Since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has made it plain that traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against an enemy “whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents….,” and that “We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries.”
This “adaptation” means nothing less than striking first where an emergent threat to the United States is judged to be sufficiently unacceptable. As the State of Israel is less than half the size of America’s Lake Michigan, its particular right to resort to anticipatory self-defense under threat of identifiable existential harms is beyond legal question. Moreover, the International Court of Justice at the Hague – a United Nations tribunal not especially well-known for its concern for the lives of Israelis – ruled on July 8, 1996 that it could not “conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”
It would follow from this Advisory Opinion on The Legality Of The Threat Or Use Of Nuclear Weapons that the legal right of self-defense under international law could even include – in starkly residual circumstances ? the use of nuclear weapons.
In its published report (May 2004) titled Israel’s Strategic Future, however, the Project Daniel Group rejected any preemptive Israeli resort to nuclear weapons, even though – as indicated in the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ – such an expression of anticipatory self-defense could be construed as permissible. Instead, we rejected the argument that nuclear weapons would be desirable for preemption of enemy nuclear capability, and concluded that conventional means would generally be much more effective than nuclear devices for this purpose: “Even if nuclear weapons are fully available for preemption, and even if their use would be consistent with authoritative international law, conventional weapons would be preferable wherever possible against emergent enemy nuclear capabilities.”
In the final analysis, Israel must continue to develop, test and implement an interception capability to match the growing threat dictated by enemy ballistic missile capabilities. Simultaneously, it must continue to prepare for possible preemptions and to enhance the credibility of its nuclear deterrent. Regarding such enhanced credibility, Israel must fully operationalize a robust second-strike force, sufficiently hardened and dispersed, and optimized to inflict a decisive retaliatory salvo against high-value targets.
As stated in the Project Daniel Report, Israel’s Strategic Future, “Overall, the most efficient yield for Israeli deterrence, counter-strike and deployment purposes is a countervalue-targeted warhead at a level sufficient to hit the aggressor’s principal population centers and fully compromise that aggressor’s national viability.” Furthermore, we recommended emphatically that “development of a nuclear warfighting capacity for Israeli counterforce-targeting be avoided as far as possible” and that Israel consider promptly ending its tacit doctrine of nuclear ambiguity if for any reason enemy nuclearization had not been prevented.
We may learn from all of the above that the Arrow is absolutely necessary for Israeli security, but that it is also not sufficient. To achieve a maximum level of security, Israel will also have to: (1) develop boost-phase stage interception to complement Arrow, and (2) take the particular steps recommended by Project Daniel concerning preparations for preemption and deterrence. In this connection, my readers should recall the recent special ten-part series on these pages dealing with Project Daniel.
Together with the United States of America, Israel exists in the cross-hairs of a far-reaching Arab/Islamic “Jihad” that is profoundly theological and will not predictably conform to relevant rules of international law. Under no circumstances can Israel and the United States now afford to allow this seventh century view of the world to be combined with 21st-century weapons of mass destruction. Consequently, it must be a matter of very highest priority for the President of the United States to fully recognize and reaffirm this country’s fully overlapping security interest with the State of Israel, and to act accordingly.
Contrary to the well-publicized advice given in a recent report issued by the Council on Foreign Relations (Robert Gates, et.al, Iran: Time For A New Approach; July 2004), this presidential imperative should certainly extend to any lawful and presumptively effective acts of anticipatory self-defense that Israel would need to undertake for national self preservation. Such plainly defensive acts would be made necessary by unassailably informed judgments that deterrence and ballistic missile defense could no longer safeguard Israel’s populations from existential aggressions.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), Professor of International Law at Purdue University and Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is Chair of “Project Daniel.”