"It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran." Charles Krauthammer’s for American deterrance in protection of Israel. (See his oped below.)
"The president is out of options. He is going to hand over to his successor an Iran on the verge of going nuclear. This will deeply destabilize the Middle East, threaten the moderate Arabs with Iranian hegemony and leave Israel on hair-trigger alert. " CK below.
"This failure can, however, be mitigated. As there will apparently be no disarming of Iran by preemption or by sanctions, we shall have to rely on deterrence to prevent the mullahs, some of whom are apocalyptic and messianic, from using nuclear weapons. CK below.
"Every future president — and every serious presidential candidate — would have to publicly state whether or not the Holocaust Declaration remains the policy of the United States." CK below.
"..there can be no more pressing cause than preventing the nuclear annihilation of an allied democracy, the last refuge and hope of an ancient people openly threatened with the final Final Solution." CK below.
One hardly knows what to write. I would like someone to explain if Doctor Krauthammer’s "modest proposal" has the support of the Jewish community (He expresses it that way), as well as his Jacobin brethren of every form of consciousness.
This should be debated. It may have merit if the virtual protectorate over Israel that he advocates would balance responsibility and authority. In other words would a specific and effectively irrevocable American assumption of responsibility for Israel’s survival in a nuclear world be matched with the ability to control actions which might lead to an Israeli/Iranian confrontation? Any keen observer of the United States should have known that the US nuclear umbrella has been extended to cover Israel for a long, long time on a de facto basis. That was adequate because ambiguity is the soul of deterrence. Evidently that was not good enough for the doctor, and apparently not for others as well?
The Ayatollahs are not "rational actors?" This is a doubtful idea. Opinions? There seems to be someoone in Iran who controls military motorboats and who is not acting as a "rational actor." That demonstration of folly should be met with appropriate force.
"the last refuge and hope of an ancient people " Say what? Where was he writing from? pl
The US can’t “control actions which might lead to an Israeli/Iranian confrontation”. Iran is beyond any US rational influence, though we can’t produce any balance between both sides.
The US nuclear umbrella may “cover” Israel de facto too but it is as it covers half of the world in not all. It is the US premier interest as well as the other democracies and non-democracies over the world. For that basic fact Israel should not any price of hers own national interests?
The Ayatollahs might be “rational actors” but “rational” at their index of rationality, and as we all know, that kind of rational always leave the westerners to be surprised time and again. We all should be cautious.
Recently a member of the Israeli government officially acknowledged that Israel does have nukes (quite a few, actually – about 300 -, although that number was not a part of the official disclosure). So there seems to be a layering of umbrellas in place already. The last time I tried to prevent two umbrellas from getting entangled with each other this turned out to be a complicated affair. I would venture, however, that Krauthammerian
chiliastic rhetoric basically aims at maximizing the entanglement factor.
O.k., that´s a feeble attempt at humor. Let´s remember that all of us have read or learned about how two armed-to-the-teeth superpowers managed to negotiate arms limitation treaties during several decades of an intensely confrontational relationship. So Israel might try this route with regard to Iran. Obviously Arabic countries also ought to be concerned about any Iranian nuclear armament – and the fact that Iran just declared that it would be willing to share its nuclear technology with other islamic countries would seem to be equally calculated to calm the fears of its Arab neighbours and to incite nervousness on the part of Israel. After all, the disentangling act has so far not been demonstrated successfully by 2+n parties charging about in different directions. Maybe Krauthammer is, in fact, thinking about Israeli nuclear concessions in return for a certifiable Iranian retreat on the nuclear issue? This assumes, of course, that he is a rational writer.
Krauthammer is nuts.
To display him as a hawk with U.S. flag overlay is a mistake.
If he has a flag, its Israel’s.
I’m curious how ravings like this are given space in a supposedly responsible newspaper.
Iranian nuclear policy will “deeply destabilize the Middle East”? Um, who’s done most of the “destabilizing” in the past 5 years?
Some (not all apparently) of the mullahs are apocalytic and messianic? Has “Dr.” CK toured the US bible belt recently? Has conservative evangelical Christian Bush ever been asked his views on the “end times”? Thought not.
“…ancient people openly threatened with the final Final Solution?” Is this a Who’s More Ancient—jew or persian–pissing contest?
As for deterrence, Israel recently publically admitted it has nuclear weapons, didn’t it?
The Islamic Republic of Iran has never attacked one of its neighbors and its clerical leaders have declared that such aggression (and nuclear weapons) are “un-islamic”. Israel has repeatedly and frequently threatened and attacked its neighbors. It has engaged in a 40 year occupation on (muslim) land not its own which it appears to have no intention of ending and which has recently been openly converted into a land grab via “security wall”. Thus the history doesn’t seem to bear out the good doctor’s characterizations.
A far better “nuclear deterrence” policy for Israel would be the US moving towards having diplomatic relations with BOTH Israel and Iran. Now that might stabilize things. But it would likely cause even more paranoid ravings on the part of certain conservative pundits. Progress always does.
Get a grip, Dr CK.
No. No. The bird is the bird, man. Israel is that little dot over by one corner of the beak. pl
meletius: “”…ancient people openly threatened with the final Final Solution?” Is this a Who’s More Ancient—jew or persian–pissing contest?”
You know the kind of laughter you get before you start crying? lol. You are spot on, it seems. There is no conditional or political thoughts in Krauthammers head: he does not see any deal being made but rather a sort of feudal system of stateinteraction, where the US is Israels tool, not the other way around.
Mr. Lang, you have been to the Palestine territories. I would like to reccomend a norwegian conservative called Kåre Willoch, former prime minister, who is quite clear about his opinions on the checkpoints, etc.
I think a few facts are in order:
On the eve of 2008, Israel’s population reached 7.241 million residents. Of this figure, 75.6 percent are Jewish (5.472 million), 20% are Arab (1.449 million) and 4.4% (320,000) are ‘others’ — immigrants who are not registered as Jews in the Interior Ministry, non-Arab Christians and residents without religious classification.
There are 5,313,800 Jews in the United States, 491,500 in France, 373,500 in Canada, and 297,000 in England.
And there are about 850,000 Jews elsewhere in the world.
Which brings us to Krauthammer. All these Jews who don’t live in Israel? Are they chopped liver: “..there can be no more pressing cause than preventing the nuclear annihilation of an allied democracy, the last refuge and hope of an ancient people openly threatened with the final Final Solution.”?
Krauthammer himself, were Iran to annihilate every living thing in Israel, would not be harmed.
But I suppose that’s the beauty of being an armchair bellicose: you never get your hair mussed.
AIPAC will be viewed by history as a catastrophe for the Jewish people. And, unfortunately, for all the American people.
An atheist wishing to fight a religious war – that is really rich.
I thought you all had improved. Sad. You can assume that CK is well connected. Think about all this!
He believes that there will be no pre-emption.
Israel has not believed in nuclear deterrence, but Krauthammer here argues for a US declaration in advance to support nuclear deterrence. Why is that?
Israel has always tried to pretend that it needs no other country to defend itself. Evidently CK no longer believes that?
No country in the history of mankind would have given or will give a guarantee like the one CK demands without a lot more “say” about policy than the giant US has had with its little friend.
Come on folks. Get beyond your stereotyped thinking. pl
I suggest as context for Krauthammer’s column that one read Froomkin’s:
Bush just got a bloody nose in Iraq. And it is apparent that Iran gave it to him.
He gets angry and he acts. I suppose the real question is whether Bush goes nuclear, not whether Iran does…just as it has always been.
Iran has had a ton of time to harden sites that count. And we have seen in South Lebanon just how hard sites can get. Nuclear might just be the only way.
Would the American military mutiny if that were ordered?
Would the US turn a blind eye if Israel used nuclear weapons against Iran?
Would Israel, without provocation, use nuclear weapons against Iran?
These are the sort of questions the Krauthammer’s of the world inspire.
Krauthammer is representative of sick elements within the Jewish community who believe that human rights are applicable where Jews are concerned but not operative when others, particularly their semitic brethern in the Middle Eastern are involved.
Unfortunately for Krauthammer, unleashing cluster bombs over southern Lebanon could be rewarded with cluster bombs over Tel Aviv the next time Isreal chooses to stir the pot. Any nuclear threat is becoming increasingly irrelevant to Israel’s dimming long term prospects for survival.
The asymmetry of this proposal is breathtaking. Dr. K is proposing a rigid tripwire mechanism tantamount to saying that threatening Israel is the same as threatening to the U.S. itself.
The question is should we make Israel a virtual 51rst state?
I suppose I am one of the “All” in you response.
Over the last 50 years, from time to time, there have been suggestions that Israel join NATO or enter a formal military alliance with US (like Japan and South Korea).
Israelis always declined since they did not wish to become semi-sovereign and thus be forced to terminate their land-grab project.
In the light of the above history, as I understand it and of which Dr. Krauthammer is also undoubtedly aware, his ideas do not make sense to me.
I agree with your point that “…have given or will give a guarantee like the one CK demands…”. Thus I am lead to believe that he is engaging in, for a lack of better term, is a form of counter-intelligence.
At any rate, US cannot defend Israel in an indefinite religious war with no end in sight; that would be madness.
Israel has not believed in nuclear deterrence, but Krauthammer here argues for a US declaration in advance to support nuclear deterrence. Why is that?
Even some on the right are flummoxed by CK’s proposal.
I have two possible theories that could be related.
First, I am amazing myself by suggesting this, but perhaps CK is worried about Israeli preemption. Despite Israel’s significant conventional capabilities, it does not have the ability to destroy or even significantly set-back Iran’s program – it is too far away, too advanced, too diversified, and too hardened for Israel to do much more than set the program back a few years at most. There is no single convenient target like Osirak, and the lesson with that strike is that programs are simply driven underground and only delay capability. On top of all that any Israeli airstrike would require some coordination with the US and therefore US complicity which does not appear forthcoming. If Israel believes Iran is both undeterrable and on the cusp of a nuclear capability, it may decide its only option is a preemptive attack using its own nuclear arsenal – not against Iranian population centers, but against Iranian nuclear facilities. Perhaps CK fears such preemption would ultimately be suicide for Israel as it could easily sever all support from the US (to say nothing of the rest of the world) and bring about the end “the last refuge and hope of an ancient people” he purports to support.
Secondly, the million-dollar question for me that CK does not ask, much less answer, is what would become of Israel’s nuclear capability if the US nuclear umbrella were openly extended to it? At a minimum, the Israeli arsenal should be incorporated into the US nuclear command-and-control system or, better yet, completely dismantled, but perhaps CK intends to let Israel keep its weapons under such an arrangement and even provide the groundwork for legitimizing Israel’s arsenal. So, perhaps the goal is to cement Israel as not only a de facto, but also full de jure ally of the United States with an official status roughly equivalent to countries like the UK. I’m reminded, actually, of Guliani’s proposal last year to incorporate Israel into NATO – now that he definitively will not become President, might de jure extension of the US nuclear umbrella be a preliminary step in that direction, one that could be accomplished in the limited time left with this Administration?
What you just wrote, that “ambiguity is the soul of deterrence,” should be repeated as often as possible. It also goes a long way towards clarifying why this administration has been so disasterous on so many fronts internationally. It seems that ambiguity is anathema to them. Thank you for this insight.
When one considers just how much U.S. taxpayer money is already given to Israel (upwards of $10,000M each year), I supposed it may be fair to say that Israel is already the 51st state.
At least I’m pretty sure some bona-fide American states would appreciate that level of U.S. Government largess.
