Preventing Nuclear War in the Middle East: Science, System and “Vision” – Modern Diplomacy

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“A scientist, whether theorist or experimenter, puts forward statements, or systems of statements, and tests them step by step.”-Karl R. Popper -The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959)
For the moment, informed global concerns about nuclear war avoidance center on superpower crises over Ukraine. Though such existential concerns are understandable and well-founded, there are coinciding nuclear threats in other parts of the world. More precisely, because world politics must always be evaluated as a system,[1] whatever happens in Ukraine regarding nuclear warfare matters could sometime spill over into the Middle East.
               Irremediably, the specific shape or form of any such “spillover” would be difficult to decipher.
               Now, a very basic query must be raised: What are the essential parameters of relevant strategic planning? Whether or not analysts care to admit it, a nuclear war in the Middle East is conceivable and more-or-less plausible.[2]Nothing can be said about tangible probabilities because a nuclear war – any nuclear war – would represent a unique event. By definition, any nuclear conflict would be sui generis. In science and mathematics, true probabilities must be based upon the isolable frequency of pertinent past events.
               Always.
               Quo Vadis? By definition, no other subject of national security concern could possibly justify comparably serious examinations. This means, inter alia, that Israel’s most capable strategic thinkers and scholars are immediately responsible for ensuring that virtually every imaginable nuclear war scenario will be suitably delineated and explored.[3] It suggests further that Israel’s strategic analyses be consistently and expressly theoretical.
               Recalling philosopher of science Karl Popper’s oft-quoted line (borrowed from the classic German poet, Novalis), “Theory is a net. Only those who cast, can catch.”[4]
               A core question needs to be raised at the outset: How might Israel find itself caught up in a nuclear war? Under what identifiable circumstances could Israel discover itself involved with actual nuclear weapons use?
               Presently, as Israel remains the only regional nuclear power, such concerns could appear baseless. Nonetheless, always changing “order-of-battle” considerations could change suddenly and unexpectedly, most ominously in regard to Iran.[5] Even in the continuing absence of a regional nuclear adversary, a beleaguered Israel could find itself having to rely upon nuclear deterrence against sub-nuclear (i.e., biological and/or massive conventional) threats. Acknowledging such a potentially existential reliance, the prospect of atomic weapons firing ought never be excluded or ruled out ipso facto.
               What next? To answer its most basic nuclear security questions, Jerusalem’s strategic planners will need to adhere closely to variously well-established canons of systematic inquiry, logical analysis and dialectical reasoning. Accordingly, there are four intersecting narratives that best “cover the bases” of Israel’s obligatory nuclear preparedness: Nuclear Retaliation; Nuclear Counter Retaliation; Nuclear Preemption; and Nuclear War fighting.  In sufficient detail, here is what these four comprehensive scenarios could reveal to that country’s capable leaders and scholars:
(1)          Nuclear Retaliation
               Should an enemy state or alliance of enemy states ever launch a nuclear first-strike against Israel, Jerusalem would respond, assuredly, and to whatever extent judged possible/cost-effective, with a nuclear retaliatory strike. If enemy first-strikes were to involve certain other forms of unconventional weapons, notably high-lethality biological weapons, Israel might still launch a nuclear reprisal. This particular response would likely depend, in significant measure, on Jerusalem’s calculated expectations of follow-on aggression and its associated assessments of comparative damage-limitation.
               If Israel were to absorb “only” a massive conventional attack, a nuclear retaliation could not automatically be ruled out, especially if: (a) the state aggressor(s) were perceived to hold nuclear and/or other unconventional weapons in reserve; and/or (b) Israel’s leaders believed that exclusively non-nuclear retaliations could not prevent annihilation of the state. A nuclear retaliation by Israel could be ruled out ipso facto only where enemy state aggressions were conventional, “typical” (that is, sub-existential or consistent with previous historic instances of enemy attack in degree and intent), and hard-target directed (that is, directed solely toward Israeli weapons and military infrastructures, not at “soft” civilian populations).
(2)          Nuclear Counter retaliation
               Should Israel feel compelled to preempt enemy state aggression with conventional weapons, the target state(s)’ response would largely determine Jerusalem’s subsequent moves. If this response were in any way nuclear, Israel would expectedly turn to nuclear counter-retaliation. If this retaliation were to involve other weapons of mass destruction, Israel might then feel pressed to take an appropriate escalatory initiative. Any such initiative would necessarily reflect the presumed need for what is formally described in strategic parlance as “escalation dominance.”
                There is more. All pertinent decisions would depend upon Jerusalem’s early judgments of enemy state intent and on its accompanying calculations of essential damage-limitation. Should the enemy state response to Israel’s preemption be limited to hard-target conventional strikes, it is unlikely that Israel would move on to any nuclear counter retaliations. If, however, the enemy conventional retaliation were “all-out” and plainly directed toward Israeli civilian populations – not just at Israeli military targets – an Israeli nuclear counter retaliation could not be excluded.
