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Culture war games: think about the unthinkable

Gaza and the End of the Rules-Based Order
By Agnès Callamard

Universality, the principle that all of us, without exception, are endowed with human rights equally, no matter who we are or where we live, lies at the heart of the international human rights system. It was the foundation of the Genocide Convention and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both adopted in 1948, and it continued to inform new means of accountability over the years, including the International Criminal Court, established in 2002. For decades, that legal infrastructure has helped ensure that states uphold their human rights obligations. It has defined human rights movements globally and underpinned the twentieth century’s greatest human rights achievements.

A critic of this system might argue that states have only ever paid lip service to universality. The twentieth century abounds with examples of failures to uphold the equal dignity of all: the violence used against those advocating for decolonization, the Vietnam War, the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, and many more. These events all testify to an international system rooted more in systemic inequality and discrimination than in universality. With good reason, one could contend that universality was never applied to Palestinians, who, as the Palestinian American scholar Edward Said expressed it, have been, instead, since 1948, “the victims of the victims, the refugees of the refugees.”

Yet the fate of universality resides not in the hands of those who betray it. Rather, as a perennial ambitious project for humankind, its power rests, first and foremost, in its continual proclamation and in its persistent defense. Throughout the twentieth century, the principle of universality had countless setbacks, but the overarching direction was toward proclaiming, affirming, and defending it. That shifted, however, in the early years of the twenty-first century, with the unleashing of the “war on terror” following the tragic events of 9/11.

For the last 20 years, the doctrine and methods of the “war on terror” have been adopted or mimicked by governments the world over. They have been deployed to expand the reach and range of state “self-defense” measures and to hunt down, with the barest of restraints, any people or authorities deemed to warrant the loosely defined but widely applied designation of “terrorist threat.”

The extraordinary toll of civilian killings in Gaza committed in the name of both self-defense and countering terrorism is a logical consequence of that framework, which has perverted and almost dismantled international law and, along with it, the principle of universality.

The rules-based order that has governed international affairs since the end of World War II is on its way out, and there may be no turning back.

The consequences of this abandonment are all too apparent: more instability, more aggression, more conflict, and more suffering. The only check on violence will be more violence. The end of the rules-based order will also bring spreading and palpable anger across all layers of society, in all corners of the earth, except among those positioned to reap whatever sullied rewards can be extracted from the breaking international system.

The United States Refuses to Play by the World’s Rules
By Rebecca Gordon

In January 2002, the administration of President George W. Bush established an offshore prison camp at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The idea was to house prisoners taken in what had already been labelled “the Global War on Terror” on a little piece of “U.S.” soil beyond the reach of the American legal system and whatever protections that system might afford anyone inside the country. (If you wonder how the United States had access to a chunk of land on an island nation with which it had the frostiest of relations, including decades of economic sanctions, here’s the story: in 1903, long before Cuba’s 1959 revolution, its government had granted the United States “coaling” rights at Guantánamo, meaning that the U.S. Navy could establish a base there to refuel its ships. The agreement remained in force in 2002, as it does today.)

In the years that followed, Guantánamo became the site of the torture and even murder of individuals the U.S. took prisoner in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries ranging from Pakistan to Mauritania. Having written for more than 20 years about such U.S. torture programs that began in October 2001, I find today that I can’t bring myself to chronicle one more time all the horrors that went on at Guantánamo or at CIA “black sites” in countries ranging from Thailand to Poland, or at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, or indeed at the Abu Ghraib prison and Camp NAMA (whose motto was: “No blood, no foul”) in Iraq. If you don’t remember, just go ahead and google those places. I’ll wait.

Thirty men remain at Guantánamo today. Some have never been tried. Some have never even been charged with a crime. Their continued detention and torture, including, as recently as 2014, punitive, brutal forced feeding for hunger strikers, confirmed the status of the United States as a global scofflaw. To this day, keeping Guantánamo open displays this country’s contempt for international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention against Torture. It also displays contempt for our own legal system, including the Constitution’s “supremacy” clause which makes any ratified international treaty like the Convention against Torture “the supreme law of the land.”

The United States is an outlier in another arena as well: the production and deployment of arms widely recognized as presenting an immediate or future danger to non-combatants. The U.S. has steadfastly resisted joining conventions outlawing such weaponry, including cluster bombs (or more euphemistically, “cluster munitions”) and landmines.

What are cluster munitions? They are artillery shells packed with many individual bomblets, or “submunitions.” When one is fired, from up to 20 miles away, it spreads as many as 90 separate bomblets over a wide area, making it an excellent way to kill a lot of enemy soldiers with a single shot.

What places these weapons off-limits for most nations is that not all the bomblets explode. Some can stay where they fell for years, even decades, until as a New York Times editorial put it, “somebody — often, a child spotting a brightly colored, battery-size doodad on the ground — accidentally sets it off.” They can, in other words, lie in wait long after a war is over, sowing farmland and forest with deadly booby traps. That’s why then-Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon once spoke of “the world’s collective revulsion at these abhorrent weapons.” That’s why 123 countries have signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Among the holdouts, however, are Russia, Ukraine, and the United States.

Cluster bombs are only a subset of the weapons that leave behind “explosive remnants of war.” Landmines are another. Like Russia, the United States is not found among the 164 countries that have signed the 1999 Ottawa Convention, which required signatories to stop producing landmines, destroy their existing stockpiles, and clear their own territories of mines.

Ironically, the U.S. routinely donates money to pay for mine clearance around the world, which is certainly a good thing, given the legacy it left, for example, in Vietnam. According to the New York Times in 2018:

“Since the war there ended in 1975, at least 40,000 Vietnamese are believed to have been killed and another 60,000 wounded by American land mines, artillery shells, cluster bombs and other ordnance that failed to detonate back then. They later exploded when handled by scrap-metal scavengers and unsuspecting children.”

Biden approves cluster munition supply to Ukraine
By Karen DeYoung, Alex Horton and Missy Ryan

The principal weapon under consideration, an M864 artillery shell first produced in 1987, is fired from the 155mm howitzers the United States and other Western countries have provided Ukraine. In its last publicly available estimate, more than 20 years ago, the Pentagon assessed that artillery shell to have a “dud” rate of 6 percent, meaning that at least four of each of the 72 submunitions each shell carries would remain unexploded across an area of approximately 22,500 square meters — roughly the size of 4½ football fields.

Although the United States has used cluster munitions in every major war since Korea, no new ones are believed to have been produced for years. But as many as 4.7 million cluster shells, rockets, missiles and bombs, containing more than 500 million submunitions, or bomblets, remain in military inventories, according to estimates by Human Rights Watch drawn from Defense Department reports.

A 2022 Congressional Research Service report to lawmakers noted “significant discrepancies among failure rate estimates” of cluster weapons in the U.S. arsenal, with some manufacturers claiming 2 to 5 percent, while mine clearance specialists have reported rates of 10 to 30 percent.

While Russia has used cluster munitions far more extensively, Ukraine has also allegedly deployed these weapons during the war, using its own Soviet-era stocks or shells obtained from other countries. A new HRW report released Thursday said Ukrainian use “caused numerous deaths and serious injuries to civilians” in attacks in the city of Izyum and other locations in 2022. Ukraine has denied using cluster munitions.

Provision of the weapons has also been controversial within the administration. In remarks to the U.N. Security Council a week after Russia’s February 2022 invasion, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused Moscow of using “exceptionally lethal weaponry,” including cluster munitions, that “has no place on the battlefield” and is “banned under the Geneva Convention.” Her “no place” reference was later excised from the State Department’s official transcript of the speech, which was also amended to note that the Geneva Conventions ban cluster use “directed against civilians.”

The administration began to soften its position on providing cluster munitions this past spring as the shortage of standard artillery munitions became more acute.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, referring early in the war to Russia’s use of cluster munitions and thermobaric vacuum bombs in its aggression against Ukraine, said, “This is brutality, this is inhumane, and this is violating international law.”

In addition to the risk of civilians picking up unexploded duds long after a battle, they can also pose more immediate danger to the forces deploying them. “There’s definitely a lot of tactical risks in employing these types of munitions. It limits your ability to maneuver, and limits your ability to maneuver quickly, because you have to be clearing a bunch of UXO,” or unexploded ordnance, said a former U.S. Army artillery officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid conflicts with his current employer. “It’s gonna slow you down, it’s gonna limit the ways in which you can exploit success.”

The U.S. history of what are considered “friendly fire” incidents is a concern: Several U.S. service members were killed during and after the Gulf War by unexploded munitions, according to a 1993 Government Accountability Office report, which said the Army did not hold force-wide training to recognize submunitions on the ground before the invasion.

The Compulsion to Intervene
By Andrew Bacevich

Courageous Ukrainians certainly deserve to have their stalwart defense of their country rewarded with success. Yet the long history of warfare sounds a distinctly cautionary note. The fact is that the good guys don’t necessarily win. Stuff happens. Chance intervenes.

I make no pretense to be able to divine the thinking that prevails within senior Ukrainian military circles, but the basic math does them no favors. Russia’s population is roughly four times greater than Ukraine’s, its economy 10 times larger.

Western support, especially the more than $75 billion in assistance the U.S. has so far committed, has certainly kept Ukraine in the fight. The West’s implicit game plan is one of mutual attrition — bleeding Ukraine as a way to bleed Russia — with the apparent expectation that the Kremlin will eventually say uncle.

In the meantime, the bloodletting continues, a depressing reality that at least some in the U.S. national security apparatus actually find agreeable. Put simply, a war of attrition in which the U.S. suffers no casualties while plenty of Russians die suits some key players in Washington. In such circles, whether it comports with the well-being of the Ukrainian people receives no more than lip service.

Think of U.S. participation in the Ukraine War as a means of washing away unhappy memories of its own war in Afghanistan, an Operation that began as “Enduring Freedom” but has become Instant Amnesia.

Since 9/11 alone, U.S. military interventions in distant lands have cost American taxpayers an estimated $8 trillion and still counting. And that’s not even considering the tens of thousands of G.I.s killed, maimed, or otherwise left bearing the scars of war or the millions of people in the countries where the U.S. fought its wars who would prove to be direct or indirect victims of American policy-making.

This isn’t the first time the U.S. and Israel have disagreed over Gaza
By Greg Myre

The year was 1956. Israel, Britain and France had just invaded Egyptian territory in a bid to take over the Suez Canal, which Egypt had decided to nationalize.

U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower stepped in, ending the brief conflict. But in the months afterward, Israel resisted a United Nations resolution that called for it to pull its troops out of the Gaza Strip, then controlled by Egypt.

“Repeated, but so far unsuccessful, efforts have been made to bring about a voluntary withdrawal by Israel,” Eisenhower said in a nationally televised speech. “It was a matter of keen disappointment to us that the government of Israel, despite the United Nations action, still felt unwilling to withdraw.

Israel got the message, and withdrew from Gaza shortly afterward.

1956: Suez and the end of empire
By Derek Brown

Washington was appalled by the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of the canal zone and the Sinai. The action threatened to destabilise the strategically vital region, and strengthen Soviet links with liberation movements around the world. It raised global tensions in an age dominated by the nuclear arms race and recurring superpower crises. More viscerally, it was viewed with distaste as a nakedly imperial exercise in a post-imperial age.

Eden, a master of self-delusion, thought he had received a nod and wink of approval for the invasion from John Foster Dulles, the US secretary of state. He should have checked with Dwight D Eisenhower, who was enraged by the action. He forced through the UN resolution imposing a ceasefire, and made it clear that in this matter at any rate, Britain would have no ‘special relationship’ with the USA.

The final straw for Eden came when the Treasury told the government that sterling, under sustained attack over the crisis, needed urgent US support to the tune of a billion dollars. ‘Ike’ had a crisp reply: no ceasefire, no loan. The invaders were ordered to halt, and await the arrival of a UN intervention force.

60 years ago, Suez crisis set a dangerous pattern for Western military intervention
By Sean Lang

Rather like the “moment of madness” that otherwise law-abiding people describe when arrested for an out-of-character breach of the law, Eden’s invasion of Egypt can seem to be the result of a lapse of concentration on a genuinely imperial scale. It’s as if he momentarily forgot he was living in the post-war world of superpowers and atomic weapons and somehow imagined he was Lord Palmerston, the Victorian gunboat diplomatist who did indeed once send a fleet of gunboats to bring a recalcitrant Egyptian ruler to heel.

Interpreted as the disastrous doddering of an imperialist daydreamer, Suez can seem like a fitting epitaph to an empire that was already hastening towards an inglorious end.

That interpretation makes for good exam questions, such: “To what extent was Suez a turning point in the story of British imperialism?” But this is not the only way of looking at it. Far from being an embarrassing throwback to Victorian days – and a revelation of how out of touch Eden was with the modern world – Suez might be better understood as a model for a pattern of liberal interventionism that has grown in scale and frequency in the 60 years since 1956, though with a depressingly similar litany of disastrous results.

The key lies in taking Eden’s reasoning more seriously. He saw Nasser as a new incarnation of Hitler and the nationalising of the Suez Canal as the equivalent of Hitler’s remilitarisation of the German Rhineland 20 years earlier. Historians tend to take this as evidence of Eden’s lack of grip on reality, but his judgement was not so very different from that of others – both before and since.

The questionable nature of Eden’s judgement was not in the comparison he drew but in his decision about what to do about it – and in this he proved not so much backward-looking as prescient. His belief that the dictatorial nature of actions by a foreign leader can justify military intervention has since proved to be the justification of choice for a succession of Western democratic leaders.

BP in the Gulf — The Persian Gulf
By Stephen Kinzer

The history of the company we now call BP has, over the last 100 years, traced the arc of transnational capitalism. Its roots lie in the early years of the twentieth century when a wealthy bon vivant named William Knox D’Arcy decided, with encouragement from the British government, to begin looking for oil in Iran. He struck a concession agreement with the dissolute Iranian monarchy, using the proven expedient of bribing the three Iranians negotiating with him.

Under this contract, which he designed, D’Arcy was to own whatever oil he found in Iran and pay the government just 16 percent of any profits he made—never allowing any Iranian to review his accounting. After his first strike in 1908, he became sole owner of the entire ocean of oil that lies beneath Iran’s soil. No one else was allowed to drill for, refine, extract or sell “Iranian” oil.

“Fortune brought us a prize from fairyland beyond our wildest dreams,” Winston Churchill, who became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, wrote later. “Mastery itself was the prize of the venture.”

Soon afterward, the British government bought the D’Arcy concession, which it named the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. It then built the world’s biggest refinery at the port of Abadan on the Persian Gulf. From the 1920s into the 1940s, Britain’s standard of living was supported by oil from Iran. British cars, trucks and buses ran on cheap Iranian oil. Factories throughout Britain were fueled by oil from Iran. The Royal Navy, which projected British power all over the world, powered its ships with Iranian oil.

After World War II, the winds of nationalism and anticolonialism blew through the developing world. In Iran, nationalism meant one thing: we’ve got to take back our oil. Driven by this passion, Parliament voted on April 28, 1951, to choose its most passionate champion of oil nationalization, Mohammad Mossadegh, as prime minister. Days later, it unanimously approved his bill nationalizing the oil company. Mossadegh promised that, henceforth, oil profits would be used to develop Iran, not enrich Britain.

This oil company was the most lucrative British enterprise anywhere on the planet. To the British, nationalization seemed, at first, like some kind of immense joke, a step so absurdly contrary to the unwritten rules of the world that it could hardly be real. Early in this confrontation, the directors of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and their partners in Britain’s government settled on their strategy: no mediation, no compromise, no acceptance of nationalization in any form.

The British took a series of steps meant to push Mossadegh off his nationalist path.

They withdrew their technicians from Abadan, blockaded the port, cut off exports of vital goods to Iran, froze the country’s hard-currency accounts in British banks and tried to win anti-Iran resolutions from the UN and the World Court. This campaign only intensified Iranian determination. Finally, the British turned to Washington and asked for a favor: please overthrow this madman for us so we can have our oil company back.

American President Dwight D. Eisenhower, encouraged by his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a lifelong defender of transnational corporate power, agreed to send the Central Intelligence Agency in to depose Mossadegh. The operation took less than a month in the summer of 1953. It was the first time the CIA had ever overthrown a government.

At first, this seemed like a remarkably successful covert operation. The West had deposed a leader it didn’t like, and replaced him with someone who would perform as bidden—Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

From the perspective of history, though, it is clear that Operation Ajax, as the operation was code-named, had devastating effects. It not only brought down Mossadegh’s government but ended democracy in Iran. It returned the Shah to his Peacock Throne. His increasing repression set off the explosion of the late 1970s, which brought to power Ayatollah Khomeini and the bitterly anti-Western regime that has been in control ever since.

Policy, Perception, and Misperception
By Kyle Balzer

Perhaps no other individual had more influence in formulating U.S. policy during the Iranian Revolution than Zbigniew Brzezinski. The national security advisor’s tenacious bureaucratic infighting assured that Precht and Sullivan’s advocacy for a shift away from the shah was dashed. Having sidelined Admiral Turner’s CIA by leaking the president’s note condemning the quality of intelligence to The Washington Post, Brzezinski opened up his own independent intelligence shop through a backchannel with Ardeshir Zahedi, Iran’s ambassador to the United States. Zahedi reinforced Brzezinski’s view that the revolution was driven by external Communist subversion and that the shah must use force to put it down. But it had become apparent in December 1978, when demonstrations took on an increasingly violent manner, that the shah was unwilling to use force due to his belief that his son could not successfully succeed him in an environment in which the military was empowered after preserving the Pahlavi dynasty.

Brzezinski, however, never strayed from his preferred course of action. His backchannel with Zahedi served to confirm his predisposition that the shah would indeed use force. The Iranian ambassador held great ambitions to become prime minister and serve, as his father had done in 1953, as the figure around whom pro-shah forces rallied to put down the revolution. To fulfill his goal, Zahedi carefully calculated the information he dispensed to Brzezinski to win over the national security advisor, giving the impression that he spoke for the shah and had urged him to crush the opposition. Brzezinski accepted that information because it neatly fit into his predisposition of Iran and the shah. When faced with discrepant evidence, such as the shah’s speech on 6 November that made clear he would not revert to the iron fist, Brzezinski simply ignored it, since the speech did not support his understanding of Iran. … Moreover, Brzezinski’s Cold War disposition influenced the way he reacted to the Iranian Revolution’s stimuli. He was already sensitive to signs of Communist subversion, so each time the shah or Zahedi spoke of external Soviet subversion, it reinforced his refusal to search for alternatives to the use of force.

In August 1978, Brzezinski had invited William E. Griffith, an expert on Communism who had just returned from Iran, to a meeting at the White House. Griffith proved to be “that rare Cold War warrior who understood that something new was taking shape not only in Iran but also throughout the region.” … Rejecting Brzezinski’s conclusion that Soviet influence was spreading across the Middle East, Griffith attributed the disturbances in Iran to an Islamic revival. Again, when faced with discrepant information that did not fit into his paradigm, Brzezinski chose to ignore it. Like many of his fellow U.S. policymakers at the time, he understood the world through a Cold War context and filtered out data that did not fit that paradigm as a result.

1979 Iran Hostage Crisis Recalled
By Malcolm Byrne

On November 4, 1979, a group calling itself the Students Following the Line of the Imam stormed the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, seized control of the compound, and took several dozen American diplomats, Marine guards, and others hostage. Thus began a 444-day ordeal that shocked the world, fundamentally altered the political scene in Iran, and cemented negative perceptions in the West of the country’s Islamic leadership.

While many American officials have been tempted to dismiss the clerical regime as barbaric and irrational, Iran’s rulers have long viewed the U.S. government through their own narrative, as a serial violator of other countries’ sovereign rights with a particularly malign interest in Iran. Those Iranian views, which were at the heart of the motivations for the embassy seizure, trace back to the 1953 coup d’état against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, which the United States and Great Britain helped to engineer. (See prior postings.) Although the overthrow owed much to the support of a sizable cohort of the population at the time, Washington’s evident desire to manipulate Iran’s internal politics would begin to fester in the collective memory.

The events of 1953 might not have figured so significantly had Iran’s monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the coup’s main beneficiary, not developed into a despotic ruler whose accretion of power, suppression of political rights and social development, and failure to rein in state and court corruption fostered conditions Iranian society could no longer abide.