I suppose that you are not. pl
The good doctor needs to see a good shrink. He’s been unhinged for years. I quit reading him years ago when I realized he really, really, really wanted a war on Iraq. Why? I really, really, really hate propaganda, whether spun by CK or GWB.
Dear COL Lang,
There are too many problems with Krauthammer’s ideas to list them all, but let me just bring up the same old arguments that were raised during the Cold War regarding the decoupling of extended deterrence. I’d done my time in the ROK and FRG during the 1970s and 1980s and felt the core of extended deterrence was the possibility of the 2ID and perhaps the V Corps being overrun and US casualties mounting very quickly. I had resented the notion of tripwire force at the time, but in retrospect perhaps that’s what we were in those years. Assuming the Israelis are going to maintain its survivable second-strike capability (e.g., cruise missiles parked in submarines in the Indian Ocean), wouldn’t this be a more credible posture than a US extended deterrence? Regarding the de facto American deterrence, I guess what I’m asking is whether or not de Gaulle’s justification for the force de frappe wouldn’t apply if Iran proliferates. Could we credibly answer affirmatively to the question whether the United States would exchange New York for Tel Aviv (as we claimed we would for Paris or Bonn)? It seems to me that in order to extend deterrence credibly after the Iranian proliferation, we would have to station US forces in Israel.
Maybe I’m wrong, but in recent years I’ve had the feeling that CK speaks essentially for himself rather than being representative of any significant current in the American Jewish community, let alone Israel. In particular, I have the feeling that CK has become wholly enamored of his heavily dramatized “stance,” and that he will, along those lines, periodically come up with something that is not only flat-out outrageous but also is calculated to reduce the likes of most of us to sputtering disbelief. This, with a tad more of an intellectual veneer, is CK’s version of what Ann Coulter does. He is essentially an entertainer/provocatuer; even in what might be thought of as his own camp, I’d be surprised if anyone listens to him because it’s understood that CK’s camp really consists of himself and a mirror.
ISTM that the simplest explanation is the best. K is worried by a drop in US support for Israel both financial and military. To counteract the softening he has to ratch up the rhetoric.
The straight military explanation makes no sense as it creates an impossible tripwire — who gets to define the next katyusha attack as “originating in Iran”? And if the last katyusha was not Iranian, how can the next be Iranian?
Ambiguity is cheapest deterent as noted here.
Israel may not want to lose its independence but it cannot afford to lose the rock provided by America and extension the West — truly Israel is too small to survive by itself.
After reading the entirety of CK’s polemic, one could view his motivation in a number of different ways.
The interpretation that I came away with was that CK, for whatever silly reasons known only to himself and his BFFs, was seeking to insert himself and “Israel, right or wrong. Israel forever!” into the ongoing Presidential campaign.
CK’s “solution” is certain to have the blessing/backing of McCain, but the real target of CK’s “us or them” broadside is to corner both of the Democratic candidates.
Should they capitulate to CK’s demand, well then other lines of political attack against the Democrats will have to suffice.
Should they demur, then the Jacobin horns will blare of “I told you so” latent, and now revealed sinister Democratic anti-semitism.
CK, is of course, much too full of himself. Tis a strawman he constructs (poorly to say the least), and the best advice one could give either of the Democratic candidates is to ignore CK (shades of successful ambiguity, oh my! *g*).
He will go away…all by his lonesome.
How interesting. If this is a trial balloon being floated, one wonders what the implications might be vis-a-vis a final status agreement between Israel and the PA.
From a purely technical standpoint, given Krauthammer’s musings on page 2, it would be very useful to know whether the IDF(N) boats can hit enough Iranian strategic targets to be a viable second strike deterrent, or whether they can hold only capitals in the Med at threat.
If he is as well connected as you suggest, Sir, he is basically saying there will be no war on Iran on Bush-II’s watch? Do I get that right?
Actually, there is a horrific precedent for such stupidity, the reckless Anglo-French UNCONDITIONAL guarantee of Poland on March 31, 1939. As Prime Minister Chamberlain announced:
“in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish government accordingly considered it viatal to resist with their national forces, His Majesty’s Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect. I may add that the French Government have authorized me to make it plain that they stand in the same position in this matter as do His Majesty’s Government.”
The trouble was, having already given away the store, the British Foreign Office was unable to convince the Polish Foreign Minister, Col. Josef Beck, not to scuttle their attempt at the establishment of a larger anti-German Coalition. Beck restrained the FO to a mutual defensive alliance between Britain and Poland. Lord Halifax told the cabinet that, although the talks with Beck had not been unsatisfactory, “they had not turned out quite as we had expected.” That’s because Chamberlain’s government had dealt Beck an unbeatable hand of cards which he skillfully played much too cleverly for Poland’s ultimate good. When Hitler attacked, Poland would stand alone between two great powers with ravenous appetites for Polish territory–the only question being which had the sharper teeth.
Does anyone believe that the United States is the “leader of the free world”?
Bush has adopted far too many of Israel’s tough-guy tactics: land-grabbing, torture, rendition and using F-16s to quell neighborhood disturbances. These tactics do not win hearts and minds.
Iran’s ayatollas do not seem any more unbalanced than Bush’s neocon coterie, including Krauthammer.
As for the desired “policy delaration”: Get Bent, Krauthammer!
It makes no difference what CK says or who he represents or what the US, or Iran, does or does not do. This is all in the past. Our job is to try to anticipate the future.
The Israelis are hell-bent on another war. They live on war. They feed on it. They are blind to everything else.
Nasrallah has taken their measure. I presume the Syrians have been paying attention. If, in the next war, surface to surface missiles crater every runway in Israel (they are big targets, there are not many of them), Israel will be defeated outright. Hassan hinted as much when he remarked that he expected the next Israeli encounter would be on Israeli, not Lebanese, soil.
Just as the Egyptians were defeated in the Six Day War when their aircraft were destroyed on the ground, Israel will be defeated when its planes are grounded, however it is done.
The question in front of us is how Israel will respond when its air force is disabled & its army stopped in its tracks. (The later Nasrallah has already done.) Israeli leaders are too bombastic for a rational response (negotiated truce of some sort), but, on the other hand, non-nuclear military escalation is unlikely.
First, because the Israelis have, in the past, freely raked Beirut with planes & artillery, to no lasting effect. Second, without an air force, even that response is impossible.
What will the apocalyptic, messianic Israeli leaders do? Nuke Damascus & risk that Hezbollah/Syria shifts its targets from unpopulated runways to highly populated cities? What if the victim of a nuclear attack shoots back? Once your capital city’s been nuked (and what other nuke-worthy targets are there in Lebanon or Syria?), what else would Syria, say, have to lose? A few conventional warheads can do mean damage in a city center.
Forget CK. Forget Iran. Nuclear weapons are no longer needed to ward off US/Israeli attack. This is all a sideshow. The proliferation of cheap Chinese/Russian medium range surface to surface missiles has taken us to a whole new world.
Still time to sit down & negotiate a peace.
I watched CK on Fox tonight and he essentially gave the same arguments as the op-ed but with a couple of differences. One major difference was that he suggested Arab allies might also need American deterrence to counter a nuclear Iran. My sense based on his short spiel on Fox was that CK has essentially come to the conclusion that the current nonproliferation regime has completely failed and the only alternative available is a return to a cold-war style deterrence.
I’ve been looking for a link to the video or a transcript, but one doesn’t seem to be available yet. When/if I find it, I’ll post another comment with a link.
I too was puzzled when I read the Krauthammer article but that changed after you suggested tying it to Froomkin. Juxtaposing these two made me recognize once more what dangerous straits we’re in; a bit like being on a lee shore in a 50 knot gale and the helmsman is again denying that the ship might founder.
It also makes me consider the possibility that President Bush is psychologically unable to see himself as a lame duck president and, moreover, how personally important it is to him that his power not be ignored. This implies that there are dangerous lengths to which he might go to prove that as long as he is president (and perhaps afterwards) that his power has not diminished. In his pursuit of power he has already succeeded, far beyond anything dreamed of by Nixon, in creating a concept of president as someone who is not obliged to respect Congress, the law or the Constitution.
Psychologically, Bush behaves as if in a constant state of denial; that his reality is different from the rest of us. Aside from his own self-report that he drank too much until age forty, he almost never acknowledges error. Rarely described as a man who reasons with or persuades others, when confronted by opposing viewpoints he is reported to get angry and dismissive. He is famous for loyalty to people who agree with him and who make him feel that what he is doing is sensible; a kind of ‘Group Think’ to the nth power. He proclaims publicly that he is “the decider” but is notorious for delegating responsibility in a way that makes invisible his own role in executive decisions.
It’s probably for reasons like these that SecDef Gates, usually described as a reasonable man, is reported to keep a “countdown” clock that gets to zero on January 20, 2009. Let’s all hope that things don’t get out of hand before then.
“The Ayatollahs are not rational actors.”: Riiight, as if a regime that publicly states that the cartoon “Tom and Jerry” is a Jewish ploy at world domination is extremely rational.
As for “Israeli officials admitting recently that they have nukes,” guess again, it has never happened. If they DO have them, and the number is said to be well over 400 including 3 capable submarines, America would not need to be involved, right?
America has its own interests and the only interest it has in Israel or its welfare is a tactical interest.
As soon as Israel uses up its welcome mat (and the clock is ticking now that Bush is on his last legs), you will see much different and calmer rhetoric out of DC and its pundits.
Seems to me the consequence of Krauthammer’s suggestion is not really about cementing Israel’s survival but its overwhelming regional superiority.
After all if you are *really* only interested in securing Israel from a nuclear attack you’d first (and maybe second and third and forever) embrace a regional agreement for a totally nuke-free Middle East. I.e., Israel giving up its nukes in exchange for such a verifiable pledge from others. And I believe many if not most of the others in the region have even said they would agree to same, and certainly the world’s opinion and pressure on everyone over there would be wildly in favor of this. But as I think Israel has definitively spurned each and every mention of same (and at any rate is certainly not pushing it), the conclusion seems almost mathematical: After no doubt careful consideration Israel is less concerned about a real nuke threat than it is in maintaining its overwhelming “existential” regional superiority.
This isn’t trying to be offensive to Israel because it is indeed what some of its theorists say it needs because otherwise, surrounded by hostiles, even conventionally if it were ever anything less than hugely superior it would be in mortal peril. And the best if not only way to maintain that huge superiority is for them to have nukes themselves and the others to have none.
The benefit of a U.S. shield for Israel and the problem it poses for the U.S. is identical: Such a shield would afford Israel the right to act in any way it wants in the future.
Think about it. If the U.S. actually *gave* that guarantee it would also no doubt be so scared of actually having to live up to it that it would no doubt be more inclined to take damn near any other lesser action to avoid it, such as, say, conventional bombing of other countries’ nuke programs. (A consequence which might not exactly be overlooked by Mr. Krauthammer and friends.)
So what does Israel do? It doesn’t talk about a nuke-free agreement. It talks about more nukes. (Even though, given its small size, just one would in essence constitute almost a totally mortal threat. But it you’ve made a judgment about that and think that you are not really at risk from same you then think about what else you want, such as … a more permanent superior position.)
Kind of like … Austro-Hungary having Germany’s near unconditional backing before WWI. AH felt it could do anything vis a vis Serbia, so it did. Except Serbia had a big brother too and….
Boy those extended consequences.
I think that “something is going on” in the Bush Administration.
March 28: “I would say this is a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq,” Bush said.
“This is a test and a moment for the Iraqi government which strongly has supported Prime Minister Maliki’s actions,” Bush said.