               It would appear that such a unique counter-retaliation could be ruled out only if the enemy state’s conventional retaliation were entirely proportionate to Israel’s preemption, confined exclusively to Israeli military targets, circumscribed by the legal limits of “military necessity” (a limit routinely codified in the law of armed conflict)[6] and accompanied by various explicit and verifiable assurances of non-escalatory intent.
(3)          Nuclear Preemption
               It is prima facie implausible (perhaps generally even inconceivable) that Israel would ever decide to launch a preemptive nuclear strike. Although circumstances could arise wherein such a strike would be perfectly rational, it is unlikely that Israel would ever allow itself to reach such “all or nothing” security circumstances. Unless the relevant nuclear weapons were employed in a fashion still consistent with the authoritative laws of war,[7] this form of preemption would represent a flagrantly serious violation of binding (codified and customary) international rules.
               Even if such consistency were possible, the psychological/political impact on the world community would be negative and far-reaching. In essence, this means that an Israeli nuclear preemption could be expected only where (a) Israel’s state enemies had acquired nuclear and/or other weapons of mass destruction judged capable of annihilating the Jewish State; (b) these enemies had made it clear that their military intentions paralleled their capabilities; (c) these enemies were believed ready to begin an active “countdown to launch;” and (d) Jerusalem believed that Israeli non-nuclear preemptions could not possibly achieve needed minimum levels of damage-limitation – that is, levels consistent with physical preservation of the state and nation.[8]
               It is arguable, at least in principle, that an Israeli non-nuclear preemption could sometime represent the best way to reduce the risks of a regional nuclear war.  Such an argument would flow logically from the assumption that if Israel waits too long for Iran to strike first, that enemy (once it had crossed the nuclear weapons threshold) could launch its own nuclear attacks. Even if Iran should strike first with conventional weapons only, Israel might calculate no rational damage-limiting alternatives to launching a nuclear retaliation.
               To the extent that this narrative is taken as a reasonable scenario, the cost-effectiveness/legality of certain Israeli non-nuclear preemptions could be enhanced.  Arguably, in these actions, Jerusalem’s preemptive commitment to “anticipatory self-defense” would be entirely law-enforcing.  No such defense could be mustered on behalf of any Israeli nuclear preemption, an unprecedented attack that would (in virtually all conceivable circumstances) be in stark violation of authoritative international law.  A possible exception could obtain only if Israel’s resort to a nuclear preemption were compelled by plausible expectations of national disappearance (see, in this connection, the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice).
               Should Israel feel compelled to resort to actual nuclear war-fighting at some point after (1) enemy reprisals for Israel’s conventional preemption cause the state to escalate to nuclear weapons, or (2) enemy chemical/biological/conventional first-strikes cause Israel to escalate to nuclear weapons, the country would confront substantial problems under international law.  Should an enemy state launch nuclear first-strikes against Israel (not presently a possibility unless Pakistan is counted as an enemy state), Jerusalem’s retaliatory use of nuclear weapons would be less problematic jurisprudentially. At the same time, matters of law in such dire circumstances would become utterly moot.
(4)          Nuclear War fighting
               Should nuclear weapons be introduced into an actual conflict between Israel and its enemies, either by Israel or a particular foe, nuclear war fighting, at one level or another, would ensue. This would be true so long as: (a) enemy first-strikes against Israel would not destroy Jerusalem’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) enemy retaliations for an Israeli conventional preemption would not destroy Jerusalem’s nuclear counter retaliatory capability; (c) Israeli preemptive strikes involving nuclear weapons would not destroy adversarial second-strike nuclear capabilities; and (d) Israeli retaliation for enemy conventional first-strikes would not destroy enemy nuclear counter retaliatory capability.
               It follows that in order to satisfy its essential survival requirements, Israel should take immediate, recognizable and reliable steps to ensure the likelihood of (a) and (b) above and the unlikelihood of (c) and (d).
               In all cases, Israel’s nuclear strategy and forces must remain oriented toward deterrence, never to actual war fighting. With this in mind, in all likelihood, Jerusalem has already taken suitable steps to reject tactical or relatively low-yield “battlefield” nuclear weapons and any operational plans for counter-force targeting. For Israel, always and without exception, nuclear weapons can make sense only for deterrence ex ante; not revenge ex post.
               The four above scenarios should remind Israeli planners and policy-makers of the overriding need for coherent nuclear theory and strategy. Among other things, this need postulates a counter-value targeted nuclear retaliatory force that is recognizably secure from enemy first-strikes and presumptively capable of penetrating any enemy state’s active defenses. To best meet this imperative security expectation, the IDF would be well-advised to continue with its sea-basing (submarines) of designated portions of its nuclear deterrent force.[9] To satisfy the equally important requirements of “penetration-capability,” Tel-Aviv will have to stay conspicuously well ahead of all foreseeable enemy air defense refinements.
               There is more. Sooner rather than later, Jerusalem will need to consider a partial and possibly sequenced end to its historic policy of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.” By selectively beginning to remove the “bomb” from Israel’s “basement,” national planners would be better positioned to enhance the credibility of their country’s nuclear deterrence posture. However counter-intuitive, the mere possession of nuclear forces could never automatically bestow credible nuclear deterrence upon Israel or on any other nation-state.