Although the Shah’s relationship with his American patrons from Eisenhower to Nixon was complex, much of Iran’s political opposition came to see the United States as not only tolerant of his excesses but actively encouraging him at the expense of the interests of the people of Iran. Mass popular resentment began to grow by the mid-1960s, notably after the violent suppression of demonstrations following public denunciations of the Shah by the emerging cleric Ruhollah Khomeini who the Shah arrested in 1963 and later exiled to Iraq. Among Khomeini’s chief grievances was the charge that the regime was kowtowing to foreign – that is, American – influence.

Conditions continued to deteriorate steadily, accelerated by the economic dislocations and skyrocketing corruption stimulated by the oil boom of the 1970s. Richard Nixon’s decision to rely on Iran as a buffer against Soviet aggression in the Persian Gulf region removed any pressure the Shah felt from previous administrations to nudge the country toward meaningful internal reform. American Embassy officials were instructed to avoid activities that might aggravate the Shah, including seeking contacts with his opposition, which curbed their ability to come to grips with the depths of popular animus against the regime.

By the time Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, and a year later praised Iran as “an island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world,“ the country was on the verge of revolution. Despite his expressed interest in human rights, Carter became identified in Iran, particularly in the eyes of the clerical opposition, with the Shah who repeatedly resorted to violence to suppress demonstrations through the end of 1978. On January 16, 1979, Mohammad Reza fled the country and two weeks later Khomeini returned from years of exile.

Beyond the human tragedy experienced by the several dozen Embassy personnel held against their will, the hostage episode had several momentous political consequences, many of which were sharply detrimental to Iran. It instantly cast the regime in the harshest light, increasing its isolation from much of the rest of the world. This in turn made it far too easy for various political actors in the West to dismiss the regime as untrustworthy, not to say barbaric and irrational, thus complicating future efforts to win domestic support, particularly in the United States, for policies that arguably were in the interests of an important regional player. More immediately, the crisis helped precipitate the immensely costly Iran-Iraq War by feeding into Saddam Hussein’s calculation that Iran was a vulnerable target. Later in the war, Western distrust and ill will, arising in part from the takeover, contributed first to reluctance to show support for Iran, despite being the aggrieved party, and later to a readiness to justify engaging in direct fighting with Iranian forces.

The hostage crisis also contributed to the growing public sense of American global impotence in the United States that undoubtedly hurt Carter’s reelection chances and helped bring Ronald Reagan to office, with all of the attendant implications for the country and the international environment.

Thirty-five years after Iranian hostage crisis, aftershocks remain
By Stephen Kinzer

Plenty has happened in the intervening decades to give Iran and the United States reason to mistrust each other. Each country has blamed the other for fomenting terror in the Middle East, and each has violently attacked the other’s vital interests. Yet when I recently asked one lifelong Washington insider to explain why the American political class remains so obsessed with isolating and punishing Iran, he immediately replied, “It all goes back to the hostage crisis.” The emotional legacy of that episode has proven astonishingly long-lasting.

The hostage crisis had far-reaching effects. It stirred patriotic sentiment in Iran that allowed the Islamic government to consolidate its power, and drove the United States into the arms of Saddam Hussein, who we supported in the Iran-Iraq war because we were so angry at Iran. Perhaps the worst effect was that it created passions in both countries that blind us to the deep interests we share in the Middle East and beyond. No episode in living memory shows so clearly that self-defeating emotion can grotesquely misshape global politics.

The time Ronald Reagan kept the US out of war in the Middle East
By Stephen Kinzer

America’s crisis in Lebanon began innocently enough. Reagan sent Marines to restore calm after an Israeli invasion. He said they were “working hard to help bring peace to that war-torn country.” Not everyone saw them that way. After several Marines were killed in separate incidents, Reagan authorized the battleship USS New Jersey to begin firing missiles into Beirut neighborhoods where enemy units were thought to be based.

“American support removed any lingering doubts of our neutrality,” the Marine commander later asserted, “and I stated to my staff at the time that we were going to pay in blood for this decision.”

A New York Times reporter on the scene, Thomas Friedman, saw that US troops were being sucked into a civil war. “Without anyone really noticing it at first,” he wrote, “the Marines here have been transformed during the last month of fighting from a largely symbolic peacekeeping force — welcomed by all — to just one more faction in the internal Lebanese conflict.” The reckoning came the same day that article was published. A truck bomb carrying six tons of explosives smashed into the Marine barracks. It was the deadliest day in the Marine Corps since the World War II battle at Iwo Jima.

Reagan reacted with the angry resolve that Americans expect at such moments. “We have vital interests in Lebanon,” he solemnly declared, “and our actions in Lebanon are in the cause of world peace.” Later he reached for the ultimate cliché, warning that if the United States did not hunt down and punish the bombers, “we’ll be sending one signal to terrorists everywhere: They can gain by waging war against innocent people.”

Soon, however, Reagan began having second thoughts. Pursuing the bombers would have meant plunging into Lebanon’s burgeoning civil war. There would be no clear goal for the US force, no way to define victory, and no exit strategy. On Feb. 7, 1984, Reagan announced that instead of sending the Marines to charge into war, he was ordering them to charge out. Critics called it “cut and run,” but Reagan said only that he had decided to “redeploy” the Marines offshore. Within three weeks they were gone.

Reagan coolly assessed America’s self-interest rather than reacting with violent anger. An American intervention that could have turned into a long and bloody occupation never happened.

Taking Stock of the Forever War
By Mark Danner

The central strand of American policy — unflinching support for the conservative Sunni regimes of the Persian Gulf — extends back 60 years, to a legendary meeting between Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Saud aboard an American cruiser in the Great Bitter Lake in Egypt. The American president and the Saudi king agreed there on a simple bond of interest: the Saudis, rulers over a sparsely populated but incalculably wealthy land, would see their power guaranteed against all threats, internal and external. In return, the United States could count on a stable supply of oil, developed and pumped by American companies. This policy stood virtually unthreatened for more than three decades.

The eruption of Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1978 dealt a blow to this compact of interests and cast in relief its central contradictions. The shah, who owed his throne to a covert C.I.A. intervention that returned him to power in 1953, had been a key American ally in the gulf, and the Islamic revolution that swept him from power showed at work what was to become a familiar dynamic: “friendly” autocrats ruling over increasingly impatient and angry peoples who evidence resentment if not outright hostility toward the superpower ally, in whom they see the ultimate source of their own repression.

Iran’s Islamic revolution delivered a body blow to the Middle East status quo not unlike that landed by the French Revolution on the European autocratic order two centuries before; it was ideologically aggressive, inherently expansionist and deeply threatening to its neighbors — in this case, to the United States’ Sunni allies, many of whom had substantial Shia minorities, and to Iraq, which, though long ruled by Sunnis, had a substantial Shia majority. Ayatollah Khomeini’s virulent and persistent calls for Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, and the turmoil that had apparently weakened the Iranian armed forces, tempted Saddam Hussein to send his army to attack Iran in 1980. American policy makers looked on this with favor, seeing in the bloody Iran-Iraq war the force that would blunt the revolutionary threat to America’s allies. Thus President Reagan sent his special envoy Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad in 1983 to parlay with Hussein, and thus the administration supported the dictator with billions of dollars of agricultural credits, supplied the Iraqis with hundreds of millions of dollars in advanced weaponry through Egypt and Saudi Arabia and provided Hussein’s army with satellite intelligence that may have been used to direct chemical weapons against the massed infantry charges of Iranian suicide brigades.

The Iraqis fought the Iranians to a standstill but not before ripples from Iran’s revolution threatened to overwhelm American allies, notably the Saudi dynasty, whose rule was challenged by radicals seizing control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in November 1979, and the Egyptian autocracy, whose ruler, Anwar el-Sadat, was assassinated by Islamists as he presided over a military parade in October 1981. The Saudis managed to put down the revolt, killing hundreds. The Egyptians, under Hosni Mubarak, moved with ruthless efficiency to suppress the Islamists, jailing and torturing thousands, among them Osama bin Laden’s current deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Merciless repression by both autocracies’ effective security services led thousands to flee abroad.

Many went to Afghanistan, which the Soviet Red Army occupied in 1979 to prop up its own tottering client, then under threat from Islamic insurgents — mujahedeen, or “holy warriors,” who were being armed by the United States. “It was July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, recalled in 1998. “And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.” It was a strategy of provocation, for the gambit had the effect of “drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap.. . .The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the U.S.S.R. its Vietnam War.”

If, to the Americans, supporting the Afghan mujahedeen seemed an excellent way to bleed the Soviet Union, to the Saudis and other Muslim regimes, supporting a “defensive jihad” to free occupied Muslim lands was a means to burnish their tarnished Islamic credentials while exporting a growing and dangerous resource (frustrated, radical young men) so they would indulge their taste for pious revolution far from home. Among the thousands of holy warriors making this journey was the wealthy young Saudi Osama bin Laden, who would set up the Afghan Services Bureau, a “helping organization” for Arab fighters that gathered names and contact information in a large database — or “qaeda” — which would eventually lend its name to an entirely new organization. Though the Afghan operation was wildly successful, as judged by its American creators — “What is most important to the history of the world?” Brzezinski said in 1998, “some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?” — it had at least one unexpected result: it created a global jihad movement, led by veteran fighters who were convinced that they had defeated one superpower and could defeat another.

How Jimmy Carter Started America’s Afghanistan Folly
By Kai Bird

The United States first intervened in Afghanistan in the summer of 1979—six full months before the Soviet Union’s land invasion—when Carter was president. Prodded by his hawkish national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter reluctantly agreed to authorize a small covert action program to provide aid to a motley group of mujahideen guerrilla forces challenging the central government in Kabul. Take note: These mujahideen were extreme Sunni Muslim fundamentalists, and more than a decade later they would morph into the Taliban. But they were anti-communists—and for Brzezinski, who viewed the world with Cold War blinders, that’s all that mattered.

On July 3, Carter and Brzezinski authorized the covert action program to aid the mujahideen. It wasn’t much—just an initial $500,000 in cash, along with communications gear and other nonlethal supplies for the Afghan insurgents. That same day, Brzezinski wrote a note to Carter, predicting that “this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”

We now know from declassified Soviet-era documents that the Politburo was sharply divided; many of the members distrusted the ability of their 73-year-old party chief, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, to make a sound decision. Brezhnev was drunk most of the time and suffering from dementia. “The scary part,” noted Anatoly Chernyaev, a member of the Kremlin’s inner circle, “is that the final, sole decision was made by someone who is completely senile . . . It was a terrifying sight.”

The Soviets invaded. Brzezinski felt vindicated, arguing that this expansion of the Soviet empire proved that the Kremlin was an aggressive and formidable opponent.

Carter was deeply shocked by the Soviet intervention. In my view, he overreacted, ignoring the advice of his chief foreign policy adviser, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who argued that the Afghan invasion would prove to be a foolish and costly intervention. As Vance contended, the Soviet gamble in Afghanistan was proof not of strength, but of decay and profound weakness at the very heart of the Soviet Union. Vance and Brzezinski had very different worldviews, and until then, Carter had invariably sided with Vance. But in the last year of his presidency, Carter began listening to Brzezinski. (A few months later, Brzezinski would persuade a wary but frustrated Carter to approve the ill-fated Desert One helicopter rescue mission, a predictable disaster that arguably sealed Carter’s defeat at the polls in November 1980.)

American aid to the mujahideen escalated in the wake of the Soviet intervention, a development that essentially meant that America’s resources went to support the feudal and religiously fundamentalist forces entrenched in traditional Afghan society. Such a move was obviously shortsighted. In the 1980s, under the Reagan administration, it made the U.S. a de facto ally of Osama bin Laden, who was then fighting the Russians.

To Intervene or Not to Intervene
By Hans J. Morgenthau

Intervention is as ancient and well-established an instrument of foreign policy as are diplomatic pressure, negotiations and war. From the time of the ancient Greeks to this day, some states have found it advantageous to intervene in the affairs of other states on behalf of their own interests and against the latters’ will. Other states, in view of their interests, have opposed such interventions and have intervened on behalf of theirs.

It is only since the French Revolution of 1789 and the rise of the nation- state that the legitimacy of intervention has been questioned. Article 119 of the French Constitution of 1793 declared that the French people “do not interfere in the domestic affairs of other nations and will not tolerate interference by other nations in their affairs.” This declaration ushered in a period of interventions by all concerned on the largest possible scale. For a century and a half afterwards, statesmen, lawyers and political writers tried in vain to formulate objective criteria by which to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate intervention. The principle of nonintervention was incorporated into the textbooks of international law, and statesmen have never ceased to pay lip service to it. In December 1965, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a “Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of their Independence and Sovereignty,” according to which “no state has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state . . .” and “no state shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed toward the violent overthrow of another state, or interfere in civil strife in another state.” Yet again we are witnessing throughout the world activities violating all the rules laid down in this Declaration.

If a foreign nation supplies aid it intervenes; if it does not supply aid it also intervenes. In the measure that the government must depend on foreign aid for its own and its nation’s survival it is inevitably exposed to political pressures from the supplying government.

The internal weakness of most new and emerging nations requiring foreign support and the revolutionary situation in many of them give the great powers the opportunity of doing so.

Having just emerged from a colonial status or struggling to emerge from a semicolonial one, these nations react to their dependence on outside support with a fierce resistance to the threat of “neo-colonialism.” While they cannot exist without support from stronger nations, they refuse to exchange their newly won independence for a new dependency. Hence their ambivalent reaction to outside intervention. They need it and they resent it. This ambivalence compels them to choose among several different courses of action. They can seek support from multiple outside sources, thereby canceling out dependence on one by dependence on the other. They can alternate among different sources of support, at one time relying on one, and at another time relying on another. Finally, they can choose between complete dependence and complete independence, either by becoming a client of one of the major powers or by forswearing outside support altogether.

This ambivalence of the weak nations imposes new techniques upon the intervening ones. Intervention must either be brutally direct in order to overcome resistance or it must be surreptitious in order to be acceptable, or the two extremes may be combined.

Let us suppose that nation A intervenes on behalf of the government of nation B by giving it military, economic and technical aid on the latter’s request, and that the government of B becomes so completely dependent upon A as to act as the latter’s satellite. Let us further suppose that the local opposition calls upon country C for support against the agents of a foreign oppressor and that C heeds that call. Which one of these interventions is legitimate? Country A will of course say that its own is and C’s is not, and vice versa, and the ideologues on both sides will be kept busy justifying the one and damning the other. This ideological shadowboxing cannot affect the incidence of interventions. All nations will continue to be guided in their decisions to intervene and their choice of the means of intervention by what they regard as their respective national interests.

The World According to Zbig
By Charles Gati

CG: Whether the United States should approach human rights concerns quietly or through public confrontation is a subject of perpetual controversy. Where do you stand on this?

ZB: I’d add one more dimension to it, domestic perception. Is it politically advantageous or fashionable to be doing this and so on? There is no simple formula, in every case you have to make a judgment: what is at stake? How useful is it to the national interest to promote human rights? How counterproductive may it become? And in every case the answer varies.

CG: How about expressing it publicly, even if you know that in the short run it will not produce results, but by expressing such concerns we—Americans—might feel better? “Standing up” for human rights may sustain a favorable self-image of American idealism or altruism.

ZB: I don’t think that’s a very good argument. Foreign policy should not be justified through making oneself feel good, but through results that have tangible consequences. There may be circumstances in which damaging our relationship with countries over human rights is counterproductive and the benefits to human rights may be very small because of our limited capacity to enforce our stance. That was the dilemma the United States faced after Tiananmen Square. The cost was very brutal, but the benefit was our improving relationship with China. Could we really have changed the fate of the students or changed the Chinese political system through pressure? The answer is probably not. Was the positive relationship with China worth it? Probably so. It’s a case-by-case decision.

The Atrophy of American Statecraft
By Philip Zelikow

Amid the spectacular recent failures in Iraq and then in Afghanistan, it is worth noticing some recent success stories, too. Consider the military realm. Between 2015 and 2019, after a year of floundering, having learned from prior missteps, and with relatively few troops, the United States helped lead a remarkable foreign coalition that liberated lands overrun by the Islamic State, or ISIS, in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

In global health, the United States and its partners, beginning in 2003, created an emergency plan for AIDS relief, known as PEPFAR, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Designed with the lessons of past failures in mind, these programs elicited broad support in Congress and across the world. They have saved millions of lives. Or look at diplomacy. Beginning in 2005, the United States orchestrated a complex global effort to accept India’s nuclear status and unwind a generation’s accumulation of restrictions. This diplomacy transformed relations and opened up trade in advanced technology with what is now the world’s most populous country.

The United States has also authored economic success stories. Many rightly blame its failure to police highly leveraged asset speculation for the global financial crisis. But they should also recognize that as the crisis spread to Europe, American and European leaders did whatever it took to arrest it, backing financial guarantees to stave off sovereign defaults and keep the eurozone from plunging into the abyss. That continental collapse would have rippled back to the United States, and so this success may have prevented a replay of the sequence that produced the Great Depression. More recently, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, few would have predicted that Europe, and especially Germany, could ever wean itself from Russian energy. Yet after the invasion, a handful of European—especially German—leaders worked with Americans and rose to the challenge.

What these and other successes demonstrate is a possibility theorem. Governments can still produce extraordinary results.

Anti-Interventionism Isn’t Enough for Left Foreign Policy
By Mel Pavlik

Broadly, the mainstream U.S. left is of two schools of thought when it comes to the country’s role in the world. A generation of centrist liberal internationalists welcome the responsibility and power associated with the United States’ global might. They argue for interdependence and intervention on humanitarian grounds, and champion capitalism’s power to bring global peace and prosperity. They are challenged by a newer group of left-wingers eager to end America’s seemingly endless foreign wars, exorbitant military spending, and the eerie dystopia of drone warfare.

The anti-interventionist left argues that liberal internationalists’ misguided support for interventions is at best problematic and at worst imperialist. Meanwhile, liberal internationalists argue that the other side too often fails to engage with the moral quandaries inherent in its anti-interventionism.

Both sides misunderstand the complexity and purpose of military intervention. Military intervention, like other policy options, is designed to combat threats—including the threat of fascism, as in World War II, and genocide, as in the Balkans in the 1990s. In the case of World War II, the United States underwent a massive military campaign in Europe and around the globe to stop the spread of fascism and the rise of Adolf Hitler and imperial Japan. In the Balkans, a targeted, air-power-driven coalition stopped a genocide in its tracks. No foreign policy is without unintended consequences, but in these cases, military intervention did well in addressing specific dangers.

This is not to say that intervention is always (or even often) the correct foreign-policy decision. To insist on intervention’s general efficacy is to promote irresponsible statecraft and ignore recent failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Liberal internationalism remains characterized by overconfidence in U.S. power and benign acceptance of its exploitative underpinnings. However, many leftists criticize these recent catastrophic interventions without suggesting a compelling alternative. The universal dismissal of U.S. intervention falsely equivocates between many different global disasters, each of which deserves independent consideration in light of what went wrong, what role the United States played in it, and what the United States can do about it. In many cases, the answer may be nothing.

Many victims of American foreign policy die not as a result of military intervention but from diseases in refugee camps or starvation behind a blockade. Brutal conflict, crimes against humanity, and moral subjugation take place all around the world, both where the United States has intervened and where it has not. The philosopher Hannah Arendt draws a distinction between “guilt”—set aside for individuals who directly perpetrate a wrong—and “responsibility”— applicable to all those who collectively, through action or inaction, contribute to injustice.

The left must reconcile its desire to avoid guilt with the inevitable responsibility that follows in a world still principally shaped by overwhelming U.S. power, both historically and in the present. A negative politics is not enough to save U.S. foreign policy. The left must think seriously about what positive options are available and how to balance the possible harms of each.

In a world fundamentally shaped by American decisions, even nonmilitary ones, Washington bears responsibility, even if not guilt, for many situations where solutions are at best partial and painful.

A revised left foreign policy must reflect the values the left champions domestically and recognize the structural problems inherent in almost any foreign policy the United States pursues. Moreover, it must vigorously voice these quandaries—and avoid simplistic equivalencies between contexts that fail to share much more than surface similarities.

Is There a Journalism That Doesn’t Love a War?
By Nan Levinson

It’s an open debate whether the press, the mainstream media, the legacy media, whatever you want to call it, leads or follows public opinion. Polls show Americans increasingly go to social media and podcasts for their news. Only 5% of adults now prefer to get it from print publications and no one seems to trust any news outlet other than the Weather Channel very much. Yet, like it or not (and usually we don’t), the news media continue to influence what we know and how we think about world events, as they set the priorities, language, framework for, and spectrum of public discussion.