“It is an interesting moment for the people of Iraq because in order for this democracy to survive they must have confidence in their government’s ability to protect them and to be even-handed.”
Bush is always the last to know, so it is not surprising that he should define a completely bungled military operation as a “defining moment”. But it seems to me that the timing was just a little bit too clever. The “defining moment” was supposed to occur right before Petraeus’ testimony. I sincerely believe that Cheney put together the “defining moment” when he visited the ME as a way to permit Petraeus to stride into the Committee Room like a Roman Emperor filled with victory.
You absolutely have to believe that Bush and Cheney are completely insane with fury that Iran has once again completely humiliated them. Recall that the peace between Maliki’s thugs and Sadr’s thugs was worked out in Iran.
There will be an attack on Iran between now and the election. Count on it. There will have to be a casus belli.
Keep your eyes on the Green Zone.
This is all so sickening.
The comments on this blog are flat-out superior with the possible exception of my own. Keep up the good work gentlemen.
It is deeply unclear that cold war style ‘deterrence’ was stable.
Some interesting recent remarks by Sir Rodric Braithwaite, who was British ambassador in Moscow in 1988-92, on the background to Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’:
‘Eighteen months before Gorbachev became General Secretary, a foolishly ill-judged NATO exercise (”Able Archer”) simulated a nuclear strike so convincingly that the Soviets began to gear themselves up for retaliation. Appalled at the prospect of nuclear war by accident, Gorbachev took his courage in both hands, and sought a negotiation with Ronald Reagan, the archpriest of anti-Communism. Luckily for him, Reagan turned out to share his intense dislike of the nuclear weapon — to the dismay of both men’s professional advisers.’
The whole implicit assumption behind NATO strategies of ‘deterrence’ was that one could take for granted that the very evident ‘capabilities’ threat posed by Soviet forces to Western Europe must imply an ‘intentions’ threat.
As you are probably aware, George Kennan — generally seen as the architect of ‘containment’ — spent much of his career after losing influence denying that this was true and disclaiming any responsibility for the assumption.
He spelled out some of the implications of his views for notions of stable ‘deterrence’ in a memorandum sent to Dean Acheson in September 1952, when he was ambassador in Moscow. As he summarises the memorandum in the second volume of his memoirs:
‘the Russians, many disagreeable and disturbing aspects of their behaviour notwithstanding, had had no intention of attacking Western Europe in those postwar years, and thought we must have known it. For this reason, the manner in which NATO was formed and presented to the Western public, i.e. as a response to the ”Soviet threat” and as a ”deterrent” to Soviet aggression, mystified them and caused them to search for some hidden motive in our policy.’
And this, he goes on to suggest, was ‘to bring to a head a military conflict with the Soviet Union as soon as the requisite strength had been created on the Western side.’
What terrified Kennan was precisely the possibility that what he termed a ‘cosmic misunderstanding’ between the Cold War antagonists on the significance of each other’s military preparations could lead to the kind of process of events running out of control that had happened in 1914 — which was what came uncomfortably close to happening thirty years after he wrote.
The full memorandum is available on the net at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB14/doc1.htm.
What is fascinating about the memorandum is that one sees Kennan wrestling with the fundamental problem of the relationship of capabilities and intentions. In relation to judgements about the appropriate military posture, the intentions of a potential adversary are only one relevant feature among many. In relation to foreign-policy making, however, they are crucial: not least because, as Kennan was pointing out to Acheson, the intentions of an adversary are likely to shape their perceptions of yours. One of the problems with which Kennan was wrestling was that of created by the ‘feedback’ effects whereby the need to secure public support for perfectly sensible measures of military preparedness actually leads to alarmist assessments of an adversary’s intentions, which those who produce them come to believe. In the end, the implications of this came so to terrify him that he rewrote history, confusing the strategy he had advocated with the strategy he might have advocated had been aware of the feedback effects in advance.
He also incidentally airbrushed out of the record the programme of ‘political warfare’ he had championed, which had been designed to push the Soviet system into imploding. There is an interesting treatment of this in Roy Godson’s book Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards, but I do not think he really gets to grips with the question of what Kennan was actually trying to achieve.
The important however is the notion that the collapse of the existing non-proliferation regime is likely to lead to world of stable ‘deterrence’ is implausible.
You are probably aware that in January last year George Schulz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for the United States to take the lead in the abolition of nuclear weapons — a call they restated last January. Certainly the project seems to me utopian. But it might be less so if people looked realistically at the extremely unpleasantness of the likely alternative — and were not, as these eminent writers still appear to be, prisoners of the dubious assumption that nukes stabilized the strategic relationship between the Cold War superpowers.
Their pieces can be accessed at http://www.2020visioncampaign.org/pages/113/Kissinger_Shultz_Perry__Nunn_call_for_A_World_Free_of_Nuclear_Weapons.
Dear Col. Lang:
I wonder if you could comment on this article by Mr. Pat Buchanan, the well-known conservative commentator:
The only thing missing from Mr. Buchanan’s analysis are the recent Israeli maneuvers.
I realize that this interpretation flies in the face of your suggestion that Dr Krauthammer is ‘well-connected’ and therefore in a position to know that the ‘military option’ is ‘off the table’ vis a vis Iran.
Thanks very much.
I am intrigued by the suggestion that Israel has a second strike capability in its three submarines armed with something like SLAM-ER with nuclear warheads.
Dual loyalty? More like loyalty to Israel, period.
This is not “U.S. taxpayer money.” These funds have been borrowed from the Chinese.
I believe the current hull count stands at 3, with 2 more awaiting delivery around 2010. This page from NTI summarizes a good deal of what is thought to be “known” open source about the issue: http://www.nti.org/db/submarines/israel/index.html
Given regional proliferation during the 90’s, development of a second strike deterrent sure would seem to be a logical move for the IDF. Given the importance they’ve attached to strategic warfare in the post-Desert Storm environment, and how totally the notion of deterrence seems to dominate their strategic/operational culture [at least, judging from what filters out in the english language press/academic literature] I could see them investing pretty significant resources in something like this. Big question in my mind is how good a system they could have developed and what its range and accuracy might be.
I too am puzzled by how convinced many seem that Israel has a survivable nuclear second strike capability in the form of submarines.
My quick look at Google Earth says that Tehran lies easily 1,500 km from either the Eastern Mediterranean or Gulf of Oman. There are VERY FEW cruise missile systems that could make that flight (mainly US Tomahawk, Russian KH55, Chinese DH-10); there is no concrete evidence that Israel has deployed such a system, much less developed or tested one. Long-range nuclear armed submarine launched cruise missiles is no mean feat; I find it hard to believe that Israel (as capable as they are) could deploy such a system (and covertly at that). If they do, it would constitute a very serious “strategic surprise”!!
Another point about submarine launched cruise missiles I find troubling is the assumption that such an attack would come from the Indian Ocean/Gulf of Oman. How could that happen? Well, Israel would have to deploy one of their diesel-powered, limited-range coastal submarines on a 3,000 NM trip. The trip would also feature a very overt transit of the Suez Canal (the IDF(N) does transit the canal on occasion, but I’ve never heard of a submarine transit). So, the only covert transit possibility is a 12,000+ NM trip around the African continent. Again, exceedingly hard to believe such a trip could be made without escaping the attention of intelligence analysts or even casual maritime observers (that sub has to refuel somewhere!).
So, it seems to me that any SERIOUS submarine based deterrent is not within Israel’s current capability set. So why the fantastic assuptions? If I recall correctly, the first inkling of an Israeli submarine based nuclear-armed cruise missile threat came out via the Jerusalem Post a couple years back (about the time of the first round of Iran nuclear sanctions). The whisper was picked up by the Murdoch news network and spread around. And suddenly, everyone believes it to be true. Why?
Of course, it is entirely possible that Israel does have nuclear-armed, shorter-range cruise missile based on Harpoon technology they already possess. One commenter made an intriguing point that such a seaborne deterrent would hold only nearby (Mediterranean) capitals at-risk. Nevertheless, such a capability is worthless against the distant Iranian enemy. Israel is better off making sure their Jericho II MRBMs (last tested in January 2008) are survivable.
Col. Lang wrote:
“I am intrigued by the suggestion that Israel has a second strike capability in its three submarines armed with something like SLAM-ER with nuclear warheads.”
Well, first of all, given Israel’s extreme vulnerability to essentially total destruction at the hands of nukes due to their size (what they themselves have called an “existential” threat), you wouldn’t exactly think that they would shy from being first-strikers, would you? And their history sure don’t show that they shy away from striking first. In fact I think that with the sole exception of the ’73 Yom Kippur War they *always* struck first.
So why would they shrink from doing so again if the stakes were “existential”?
As to why they’d still want second strike capabilities, I think they call that “the Samson option,” don’t they? I.e., if you’re going down well, you might as well bring the whole bloody temple down with you.
When analyzing CK’s screed, Sherman Kent’s idea of “taking off from the wish” appears apropos and determinative. Also, it seems worthwhile to assume that neoconservatives hide their intent behind symbols, in this case “The Holocaust Declaration”.
Regardless, in my view, CK’s latest screed fails to rebut the presumption that the GOI and the Cheney wing of the USG intend to exercise the “Wurmser option” or a variation thereof. And the primary variation is a US led attack against “special groups” or sites in Iran.
Since the US has always included Israel as part of nuclear umbrella, then the aim of this screed was not to announce such intentions for the first time. Plus, Israel has a second strike capability via those subs (purchased from Germany?). So he’s lying. He simply wants to strengthen the ties in the American public before a military action is undertaken.
One objective is clear: the screed is intended to undermine, before the American people, the credibility of the 07 NIE. He states such in an early paragraph.
Then, in the next paragraph, we see the sentence: the “”president is out of options”. Out of options? Interesting choice of words. What about the Wursmer option? What about a US attack against those special groups in Iran?
CK’s decision to plant in the readers’ mind the analogy of the Iranian crisis to the Cuban Missile Crisis seems relevant, particularly when you realize that lately the USG has released photo’s showing long range missile sites in Iran, just as the USG did in ‘63 to make the case.
Arguably, the Cuban Missile Crisis was quasi “pre-emptive” in that it was undertaken to prevent the permanent installment of nuclear missiles in Cuba.
So, CK is laying the groundwork for affirmative steps to be taken by the USG, based upon the same rationale as the Cuban Missile Crisis And it is interesting that CK make a reference to Russia both in the Iranian situation and the Cuba missile crisis, so he linked the two together. And of course he invoked Camelot — will we ever overcome the Kennedy fixation? Good grief…
When analyzing CK’s screeds, I always assume that he is projecting his “intent” (or the intent of those for whom he writes) onto the enemy of the day. In other words, whenever he discusses the enemy, he is revealing himself. If this holds true, then CK is indicating extremely aggressive action by the GOI-Dick Cheney wing. So the words in the screed ostensibly applied to the enemy such as, “apocalyptic”, “messianic”, “hegemon”, “going nuclear” appear highly probative because he is articulating the praxeology that drives the actions of those he represents and therefore defines the wish.
krauthammer words are a distraction
he is part of a larger initiative
congress had it’s day with the general and the ambassador and not the israeli’s and the bushies are beating the drums again
there are two major inter-governmental conflicts in the middle east
1. the ever-so-long-standing israeli-palestinian problem
2. the “the shia are coming, the shia are coming” hysteria that muddles the situation in iraq, lebanon, and i suspect one of more of the arab emirates
the bushies are running from another self-inflicted failure
regional elections are on the horizon – their most-hated iraqi, sadr, appears to be in a powerful position to gain institutional political power to match his real political power
as is their practive they beat the “iran is a looming danger to US” drums to frame the situation and distract attention from their moves
the election is in november
we will get a new president and new principals and hopefully more competent foreign policy
israel has been beating the “holocaust, holocaust, iran has nukes” drum at any opportunity
“Ambiguity is the soul of deterrence” – well put! As chimneyswift, your insight (which may seem obvious to you) deserves our honour.
