Louis-René Beres, a professor who teaches international law at
Purdue University (but not in a law school there) had a very warmongery
in yesterday’s Christian Science
Monitor, titled The
case for strikes against Iran: Diplomacy alone won’t stop Iran’s
Beres has been a pro-Israeli ultra-hawk on nuclear issues for a long time. I came across his name when I was
first researching Israel’s massive and already very “mature”
nuclear-weapons program back in the 1980s. (See, for example,
footnote 6 in this
(be aware: that’s a large PDF file there) 1988 article of mine
titled Israel’s Nuclear Game: The
Minister that “Israel must
identify explicitly and early on that all enemy Arab states and Iran
are subject to massive Israeli reprisal in the event of a BN
[Biological or Nuclear] attack
upon Israel” We recommended further that “massive” reprisals be
targeted at between 10 and 20 large enemy cities…and that the
nuclear yields of such Israeli reprisals be in
the megaton-range. It goes without saying that such deterrent
by Israel would be very compelling to all rational enemies, but — at
the same time — would likely have little or no effect upon irrational
ones. In the case of irrational adversaries, Israel`s only hope for
safety will likely lie in appropriate acts of preemption — defensive
acts to be discussed more fully in the next column of my ongoing
Project Daniel series.
A policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) which was obtained
between the United States and the Soviet Union, would never work
between Israel and its Arab/Iranian enemies. Rather, the Project Daniel
Group recommended that Israel MUST prevent its enemies from acquiring
BN status, and that any notion of BN “parity” between Israel and its
enemies would be intolerable…
So anyway, I thought it might be helpful for me to annotate Beres’s
recent piece in the CSM:
|Beres’s text||My commentary|
|1.||Iran’s latest defiance of the International
Atomic Energy Agency says it all: Further diplomacy has no
chance of stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Neither will UN sanctions
have any effect.
|Oops! Too bad for his
argumnent that it appeared on the same day as this
report from IAEA headquarters in Vienna that told us that: “Iran
agreed Tuesday to a compromise on the agenda text of a global
conference called to consider ways to strengthen the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, taking a surprise turn under pressure from
allies to end a weeklong deadlock preventing talks.”
|2.||Unless there is a timely defensive first strike at
pertinent elements of Iran’s expanding nuclear infrastructures, it will acquire nuclear weapons.
The consequences would be
intolerable and unprecedented.
|a. “Defensive first
strike”??? In terms of stretching the rationale for an act of
aggression this goes ways further than “pre-emption” or even, as far as
I can see, “prevention.”
b. Iran “will” acquire nuclear weapons? Where is Beres’s evidence
for this? Why does he expect us to accept his assertion without
c. Consequences “intolerable and unprecedented”? Well, I
would say that Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear-weapons capability would
be very deeply regrettable… but it would hardly be
unprecedented. Already, four states have acquired this capability
outside of the formal, international NPT framework: Israel, Pakistan,
India, and North Korea. Why would Iran’s acquisition of the
capability be less tolerable than it was when those nations acquired it?
nuclear Iran would not resemble any other nuclear power. There could be
no stable “balance of terror” involving that Islamic Republic. Unlike
nuclear threats of the cold war, which were governed by mutual
assumptions of rationality and mutual assured destruction, a world with
a nuclear-armed Iran could explode at any moment. Although it
still seem reasonable to suggest a postponement of preemption until
Iran were more openly nuclear, the collateral costs of any such
could be unendurable
|a. Why would, say, an
Iranian-Israeli balance of nuclear terror be any less stable than the
old Cold War one, or the one that has subsequently built up between
India and Pakistan? Does Beres believe that the Iranian
government is uniquely “irrational”? He must, anyway, know that we all
know that Israel certainly has the means to destroy Iran (and perhaps
most of planetary life) if it is directly threatened by anyone else’s
b. And near the bottom there, note the sly wording in which he
rejects the idea of waiting until Iran is “more openly nuclear”– which
handily conveys the assumption that it already is, in a military way,
“nuclear”, but also conveys the sense that those ever-shifty Iranians
have been hiding this fact…
|4.||Ideally, a diplomatic settlement
could be taken seriously. But in the real world, we must compare the
price of prompt preemptive
action against Iran with the costs of both:
(1) inaction; and (2) delayed military action. To be sure, all
available options are apt to be injurious.