               Always, something more would be necessary.
               In Israel’s strategic nuclear planning, would-be aggressors, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, should be systematically encouraged to believe that Jerusalem has the required will[10]to launch measured nuclear forces in retaliation and that these forces are sufficiently invulnerable to any-contemplated first-strike attacks. Additionally, these enemies must be made to expect that Israel’s designated nuclear forces could reliably penetrate all already-deployed ballistic-missile defenses and air defenses.
                Israel, it follows from all this, could benefit substantially from releasing at least certain broad outlines of its strategic configurations, capacities and doctrines. Without a prior and well-fashioned strategic doctrine, no such release could make sufficiently persuasive deterrent sense.
                Such intentionally released information could support the perceived utility and security of Israel’s nuclear retaliatory forces. Disclosed solely to enhance Israeli nuclear deterrence, it would center purposefully upon the targeting, hardening, dispersion, multiplication, basing, and yield of selected national ordnance. Under certain conditions, the credibility of Israeli nuclear deterrence could vary inversely with the perceived destructiveness of its pertinent weapons. These should never be treated as issues of “common sense.”            
                Among other fundamental concerns, Israel will need to prepare differently for an expectedly rational nuclear adversary than for an expectedly irrational one.[11] In such variously nuanced and unprecedented circumstances,[12] national decision-makers in Jerusalem would need to distinguish precisely and meaningfully between genuine enemy irrationality, pretended or feigned enemy irrationality and authentic enemy madness.[13] In actual military practice, operationalizing such subtle distinctions could present staggeringly complex intellectual challenges and would need to take account of whether pertinent principal adversaries were (1) fully or partially sovereign states; (2) sub-national terrorist groups; or (3) “hybrid” enemies comprised of both state and sub-state foes.
               Whatever nuances will be encountered in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the only rational way for Israel to effectively meet all these growing challenges will be to stay well ahead of its adversaries through the indispensable power of erudition and scholarship. Long ago, in classical Greece and Macedonia, the linked arts of war and deterrence were already described by military planners as challenges of “mind over mind,” not merely crude contests of “mind over matter.” For Israel, such ancient descriptions remain even more valid today.
               Before Israel can successfully satisfy its most primary security and survival obligations,                the country’s capable scholars must assume increasing intellectual responsibility for meeting the relevant challenges of “mind.” Most importantly, this means carrying on a coherent strategic “conversation” that goes significantly beyond usual day-to-day political commentaries or narrowly partisan observations. In the final analysis, Israel’s security situation must never be allowed to become a result of narrow political bickering between competing parties or interests. Instead, it should be allowed to emerge as the lifesaving outcome of optimally disciplined and dispassionate strategic scholarship.
               There is one additional observation, a crucial one that brings the reader back to current superpower disagreements over Ukraine. Though present concern is that these disagreements could impact the prospect of a nuclear conflict in the Middle East (because world politics must always be assessed as a system[14]), there are also variously urgent reciprocal concerns. To wit, a nuclear crisis or nuclear war in the Middle East could affect the likelihood of nuclear crisis or nuclear war between the United States and Russia over Ukraine.
               Of necessity, the basis of this bold assertion is deductive argument rather than empirical generalization. Such a reasoned basis is by no means useless, deceptive or inferior. It represents the only logically acceptable basis for offering estimations of any such unique (sui generis) strategic circumstances.[15]
               Going forward, the prevention of a nuclear war in the Middle East should always be founded upon science-based scholarship and law,[16] not on transient political factors. As a practical matter, observers are unlikely to see any propitious end to “Westphalian” international relations soon,[17] but planners and policy-makers must still acknowledge that the “dreadful equality” of Thomas Hobbes’ “State of Nature” among individuals is also starting to characterize the relationship of certain states in world politics. More to the point, with the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons, some of the “weakest” states could become able to “kill the strongest.”[18]
               Among other things, this hitherto ignored outcome would mean that a particular state’s tangible “superiority” in nuclear weapons might not necessarily produce any proportionate increments of national security or safety.
               “Realistically,” to sum up these matters concerning nuclear war avoidance in the Middle East, analysts ought to not soon expect any fundamental transformations of Realpolitik in the region. In the short term, at least, Israel’s planners and policy makers should continue to do whatever is needed and lawful[19] to maintain the country’s critical deterrence and defense postures. At the same time, and preferably in some sorts of institutionalized cooperation with potentially nuclear adversary Iran, Jerusalem should begin to think beyond the “Westphalian” system of self-help power politics altogether.[20] Though hard to take seriously regarding issues of international relations, the comprehensive wisdom of Federico Fellini does reasonably apply to variously complex matters of nuclear war avoidance:                 “The visionary,” warned the Italian film director succinctly but broadly, “is the only realist.”

[1] In this connection, recall the unchallengeable observation of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom….”
[2] For early accounts of nuclear war effects  by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). 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
[3] Rabbi Eleazar quoted Rabbi Hanina, who said: “Scholars build the structure of peace in the world.” See: The Babylonian Talmud, Order Zera’im, Tractate Berakoth, and IX.