Even at a time when a scoop, or exclusive, seldom lasts more than a couple of minutes and news sources from around the world offer alternative reporting and viewpoints, it’s still the newsrooms of a handful of newspapers, magazines, and broadcast and cable channels that generate much of the news we consume on our various devices and apps. That’s especially true for international issues and even truer for the wars the U.S. gets itself involved in, distant as they are.

Moreover, journalism’s portfolio isn’t history, but what’s happening now, giving us an eternal snapshot of an evanescent present. Not surprisingly, then, a complicated situation can quickly be reduced to a few catchphrases and, repeated often enough, such phrases become our only reality. (Just ask Donald Trump how that works, if you don’t believe me.) In the process, it can become an underlying and unchallenged assumption that the pathway to future security and peace is ineluctably through war. And when, according to your government and the media, you have democracy and history on your side, it’s hard to imagine an alternative like negotiating with the enemy as anything less than craven betrayal.

Reporting doesn’t necessarily intend to make us uneasy, alarmed, or generally bummed out, but that’s often its result. Such results are baked into our idea of news, which, to be news, must be ever-evolving. If you turn away, however anxious you may feel, the implication is that you’ll miss it. What that it you’ll miss is may not always be clear, but social media and its attendant technologies have trained us to thirst for a bottomless tumbler of “content” replenishing itself in lickety-split time.

Fear is profitable not only for the media, but also, of course, for defense contractors. It may be a flaw in our natures or an instinctual reflex, but Americans respond to national anxieties, real or imagined, by arming themselves to the teeth, both personally and nationally, and their allies, too.

Speaking at the U.N. Security Council’s 11th meeting on arms transfers to Ukraine last December, Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel, retired State Department official, and peace activist, quoted Secretary of State Antony Blinken as saying that 90% of what this country invested in Ukraine’s defense was spent in the United States, making it a boon for the American economy. “So this has also been a win-win that we need to continue,” he added all too tellingly.

“The ‘win-win’ is not for civilians in conflict areas,” Wright observed. “The win-win is for the military-industrial complex and the politicians and retired government officials who receive senior positions in the weapons industry after their retirements.”

The Wars We Don’t (Care to) See
By David Barsamian and Norman Solomon

Solomon: … I’m sometimes asked: Why do journalists so often stay in line? They’re not, as in some other countries, going to be hauled off to prison. So, what makes them feel compelled to be as conformist as they are? And a lot of the explanation has to do with mortgages and the like — hey, I want to pay for my children’s college education, I need financial security, so on and so forth.

To my mind, it’s a tremendous irony that we have so many examples of very brave journalists for American media outlets going into war zones, sometimes being wounded, occasionally even losing their lives, and then the ones who get back home, back to the newsrooms, turn out to be afraid of the boss. They don’t want to lose their syndicated columns, their front-page access. This dangerous dynamic regiments the journalism we get.

And keep in mind that, living in the United States, we have, with very few exceptions, no firsthand experience of the wars this country has engaged in and continues to be engaged in. So, we depend on the news media, a dependence that’s very dangerous in a democracy where the precept is that we need the informed consent of the governed, while what we’re getting is their uninformed pseudo-consent. Consider that a formula for the warfare state we have.

Barsamian: At the White House Correspondents’ dinner President Biden said, “Journalism is not a crime. The free press is a pillar, maybe the pillar of a free society.” Great words from the White House.

Solomon: President Biden, like his predecessors in the Oval Office, loves to speak about the glories of the free press and say that journalism is a wonderful aspect of our society — until the journalists do something he and the government he runs really don’t like. A prime example is Julian Assange. He’s a journalist, a publisher, an editor, and he’s sitting in prison in Great Britain being hot-wired for transportation to the United States. I sat through the two-week trial in the federal district of northern Virginia of CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling and I can tell you it was a kangaroo court. That’s the court Julian Assange has a ticket to if his extradition continues.

And what’s his so-called crime? It’s journalism. WikiLeaks committed journalism. It exposed the war crimes of the United States in Iraq through documents it released, through the now-notorious video that came to be called “Collateral Murder,” showing the wanton killing of a number of people on the ground in Iraq by a U.S. military helicopter. It provided a compendium of evidence that the United States had systemically engaged in war crimes under the rubric of the so-called War on Terror. So, naturally, the stance of the U.S. government remains: this man Assange is dangerous; he must be imprisoned.

Enough is enough—it’s time to set Julian Assange free
By Alan Rusbridger

Would you trust the police or security services to monitor all your communications and movements? Not if you’ve read any Orwell. Did you not notice the intelligence failures/embellishments that helped shape US and UK policy before the disastrous attack on Iraq in 2003? Really?

Were you blind to the proven allegations of torture and rendition during and after 9/11? Did you miss the findings of illegal surveillance in the wake of the Snowden revelations? Do you shrug when you read about the police or intelligence agencies penetrating protest groups, behaving in ways that form the subject of the UK’s ongoing undercover policing inquiry?

In other words, the security state—for all that it does good and necessary work—needs to be monitored and held to account. Especially as it has immense powers over the lives of individuals, including questions of life and death.

Of course they hate him. Of course they want to make an example out of him. Of course they will never, ever admit that the Wikileaks revelations about the Afghan and Iraq wars contained even a microbe of public interest.

The trials of Julian Assange: A death sentence for democracy
By Belén Fernández

The US insists that, by publishing such content, Assange actively endangered the lives of innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. But as I have pointed out before, it would seem that one surefire way to not endanger innocent lives in such places would be to refrain from blowing them up in the first place.

By Chalmers Johnson

On the day after the September 11 attack, Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia declared, “I say, bomb the hell out of them. If there’s collateral damage, so be it.” “Collateral damage” is another of those hateful euphemisms invented by our military to prettify its killing of the defenseless. It is the term Pentagon spokesmen use to refer to the Serb and Iraqi civilians who were killed or maimed by bombs from high-flying American warplanes in our campaigns against Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. It is the kind of word our new ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, might have used in the 1980s to explain the slaughter of peasants, Indians and church workers by American-backed right-wing death squads in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua while he was ambassador to Honduras. These activities made the Reagan years the worst decade for Central America since the Spanish conquest.

Massive military retaliation with its inevitable “collateral damage” will, of course, create more desperate and embittered childless parents and parentless children, and so recruit more maddened people to the terrorists’ cause. In fact, mindless bombing is surely one of the responses their grisly strategy hopes to elicit.

Remote Warfare and Expendable People
By Nick Turse

American airstrikes in Somalia, which began under President George W. Bush in 2007, have continued under Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden as part of a conflict that has smoldered and flared for more than two decades. In that time, the U.S. has launched 282 attacks, including 31 declared strikes under Biden. The U.S. admits it has killed five civilians in its attacks. The UK-based air strike monitoring group Airwars says the number is as much as 3,100% higher.

On April 1, 2018, Luul Dahir Mohamed, a 22-year-old woman, and her 4-year-old daughter Mariam Shilow Muse were added to that civilian death toll when they were killed in a U.S. drone strike in El Buur, Somalia.

Luul and Mariam were civilians. They died due to a whirlwind of misfortune — a confluence of bad luck and bad policies, none of it their fault, all of it beyond their control.

In this case, members of the American strike cell that conducted the attack got almost everything wrong. They bickered about even basic information like how many people were in the pickup truck they attacked. They mistook a woman for a man and they never saw the young girl at all. They didn’t know what they were looking at, but they nonetheless launched a Hellfire missile that hit the truck as it motored down a dirt road.

Even after all of that, Luul and Mariam might have survived. Following the strike, the Americans — watching live footage from the drone hovering over the scene — saw someone bolt from the vehicle and begin running for her life. At that moment, they could have paused and reevaluated the situation. They could have taken one more hard look and, in the process, let a mother and child live. Instead, they launched a second missile.

What Luul’s brother, Qasim Dahir Mohamed — the first person on the scene — found was horrific. Luul’s left leg was mutilated, and the top of her head was gone. She died clutching Mariam whose tiny body looked, he said, “like a sieve.”

In 2019, the U.S. military admitted that it had killed a civilian woman and child in that April 1, 2018, drone strike. But when, while reporting for The Intercept, I met Luul’s relatives last year in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, they were still waiting for the Pentagon to contact them about an apology and compensation. I had obtained a copy of the internal U.S. military investigation which the family had never seen. It did acknowledge the deaths of a woman and child but concluded that their identities might never be known.

Late last month, a coalition of 24 human rights organizations called on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to make amends to Luul and Mariam’s family. The 14 Somali groups and 10 international non-governmental organizations devoted to the protection of civilians urged Austin to take action to provide the family with an explanation, an apology, and compensation.

Days later, the Pentagon unveiled its long-awaited “Instruction on Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response,” which clarified “the Department’s enduring policies, responsibilities, and procedures for mitigating and responding to civilian harm” and laid out “further steps to protect civilians and to respond appropriately when civilian harm occurs.”

The U.S. has a long history of killing civilians in air strikes, failing to investigate the deaths, and ignoring pleas for apology and compensation. It’s a century-old tradition that Austin continues to maintain, making time to issue orders for new strikes but not to issue apologies for past errant attacks. Through it all, Luul and Mariam’s family can do nothing but wait, hoping that the U.S. secretary of defense will eventually respond to the open letter and finally — almost six years late — offer amends.

For a Century, the American Way of War Has Meant Killing Civilians
By Nick Turse

Over the last century, the U.S. military has shown a consistent disregard for civilian lives. It has repeatedly cast or misidentified ordinary people as enemies; failed to investigate civilian harm allegations; excused casualties as regrettable but unavoidable; and failed to prevent their recurrence or to hold troops accountable. These long-standing practices stand in stark contrast to the U.S. government’s public campaigns to sell its wars as benign, its air campaigns as precise, its concern for civilians as overriding, and the deaths of innocent people as “tragic” anomalies. Such campaigns have mainly served to obscure the true toll of the American way of war, from the “banana wars” of the 1920s to the “forever wars” a century later.

Prior to World War II, the growing trend of “terror bombing” in conflicts across China, Ethiopia, and Spain outraged Americans. In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt lamented that “without warning or justification of any kind, civilians, including vast numbers of women and children, are being ruthlessly murdered with bombs from the air.”

Soon after, however, the military embraced policies that put civilians at grave risk. During World War II, a British bombing raid on Dresden, Germany, created a firestorm that ripped through the city, suffocating and cooking people alive. A second British wave was followed by hundreds of U.S. bombers. All told, 25,000 to 35,000 people were incinerated. Confronted with “terror bombing” allegations after the attack, the head of U.S. Army Air Forces protested that war “must be destructive and to a certain extent inhuman and ruthless.” Roughly 600,000 German civilians were killed in air raids during the war.

In Japan, the U.S. attacked 67 cities, burning 180 square miles, killing more than 600,000 civilians, and leaving 8.5 million homeless. The massive death and destruction led Secretary of War Henry Stimson to worry that the United States would “get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities.” Nonetheless, Stimson signed off on an atomic strike on the city of Hiroshima that killed 140,000 people, mostly civilians, and another on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 70,000. The United States has never compensated those victims’ families or survivors of the attacks.

At war in Korea not long after, Gen. Douglas MacArthur declared that every city and village in the north was to be destroyed. And they were. Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay later bragged that the U.S. had “killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes.”

The amount of ordnance dropped on Korea was dwarfed by the 30 billion pounds of munitions the U.S. expended in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s. Years before the war’s end, South Vietnam was already pockmarked with an estimated 21 million craters, some more than 20 feet across. In neighboring Cambodia, between 1969 and 1973, U.S. attacks killed as many as 150,000 civilians. The United States also pounded tiny Laos with more than 2 million tons of munitions, making it, per capita, the most heavily bombed country in history.

Key elements of America’s destructive brand of air war echo into the present. In recent weeks, Israeli officials have repeatedly justified attacks on Gaza by citing methods employed by the United States and its allies against Germany and other Axis powers during World War II. The United Nations has said “there is already clear evidence that war crimes may have been committed” by the Israeli military and Hamas militants. Israel has also embraced the use of “free-fire zones” — which the U.S. employed to open wide swaths of South Vietnam to almost unrestrained attack, killing countless civilians — in Gaza.

During the first 20 years of the war on terror, the U.S. conducted more than 91,000 airstrikes across seven major conflict zones — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — and killed up to 48,308 civilians, according to a 2021 analysis by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group.

A 2020 study of post-9/11 civilian casualty incidents found most have gone uninvestigated. When they do come under official scrutiny, American military witnesses are interviewed while civilians — victims, survivors, family members — are almost totally ignored, “severely compromising the effectiveness of investigations,” according to the Center for Civilians in Conflict and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute.

Pentagon’s New Plans to Reduce Civilian Deaths Leave Questions Over Israel
By Azmat Khan and Eric Schmitt

The Pentagon has established new procedures for preventing and responding to civilian harm during U.S. combat operations, following up on a pledge by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to overhaul the system.

The 52-page document, issued last week, delineates responsibilities across the Defense Department and its military commands around the world and requires that possible risks to civilians are considered in combat planning and operations. It codifies an action plan announced by the Pentagon last year to revamp its civilian casualty policy, which had been applied inconsistently across different war zones.

Widely seen as the first of its kind issued by a modern military, the directive also calls for more standardized assessments of deadly incidents, allows for reopening past assessments and provides options for condolence payments, medical care and property repairs even “after time has passed.”

The document includes measures to prevent civilian harm in joint operations with allies and partner forces, but it does not address operations the United States supports through military aid alone, such as Israel’s war in Gaza.

Israel is believed to be carrying out its bombardment of Gaza largely with American-manufactured bombs, nearly half of which are unguided munitions, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment.

The “action plan” released by the Pentagon last year includes a section on arms and security cooperation agreements with partners and allies to promote civilian casualty protections, but it is limited to programs under the authority of the secretary of defense. Arms transfers to allies largely fall under the purview of the State Department.

The Pentagon’s new policy followed a series of New York Times investigations in 2021 into civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan that were marked by flawed intelligence, confirmation bias and scant accountability. Officials have said the series, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting the following year, also helped bring about the changes.

The forever war on Julian Assange
By Belén Fernández

Had Assange wanted to save his own skin, he could have stuck to the sort of imperial propaganda that functions as mainstream journalism, a field that was itself instrumental in selling the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq to the US public.

Instead, he is incarcerated at Belmarsh prison in southeast London, awaiting extradition to the so-called “land of the free” while serving as a veritable case study in prolonged psychological torture, as documented back in 2019 by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

In a caustic letter addressed to King Charles ahead of his recent coronation, Assange described himself as a “political prisoner, held at your majesty’s pleasure on behalf of an embarrassed foreign sovereign”. He observed: “One can truly know the measure of a society by how it treats its prisoners, and your kingdom has surely excelled in that regard”.

The embarrassed foreign sovereign has certainly exhibited excellence in that realm, as well, boasting the highest incarceration rate on the planet and an impressive track record of executing innocent people. To be sure, domestic efforts to sentence a citizen of another country to 175 years in prison for telling the truth is also a pretty good indication that something is very, very wrong with a society.

Then there’s the whole matter of the United States’ offshore penal colony in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the former CIA torture den and persistent judicial black hole into which the US has sought to disappear some of the human fallout of its forever wars.

Indeed, the fact the US feels entitled to call out the Cuban government for its own “political prisoners” while operating an illegal prison on occupied Cuban territory can be safely filed under the category of mind-blowingly sinister hypocrisy.

Dissident Ai Weiwei protests possible extradition of Assange
By Pan Pylas

The dissident Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei staged a silent protest outside London’s Old Bailey court on Monday against the possible extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, where he is wanted on an array of espionage charges.

The court, meanwhile, heard that Assange, if convicted in the U.S., could end up spending the rest of his life imprisoned in the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. The facility is home to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, 1993 World Trade Center mastermind Ramzi Yousef and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man ever convicted in a U.S. court for a role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Ai, who visited Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he was holed up for seven years until April 2019 and subsequently at Britain’s Belmarsh high security prison, said the authorities have a responsibility to protect the freedom of the press.

“He truly represents a core value of why we are free — because we have freedom of the press.,” Ai said. “We need a lot of protesting, and it can take any form. I’m an artist, if I cannot use my art, it’s very limited, then I’d rather just be silent.”

London gallery delays Ai Weiwei show over Israel-Hamas tweet
By Nadia Khomami

Born in Beijing in 1957, Ai grew up in labour camps in north-west China after the exile of his father, the poet Ai Qing. Throughout his career he has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese authorities and an advocate for human rights.

The sculptor and activist, who divides his time between Cambridge and Portugal, spent 81 days in custody in Beijing in 2011 and fled his home country four years later on the return of his passport.

He has been vocal in his support for Palestinians in the past, and in 2016, travelled to Gaza while filming for his documentary, Human Flow, about the global refugee crisis.

“I have always regarded free expression as a value most worth fighting for and caring about, even if it brings me various misfortunes,” he said. “My father, as a poet, suffered unfair treatment, detainment, labour reformation, and almost lost his life simply because of his attitude. If he had lost his life, I would not exist.”

Brutality of oppression: Ai Weiwei speaks on Gaza, China and New York City
By Nick Hilden

“Power is afraid of art and poets,” writes Ai Weiwei in Zodiac: A Graphic Memoir.

He would know. The renowned artist is a notorious rankler of the powers that be, particularly in his native China, where Communist Party leadership came to fear him to such a ferocious degree that he has endured prison, torture and now exile.

“Why does power fear the arts,” I ask him.

“Every form of power solidifies its foundation on absolute conditions, emphasising uniformity in thoughts, pathways, speech, and behavioural patterns,” he responds. “This uniformity serves as the fundamental prerequisite for the assertion of power.

“Contrarily, art and poetry inherently defy the pre-established restrictions of human existence, venturing into uncharted territories. They are, in essence, endeavours to construct a novel reality, constituting a potent and destructive challenge to authoritarianism.”

Unwilling to cede to self-censorship, Ai has endured the destruction of his Beijing studios by Chinese authorities, imprisonment – and his eventual need to flee the country once and for all.

Now he is facing censorship once again, this time in the form of a London show cancelled last November after he tweeted criticism of United States-Israel relations in the early days of Israel’s war on Gaza.

I ask Ai if it was an act of censorship.

“Any imposition on individual thoughts, attitudes, speech, or artistic expression, whether through direct power or established systems of punishment and reward, constitutes censorship,” he responds. “Censorship not only dictates how power expands, but also exposes its own fragility and incapacity to confront genuine arguments and diverse thoughts.”

Artforum Fires Top Editor After Its Open Letter on Israel-Hamas War
By Zachary Small

The editor in chief, David Velasco, said he had been terminated after six years as Artforum’s leader. He had worked at the publication, considered among the world’s most prestigious art magazines, since 2005.

Thousands of artists, academics and cultural workers, including Velasco, signed the Oct. 19 open letter, which supported Palestinian liberation and criticized the silence of cultural institutions about the Israeli bombing of residents in Gaza.

The letter initially omitted mention of Hamas’s surprise Oct. 7 attack, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis, information that was added after criticism from subscribers and advertisers. A preface was also added to say that the letter “reflects the views of the undersigned individual parties and was not composed, directed or initiated by Artforum or its staff.”

Several prominent artists later removed their names from the Oct. 19 letter, but it remained popular among many of the people who signed it, including those who said that the intention was to advocate peace.

“Tampering with the opinions of artists is to not understand the role of art,” said Cecilia Vicuña, a Chilean poet and artist who signed the letter, adding that she valued “the right to freedom of speech.”

Melissa Barrera, Susan Sarandon, and Others in Hollywood Lose Jobs, Representation Over Israel-Hamas War Comments
By Koh Ewe

The Israel-Hamas war has triggered a growing divide within Hollywood, an institution that’s long had a reputation of being dominated by liberals who share similar political beliefs. Initially, in the wake of the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, many Jewish members of the industry said they felt disillusioned about their peers’ silence. But in recent weeks, those who have been most outspoken in support of Palestinians and against Israel’s military actions in Gaza have begun to be met with professional blowback.

After CAA agent Maha Dakhil sparked controversy with a series of posts on Instagram, including one that said: “What’s more heartbreaking than witnessing genocide? Witnessing the denial that genocide is happening,” she was demoted by the talent agency, before apologizing and telling Variety that she had “made a mistake.” Variety also reported that some of her colleagues wanted her fired, a consequence that others in the industry are starting to face.

On Tuesday, Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon was dropped by her talent agency over comments she made at a pro-Palestinian rally last week, and actress Melissa Barrera was fired from the cast of the upcoming thriller Scream VII, in which she was slated to reprise her leading role in the franchise.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Barrera, 33, has used her social media platform frequently to showcase her support for the Palestinian cause and to share information about the situation in Gaza, including resharing Instagram posts and articles describing Israeli forces’ attacks as “genocide and ethnic cleansing” and referring to Israel as a “colonized land.”

