Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fw: Professor Louis Rene Beres/Israeli Nuclear Deterrence

      RATIONALITY, IRRATIONALITY, AND MADNESST CORE ENEMY DIFFERENCES FOR ISRAELI NUCLEAR DETERRENCE    As published in The Jewish Press   May 9, 2012   Louis René Beres Professor of International Law Purdue University -------------           Over many years, beginning at Princeton in the late 1960s, I have examined the critical bases of Israeli nuclear deterrence. Recently, in consequence of  the growing threat of Iranian nuclearization, increasing attention has been directed toward pertinent issues of enemy rationality. With this in mind, the following essay will seek to explain the impact of "irrationality" on Israel's deterrence posture, and also the vital differences between prospective  Iranian irrationality and "madness."                     For all states in world politics, successful strategies of deterrence require assumptions of enemy rationality. In the absence of rationality – that is, in those relatively rare or residual circumstances where an enemy country would rank order certain values or preferences more highly than “staying alive” as a nation – deterrence could fail. In those potentially more serious situations involving nuclear deterrence, the direct consequences of any such failure could be catastrophic, stark, and even unprecedented.           Significantly, irrationality is not the same as “crazy,” or “mad.” An irrational enemy leadership would still have a distinct and identifiable hierarchy of preferences, only one in which national survival does not always rank at the top. In more technical terms, analysts would say that these irrational state actors still have an order of preferences that is “consistent” and “transitive.”           A “crazy” or “mad” leadership, however, would have no discernible order of preferences; its actions, for the most part, would be random and unpredictable. It goes without saying that facing a “mad” adversary in world politics is “worse” than facing a “merely” irrational adversary. In different terms, although it might still be possible and purposeful to try to deter an irrational enemy, there would be little point to seeking deterrence against a “mad” one.           "Do you know what it means to find yourselves face to face with a madman," asks Luigi Pirandello's Henry IV.  "Madmen, lucky folk, construct without logic, or rather with a logic that flies like a feather."            What is true for individuals is sometimes also true for states. In the sometimes-unpredictable theatre of modern world politics, a drama that often bristles with genuine absurdity, decisions that rest upon ordinary logic can quickly crumble before madness. Dangers may reach the most portentous level when madness and a nuclear weapons capability come together.           Enter Israel and Iran. Soon, because not a single responsible member of the “international community” has demonstrated a determinable willingness to undertake appropriately preemptive action (“anticipatory self-defense,” in the formal language of  law), the Jewish State may have to face an expressly genocidal Iranian nuclear adversary. Although improbable, a potentially “suicidal” enemy state in Iran, one animated by graphically  precise visions of a Shiite apocalypse, cannot be dismissed out of hand.           Iran’s current leadership, and possibly even a successor “reformist” government in Tehran, could, at some point, choose to value Israel’s physical destruction more highly than even its own physical survival. Should this happen, the “play” would almost certainly end badly for all “actors.” In theatrical terms, Exeunt omnes.            Nonetheless, Israel’s ultimate source of national security must lie in sustained nuclear deterrence. Although still implicit or ambiguous, and not yet open or disclosed, this Israeli “bomb in the basement” could “crumble before madness.” In certain easily-imaginable instances, involving enemy “madness,” the results of failed Israeli retaliatory threats could be existential.           Though the logic of deterrence has always rested upon an assumption of rationality, history reveals the persistent fragility of any such understanding. We already know all too well that nations can sometimes behave in ways that are consciously, and even conspicuously, self-destructive.           Sometimes, mirroring the infrequent but decisively unpredictable behavior of individual human beings, national leaders can choose to assign the very highest value to certain preferences other than collective self-preservation, a Gotterdammerung scenario.           For the moment, no single Arab or Iranian adversary of Israel would appear to be authentically irrational or mad.  Harsh enemy rhetoric notwithstanding, no current adversary appears ready to launch a major first-strike against Israel using weapons of mass destruction with the expectation that it would thereby elicit a devastating reprisal.  Of course, miscalculations and errors in information could still lead a perfectly rational enemy state to strike first, but this decision, by definition, would not be the outcome of irrationality or madness. In strategic thinking, judgments of rationality and irrationality are always based upon prior intent.           