[4] See Karl Popper, epigraph to The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).
[5] On deterring a soon-to-be nuclear Iran, see Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012; and Beres/Chain: Israel: https://besacenter.org/living-iran-israels-strategic-imperative-2/ General Jack Chain (USAF) was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), from 1986 to 1991.
[6] The law of armed conflict requires, inter alia, that every use of force by an army or an insurgent group meet the test of “proportionality.” Drawn from the core legal principle (St. Petersburg Declaration, 1868, etc.) that “the means that can be used to injure an enemy are not unlimited,” proportionality stipulates that every resort to armed force be limited to what is necessary for meeting appropriate military objectives. This element of codified and customary international law applies to all judgments of military advantage and planned reprisals. It does not mean that each side must either suffer or create symmetrical harms. The rule of proportionality does not stipulate that a defending state must necessarily limit its use of force to the same “amount” employed by the other side. Proper determinations of proportionality need never be calculated in a geopolitical vacuum. To a limited extent, for example, such legal decisions may take into correct consideration the extent to which a particular adversary has committed prior or still-ongoing violations of the law of armed conflict.
[7] 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, acknowledging the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and the United Nations Charter of 1945, 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.
[8]The question of preemption – any preemption – must also be confronted as alegal matter. For early writings by the present author on this matter with particular reference to Israel (a matter regarding “anticipatory self-defense” under international law), see:  Louis René Beres, “Preserving the Third Temple: Israel’s Right of Anticipatory Self-Defense Under International Law,”  26 VANDERBILT JOURNAL OF TRANSNATIONAL LAW,  111 (1993);  Louis Rene Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  13 HOUSTON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW 259 (1991);  Louis Rene Beres, “Striking `First’:  Israel’s Post-Gulf War Options Under International Law,”  14 LOYOLA OF LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW JOURNAL (1991);  Louis Rene Beres, “Israel and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  8 ARIZONA JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW  89 (1991);  Louis Rene Beres,  “After the Scud Attacks: Israel, `Palestine,’ and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  6  EMORY INTERNATIONAL LAW REVIEW  71 (1992).
[9] On Israeli submarine basing measures, see: Louis René Beres and (Admiral/USN/ret.) Leon “Bud” Edney, “Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: A Larger Role for Submarine-Basing,” The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2014; also Professor Beres and Admiral Edney, “A Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent for Israel,” Washington Times, September 5, 2014. Admiral Edney was a NATO Supreme Allied Commander (SACLANT).
[10] In modern philosophy, a more general highlighting of “will” is discoverable in Arthur Schopenhauer’s writings, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps far more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Goethe also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the 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).
[11] Expressions of such decisional irrationality in world politics could take variously different forms. These sometime overlapping forms, which would have no necessary correlations with authentic madness, 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)
[12] Recall widely-cited observation of Sigmund Freud (in his book about America’sAmerica’s Woodrow Wilson): Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc; but not always.” Sigmund Freud & William C. Bullitt, Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study, at xvi (1967)..”
[13] On such madness, see Seneca, 1st Century AD/CE: “We are mad, not only individuals, but nations also. We restrain manslaughter and isolated murders, but what of war, and the so-called glory of killing whole peoples? ….Man, the gentlest of animals, is not ashamed to glory in blood-shedding, and to wage war when even the beasts are living in peace together.” (Letters, 95).
[14]In this regard, Israel’s nuclear strategy could have tangible effects upon the United States and meaningful implications for U.S. national security. On these generally ignored but still-significant effects, see Professor Louis René Beres and (General/USA/ret.) Barry McCaffrey, ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY AND AMERICA’S NATIONAL SECURITY, Tel-Aviv University and Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, Tel-Aviv, December 2016: https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf
[15] In this connection, consider Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis (1958): “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….”
[16]William Blackstone, the jurist upon whose work the United States owes its own basic system of law, remarks at Book 4 of his Commentaries on the Law of England: “The law of nations (international law) is always binding upon all individuals and all states. Each state is expected, perpetually, to aid and enforce the law of nations as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.”
[17] 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. De facto, though co-existing with various patterns of collective security, “Westphalian” international law remains essentially a “vigilante” or self-help system of power management.
[18]Though composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers a still- illuminating vision of balance-of-power world politics. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:”  “During such chaos,” a condition which Hobbes identifies as a ‘time of War,’  it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings. This owes to what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature concerning ability to kill others, but this once-relevant differentiation has now effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons. Today, certain “weaker” states that are nonetheless nuclear could still bring “unacceptable harms” to certain “stronger” states.
[19] 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.
[20] Even amid “Westphalian” geopolitics in international relations, a dominant jurisprudential assumption of solidarity obtains between all states. This fundamental assumption is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); 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).
What is driving Russia’s security concerns?
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
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The current discussions between Russia and NATO pivot on Russia’s requirement for the Alliance to provide legally binding security guarantees: specifically, that the alliance will not expand east, which will require revoking the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit decision that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO” .
