyongyang. Always, the American president should approach the continuousdly-growing North Korean nuclear threat from a disciplined and dialectical conceptual perspective. This means, among many other things, factoring into any coherent US nuclear threat assessment (a) the expected rationality or irrationality of all principal decision-makers in Pyongyang; and (b) the foreseeable intentional or unintentional intra-crisis behaviors of these adversarial decision-makers.
“Theory is a net,” quotes philosopher of science Karl Popper from the German poet Novalis in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959):  “….only those who cast, can catch.” In such bewilderingly complex strategic matters, nothing could ever prove more practical than good theory. In science, a broadly elucidating generality offers the key to uncovering specific meanings.
There is more. In science, generality is a trait of all meaning. It follows that having such comprehensive policy clarifications already at hand could help guide a US President beyond any otherwise vague or uselessly impromptu strategic appraisals. Under no circumstances, a president must be reminded, should such multi-sided crisis possibilities be assessed (implicitly or explicitly) as singular or ad hoc phenomena.
Four Types of Nuclear Conflict
Capable strategic analysts guiding the American president should enhance their nuclear investigations by carefully identifying the basic distinctions between (a) intentional or deliberate nuclear war and (b) unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. The risks resulting from these at least four different types of possible nuclear conflict are apt to vary considerably. American analysts who would remain too singularly focused upon deliberate nuclear war scenarios could too-casually underestimate more serious nuclear threats to the United States.
This means the increasingly credible threat of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war.
An additional conceptual distinction must be inserted into any US analytic scenario “mix.” This is the subtle but still important difference between an inadvertent nuclear war and an accidental nuclear war. There are significant points of difference.
Any accidental nuclear war would necessarily be inadvertent; conversely, however, there could be certain identifiable forms of inadvertent nuclear war that would not be accidental. Most critical, in this connection, would be significant errors in calculation committed by one or both sides – that is, more-or-less reciprocal mistakes that could lead directly and/or inexorably to nuclear conflict. The most blatant examples of such a mistake would concern those assorted misjudgments of enemy intent or capacity that emerge during the course of an ongoing crisis escalation.
In all likelihood, such misjudgments would stem from an expectedly mutual search for strategic advantage occurring during any particular competition in nuclear risk-taking. Described in appropriate strategic parlance, this would suggest a traditional military search for “escalation dominance” during a nuclear crisis, that is, in extremis.
The Question of Rationality
Also needed would be various related judgments concerning expectations of rationality and irrationality within each affected country’s decision-making structure. One potential source of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war could be a failed strategy of “pretended irrationality.” A posturing American president who too “successfully” convinced enemy counterparts of his own irrationality could spark an otherwise-avoidable enemy preemption. In such inherently unstable circumstances, there could exist no ready-at-hand collection of relevant empirical cases.
Bottom Line: A nuclear war, any nuclear war, would be sui generis.
In science, this is an especially critical datum.
There is much more. Relevant scenarios could also be “played” in the other direction. An American president who had begun to take seriously Kim Jong Un’s own presumed unpredictability could be frightened into striking first. In this alternate case, the United States would become the preempting party that might still claim legality for its defensive first-strike.
Nonetheless, in such “dicey” circumstances, US strategists charged with fashioning an optimal strategic posture would do well to recall Carl von Clausewitz’s timeless warning in On War, his famous warning on “friction.” This “Clausewitzian” property represents the difference between “war on paper” and “war as it actually is.”
Regarding North Korea, as we have seen, US foreign policy ought to be more suitably grounded in science and logic. Still, though rarely acknowledged, no plausibly scientific or reliable probability estimations could ever be ventured on matters regarding unprecedented strategic situations. In science and mathematics, meaningful probability judgments must always be based upon a carefully calculated frequency of relevant past events.
On matters concerning a nuclear war, there have been no such past events. Any such events would be unique. The American bombings of Japan in August 1945 did not constitute a nuclear war. They were “only” examples of atomic weapons being used during a conventional war.
Looking to America’s strategic future, the differences are real and consequential.