After a writer expressed sympathy for Israelis in an essay, all hell broke loose at a literary journal
By Jenny Jarvie

What are the limits of empathy in war?

That’s the question that Joanna Chen, a liberal writer and translator who is Jewish and lives in Israel, probed in an essay about her struggles since Oct. 7 to connect with Palestinians.

“It is not easy to tread the line of empathy, to feel passion for both sides,” she wrote in the literary journal Guernica, explaining that she briefly stopped her volunteer work driving Palestinian children to Israeli hospitals for lifesaving medical care.

“How could I continue after Hamas had massacred and kidnapped so many civilians,” she asked, noting that the dead included a fellow volunteer, a longtime peace activist named Vivian Silver. “And I admit, I was afraid for my own life.”

The essay, titled “From the Edges of a Broken World,” provoked an uproar in the activist literary world. Over the weekend, more than a dozen of the publication’s staff resigned in protest — and Guernica removed the essay from its website.

The retraction of the essay comes as a new generation of activists in the literary world frames the conflict in the Middle East as a black-and-white battle between two sides — oppressor and oppressed — and pressures institutions to boycott Israeli or Zionist writers.

In January, protesters from Writers Against the War on Gaza disrupted a PEN America event in Los Angeles featuring actor Mayim Bialik, who supports Israel and opposes a cease-fire. Last month, the Jewish Book Council, a nonprofit that promotes Jewish writers and stories, launched an initiative for authors, publishers, agents and others to report antisemitic incidents in the world of publishing — from “getting review-bombed because their book includes Jewish content” to “threats of intimidation and violence.”

For many activists, giving voice to opposing points of view or conveying empathy for Israeli victims of Hamas amounts to both-sidesism that glosses over power imbalances.

Rather than just disagree, these activists are calling for the silencing of voices they view as harmful.

Two weeks after Oct. 7, Chen writes, she resumed volunteering for Road to Recovery, ignoring her family’s fears for her safety, and drove a Palestinian boy and his father to an Israeli hospital. When they exited her car and the child’s father thanked her, she wrote, she wanted to tell him: “No, thank you for trusting me with your child. Thank you for reminding me that we can still find empathy and love in this broken world.”

Literary Magazine Retracts Israeli Writer’s Essay as Staffers Quit
By Marc Tracy

In the days following the essay’s online publication last week, several Guernica staffers announced their resignations on X, calling the essay a betrayal of the editorial principles of the magazine, a nonprofit that was founded in 2004.

In a mission statement on its website, Guernica states that it is “a home for incisive ideas and necessary questions.”

Opinion: I’m the child of a Holocaust survivor. I know the trauma inflicted on Gaza will last for generations
By Elliot Kukla

Nearly 82 years ago, my father was born in Nazi-occupied Belgium. When he was only 3 weeks old, his own father, Max, was captured and murdered by Nazis; my dad survived because he was hidden by a series of Christian foster homes.

My father was also deprived of medical care as a child, and that legacy scarred him for life physically and psychologically. While he was in hiding, he got sick with whooping cough; the sound of his coughing threatened his own life and the life of the family who sheltered him from Nazis. To spare everyone, he was taken to a Catholic orphanage in the countryside of Belgium.

There, nuns cared for him without medicine. When he recovered, a young nun returned him in the dead of night to the doorstep of his foster family. By then, he was permanently left with respiratory issues and chronic bronchitis. His other wounds were harder to measure, but just as real. As a parent, my dad was hilarious, brilliant and emotionally distant; he had terrifying rages, and little notion of what it meant to shelter children from danger.

My dad was one of the lucky ones. He survived, and at 9 years old he was reunited with his mother and new stepfather in Los Angeles. He went on to Fairfax High, a historically majority-Jewish school. His classmates included the children of Hollywood writers and actors who had been blacklisted by McCarthyism. In 1967, the Summer of Love, he met my mother at a party in the Hollywood Hills. They became ardent anti-Vietnam war protesters, along with a number of other Jewish radicals.

Growing up, this was what Judaism meant to me: intellectual dissent and peace activism. In rabbinical school, I learned that according to ancient Jewish holy texts, saving a single life is the same as saving a whole world, because each of us contains distinctive cities of relationships, irreplaceable geographies of passions, and deep oceans of memories.

That is one reason more than 140 of my colleagues and I are calling for peace as a part of Rabbis for Ceasefire, along with a swelling Jewish peace movement. However, most major American Jewish organizations support this invasion. It is a profound moral injury for me that the community that taught me to value resistance, peace and the sanctity of each human life is supporting violence and silencing dissent. Many rabbis and other Jewish professionals I know are afraid to speak out for peace and risk being ostracized from family or synagogues or lose funding for their nonprofit organizations.

Ai Weiwei Says Western Censorship Is ‘More Concealed’ and Poses a Greater Threat
By Karen K. Ho

On Tuesday, Ai expanded on his comments, telling the Art Newspaper, “In the context of censorship in the West, there was a prevailing illusion that the West embodied greater freedom of speech and press, portraying itself as a society with minimal censorship. Yet, I believe that censorship persists wherever there is power.”

“Unlike traditional authoritarian regimes that directly target individual speech, censorship in the West manifests itself more subtly within the framework of so-called democratic politics and the broader concept of so-called freedom of speech. Criticism and dissenting thoughts that diverge from the established values and corporate interests are often subjected to censorship to varying degrees.”

The blue-chip artist told the publication that when criticism is about sensitive topics like war and the arms trade, narratives from the mainstream media and government tend to stay unquestioned.

“While individuals may still voice their opinions, their impact on shaping societal ideology is often minimal. That’s why I think Western censorship operates in a more concealed, solid and enduring manner. This poses a greater threat as people are lulled into believing in the absence of censorship in the West,” he said.

On the issue of freedom of speech, Ai told the Art Newspaper: “Censorship, in fact, arises from the vulnerability of power. When power is weak and unable to confront the truth, censorship becomes apparent. The Western framework, despite its aspirations towards advocating for science and other fields, finds itself in a fragile state today. It is evident across all levels of education, from elementary schools to universities, and in public discourse, mainstream media, entertainment and the realms of politics and finance—all heavily controlled in terms of speech. This situation hinders the development of a truly civilised society and instead propels it towards regression.”

How the Russian Government Silences Wartime Dissent
By Anton Troianovski, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, Oleg Matsnev, Alina Lobzina, Valerie Hopkins and Aaron Krolik

Experts say the wartime censorship is transforming Russian society and setting the stage for even more widespread repression in the future, as the authorities automate their monitoring of the internet and encourage people to denounce each other online. Mr. Putin set the tone last year when he referred to opponents of the war as “scum and traitors” to be cleansed from society.

In response to the crackdown, many Russians have begun to self-censor. Demyan Bespokoyev, a private school tutor who was prosecuted for writing an antiwar message on his coat, described the process this way: “The prison forms inside your head.”

In smaller towns, the residents do the surveillance themselves. Anton Redikultsev, now 48, was an art teacher in the town of Kalga near the Chinese border — population: 2,545. This past June, a deputy district prosecutor filed charges against him, citing as evidence five social media posts, including links to antiwar songs and a picture of a child’s drawing with the words: “No need for bombs!” He was fined 30,000 rubles. On Sept. 1, the first day of school, he was fired.

Mr. Redikultsev, who is also a competitive powerlifter and goes by the nickname “Lifter,” said the conviction had turned him into an outcast. People who always greeted him on the street now turn away, he said. “People like to overstate, make up details and exaggerate.”

But Mr. Redikultsev insists he has no regrets. Keeping quiet, he said, “seems comparable to a sort of dishonor — to silent agreement.”

France bans all pro-Palestinian protests
By Dalal Mawad and Eve Brennan

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in central Paris on Thursday, in defiance of a controversial new ban on pro-Palestinian rallies in the country.

French police and members of the gendarmerie worked to disperse the crowds with tear gas and water cannons, visuals showed.

The ban had been announced earlier in the day, according to a message sent by French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to the country’s police, citing concerns about public order.

“Pro-Palestinian demonstrations must be prohibited because they are likely to generate disturbances to the public order,” said the minister. He added that any organization of such protests will lead to arrests.

How To Be A Citizen: The Role Of Protest

MARTIN: So, Medea, I want to ask you about that. You – your group is a peace group, so your actions are intentionally nonviolent. You may interrupt a meeting or yell or do something of that sort, but you don’t hit people. You don’t throw things and that sort. But you say that part of the purpose is to tell people you’re angry while other people are also angry who are on the other side. And I just wonder how you think about that. No deep discussion is taking place when everybody is yelling. So I just wonder, like, how do you think about that? You know you’re going to draw a reaction.

BENJAMIN: Well, I don’t tell other people how they should do their activism or begrudge them from the tactics that they choose. But we do think about how we want to be perceived. So for example, when we were making our signs for Saturday’s action, we made hearts. And we put on the hearts the pictures of the children who had been killed in Gaza. And we feel that that gives people a chance to look at the victims as real people who had lives, dreams, hopes that were snuffed out. But that’s our particular group. As I said, I think other people want to express themselves in other ways. And they not only have the right to do that, they should do that.

MARTIN: Do you expect to get hurt? Or do you think you might get hurt, Medea?

BENJAMIN: (Laughter) I do, Michel.

MARTIN: I mean – and I hope you don’t mention – if you don’t mind – I hope you don’t mind my mentioning that. You’re tiny.

BENJAMIN: Well, I’m tiny, and I’m getting old. I’m 68 years old now. And I’ve had my arms broken. I’ve been dragged around. And here in the United States, when I get arrested, I’ve had my arm pulled out of its socket about eight different times. There is the chance that you might get hurt. But people don’t have to do that and put themselves in those positions for being an activist. I think it’s important to get out of your comfort zone and risk arrest if it’s appropriate. But yes, when you really put yourselves on the line, you’ve got to recognize that sometimes you might get hurt.

MARTIN: Well, it’s a rich topic, and we’ve only just scratched the surface. But before we let you go, I did want to ask each of you – a question we’re asking all of our guests is, what does it mean to you to be a good citizen? Medea, do you want to start?

BENJAMIN: To me, it means taking responsibility for what our government’s doing. And when our government is doing something wrong, be it taking the grand proportion of our discretionary funds and putting it into the military instead of people’s needs, that we stand up and we not only voice our opinion, but we get out there and make our feelings heard in a way that can be as effective as possible.

Australia to ban doxxing after pro-Palestinian activists publish information about hundreds of Jews
By Rod McGuirk

The Australian government said on Tuesday it will outlaw doxxing — the malicious release online of personal or identifying information without the subject’s permission — after pro-Palestinian activists published personal details of hundreds of Jewish people in Australia.

Pro-Palestinian activists distributed a nearly 900-page transcript that leaked from a private WhatsApp formed last year by Jewish writers, artists, musicians and academics, newspapers reported last week. The transcript was accompanied by a spreadsheet that contained the names and other personal details of almost 600 people, purportedly the group’s membership.

Pro-Palestinian activists protest in front of homes of Biden admin officials
By Nick Robertson

Pro-Palestinian activists had early Christmas Day messages for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday, as groups protested outside the pair’s homes in an attempt to wake them early.

The activists urged the Biden administration to stop support for Israel and push for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, citing increasing civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis.

The group carried signs with phrases like “stop the genocide” and calls to stop all military support for Israel, as well as cutouts of President Biden stained red with mock blood, according to footage posted on social media.

Antony Blinken’s Family Is the Latest Target of Washington’s Ugliest Protest Trend
By Michael Schaffer

Antony Blinken’s children were on their way home, so the protesters knew it was time to uncork the fake blood.

The group had been camped outside the Secretary of State’s home near the Potomac for a couple weeks, the latest example in the fraught trend of protests at the homes of Washington officials. By now, they could tell when something was up. The guards in front of the house had perked up; the black Suburban blocking the gate had been rolled out of the way. Someone was coming. But who?

At this time of day, it wouldn’t be Blinken himself, or his wife, White House Cabinet Secretary Evan Ryan. That left the other members of the family. One of them is three years old. The other is four.

But that was no reason to lay off. “Entire neighborhoods have been bombed to the ground with children missing under rubble,” Hazami Barmada, the encampment’s organizer, told me. “Why are those children forced to understand the brutal, barbaric realities of war, when his children should be sanitized from it?”

As the car carrying the kids rolled up, the group took their places. Some shouted: “YOUR FATHER IS A BABY KILLER!” Some waved signs: “WAR CRIMINAL BLOODY BLINKEN LIVES HERE.” Another poster featured a blown-up image of an old Blinken tweet of him and Ryan holding the children as infants. It was annotated with a chilling stat from the Gaza war: “10,000+ fathers have lost their children.”

A few denizens of the encampment hoisted gallon jugs of bright-red liquid and poured the contents out on the street in front of the vehicle, splashing another pop of color onto a roadway that’s been stained repeatedly since the protests began last month.

The whole encounter took less than a minute. The automobile continued safely into the driveway. The gate rolled shut. And the 20 or so activists went back to milling about what they’ve come to call Kibbutz Blinken, their collection of tents beneath a Palestinian flag on the shoulder of a busy suburban street.

If the tiny passengers in the back seat of the car had any reaction, no one could tell.

So much for the old Washington saw that everyone gets to be a civilian after hours: A partial recent list of Beltway VIPs visited at home by protesters would include Senators Josh Hawley, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer; Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett; public officials like Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis Dejoy, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; and then-Fox host Tucker Carlson, who soon moved out of Washington.

… Do these protests help the protesters’ cause? And, beyond that, do they move society in a direction that boosts the activists’ own idea of justice?

The United States in 2024 is not just a democracy grappling with some big disagreements. It’s a place that’s living with a fear of violence and upheaval that feels entirely new to many of its citizens. A hammer-wielding extremist really did assault Pelosi’s husband at their home. A pro-choice gunman really did show up at Kavanaugh’s residence. The Capitol Police have reported threats to lawmakers across the spectrum. As far as anyone knows, none of this was done by organized protesters. Yet they, like all of us, work against the American civic backdrop of anxiety and panic.

People who feel physically scared and intimidated are not their best selves — their views become less flexible, they retreat deeper into their cocoons. Dehumanization begets dehumanization. It’s a bad status quo if you’re looking for change.

Power, Protest, and All That’s News
By Nan Levinson

What the American news media do is, of course, only part of any story, but their recent protest focus contrasts vividly with how they’ve typically covered antiwar and peace actions and so reveals something about how we Americans are thinking about war and peace right now.

Does it matter if you throw a protest march and reporters don’t come? Yes, because the very point is to be noticed. The news media are a sphere where competing ideologies and aims play out in the open. So, the way marches and other actions are or aren’t covered helps shape public opinion, affirms or challenges received wisdom, creates a historical record, and — fingers crossed — helps define future political practices.

There’s a journalistic adage that goes: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. A corollary might be: If your mother says you’re perfect, consider the source. Good journalism, in other words, involves constant verification and an instinct for skepticism.

But journalism isn’t stenography and journalists tip their hands all the time. They make choices about what’s news and how to frame it; what to include, emphasize, or omit; who gets quoted and who’s considered a reliable source or expert. It’s clearly their job to inform us as fully, honestly, and fairly as possible so we can make our own moral decisions, including about whether and what to protest.

“The only way to tell this story is to tell it truthfully,” wrote David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, as he began his multifaceted report on a trip to Israel shortly after October 7th, “and to know that you will fail.” You can watch journalists trying to get it right — the protests, the war, the horrors, the consequences — to do justice to the story and the people at its heart. And yet they fail for many reasons. (How could they not?)

Sometimes, it’s the pressure of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, which promotes a rush to publish before necessary information is in. Sometimes, it’s because the topic is complex and requires a backstory and context most Americans (even journalists) don’t already know. Worse yet, it’s hard to fit such complexity into short paragraphs, concise lead sentences, and even more concise headlines, which are often all the news that its consumers have the time to take in.

Sometimes it’s that word-packages — displaced, surgical strikes, humanitarian crisis — become so routine we essentially stop noticing. The camera, too, can be an aid or a weapon, and even grammar comes into play, as in the difference between Israeli civilians were killed (by stated or implied actors), while Palestinians civilians died, as if by some unknown force or their folly in being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Israel, the United States, and the Rhetoric of the War on Terror
By Maha Hilal

American officials regularly frame U.S. violence as a function of the country’s inherent goodness and superiority. For example, in September 2006, responding to criticisms of the moral basis for the War on Terror, Bush said at a press conference: “If there’s any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it’s flawed logic… I simply can’t accept that. It’s unacceptable to think that there’s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.”

By the time Bush made those remarks, the invasions of and wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other “counterterrorism” operations across the globe, had been underway for years. Given the staggering number of civilians already killed, drawing a demarcation line between the United States and “Islamic extremists” based on the slaughter of innocent women and children should hardly have been possible (though when it came to those killed by Americans, the term of the time was the all-too-dehumanizing “collateral damage”).

In a White House briefing a week after the Hamas attacks, Biden said, “These guys — they make al-Qaeda look pure. They’re pure — they’re pure evil.” Then, nearly three weeks after those October 7th attacks, in a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Netanyahu asserted that his country was in “a battle” with “the Axis of Evil led by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis, and their minions.” More than two decades earlier, President George W. Bush had uttered similar words, referring to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an “axis of evil,” who were “arming to threaten the peace of the world.”

In each case, the “evil” they were referring to was meant to communicate an inherent and innate desire for violence and destruction, irrespective of the actions of the United States or Israel. As the saying goes, evil is as evil does.

As scholar Joanne Esch has noted, “If they hate us for who we are rather than what we do, nothing can be gained from reexamining our own policies.”

Project Troy: How Scientists Helped Refine Cold War Psychological Warfare
By Audra Wolfe

The phrase Cold War didn’t always refer to a time period. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the very years that the battle lines between the United States and the Soviet Union were being drawn, U.S. foreign-policy strategists used the phrase to invoke a specific kind of conflict, one carried out by “means short of war.” If, as NSC-68, a key document of U.S. strategy, asserted in 1950, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in an ideological clash of civilizations, a battle between “slavery” and “freedom,” a victory by force would be hollow. If the United States wanted to defeat communism, it needed to do so “by the strategy of cold war,” combining political, economic, and psychological techniques. “The cold war,” NSC-68 warned, “is in fact a real war in which the survival of the free world is at stake.”

The Cold War and Its Aftermath
By Zbigniew Brzezinski

Karl von Clausewitz defined war as the continuation of policy by other means. By extension the Cold War can be defined as warfare by other (non-lethal) means. Nonetheless, warfare it was. And the stakes were monumental. Geopolitically the struggle, in the first instance, was for control over the Eurasian landmass and, eventually, even for global preponderance. Each side understood that either the successful ejection of the one from the western and eastern fringes of Eurasia or the effective containment of the other would ultimately determine the geostrategic outcome of the contest.

Also fueling the conflict were sharply conflicting, ideologically motivated conceptions of social organization and even of the human being itself. Not only geopolitics but philosophy—in the deepest sense of the self-definition of mankind—were very much at issue.

After some forty-five years of political combat, including some secondary military skirmishes, the Cold War did indeed come to a final end.

As in previous terminations of war there was a discernible moment of capitulation, followed by postwar political upheavals in the losing state. That moment came most probably in Paris on November 19, 1990. At a conclave marked by ostentatious displays of amity designed to mask the underlying reality, the erstwhile Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who had led the Soviet Union during the final stages of the Cold War, accepted the conditions of the victors by describing in veiled and elegant language the unification of Germany that had taken place entirely on Western terms as “a major event.” This was the functional equivalent of the act of capitulation in the railroad car in Compiègne in 1918 or on the U.S.S. Missouri in August 1945, even though the key message was subtly couched in “friendship.”

Defeats tend to be politically unsettling. Not only do war-losing regimes tend to be overthrown, but the leaders who accept the necessity of capitulation also tend to pay the political price. The kaiser’s regime collapsed within days after November 11, 1918—Armistice Day. Within a year the Soviet leader who had accepted the thinly disguised defeat of the Soviet Union was himself overthrown. More than that: the doctrinal past was also formally condemned, the red flag was officially lowered, the ideology and systemic features of the victorious side were henceforth to be formally imitated. The Cold War was, indeed, over.