It is useful to shed some light on the underlying points which drive Russia’s deep concerns. Moscow holds that the USSR was deceived on the issue of NATO expansion. At the same time, it is recognised that it was the fault of the Soviet leadership not to acquire legally binding guarantees at that time and the fault of the Russian leadership in the 1990s not to prevent NATO expansion per se. The current acrimony is caused by numerous examples of Western leaders making promises, blurred or straightforward, not to expand NATO further.
The Russian leadership after 1991 expressed this concern on many occasions, including the letters of Boris Yeltsin to Bill Clinton in October 1993 and then in December 1994.
But Russia’s proposals were not limited only to political statements. For example, in 2009 Moscow already put forward the draft of a legally binding European Security Treaty.
As to the issue of membership, it is unlikely that Moscow buys certain behind-the-scenes hints that the potential NATO membership of Ukraine is really only a rhetorical position. Often this approach is called “constructive ambiguity”. Moscow strongly believes, with good reason, that in the past all unofficial promises about the expansion of NATO were broken. Why would it believe them now?
Another fundamental point, from Russia’s point of view, is that beside the right to choose alliances, there is a crucial role for the concept of indivisible security, particularly the elements of equal security and the obligation that no country not to strengthen its own security at the expanse of the other. These principles are enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act (1975), in the Paris Charter (1990), in the NATO-Russia Founding Act (1997) and in the Charter of European Security (1999). Therefore, it should be the obligation of both sides to work out the parameters of indivisible security holistically and not to pretend that this is an invention of Moscow.
Arguably, indivisibility of security may include, for example, an obligation not to indicate the other side in military strategic concepts, doctrines, postures and planning as an enemy, rival or adversary. Among other things, it may also include an obligation to halt the development of military planning and military exercises, which designate Europe as a potentialtheatre of war between NATO and Russia. It is Pentagon, which in its official press statements indicate for example Georgia, Ukraine and Romania as “frontline states”.
A common Western argument against Russia’s current draft is that it is difficult to see how such a legally binding guarantee can be achieved when Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates that its parties, upon unanimous decision, can invite any other European state to join.
But to refer to Article 10 regarding the expansion of NATO after 1991 is not correct. In 1949 Article 10 of course did not envisage the open-door policy for the states that were in the Soviet bloc. After 1991 a qualitatively new situation arose. It was not Article 10 but a political decision of the United States in 1994-1995 to open a totally new chapter in the expansion. That decision was of a paramount importance.
Also, it is said that the United States is similarly unlikely to enter into a bilateral arrangement with Russia regarding NATO expansion, since this would violate Article 8 of the Treaty, whereby parties undertake not to enter into any international engagements in conflict with the Treaty.
Again, the point is not straightforward. The US de facto is the dominant member of NATO, which in most circumstances calls the shots there. According to history, when its national interests demanded, it took decisions that can be interpreted as conflicting or even undermining Article 8. For example, the security interests of the UK were clearly disregarded in 1956-1957 in the course of the Suez crisis due to the actions of the US. Or doesn’t the AUKUS run counter to the security interests of France? Or, for example, didn’t the way in which the US left Afghanistan undermine the security of some other members of NATO?
Short of the legally binding guarantee by NATO, what other options for a settlement might be satisfactory for Russia?
Russia deeply values the status of neutrality that several countries in Europe maintain. Indeed, it would be difficult to dismiss the fact that the international standing of Finland, Austria or Switzerland would have been much lower if not for their policy of neutrality. Moreover, one may say that the security of these countries is even higher than the security of some member states of NATO. So why not consider an option of neutrality, for example, for Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia, buttressed by certain international treaties like it was in the case of Austria?
Another back-up option would be to consider any further theoretical expansion of NATO on the conditions that were applied to the territory of the former German Democratic Republic—i.e. that NATO integrated troops or NATO infrastructure is not deployed on this territory.
Alternatively, a further option could be to place a moratorium on a new membership, for example for 15-20 years, which would not undermine Article 10 per se. For example, Turkey now for 16 years is a candidate-country of the European Union but nobody in the EU pretends that it can become a member in the foreseeable future.
Mutual security concerns could be met if a significant complex of agreements is approved. Firstly, agreements could be made on military-to-military communication, on military drills and exercises, and on patrols of strategic bombers.
Secondly, there could be a NATO-Russia comprehensive agreement on the basis of well-known IncSea and dangerous military activities agreements.
Thirdly, there is scope for an agreement on an obligation not to deploy in NATO members, bordering Russia, any strike systems, either nuclear or conventional.
And fourthly, in the league of its own, there could be an agreement on a Russia-NATO legally binding moratorium on the INF land-based systems, both nuclear and conventional.
Finally, on Ukraine, it is often said that Ukraine is much weaker than Russia and has no ability to launch and sustain a large-scale offensive against Russia. This misses the point.
Russia is concerned about two things. First, that there is no guarantee that sooner or later a third country would not decide to sell to or deploy in Ukraine strike systems that will endanger Russia’s security. Second, that Ukraine may attack not Russia but Donbas, like Poroshenko did in 2015, to try to solve the problem with military means and at the same time to try to involve NATO in military confrontation with Russia. This could be called a Saakashvili style of doing things.