American strategists and policy planners should take heed. Intellectually, this informed sort of “behind-the-news” analytic assessment is not plausibly controversial. Not only has there never been a nuclear war, there have never been the sorts of asymmetrical nuclear standoffs that are most apt to arise between Washington and Pyongyang.
Because there can never be any informed scientific assessments of probable war outcomes in this volatile Asian arena, the American president should approach all heuristic war scenarios with recognizable humility. Here, the ancient Greek philosophers would be warning US decision-makers against “hubris,” and doing this with an identifiable war-reluctance. In these matters, what an American president does not know could still cause “hurt.”
Recalling the “good old days” (which extend well into the twentieth-century), nation-states have generally had to defeat enemy armies before being able to wreak any wished-for destruction. In those earlier days of more traditional doctrinal arrangements concerning war and peace, an individual state’s demonstrated capacity to “win” was necessarily prior to achieving any presumptively needed capacity to destroy. One example well-known to US military thinkers at such venerable institutions as the US Army War College and West Point would be the belligerency between Persia and Greece at the 480 BCE Battle of Thermopylae.
Today, unlike what seemingly took place at Thermopylae, a state enemy needn’t be able to defeat American armies in order to inflict grievous harms upon the United States. Among other things, this enemy could enlist selectively destructive proxy forces on its behalf, forces that might include bio-terrorist surrogates. What would happen then to the so-called “balance of power?” Throughout history, this has always been a faux “balance.” In reality, it has rarely produced any tangibly gainful conditions of equilibrium.
For the United States, there remains some prospectively “good news.” America needn’t be able to “win” a particular conflict to credibly threaten a dangerous foe or to actually inflict “assured destruction” upon such an enemy. What this “good news” means today is this: The capacity to deter is not identical to the capacity to win. For the American president’s defense counselors, the principal war-planning or war-deterring lesson of such ongoing transformations warrants further advanced study.
What will matter here is not “personal attitude” (previous President Donald Trump’s self-described “ace in the hole”), but analytic or intellectualpreparation. What matters most, going forward, will be a determined capacity to win bewilderingly complex struggles of “mind over mind,” not just variously ad hoc or visceral contests of “mind over matter.” In time, such critical strategy lessons could apply beyond the North Korean nuclear issue.
To clarify, the world is always a system. What happens at any one place will always impact assorted other places. Accordingly, US national security planners and policy-makers should remain focused on systems.
Questions of International Law
Complex points oflawwill needto be considered. Inevitably, jurisprudencemust have its proper place in global-strategic calculations, an incremental and cumulative place. Further, in terms of applicable law, winning and losing may no longer mean very much for successful strategic planning. The consequential devaluation of victory as an operational goal should already be obvious with regard to America’s intermittently declared “wars” on terror.
For the United States, all significant armed conflict issues will need to be examined within continuously transforming military plans and objectives regarding China, Russia, India-Pakistan and assorted other places, especially Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Operationally, winning and losing are noweffectively extraneous to America’s collective interests. In principle at least, and not without irony, a narrowly static orientation to “winning” could lead the United States toward huge and irreversible losses. These losses would be a consequence of presumptively imperative searches for “escalation dominance.”
In contrast to policies of former president Donald J. Trump, U.S. military posture should cease being shaped according to the barren expectations of clamorous clichés, irrelevant analogies or inexpert advice. Stated in more positive conceptual terms, US foreign policy ought always to be based upon the most expressly disciplined theses and antitheses of dialectical strategic thought. This inherently superior pattern of intellectual analysis goes back to Plato and to his perpetually illuminating dialogues.
Famed ancient Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu reasoned simply and succinctly: “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” To meet current U.S. national security objectives vis-à-vis North Korea and other potential nuclear adversaries, this ancient Chinese military wisdom suggests that Washington now openly emphasize deterrence over victory. Nowhere is this imperative more appropriate than vis-à-vis North Korea,
There is more. Any necessary US discontinuance of strategic competition should remain connected to the problematic requirements of maintaining firm control over military escalations. If, going forward, these requirements were somehow minimized or disregarded, a resultant regional conflict could then have decisive “spillover” implications for other nation-states and, ipso facto, other parts of the world. Assorted elements of chaos notwithstanding, world politics and world military processes always remain expressive of some underlying system.
