American and Russian “Firebreaks”: Survival Risks of Asymmetrical Nuclear Doctrine

There are multiple reasons to worry about a nuclear war stemming from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

“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 in the 1980s (1984)

Background of the problem

There are multiple reasons to worry about a nuclear war stemming from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.[1] Most worrisome is that accelerating enhancement of Vladimir Putin’s theater nuclear forces would lower Russia’s threshold of nuclear weapons use.[2] Such lowering would apply at both doctrinal and operational levels. Though nothing scientific[3] could be determined about such matters (i.e., unprecedented matters known in science as sui generis),[4] estimatedprobabilities would still be calculable.     

               For strategists and policy-makers, there would be variously pertinent particulars. At a minimum, all estimated calculations of probability should be dialectical.[5] Accordingly, when examined from the standpoint of deterrent threat credibility, theatre (tactical) nuclear forces would appear more persuasive than strategic  nuclear forces. This is because the retaliatory use of shorter-range/lower-yield nuclear forces would seem less “unthinkable.”[6]

               This understanding is neither new nor contrived. Inter alia, it remains consistent with almost four generations of continuously self-refining strategic theory. Such theory, moreover, has remained focused not only on enemy threat capabilities (e.g., conventional versus nuclear destructiveness), but also on decipherable enemy intentions.[7]  

               For meaningful assessments of US and Russian nuclear doctrine, adversarial capabilities and intentions will need to be examined in their widest conceivable assortment of possible intersections. Some of the most problematic possibilities could be synergistic.[8] Prima facie, this would make any tangibly useful estimations even more difficult.

Russia’s posture of “nuclear first-use”

               Regarding Russia’s presumed war objectives in Ukraine, there are many “moving parts” for American military planners to examine. During the Soviet Union’s last years, Moscow incorporated basic elements of nuclear “first use” into its codified strategic doctrine. Now it appears that President Vladimir Putin is actively re-committing to this Soviet-era nuclear doctrine. Because United States policy firmly rejects the Russian assumption that a first-use of theatre nuclear weapons would not breach any critical escalatory threshold, Putin’s unwavering recommitment could at some point become irreversibly destabilizing.

               In such delicate and unique matters, history would warrant disciplined pride of place. From 1949 onward, traditional Soviet nuclear doctrine minimized the more obvious and prudent “firebreak” between conventional weapons and nuclear weapons. More particularly, earlier Russian military doctrine assumed few unique escalatory differences between theater nuclear forces and high-consequence conventional (including chemical and/or biological) forces.

               For the United States, on the other hand, strategic doctrine has consistently identified the critical escalatory “firebreak” as between conventional weapons and nuclear weapons of any sort. In essence, therefore, Russian doctrine continuously asserts that an escalation from non-nuclear weapons to theater nuclear weapons need not signal any existential threat to the United States. Rather, continues this assertion, such an escalation would merely introduce a new warfighting weapon into a localized theatre of combat. But among other things, this assertion would conspicuously ignore variously correlative apprehensions that could immediately arise in Washington.

               There is more. Going forward, the United States and its NATO allies would do best to understand these core doctrinal differences as an intellectual rather than political problem.[9] In the context of any future US-Russia competition for “escalation dominance” (an unpredictable competition in strategic risk-taking), the primary battlefield would be neither terrestrial nor extraterrestrial. Instead, it would be a cognitive landscape, a not-always tangible arena of “mind.”

               At some point, in consequence of their assessments of such inherently perilous issues, Russian, American and other nations’ strategists will find themselves confronted by accumulating challenges of complexity. In the most readily imaginable venues of prospective nuclear confrontation, latent and visible hazards could be exacerbated by asymmetries of basic nuclear doctrine and by the corresponding interactions of contending nuclear doctrine. Whether foreseen or unforeseen, any or all such interactions could sometime become synergistic. Any such force-multiplying interactions would be ones wherein the recognizable “whole” of any armed conflict would be greater than the expected sum of its “parts.”[10]  Significantly, this interactive prospect concerns not just some minor points of academic deliberation or theoretical distraction, but potentially the most vital foundation of civilizational survival.

Facing an intellectual (not political) problem

               To summarize thus far:  Nuclear war avoidance should always be approached by pertinent national leaders as a preeminently intellectual problem.[11] For the United States, any such obligatory avoidance would reference a problem that will need to be confronted in tandem with other many-sided strategic challenges. During the relentlessly anti-intellectual Trump years,[12] an American era of decision-making incoherence[13] on military matters, suggestions of scientific assessment were routinely brushed aside by the White House. All too frequently, these capricious dismissals were accompanied by gestures and policies of witting analytic indifference.

