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December 2, 2015 / 20 Kislev, 5776
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Rationality, Irrationality, And Madness: Core Enemy Differences For Israeli Nuclear Deterrence (Third of Three Parts)


From the standpoint of protecting its overall existential security, this means Israel must take appropriate steps to ensure the plausibility of (a) and (b), above, and also the implausibility of (c) and (d).

“Do you know what it means to find yourself face to face with a madman?” Repeating this pertinent question from Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV does have immediate relevance to Israel’s existential dilemma. At the same time, the mounting strategic challenge to Israel will come primarily from enemy decision-makers who are not at all mad, and who are more or less rational.

Israel will need to promptly fashion a comprehensive and suitably-calibrated strategic doctrine from which various specific policies and operations could readily be extrapolated. This focused framework would identify and correlate all available strategic options (deterrence, preemption, active defense, strategic targeting, nuclear war fighting) with indisputable survival goals.

It would also take close account of the possible interactions between these strategic options, and of the determinable synergies between all conceivable enemy actions directed against Israel. Calculating these particular interactions and synergies will be a computational task on the very highest order of intellectual difficulty.

Nuclear strategy is a “game” that sane and rational people can and must play, but to compete effectively and purposefully, a would-be winner must always first assess (1) the expected rationality of each critical opponent; and (2) the probable costs and benefits of pretending irrationality oneself.

These are undoubtedly complex, interactive and glaringly imprecise forms of assessment, but doubtlessly they also constitute an indispensable foundation for Israel’s long-term security.

Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of political science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.

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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