|a. Ah! So now he is
claiming that the military strike he is urging would be “prompt”
preemptive action. Since the concept of pre-emption involves the
high assuredness and high imminence of the threat that is being
“pre-empted”, he wants people to just stretch that concept of imminence
to make the strike happen sooner…
|5.||Iranian president Mahmoud
maintains that his country’s nuclear program is intended only to
produce electricity, but there is no plausible argument or evidence
support this claim. Meanwhile, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s genocidal intentions
toward Israel are abundantly clear.
|a. Well, there is a whole history
of IAEA inspections in Iran (unlike in Israel). And though
there are some concerns about some nuclear materials that were not
declared to Iran in the past, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei
is still very strongly urging
negotiations to resolve the remaining issues. What’s
more, he noted that, “the intelligence,
the British, intelligence, the American intelligence, is saying that
Iran is still years, five to
ten years away from developing a weapon.” And Beres’s
desire to rush this pre-emption he is urging stems from what, exactly?
b. Yes, Ahmadinejad spoke very hatefully about “wiping Israel off
the map.” That is of great concern– though it has more to do
with politicide than genocide. Meanwhile, he is clearly NOT the
central “decider” rgearding Iran’s nuclear program.
|6.||Iran must be stopped immediately
acquiring atomic arms, and this can only be accomplished through
defensive attacks against Iran’s
nuclear assets would be effective – and they would be entirely legal.
|a. See 5 (a) above.
b. for one of his writings on “anticipatoiry” self-defense, see this.
c. “Defensive attacks” are already an oxymoron– whether they claim to
“precision” or not. Imagine if everyone in the world felt
entitled to launch such attacks!
|7.||They would be effective because
the US has
at its disposal the “McInerney Plan” (after
Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney,
USAF/ret.). It calls, in part, for an immediate strike force to hit
Iran’s nuclear development facilities, command and control centers,
integrated air defenses, selected Air Force and Navy units, and its
Shahab-3 missiles, using more
than 2,500 aim points. Operationally, the
United States Air Force is best configured for such a complex task, but
it would not necessarily be
impossible for the Israeli Air Force to
|a. McInerney published that
version of the plan at the end of April. In his view, it was
something the USA should be prepared to do on its own, though a
“coalition of the willing” including ” Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt,
UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Britain, France, and Germany” would be
preferable. (What, no mention of feisty little Israel?)
“The objective would be, first and foremost, to destroy or
damage Iran’s nuclear development and production facilities and put
them out of commission for at least five years. Another aim would be to
destroy the Iranian air defense system, significantly damage its air
force, naval forces, and Shahab-3 offensive missile forces… The air
campaign would also wipe out or neutralize Iran’s
command and control capabilities.” Yeah, right. Just like
Dan Halutz was able to achieve that purely with standoff weapons, in
Israel last year?
b. Also, McInerney’s version spoke only of “more than 1,500 aim
points.” Why did Beres feel the need to expand on that?
Anyway, check that Weekly Standard article there for the massive
destructive capability of the bombs McInerney mentions, too.
c. Of course it would be impossible for the IAF to execute any
such plan without substantial help from the US.
|8.||It would be lawful because the
Israel would be acting in appropriate
self-defense. Both countries
could act on behalf of the
international community and could do so
lawfully without wider approval. The right of self-defense by
forestalling an attack has a long and authoritative history in
international law. In the 1625 classic “On the Law of War and Peace,”
Hugo Grotius expresses the
enduring principle: “It be lawful to kill
him who is preparing to kill….”
self-defense! Don’t you just love this guy’s jargon?
b. The US and/or Israel acting “on behalf of” the international
community? How on earth could anyone think they’d have the right
to arrogate to themselves this right? (And if they had it, why
shouldn’t anyone else?)
c. Yeah, Grotius wrote a bunch of things, some of which were
innovative and some less so. One of the other things he wrote was that
it is always prefereble to take a dispute to the relevant court if
there is time to do it. H’mm, do you think “five to ten years”
might be enough time to find a non-military resolution of this issue?
