The high-minded centerpiece of Barack Obama’s still-emerging strategic doctrine is “a world free of nuclear weapons.” Although plainly misconceived – this presidential policy expectation is both unattainable and undesirable – Israel can hardly ignore it. On the contrary, planners in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv will now have to self-consciously fashion and possibly reconcile Israel’s own strategic doctrine with the new American ideas.
Doctrine is a net. In the interpenetrating worlds of war and peace, only those who cast will catch. Without an appropriate and up-to-date doctrine that takes Washington into close account, the IDF will be unable to conform its essential order of battle to the constantly changing and increasingly lethal requirements of the regional Middle-East battlefield. At a minimum, Prime Minister Netanyahu will need to consider that the new START agreement between the U.S. and Russia effectively leaves the wider threat of nuclear terror unrelieved.
What should be done?
First, Israeli strategists must now look directly at their country’s principal existential threats, and identify these perils, promptly and openly, as the dominant object and rationale of their inquiries. Will the “Obama Doctrine,” with its expressly-diminished reliance on nuclear deterrence, be helpful or harmful in coping with these threats?
Second, Israeli strategists must understand: (a) Israel is a system; (b) existential threats confronting Israel are interrelated (synergistic); and (c) effects of these complex threats upon Israel must be examined together. How will these effects be impacted by the new strategic doctrine in Washington? If necessary, how should Israel compensate for any expanded security vulnerabilities?
Third, Israeli strategists must understand that the entire world is best understood as a system, and that the disintegration of power and authority structures within this wider macro-system will impact, with enormous and at-least partially foreseeable consequences, the Israeli micro-system. How will this impact be enlarged or reduced by President Obama’s now-codified unwillingness to respond to lower-order (chemical or biological) attacks with nuclear reprisals?
Fourth, the Obama Doctrine does not provide any real guidance on how to deal with those states and sub-state organizations that may not be subject to deterrent threats. This brings to mind the core security problem of prospective enemy irrationality. How should Israel’s own critical plans for dealing with non-rational adversaries be affected by the Obama Doctrine, especially where these adversaries (e.g., Iran) may soon become nuclear?
Fifth, long-term, Israeli strategists must learn to consider seemingly irrelevant literature, real literature, not the narrowly technical materials normally generated by military thinkers, but the genuinely creative and artistic product of writers, poets and playwrights. The broadly intellectual insights that can be gleaned from this real literature may ultimately provide a far better source of strategic understanding than the visually impressive but often misleading matrixes, mathematics, metaphors and scenarios of the “experts.”
Sixth, Israeli strategists need to acknowledge the occasional advantages of private as opposed to collective strategic thought. They should be reminded of Aristotle’s prescient view: “Deception occurs to a greater extent when we are investigating with others than by ourselves, for an investigation with someone else is carried on quite as much by means of the thing itself.” There is a correct time for collaborative or “team” investigations, but in certain matters concerning Israeli security, as in all science generally, one may sometimes discover optimal conceptual value in the private musings of single individuals. This observation refers especially to strategic doctrine.
Seventh, Israeli strategists now need to open up, again, and with greater diligence and formal insight, the major policy question of nuclear ambiguity. Possibly under growing pressure from Washington’s Obama Doctrine to denuclearize (will Obama now start pushing Jerusalem to sign the NPT?), they will have to understand that re-examining the “bomb in the basement” is not just an academic exercise. Such re-examination would come at exactly the time that a new American strategic guidance would most likely condemn any Israeli disclosure. How, then, should Israel balance its ritual obeisance to Washington with its more obvious and indisputably primary need for survival.
Eighth, again with a clear view to changing nuclear doctrine in the United States, Israeli strategists will need to widen their consideration of far broader questions of nuclear weapons and national strategy. Ideally, this would be done in consonance with all of the other above-listed strategic studies requirements. Key issues here will be nuclear targeting doctrine, preemption and ballistic missile defense, positions that will surely be impacted by the Obama Doctrine.
For Israel, national survival is more problematic than ever. Following the Obama Doctrine and the new START agreement, Prime Minister Netanyahu should ensure that his own strategic planners take careful and immediate note of pertinent game changes.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of ten books and several hundred scholarly articles dealing with international relations and international law. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II, he was the Chair of Project Daniel. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.