                During those years of dissembling American policy-making, major US national security problems were framed by an unprepared American president in needlessly rancorous terms. Regarding present US concerns about a nuclear war triggered by Russia’s criminal behaviors in Ukraine,[14] these frameworks were founded upon militarily senseless appeals to extraneous ad hominem preferences. Ipso facto, these frameworks were not founded upon what was most genuinely needed. Among other evident deficits, the haphazardly constructed American security policies of the Trump Era were not fashioned with any informed concern for the many-sided requirements of “escalation dominance.”[15]

               Routinely, as understood from the interrelated standpoints of disciplined doctrine and formal logic, Trump’s typically illogical appeals exhibited grave errors in strategic reasoning.[16] Most obvious among these multiple and synergistic fallacies was an argument known formally asthe argumentum ad bacculum.[17] From the start of his incoherent presidency, Donald J. Trump worked visibly to aggravate and compound this potentially irremediable misrepresentation. Warned the ancient philosopher Tertullian, Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.”

                Today, armed with greater regard for applicable intellectual factors, American planners and policy-makers could look more systematically at what might lie ahead. What will happen next in Vladimir Putin’s determinedly cruel war against Ukraine,[18] a war of aggression and genocide waged against hospitals, schools, nursing home and child-care centers?[19] How can the United States best prepare for nuclear war avoidance or genocide[20] in a European theater being rendered more and more unstable by an un apologetic tyrant? Playing Putin’s “nuclear firebreak” game, should Washington seek to persuade Moscow of America’s plausible willingness to “go nuclear” according to Russian-defined policy thresholds, or should the America proceed “asymmetrically” with its own fundamentally different firebreak?

               In the end, the core question is as follows: How could the United States best respond to any Russian war’s probable outcomes,[21] a hard-to-decipher military quandary that contains the inherently existential perils of asymmetrical nuclear firebreak doctrine.[22]

               For the United States, it is high time for fewer clichés and more intellection.[23] Regarding their indispensable responsibilities for world peace and global stabilization (these goals can never be achieved by ordinary politicians of any ideological stripe), capable strategic 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 matters of presumed physical suffering.        

Impacts of Cold War II

               “Cold War II”[24] represents a comprehensive systemic context within which virtually all contemporary world politics could be meaningfully categorized and systematically evaluated. 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? Where should we go from here?

               Only the right questions can lead to right answers. Planning ahead, what explanatory theories and scenarios could best guide the United States in its multiple and foreseeable interactions with North Korea, China, Iran, India, Pakistan and Russia? Before answering this question with adequate conceptual clarity, “correct” answers will depend upon a more closely considered awareness of relevant intersections and overlaps.

               Going forward with an informed understanding of Russian leadership orientations, US strategic decision-makers will have to consider one overarching assumption: This is the always-troubling expectation of adversarial rationality. Depending upon the outcome of any such consideration, determined judgments will be vastly different and variably urgent.

               A primary “order of business” for America’s strategic analysts and planners will be reaching accurate 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? What about other prospective adversaries? What about China, North Korea and (a nearly nuclear) Iran? Above all, what about the asymmetrical nuclear firebreaks seemingly accepted by the two still-dominant superpowers?

               Soon, for scholars and policy-makers, additional basic questions will need to 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 the same as madness.[25] 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 an adversary state’s national security decision-making processes.

               There is nothing suitable here for the intellectually faint-hearted.[26] This is not an issue about “attitude” (the empty term Trump had used to describe what he regarded as most important to diplomatic negotiation), but about science-based “preparations.”[27]

               Sometimes, for the United States, understanding and anticipating these ascertainable effects could display authentic existential importance. In such considerations, word selection could matter a great deal. In normal strategic parlance, “irrationality” identifies a decisional foundation wherein national self-preservation is not summa, not the highest and ultimate preference. This preference ordering could have variously significant and distinctly palpable policy implications.

               An irrational decision-maker in Moscow need not be determinably “mad” to become troubling for strategic policy planners in Washington. Such an adversary would need “only” to be more prominently concerned about certain other discernible preferences or values than its own collective self-preservation. Normally, though any such national behavior would be unexpected and counter-intuitive, it would still not be unprecedented or inconceivable. Moreover, identifying the specific criteria or correlates of any such preferred alternatives could prove irremediably subjective or literally indecipherable.