It is unlikely that Russia will ever agree to restrain the movement of troops on its own territory, which would be quite humiliating. This would be a matter for a new CFE treaty if such a treaty is ever revived. Another question is what is considered “in proximity to the Ukrainian border”? At present, the deployment of most additional Russian troops, described by Western sources as “in proximity”, is minimum 200-300 km from the border. Does it mean that Russian troops will be prohibited from approaching its own borders in proximity, for example, of 400-500 km?
Meanwhile, on the other side there are more than 100 thousand Ukrainian troops concentrated on the contact line with Donbas, and much closer to it than the distance between the Russian troops and the Russian border. It is interesting to note that maps, which Western media these days is so fond of printing and which show locations where Russian military forces are stationed or deployed on the territory of Russia, do not have any indication of Ukrainian troops disposition. What happens if Ukrainian troops receive orders to attack Donbas akin to orders that Saakashvili gave his troops in 2008 to attack Tskhinval? It is clear that Moscow will never let Kiev take Donbas by force destroying the whole edifice of the political process based on the Minsk-2 agreements, which, importantly, in 2015 became a part of the UN Security Council Resolution. The additional Russian troops deployments are intended to deter Kiev from attacking Donbas and they are not a harbinger of “invasion of Ukraine”.
At present there are conflicting signals coming from all sides, which can be interpreted in many ways. Warmongers shout that diplomacy is a waste of time and that only muscle-flexing and even application of hard power will teach the other a lesson. Still, most top policymakers in Moscow, Washington and major European capitals seem to prefer further consultations and dialogue, both public and confidential. In the sphere of arms control in Europe and CBMs, on which there is an ample pool of expert recommendations, the US and NATO have let it be known that they are ready to talk seriously with Moscow.
The situations in the Baltic region and in the Black Sea region require urgent and lasting de-escalation. A compromise on the issue of further expansion of NATO should be reached in a way that satisfies both sides in spite of each having to make necessary concessions. A final imperative is that the US-Russia tracks on the future of strategic stability and cyber security should proceed unhindered. The P5 statement of January 2022 on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races needs to be followed by a P5 summit – the Russian proposal that was unanimously supported in 2020.
In summary, Western and Russian diplomats, both civil and military, need time to continue their work, which is of existential importance.
From our partner RIAC
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“Each state pursues its own interest’s, however defined, in ways it judges best. Force is a means of achieving the external ends of states because there exists no consistent, reliable process of reconciling the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise among similar units in a condition of anarchy.” – Kenneth Waltz,
The worldwide security environment is experiencing substantial volatility and uncertainty as a result of huge developments and a pandemic, both of which have not been experienced in a century. In light of this, major countries including as Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and India have hastened their military reform while focusing on crucial sectors. 2022 might be a year when the military game between big nations heats up.
The military competition between major powers is first and foremost a battle for strategic domination, and the role of nuclear weapons in altering the strategic position is self-evident. In 2022, the nuclear arms race will remain the center of military rivalry between Russia, the United States, and other major countries, while hypersonic weapons will become the focus of military technology competition among major nations.
The current nuclear weapons competition between major nations will be more focused on technological improvements in weapon quality. In 2022, the United States would invest USD 27.8 billion in nuclear weapons development. It intends to buy Columbia-class strategic nuclear-powered submarines and improve nuclear command, control, and communication systems, as well as early warning systems.
One Borei-A nuclear-powered submarine, two Tu-160M strategic bombers, and 21 sets of new ballistic missile systems will be ordered by Russia. And its strategic nuclear arsenal is anticipated to be modernized at a pace of more than 90%. This year, the United Kingdom and France will both beef up their nuclear arsenals. They aspire to improve their nuclear forces by constructing new strategic nuclear-powered submarines, increasing the quantity of nuclear warheads, and testing new ballistic missiles.
Russia will commission the Zircon sea-based hypersonic cruise missiles this year and continue to develop new hypersonic missiles as a leader in hypersonic weapon technology. To catch up with Russia, the US will invest USD 3.8 billion this year in the development of hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons are also being researched and developed in France, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
Surviving contemporary warfare is the cornerstone of the military competition between major countries, and keeping the cutting edge of conventional weapons and equipment is a necessary condition for victory. In 2022, major nations including as Russia and the United States will speed up the upgrade of primary war equipment.
The United States will concentrate on improving the Navy and Air Force’s weaponry and equipment. As planned, the US Navy will accelerate the upgrade and commissioning of weapons and equipment such as Ford-class aircraft carriers, Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines, and F-15EX fighter jets, as well as develop a high-end sea and air equipment system that includes new aircraft carrier platforms and fifth-generation fighter jets.
Russian military equipment improvements are in full swing, with the army receiving additional T-14 tanks, the navy receiving 16 major vessels, and the aerospace force and navy receiving over 200 new or better aircraft. The commissioning of a new generation of Boxer armored vehicles in the United Kingdom will be accelerated. India will continue to push for the deployment of its first homegrown aircraft carrier in combat. Japan will also continue to buy F-35B fighter jets and improve the Izumo, a quasi-aircraft carrier.