As often in history, this happened for a variety of reasons, ranging from human folly to fortune. Most important perhaps were the errors and miscalculations of the Soviets themselves. Misjudging the historical situation, they pushed their forward thrust beyond the limits of toleration of even the most accommodationist elements in the West, while at the same time they strained Soviet internal resources to a point that the inherent weaknesses and corruption of the Soviet system assumed dynamic dimensions. Their conduct, in brief, fitted well Paul Kennedy’s concept of “imperial overstretch.”

The result was the final phase of the Cold War, roughly from 1979 until 1991. It was marked by the West’s gradual recapture of the ideological initiative, by the eruption of a philosophical and political crisis in the adversary’s camp and by the final and decisive push by the United States in the arms race. This phase lasted slightly more than a decade. Its outcome was victory.

The massive U.S. defense buildup of the early 1980s—including the decision to proceed with the Strategic Defense Initiative—both shocked the Soviets and then strained their resources. Its scale, momentum and technological daring had been totally unexpected in Moscow. By 1983 a genuine war scare began to develop in the Kremlin, with the United States seen as bent perhaps even on a military solution. And then by the middle of the decade it dawned on Soviet leaders that they could neither match nor even keep up with the American efforts.

In the second half of the 1970s President Carter launched his human rights campaign. Within Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe and then within the Soviet Union itself, it first encouraged a few individuals, then larger groups, to pick up the standard of human rights, counting on Western moral and even political support. The struggle for human rights mushroomed, especially in Poland, galvanized by the election of the first Polish pope in Rome. By the late 1970s Solidarity’s mass movement was beginning to threaten the communist regime of the Soviet Union’s most important European satellite.

The Soviets were poised to intervene militarily in Poland, once in December 1980 and then again in March 1981. In both cases two successive U.S. administrations made clear, through direct and indirect signals, that such intervention would produce grave consequences, a message in the meantime made more credible by U.S. support for the Afghan resistance. Under these circumstances the Kremlin leaders chose to rely on an only partially effective imposition of martial law by the Polish communists themselves. As a result the Polish crisis festered throughout the decade, progressively undermining not only the Polish communist regime but gradually infecting other East European states.

The human rights campaign and the arms buildup thus became the mutually reinforcing central prongs of a U.S. response that not only blunted the Soviet offensive but also intensified the crisis of the Soviet political and socioeconomic system itself. Power and principle combined to reverse the Soviet momentum. Neither one alone would have sufficed.

By 1989 the choice left to Moscow was either a last-gasp effort to reimpose its rule through massive bloodshed—which not only could have precipitated violent domestic or external explosions but in all probability an intensification of the arms race and hostility with America—or to acquiesce. The reformist Gorbachev leadership—flattered, courted, even bribed by the West, and in the final phases skillfully manipulated personally by President Bush and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl—chose the second course. The result was chaos in east-central Europe and then capitulation.

The Cold War eventually ended because the West succeeded in combining firm containment with an active offensive on human rights and a strategic buildup of its own, while aiding the resistance in Afghanistan and Poland.

Could the Soviets have won the Cold War? The final outcome was the product of objective and subjective factors, and on both scores the Soviet side turned out to have been at a disadvantage. The Western socioeconomic system proved much stronger and its underlying ideas ultimately much more appealing.

… from a historical point of view, the collapse of the Soviet Union, which endured for some seventy years, is more than overshadowed by the disintegration of the great Russian empire, which lasted for more than three hundred years. This is an event of truly historic magnitude, pregnant with geopolitical uncertainties. It will be many years before the dust finally settles, but it is already clear that the postcommunist transition in the former empire will be more difficult and much more prolonged than the democratic reconstruction of either Germany or Japan after 1945.

The West must support that transition with the same commitment and magnanimity with which America acted after the victory in 1945.

A Fateful Error
By George F. Kennan

In late 1996, the impression was allowed, or caused, to become prevalent that it had been somehow and somewhere decided to expand NATO up to Russia’s borders.

Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking. And, last but not least, it might make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to secure the Russian Duma’s ratification of the Start II agreement and to achieve further reductions of nuclear weaponry.

It is, of course, unfortunate that Russia should be confronted with such a challenge at a time when its executive power is in a state of high uncertainty and near-paralysis. And it is doubly unfortunate considering the total lack of any necessity for this move. Why, with all the hopeful possibilities engendered by the end of the cold war, should East-West relations become centered on the question of who would be allied with whom and, by implication, against whom in some fanciful, totally unforeseeable and most improbable future military conflict?

Russians are little impressed with American assurances that it reflects no hostile intentions. They would see their prestige (always uppermost in the Russian mind) and their security interests as adversely affected. They would, of course, have no choice but to accept expansion as a military fait accompli. But they would continue to regard it as a rebuff by the West and would likely look elsewhere for guarantees of a secure and hopeful future for themselves.

NATO Allies Oppose Bush on Georgia and Ukraine (Published 2008)
By Steven Erlanger and Steven Lee Myers

President Bush threw the NATO summit meeting here off-script on Wednesday by lobbying hard to extend membership to Ukraine and Georgia, but he failed to rally support for the move among key allies.

Mr. Bush, entering his last NATO summit meeting as president, was described by the official as wanting to “lay down a marker” for his legacy and not wanting to “lose faith” with the Ukrainian and Georgian peoples and the other former Soviet republics. As Mr. Bush did more often early in his presidency, he expressed his views candidly despite warnings from allies that he was complicating efforts to find diplomatic solutions.

Referring to democratic revolutions in both Ukraine and Georgia, he said: “Welcoming them into the Membership Action Plan would send a signal to their citizens that if they continue on the path to democracy and reform they will be welcomed into the institutions of Europe. It would send a signal throughout the region” — read Russia — “that these two nations are, and will remain, sovereign and independent states.”

Some German officials described the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, as upset and even angry on Wednesday. She and Mr. Bush have talked repeatedly about the issue in the past two months. Mrs. Merkel had thought that a compromise was in the works, the officials said, with Washington supporting a warm statement welcoming the interest of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO and encouraging them to work toward entering the membership plan program.

Germany and France have said they believe that since neither Ukraine nor Georgia is stable enough to enter the program now, a membership plan would be an unnecessary offense to Russia, which firmly opposes the move. In fact, senior diplomats here said, the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, has threatened to cancel his planned first-ever visit to the NATO meeting on Friday if the two former Soviet states enter the program for eventual membership.

Mrs. Merkel visited Moscow on March 8 and met Mr. Putin and his successor, Dmitri A. Medvedev. She told them that Russia would not be allowed a veto over NATO membership. But a senior German diplomat, Wolfgang Ischinger, said that offering membership to a divided Ukraine could destabilize the new government there, and that not enough diplomacy had taken place beforehand with Russia.

Derek Chollet, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said Mr. Bush’s speech was “a combination of valedictory and marker-laying.” Mr. Bush will probably lose the argument on Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Chollet said. “But he doesn’t care so much, and he believes he’s on the right side of the issue.”

Ukraine: NATO’s original sin
By Paul Taylor

Despite resistance from France and Germany, the allies made a promise that they could not keep but cannot withdraw from without a devastating loss of face.

This Bucharest summit decision perhaps marked the culmination of the “unipolar moment,” when the U.S. believed it could reshape the world along Western lines, ignoring warnings by leaders like former French President Jacques Chirac, that “Russia should not be humiliated,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that Moscow’s “legitimate security interests” should be taken into account.

The result heightened Kremlin’s fears of encirclement and of losing the strategic depth that enabled Russia to prevail over Western invaders twice in two centuries — Napoleon in 1812 and Hitler from 1941 to 1945.

It also failed to enhance the security of Georgia or Ukraine — no amount of assurances that NATO is not a threat to Russia, that its purpose is purely defensive or that none of its weapons would ever be used except in response to an attack could assuage Moscow.

So when Russian troops crushed the Georgian army later that same year, after then Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili unwisely tried to retake the rebel-held region of South Ossetia by force, neither America nor NATO came to his aid.

Likewise, when Russia seized and annexed Crimea in 2014, in response to the toppling of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president by pro-European demonstrators, and stoked an armed revolt by separatists in the eastern Donbas region, the West merely imposed sanctions, offering Kyiv no military support.

The lesson was clear: Neither the U.S. nor European allies are prepared to risk war with Russia over Ukraine or Georgia. To acknowledge this is not appeasement but realism. To pretend otherwise is a cruel deception.

NATO and the Road Not Taken
By Rajan Menon

Whatever Putin’s apprehensions about NATO, they do not justify his unprovoked assault on Ukraine, to say nothing of the Russian army’s wanton attacks on civilians.

Yet, even though Putin bears primary responsibility for the unjust war in Ukraine, NATO cannot accurately present itself as blameless. As the temperature rose in the runup to the war, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Joe Biden repeated the alliance’s statement at its 2008 Bucharest summit—that its doors were open to Ukraine (and Georgia)—stood, and that Putin’s demand that the country pledge to be a neutral state was not up for negotiation. In truth there was no chance that Ukraine would be admitted to NATO anytime soon: NATO’s April 1949 founding treaty requires a unanimous vote before new members can join, and everyone knew that Ukraine wouldn’t clear that bar. Ukraine was thus left to knock on the alliance’s door for nearly fourteen years. Still, the possibility that it might be allowed in was enough to stoke Russian fears, and that increasingly exposed Ukraine to danger. Meanwhile, NATO had no serious intention of guaranteeing Ukraine security through membership. In short, Kyiv was left in limbo. That (non-)decision was a mixture of cowardice and strategic irresponsibility, one for which Ukraine has paid a terrible price, while NATO has paid none at all.

Putin made no effort to annex parts of Ukraine before 2014, not even during the overtly pro-Western 2004–2005 Orange Revolution. Therefore, his aversion to democracy does not, by itself, explain his objections to NATO’s enlargement. What’s more, Russian opposition to NATO enlargement long preceded Putin’s presidency. In fact, it dates back to the 1990s, when, under President Boris Yeltsin, Russia was cheered in the West as both a democracy and a partner.

Declassified documents demonstrate that President Boris Yeltsin expressed his opposition to NATO to the Clinton administration on several occasions, and that senior U.S. diplomats relayed to Washington the pervasive antipathy toward the policy within Russia’s foreign policy and national security apparatus. For example, in 1993, as Secretary of State Warren Christopher was about to depart for a meeting with Yeltsin, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy, James Collins, sent a cable warning that NATO expansion was “neuralgic to the Russians,” who feared that they would “end up on the wrong side of a new division of Europe . . . if NATO adopts a policy which envisions expansion into Central and Eastern Europe without holding the door open to Russia.” That outcome, warned Collins, “would be universally interpreted in Moscow as directed at Russia and Russia alone—or ‘Neo-Containment’, as Foreign Minister [Andrei] Kozyrev recently suggested.”

Consider what Yeltsin told President Bill Clinton during their May 10, 1995, meeting in Moscow:

I want to get a clear understanding of your idea of NATO expansion because now I see nothing but humiliation for Russia if you proceed. How do you think it looks to us if one bloc continues to exist while the Warsaw Pact has been abolished? It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? [T]hey ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this? We need a new structure for Pan-European security, not old ones! Perhaps the solution is to postpone NATO expansion until the year 2000 so that later we can come up with some new ideas. Let’s have no blocs, only one European space that provides for its own security.

Putin’s animosity toward NATO’s enlargement represented continuity, not a personal quirk, and was well understood in Washington. For example, in a February 2008 cable written shortly before the fateful Bucharest summit and addressed to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (among others), the U.S. ambassador to Russia, William Burns, now the head of the CIA, noted:

Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov and other senior Russian officials have reiterated strong opposition, stressing that Russia would view further eastward expansion as a potential military threat. NATO enlargement, particularly to Ukraine, remains an ‘emotional and neuralgic’ issue for Russia, but strategic policy concerns also underlie strong opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. In Ukraine, these include fears that the issue could potentially split the country in two, leading to violence or even, some claim, civil war, which would force Russia to decide whether to intervene.

In the 1990s, Russia, led by an ailing and often inebriated Yeltsin, was near economic collapse and its armed forces were debilitated. After Putin became president in 2000, Russia gained the economic and military power to go beyond verbal objections to NATO. The catalyst was NATO’s decision related to Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership at its Bucharest conclave. Thereafter, Russia turned from protests to pushback. The first sign of this change was the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, which occurred soon after the Bucharest meeting. Then, in 2014, fearing that Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution would lead to alignment with NATO and the EU, Russia annexed Crimea and created two breakaway statelets in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

The crisis that Putin’s war has created between Russia and the West can only be understood by bringing NATO expansion into the picture. However, this is not to say that the remote prospect of Ukraine entering the alliance at all justifies Putin’s decision to invade it. It does not. Still, it is worth thinking about the road not taken as it offers lessons for the future.

The history of NATO expansion raises the question of whether there was an alternative way of organizing Europe after the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. As it happens, expanding the alliance toward the Russian border was not the only feasible choice. Once the Soviet-aligned communist governments in Eastern Europe (or East-Central Europe as the region is now called) began to crumble and Germany’s reunification became imminent, President Mikhail Gorbachev proposed disbanding both NATO and the Warsaw Pact in favor of a new, inclusive, trans-European security order stretching from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains. President George H. W. Bush dismissed this idea and Gorbachev’s follow-up proposal for a unified but neutral Germany. Knowing that Gorbachev held a weak hand—he was battling political opponents at home and dependent on Germany to provide money for the 500,000 troops stationed there (who would eventually have to be sent home and housed and fed)—Bush insisted that NATO was in Europe to stay and that its writ would encompass all of a unified Germany.

Now, those with the most influence on U.S. foreign policy—those belonging to the executive branch and Congress or who work for the major newspapers and prominent think tanks—are in no mood to reflect on lost opportunities. To the contrary, along with the shock created by Putin’s attack on Ukraine, there is a mood of triumphalism. Russia’s aggression has been interpreted as a vindication of the decision to expand NATO.

It’s Not Too Late for Restrained U.S. Foreign Policy
By Stephen M. Walt

If the United States had not pushed hard for open-ended NATO enlargement—and to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit and eventually into NATO—Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its illegal invasion in February 2022 would probably never have occurred. Indeed, had the Biden administration shown more flexibility in the months preceding the Russian attack, been more supportive of Turkish and Israeli mediation efforts in the spring of 2022, or pushed for a cease-fire when Ukraine had the upper hand that fall, the two states might never have fought at all or ended the conflict before Ukraine had suffered so much damage. It is impossible to know any of this for certain, of course, but U.S. officials did not do all that they might have done to avert the war that Ukraine is now losing.

When officials say the quiet part about Russia and NATO out loud
By Branko Marcetic

From the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we’ve been told that the issue of NATO expansion is irrelevant to the war, and that anyone bringing it up is, at best, unwittingly parroting Kremlin propaganda, at worst, apologizing for or justifying the war.

So it was curious to see NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier this month say explicitly that Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his criminal war as a reaction to the possibility of NATO expanding into Ukraine, and the alliance’s refusal to swear it off — not once or twice, but three separate times.

“President Putin declared in the autumn of 2021, and actually sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement,” Stoltenberg told a joint committee meeting of the European Parliament on September 7. “That was what he sent us. And [that] was a pre-condition for not invade [sic] Ukraine. Of course we didn’t sign that.”

“He went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders. He has got the exact opposite,” Stoltenberg reiterated, referring to the accession of Sweden and Finland into the alliance in response to Putin’s invasion. Their entry, he later insisted, “demonstrates that when President Putin invaded a European country to prevent more NATO, he’s getting the exact opposite.”

It’s not clear if Stoltenberg was referring to the draft treaty Putin put forward in December 2021 and simply mixed up the seasons (the provisions of each are the same), or if he’s referring to an earlier, as-yet-unreported incident. In any case, what Stoltenberg claims here — that Putin viewed Ukraine’s NATO entry as so unacceptable he was willing to invade to stop it, and put forward a negotiating bid that might have prevented it, only for NATO to reject it — has been repeatedly made by those trying to explain the causes of the war and how it could be ended, only to be dismissed as propaganda.

The only logical conclusion, if we’re to listen to the hawks, is that the man in charge of the very alliance helping Ukraine defend itself from Putin is, in fact, working for the Russian leader and spreading his propaganda.

This isn’t the only instance from a member of the NATO establishment. Testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee in May this year, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said, alongside Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, that “we assess that Putin probably has scaled back his immediate ambitions to … ensuring that Ukraine will never become a NATO ally.” Earlier in her testimony, Haines had said that Putin’s invasion had backfired by “precipitating the very events he hoped to avoid such as Finland’s accession to NATO and Sweden’s petition to join.”

Likewise, in a March 2023 interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, Russia expert Fiona Hill — who served as an intelligence analyst under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as on the National Security Council under President Donald Trump — told the paper that “it was always obvious that NATO’s enlargement to Ukraine and to Georgia was a provocation for Putin.” Yet the opposite claim, that the invasion was entirely “unprovoked,” has become such an article of faith in Western discourse that this word is ubiquitous in news reports and official statements on the war.

On a similar note, an August 2022 Washington Post report based on “in-depth interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials” reported four separate instances of high-ranking Russian officials telling their U.S.counterparts in the lead-up to the war that NATO expansion was a core part of the grievances motivating Moscow’s threatening troop build-up. That included Putin himself, who told President Joe Biden in a December 2021 video call “that the eastward expansion of the Western alliance was a major factor in his decision to send troops to Ukraine’s border,” according to the report.

As with officials’ words, you can find similar points in documents before the war. A 2020 U.S. Army War College paper states that “future admissions to NATO for states in Russia’s near abroad will likely be met with aggression.” A 2019 paper from the Pentagon-funded RAND Corporation — and sponsored by the Army Quadrennial Defense Review Office — states explicitly that the Kremlin’s fear of a direct military attack by the United States is “very real,” plus that “providing more U.S. military equipment and advice [to Ukraine in the war on the Donbas] could lead Russia to increase its direct involvement in the conflict and the price it pays for it,” including by “mounting a new offensive and seizing more Ukrainian territory.” The 2017 National Security Strategy states outright that “Russia views the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union (EU) as threats.”

What’s at stake is more important than just finger-pointing and apportioning guilt. By steadfastly refusing to understand one of the foundational causes of the war and the U.S. and NATO role in it, we will continue to fail to end it and to secure a lasting peace, leading to many more Ukrainian deaths, and to many more years of living in the shadow of global catastrophe.

How the War in Ukraine Could Get Much Worse
By Emma Ashford and Joshua Shifrinson

In the parlance of security studies, an insecurity spiral ensues when the choices one country makes to advance its interests end up imperiling the interests of another country, which responds in turn. The result is a potentially vicious cycle of unintended escalation, something that’s happened many times before. For example, Germany’s attempt at the turn of the twentieth century to build a world-class navy threatened the naval power on which the United Kingdom depended; in response, London began to bulk up its own navy. Germany responded in kind, and soon, the scene was set for World War I. The origins of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union share a similar genesis, as both sides sought influence throughout the world and engaged in an arms race. In each case, a tit-for-tat spiral drove states toward conflict.

Today, the United States and Russia have already taken steps to shore up their real or perceived sense of insecurity, spurring the other side to do the same. As the scholars William Wohlforth and Andrey Sushentsov have argued, the United States and Russia have been engaged in a slow-motion spiral throughout the post-Cold War era as each sought to refashion European security to its liking and tried to limit the other side’s inevitable response. Recent events highlight the trend: the 2008 Bucharest summit, at which NATO pledged to bring Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance, was followed by Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. A 2007 dispute over the Bush administration’s plans to base missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic was followed by Russian violations of related arms-control agreements. In 2014, the EU’s offer to Ukraine of an association agreement precipitated the Maidan revolution in Kiev, heightening Russian fears of Ukrainian NATO membership and prompting the Russian seizure of Crimea that year.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, has dangerously upped the ante and accelerated the spiral’s pace. In response to Moscow’s wanton and illegitimate aggression, the United States, NATO, and EU member states have sent Ukraine significant quantities of lethal weapons, placed draconian sanctions on Russia’s economy, and launched a long-term military buildup. Currently, Moscow sees the United States and its partners threatening to make Ukraine into a de facto ally—a situation Moscow’s own aggression helped cause—whereas the United States sees Moscow threatening the core principles undergirding peace in Europe.

Each side appears committed to ratcheting up the pressure further. It may take just a single spark to ignite a broader conflagration.

What will the United States do if Russia bombs a Ukrainian camp or resupply mission on, for example, Polish territory? What if Lithuanian troops—perhaps operating on their own or having misread a map—are killed while delivering arms to Ukrainian forces? As seen in conflicts from Colombia to Syria, this kind of support risks blurring the lines between combatants and noncombatants, dramatically increasing the risks of a broader war.