               Whether Putin were deemed irrational or “mad,” US military planners would still have to input generally similar crisis calculations. 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. Any such failure of US military deterrence could include both conventional and nuclear retaliatory threats.

Enemy rationality, irrationality and nuclear war by accident

               In fashioning America’s nuclear strategy vis-à-vis nuclear and not-yet-nuclear adversaries,[28] US military planners would have to include a mechanism to determine whether the pertinent foe will more likely be rationalor irrational. Operationally, this means calculating whether this enemy would 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 would need to be based on defensibly sound analytic and intellectual principles. In principle, at least, this judgment should never be affected by what any particular analysts might “want to believe.”[29]

A further analytic distinction will be 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 be accidental.[30] False warnings, which could be spawned by mechanical, electrical or computer malfunction (or by hacking)[31] would not signify the origins of an inadvertent nuclear war. They would fit under the more clarifying conceptual narratives of an accidental nuclear war.

               Most concerning 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.[32]

A core problem, in this regard, would be asymmetrical views on what constitutes the critical nuclear threshold or firebreak. If the Russian side believed that the critical threshold was between theatre and strategic nuclear weapons and the American side believed this threshold to obtain between conventional and nuclear weapons of any size or range, there would then arise certain mutual and extraordinary decisional risks. These risks could be without any historical precedent.

               In facing off against each other, even under optimal assumptions of mutual rationality, the American and Russian presidents would have to concern themselves with all possible miscalculations, errors in information, unauthorized uses of strategic weapons, mechanical or computer malfunctions and assorted nuances of cyber-defense/cyber-war. Even if Putin were suddenly judged to be humane and law-oriented – a preposterous assumption, to be sure – Europe could still descend rapidly into some form or other of uncontrollable nuclear conflagration. If this prospect of utter chaos 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 future nuclear risk-taking and conflict in other parts of the globe, especially Asia (e.g., Pakistan, India and China) and/or the Middle East (e.g., Israel and Iran). Even a still pre-nuclear Iran would have access to radiation dispersal weapons and (by conventional rocket attack) to Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona. Furthermore, nuclear war against a still pre-nuclear Iran could arise if already nuclear North Korea, a close ally of Iran, were willing to act as Tehran’s military surrogate against Israel.

               What about the Trump-brokered “Abraham Agreements?” There is no convincing reason to believe that these politically contrived accords could ever reduce the decipherable risks of a regional nuclear war. To the contrary, the intended effect of these agreements to humiliate Shiite Iran is apt to backfire in variously unforeseen and force-multiplying ways. Israel, of course, never had any credible reason to worry about suffering major war with Bahrain, Morocco or the United Arab Emirates. For Israel, the Abraham Agreements “put an end” only to patently nonexistent hazards. But they likely did enlarge certain Sunni national hopes (e.g., Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to join the “nuclear club.”

 Pretended irrationality as nuclear strategy

               There is more. A corollary US obligation, depending in large part upon prior judgments concerning enemy rationality, will expect strategic planners to assess whether a properly nuanced posture of “pretended irrationality” could enhance America’s nuclear deterrence posture. On several occasions, it should be recalled, former President Donald Trump openly praised the untested premises of such an eccentric posture. Was such presidential praise intellectually warranted, even if the president himself was reasoning only by “man in the street” extrapolations?

               To respond, US enemies continue to include both state and sub-state foes, whether considered singly or in multiple forms of collaboration. Such forms could be “hybridized” in different ways between state and sub-state adversaries.[33] 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.”[34]  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.”[35]

               There is something else. On occasion, these same enemies could “decide,” whether consciously or unwittingly, to actually be irrational.[36]  In any such dissembling circumstances, it would become incumbent upon American strategic planners to capably assess which basic form of irrationality –  pretended or authentic – was 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 intellectual terms, this would represent an uncommonly “tall order.”

                In this particular context, the term “dialectically” (drawn originally from ancient Greek thought, especially Plato’s dialogues) should be used with expressly precise meanings. Such warning is suggested to signify a continuous or ongoing question-and-answer format of strategic reasoning. For an American president and his counselors, nothing less disciplined could reasonably 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 threatening prospect of facing a genuinely irrational nuclear adversary is prospectively most worrisome with regard to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Apropos of all such apprehensions, it is unlikely that they could ever be reduced solely by means of formal treaties or other similarly traditional law-based agreements.[37]

               Here, however, it would be worth remembering seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ classic warning in Leviathan:  “Covenants, without the sword, are but words….”[38] 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 another worldwide pandemic and (perhaps correspondingly) the opaque effects of any consequent chaos. In the final analysis, it ought never to be forgotten, we human beings are all creatures of biology.