Certain enemy states, most likely Iran, could one day decide that excising the “Jewish cancer" or the “enemies of Allah,” from the Middle East would be worth the most staggering costs.  In principle, at least, this genocidal prospect could still be avoided by Israel using pertinent "hard target" preemptions. Increasingly, however, any such once-reasonable expressions of anticipatory self-defense are now difficult or impossible to imagine. Operationally, a successful preemption is now almost certainly "too late."           All pertinent Iranian nuclear assets have likely been deeply hardened, widely dispersed, and substantially multiplied. For Israel, there would also be considerable political costs to any preemption. A preemptive attack, even one that becomes an operational failure, would elicit overwhelming public and diplomatic condemnation.           It is plausible that certain alternative forms of preemption, including assassination of nuclear scientists, and/or cyber defense/cyber-warfare, could (still) be purposefully undertaken, but it is unlikely that any such alternatives could permanently obviate the more traditionally expedient resorts to military force.                                                               *              A "bolt-from-the-blue" CBN (chemical, biological or even nuclear) attack upon Israel that is launched with the expectation of city-busting reprisals might not necessarily exhibit irrationality or madness. Within such an attacking state's particular ordering of preferences, any presumed religious obligation to annihilate the "Zionist Entity" could represent the overriding value.  Here, from the standpoint of the prospective attacker’s decisional calculus, the expected benefits of producing such a “blessed” annihilation would exceed the expected costs of any expected Israeli reprisal. Judged from this critical analytic standpoint, a seemingly “mad” attack decision could actually “make sense.”            Any enemy state with such explicitly-exterminatory orientations could represent the individual suicide bomber in macrocosm.  It is a meaningful and powerful image. Just as individual Jihadists are now plainly willing to achieve personal "martyrdom,” so might certain Jihadist states become willing to “sacrifice themselves” collectively. From a purely strategic standpoint, the fact that any such suicidal willingness would lack democratic origins would be irrelevant.            Any Iranian or Arab leaders making the decision to strike at Israel would be willing to make "martyrs" of their own peoples, but probably not of themselves.  In this not inconceivable decisional scenario, it would be judged “acceptable” by these particular leaders to sacrifice more-or-less huge portions of their respective populations, but only while they, and presumably their own families, were themselves able to flee expeditiously to a predetermined, albeit still earth-bound, safe haven.           What is Israel to do?  It can’t rely, forever, on even the most creative forms of preemption/anticipatory self-defense. It can't very well choose to live, indefinitely, with enemies who might not always be reliably deterred by more usual threats of retaliation, and who are themselves already armed with assorted weapons of mass destruction.           Effectively, Israel can't still decide to preempt against selected Iranian and/or other threatening military targets, because the operational prospects of success would now be very remote, and because the global outcry would be deafening.  It cannot place more than partial faith in any anti-tactical ballistic missile defenses, because, after all, Israel’s “Arrow” would require a near-100% reliability of intercept to be purposeful in any "soft-point" protection of cities. Not even the oft-tested and brilliantly-engineered Arrow, together with its corollary elements of active defense, can do this. The same "leakage" problems, for example, would apply to the shorter-range protections of "Iron Dome."           The strategic options still available to Israel now seem very limited; the associated consequences of failure could include national extinction.             If Israel's enemies were all presumed to be rational, in the ordinary sense of valuing physical survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences, Jerusalem could begin, among other things, to exploit the strategic benefits of pretended irrationality. Recognizing that, in certain strategic situations, it can be rational to feign irrationality, Israel could then work to create more cautionary behavior among its relevant adversaries.  In such cases, the threat of an Israeli resort to a "Samson Option" might be enough to dissuade an enemy first-strike. Recalling Sun-Tzu, any more explicit Israeli hints of “Samson” could indicate a very useful grasp of the ancient Chinese strategist’s advice to diminish reliance on defense, and, instead, to “seize the unorthodox.”            If, however, Israel's relevant adversaries were presumably irrational in this ordinary sense, there would likely be no real benefit to postures of pretended irrationality.  