Despite some signs of an eventual superpower agreement on Syria, portents of regional disintegration still seem increasingly plausible in the Middle East. What shall we make of these all too familiar portents? In particular, what must Israel prepare to do about them?
For Israel, growing anarchy may signal a very special kind of warning and fragility. Israel, always the individual Jew in macrocosm, could once again become the conspicuous scapegoat for many intractable area problems and the world’s principal national victim of any further regional disintegration.
Nonetheless, chaos, although hardly benign, can be a powerful teacher. There are, in fact, genuinely vital lessons to be learned from chaos. Ironically, perhaps, even the most sorely palpable disintegrations can sometimes reveal both sense and form.
What is there to examine?
In the Middle East, probably by increments, the fragmentation of world authority processes could express a recognizable shape. How, exactly, should this more or less discernible shape, this utterly eccentric geometry of chaos, be deciphered by Israel?
The world is best understood here as a system. What happens in any one part of this system must affect what happens in all or several of the other parts. When a particular deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one country to another, the corollary effects can undermine regional and global stability. When a deterioration is sudden and catastrophic, as it would be following the onset of any unconventional war and/or unconventional terrorism, the perilously unraveling effects could be both prompt and irresistible.
Israel, like every state a juridical conglomerate of interdependent and interpenetrating parts, exists precariously in our chaotic world system. Aware that any incremental collapse of world authority structures would, in one way or another, impact its (few) friends, as well as its (many) enemies, leaders of the Jewish state will eventually need to learn something daunting. More precisely, this redemptive lesson would instruct how to conceptualize and advance certain informed expectations of national collapse.
Although counterintuitive, such potentially horrifying expectations will be needed in Israel in order to prepare appropriate and suitable forms of national defense and response.
Any chaotic disintegration of the larger international system, whether slow and incremental or sudden and catastrophic, will impact the Israeli system. In the most blatantly obvious manifestation of this predictable impact, Israel will have to orient its core strategic planning to a nuanced variety of worst-case scenarios. Here, meaningful analytic focus would be aimed much more at the entire range of conceivable self-help security options, than on any more traditionally-favored kinds of alliance guarantees.
Within Israel’s decisional boundaries, diplomatic processes that are premised on assumptions of reason and rationality may soon need to be reconsidered. Then, while Israel’s judgments concerning any “peace process” or “road Map” expectations would not become any less important, they would need to be made in evident consequence of certain anticipated world-system changes. From the standpoint of Israel’s overall security, any such reorientation of planning, from anticipations of largely separate and unrelated threats to presumptions of interrelated or “synergistic” dangers, could provide a still badly-needed framework for strategic decision-making.
The intellectual origins of this critical framework would be discoverable in a prior willingness to extract vital meanings from the now-revealed geometry of chaos. Israel’s particular reactions, as a system within a system, to growing worldwide and regional chaos would impact these expressions.
Should Israel’s leaders react to a presumptively unstoppable anarchy in world affairs by hardening their commitment to national self-reliance, including certain still-possible and expectedly indispensable resorts to preemptive military force, Israel’s enemies could surely respond, individually or collectively, in similar ways.
What, exactly, are these ways likely to look like? How, exactly, should Israel respond to such responses? These primary questions should now be raised by Israel’s strategic planners.
Although such dialectical thinking is not generally taught in universities or military institutions, it is already past time for these planners to consider something
difficult to understand. These are the crucial and tangibly complex feedback implications of “creation in reverse.”
By likening both the world as a whole, and their beleaguered state in particular, to the concept of “system,” Israel’s leadership could finally learn before it is too late that states can “die” for different reasons. Following a long-neglected but still-promising Spenglerian paradigm of civilizational decline (few recall, it seems, the sometimes prophetic insights of a once obscure German schoolteacher, Oswald Spengler, composed during World War I), these states can fall apart and disappear not only because of any direct, mortal blow, but also in combined consequence of distinctly less-than-mortal blows.
How can this be? Because after a time, even multiple “minor” insults to an organism can occasion a significantly wider breakdown of “immunities,” one that could pave the way for more obviously recalcitrant, ultimately life-endangering pathogens.
Taken by itself, any one such minor insult; e.g., a local infection, an injury, an impediment to vision or hearing or memory, will not produce death. Yet cumulatively, incrementally, over time, these “minor” insults could prove fatal, either (recalling the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer) by affecting the organism’s overall will to live or simply by making it possible for a more corrosively major insult to take effect.
Taken individually, Israel’s past and future surrenders of land, its reluctance to accept certain life-saving preemption options, and its still-misdirected negotiation of so-called peace agreements may not bring about the end. Taken together, however, these insults, occurring, as they would, within a substantially wider pattern of chaos and anarchy, could have a weakening effect on the Israeli organism.
Plainly, it remains unclear whether the principal effect here would be one that impairs the Jewish state’s will to endure, or one that could actually open Israel up to a devastating missile attack or calamitous act of terror.
What is clear, however, is that Israeli leaders must ask themselves the following basic question: What is the true form and meaning of chaos in world politics, and how should this shifting geometry of disintegration affect our national survival strategy? The answers will come from imaginative efforts at fashioning a deeper understanding of small-state power obligations, especially under any worsening “natural” conditions.
In the final analysis, such existential obligations will be reducible to various improved methods of national self-reliance, including assorted preparations for deterrence, preemption, and every identifiable form of warfare. For Israel this will mean, among other things, steady enhancements of ballistic missile defense and recognizable movements away from the country’s increasingly antiquated posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity.
For Israel in particular any further chaotic disintegration in world politics could soon offer a profoundly serious challenge. If this challenge is correctly accepted in Jerusalem as a preeminently intellectual rather than political effort, the beleaguered Jewish state’s strategies of national survival will stand a much better chance of achieving success.
Whatever is ultimately done (or not done) about Syria’s chemical weapons and Iran’s still-impending nuclear ones, the more critically ongoing challenge for Israel will doubtlessly coalesce around this question:
How, in a still-splintering world of unrelieved anarchy, can we best figure out, and also apply, viable long-term security policies?
About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.
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