Chaos or anarchy?

               Further conceptual clarifications are in order. Chaos is not the same as anarchy. Chaos is more than anarchy.[39] We have all lived with anarchy or the absence of central government in modern world politics since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648,[40] but we have yet to descend into any worldwide chaos.[41]

                Even in the midst of anarchy (unlike chaos) there can be law. Since the 17th century, international law has functioned according to an often indecipherable “balance of power.” For an American president conversant with the Constitution, international law[42] is integrally a part of United States law. When former President Trump actively sought on several occasions to undermine international  law, he was acting contrary to both systems of law, national (domestic/municipal) and international.[43] The fact that these that systems were overlapping and inter-penetrating went unacknowledged.

               How should the American president proceed to manage potential nuclear war risks over Ukraine? In principle, at least, the best option could seem to be some form of law-based military correction; that is, a non-nuclear defensive action directed against situationally appropriate hard targets outside of Russia. In actuality, it is already very late for launching an operationally cost-effective US/NATO operation against Russian forces. And with a particular awareness of the asymmetrical nuclear firebreak theories accepted by each superpower, any such action could come at a far too-substantial human cost. If Putin would escalate military options in the Ukraine war to include tactical/theatre nuclear forces, the United States “firebreak” interpretation of this escalation could be very different from what Russia intended and expected. Though Moscow would certainly not view this regional escalation as existentially threatening to the United States, Washington could still calculate otherwise. In short order, there could be an American escalation to more destructive military involvement and ultimately even to strategic nuclear weapons.

               How likely is such a catastrophic misinterpretation and outcome? The scenario is sui generis. It is therefore impossible to answer any such question in appropriately logical and scientific terms.

               In very specific regard to crisis decision-making, the American side should consider how its nuclear weapons could best be leveraged in any plausible nuclear war scenario. A rational answer here could likely never include the actual operational use of such weapons. The only relevant questions for a president’s strategic planners should concern the calculable extent to which an asymmetrical US threat of nuclear escalation (from theater/tactical to strategic nuclear weapons) could be simultaneously credible and prudent (i.e., cost-effective.)[44]

               All this implies a primary obligation for the United States to focus continuously on incremental enhancements to its nuclear deterrence posture and to develop a sufficiently wide and nuanced range of nuclear retaliatory options. The specific rationale of any such development would be a counter-intuitive understanding that the credibility of nuclear threats could on occasion vary inversely with perceived levels of destructiveness. In certain foreseeable circumstances, this means that successful nuclear deterrence of Russia over its explicitly criminal war against Ukraine could depend upon nuclear weapons that are deemed low-yield or “small.”

               Sometimes, in fashioning a national nuclear deterrence posture,[45] counter-intuitive strategic insight is convincingly “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 near-total unawareness of disciplined nuclear deterrence. In nuclear crisis circumstances, however unique, threat-based credibility could vary inversely with threat-related harms. At this moment in history, moreover, such an understanding will be indispensable to Israel’s impending war with Iran, a war for national survival in which Iran would still be pre-nuclear, but in which “going nuclear” could be possible and purposeful for Israel.

Nuclear weapons as instruments of war prevention, not punishment

                 There is more. A US president should always bear in mind that any national nuclear posture should remain focused on war prevention(deterrence ex ante) rather than punishment (revenge ex post). In all identifiable circumstances, using a portion of its available nuclear forces for vengeance rather than deterrence would miss the most 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. Among other things, this would be a good time for US nuclear crisis planners and decision–makers to re-read Clausewitz regarding primacy of the “political object.”

                These are all complex intellectual issues, not narrowly political ones. America’s many-sided nuclear deterrent should always 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. Though it is already well-known that no system of active defense can ever be reassuringly “leak-proof,” there is still good reason to suppose that certain BMD deployments would help safeguard US civilian populations (soft targets) and American nuclear retaliatory forces (hard targets).

               This means, among other things,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,[46] successful US deterrence would need to be based upon credible threats to enemy values other than (or additional to) national survival..