Above all, though, Grotius was working hard to try to figure out
what a “rule of law” would look like in the relations among
nations. Of course, the absolutely fundamental principle of the
“rule of law” is that the one single law applies to all parties who
come under it, quite equally.
|9.||Today, some scholars say that
Article 51 of the UN Charter overrides that right. But international
law is not a suicide pact.
|This sounds eerily like
Dershowitz’s (torture-condoning) argument that the US Constitution “is
not a suicide pact”. No-one is asking Beres to subscribe to a
suicide pact. However, the warmongering course he is urging in
this article certainly would, if pursued, bring horrendous consequences
for Americans; and it would therefore be more immediately and evidently
“suicidal” than the steady, continued pursuit of diplomatic options and
must act very quickly
on Iran. Many critics will argue that the
expected consequences of any prompt preemptive strike would be
overwhelming, including (b) greatly
expanded terror attacks against
assorted Western targets, and perhaps regional or even global war.
Although such dire prospects should not be dismissed, (c) there is
certainly no reason to believe that an American or Israeli preemption
would make them more likely. On the contrary, it seems far more
plausible that (d) defensive
strikes would suppress Iranian adventurism and
subversion. Iran’s foreign policy is animated by very rigid
expectations, and (e) these
expectations won’t diminish if Iran is allowed
to acquire nuclear weapons.
|a. See 5 (a).
b. Risk of “expanded terror attacks against West targets”:
Certainly possible, though we should note that the terror attacks that
Western targets have experienced until now have overwhlemibngly come
from Al-Qaeda-type extremists not allied at all with Iran. Israel
has suffered terror attacks from Iranian allies, but is a Middle
c. “No reason to believe” an attack on Iran would make these
other forms of conflict more likely??? What is this guy smoking?
d. Worked for Israel with Hizbullah last summer, right??
e. It’s hard to see what he’s getting at with this reference to
“religious expectations”. Both Pakistan and Israel are theocratic
states that have nuclear weapons. Does that make them more
|11.||A more important reservation
preemption involves tactical difficulties. Due to delays, the success
of strikes against certain key Iranian targets may already be in doubt.
Worse, such strikes would
probably entail high civilian casualties
because Iran has deliberately placed sensitive military assets amid
civilian populations – an
international crime called “perfidy.”
|a. Here, his argument becomes
extremely sly. He’s trying to claim that the US has to attack
Iran sooner rather than later because, darn them, those pesky Iranians
have started building even high defenses over and around their nuclear
b. What’s more, delayed strikes would also lead to higher civilian
casualties? His argumentation is extremely unclear here.The issue
of civilian casualties seems unrelated to the broader argument he’s
trying to make that the attack should be launched sooner rather than
c. No, “perfidy”
in international law is when, for example, you disguise an ammo
train as a hospital train protected by a Red Cross emblem.
Well, anyway, readers might want to contribute some of their own
comments regarding Beres’s writings.
For my part I’ll note simply that his article represents a textbook case of the fact that human aggression and violence nearly
always stem from a deep well of fearfulness. Now, the fears
entertained by a person like Prof. Beres are most likely a mix of fears
that the rest of us might consider rational and those we might
consider irrational. But at a certain level that doesn’t really
matter, since they are all seem to be very deeply held by him. It wouldn’t be very productive to devote too much time to trying to persuade him that, say, half or one-third of the fears he entertains are quite irrational.
I’ll note, too, that it’s a widespread phenomenon of human psychology
that excessive fearfulness can frequently itself addle rationality.
And elsewhere in the Middle East, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s aggressive rantings most likely also stem from a
mixture of rational and irrational fears. But at least he–
unlike Beres’s friends in the Israeli leadership– is not in any
position to back up these rants with any threats to loose on his
enemies “nuclear yields… in the megaton range.” (Remember, the
bomb detonated over Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of just 12
It therefore strikes me that the rest of us in the world community need
to deal very carefully– with both sensitivity and firmness– with both
these men. Most importantly, we need to work hard and
effectively to establish a Middle East Zone Free of all WMD’s, and to
ensure that Israel retreats to within borders that are secure,
recognized, legal, and lasting and builds strong relationships with
everyone else in the region based on mutual recognition and respect,
and solid, well-monitored, and reciprocal commitments of
non-aggression. That will provide the regional context in which
radical demilitarization has a good chance of taking place.
until we can arrive at a regional peace, the agressive acts of the
hatemongers, the fearmongers, and the warmongers will only continue to