The US military’s aim this year in the domain of electromagnetic spectrum is to push the Air Force’s Project Kaiju electronic warfare program and the Navy’s next generation jammer low band (NGJ-LB) program, as well as better enhance the electronic warfare process via exercises. Pole-21, Krasukha, and other new electronic warfare systems will be sent to Russia in order to increase the automation of electronic warfare systems. The electronic warfare systems of the Type 45 destroyers, as well as the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, will be upgraded by the United Kingdom. To build combat power, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces will continue to develop the newly formed 301st Electronic Warfare Company.
Around the world, a new cycle of scientific, technical, and military upheaval is gaining traction, and conflict is swiftly shifting towards a more intelligent form. Russia, the United States, and other major countries have boosted their investment in scientific research in order to win future battles, with a concentration on intelligent technology, unmanned equipment, and human-machine coordinated tactics.
This year, the US military intends to spend USD 874 million on research and development to boost the use of intelligent technologies in domains such as information, command and control, logistics, network defense, and others. More than 150 artificial intelligence (AI) projects are presently being developed in Russia.
This year, it will concentrate on adapting intelligent software for various weapon platforms in order to improve combat effectiveness. France, the United Kingdom, India, and other countries have also stepped up their AI research and attempted to use it broadly in areas such as intelligence reconnaissance, auxiliary decision-making, and network security.
In the scope of human coordinated operations, the United States was the first to investigate and has a distinct edge. The US intends to conduct the first combat test of company-level unmanned armored forces, investigate ways for fifth-generation fighter jets to coordinate with unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and drone swarms, and promote manned and unmanned warships working together on reconnaissance, anti-submarine, and mine-sweeping missions.
Russia will work to integrate unmanned equipment into manned combat systems as quickly as feasible, while also promoting the methodical development of drones and unmanned vehicles. Furthermore, France and the United Kingdom are actively investigating human-machine coordinated techniques in military operations, such as large urban areas.
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The United States of America and Russia have recently been at loggerheads over the issue of Ukraine.
Weeks ago the leaders of the two superpowers behind the Ukrainian situation convened a meeting on the crisis. Although they both drew a clear line between them during the meeting, they made no political commitment, thus showing that the political chess game surrounding Ukraine has only just begun.
In what was seen as a “frank and pragmatic” conversation by both sides, President Putin made it clear to President Biden that he was not satisfied with the implementation of the February 11, 2015 Minsk-2 Agreement (which, besides establishing ceasefire conditions, also reaffirmed arrangements for the future autonomy of pro-Russian separatists), as NATO continues to expand eastward. President Biden, in turn, noted that if Russia dared to invade Ukraine, the United States of America and its allies would impose strong “economic sanctions and other measures” to counterattack, although no US troop deployments to Ukraine were considered.
Although they both played their cards right and agreed that they would continue to negotiate in the future, the talks did not calm down the situation on the Ukrainian border and, after the two sides issued mutual civilian and military warnings, the future development on the Ukrainian border is still very uncertain.
Since November 2020 Russia has had thousands of soldiers stationed on Ukraine’s border. The size of the combat forces deployed has made the neighbouring State rather nervous.
The current crisis in Ukraine has deepened since the beginning of November 2021. Russia, however, has denied any speculation that it is about to invade Ukraine, stressing that the deployment of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border is purely for defensive purposes and that no one should point the finger at such a deployment of forces on the territory of Russia itself.
It is obvious that such a statement cannot convince Ukraine: after the 2014 crisis, any problems on the border between the two sides attract attention and Ukraine still has sporadic conflicts with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Firstly, the fundamental reason why the US-Russian dispute over Ukraine is hard to resolve is that there is no reasonable position or room in the US-led European security architecture that matches Russian strength and status.
Over the past thirty-two years, the United States of America has forcibly excluded any reasonable proposal to establish broad and inclusive security in Europe and has built a post-Cold War European security framework that has crushed and expelled Russia, much as NATO did when it contained the Soviet Union in Europe in 1949-1990.
Moreover, Russia’s long cherished desire to integrate into the “European family” and even into the “Western community” through cooperation with the United States of America – which, in the days of the impotent Yeltsin, looked upon it not as an equal partner but as a semi-colony – has been overshadowed by the resolute actions of NATO, which has expanded eastward to further elevate its status as the sole superpower, at least in Europe, after its recent failure in Afghanistan.  
Maintaining a lasting peace after the great wars (including the Cold War) in the 20th century was based on treating the defeated side with tolerance and equality at the negotiating table. Facts have shown that this has not been taken on board by the policy of the United States of America and its Western fawners and sycophants. Treating Russia as the loser in the Cold War is tantamount to frustrating it severely and ruthlessly, thus depriving it of the most important constituent feature of the post-short century European security order.