                America will have to rely on a broadly multi-faceted doctrine of nuclear deterrence.[47] In turn, like its already-nuclear Israeli ally,[48] 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.[49] 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 pre-fashionedand comprehensive strategic nuclear doctrine.

               There remains one penultimate but 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 could already pose 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 made susceptible to certain alternate forms of dissuasion.

                Resembling rational leaderships, these decision-makers could still maintain a fixed, determinable and “transitive” hierarchy of preferences. This means, at least in principle, that “merely” irrational enemies could sometimes be successfully deterred. This represents an observation worth further analytic study, especially at a time when more sweeping Russian aggressions could become de rigeur.

               Mad or “crazy” adversaries 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 face a mad nuclear enemy than a “merely” irrational one, Washington would have no foreseeable choice in defining 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 each for its identifiable adversaries that are presumptively (1) rational (2) irrational or (3) mad.

               This will not be task for narrowly political or intellectually adverse US strategic decision-makers. Among other things, it will require a capable assessment of plausible synergies, some of them dissemblingly subjective. For the most notably unpredictable third track, special plans would also be needed for potentially indispensable preemptions and for corresponding/overlapping efforts atballistic missile defense.

                There could be no reliable assurances that any one “track” would consistently present exclusively of the other two. 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.[50]

                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 used by these foes in making their own strategic calculations. Always, it should never be forgotten, rationality refers only to the intention of maximizing specifically designated preference or values. It says nothing about whether the information used is actually correct or incorrect.

International law            

                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 was 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 would prove catastrophic.

               America is not automatically made safer by having only rational adversaries. Even fully rational enemy leaderships could commit serious errors in calculation that would lead them toward nuclear confrontation and/or 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 variously risky nuclear behaviors. It follows that even the most pleasingly “optimistic” assessments of enemy leadership decision-making could never reliably preclude catastrophic outcomes.[51]

               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 conspicuously deliberate humility. Of special interest, in this connection, would be the always-erroneous presumption that having greater nuclear military power than an adversary is automatically an assurance of future bargaining or diplomatic success.

.              Why erroneous? Among other things, it is because the tangible amount of deliverable nuclear firepower required for deterrence is much less than what could ever be required for “victory.”[52] For an American president, this is already time for nuanced and purposeful counter-intuitive wisdom.

                For the United States, classical Greek commentaries concerning hubris, if left unheeded, could bring forth once unimaginable spasms of “retribution.”[53] The ancient tragedians, after all, were not yet called upon to reason about nuclear decision-making. None of this suggests ad hoc thinking upon America’s most reasonable fears or apprehensions, but to remind that competent national security planning should always be conceptualized as a complex and detailed struggle of “mind over mind.”[54]

               These issues remain fundamentally intellectualproblems, challenges requiring meticulous analytic preparation[55] rather than any particular presidential “attitude.”[56] Above all, such planning ought never become just another calculable contest of “mind over matter;”[57] that is, never just a vainly overvalued inventory of comparative weaponization or “order of battle.” Unless this rudimentary point is more completely understood by senior US strategic policymakers and by the president of the United States – and until these same policymakers can begin to see the overriding wisdom of expanded global cooperation and human “oneness”[58] – America could never render itself sufficiently secure from a 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 clarifying imagery of ancient Greek drama, the American president should become openly averse to any “monarchical-style” hubris. To assume that the continuously failing system of belligerent nationalism first bestowed at Westphalia in 1648 could reliably prevent nuclear war in the long-term represents human arrogance and self-delusion at its imaginable worst. For the United States, reducing the threat of a catastrophic nuclear war with Russia should be based upon suitably refined intellectual foundations. These include the worrisome asymmetry between US and Russian nuclear escalatory thresholds.

Perceptions of credibility

               Crises between Washington and Moscow would never concern relative capabilities for strategic destruction. They would be about “perceptions of credibility,” perceptions that could be erroneous or 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 nuclear escalation “ladder.”

               In these matters, there could obtain no historically-based templates of purposeful action. Rather, all possible outcomes would remain highly unpredictable and sorely problematic. For a president of the United States, the present 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 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 would nonetheless warrant Washington’s analyticattention. As the Russians are already re-cycling Soviet-era doctrines on tactical nuclear weapons, these updated iterations will still need to be expertly vetted and constantly re-assessed. Among other things, such obligatory examinations by American strategists should focus on plausible meanings of lower yields and shorter ranges in Russian military doctrine.