“Poetry especially, but also much prose, depends essentially on the richness of its ambiguity. Thus if a poet can contrive a line that says forty things, and each of these forty things suits his poetic purpose in some way, then he has accomplished at one stroke what a more hum-drum writer might take yards to say. And then not say it.” (James Cooke Brown, “Loglan 1: A Logical Language”, 3rd edn, 1975, pg 10)
“This is not “U.S. taxpayer money.” These funds have been borrowed from the Chinese.”
Right you are! In fact, somewhere around 1,500,000,000,000 reasons why you’re right!
I guess its always good to be in to the banker for a billion (or trillion) than a few hundred millions. Go ask Bear Stearns!
Israel submarine nuke capability:
It seems they have the technology, but never been tested.
Israel has reportedly developed an air-launched cruise missile that could be operational by 2002, called the Popeye Turbo. The Popeye Turbo, with a range that is variously reported at between 200 km and 350 km, would appear to represent a turbo-jet powered cruise missile that may incorporate avionics and other components developed for the Popeye family of missiles. The AGM-142 HAVE NAP is a variant of the Israeli Air Force “Popeye” missile, which uses a solid propellant rocket motor. The Popeye II, also known as the Have Lite, is a smaller missile with more advanced technology. Designed for deployment on fighter aircraft, Popeye II has a range of 150 kilometers.
The Popeye Turbo missile is probably similar to if not identical with the Israeli submarine-launced cruise missile carried on the Dolphin-class submarines. The baseline Popeye missile with a range of 45 miles has a diameter of 21 inches, and is nearly 16 feet long. For comparison, the American MK-48 heavy torpedo is 21 inches in diameter, and 19 feet long, while the BGM-109 Tomahawk SLCM is 20.4 inches in diameter and 20.5 feet long [including the booster motor], and the Russian SS-N-21 SLCM is similar in configuration and dimensions to the American Tomahawk.
forgot to add,
probable Israel nuclear deterent via submarine:
Using ports in india. That will extent their submarine operational capability quite large. (1500km)
Israel probably can nuke coastal facilities. But deep inside Iran territory? They have yet to test the accuracy and launch capability near Iranian water territory. I doubt Israel nuke can destroy major facilities deep inland, nevermind underground.
I am not sure what Iranian sub tracking capabilities are. But they certainly should be able to track anything in India or Sri Lanka.
The submarine is powered by three 16V 396 SE 84 diesel engines developing 3.12MW sustained power and supplied by MTU (Motoren und Turbinen Union) Munchen GmbH, based in Munich. The submarine is equipped with three 750kW alternators, and a 2.85MW sustained power motor supplied by Siemens. The machinery drives a single shaft.
The propulsion system provides a speed of 20kt dived and a snorting speed of 11kt. The range of the submarine is 8,000 miles at a surface speed of 8kt and over 400 miles at an economical speed of 8kt dived. The hull is rated for a diving depth of 350m. The endurance of the submarine is 30 days.
Israel doesn’t need submarines for a 2nd strike.
I’d bet a dollar to a donut that they’ve long ago concluded that hardened land-based ICBM or even BCM nuclear tipped missiles are sufficient for the foreseeable future.
This is probably based on an analysis of their oppenents’ potential for accuracy in delivering WDM (not just nuclear either!) strikes against Israel.
Yes, Israel is a small country, but “small” is relative.
No opponents’ weapons system is likely to be able to destroy the entire 8,019 square miles that constitute Israel proper, and certainly not a set of “hardened” underground nuclear-tipped missile sites.
No one has ever confused the Israelis with be dumb, so one should not do so now.
In addition, one also could and should make the case that the Israelis would be expected to have hardened, underground aircraft shelters. Aircraft delivery of a 2nd strike is not something that the Israelis would leave out of the mix.
Whether the Israelis have a submarine-based nuclear delivery option can be debated.
What should be obvious to all however is that such a 2nd strike platform is low man on the Israeli totem pole compared to other more capable delivery systems.
If I were an Israeli with the charter to consider nuclear arming a submarine, I would first consider it as 1st strike platform than just simply a 2nd strike platform.
You know one thing that ought not be missed is how Krauthammer’s proposal would as a practical matter utterly foreclose the U.S.’s option to ever really withdraw from the ME.
As if we’re not enmeshed enough, at least now we could still theoretically just bug out, say “what a shame you have all these conficts, good luck to all of you, and by the way we have some money to trade for oil if anyone’s interested.” And that may indeed now be the choice of the American people. (If not should have been their choice and indeed demand long ago.)
But if this seems to be the way the American people are increasingly thinking it’s also probably the nightmare of the Israelis. Gee, there go the Americans, digusted and leaving off the roofs of the ME like they left the roofs of Saigon and SE Asia.
So how to guarantee it won’t happen? Get this Krauthammer guarantee which we could never really rescind at the risk of looking like we’re inviting an attack on Israel. And then … just to avoid the possibility we’d ever have to honor it, we’d *have* to *permanently* be hyper-involved over there.
I.e., as close as humanely possible a guarantee against the U.S. ever exercising the Ron Paul/General Odom option. And get it now before more and more people cotton to that option.
A smart proposal from the Israeli perspective, if not dangerous in terms of triggering a U.S. backlash against both it and them.
I find it interesting that Iran’s defense is striving for the same element of self-sufficiency that Israel sought in earlier days. Thus you see Iranian efforts at building the Boragh IFV, Zulfigar MBT, Saegheh 80 fighter plane and Shahab strategic MRBM. In addition, small arms, ATGMs and MANPADS are indigenously produced in Iran.
But these weapons are not what certain Israelis fear most. What really frightens them is when Dr. Ahmadinejad suggests a democratic solution for Palestine, that a referendum be held in the territory, involving Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze, to determine the region’s politics in a freely elected environment. The extent to which they fear this democratic solution can be seen in how Dr. Ahmadinejad’s comments are routinely mistranslated in the Western press, twisting them into an advocacy of war where they in fact suggest a peaceful, fair and democratic solution for the region.
Thanks for your comment.
I didn’t mean to imply that cold-war-style deterrence was “stable” rather I was attempting to describe what CK may be thinking. So I agree with most of what you said. Cold-war deterrence is a dangerous “game” that we should try not to repeat – something I think many have forgotten.
As for intentions vs capabilities in warning, both must be taken into account in my opinion, but in most cases the focus should be on capabilities. Through most of the cold war our I&W system sought to warn on Soviet intentions by looking at traditional indicators such as mobilization, military movement and buildup, etc.
The feedback effect you describe is an interesting one and it certainly makes sense to me. I think a look at history would find many similar cases. Probably the biggest driving factor, imo, is human psychology – inherent distrust and fear of the unknown combined with a desire to ensure survival. For all our technical prowess we as a species are still stuck in another era.
Since at least 1980, Israel has publicly stated it would enter into a regional nuclear-weapons-free zone once regional nations make peace with it and/or recognize its right to exist. Some of Israel’s enemies insist is must enter into such NWFZ first, so we are left in another chicken-egg situation where each side’s preconditions are unacceptable to the other.
A second-strike capability is apparrantly what Israel intends. From the January, 2006 edition of Jane’s Intelligence Review (sorry, no link):
The two new submarines are reported to be more advanced versions of the existing Dolphins and may incorporate an air-independent propulsion system, and the capability to stay underway for longer periods – two aspects that make a permanent “at sea” presence possible. A 24/7 sea-based deterrent would significantly boost the credibility of a second-strike capability.
An important consideration is the the missile delivery platform’s capability, specifically its range. There is not much in the way of credible information here, but it has been reported that Israel may use the Popeye III as the core platform and that the modified missile could have a range upwards of 1500km. If true, this range would allow an Israeli submarine to remain in the Northern Arabian Sea or the Gulf of Oman and still be able to strike almost all of Iran. Range is important here because I doubt Israel would want to bet its deterrent on the need to transit the Strait of Hormuz, particularly during wartime.
Finally, it’s important to note the inherent limitations of cruise missiles as delivery platforms. They are, for a few reasons, less reliable than ballistic missiles and they are also not as timely. However, I don’t think either of those factors impact much on their deterrent effect as a second-strike weapon.
The 650mm calibre in the German subs was chosen not to accomodate huge torpedoes like the Russian ones, but to allow smaller ones of standard 533mm or smaller calibre to swim out. They also allowed several smaller anti-submarine torpedoes (iirc NT37) to be stored in a single tube (important because the German Type 205/206 class had no reloads). That is effective, simple, and saves weight when compared to hydraulic and pneumatic ejection systems, and is thus cheap to build, and that were all primary consideration when the smallish Type 205/206 subs were built for use in the Baltic Sea. Side benefit is that it is quiet, too. The 650mm tubes have the further advantage that they allow larger special equipment for combat divers to be used than with 533mm tubes.
That means that the mere calibre is no indication that Israel has installed cruise missiles on their submarines, and indeed, the US do just fine when firing their Tomahawks from standard 533mm torpedo tubes (only that they increasingly less have to, considering the proliferation of vertical launchers in the US submarine fleet).
I agree with Sidney O. Smith III with the following caveat.
I believe that Bush has already successfully laid the predicate for taking whatever action he wishes in the Middle East. In the two days of the Petraeus/Crocker Congressional hearings we repeatedly heard these agents of Bush say in every imaginable context how “fragile and reversible” is the progress that has been made in Iraq. Given the existence of this ‘why’, the who, what, where, and when are irrelevant. I don’t know who or what Bush’s Archduke Ferdinand will be, but I’m confident that he’s capable of finding one.
Thus, whenever Bush decides that he needs to take USG action or cause action to be taken in the Middle East by others he will have all the excuse he needs already wrapped in a ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ if not tacitly sanctioned by Congress.
We must remember that this is not rational decision making with input from independent experts. For Bush, it never has been. Moreover, I truly believe that Bush is fully capable of this kind of irrational doubling-down in order to sustain his belief that his presidency will be judged favorably by historians 50 years down the road. .
As Smith points out, CK’s screed is indeed the wish that is father to the deed.
In response to a post of mine Andy wrote:
“Since at least 1980, Israel has publicly stated it would enter into a regional nuclear-weapons-free zone once regional nations make peace with it and/or recognize its right to exist. Some of Israel’s enemies insist is must enter into such NWFZ first, so we are left in another chicken-egg situation where each side’s preconditions are unacceptable to the other.”
Well thank you Andy, but I don’t know this does any violence to my analysis, does it? Indeed I think it just supports it by confirming that Israel has indeed rejected calls for a nuke- free Middle East to date.
That is, to the extent that Israel and Mr. Krauthammer have been saying or imply that what they are really primarily concerned about is a nuke strike on Israel, then again if that was all there was to it their simple solution would be a nuke free region. Given that they have rejected same as you note—esp. given that they haven’t done so because they say such a thing is unworkable—again I think this just demonstrates even more that they are really less concerned about such a strike than they are about maintaining overwhelming regional superiority.
Indeed, as I said, it seems almost a mathematical proof. What other explanation makes sense?
Might well be one or more, but I don’t see it at least.