This systemic characterization is clarifying and elucidating. It should lie continuously at the core of any coherent US strategic nuclear doctrine. Before these systemic connections can be adequately understood and assessed, President Biden should realize that the complicated logic of adversarial nuclear calculations demands a discrete and nuanced genre of decision-making, a genre that calls for self-consciously rigorous intellectual refinements.
Expecting an American president to leverage sanctions would miss a vital point: The regime in Pyongyang will never back down on its overall national plan for nuclearization, however severe such sanctions could seemingly become.
Expectations of Stable Nuclear Deterrence
In world politics, just as in law, truth is exculpatory. Whether we like it or not, a nuclear North Korea is a fait accompli. Accordingly, President Biden should focus upon creating stable nuclear deterrence with North Korea (a) for the benefit of the United States; (b) for the benefit of its directly vulnerable allies in South Korea and Japan; and (c) for the benefit of its indirectly vulnerable allies elsewhere (e.g., Israel).
However inconspicuous, these American allies will remain an integral component of an organic world system. They ought never to be separated from the expectedly palpable consequences of American geopolitical posture. “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” says the 20th century French Jesuit scholar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “no matter whom….” Nowhere is this core interrelatedness more obvious or potentially consequential than in the continuing matter of a nuclear North Korea and US foreign policy decision-making.
This increasingly urgent threat will never subside or disappear on its own. Rather, it will be the US president’s continuing obligation to understand all relevant American security obligations as well as their variously ensuing complications. Always, it should be treated as a matter of “mind over mind,” not “mind over matter.”
In accepting this complex imperative, it would prove especially wise for President Biden to bear in mind the ancient Funeral Speech warning of Pericles. As recalled most famously by Thucydides: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies,” asserted the wise Athenian leader, “are our own mistakes.” In the best of all possible worlds, an American president could soon prepare to go beyond Realpolitik and its endlessly belligerent nationalism – a perpetually futile dynamic that has never succeeded and remains destined only for continued failure.
But if anyone should need a reminder, this is not yet the best of all possible worlds.
Not at all.
If, however, that auspicious time should arrive sometime in the future, the key task will be to focus attention upon the essential interrelatedness or “oneness” of all world politics. Just as each individual human being, the microcosm, is comprised of interlocking biological systems, world politics, the macrocosm, is made up of many constituent national and sub-national systems. In both examples, microcosm and macrocosm, survival will require more reliable and generalized patterns of cooperation between systems.
In turn, the United States will have to turn consciously away from any doctrines put forward by “mass man” and his/her political organizations.
Remembering Ancient Tragedy: The National Obligation to Reject “Hubris”
“Just wars,” wrote Hugo Grotius, the acknowledged founder of modern international law, “arise from our love of the innocent.” However, it is perfectly plain that a nuclear war could never be “just” and that earlier legal distinctions (e.g., “just war” vs. “unjust war”) must be continuously conformed to the changing technologies of military destruction. The only sensible adaptation should be (1) to acknowledge variously persisting connections between international law and natural law, and (2) to oppose any retrograde movements that might still undermine such acknowledgments.
To successfully prevent a nuclear war with North Korea, it will be necessary to resist any further Trump-era misconceptions. During his seat-of-the-pants negotiations with Kim Jong Un, Trump was fond of saying that both countries may have “the button,” but “my button is bigger.” This childish metaphor misrepresented the nuanced and complex nature of nuclear deterrence. Though North Korea is arguably “less powerful” than the United states, that “weaker” country could still deliver an unacceptable nuclear blow to this country or its regional allies, whether as an aggressive first strike, a retaliation or more-or-less carefully calculated counter-retaliation.