Unless Russia reacts with stronger means, it will always be in a position of defence and never of equality. Russia will not accept any legitimacy for the persistence of a European security order that deprives it of vital security interests, wanting to make it a kind of protectorate surrounded by US-made nuclear bombs. The long-lasting Ukrainian crisis is the last barrier and the most crucial link in the confrontation between Russia, the United States of America and the West. It is a warning to those European countries that over the past decades have been deprived of a foreign policy of their own, not just obeying the White House’s orders.
Secondly, the Ukrainian issue is an important structural problem that affects the direction of European security construction and no one can afford to lose in this crisis.
While Europe can achieve unity, integrity and lasting peace, the key challenge is whether it can truly incorporate Russia. This depends crucially on whether NATO’s eastward expansion will stop and whether Ukraine will be able to resolve these two key factors on its own and permanently. NATO, which has continued to expand in history and reality, is the most lethal threat to security for Russia. NATO continues to weaken Russia and deprive it of its European statehood, and mocks its status as a great power. Preventing NATO from continuing its eastward expansion is probably the most important security interest not only of Russia, but also of European countries with no foreign policies of their own, but with peoples and public that do not certainly want to be dragged into a conventional war on the continent, on behalf of a country that has an ocean between Europe and itself as a safety belt.
The current feasible solution to ensure lasting security in Europe is for Ukraine not to join NATO, but to maintain a permanent status of neutrality, like Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. This is a prerequisite for Ukraine to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty to the fullest extent possible, and it is also the only reasonable solution for settling the deep conflict between Russia and the United States of America.
To this end, Russia signed the aforementioned Minsk-2 Agreement of 2015. Looking at the evolution of NATO over the past decades, however, we can see that it has absolutely no chance of changing a well-established “open door” membership policy.  
The United States of America and NATO will not accept the option of a neutral Ukraine, and the current level of political decision-making in the country is other-directed. For these reasons, Ukraine now appears morally dismembered, and bears a striking resemblance to the divided Berlin and the two pre-1989 Germanies. It can be said that the division of Ukraine is a sign of the new split in Europe after Cold War I, and the construction of the so-called European security – or rather  US hegemony – ends with the reality of a Cold War II between NATO and Russia. It must be said that this is a tragedy, as the devastating consequences of a war will be paid by the peoples of Europe, and certainly not by those from New England to California.
Thirdly, the misleading and deceptive nature of US-Russian diplomacy and the short-sightedness of the EU, with no foreign policy of its own regarding the construction of its own security, are the main reasons for the current lack of mutual trust between the United States of America – which relies on the servility of the aforementioned EU – and Russia, terrified by the nuclear encirclement on its borders.
The United States took advantage of the deep problems of the Soviet Union and of Russia’s zeal and policies for the self-inflicted change in the 1990s – indeed, a turning point – at the expense of “verbal commitment” diplomacy.
In 1990, on behalf of President George H. W. Bush’s Administration, US Secretary of State Baker made a verbal promise to the then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, that “upon reunification, after Germany remaining within NATO, the organisation would not expand eastward”. President Clinton’s Administration rejected that promise on the grounds that it was its predecessor’s decision and that verbal promises were not valid, but in the meantime George H. W. Bush had incorporated the Baltic States into NATO.
In the mid-1990s, President Clinton indirectly made a verbal commitment to Russia’s then leader, the faint-hearted Yeltsin, to respect the red line whereby NATO should not cross the eastern borders of the Baltic States. Nevertheless, as already stated above, President George H. W. Bush’s Administration had already broken that promise by crossing their Western borders. It stands to reason that, in the eyes of Russia, the “verbal commitment diplomacy” is rightly synonymous with fraud and hypocrisy that the United States of America is accustomed to implementing with Russia. This is exactly the reason why Russia is currently insisting that the United States and NATO must sign a treaty with it on Ukraine’s neutrality and a ban on the deployment of offensive (i.e. nuclear) weapons in Ukraine.
Equally important is the fact that after Cold War I, the United States of America, with its mentality of rushing to grab the fruits of victory, lured 14 small and medium-sized countries into the process of expansion, causing crises in Europe’s peripheral regions and artfully creating Russophobia in the Central, Balkan and Eastern European countries.
This complete disregard for the “concert of great powers” – a centuries-old principle fundamental to ensuring lasting security in Europe – and the practice of “being penny wise and pound foolish” have artificially led to a prolonged confrontation between Russia and the European countries, in the same way as between the United States of America and Russia. The age-old trend of emphasising the global primacy of the United States of America by creating crises and inventing enemies reaffirms the tragic reality of its own emergence as a danger to world peace.
All in all, the Ukraine crisis is a key issue for the direction of European security. The United States will not stop its eastward expansion. Russia, forced into a corner, has no other way but to react with all its might and strength. This heralds Cold War II in Europe, and lasting turmoil and the possible partition of Ukraine will be its immutable destiny.
The worst-case scenario will be a conventional war on the continent between NATO troops and Russian forces, causing millions and millions dead, as well as destroying cities. The war will be conventional because the United States would never use nuclear weapons – but not out of the goodness of its heart, but out of fear of a Russian response that would remove the US territory from the NBC security level.
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