Ultimately, the only thing more tragic than the present war would be an even bigger, bloodier one.

Russia ‘must fail and be seen to fail’ if it invades Ukraine, says Johnson
By Patrick Wintour

Boris Johnson has declared Russia “must fail and be seen to fail” if it invades Ukraine, warning of a bloody and protracted conflict once Russian troops cross the border.

He said: “If dialogue fails and if Russia chooses to use violence against an innocent and peaceful population in Ukraine, and to disregard the norms of civilised behaviour between states, and to disregard the Charter of the United Nations, then we at this conference should be in no doubt that it is in our collective interest that Russia should ultimately fail and be seen to fail.”

The Lost Peace?
By Robert Skidelsky

It was their initial failure to capture Kyiv that got the Russians talking, their continuing offensive in March that brought Ukraine to the table. With the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive of March 22 the Russians had a renewed incentive to negotiate, while Ukraine was starting to scent victory. The Ukrainian counter-attack also crucially strengthened the Western resolve to support Ukraine, leading to the withdrawal by Ukraine of even cosmetic concessions. As the Ukrainian army continued to inflict defeats on the Russians, and Western military aid was ramped up in the summer 2022, Ukraine had little further reason to talk to the Russians. The damage inflicted by continued fighting would be paid back by victory.

These were the structural obstacles to successful peace negotiations. However, there were also two dramatic events that tilted the balance against peace.

As Russian forces were driven out of the Kyiv region at the end of March, Ukrainians claimed to have discovered evidence of atrocities—rapes, murders, massacres, looting, indiscriminate bombings and other war crimes—in Bucha, Irpin, Borodianka, Azovstal. These atrocious events, Russian responsibility for which has been confirmed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (December 2022) gave Ukraine an additional reason to break off negotiations—a move strongly supported by the West.

An even bigger obstacle to further talks may have been the arrival in Kyiv on April 6 of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. According to Davyd Arakhhamia, Ukraine’s chief negotiator at Istanbul, “Johnson brought two simple messages to Kyiv. The first is that Putin is a war criminal; he should be pressured, not negotiated with. And the second is that even if Ukraine is ready to sign some agreements on guarantees with Putin, they [the NATO powers] are not.” Three days after Johnson returned home Putin announced publicly that talks with Ukraine “had reached a dead end.” For his part, Johnson promised Zelensky $130 million of military equipment and $500 million kin financial aid, while President Biden announced a $800 million military package to Ukraine.

Johnson’s intervention has been discounted on the grounds that he was in no position to tell the Ukrainian government what to do. This is legally correct, but vacuous. He was in a position to tell them under what conditions Britain (and the USA) would supply further military and economic aid. Had Johnson’s promise of support been conditional rather than unconditional, it is inconceivable that negotiations would not have continued. (On US and British sabotage of tentative Ukrainian-Russian peace talks, see David von Drehle in The Washington Post and Ted Snider in The American Conservative.)

Since the breakdown of the peace talks in April 2022, the military situation has scarcely changed: Russia is no nearer defeating a Ukraine supplied by NATO, and Ukraine is no nearer defeating its stronger neighbor. Time is on the side of Russia with its far greater resources of manpower, artillery, and airpower. In these circumstances, there will be a strong temptation on the Ukrainian/NATO side to break the stalemate by scaling up the warfare.

The Tyranny of Expectations
By Dominic Tierney

Outside observers, both experts and laypeople alike, do not evaluate military results by simply tallying up the battlefield gains and losses. Instead, they compare these results to their expectations. As a result, states can lose territory and still be deemed winners if they overperform. States can take land and be labeled losers if they underdeliver. The resulting conclusions about the winners and losers, however skewed, can even rebound and shape the battlefield.

At first, it might seem that the key to success in war is to exude great confidence about victory. In wartime, after all, optimism can be a force multiplier, whereas defeatism can be contagious. If everyone thinks one side will win a battle, it really might prevail, in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. In War and Peace, for instance, Leo Tolstoy argued that Russian troops fled from the French in the 1805 battle of Austerlitz, despite suffering from similar casualties, because the Russian troops had a crisis of confidence. “We said to ourselves that we were losing the battle,” Tolstoy wrote, “and we did lose it.”

But an image of sure success can also be dangerous. Judging who wins and loses in war is incredibly murky, and people may make their determinations by comparing the battlefield result with a (somewhat arbitrary) reference point—their expectations. As a result, a conflict’s perceived winner may have little to do with the outcome on the ground.

Miscalculations, divisions marked offensive planning by U.S., Ukraine
By Washington Post staff

Ukrainian soldiers were fighting a war unlike anything NATO forces had experienced: a large conventional conflict, with World War I-style trenches overlaid by omnipresent drones and other futuristic tools — and without the air superiority the U.S. military has had in every modern conflict it has fought.

“All these methods … you can take them neatly and throw them away, you know?” the senior Ukrainian said of the war-game scenarios. “And throw them away because it doesn’t work like that now.”

What the Pentagon has learned from two years of war in Ukraine
By Alex Horton

What’s transpired in Ukraine, where this week the war enters its third year with hundreds of thousands dead or wounded on both sides and still no end in sight, has made clear to the Pentagon that battlefield calculations have fundamentally changed in the years since it last deployed forces in large numbers. Precision weapons, fleets of drones and digital surveillance can reach far beyond the front lines, posing grave risk to personnel wherever they are.

The Ukraine conflict has challenged core assumptions. The war has become an attritional slugfest with each side attempting to wear down the other, a model thought to be anachronistic, said Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank.

It also has complicated a long-held belief in the Pentagon that expensive precision weapons are central to winning America’s conflicts, Pettyjohn said. GPS-guided munitions provided to Ukraine have proven vulnerable to electronic jamming. Its military has adapted by pairing older unguided artillery with sensors and drones, which can be used to spot targets and refine their shots.

The Russian and Ukrainian militaries each flood the sky with one-way attack drones that are inexpensive and able to skirt detection. Their prolific use has forced American military leaders to consider where there are gaps in their capabilities.

The technology’s proliferation has also created a new urgency at the Pentagon to develop and field better counter-drone systems. In Jordan last month, three U.S. soldiers were killed after a one-way drone, which officials have said likely went undetected, crashed into their living quarters.

The Army, taking cues from the Ukraine war, has begun experimenting with dropping small munitions from drones, a tactic used by the Islamic State that has since become a mainstay in Ukraine. It also has made a decision to do away with two surveillance drone platforms, the Shadow and Raven, describing them as unable to survive in modern conflict.

In Ukraine, a war of incremental gains as counteroffensive stalls
By Washington Post staff

It was June 7 and Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive was about to begin.

The goal for the first 24 hours was to advance nearly nine miles, reaching the village of Robotyne — an initial thrust south toward the larger objective of reclaiming Melitopol, a city near the Sea of Azov, and severing Russian supply lines.

Nothing went as planned.

By day four, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top commander, had seen enough. Incinerated Western military hardware — American Bradleys, German Leopard tanks, mine-sweeping vehicles — littered the battlefield. The numbers of dead and wounded sapped morale.

Months of planning with the United States was tossed aside on that fourth day, and the already delayed counteroffensive, designed to reach the Sea of Azov within two to three months, ground to a near-halt. Rather than making a nine-mile breakthrough on their first day, the Ukrainians in the nearly six months since June have advanced about 12 miles and liberated a handful of villages.

Damp World War I-style trenches lace eastern and southern Ukraine as surveillance and attack drones crowd the skies overhead. Moscow launches missile assaults on civilian targets in Ukrainian cities, while Kyiv is using both Western missiles and home-grown technology to strike far behind the front lines — in Moscow, in Crimea and on the Black Sea.

If this were the United States or NATO, the operation also would have included devastating air power to weaken the enemy and protect troops on the ground, but the Ukrainians would have to make do with little or none.

Early in the assault on Robotyne, a Russian machine-gun nest carved into a building was preventing Ukrainian infantry from advancing. A drone company within the 47th sent up two modified racing drones strapped with explosives. One glided through a window and exploded. Another, guided by a pilot with the call sign Sapsan, spiraled into another room and detonated the ammunition inside, he said, also killing several enemy soldiers.

It was an early high point in the use of small drones like pinpoint artillery. Drone operators — wearing a headset that receives a video feed from the drone in real time — hunted for armored vehicles using first-person-view drones, known as FPVs. FPVs are so precise and fast that they can target the weak parts of vehicles, such as engine compartments and tracks, operators say.

But Russia is also deploying fleets of the same hand-built attack drones, which cost less than $1000 each and can disable a multimillion-dollar tank. Unlike artillery ammunition, which is a precious resource for both Russia and Ukraine, the low-cost, disposable FPV drones can be used to hit small groups of infantry — navigated directly into trenches or into troops on the move.

Evacuating the wounded or bringing fresh supplies to a front-line position also became harrowing and potentially deadly tasks, often saved for nighttime because of the threat of drones.

… Ukrainian officials have said the ubiquity and lethality of different types of drones on both sides of the front line has been the biggest factor preventing the Ukrainians or the Russians from gaining significant ground for months.

The Ukrainians were insistent that the West simply wasn’t giving them the air power and other weapons needed for a combined arms strategy to succeed. “You want us to proceed with the counteroffensive, you want us to show the brilliant advances on the front line,” said Olha Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. “But we do not have the fighter jets, meaning that you want us to throw our soldiers, you know, and accept the very fact that we cannot protect them.”

When allies said no, she said, “we heard … ‘We are fine that your soldiers will be dying without support from the sky.’”

Ukraine’s tragedies: A ‘good deal’ for some war supporters
By Branko Marcetic

For a conflict discussed in starkly moralistic terms, the ways the Ukraine war is talked about by its most enthusiastic Western supporters can be remarkably cynical about the human carnage involved.

“Aiding Ukraine, giving the money to Ukraine is the cheapest possible way for the U.S. to enhance its security,” Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor-in-chief of the Economist, recently told the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. “The fighting is being done by the Ukrainians, they’re the people who are being killed.”

This view is not unique to Beddoes. It’s been widely expressed by those most in favor of an open-ended, prolonged war and most against the kind of peace negotiations that would shorten it.

“Four months into this thing, I like the structural path we’re on here. As long as we help Ukraine with the weapons they need and the economic support, they will fight to the last person,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) early into the war, accidentally voicing what the war’s critics have often said about the war — that the U.S. will fight it “to the last Ukrainian.” Later, Graham called it the “best money we’ve ever spent.”

“It is a relatively modest amount that we are contributing without being asked to risk life and limb,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Associated Press last year. “The Ukrainians are willing to fight the fight for us if the West will give them the provisions. It’s a pretty good deal.”

“I call that a bargain,” North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has said about the war funding, pointing to the damage Ukrainian forces had inflicted on the Russian military.

“No Americans are getting killed in Ukraine. We’re rebuilding our industrial base. The Ukrainians are destroying the army of one of our biggest rivals. I have a hard time finding anything wrong with that,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remarked.

Americans “should be satisfied that we’re getting our money’s worth on our Ukraine investment,” wrote Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), because “for less than 3 percent of our nation’s military budget, we’ve enabled Ukraine to degrade Russia’s military strength by half,” and “all without a single American service woman or man injured or lost.”

Zaluzhny firing not even a band-aid as Ukraine strategy bleeds out
By Anatol Lieven

A striking lesson of this war is that victory depends on a combination of the most recent weaponry with large numbers of fighting soldiers. In 2022, Russian defeats were largely due to the fact that they invaded with too few troops. The spectacular Ukrainian success in Kharkiv in September 2022 owed much to the fact that on that front they considerably outnumbered the Russians.

Today, however, Ukraine is running out of men. Russia has more than four times Ukraine’s population, and is conscripting more of them, as well as radically improving its tactics and weaponry. The Ukrainian army has been drained by huge casualties and growing unwillingness of the population to serve. The average age of Ukrainian soldiers is now 43 — far too old for full military effectiveness.

War Without Humans
By Barbara Ehrenreich

Whatever they may think of what the U.S. and its allies did in Iraq, many national leaders are beginning to acknowledge that conventional militaries are becoming, in a strictly military sense, almost ludicrously anachronistic. Not only are they unsuited to crushing counterinsurgencies and small bands of terrorists or irregular fighters, but mass armies are simply too cumbersome to deploy on short notice.

In military lingo, they are weighed down by their “tooth to tail” ratio — a measure of the number of actual fighters in comparison to the support personnel and equipment the fighters require. Both hawks and liberal interventionists may hanker to airlift tens of thousands of soldiers to distant places virtually overnight, but those soldiers will need to be preceded or accompanied by tents, canteens, trucks, medical equipment, and so forth. “Flyover” rights will have to be granted by neighboring countries; air strips and eventually bases will have to be constructed; supply lines will have to be created and defended — all of which can take months to accomplish.

The sluggishness of the mass, labor-intensive military has become a constant source of frustration to civilian leaders. Irritated by the Pentagon’s hesitation to put “boots on the ground” in Bosnia, then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright famously demanded of Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, “What good is this marvelous military force if we can never use it?” In 2009, the Obama administration unthinkingly proposed a troop surge in Afghanistan, followed by a withdrawal within a year and a half that would have required some of the troops to start packing up almost as soon as they arrived. It took the U.S. military a full month to organize the transport of 20,000 soldiers to Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake — and they were only traveling 700 miles to engage in a humanitarian relief mission, not a war.

Ultimately, the mass militaries of the modern era, augmented by ever-more expensive weapons systems, place an unacceptable economic burden on the nation-states that support them — a burden that eventually may undermine the militaries themselves.

Ever since the introduction of mass armies in Europe in the seventeenth century, governments have generally understood that to underpay and underfeed one’s troops — and the class of people that supplies them — is to risk having the guns pointed in the opposite direction from that which the officers recommend.

In fact, modern welfare states, inadequate as they may be, are in no small part the product of war — that is, of governments’ attempts to appease soldiers and their families. In the U.S., for example, the Civil War led to the institution of widows’ benefits, which were the predecessor of welfare in its Aid to Families with Dependent Children form. It was the bellicose German leader Otto von Bismarck who first instituted national health insurance.

World War II spawned educational benefits and income support for American veterans and led, in the United Kingdom, to a comparatively generous welfare state, including free health care for all. Notions of social justice and fairness, or at least the fear of working class insurrections, certainly played a part in the development of twentieth-century welfare states, but there was a pragmatic military motivation as well: if young people are to grow up to be effective troops, they need to be healthy, well-nourished, and reasonably well-educated.

With diminishing funds for higher education, military service becomes a less dismal alternative for young working-class people than the low-paid jobs that otherwise await them. The U.S. still has a civilian welfare state consisting largely of programs for the elderly (Medicare and Social Security). For many younger Americans, however, as well as for older combat veterans, the U.S. military is the welfare state — and a source, however temporarily, of jobs, housing, health care, and education.

Eventually, however, the failure to invest in America’s human resources — through spending on health, education, and so forth — undercuts the military itself. In World War I, public health experts were shocked to find that one-third of conscripts were rejected as physically unfit for service; they were too weak and flabby or too damaged by work-related accidents.

Several generations later, in 2010, the U.S. Secretary of Education reported that “75 percent of young Americans, between the ages of 17 to 24, are unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.”

An alternative approach is to eliminate or drastically reduce the military’s dependence on human beings of any kind. This would have been an almost unthinkable proposition a few decades ago, but technologies employed in Iraq and Afghanistan have steadily stripped away the human role in war.

What War Games Really Reveal
By Jacquelyn Schneider

While the Chinese game of Go is often credited as the first “war game,” it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that war games became professional military tools. The military campaign game Kriegsspiel introduced maps, dice, and rule sets created by Prussian officers. The games were interactive and engaging, and—for the first time in war-gaming history—realistic enough to simulate military battles. As the Prussian field marshal Friedrich Karl Ferdinand Freiherr von Müffling exclaimed in 1824 after being introduced to it, “This is no ordinary game—this is a school of war!” The games were used so extensively in Prussian campaign planning and military training that many argued that they were key to Prussia’s victory over Austria in 1866. The combination of immersion and vividness captured the attention of Europe’s new industrial-age military leaders, who were keen to apply new scientific approaches to the large ground wars of the Napoleonic era.

War games reached an important inflection point in the 1960s with a series of games code-named Sigma that were focused on Indochina. These games included highly detailed scenarios, limited rules built by and adjudicated by a staff of experts (some sources claim that each scenario involved more than 1,000 man-hours to create) and played by senior decision-makers from across the federal government. The games’ findings—that strategic bombing would fail to convince the North Vietnamese to surrender and that the United States would end up stalemated in a bloody conflict in Vietnam—were remarkably prescient.

Despite the Sigma games’ success at predicting the outcome of the Vietnam War, senior government officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, distrusted the heavy emphasis placed on human decision-making. McNamara sought to decrease the subjectivity of games by replacing human play with computer simulations of warfare. The proponents of this “scientific” approach argued that computer-run war games could solve nuclear conflict by reducing human error caused by irrationality and emotion.

Ultimately, the drive to automate war games created a backlash as scholars at RAND and other war-gaming centers criticized the attempt to trivialize the human decision-making part of war.

When Robert Work became deputy defense secretary in 2014, he concluded that war games were not evolving or providing valuable information. He tried to lead a renaissance, investing in war-gaming initiatives throughout the Pentagon, including the creation of a large library of games.

Game conveners may choose players who they believe will help them get to a certain outcome and avoid players that might derail their purpose. Alternatively, conveners can choose players based on how these participants might influence policy after playing the game. In this case, players become part of an entrepreneurial policy initiative in which the highly evocative experience of the game compels players to adopt a policy position. For example, for the 20XX future military capability games played from 1995 to 2000, the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment carefully chose the players, selecting up-and-coming civilian and military leaders who the team believed might influence defense policy on military technology for decades. One of those was Work, the future U.S. deputy secretary of defense, who cited the influence of these games on his technology-centered Third Offset Strategy, which called for investments in autonomy, unmanned systems, and network technologies.

How Tech Giants Turned Ukraine Into an AI War Lab
By Vera Bergengruen

Palantir’s software, which uses AI to analyze satellite imagery, open-source data, drone footage, and reports from the ground to present commanders with military options, is “responsible for most of the targeting in Ukraine,” according to Karp. Ukrainian officials told me they are using the company’s data analytics for projects that go far beyond battlefield intelligence, including collecting evidence of war crimes, clearing land mines, resettling displaced refugees, and rooting out corruption. Palantir was so keen to showcase its capabilities that it provided them to Ukraine free of charge.

It is far from the only tech company assisting the Ukrainian war effort. Giants like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Starlink have worked to protect Ukraine from Russian cyberattacks, migrate critical government data to the cloud, and keep the country connected, committing hundreds of millions of dollars to the nation’s defense. The controversial U.S. facial-recognition company Clearview AI has provided its tools to more than 1,500 Ukrainian officials, who have used it to identify more than 230,000 Russians on their soil as well as Ukrainian collaborators. Smaller American and European companies, many focused on autonomous drones, have set up shop in Kyiv too, leading young Ukrainians to dub some of the city’s crowded co-working spaces “Mil-Tech Valley.”

In conflicts waged with software and AI, where more military decisions are likely to be handed off to algorithms, tech companies stand to wield outsize power as independent actors. The ones willing to move fast and flout legal, ethical, or regulatory norms could make the biggest breakthroughs. National-­security officials and experts warn these new tools risk falling into the hands of adversaries. “The prospects for proliferation are crazy,” says Rita Konaev of Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. “Most companies operating in Ukraine right now say they align with U.S. national-security goals—but what happens when they don’t? What happens the day after?”

Government officials were trained to use a Palantir tool called MetaConstellation, which uses commercial data, including satellite imagery, to give a near real-time picture of a given battle space. Palantir’s software integrates that information with commercial and classified government data, including from allies, which allows military officials to communicate enemy positions to commanders on the ground or decide to strike a target. This is part of what Karp calls a digital “kill chain.”

In early January, amid the ongoing war against Hamas, Israel’s Defense Ministry struck a deal with the company to “harness Palantir’s advanced technology in support of war-related missions.” To Palantir executives, the demand for their tools from one of the world’s most technologically advanced militaries spoke for itself.

The Pentagon’s Silicon Valley Problem
By Andrew Cockburn

Three months before Hamas attacked Israel, Ronen Bar, the director of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, announced that his agency had developed its own generative artificial intelligence platform—similar to ChatGPT—and that the technology had been incorporated quite naturally into the agency’s “interdiction machine,” assisting in decision-making “like a partner at the table, a co-pilot.” As the Israeli news site Tech12 explained in a preview of his speech:

The system knows everything about [the terrorist]: where he went, who his friends are, who his family is, what keeps him busy, what he said and what he published. Using artificial intelligence, the system analyzes behavior, predicts risks, raises alerts.