For conceptualizing this last prospect, one need only to consider a scenario wherein the United States had resorted to a nuclear retaliation after absorbing a major North Korean first strike (nuclear or non-nuclear), an escalation leading Pyongyang to some nuclear form of counter-retaliatory response.
With such scenarios, it will be essential to bear in mind that less is now predictable than unpredictable. By definition – because these all represent unprecedented circumstances – no scientifically valid statement of probabilities could be advanced. This suggests, inter alia, that the American president proceed in such interactions with maximum levels of personal decisional “modesty.”
Going forward, Trump-style hubris should be scrupulously avoided and expressly renounced. This pattern of behavior could never bestow any tangible strategic benefits upon the United States. It could never assist in fashioning tenable American positions vis-à-vis North Korea,
Ascertainable truth in these sui generis matters is unambiguous. The only rational use for American nuclear weapons in any forthcoming US-North Korea negotiation must be as diplomatic bargaining elements of interstate dissuasion and/or persuasion. Barring a sudden crisis initiated by North Korean nuclear strike – a crisis placing the American president immediately in extremis – there could be no credible use for these nuclear weapons as implements of war. If there could sometime arise a strategically rational justification for nuclear war-waging – one in which the expected benefits of nuclear weapons use could reasonably exceed expected costs – the planet itself could find itself imperiled.
Everything, again, is part of a system.
Getting Beyond “Westphalian” International Law
In Janus: A Summing Up, Arthur Koestler identifies the stubborn polarity between self-assertive and integrative tendencies as a gainful characteristic of human life. Duly informed, the reader is instructed that order and stability can prevail only when these two core tendencies are “in equilibrium.” If one tendency should be permitted to dominate the other, therefore, the result could represent the end to a necessary delicate balance.
Looking beyond the United States and North Korea, such a fundamental balance must be created among all the states in world politics. To create the needed equilibrium, to get beyond the deeply flawed Westphalian dynamics of 17th century Realpolitik, major states like the United States should begin to fashion their foreign policies upon a generally new set of premises. In essence, such a set would define each state’s own presumed national interest in terms of what is believed best for the world system as a whole.
This calculation won’t be easy. Any such suggestion will first appear wildly idealistic or inexcusably utopian. Nonetheless, by consciously supplanting belligerent nationalism with more cooperative global patterns, states could finally begin to move beyond a longstanding social Darwinist ethic that would otherwise ensure only endless violence and suffering.
Since its inception in 1648, the state of nations has offered humankind only false communion and perpetual conflict. A communion based upon fear, dread and (ad hoc) nuclear deterrence, its cumulative effects must inevitably include very deep desolations of the human spirit. To meaningfully repair this intolerable situation, all states must somehow learn to care for themselves and for all others at the same time.
It’s a tall order, and an intellectualorder. Can it work? Can world leaders like US president Joe Biden grasp this calculus of potentiality, thereby reaffirming the sovereignty of reason over the deceptions of “national interest”? Can any of these states ever be expected to tear down the barrier walls of belligerent nationalism and replace them with the permeable membranes of a more universally gainful cooperation?
The pragmatic answer, of course, is “no.” Still, we are locked into a fiendish dilemma. There remains literally no alternative to such “membranes.” Somehow, therefore, they must be rendered believable.
In the short run, more refined strategic and legal thinking could conceivably reduce the risk of a nuclear war between the United States and North Korea. But even such an enviable triumph of “mind over mind” could offer us only a temporary reprieve. Over time, and during any palpable “longer run,” the “Westphalian” power-management system of threat and counter-threat can’t possibly endure. Accordingly, rather than seek to sustain a failing system that encourages risky searches for “escalation dominance” in assorted nuclearized settings, the United States must seek “justification” for its global decision-making processes on a very different and more durable plane.
To deal with the immediate problem at hand, this must be a “plane” upon which capably informed assessments of North Korean rationality could be determined, examined and operationalized. Ipso facto, it is a dimension defined by an obligatory search for “mind over mind.” Such an intellect-based plane is never just a one-dimensional arena of “mind over matter.” Rather, it represents the indispensable background for shaping tenable US unclear policy positions on North Korea.
