These questions should now be asked everywhere on earth, but most urgently in Israel. For the Jewish State, the prime inheritor of Genesis, an expanding global chaos portends a very special kind of vulnerability. The relentlessly beleaguered State of Israel is like the individual Jew in macrocosm. As such it will likely be the principal victim of international anarchy. In view of the interrelatedness of world politics, this is true even if the particular precipitating events of war and terror should occur elsewhere.
There are vital lessons to be learned from this widening chaos. In a strange and paradoxical symmetry, anarchy may reveal both sense and form. Spawned by explosions of war and Islamic mega-terror, the disintegration of meaningful world authority will have a discernible shape. How should this shape – this “geometry” of chaos – be deciphered and understood by Israel?
The world, like the individual countries that comprise it, is best understood as a system. What happens in any one part of this system affects what happens in all of the other parts. When deterioration is marked and begins to spread from one country to another, the effects can undermine international stability in general. Indeed, when deterioration is sudden and
catastrophic, as it would be following the onset of unconventional war and/or unconventional terrorism, the unraveling effects would also be immediate and overwhelming.
The State of Israel, a system of interdependent and interpenetrating parts like every other state, exists precariously in this chaotic world system. Aware that an incremental collapse of world authority structures will, in one way or another, impact its (few) friends as well as its (many) enemies, leaders of the Jewish state must now advance informed expectations of collapse in order to prepare suitable forms of response.
Moreover, recognizing that rapid and far-reaching collapse of order will occasion a more or less complete return to “everyone for himself” in world politics – what the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes called a “war of all against all” – Israel’s leaders must now consider how they will respond to life in a global “state of nature.” Such consideration is all the more critical to the extent that the triggering mechanism of collapse could originate regionally from chemical/biological/nuclear attacks against Israel.
Chaotic disintegration of the world system, whether slow and incremental, or sudden and catastrophic, will impact the Israeli system. In the most obvious manifestation of this impact, Israel will have to orient its strategic planning to a variety of worst-case scenarios, focusing far more on the whole range of self-help security options than on traditionally-favored forms of alliance guarantees. More precisely, within the country, diplomatic processes premised on assumptions of reason and rationality will have to be curtailed in recognition of increasingly glaring limits to “civilization.” Here, Israel’s judgments about any “Peace Process” or “Road Map” will not be any less important, but they will need to be made in consequence of anticipated world-system changes. From the standpoint of Israel’s overall security, such a reorientation of planning – from anticipations of largely separate and unrelated threats to presumptions of interrelated dangers – would provide a badly-needed framework for facing the uncertain future. The origin of this framework would be a prior willingness to extract pertinent implications from the geometry of chaos.
There is more. Israel’s particular reactions, as a system within a system, to growing expressions of worldwide chaos, will themselves impact these expressions. For example, should Israel’s leaders react to unstoppable anarchy in world affairs by hardening their commitment to all pertinent forms of self-reliance, including appropriate resorts to preemptive military force, Israel’s enemies would surely respond, individually or collectively, in similarly “self-reliant” ways. What, exactly, are these ways likely to be? And how, exactly, should Israel respond to such responses? These are primary questions that should now be raised by Israel’s most capable strategic planners. It is now time for these planners to consider the crucial feedback implications of creation in reverse.
By likening both the world as a whole and their state in particular to the concept of “system,” Israel’s leadership could learn, before it is too late, that states “die” not only because of a direct, mortal blow, but also in consequence of a series of distinctly less than mortal blows. This is because, after a time, even multiple “minor” insults to an organism can occasion a breakdown of “immunities” that pave the way for 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 can be fatal, either by affecting the organism’s overall will to live, or by making it possible for a major insult to take place without adequate defense.
Taken by themselves, Israel’s intended surrender of land, its probable reluctance to accept certain indispensable preemption options, and its misdirected negotiation of “peace agreements” may not bring about the end of the Jewish Commonwealth. Taken together, however, these insults, occurring, as they do, within a worldwide pattern of escalating chaos and anarchy, would have a decisively weakening effect on the Israeli “organism.” Whether the principal effect here would be one that impairs the Jewish State’s commitment to endure, or one that would open Israel to a devastating missile attack or calamitous act of terror, is unclear. What is clear, however, is that Israel must now ask itself the following question: What are the true sense and form of chaos in the world system, and how should this palpable geometry of chaos affect our country’s survival strategy on this imperiled planet?
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law. He is Chair of Project Daniel as well as Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.