Nevertheless, Hamas’s devastating attack on October 7 caught Shin Bet and the rest of Israel’s multibillion-dollar defense system entirely by surprise. The intelligence disaster was even more striking considering Hamas carried out much of its preparations in plain sight, including practice assaults on mock-ups of the border fence and Israeli settlements—activities that were openly reported. Hamas-led militant groups even posted videos of their training online. Israelis living close to the border observed and publicized these exercises with mounting alarm, but were ignored in favor of intelligence bureaucracies’ analyses and, by extension, the software that had informed them. Israeli conscripts, mostly young women, monitoring developments through the ubiquitous surveillance cameras along the Gaza border, composed and presented a detailed report on Hamas’s preparations to breach the fence and take hostages, only to have their findings dismissed as “an imaginary scenario.” The Israeli intelligence apparatus had for more than a year been in possession of a Hamas document that detailed the group’s plan for an attack.

Well aware of Israel’s intelligence methods, Hamas members fed their enemy the data that they wanted to hear, using informants they knew would report to the Israelis. They signaled that the ruling group inside Gaza was concentrating on improving the local economy by gaining access to the Israeli job market, and that Hamas had been deterred from action by Israel’s overwhelming military might. Such reports confirmed that Israel’s intelligence system had rigid assumptions of Hamas behavior, overlaid with a racial arrogance that considered Palestinians incapable of such a large-scale operation. AI, it turned out, knew everything about the terrorist except what he was thinking.

Proponents of the Silicon Valley approach found friendly reception elsewhere in the upper tiers of the Pentagon—especially among acolytes of Andrew Marshall, the venerated former director of the Office of Net Assessment, an internal Pentagon think tank. One of them, embedded in Washington’s defense archipelago, was a former Marine named Robert O. Work. Appointed under Obama as undersecretary of the Navy in 2009 and rapidly promoted, Work was an ardent advocate of the notion that the United States was losing its technological lead, previously assured by its superiority in nuclear weapons, and then by its precision-guided weapons. Now the Chinese and Russians, he warned darkly, had caught up, endangering America’s military dominance. This threat, he believed, was rendered more urgent by caps on defense spending promised in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The danger could only be warded off by adopting, among other things, aerial and naval unmanned systems and AI-enabled battle networks. These were to be found in Silicon Valley.

Among the aims of Work’s AI initiative was a means to distill the vast amounts of information sucked up by satellites, phone intercepts, emails, and drones sitting in intelligence and military data banks into something accessible. In 2017, Google secured a contract for Project Maven, instituted by Work, aimed at accelerating “DoD’s integration of big data and machine learning.” Project Maven’s initial goal was to develop processing tools for the unceasing torrent of drone footage in order to identify targets. The contract, according to internal emails leaked to Gizmodo, specified that Google’s involvement was not to be revealed without the company’s permission. “Avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI,” Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist for AI at Google Cloud, emailed colleagues. “Weaponized AI is probably one of the most sensitized topics of AI—if not THE most. This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google.” She was right. When news broke of the contract, uproar ensued. “Don’t be evil” had once been Google’s motto, but by the time of Project Maven it had been replaced by a more herbivorous pledge to “Do the right thing.” Nevertheless, many of the company’s more than eighty thousand workers were shocked that Google was involved in the military’s lethal drone assassination program. Around four thousand of them signed a petition demanding “a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.” A handful resigned.

Amid the furor, no one appears to have noticed that Project Maven fit into the grand tradition of many other high-tech weapons projects: ecstatic claims of prowess coupled with a disregard for real-world experience. The “full motion video” to be processed through Google’s technology was to be provided by Gorgon Stare, a system of pods arrayed with cameras mounted on Reaper drones. “We can see everything,” the Washington Post had announced breathlessly in a report on the system’s alleged capabilities back when it was first unveiled. But, as the Air Force discovered, that was not true. A testing unit at Eglin Air Force Base revealed in a 2011 report that, among numerous other deficiencies, the cameras could not “readily find and identify targets,” and its transmission rate was too slow. The testers concluded that it was “not operationally effective” and should not be deployed in Afghanistan; the Air Force sent it anyway. “A lot of money has gone into it, and I’m telling you right now the fielded stuff still can’t do it,” a former fighter pilot and longtime Pentagon analyst familiar with the ongoing program informed me. After years of expensive effort, the “ATR [automatic target recognition] just doesn’t work. Even driverless cars,” he emphasized “are relatively easy problems to solve compared to ATR.” Another combat veteran, now with a Pentagon agency working on these issues, told me that the AI developers he works with didn’t seem to understand some of the requirements for the technology’s military application. “I don’t know if AI, or the sensors that feed it for that matter, will ever be capable of spontaneity or recognizing spontaneity,” he said. He cited a DARPA experiment in which a squad of Marines defeated an AI-governed robot that had been trained to detect them simply by altering their physical profiles. Two walked inside a large cardboard box. Others somersaulted. One wore the branches of a fir tree. All were able to approach over open ground and touch the robot without detection.

Despite the moral objections of Google employees, Project Maven did not die. Following the company’s withdrawal, subcontracts were picked up by Microsoft, Amazon, and Palantir, among others. There was no public announcement, but the new deals were unearthed by a Google employee who had quit in revulsion. Jack Poulson, a former Stanford professor who specializes in advanced supercomputers, had left academic life in 2016 “to go where the actual experts were, which clearly was Google at the time,” as he put it to me. Once installed as a senior research scientist, he found that he disliked the corporate culture, despite the informality of the office, where some of his colleagues worked barefoot. It was their “sense of righteousness” that grated him. “Google culture was defined by an exceptionalism that they are the uniquely ethical company,” he told me, but he found they were prepared to “look the other way” when the company did “terrible things.” Poulson’s final decision to quit was spurred by the information that, while eagerly pursuing Pentagon business, Google was simultaneously working with the Chinese government to build Dragonfly, a version of its search engine that would blacklist certain search terms, such as “human rights” and “student protest.”

The following year, Poulson was invited to a meeting at a well-known conservative think tank, alongside tech CEOs, high-ranking military officers, and intelligence officials. They were intrigued, he remembers, by what they regarded as Poulson’s eccentric attitude toward defense work. One and all, they were eager to promote tech involvement in defense. “It was very shocking to me, the degree to which very senior U.S. military officials were desperate to work in the tech industry,” he recalls. “At one point, a high-ranking general was saying that one of the goals was to have at least a hundred flag officers in executive positions by the end of the next year.”

Conscious that few outside, or even inside, the business understood the extent of tech’s role in the military-industrial complex, Poulson, along with other dissidents, launched a website called Tech Inquiry. “There was so little coverage,” Poulson told me. “I started looking into some of these organizations and the contracts with the Defense Innovation Unit—it just seemed like such a zoo of companies.” Many of the details were obscure, buried in contracts accessible only through the relentless pursuit of Freedom of Information requests.

Google’s retreat on the Maven contract sparked outrage in the burgeoning defense-tech complex. Thiel called Google’s stance “treasonous,” while Schmidt said he “disagreed” with the decision. The Atlantic ran a story headlined the divide between silicon valley and washington is a national security threat. Amazon overlord Jeff Bezos, during a live event with Wired, huffed that “if big tech companies are going to turn their back on the U.S. Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble.”

Bezos had a personal interest in the issue. Amazon had accelerated tech’s intrusion into the defense complex back in 2013, winning a $600 million ten-year contract from the CIA for uses of the Amazon Web Services cloud originally built to host commercial-customer transactions. Cloud computing was becoming the new profit frontier for corporations such as Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, and Google, which had sloughed off the moral qualms of the Maven episode to bid for a slice of the $9 billion Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability contract. Though they still reaped vast profits from commercial services, corporate eyes were turning to the government as a stable source of bountiful revenue. If indeed there ever had been a tech-Pentagon divide, it was disappearing fast.

I was curious about Palantir, whose stock indeed soared amid the 2023 AI frenzy. I had been told that the Israeli security sector’s AI systems might rely on Palantir’s technology. Furthermore, Shin Bet’s humiliating failure to predict the Hamas assault had not blunted the Israeli Defense Force’s appetite for the technology; the unceasing rain of bombs upon densely packed Gaza neighborhoods, according to a well-sourced report by Israeli reporter Yuval Abraham in +972 Magazine, was in fact partly controlled by an AI target-creation platform called the Gospel. The Gospel produces automatic recommendations for where to strike based on what the technology identifies as being connected with Hamas, such as the private home of a suspected rank-and-file member of the organization. It also calculates how many civilians, including women and children, would die in the process—which, as of this writing, amounted to at least twenty-two thousand people, some 70 percent of them women and children. One of Abraham’s intelligence sources termed the technology a “mass assassination factory.” Despite the high-tech gloss on the massacre, the result has been no different than the slaughter inflicted, with comparatively more primitive means, against Dresden and Tokyo during World War II.

To determine whether Palantir, which CEO Alex Karp has proudly proclaimed “stands with Israel,” was playing a role in the mass killing, I contacted the company, but received no response.

Gaza aid worker deaths heighten scrutiny of Israel’s use of AI to select targets
By Benjamin Dodman

“We prepare the targets automatically and work according to a checklist,” a separate source who previously worked in the target division told the Israeli publications. “It really is like a factory. We work quickly and there is no time to delve deep into the target. The view is that we are judged according to how many targets we manage to generate.”

AI scientists have also voiced deep misgivings about the use of complex data-crunching technologies to artificially generate hit lists. The shockingly high civilian casualty rate in Gaza suggests the “factory” is either faulty or operating under questionable guidelines, said Toby Walsh, chief scientist at the University of New South Wales AI Institute in Australia.

“Either the AI is not as good as the Israelis claim, or it is, and they don’t really care about the collateral damage,” he said. “Either way, it’s a deeply unpleasant suggestion.”

Walsh highlighted the value of AI in processing the vast amounts of information collected by Israeli intelligence, which is “more than humans can look at”. The question, he added, “is how much humans are left in the loop when it comes to decision-making”.

He also pointed to the “unexpected” ways in which artificial intelligence can behave in an “unstable environment” such as Gaza, adding: “If I ask my scientist friends who build robots what is the least favourable environment to operate in, they would probably say it’s a battlefield – a place you have little control over, in which adversaries are actively trying to deceive you.”

‘How am I in this war?’: The untold story of Elon Musk’s support for Ukraine
By Walter Isaacson

Fedorov said he understood Musk’s position of not allowing Starlink service to be used for attacks in Crimea. But he pushed Musk to allow Ukraine to use the service to fight in the Russian-controlled regions in the south and east. That led to an amazingly candid secret encrypted exchange:

Fedorov: The exclusion of these territories is absolutely unfair. I come from Vasylivka village in Zaporizhzhia region, my parents and friends live there. Now this village is occupied by Russian troops, and there is complete lawlessness and outrage—the residents are impatiently waiting for liberation. . . . At the end of September, we noticed that Starlink does not work in the liberated villages, which makes it impossible to restore the critical infrastructure of these territories. For us it is a matter of life and death.

Musk: Once Russia is fully mobilized, they will destroy all infrastructure throughout Ukraine and push far past the current territories. NATO will have to intervene to prevent all of Ukraine falling to Russia. At that point, risk of WW3 becomes very high.

Fedorov: Mobilization in Russia can lead to the overthrow of Putin. This is not a war of Russian people and they don’t want to go to Ukraine.

Musk: Russia will stop at nothing, nothing, to hold Crimea. This poses catastrophic risk to the world. . . . Seek peace while you have the upper hand. . . . Let’s discuss this. [Musk included his new private cellphone number.] I will support any pragmatic path to peace that serves the greater good for all of humanity.

Fedorov: I understand. We look through the eyes of Ukrainians, and you from the position of a person who wants to save humanity. And not just wants, but does more than anybody else for this.

After his exchange with Fedorov, Musk felt frustrated. “How am I in this war?” he asked me during a late-night phone conversation. “Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes.”

The future of warfare could be a lot more grisly than Ukraine
By Steven Zeitchik

Autonomous weapons — the catchall description for algorithms that help decide where and when a weapon should fire — are among the most fraught areas of modern warfare, making the human-commandeered drone strike of recent decades look as quaint as a bayonet.

Proponents argue that they are nothing less than a godsend, improving precision and removing human mistakes and even the fog of war itself.

The weapons’ critics — and there are many — see disaster. They note a dehumanization that opens up battles to all sorts of machine-led errors, which a ruthless digital efficiency then makes more apocalyptic. While there are no signs such “slaughterbots” have been deployed in Ukraine, critics say the activities playing out there hint at grimmer battlefields ahead.

While they differ in their specifics, all fully autonomous weapons share one idea: that artificial intelligence can dictate firing decisions better than people. By being trained on thousands of battles and then having its parameters adjusted to a specific conflict, the AI can be onboarded to a traditional weapon, then seek out enemy combatants and surgically drop bombs, fire guns or otherwise decimate enemies without a shred of human input.

Advocates worry that as Russia shows it is apparently willing to use other controversial weapons in Ukraine like cluster bombs, fully autonomous weapons won’t be far behind. (Russia — and for that matter the United States and Ukraine — did not sign on to the 2008 cluster-bomb treaty that more than 100 other countries agreed to.)

“Any effort to ban these things is futile — they convey too much of an advantage for states to agree to that,” said C. Anthony Pfaff, a retired Army colonel and former military adviser to the State Department and now a professor at U.S. Army War College.

Military strategists describe a battle scenario in which a U.S. autonomous weapon knocks down a door in a far-off urban war to identify a compact, charged group of males coming at it with knives. Processing an obvious threat, it takes aim.

It does not know that the war is in Indonesia, where males of all ages wear knives around their necks; that these are not short men but 10-year-old boys; that their emotion is not anger but laughter and playing. An AI cannot, no matter how fast its microprocessor, infer intent.

As A.I.-Controlled Killer Drones Become Reality, Nations Debate Limits
By Eric Lipton

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks announced this summer that the U.S. military would “field attritable, autonomous systems at scale of multiple thousands” in the coming two years, saying that the push to compete with China’s own investment in advanced weapons necessitated that the United States “leverage platforms that are small, smart, cheap and many.”

The concept of an autonomous weapon is not entirely new. Land mines — which detonate automatically — have been used since the Civil War. The United States has missile systems that rely on radar sensors to autonomously lock on to and hit targets.

What is changing is the introduction of artificial intelligence that could give weapons systems the capability to make decisions themselves after taking in and processing information.

A.I. and the Next Generation of Drone Warfare
By Sue Halpern

“In my entire career, the military strategy has been to build these exquisite and expensive systems, which are incredibly effective,” Chris Gentile, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is now the vice-president of EpiSci, a defense contractor that develops autonomous systems, told me. “I flew stealth fighters in the Air Force. I flew the F-22. It’s an amazing airplane, but we only bought a hundred eighty-seven of them.” (Just last week, the Times reported on the Navy’s continued investment in large, lumbering warships that tend to become outdated before they’re even built.) “When we look to the future, we just think that this economic model doesn’t work—so we’re going to increase the mass, just the number of physical things, that we’re able to bring into the theatre.”

As Russia rolled out missile systems intended to bring down expensive Western planes and munitions, Ukraine launched much cheaper unmanned aerial vehicles, controlled by human operators, to take them out. The drones gave the Ukrainians a tactical advantage while also enabling them to spend less to do more. “You’re shooting a quarter-million-dollar missile at a forty-thousand-dollar drone,” Gentile said. “The objective here is to win the cost battle—to make sure that, at a resource level and a money level, you’re coming out positive on the trade.” Individual Ukrainian hobbyists have also been steering small quadcopters, some with wingspans no larger than twelve centimetres, to crash into and destroy Russian weapons. By one estimate, Ukraine is losing ten thousand drones per month while still being able to prosecute the war—a real-time demonstration of attritable technology.

Cult of the drone: At the two-year mark, UAVs have changed the face of war in Ukraine – but not outcomes
By Paul Lushenko

Drones have had the biggest impact at the tactical level of war, which characterizes battles between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

Famously, Ukraine’s Aerorozvidka Air Reconnaissance Unit used drones to interdict and block a massive Russian convoy traveling from Chernobyl to Kyiv a month after Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine. It did so by destroying slow-moving vehicles that stretched nearly 50 miles, causing Russia to abandon its advance.

Both militaries have also adopted low-tier “first-person-view” drones, such as the U.S.-manufactured Switchblade or Russia’s Lancet, to attack tanks, armored personnel carriers and soldiers. Russian and Ukrainian forces are increasingly using these first-person–view drones, combined with other low-tier drones used for reconnaissance and targeting, to suppress opposing forces. Suppression – temporarily preventing an opposing force or weapon from carrying out its mission – is a role normally reserved for artillery. For example, suppressive fire can force ground troops to shelter in trenches or bunkers and prevent them from advancing across open ground.

These gains have led Russia and Ukraine to develop ways of countering each other’s drones. For example, Russia has capitalized on its advanced electronic warfare capabilities to effectively jam the digital link between Ukrainian operators and their drones. It also spoofs this link by creating a false signal that disorients Ukrainian drones, causing them to crash.

As a result, Ukrainian drone operators are experimenting with ways to overcome jamming and spoofing.

The Perilous Coming Age of AI Warfare
By Paul Scharre

Last year, the Ukrainian drone company Saker claimed it had fielded a fully autonomous weapon, the Saker Scout, which uses artificial intelligence to make its own decisions about who to kill on the battlefield. The drone, Saker officials declared, had carried out autonomous attacks on a small scale. Although this has not been independently verified, the technology necessary to create such a weapon certainly exists. It is a small technical step—but a consequential moral, legal, and ethical one—to then produce fully autonomous weapons that are capable of searching out and selecting targets on their own.

The deployment of Saker’s drone shows that the window to regulate autonomous weapons is closing fast.

Militaries have used partially autonomous weapons in limited, defensive circumstances since the 1980s. Today, at least 30 countries operate air and missile defense systems, or antirocket protection systems for ground vehicles, that have autonomous modes. Once activated, these defensive systems can automatically sense incoming rockets, artillery, mortars, missiles, or aircraft and intercept them. But humans supervise their operation and can intervene if something goes wrong.

In Ukraine, Moscow and Kyiv have used small aerial drones to target personnel and attack vehicles. Larger, medium-altitude drones have been used to reach deeper behind enemy lines to target radars and installations. Ukraine has even used drone boats to attack the Russian Black Sea Fleet. All these drones, which are currently remotely controlled, could be upgraded to become autonomous, allowing continued operation if the communications link were jammed.

The changes will likely not stop there. Swarms of drones could autonomously coordinate their behavior, reacting to changes on the battlefield at a speed beyond human capabilities. Autonomous reactions at machine speed could drive a faster tempo of operations, accelerating the pace of battle. This in turn could create even more pressure to eliminate humans from decision cycles. The consequences of this shift to a new era of machine-driven warfare will be profound.

Although autonomous weapons could conceivably reduce civilian casualties by precisely targeting combatants, in the hands of a state that cares little about civilian casualties—or wants to punish a civilian population—they could be used to commit devastating atrocities. Massive hordes of autonomous weapons could be deployed to target and kill thousands at a time, making today’s smart bombs seem clumsy by comparison.

One of the most extreme risks comes from integrating AI and autonomy into nuclear weapons. In 2022, the United States declared that it would always retain a “human ‘in the loop’” for decisions to use nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom adopted a similar policy in 2022. Yet Russia and China have not. Human control over nuclear weapons seems like an easy starting point for international agreement, but Moscow has shown a disturbing willingness to integrate risky automation into its nuclear operations. This is nothing new: after the Cold War ended, former Soviet officials explained that the Soviet Union had built a semiautomated retaliatory nuclear strike system called “Perimeter.” Once activated, it would use a series of automated sensors to detect a nuclear attack on Soviet soil. If one was detected and there was no response from the country’s leaders—presumably because they had been killed in the attack—the system would automatically transfer nuclear launch authority to a relatively junior officer in a secure bunker. Russian officials stated in 2018 that the system is still operational and has even been upgraded. More recently, Moscow has begun to develop a nuclear-armed autonomous underwater drone. Nuclear-armed drones at sea or in the air could be sent on patrol, risking accidents or losing control of a nuclear weapon.