I would also note that I wasn’t saying what I did to condemn Israel; it obviously has the right to make its own strategic judgments and by many measures they’ve obviously been doing okay so far by doing so. Was just trying to analyze the underlying reality of the situation.
On a different, domestic note, I wonder whether Mr. Krauthammer’s article wasn’t really pointed at Barack Obama who the neo-cons have suspicions about? That is, the op-ed was really a suggestion to Mr. K’s like-minded journalistic colleagues to ask the candidates whether they would support the treaty he proposes?
McCain I think would say you betcha. Hillary would too I think. But I suspect the neo-cons think Obama might blink and thus be smoked out as insufficiently supportive of Israel. And of course if he didn’t blink and said he supported it, more’s the better from their point of view. Esp. because, like I say, a U.S. nuke guarantee to Israel, because as a practical matter it’s unrevokable, essentially gives Israel a free hand to do anything it wants.
I.e., maybe Mr. Obama ought to start formulating a response to the question of whether he supports such a treaty.
Unless he does, unequivocally, I dunno how he should handle it. But maybe his best gambit would be to get cover via citing existing U.S. policy. E.g., “Yes, I absolutely support it provided that Israel first withdraws from the occupied territories which the U.S. under *every* President has always officially said are an obstacle to peace and which the international community has deemed illegal.”
Would seem to then put the ball in Israel’s court, no?
I’d bet a dollar to a donut that they’ve long ago concluded that hardened land-based ICBM or even BCM nuclear tipped missiles are sufficient for the foreseeable future.
Posted by: Mad Dogs | 12 April 2008 at 12:19 PM
They have launch capability from F-16. As with Pakistan.
In the event of second strike need. I am pretty sure they will get air space roam to strike. (I mean really, if it comes to second strike, things would have gone so badly nobody cares anymore. What will Jordan do? Start a war against Israel too? not likely.)
I don’t have any idea how Iran could weaponize a warhead in terms of testing an ICBM, the same missile the dice roll star wars shield (in Poland!) is suppose to protect the US et al from. After all Iran doesn’t have a Pacific test range, or any other 3-6,000km lane.
And, if Iran loosed an ICBM and it was shot down mid-flight, what next would happen?
CK provides an unintentional service, then. In calling attention to the absurdities of a whole range of fantastic possibilities, most of which he won’t speak of. And, after taking out Tehran and Ishfahan to where will the buzzing radioactive winds blow?
It’s a measure of our crazy world that a psychiatrist embraces MAD. In a deeper sense, that Israel and Iran and US are mentioned by name is besides the point.
Thanks for you comment! You said, I think this just demonstrates even more that they are really less concerned about such a strike than they are about maintaining overwhelming regional superiority.
That real is the core of Israeli defense doctrine since the 1973 war. Here’s another quote from the same Jane’s article I quoted above that lays out Israeli strategic thinking nicely:
Now this ties into Col. Lang’s latest post and the deep concern caused by the 2006 war since it brought Israel’s military superiority into question and thereby threatened the foundation of its defense policy. Personally, I think Israel’s security doctrine is overdue for an overhaul because the strategic environment has changed a lot since 1973.
With respect to a NWFZ, from the Israeli perspective, there is little advantage to it while it is still in a state of luke-warm war with many of its neighbors. Israel would have to end its policy of ambiguity, possibly suffer consequences as a result, and get rid of their strategic deterrent – all in exchange for exactly? Why would Israel do all that with no substantive quid pro quo particularly since it doesn’t believe Iran would abide by such an agreement? I say this not to defend Israel’s policy, but to explain what I believe their thinking is on the matter, particularly in light of their strategic doctrine as explained above.
I would love to see a verifiable ME NWFZ but like so many other issues the complications and differences are real and very deep and inflexible.
Getting back to CK’s suggestion for a minute – although he did not specifically suggest it and likely would not – I think the idea of a US deterrent umbrella in exchange for Israeli nuclear disarmament is an option that’s worth exploring in greater detail.
Great post. (Although of course one is always biased in favor of those who one agrees with….)
“With respect to a NWFZ, from the Israeli perspective, there is little advantage to it while it is still in a state of luke-warm war with many of its neighbors. Israel would have to end its policy of ambiguity, possibly suffer consequences as a result, and get rid of their strategic deterrent – all in exchange for exactly? Why would Israel do all that…?”
To which I’d respond … exactly. Exactly my point earlier. They have a monopoly on nukes now. I.e., the easiest/clearest way of having overwhelming superiority. Since they have that monopoly, at least at present they don’t fear a nuke attack. So what they want now is simply to maintain that overwhelming superiority, preferably by staying a nuke monopoly. And thus they aren’t *really* in favor of a nuke-free ME, at least now, and that’s why CK and they ain’t proposing it. Today, nukes is their friend.
(And boy is Jane’s lucky that they agree with us, huh?)
You also wrote very interestingly (no, very very interestingly):
“Getting back to CK’s suggestion for a minute – although he did not specifically suggest it and likely would not – I think the idea of a US deterrent umbrella in exchange for Israeli nuclear disarmament is an option that’s worth exploring in greater detail.”
Geez now *that’s* a great provocative thought. Of course assumes that Israel de-nuking would essentially eliminate the urge for others in the region to nuke up, but that don’t seem all that unreasonable I don’t think or otherwise unhandleable. A helluva interesting thought.
Very imaginative thinking, although, just off the top of my head here, I think I’d argue against it in the end. Maybe even real strongly.
Ain’t we (the U.S. that is) already too enmeshed in the ME for no good reason? What’s our bottom-line *tangible* interest over there? Oil. Period. But they can’t drink it. So what’s wrong with standing back, saying “geez everyone, sorry you’re all fighting, good luck, and by the way anyone wanna trade oil for some greenbacks?” and be done and out of there? And as for our intangible interest in seeing people get along, human rights respected, democracies flourish and etc., just send ’em all a copies of our Constitution and that Adams program that’s running on HBO. Maybe some copies of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man too.
After all, it’s been 60 years now of just utter intractability over there, with problems that have created and metastasized into all kinds of deeper-than-deep political and even human pathologies and barbarisms. And it’s so damned complex. We have a hard enough time knowing our own national interest in terms of our domestic policies much less trying to figure out everyone else’s—and then (fruitlessly) try to convince them that we’re really trying to serve theirs and not ours.
I.e., all the old old problems with an overly Idealist foreign policy, plus of course the utter unsustainability of same given that once the costs for mere ideals get too high the American people will simply demand we bug out anyway. Happened in the Phillipines even despite there arguably being some national interst there. Happened in Korea. Happened in Vietnam. Once it’s seen that we have no real concrete interest somewhere, the body bags become intolerable.
But I still say that’s a helluva interesting idea you raise.
Do you really think the Israelis would go for it though? Again, trying to think it through just off the cuff I guess I don’t think so. In fact I’d almost be willing to argue no way.
After all, their nukes weren’t built as nuke deterrents in the first place, right? They were built mostly to deter a massive defeat by conventional forces. (And they’ve also no doubt come in handy as a kind of background threat for them too.)
So why the hell would they give that up now? Nothing’s changed in that there’s still no nuke threat to deter. And then the question is gee, would they really wanna contract out the trust to the U.S. to use its nukes as *they* think they oughta be used in a crisis?
So I guess I’d say no way, but it’s still a helluva sparky idea and you might have more so for right now all I’ll say is I am dubious.
CK’s proposal is as usual backwards. If the U.S. policy is for a NWFZ in the Middle East then the horse has bolted the barn with Israel’s acquisition of nuclear bombs. The U.S. should revert to a fallback position of guaranteeing the nuclear invulnerability of any and all nations in the Middle East which both have no nuclear weapons and disavow any intention of acquiring same. This guarantee should include Iran to head off the stampede of ME nations joining the Nuclear Club. We don’t have to like the governments we’re guaranteeing from nuclear attack, just agree with them that no nukes is good nukes. Let the Israelis go on rattling their nuclear sabre in its scabbard if they wish, but they won’t dare draw it, for we’ve broken it off at the hilt.
Thank you and I agree with your caveat 100 per cent.
A couple of other points about CK’s screed that I find vitally important. CK is a psychiatrist, so it is safe to assume he chooses words to affect the unconscious.
In his latest, he coupled the word “peace” with the word “nuclear”. The phrase “nuclear peace” jumped out twice in the first part of the essay. (And for those interested in the theory of deconstruction, this would seem to have relevance).
Typically, of course, nuclear is associated with the word “war”. Nuclear war. He has substituted the two. It would be very easy for the unconscious to read those instances of nuclear peace as nuclear war.
Look at the following phrase from the CK screed: “President Bush’s greatest contribution to nuclear peace would be to issue the following declaration…”
Now substitute nuclear peace with the much more common phrase “nuclear war” and you see his intent. (Also note that he uses the word “declaration” in this sentence, which he used in the title).
So I offer for consideration the following: he is intimating peace through nuclear war.
Secondly, the Hasidic rabbis of Satmar — whom I greatly respect — have offered a different reality into the use of the word Holocaust and its association with Zionism. From what I can glean, according to their beliefs, anytime a Zionist relies on the horror of Holocaust, he or she is doing so to further Zionism . CK of course gave the word “Holocaust” top billing in his title, so when analyzing this screed from the Satmar perspective, then one can assume that CK implicitly is requesting something on behalf of Zionism.
So we are back to Sherman Kent’s idea of “taking off from the wish”. What is the wish? In my view, CK is choosing words to declare at an unconscious level a desire for a nuclear holocaust of Iran on behalf of Zionism. This is the true meaning of the “The Holocaust Declaration”. It suggests a declaration of nuclear war on Iran — one that will lead to a nuclear holocaust.
Again, I write from the position of a rebuttable presumption that the Cheney-GOI wing desire to exercise the Wurmser option or a variation thereof. And nothing I have read overcomes this presumption at this point.
‘As for intentions vs capabilities in warning, both must be taken into account in my opinion, but in most cases the focus should be on capabilities. Through most of the cold war our I&W system sought to warn on Soviet intentions by looking at traditional indicators such as mobilization, military movement and buildup, etc.’
In the ‘Able Archer’ episode, your I & W system failed totally. There is a useful account in Richard Rhodes’s book Arsenals of Folly. Discussing the Soviet responses to the highly realistic NATO exercise simulating nuclear first-use, Rhodes quotes Melvin Goodman recalling seeing ‘some clandestine reports that suggested great alarm in Moscow’, but says that ‘frankly they weren’t taken very seriously by anyone but the analysts.’ Concluding his chapter, he writes that ‘Reagan was surprised and shocked that the Soviets had taken his years of militant rhetoric and his massive arms buildup seriously.’
The lesson of the episode is that information about the kind of indicators you mention is liable to be either misleading, inadequate, or both, unless it can be located within the context of a broader understanding both of an adversary’s perceptions of your objectives and the means by which you are likely to pursue them, and of his objectives and the means by which he is likely to pursue them. Obviously, assessments of an adversary’s perception of your objectives and assessments of his objectives are likely to be interrelated.
What actually Western analysts commonly did was not simply to focus capabilities rather than intentions — it was to infer an intentions threat from the very evident capabilities threat posed by Soviet forces in Central Europe, without exploring alternative hypotheses.
I do not know whether you are familiar with what is generally regarded as the principal British text on the theory and practice of intelligence – the 1996 study Intelligence Power in Peace and War by the former long serving GCHQ and Cabinet Office analyst Michael Herman. The ‘greatest’ debt acknowledged by Herman is to Michael MccGwire — ‘naval officer, rugby player, intelligence expert on the Soviet navy, academic, convivial talker, and friend of long standing in all these guises.’ The — devastating — critique of official British assessments of the role of military power in Soviet policy in Herman’s chapter ‘Problems of defence intelligence’ largely follows MccGwire’s work.