This is the case because the more probable threat of any massive Israeli nuclear counterstrike linked in enemy calculations with irrationality would be no more compelling to Iran, or to any other enemy state, than if it were confronted by a presumably rational State of Israel.             In strategic nuance, Israel could benefit from a greater understanding of the "rationality of pretended irrationality," but only in particular reference to expectedly rational enemy states.  In those circumstances where such enemy states were presumed to be irrational, something else would be needed, something other than nuclear deterrence, preemption, and/or ballistic missile defense. Although many commentators and scholars still believe the answer to this quandary lies in certain far-reaching political settlements, this time-dishonored belief is born largely of frustration, and utterly naïve self-delusion.  Recalling regional histories, it is not the documented product of any deliberate or informed strategic calculation.            No meaningful political settlements can ever be worked out with enemies who openly seek Israel's "liquidation,” a word that is still used commonly in many Arab and Iranian newspapers, web sites, and texts.            Israel must fully understand that irrationality need not mean madness. Even an irrational state leadership may have an identifiable, consistent, and transitive hierarchy of wants. The first task for Israel, therefore, must always be to identify this hierarchy among its several state enemies. Although these states might not be deterred from aggression by even the plausibly persuasive threat of massive Israeli retaliations, they might still be deterred by certain threats aimed at what they do hold to be most important.                                                               *             What, then, might be most important to Israel's prospectively irrational enemies, potentially even more important than their own physical survival as a state?  One possible answer is the avoidance of certain forms of shame and humiliation.  Another would be avoidance of the potentially unendurable charge that they had somehow defiled their most sacred religious obligations. Still another would be leaders' preferred avoidance of their own violent deaths at the hand of Israel, deaths that could be attributable to Israeli strategies of "targeted killing," and/or "regime-targeting.”            Oddly enough, this last suggestion may be problematic to the extent that, theologically, being killed by Jews for the sake of Allah could be regarded as a distinct positive. In this connection, Israel must recall that there is no greater form of power in world politics than power over death. Dying for the sake of Allah could be regarded in certain contexts as a clerically-blessed passport to immortality.           These tentative answers are only a beginning. Strategic problems are fundamentally intellectual problems. What is needed, now, is a sustained and conspicuously competent intellectual effort to answer such questions in much greater depth, and breadth.            In the future, Israel will need to deal with both rational and irrational adversaries. These enemies, in turn, will be both state and sub-state actors. On occasion, Israel’s leaders will also have to deal with various complex and subtle combinations of rational and irrational enemies, sometimes even simultaneously.            Ultimately, Israel must also prepare to deal with “nuclear madmen,” both as terrorists, and as national leaders, but, first, it must fashion a suitable plan for dealing with nuclear adversaries who are neither mad, nor irrational. With such an imperative, Israel must now do everything possible to enhance its deterrence, preemption, defense, and war-fighting capabilities. This means, inter alia, enhanced and explicit preparations for certain “last resort” or “Samson” operations.           Concerning any prospective contributions to Israeli nuclear deterrence, recognizable preparations for a Samson Option could serve to convince certain would-be attackers that their anticipated aggression would not be gainful. This is especially true if such Israeli preparations were combined with certain levels of disclosure, that is, if Israel’s  â€œSamson” weapons were made to appear sufficiently invulnerable to enemy first-strikes, and if these weapons were identifiably “countervalue” (counter-city) in mission function.           The Samson Option, by definition, would be executed with countervalue-targeted nuclear weapons. It is likely that any such last-resort operations would come into play only after all Israeli counterforce options had been exhausted.           Concerning the previously mentioned “rationality of pretended irrationality,” Samson could enhance Israeli nuclear deterrence by demonstrating a national willingness to take existential risks, but this would hold true only if Israeli last-resort options were directed toward rational adversaries.           