 “Military doctrine” is not the same as “military strategy.” Doctrine “sets the stage” 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. doctrine is the required framework from which proper strategic goals should be suitably extrapolated. Generically, in “standard” or orthodox military thinking, such doctrine describes the tactical manner in which national forces ought to fight in various combat situations, the prescribed “order of battle,” and variously assorted corollary operations. The literal definition of “doctrine” derives from Middle English, from the Latin doctrina, meaning teaching, learning, and instruction. Always, a central importance of codified military doctrine lies not only in the way it can animate, unify and optimize pertinent military forces, but also in the way it can transmit certain desired “messages” to an enemy.
 Should nuclear weapons ever be introduced into any future conflict between the United States and North Korea, actual nuclear war-fighting at various conceivable levels could ensue. This would be the case as long as: (a) US conventional first-strikes against North Korea would not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) US conventional retaliations for a North Korean conventional first-strike would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) US preemptive nuclear strikes would not destroy Pyongyang’s second-strike nuclear capabilities; and (d) US conventional retaliations for North Korean conventional first strikes would not destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability. To be sure, prima facie, any US nuclear preemption would be implausible and potentially catastrophic. Reciprocally, assuming rationality, any North Korean nuclear preemption against the United States or its allies would by inconceivable
 The origins of such a defense liein customary international law, more precisely in The Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, even the threat of an armed attack, if sufficiently grave or existential, could potentially justify certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925 (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).
 This system dates back to the 17th century and the Peace of Westphalia (1648), a treaty which ended the Thirty Years War. Looking ahead (see below), there are credible reasons to expect that traditional anarchy (absence of centralized world legal authority) will be replaced by an unprecedented chaos. 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.
Whether described in the Old Testament or in other evident sources of Western philosophy, chaos can be as much a source of large-scale human improvement as a source of decline. Interestingly, it is this prospectively positive side of chaos that is intended by Friedrich Nietzsche’s curious remark in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883): “I tell you, ye have still chaos in you.” When expressed in analytically neutral tones, chaos is that condition which prepares the world for all things, whether sacred or profane. It represents that yawning gulf of “emptiness” where nothing is as yet, but where still-remaining civilizational opportunity can still originate. The 18th century German poet Friedrich Hölderlin observes: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic, which stands at the roots of the things, and which prepares all things.” Insightfully, in the ancient pagan world, Greek philosophers thought of this particular “desert” as logos, a primal concept which indicates that chaos is anything but starkly random or without merit.
Indirect vulnerabilities would be those derivative threats made manifest in other countries or in other country relations. Under certain readily imaginable circumstances, America’s indirect and/or direct vulnerabilities could sometime become existential.
 For early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy
 Says philosopher of science Karl Popper, citing to German poet Novalis: “Theory is a net. Only those who cast, can catch.” See Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).
Dialectical thinking originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions. From the standpoint of currently necessary refinements in US strategic planning vis-à-vis North Korea, this knowledge should never be taken for granted.
 This principle was axiomatic among the ancient Greeks and Macedonians. See. F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (1957).
See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School: https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/ See also, by Professor Beres, at Modern War Institute, West Point: https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/
Drawn from the aptly famous statement of Athenians to the Melians (a colony of Sparta) from “The Debate on the Fate of Melos” (Thucydides, 416 BCE).
 Elements of such essential doctrine could sometime prove counter-intuitive. For example, from the standpoint of stable nuclear deterrence, the likelihood of any actual nuclear conflict between states (inter alia) could be inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms. Nonetheless, this is only an “informal presumption” because we are here considering a unique or unprecedented event, one that is sui generis for purposes of determining any true mathematical probabilities.