Among the criticism of analysis at the ‘politico-strategic level’, Herman writes that this:
‘was slow to accept that the rationale for Soviet naval developments was initially the defence of the homeland against Western invasion and naval air attack, and later the defence of the Northern deployment areas of the ballistic missile submarines. It ignored the hypothesis that the offensive Soviet military doctrine in Western Europe was contingency planning against the possibility of a conventional war, which the USSR was bound to lose to the USA’s superior industrial resources unless it could expel it from Europe.’
As someone who had unquestioningly accepted the conventional orthodoxy that it was legitimate to infer a Soviet intentions threat from the very obvious Soviet capabilities threat in Western Europe, I was taken back to discover when I encountered MccGwire’s work in 1986 that there were no good grounds for this assumption.
I was yet more taken aback when I discovered that the fact that in the event of war the Soviet Union would need to expel the USA from Europe or face defeat was actually basic to the calculations of both US and Soviet military strategists in the years immediately following 1945. A footnote in MccGwire 1987 study of Military Objectives in Soviet Foreign Policy sent me back to Raymond Garthoff’s 1958 study of Soviet Strategy in the Nuclear Age.
This quoted an article by Major-General Khlopov published in the confidential Soviet journal Military Thought in June 1950. In it, Khlopov said that despite American strategic air power and plans for its use against the Soviet Union, there was a fatal flaw in the assumptions underlying such plans. The combination of greater air capabilities in Europe and ‘powerful offensive operations on a large scale with a high tempo of advance’, Khlopov argued, would mean that ‘the bridgehead on which the American militarists count to concentrate and deploy their forces for land engagements will be liquidated and their plans for [winning] the war will be buried with it.’
Compare the paper on Strategic Guidance for Industrial Mobilization Planning produced by JCS planners in May 1947, reproduced in the standard collection of Cold War documents edited by Etzold and Gaddis. The planners detailed ‘certain governing considerations’ which would influence the development of a war with the Soviet Union ‘irrespective of how it began [my emphasis]’. It was, the planners argued, ‘probable that the Soviets would plan to take full advantage of their superiority in land forces to occupy key areas and neutralize others, which might be used by the Allies as bases for operations against the U.S.S.R., and thus create a strategic situation in which her opponents would find themselves stalemated.’
Soviet discussions of American military strategy, Garthoff also noted in the 1958 study, ‘do not reflect awareness of the Western object of deterrence’, and he went on to observe that it would be feasible for the Soviets ‘to note but deny in their propaganda the need for deterrence.’
As so often, the textual evidence is ambiguous. Statements like that of Khlopov could cover offensive intentions behind defensive protestations — in which case it would be natural to conclude that their denial of the need for ‘deterrence’ was disingenuous. Equally however they could be candid statements of what the Soviets thought. The question of which interpretation was right is obviously fundamental to an assessment of the validity of most Western theorising about ‘deterrence’.
If the Soviets were simply saying what they thought, the kind of ‘cosmic misunderstanding’ Kennan suggested existed on both sides of the Cold War divide about the significance of each other’s military preparations existed. And the conclusion he drew then seems to the point.
‘We must remember that almost the only language in which we can now communicate with the Soviet leaders is the language of overt military and political moves. If we still hope to have the ultimate decision confined to the political field and to win on that field, let us be sure the words we speak in this peculiar language do not operate to reduce the Soviet leaders to a state of mind in which for them, as for people everywhere who accept the belief in the inevitability of war, the only question is not “whether” but “when.”‘
This was why the ‘threat inflation’ of NSC 68 scared Kennan shitless, if I can use an undiplomatic phrase. It was also why the revival of ideas and rhetoric from NSC 68 in the Reagan era filled him with renewed foreboding. And frankly he was right. It was purely a stroke of luck that the gerontocrats were succeeded by Gorbachev, who concluded from ‘Able Archer’ episode that it was necessary to wind down Cold War tensions. It could have been Grigori Romanov, and the outcome could have been very different.
I sincerely hope that some IRGC hotheads have not concluded that war with the United States is inevitable — because if they have, they could quite easily act in ways that encourage a spiral of events leading to war, even if the ayatollahs in Tehran are desperate to avoid any conflict. But then there may be people on both sides who would welcome such a drift — and also, there are the peculiar religious undercurrents again on both sides.
Good comment. I think I would agree that Israel would probably not want to rely on the US for its deterrent and even if it were, I’m not completely sold on the idea. But perhaps under the right circumstances such an arrangement could be possible and beneficial for the region and US interests.
Andy and David Habakkuk:
Well Andy, yours was still a sparkling idea to note, whether you invented it or just even remembered it from elsewhere in the context of this discussion. I see via this Chafets’ business that at least the first partisan of Israel to speak up seems to reject it though.
“This was why the ‘threat inflation’ of NSC 68 scared Kennan shitless, if I can use an undiplomatic phrase. It was also why the revival of ideas and rhetoric from NSC 68 in the Reagan era filled him with renewed foreboding. And frankly he was right. It was purely a stroke of luck that….”
Well now David, if I recall NSC 68 came out in something like 1951 or so, no? (And the invasion of So. Korea can hardly be said to have made it all that delusional.) And I don’t think you can find a peep out of Kennan until suddenly in the 1980’s saying that gee, his containment idea had been overly militarized. Not when we went into Korea, Not when we tried the Bay of Pigs, not when we went into Vietnam. So to the extent he got “shitless” it seems it was a rather sudden process, to the extent that someone has with justifiable archness said that when talking about Kennan now you have to specify whether you are talking about “Kennan I,” or “Kennan II.”
More importantly though I think it can be argued that it wasn’t just a “stroke of luck” that Reagan ran into.
After all, one can always argue that after another person triumphs in some way, so in the first place such “stroke of luck” claims can often seem like the inevitable mutterings of those who were wrong.
Not that you are doing that at all, but just that I think Reagan’s view was broader and deeper than simply some shallow ideologue’s delusion that the Sov’s would fold like a house of cards if confronted because God was on our side.
His statements even then to a degree but now especially with the release of his letters and papers show a guy (suprisingly I’ll admit given his persona) with some decent grasp of history and process, and the deep structural weakness of Soviet communism too. It didn’t come through in his persona, but maybe to his great credit he just wasn’t interested in trying to show off, which is so common now we apparently regard those who don’t do it as dumb.
But the bottom line is that it turned out his strategy did work, didn’t it? I don’t think we ever really came close to blows with the Soviets under him, and after he was offering to give up nukes entirely how the hell could even the hardest-core “conservative” in the Soviet regime argue that we were really a threat to them anymore?
I.e., what Reagan really did was cut the legs off the “conservatives” in the SU and enable its domestic critics such as Gorby to come to the fore and prevail. And as Reagan saw that “reforming” that process wasn’t really possible given that more freedom was the only thing to “reform” and that same was incompatible with it on a fundamental level, well, he was right.
Now, it almost certainly collapsed sooner and faster than he or anyone else forecast, but they had indeed said it was much more fragile and brittle than many others, including to a great embarrasing degree the Intell folks. (Who of course had been incredibly wrong about how strong their economy was, and at *best* thought that any real collapse of the SU was decades and decades into the future if at all.) And under Reagan and Bush I, at least it wasn’t accompanied by some cataclysm, like trying to attack us, which may well be another accomplishment.
Indeed in a sense might it not even be said that Reagan was the ultimate in not believing capabilities equate with intent? Since he thought he could influence the Soviet’s intent, he knew he could completely undercut and render useless its capabilities if only he was successful at the former. And, as it turned out, he was, and it did.
Gotta say I really appreciate your comments otherwise, and given that “Habakkuk” was the name of one of the Hebrew prophets, can only look forward to your continuing posts, especially the prognostications.
(Although, since he was just one of the so-called “minor” prophets, am also hoping you don’t mind when someone takes respectful issue with you….)
I have added Charles Krauthammer to the list of people I ask God to help me forgive.
I do not in the least mind when people take issue with me. But I am happier if they read my posts before they do!
In response to my remark about NSC 68 scaring Kennan ‘shitless’, you write: ‘I don’t think you can find a peep out of Kennan until suddenly in the 1980’s saying that gee, his containment idea had been overly militarized.’
The memorandum which I was glossing in describing Kennan as being scared ‘shitless’, which I had linked to in my first response to Andy, was written from Moscow in September 1952. Yes, not 1982, 1952. It was published in the second volume of Kennan’s memoirs in 1972 and is now available on the net at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB14/doc1.htm — as I pointed out.
As I noted in that first response, the summary of the central message of this September 1952 memorandum in Kennan’s memoirs — which is accurate — reads as follows:
‘the Russians, many disagreeable and disturbing aspects of their behaviour notwithstanding, had had no intention of attacking Western Europe in those postwar years, and thought we must have known it. For this reason, the manner in which NATO was formed and presented to the Western public, i.e. as a response to the ”Soviet threat” and as a ”deterrent” to Soviet aggression, mystified them and caused them to search for some hidden motive in our policy.’
And this, he goes on to suggest, was ‘to bring to a head a military conflict with the Soviet Union as soon as the requisite strength had been created on the Western side.’
The question of whether the invasion of Korea validates NSC 68 is a complicated one — neither Kennan nor his fellow State Department Soviet expert Charles Bohlen thought it did, but the issues are quite complex. As you date that paper as having been produced in 1951, when it was approved by Truman in April 1950, it would seem you probably have not read it.
The question of whether there was a ‘Kennan I’ and a ‘Kennan II’ is one of the more hotly contested issues in the historiography of the early Cold War — a subject in which I have an amateur interest.
In an exchange with the historian John Lukacs published fifty years after his famous ‘X-article’ appeared in Foreign Affairs, Kennan restated his case (George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment 1944-6, the Kennan-Lukacs Correspondence). He complained that after the war many of his fellow-countrymen ‘jumped quickly to the primitive assumption that the Soviet aim was to overrun the remainder of Europe militarily and then to replace the governments there, including the West German one, with Communist puppet regimes.’ He goes on to make the interesting suggestion that Stalin would have been particularly reluctant to order an invasion of Western Europe, as the inevitable consequence of success would have been a united communist Germany, which according to Kennan would have been ‘the last thing Stalin would have wanted to bring about.’ And he concludes the exchange by saying that he still sees ‘no inconsistency’ between the views he held in 1945 and those he put forward in later years.
Can one discount his claim to have been consistent? Certainly, on the question of Stalin’s reluctance to see communist parties come to power in major states remote from his borders, Kennan was only developing an argument he had made in his 1954 Realities of American Foreign Policy lectures and his 1960 study of Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin. Confusion was made worse confounded when in his 1989 study of Kennan Anders Stephanson quoted some remarks Kennan made in February 1947 — that is, after the X-article was drafted but before it was published:
‘We saw in 1931 Moscow showed a marked reluctance to let the German communists seize power in Germany and preferred that they should be sacrificed to Hitler rather than that this should happen. I think they knew that a communist Germany, in contemplating its relations with Soviet Russia, would raise the question as to which should be the tail and which should be the dog. Similarly, the Kremlin has shown little disposition to see the French communists seize power.’
My own view, for what it is worth, is that Kennan’s testimony is neither wholly to be discounted nor wholly to be accepted — and that his attempts at self-exculpation lead him to misrepresent the very difficult dilemmas facing American policymakers in the Truman years over the military aspects of ‘containment’. Underlying this need for exculpation, however, was a skepticism about the way Western thinking about ‘deterrence’ developed from the late Forties on, which I have come to think was both justified and holds lessons for today.