Concerning prospective contributions to preemption options, preparations for a Samson Option could convince Israeli leaders that their own defensive first-strikes would be undertaken with diminished expectations of unacceptably destructive enemy retaliations. This sort of convincing would depend, at least in part, upon antecedent Israeli government decisions on disclosure (that is, an end to “nuclear ambiguity”); on Israeli perceptions of the effects of disclosure on enemy retaliatory prospects;  on Israeli judgments about enemy perceptions of Samson weapons’ vulnerability; and on an enemy awareness of Samson’s countervalue force posture. In almost any event, the optimal time to end Israel’s bomb in the basement policy, and thereby replace “deliberate ambiguity” with appropriate forms of disclosure, will soon be at hand.           Similar to Samson’s plausible impact upon Israeli nuclear deterrence, recognizable last-resort preparations could enhance Israeli preemption options by displaying a clear and verifiable willingness to accept certain existential risks. In this scenario, however, Israeli leaders must always bear in mind that pretended irrationality could become a double-edged sword. Brandished too flagrantly, and without sufficient nuance, any Israeli preparations for a Samson Option could impair rather than reinforce Israel’s nuclear war-fighting options.           Concerning prospective contributions to Israel’s nuclear war fighting options, preparations for a Samson Option could convince enemy states that any clear victory over Israel would be impossible. With such reasoning, it would be important for Israel to communicate to potential aggressors the following very precise understanding: Israel’s counter value-targeted Samson weapons are additional to its counterforce-targeted war fighting weapons. Without such a communication, any preparations for a Samson Option could impair rather than reinforce Israel’s nuclear warfighting options.           Undoubtedly, as was concluded by Project Daniel more than nine years ago (see Israel’s Strategic Future, The Final Report of Project Daniel, 2003), nuclear war fighting should, wherever possible, be scrupulously avoided by Israel. But, just as undeniably, there are some readily identifiable circumstances in which such exchanges could be unavoidable. Here, some form of nuclear warfighting could ensue, so long as: (a) enemy state first-strikes launched against Israel would not destroy Israel’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) enemy state retaliations for an Israeli conventional preemption would not destroy Israel’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) conventional Israeli preemptive strikes would not destroy enemy state second-strike nuclear capability; and (d) Israeli retaliations for enemy state conventional first strikes would not destroy enemy state nuclear counter-retaliatory capability. From the standpoint of protecting its overall existential security, this means that Israel must take appropriate steps to ensure the plausibility of (a) and (b), above, and also the implausibility of (c) and (d).           “Do you know what it means to find yourself face to face with a madman?” Repeating this pertinent question from Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV does have immediate relevance to Israel’s existential dilemma. At the same time, the mounting strategic challenge to Israel will come primarily from enemy decision-makers who are not-at-all mad, and who are more-or-less rational.              Israel will need to promptly fashion a comprehensive and suitably-calibrated strategic doctrine from which various specific policies and operations could readily be extrapolated. This focused framework would identify and correlate all available strategic options (deterrence, preemption, active defense, strategic targeting, nuclear war fighting) with indisputable survival goals. It would also take close account of the possible interactions between these strategic options, and of the determinable synergies between all conceivable enemy actions directed against Israel. Calculating these particular interactions and synergies will be a computational task on the very highest order of intellectual difficulty.           Nuclear strategy is a “game” that sane and rational people can and must play, but to compete effectively and purposefully, a would-be winner must always first assess (1) the expected rationality of each critical opponent; and (2) the probable costs and benefits of pretending irrationality oneself. These are undoubtedly complex, interactive and glaringly imprecise forms of assessment, but, doubtlessly, they also constitute an indispensable foundation for Israel’s long-term security. -----------------   LOUIS RENÉ BERES is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he is the author of ten books and several hundred published articles dealing with Israeli security matters, including APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (University of Chicago Press, 1980), and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Heath/Lexington Books, 1986). Professor Beres served as Chair of Project Daniel, a private effort (2003) to counsel former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on existential nuclear threats to Israel.  He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

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