 In the words of French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s the Phenomenon of Man (1955): “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom…” This existence of interconnectedness has certain legal or jurisprudential manifestations as well. To wit, the core legal rights assured by the Declaration and Constitution can never be correctly confined to citizens of the United States. This is because both documents were conceived by their authors as codifications of a pre-existing Natural Law. Although fully unrecognized by the Trump administration, the United States was expressly founded upon the Natural Rights philosophies of the 18th century Enlightenment, especially Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau. Thomas Jefferson was well acquainted with the classic writings of political philosophy, from Plato to Diderot. In those very early days of the Republic, it is presently worth recalling, an American president could not only read serious books, he could also write them.
 To best remedy such dissembling anarchy, Sigmund Freud observed: “Wars will only be prevented with certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central authority to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed over. There are clearly two separate requirements involved in this: the creation of a supreme agency and its endowment with the necessary power. One without the other would be useless.” (See: Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, cited in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10 (1973-73), p, 27.) Interestingly, Albert Einstein held very similar views. See, for example: Otto Nathan et al. eds., Einstein on Peace (New York: Schoken Books, 1960).
The seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, instructs that although international relations are in a “state of nature,” it is nonetheless a more benign condition than the condition of individual man in nature. With individual human beings, Hobbes reflects, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” Now, however, with the advent and spread of nuclear weapons, there is no longer any reason to believe that the state of nature remains more tolerable. Because of this significant transformation of the state of nations into a true Hobbesian state of nature, states such as North Korea are increasingly apt to search for a presumptively suitable “equalizer.”
 In his seminal writings, strategic theorist Herman Kahn once introduced a further distinction between a surprise attack that is more-or-less unexpected and a surprise attack that arrives “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 tangible national security policy benefit. See: Herman Kahn, Thinking About the Unthinkable in the 1980s (Simon & Schuster, 1984).
 See by this author, at one of his earliest books: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980).
 Under authoritative international law, which is generally part of US law, the question of whether or not a “state of war” exists between states is ordinarily ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal declaration of war was necessary before any true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chs. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war can obtain only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated, inter alia, that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, formal declarations of war could be tantamount to admissions of international criminality because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law. It could, therefore, represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to prior declarations of belligerency. It follows, further, that a state of war may exist without any formal declarations, but only if there should exist an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”
 According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a treaty is always an international agreement “concluded between States….” See Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M., 679 (1969).
 See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, https://harvardnsj.org/2020/03/complex-determinations-deciphering-enemy-nuclear-intentions/
 “In a dark time,” says the American poet Theodore Roethke, “the eye begins to see.”
 From the standpoint of international law, it is 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 is launched not out of any genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in some pertinent 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 appropriately ascertained urgencies can be acknowledged could prove “fatal” (existential).
 Customary international law, which must be the jurisprudential justification for any permissible defensive first strike or preemption, is identified as an authoritative source of world legal norms at Art. 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice. International law, an integral part of the legal system of all states in world politics, assumes a general obligation of states to supply benefits to one another, and to avoid war wherever possible. This core assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, that is, one that is not subject to any reasonable question. It can be found, inter alia, in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis, Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625) and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law (1758).
 See Karl Popper’s classic work, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).
 The Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman (1903) observes: “Man’s heart is in his weapons….in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself….”
 In assessing the risks and benefits of such a search, analysts would have to pay close attention to specific scenarios of a “limited nuclear war.”
 Because war and genocide are not mutually exclusive, either strategically or jurisprudentially, taking proper systemic steps toward war avoidance could reasonably reduce the likelihood of certain egregious “crimes against humanity.”
Assured destruction capacity refers to the ability to inflict an “unacceptable” degree of damage upon an attacker after absorbing a first strike. Mutual assured destruction (MAD) describes a condition in which an assured destruction capacity is possessed by opposing sides. Counterforce strategies are those which target an adversary’s strategic military facilities and supporting infrastructure. Such strategies may be dangerous not only because of the “collateral damage” they might produce, but also because they may heighten the likelihood of first-strike attacks. In this connection, collateral damage refers to the damage done to human and non-human resources as a consequence of strategic strikes directed at enemy forces or at military facilities. This “unintended” damage could nonetheless involve large numbers of casualties and fatalities.