The September 1952 memorandum and NSC 68, both available on the net, are short documents taking little time to read — as also the exchange of letters with Lukacs, which is easily available on Amazon. If you care to spend a little time reading these documents, I am most happy to continue this discussion.
Amongst some other tart things David Habakkuk wrote:
“I do not in the least mind when people take issue with me. But I am happier if they read my posts before they do!”
I did. And I just re-read it. And it re-reads just like it did the first time to the effect of you saying that Kennan had a long-time huge (“scared shitless”) disagreement with U.S. policy. And his 1952 memo that you cite only confirms my point given that in no place does he even mention NSC 68, and indeed he *concludes* that post-NSC 68 memo to Washington by saying as follows:
“For these reasons, I would plead for the *continuation* of a policy based on the requirements of the possibility that there may be no war as well as on the requirements of the possibility that there may be one.”
So they ain’t exactly the statements of a guy scared shitless in my book, and how it can be said otherwise given that he’s expressly seeking nothing other that a mere “continuation” of post NSC 68 policy I don’t know, but of course you are entitled to your opinion, and indeed I even further note that it might just be a matter of degree.
And on that note I’d just observe that I quite don’t see the need for the rude-ish comments in your post. If I were to respond in kind it seems to me I could justly respond now that not only is it you who seemingly hasn’t read Kennan’s memo but you don’t even seem to have read your own words in your initial post.
So let’s knock it off. This is supposed to be fun. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and everyone’s even wrong on occasion. Big deal. Accepting that is part of mature professional discourse and not accepting simply means a senseless courting of humiliation when one is inevitably wrong oneself. So let’s get back to fun. Tell me why I’m wrong on my (apparent) disagreement with you on Reagan. But hold the condescension please.
Unfortunately I don’t have time for a lengthy response as I’ve procrastinated and simply must do my taxes today.
I will say, however, that Able Archer was really a Soviet I&W failure, not a US failure because the Soviets misread our intentions and, ultimately, US policymakers learned of Soviet fears and took action to prevent a crisis.
But you’re quite right in suggesting that the US I&W system has failed and failed dramatically. The unfortunate reality is that such failures can never be eliminated because of the complexity and difficulty of the warning problem. I can’t go into great detail here, but I highly recommend Cynthia Grabo’s Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning if you have an interest in the subject. Originally written in the early 1970’s for the intelligence community, her analysis has stood the test of time. I highly recommend it.
While I agree that often intentions are derived from observing capabilities – particularly changes in capabilities – this method is often necessary because pure “intentions” are often completely open to debate – particularly with closed regimes like Stalinist Russia where it’s not really possible to reconstruct and analyze an adversary’s decision-making process. We saw this with Saddam’s Iraq where decisionmaking was largely held by one man and he made most of his most fateful decisions in isolation. For the 1991 Kuwait invasion, for example, the warning system closely monitored Iraq’s preparations and issued timely war and attack warnings. Unfortunately, others in the intelligence community and policymakers choose to believe the Kuwaiti’s, Saudi’s and others who said Saddam’s threats were bluster. In such cases a more (but not total) capabilities-based approach is usually superior, particularly military actions. IOW, when the decision-making process or regime objectives are closed to us, the only method we may have of deriving them is by detecting and analyzing the effects of such decisions and plans and orders are actually carried out. Ultimately, though, it’s not an either-or question and a balance must be struck based on the particulars of the problem.
Another example is the Stalin period where extreme security measures made collection impossible and analysis of intentions difficult. The CIA did not even set up its first Moscow station until after Stalin’s death, for example. The extreme security and surveillance measures made it virtually impossible to develop any agent network, much less one capable of providing insight into the regime.
While alternative theories might have been explored concerning Soviet objectives (and perhaps they were and rejected) the nature of the Soviet regime made such analysis difficult, to put it charitably, and so it’s not surprising to me that contemporaries choose to believe Soviet revolutionary propaganda and interpret that as Soviet intent.
As for Kennan, unfortunately I don’t have a good working knowledge of that aspect of the early cold-war period, so can’t really add much to the debate there.
The reason for my somewhat tart response was that you had written ‘I don’t think you can find a peep out of Kennan until suddenly in the 1980’s saying that gee, his containment idea had been overly militarized.’
This is simply wrong, and in my first comment I had quoted and linked to the account Kennan gave to Acheson in September 1952 of how, in his view, his original conception of ‘containment’ had been militarised. As this was a rather large ‘peep’ by Kennan, dating from long before the Eighties, the natural inference seemed to be that you had not read what I had written.
Back in the Eighties, when Kennan was an influential critic of the policies of the Reagan Administration, he repeatedly made this claim that his conception of ‘containment’ had been militarised in the later Truman years. Those who wanted to debunk his views on the risks of the nuclear confrontation commonly implied, as you do, that he was lying, and disingenuously post-dating reservations about the way U.S. strategy developed which he only came to feel years later.
It seemed to me then worth checking the matter out, and what I found was that the notion of a ‘militarisation of containment’ is partly true, and partly false. A crucial point here is to distinguish between assessments of what contingency plans for war the military should make, and what kinds of forces are needed to create in support of these, on the one hand, and assessments of the intentions of an adversary on the other. Given the situation prevailing in the aftermath of 1945 — the shambles in which most of Europe was in, the presence of powerful communist parties in particular in Italy and France, and the collapse of the European colonial empires, one did not need to postulate the kind of Soviet ‘grand design’ which Kennan repudiated to believe that the U.S. needed strong military capabilities. Indeed, the crucial first attempt at setting a political context for U.S. military planning — the NSC 20/4 paper of November 2004 — was as Paul Nitze has very fairly pointed out masterminded by Kennan.
Nowhere either in NSC 20/4 or in the preparatory papers NSC 20/1 and NSC 20/2 is it suggested that the Soviets have an aspiration towards the territorial conquest of Western Europe.
If you read these papers — and NSC 68 — with any care, moreover, it is also apparent that their definition of American military requirements also reflected the anticipation that the Soviets might respond to American political offensives by transferring the contest to the military level. It is an open question whether the definition of U.S. force requirements by Kennan and Nitze would have been different, absent their commitment to these political offensives.
On his disagreements with NSC 68, although not to be taken entirely at face value, Kennan’s account in the second volume of the memoirs is not simply to be discounted — and in particular, his reservations about that paper’s specific argument that there would be a period of ‘maximum danger’, first placed in 1954, then in 1952: the ancestor of many later such moments in the thinking of American ‘hawks’. Even before the Korean War, Kennan writes,
‘our military – and to some extent our political – planners had adopted for military planning purposes, against my anguished objections, the year 1952 as the probable “peak” of danger which our preparations should be designed to meet. They did not themselves intend to start a war at that time, but they assumed that there would be a real danger of the Russians doing so as soon as their current program of military preparations was completed — and for this, 1952, apparently, seemed to them the most likely date. They could not free themselves from the image of Hitler and his timetables. They viewed the Soviet leaders as absorbed with the pursuit of something called a “grand design” — a design for the early destruction of American power and for world conquest.’
He also explains how the invasion of South Korea was accommodated in this conceptual framework in which he did not believe. It was, he writes, as a result of the ‘misimpression’ on the American side of the North Korean attack as ‘another ”Austria” – as the first move in a supposed “grand design” of world conquest’, far more than by the attack itself, that
‘the peace of the world now seemed to me to be in real, and needless, danger. This was not because I supposed that the Soviet leaders wanted such a war or would intentionally provoke it. It was because I thought that we ourselves might inadvertently convince them that it could not be avoided.’
A key feature where Kennan’s views differed from NSC 68 was on the role of nuclear weapons in Soviet policy. As the ‘existence and persistence of the idea of freedom is a permanent threat to the foundation of the slave society,’ NSC 68 argued, ‘it therefore regards as intolerable the long continued existence of freedom in the world.’ And it went on to claim that there was ‘no justification in Soviet theory or practice for predicting that, should the Kremlin become convinced that it could cause our downfall by one conclusive blow, it would not seek that solution.’ One sees there the beginnings of a pattern of interpretation which would be carried forward through the writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, among others, to ‘Team B’, and hence onwards to the neconservatives in the present.
What has to be explained is why Nitze took this view in April 1950, given that only weeks earlier he had been prepared to accept that the memorandum which Kennan produced in January 1950 on ‘The International Control of Atomic Energy’ indicated that it was ‘improbable that the U.S.S.R. would itself initiate the use of weapons of mass destruction.’ In fact, I have come to think, Nitze had some good reasons for his change of mind, and in important ways Kennan did misrepresent the historical record — sliding from the correct claim that he had never believed the Soviets had an aspiration to conquer Western Europe to the incorrect claim that he had discounted the contingency of general war. The puzzles over whether he ever believed Stalin would want to see communist parties come to power in major states remote from his borders are relevant here.
Perhaps in describing Kennan as ‘scared shitless’ I was overdramatising. Perhaps I should have said that he made ‘anguished objections’ to what he saw as the overmilitarisation of American policy, because he feared that this might precipitate a new world war. His reflections on what an unutterable catastrophe that would be come in the second volume of the memoirs, which unfortunately I do not have to hand.
As to the relation of Reagan’s policies to the retreat and collapse of Soviet power, I have not time to go into the matter at length this morning, but perhaps it might help if Americans took more notice of the fantastic achievements of the Pax Americana in post-1945 Western Europe and much of the Far East. That the restoration of prosperity and civility in Western Europe would precipitate disintegrative pressures in the Soviet empire and system was precisely what Kennan argued, in the NSC 20 series among other places. In this respect at least I think he can indeed be regarded as a prophet vindicated. The military aspect is clearly relevant in all this — but overestimation of its relevance has done a great deal to lead the United States into the problems in which it enmeshed today.
Alas, like you, I have not time at the moment to go into these arguments in the depth they require.
In brief, Able Archer was an I&W failure on both sides. It is the job of intelligence to understand how others will react to one’s actions, in the light of the perceptions they have of one’s actions, not as they would if they were the kind of ‘rational actors’ beloved of game theorists.
Insofar as you are saying that confronted by what have been called ‘counter-intelligence’ states — particular a state as isolationist as Stalin’s Soviet Union, where many of those diplomats who, like Litvinov, could communicate with Westerners had been purged or indeed shot — it is natural enough to make worst case assumptions, I agree. However, there is no automatic safety in worst case assumptions — as Kennan was pointing out, and as proved to be the case with regard to intelligence Iraqi WMD.
Agent networks in the late Stalinist Soviet Union were certainly impossible. However, it is an open question whether adequate use was made of available material. Among other things, there is the question of why JSC planners went from accurate assessments of Soviet troops strength in the immediate aftermath of the war to seriously inflated estimates by 1950 — on this see Matthew Evangelista’s paper Stalin’s Postwar Army Reappraised. Also worth bearing in mind is Bohlen’s dismissal of NSC 68, which I quoted in responding to an earlier post of yours, as making ‘no attempt whatsoever’ to ‘analyze the great body of Soviet thought in regard to war between states’; and his suggestion that ‘designed merely to justify the need for military buildup,’ NSC 68 and the papers that followed it strayed ‘in a rather superficial and unnecessary way from incontestable truths which afford ample justification for military buildup.’
But NSC 68 was an attempt to resolve deep-seated internal tensions which had emerged in Kennan’s strategic conception, as Nitze understood it. Without attempting to wrestle with the problems relating to Kennan’s conceptions, the development of U.S. thinking about nuclear strategy is unintelligible.