                If Putin should sometime prove willing to cross the conventional-tactical nuclear firebreak on the assumption that such a move would not invite any reciprocal cycle of nuclear escalation with the United States, the American president could face an overwhelmingly tragic choice: total capitulation or nuclear war.Though it would be best for the United States to avoid ever having to reach such a fateful decisional moment, there could still be no guarantees of “mutual assured prudence” between Washington and Moscow. It follows that growing perils of asymmetrical nuclear doctrine should be countered incrementally and intellectually. There are prospectively good “answers” for the United States and its allies in handling this unprecedented matter, but they could be determined only by capable dialectical struggles of “mind over mind.”

               Looking ahead at “Cold War II,” American security and survival will hinge on fostering utterly vital “perceptions of credibility,” Regarding Russia’s nuclear doctrine, only dedicated analytic minds can distance Planet Earth from World War III. In essence, taken together with Russia’s war against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s strategic doctrine blurs essential conceptual lines between conventional and nuclear conflict and creates existential hazards for the United States. The solely rational response from Washington should be to understand these unsustainable hazards, and to plan appropriately for their most efficient minimization or removal.

               In his escalating crimes of aggression and genocide[59] against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been recycling provocative elements of Soviet-era nuclear doctrine. One key element concerns the absence of any presumptive or codified “firebreak” between conventional and tactical nuclear force engagements. Much as it was during the Soviet-era of superpower nuclear deterrence, Moscow now identifies the critical escalatory threshold as a first use of high-yield, long range strategic nuclear weapons, not as any “first move” from conventional to theatre nuclear weapons.

               As we have just seen, this core doctrinal identification is not shared by the United States, and could sometime erode once-stabilizing barriers of intra-war deterrence between the two principal (and original) superpowers. Whether sudden or incremental, any such erosion could impact the likelihood of both deliberate and inadvertent nuclear war. Accordingly, it should occupy a more conspicuously important place in United States nuclear threat assessments and in United States nuclear deterrence posture. The central situation of asymmetrical nuclear firebreak theory between Washington and Moscow cannot be remediated by international treaty or unilateral fiat, but it still deserves a place of subject matter primacy in America’s strategic planning.

               This makes it a very important and determinative situation.

               Herman Kahn’s seminal writings on Thinking About the Unthinkable[60] remain timely. They can still remind both original superpowers of what could best stabilize nuclear deterrence: “Deterrence,” says Kahn, “is not just a matter of military capabilities. It has a great deal to do with perceptions of credibility.”

[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] On Vladimir Putin’s growing bellicosity concerning operational nuclear weapons use, see:

[3] “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).

[4] On “escalation dominance,” see article by Professor Louis René Beres at The War Room, US Army War College, Pentagon:

[5] 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.

[6]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).

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

[8]See earlier, by this author, at Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School: Louis René Beres,

[9] See, by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Horasis (Zürich):

[10] 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).

[11] 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.”

[12] See, by this writer, Louis René Beres:  . 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.

[13] 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.”

[14]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).

[15] See, by this author, at The War Room (Pentagon):  Louis René Beres, 

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

[17] 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).

[18]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.

[19]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.

[20]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).

[21] 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.

[22]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.

[23] See earlier, 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.

[24]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.

[25]Expressions of decisional irrationality 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 the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[26]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.

[27] 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.”

[28] 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):

[29] 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.

[30] 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).

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

[32]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.

[33] 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.

[34] On “escalation dominance,” see article by Professor Louis René Beres at The War Room, US Army War College, Pentagon:

[35]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.


[36] 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.

[37] See, for example, by this author, at Yale:  Louis René Beres,

[38] 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.

[39]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.

[40]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.

[41]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.

[42]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.

[43]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.'”).

[44]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).

[45] 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.

[46] 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).

[47] On the primary importance of doctrine, by this author, see Louis René Beres, See also, concerning US ally Israel:

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

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

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

[51] 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).

[52] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Oxford University Press:

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

[54] 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.

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

[56] The trivializing 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 inane distinction, the former US President favored the former.

[57] 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).

[58] 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.

[59] Professor Beres is the author of several major books and law journal articles on genocide and genocide-like crimes. See, for example, Louis René Beres, “Genocide and Genocide-Like Crimes,” in M. Cherif Bassiouni., ed., International Criminal 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.  

[60] See Note # 5 (supra).

Prof. Louis René Beres
Prof. Louis René Beres
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) 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.