 This capacity is contingent upon the expected rationality of the adversarial state. Irrational adversaries would likely not be suitably deterred by the same threats directed at presumptively rational foes. On pertinent errors of correct deterrence reasoning (here regarding Iran in particular) 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).
Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Blaise 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.
 For the United States, international law remains a part of this nation’s core domestic 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. 1984) (per curiam) (Edwards, J. concurring) (dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985) (“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”) Also, for pertinent decisions by John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).
 One such place concerns the codified right to “self-defense.” The right of self-defense is a peremptory or jus cogens norm under international law. According to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “…a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M. 679 (1969).
 According to the rules of international law, every use of force must be judged twice: once with regard to the right to wage war (jus ad bellum), and once with regard to the means used in conducting war (jus in bello). Today, in the aftermath of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, and the United Nations Charter, all right to aggressive war has been abolished. However, the long-standing customary right of self-defense remains, codified at Article 51 of the 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. The laws 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 Hague and Geneva Conventions (and known thereby as the law of The Hague and the law of Geneva), these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into belligerent calculations.
 Se, by this author, Louis René Beres; https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/03/louis-rene-beres-worst-does-sometime-happen-nuclear-war-ukraine/
 Each pertinent thought or idea presents a complication that then moves onward to the next pertinent thought or idea. Contained in this dialectic is an unending obligation to continue thinking, an obligation that can never be fulfilled altogether (because of what the philosophers call the “infinite regress problem”), but that must still be attempted as fully and as capably as possible. The core term, “dialectic,” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. Today, the most common meaning is that dialectic is a method of seeking truth via correct reasoning. From the standpoint of present nuclear concerns, the following operations may be identified as essential but also nonexclusive components of a strategic dialectic: (1) a method of refutation 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 a synthesis of these opposites. Dialectic has its likely beginnings in the 5th century B.C.E., as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, was recognized by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophical/analytic method. In one of these dialogues, Plato describes the dialectician as someone who knows how to ask and to answer questions. This is what should now be adapted to the US study of North Korean nuclear threats.
 To look behind the news, beyond the specific adversarial issues of US-North Korea nuclear relations, we might best consider the wise and overarching insight of 20th century German philosopher Karl Jaspers: “The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.” It was this spirit, quintessentially, that from the start overwhelmed and misdirected former US President Donald J. Trump.
 Further to an earlier comment about world system “anarchy,” 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. Nonetheless, in international law, there are always certain core obligations that each state owes to other nations. See, accordingly, by Louis René Beres: https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/jurist-us-abandons-legal-obligations-syria; and
 More plausibly, after four years of corrosive Trump-sowed neglect and disharmony, the world resonates with a warning offered by Hermann Hesse in Steppenwolf (1927): “This world, as it is now, wants to perish….” See also the fearful metaphors of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s the Phenomenon of Man: “A rocket rising in the wake of time’s arrow, that only bursts to be extinguished; an eddy rising on the bosom of a descending current – such then must be our picture of the world.”
 As 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 discussed here can be justified and explained in more secular terms of purely analytic understanding.
 The “mass-man,” we may learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses, “learns only in his own flesh.” This is never a reasonable way to learn.
 See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace 70 (William Whewell, tr.), London: John W. Parker, 1853(1625).
 Under international law, the contemporary crime of aggression, derivative from earlier criminalizing codifications at Nuremberg’s 1945 London Charter and the 1928 Pact of Paris, has nothing to do with the particular nature of weaponry employed (conventional or unconventional). 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.
 Generically, in this regard, one must also take into account policy miscalculation or outright irrationality of an American president. On such matters, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/
 This question raises certain antecedent matters of “will.” Modern philosophic origins of this diaphanous term lie in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps even more importantly upon Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948), and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).
 This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?
 “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another,” asks Samuel Beckett philosophically in Endgame, “of seeking justification always on the same plane?” Thought the celebrated Irish playwright was certainly not thinking specifically about world politics or national security, his generalized query remains well-suited to this strategic inquiry. As zero-sum power-politics has never worked, why keep insisting upon it as a viable doctrine?