I think it will be a good idea for you to compile your exchanges with commentators here in a book: “Conversations with David Habakkuk on Nuclear Security” – I think others can benefit from reading your thoughtful answers (and references therein) to the question raised on multiple threads on this Weblog.
David Habbakuk writes:
“The reason for my somewhat tart response was that you had written ‘I don’t think you can find a peep out of Kennan until suddenly in the 1980’s saying that gee, his containment idea had been overly militarized.’ This is simply wrong, and in my first comment I had quoted and linked to the account Kennan gave to Acheson in September 1952 of how, in his view, his original conception of ‘containment’ had been militarised.”
Yeah, and again in that account he expressly concluded his comments by saying he advocated a “continuation” of the post NSC 68 policy.
So when you further write:
“If you read these papers — and NSC 68 — with any care….”
… it prompts me to smile once again given the possible retort that now that you don’t seem to have read the first document you cited which contains language seemingly gutting your own argument, you’re now condescendingly implying I haven’t read “with any care” another that doesn’t even go to the point at issue.
Like I said, let’s knock it off. Yeah, you can read Kennan’s ’52 memo to be less militaristic than NSC ’68. But yeah, as you now admit, you saying he was “scared shitless” by it from the get-go might have been a bit hyperbolic. And we’re not debating whether essence precedes existence or vice-versa or the divinity of Jesus here, so let’s keep it cool.
I appreciate your noting that memo which can somewhat show that Kennan wasn’t as militaristic as NSC 68 was. It’s an interesting point, with Kennan remaining a great thinker regardless of who is “right” or “wrong” on a point that’s a matter of degree anyway. But everyone’s entitled to their opinions and even to be wrong on occasion so let’s not go scaring off other people who are interested in gabbing about stuff by letting ’em think they’re gonna be belittled if they post. Tart comments can run both ways, and are a dime a dozen. Seeing merit in even wrong ideas isn’t.
That said, let’s forget it. Liked your post otherwise, both in tone and content, esp. about the degree to which non-military things in Europe esp. were much more to credit than Reagan’s more military-centric moves in seeing off the Sov. Union.
I dunno how one quantifies this however. Certainly some weight oughta be given to whatever utterings that may come forth from the Soviets in power at the time, and I don’t know what Gorby has written about same, if anything. So as this is a real big juicy historical issue I’d be glad to hear if you know. Or what other evidence you think exists about same.
For my part I kinda wonder that even Reagan himself (as opposed to ideologues using his apparent “success” to vindicate themselves or their own present agendas) would really have ascribed whatever success he did have with the Russkies to his military moves. Like I say, his post-Prez. released letters and writings did show a surprisingly broad guy, with a surprising understanding of the fundamental power of economics and culture. And look at how he handled relations with China.
Plus I dunno that he was all that militaristic. After all wasn’t the only real huge military thing that he did was push those short-ranged nukes into Europe and then basically embrace Star Wars?
Otherwise it seems to me he was no big opponent of diplomacy or “soft power” at all as witnessed by him at that Reykjavik summit for one.
For my part I think you’re right that ultimately, it was the sense amongst the Sov. leadership that their economic system was simply unsustainable to any modern degree that persuaded ’em to turn tits up. (And not this or that military threat. Although I’d also say they were not so much comparing themselves economically to Europe but to America who I think they thought they deserved to be compared to both size and importance-wise.)
But I also think that without the strong backdrop of a clearly strong and resolute military opponent to them which Reagan (and Thatcher, and the West Germans) provided, they may well have tried to stumble along for a good while or even to try some expansionism to alleviate the economic black hole they’d created. But with that military awareness, they knew it wasn’t ever gonna be.
And maybe most importantly I’d point to the fundamental tenets of the Soviet Commies’ *own* thinking to the effect that military power was essentially “the health of the state.” So when they looked at the military power Reagan invigorated, and then esp. at Star Wars, by their own lights and doctrine and inclination and etc. they knew they were unhealthy as hell.
But it’s a debatable issue, that’s for sure, and even if incapable of definitive resolution, still interesting as hell.
Interesting thread but as usual what might be expected in response to CK’s op-ed displaying his complete ignorance of nuclear warfare, strategic and tactical doctrine, first strike theory, pre-emption, deterrance, and single nuclear warning shot analysis. Let’s face it no nuclear guarantees will ever, repeat ever be given by any fully nuclear capable sovereign state. That said what should the Israel paradigm be for the US. Well you could start with guarantees of Israel existence and borders by the US. Wonder if this would get Israeli agreement. Probably not by LIKUD party. Hey while we are at it why not just publish a map of US guaranteed borders, and vague cross-hatched areas of the world where US does not care, does not want to care, does not worry, does not need, wants to intervene because not really part of a real nation state or whatever! Or that’s right–that is what happened before June 1950 crossing of 38th parallel in certain pennisula, a line drawn by Major Dean Rusk in 1944 with no research, no real knowledge, but knew the Brits and French could draw maps so why not the US? But hey there is bound to be another Major in the Armed Forces that loved geography as a student. CK should go back to the practice of Medicine then he can specialize in the wonders of modern chemistry, not physics.
Thank you for your kind words.
An irony perhaps is that some of my fervour is that of a convert. Until the mid-Eighties, I took for granted a set of very orthodox Cold War liberal positions on the virtues of nuclear ‘deterrence’, the stability of MAD etc — and my dislike of the Peace Movement was reinforced by the fact that so many of its members were socialists, and they struck me as not only naïve but commonly intolerably self-righteous.
But then I started reading empiricists — Raymond Garthoff, Michael MccGwire, and Bruce Blair — the last two of whom were pursuing lines of thought deriving from practical experience of nuclear war planning, which in their different ways lead to skepticism about ‘deterrence’ orthodoxies. And the writings of Garthoff and MccGwire sent me back to the arguments of the early Cold War, and to the puzzles relating to Kennan’s dual role as supposed intellectual architect of ‘containment’ and anti-nuclear campaigner. As a result I now think I was not as ‘realistic’ and ‘tough-minded’ as I held myself to be in those days.
The conviction that nuclear weapons saved our bacon during the Cold War continues to afflict even those whose fear of the implications of proliferation is making them embrace the agenda for the abolition of nuclear weapons that Kennan embraced in 1950, and which was central to the Gorbachev-era ‘new thinking’. In January last year, George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn embraced this agenda in an article in the WSJ. But they also proclaimed that nuclear weapons were ‘essential to maintaining international security during the Cold War because they were a means of deterrence.’
Once one assumes this, of course, then one has to explain why these weapons should not have the same benign effects in other confrontations — not least in ‘deterring’ the U.S, which now enjoys precisely the overwhelming superiority in conventional power, whose possession by the Soviets was held to make strategies of ‘deterrence’ inescapable.
I see few reasons to believe that the nuclear balance of terror in the Cold War was more stable than a conventional balance would have been. The sheer scale of the U.S. superiority in potential military-industrial power — more than ten times the Soviet production of motor vehicles, according to NSC 68 — is often forgotten: as also the fact that it is only nuclear weapons that made the U.S. military-industrial base vulnerable to Soviet attack.
Certainly, if I was an Iranian military strategist — given the country’s precarious security situation — I would see the advantages of strategies of ‘deterrence’. But I still fear that a nuclear balance of terror in the Middle East will end badly, particularly given the underlying vulnerabilities behind the apparent power of Israel.
Incidentally, one inadequately commented on fact is that Nitze, who repudiated Kennan’s agenda for international control of atomic energy in 1950, came round to it before he died. There is an interesting article on this by Nitze’s grandson.
David Habakkuk wrote:
“But then I started reading empiricists — Raymond Garthoff, Michael MccGwire, and Bruce Blair….”
“I see few reasons to believe that the nuclear balance of terror in the Cold War was more stable than a conventional balance would have been.”
David, but isn’ it a bit unempirical to ignore not just history but indeed the most recent and therefore most relevant history?
That is, aren’t there at least two little bits of evidence to “believe that the nuclear balance of terror in the Cold War was more stable than a conventional balance would have been”? That is … World War I and World War II?
… i.e., the modern world in the conventional era, as compared to the lack of any kind of such wars since?
And don’t you think there’s a clear difference that makes *the* big difference in that obviously it’s much more difficult to assess a conventional balance of power than it is a nuke one? Plus then the clear, apparent-to-all reality that if you make a mistake in a nuke world the negative consequences are going to be far more decisive than in a conventional one?
Did Hitler think invading Poland would bring in Great Britain and France? Maybe not, but to the extent he considered it obviously he thought he could handle it. Threaten France and forestall it, or have a little conventional battle or two and reach a settlement. But would he have felt the same if they had nukes and their response might have been nuclear?
Or would Germany have so casually backed Austro-Hungary’s demarche on Serbia leading to WWI if the Kaiser knew the Russians and the French and the Brits had nukes? I suspect he’d at least have cut his vacation short to have made that decision.
I understand that of course one can argue forever about this or that difference between WWI and II and the U.S./Soviet situation. But the stark fact still remains that in the world’s most recent experience and in the last 100 years there’s been two distinct eras, conventional and nuclear, and in the first we had two wars of frightful global scale and in the latter none.
Not that you’re doing it here at all, but it seems to me the problem with hyper-impericists isn’t even that they can miss the forest for the trees, but that they can miss the forest for one damn tree.
Moreover isn’t this all just more than academic? That is, when did the Soviets ever make a clear offer to forego nukes vis a vis the U.S. and the West thereby making a non-nuke world possible? Indeed, they essentially stole them precisely so that they * would* have them in that world.
In ’46 I think it was they rejected the U.S.’s Baruch Plan in the U.N. for everyone to abjure the weapons. And then at Reykjavik Gorby again refused Reagan’s offer to get rid of nukes altogether. (Which makes it puzzling to me why you’d call this the *”Gorbachev*-era ‘new thinking.'”)
So given that the Soviets never agreed to give up nukes despite at least two major public U.S. offers to do so, and given that the U.S. therefore had no choice but to stay nuked-up, it does strike me as being a bit hypothetical. And given this history it also explains to me why some or all of those cold-warriors you cite became agitators for a non-nuke world after the Soviets went belly-up: It ceased to be academic and became more of a real possibility.
In light of your apparent support for some of Mrs. Clinton’s oistions, and this post, I wondered if her comments during the recent debate have changed that opinion:
Of course I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States, but I would do the same with other countries in the region.
“In light of your apparent support for some of Mrs. Clinton’s oistions [sic], and this post, I wondered if her comments during the recent debate have changed that opinion”
You might want to identify who and what “post” you are directing this to and maybe elaborating a bit more.
Since I posted last before you there’s some natural implication it’s me, but I don’t think I ever said I supported Mrs. Clinton’s positions, did I?
I think Andy did mention the idea the Mrs. Clinton has now seemingly embraced about extending the U.S. nuke umbrella over Israel, but that was only if it abandoned its own such weapons, and of course Mrs. Clinton has now also said she’d extend the umbrella over lots of other ME states too. Plus I don’t think Andy was saying he was married to his idea; only that it was something to think about. (Which was clearly far-sighted given that it certainly is now.)
Otherwise all I said when Krauthammer’s piece came out is that it might have been really directed at Obama as a way to force him to either knuckle under and say yes he’d extend the umbrella, or reveal him as insufficiently pro-Israel. (Because I thought both Hillary and McCain would say yes without much hesitation.)
So, at any rate, you might want to clarify your question.