Widely deployed autonomous weapons integrated with other aspects of military AI could result in a new era of machine-driven warfare. Military AI applications can accelerate information processing and decision-making. Decision cycles will shorten as countries adopt AI and automation to reduce the time to find, identify, and strike enemy targets. In theory, this could allow for more time for humans to make thoughtful, deliberate decisions. In practice, competitors will feel forced to respond in kind, using automation to speed up their own operations to keep pace. The result will be an escalating spiral of greater automation and less human control.

The end state of this competition will likely be war executed at machine speed and beyond human control.

Machines would not only select individual targets but also plan and execute whole campaigns. The role of humans would be reduced to switching on the machines and sitting on the sidelines, with little ability to control or even end wars.

As countries field more drones in the air and at sea—and as these drones become increasingly autonomous—the chance that an accident or miscalculation could trigger an international incident becomes more likely. In 2019, for example, Iranian air defenses shot down a U.S. Global Hawk drone over the Strait of Hormuz. In March 2023, a Russian fighter jet interfered with a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone in the Black Sea, causing the drone to crash. Because these drones were controlled remotely, a human decided how to respond. But future air and sea drones could be autonomous. This would mean that if similar situations were to occur, the drone would autonomously take the actions it had been programmed to do. If it had been programmed to fire back, it would do so, potentially escalating an international incident without any deliberate human decision to do so.

World War Three, by Mistake
By Eric Schlosser

President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched.

Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at NORAD headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.

A similar false alarm had occurred the previous year, when someone mistakenly inserted a training tape, featuring a highly realistic simulation of an all-out Soviet attack, into one of NORAD’s computers. During the Cold War, false alarms were also triggered by the moon rising over Norway, the launch of a weather rocket from Norway, a solar storm, sunlight reflecting off high-altitude clouds, and a faulty A.T. & T. telephone switch in Black Forest, Colorado.

The 3 A.M. Phone Call
By The National Security Archive

When Harold Brown explained to President Carter what had happened and what was being done to fix the system, he cautioned that “we must be prepared for the possibility that another, unrelated malfunction may someday generate another false alert.” This meant that “we must continue to place our confidence in the human element of our missile attack warning system.” Brown, however, did not address a problem raised by journalists who asked Pentagon officials, if another false alert occurred, whether a “chain reaction” could be triggered when “duty officers in the Soviet Union read data on the American alert coming into their warning systems.” A nameless U.S. defense official would give no assurances that a “chain reaction” would not occur, noting that “I hope they have as secure a system as we do, that they have the safeguards we do.”

How good the safeguards actually were remains an open question. While Secretary of Defense Brown acknowledged the “possibility” of future false alerts, he insisted on the importance of human safeguards in preventing catastrophes. Stanford University professor Scott Sagan’s argument about “organizational failure” is critical of that optimism on several counts. For example, under some circumstances false alerts could have had more perilous outcomes, e.g. if Soviet missile tests had occurred at the same time or if there were serious political tensions with Moscow, defense officials might have been jumpier and launched bomber aircraft or worse. Further, false warnings were symptomatic of “more serious problems with the way portions of the command system had been designed.” Yet, defense officials have been reluctant to acknowledge organizational failings, instead blaming mistakes on 46¢ chips or individuals inserting the wrong tape. Treating the events of 1979 and 1980 as “normal accidents” in complex systems, Sagan observes that defense officials are reluctant to learn from mistakes and have persuaded themselves that the system is “foolproof.”…

There’s Nothing Between an Unstable President and the Nuclear Button
By Adam Mount

The sole restriction on the president’s authority to order a nuclear attack is that members of the armed forces are obligated to refuse to carry out an order that violates the law of war. Among other things, officers must decline to conduct a nuclear strike that is not necessary to defeat an enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible or that would cause damage to civilians that is indiscriminate, inhumane, or disproportionate to the military objective.

In practice, a coalition of officers or civilian officials could probably short-circuit the command and control process to obstruct an egregious order, but the system should not depend on insubordination.

Nuclear ‘Command And Control’: A History Of False Alarms And Near Catastrophes

DAVIES: Now, the people who run the military have no interest in an accidental nuclear explosion or seeing their weapons stolen or commandeered by some, you know, mentally-deranged commander. Why would they resist adding safety features, which only make weapons more secure?

SCHLOSSER: Well, at the heart of controlling nuclear weapons, there is this tension. On the one hand, the military wants the weapons always available for immediate use. And they always want the weapons to detonate when they’re supposed to over an enemy target. So the military pushes for always. But the other side of the equation is never. You never want a weapon to detonate by accident. You never want it to be used by someone without permission. You never want it to be easily sabotaged. And when you’re designing weapons, the kinds of things that you might do to encourage and promote always, might be exactly the opposite of what you need to ensure never. So very often, the civilians were airing on the side of never and the military was airing – wanted to air on the side of always.

DAVIES: When you got records about these nuclear accidents and near misses and you showed them – I assume you showed them to the folks that you interviewed who had been, you know, active in seeking steps to make them safer, like this guy Bob Peurifoy. Were they surprised at what you found?

SCHLOSSER: I show one document, in particular, that was about 250 pages long that had detailed stories of problems with our nuclear weapons. And Bob Peurifoy was vice president of the Sandia National Laboratory. And his – one of his responsibilities was nuclear safety, and he had never seen this document. And it contained many incidents that he had never been told about. So it’s disturbing when one of the top nuclear weapon designers responsible for the safety of the weapons isn’t being told about problems with the weapons. There was so much secrecy during Cold War, and often this form of compartmentalized secrecy in which one group wasn’t allowed to know what the other group was doing – that it actually made things more dangerous, not safer.

DAVIES: Do you know whether mishaps with American nuclear weapons are less common today than they were, I mean, proportionally, you know, in the ’70s and ’80s?

SCHLOSSER: To my knowledge, there has not been an American major nuclear weapon accidents since the Damascus accident that’s the focus of my book. However, in 2007 there was a very, very serious incident involving half a dozen nuclear cruise missiles of ours. They were accidentally loaded onto a B-52 bomber. The ground crew had no idea that there were nuclear warheads on the cruise missiles when they put them on the plane. The pilot of the B-52 didn’t realize that her plane had nuclear weapons on board. The plane flew across the United States and we have had rules in place since 1968 that nuclear weapons are not supposed to be flown over the continental United States because of the risk of accidents. And then the bomber was parked on a runway at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana for hours without anyone realizing that nuclear weapons were on board. So for a day and a half, the Air Force effectively didn’t know that half a dozen nuclear weapons were missing. And that’s a very, very serious incident. You know, you can do a perfect job of maintaining control of 1,999 nuclear weapons, but if you lose one, that’s a big problem.

Eric Schlosser: ‘The people who are most anti-nuclear are the ones who know most about it’
By Ed Pilkington

The way Schlosser explains it to me is that “our ability to create dangerous things exceeds our ability to control them. We are talking about hubris – our lack of understanding of our own flaws and lack of humility in the way we approach technology.”

“The nuclear command and control system was so huge and complex it was almost impossible for one man to fully comprehend. Henry Kissinger’s career was founded on his knowledge of nuclear weapons, yet, when he got into the White House and saw the war plan for the first time, he was astounded. That happens again and again: we’re brilliant at devising solutions to very immediate problems, but awful at seeing the consequences of those actions.”

The Dustbin of History: Mutual Assured Destruction
By Robert Jervis

It is a clue to the eventual demise of mutual assured destruction (MAD) that the term was coined by a critic who sought to highlight how ludicrous the concept was. In the 1960s, Donald Brennan — an analyst at the conservative Hudson Institute, who was making the case for ballistic missile defense — used the acronym MAD to ridicule the idea that in a nuclear war, or even a large conventional conflict, each side should be prepared to destroy the other’s cities and society. Of course, this objective was not sensible, but MAD proponents argued that was the point: The outcome would be so dreadful that both sides would be deterred from starting a nuclear war or even taking actions that might lead to it.

The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and its African adventures revealed that MAD could not protect all U.S. interests. In response, U.S. leaders talked about the significance of nuclear superiority and about the possibility of surviving a nuclear war. Most dramatically, President Ronald Reagan called for missile defense, declaring in 1983 that “to look down to an endless future with both of us sitting here with these horrible missiles aimed at each other and the only thing preventing a holocaust is just so long as no one pulls this trigger — this is unthinkable.”

In certain scenarios, deterrence still works to some degree. For instance, it would be suicidal for Pakistan to attack India with nuclear weapons. Even if Pakistan were able to destroy India’s nuclear stockpile, India’s armed forces could still dismember Pakistan. However, a nuclear war could begin if the Indian government launched a large military incursion aimed at destroying terrorist camps or punishing Pakistan for supporting these groups. The Pakistanis might decide, in turn, to use nuclear weapons on their own soil against invading forces. Indian officials have said that they would respond with nuclear weapons, but this threat might not be sufficiently credible to deter Pakistan in what would be a desperate situation. MAD may then be in the dustbin of history, but states that employ nuclear weapons or force their adversaries to do so may find themselves there as well.

Nuclear War: The Rising Risk, and How We Stop It
By W.J. Hennigan

IF IT SEEMS ALARMIST to anticipate the horrifying aftermath of a nuclear attack, consider this: The United States and Ukraine governments have been planning for this scenario for at least two years.

In the fall of 2022, a U.S. intelligence assessment put the odds at 50-50 that Russia would launch a nuclear strike to halt Ukrainian forces if they breached its defense of Crimea. Preparing for the worst, American officials rushed supplies to Europe. Ukraine has set up hundreds of radiation detectors around cities and power plants, along with more than 1,000 smaller hand-held monitors sent by the United States.

Nearly 200 hospitals in Ukraine have been identified as go-to facilities in the event of a nuclear attack. Thousands of doctors, nurses and other workers have been trained on how to respond and treat radiation exposure. And millions of potassium iodide tablets, which protect the thyroid from picking up radioactive material linked with cancer, are stockpiled around the country.

But well before that — just four days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, in fact — the Biden administration had directed a small group of experts and strategists, a “Tiger Team,” to devise a new nuclear “playbook” of contingency plans and responses. Pulling in experts from the intelligence, military and policy fields, they pored over years-old emergency preparedness plans, weapon-effects modeling and escalation scenarios, dusting off materials that in the age of counterterrorism and cyberwarfare were long believed to have faded into irrelevance.

The playbook, which was coordinated by the National Security Council, now sits in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the West Wing of the White House. It has a newly updated, detailed menu of diplomatic and military options for President Biden — and any future president — to act upon if a nuclear attack occurs in Ukraine.

At the heart of all of this work is a chilling conclusion: The possibility of a nuclear strike, once inconceivable in modern conflict, is more likely now than at any other time since the Cold War. “We’ve had 30 pretty successful years keeping the genie in the bottle,” a senior administration official on the Tiger Team said. While both America and Russia have hugely reduced their nuclear arsenals since the height of the Cold War, the official said, “Right now is when nuclear risk is most at the forefront.”

The danger of nuclear use in Ukraine fluctuates. It waned after Ukraine’s drive to recapture territory and sever Russia’s supply lines to Crimea was stopped short. But if the momentum swings back in Ukraine’s favor, or if Mr. Putin feels threatened by increased Western intervention, it could rise again. A U.S. intelligence report declassified late last year estimated Russia had lost around 315,000 troops to death or injury in Ukraine since 2022. That’s nearly 90 percent of its prewar force, along with at least 20 warships, thousands of battle tanks and heavy weapons — all major losses that could create more dependency on its tactical nuclear arsenal.

A tit-for-tat escalation, once touched off, is difficult to stop. If the end result was a thermonuclear exchange between nuclear powers, like the U.S. and Russia, the impact on humanity would be swift and long-lasting.

Even a limited nuclear war could be catastrophic. A 2022 scientific study found that if 100 Hiroshima-size bombs — less than 1 percent of the estimated global nuclear arsenal — were detonated in certain cities, they could generate more than five million tons of airborne soot, darkening the skies, lowering global temperatures and creating the largest worldwide famine in history.

An estimated 27 million people could immediately die, and as many as 255 million people may starve within two years.

Biden’s Armageddon Moment: When Nuclear Detonation Seemed Possible in Ukraine
By David E. Sanger

The wargaming at the Pentagon and at think tanks around Washington imagined that Mr. Putin’s use of a tactical weapon — perhaps followed by a threat to detonate more — could come in a variety of circumstances. One simulation envisioned a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive that imperiled Mr. Putin’s hold on Crimea. Another involved a demand from Moscow that the West halt all military support for the Ukrainians: no more tanks, no more missiles, no more ammunition. The aim would be to split NATO; in the tabletop simulation I was permitted to observe, the detonation served that purpose.

Ukraine Can’t Win the War
By Anatol Lieven

For Ukrainians to stand a chance, military history suggests that they would need a 3-to-2 advantage in manpower and considerably more firepower. Ukraine enjoyed these advantages in the first year of the war, but they now lie with Russia, and it is very difficult to see how Ukraine can recover them.

A successful peace process would undoubtedly involve some painful concessions by Ukraine and the West. Yet the pain would be more emotional than practical, and a peace settlement would have to involve Putin giving up the plan with which he began the war, to turn the whole of Ukraine into a Russian vassal state, and recognizing the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its de facto present borders.

To Seek Peace in Ukraine, Remember the End of the Cold War
By Anatol Lieven

When it comes to the genesis of the present war, it is important to remember that key aspects of the 1980s and ’90s have been largely obliterated from public awareness in the US and Europe by state propaganda and the mainstream media. If anyone had put forward a strategy back then that involved Ukraine joining NATO and the expulsion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol, even hawkish Western analysts would have regarded this as insanity and a sure path to war. The way in which the perception of this fantastically dangerous project shifted from insanity to normality—in Washington and London, but not of course in Moscow—is a frightening example of the breakdown of serious and independent strategic analysis in the West, one stemming in part from the decline in even medium-term historical memory.

Another important point concerns the classification of Russia as a “revisionist” and “anti–status quo” power, which has been used to portray it as a mortal threat to the whole of NATO and the EU, rather than as a country mainly reacting to moves by the West. For while the Russian invasion of Ukraine was without doubt an illegal and immoral act of aggression, in terms of wider strategy it is the United States and its European satellites that over the past 30 years have created a wholly new status quo in Europe, and sought to do so in the former Soviet Union. Gorbachev himself, it may be noted, later became a bitter critic of US policy and especially the expansion of NATO, which he regarded as a betrayal of the reconciliation between Moscow and Washington and the dream of a “Common European Home” to which he was devoted.

An honest accounting with history in both Russia and the United States is essential if we are to bring about a lasting peace in Ukraine and escape from the past generation’s spiral of hostility, which could in the worst case become a death spiral for the whole of humanity. Russians need to understand how the imperial and Soviet past, and Stalin’s crimes in particular (together with the more repellent aspects of the Putin regime), have made so many of Russia’s neighbors fearful of any regime based in Moscow, and that the hostility of these countries is not just due to manipulation by Washington. Americans need to acknowledge the crimes committed by the United States during (and after) the Cold War, which make it impossible for most Russians and many people around the world to accept America’s right to lecture them on morality, let alone to dictate their own security policies.

It is not as if there would be anything intellectually difficult about such an American understanding of Russia, as there is (for example) when it comes to understanding what drives a culturally conservative force like the Taliban; indeed, the hard-realist, great-power premises on which the Russian establishment operates are very close to those of a large part of America’s own security establishment.

Thus, while we cannot say for certain that any future Chinese attempt to create a military alliance in Central America will lead to invasion and conquest by the United States, we can say for certain that it will lead to massive US support for coups, military dictatorships, and the savage repression of dissent, and that these policies will continue until the danger of such an alliance has been eliminated. We know this for certain because this is how America has repeatedly acted in the past.

Any Chinese government contemplating such a move would have to be fully aware of these consequences, and also of the complete and very dangerous collapse of relations between Beijing and Washington. Any Mexican government would have to be aware that whatever its historical grievances against the United States, and whatever its undoubted rights under international law, a Mexico in a state of deep and permanent enmity with the United States could never be truly secure. The same is true of Ukraine and Russia, and this recognition is an essential foundation of the search for a lasting and reasonably just peace in Ukraine.

The Less Said About NATO and Ukraine, the Better
By Stephen Sestanovich

The countries that created NATO at the start of the Cold War expected to admit new members over time, and doing so has served the alliance well. The addition of Germany, Greece, and Turkey in the 1950s and Spain in the 1980s made NATO stronger. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the prospect of EU and NATO membership offered eastern European governments an extra incentive to create Western-style institutions.

Even so, the case for keeping the door to membership open to everyone for all time—just because that approach worked well in the past—is unlikely to persuade those who believe peace now hangs in the balance. The alliance, after all, made a famous exception to the policy once before, because it believed that doing so would strengthen European security. In 1955, the victorious powers of World War II—France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—signed a treaty guaranteeing Austria’s permanent neutrality. Today, those who want to keep Ukraine out of NATO are asking, Why, if this agreement showed creative Cold War statesmanship in 1955, is something like it out of bounds in 2022?

How to Pave the Way for Diplomacy to End the War in Ukraine
By Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro

In the middle of a war, it is hard to know whether an adversary is genuinely ready to end the fighting or cynically talks of peace only to further the aims of war. The challenge of discerning an adversary’s intentions is nearly impossible in the absence of dialogue. Therefore, it is necessary to open channels of communication so as to be in a position to take advantage of the opportunity to pursue peace when that opportunity comes.

It is time to begin to build those channels. For Ukraine and its Western partners, that means “talking about talking,” or making conflict diplomacy a key subject of bilateral and multilateral interactions. And all parties should signal their openness to eventual negotiations. This will require the warring parties and their allies to take unilateral steps that convey their intentions to the other side. Such signals might include changes in rhetoric, the appointment of special envoys for negotiations, self-imposed limitations on deep strikes, and prisoner-of-war swaps.

If neither side begins this process, the warring parties will likely remain stuck where they are today—fiercely battling over inches of territory, at a terrible cost to human life and regional stability, for years to come.

Mutual mistrust makes it hard to take the first step toward the negotiating table. The West sees Moscow as a font of propaganda and lies, so addicted to untruths that it lies even to itself. Nothing illustrates this phenomenon better than the official rhetoric in the run-up to the all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which numerous Russian representatives publicly and privately swore, and seemingly believed, would not happen. Moscow similarly sees the last 30 years as a series of broken Western promises. The prime example is the seemingly inexorable march of NATO enlargement, which numerous Western officials in the 1990s said, and seemingly believed, would not happen. Ukraine and Russia had a long history of mutual accusations of broken promises even before Moscow annexed Crimea and invaded the Donbas in 2014. After February 2022, trust became impossible.

Yet mutual mistrust between belligerents is a feature of every war, and thus of every negotiation that ended those wars. If trust were a prerequisite for communicating, belligerents would never start talking. The parties can and should begin talking despite their mutual mistrust.

The war in Ukraine holds two lessons: Russia isn’t an imminent threat, and Europe must rearm regardless
By Anatol Lieven

Two years into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, warnings of war between Russia and the west have reached fever pitch in Europe and Britain. The explicit intention of these warnings is to create public support for massive spending on rearmament, on the old principle of “scare the hell out of them”.

The goal of European rearmament is laudable; the arguments being used to bring it about are not. As long as the war in Ukraine continues, there is a real risk that Nato and Russia will stumble into war as the result of some unintended clash. But the chances that this will come about as the result of a premeditated Russian invasion of a Nato country are minimal.

For one, Russia has revealed itself to be a much weaker military power than was thought – and than Putin assumed – before the invasion. Since its defeats in 2022, the Russian army in Ukraine has recovered, and the balance of forces is swinging in its favour; all the same, the only Russian successes over the past year have been the capture of two small towns in the Donbas, and these advances have taken months and cost the Russians tens of thousands of casualties. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians have inflicted severe damage on the Russian Black Sea fleet.

Given this dismal record, why would any Russian planner expect victory in an offensive against Nato?

Remove the threat of a Russian invasion, and the real argument for European rearmament is almost the diametrical opposite: that it is necessary to make peace with Russia. For only a Europe confident of its ability to defend itself can break the circle – not only vicious but increasingly absurd – by which it is desperately afraid that the US will cease to guarantee its security, and therefore supports US policies that gravely damage its security.

If European countries were confident in their ability to defend themselves without the US, they – or at least the French and Germans – could have summoned up the will to block the US push for Nato expansion, and made a real effort to reach compromise with Russia over Ukraine.

It is true, as the proponents of rearmament say, that the world is a more dangerous place than Europeans over the past generation have imagined; and in a dangerous world countries and alliances need to be able to defend their interests. But these military advocates talk only about military defence; they miss or deliberately ignore the other essential need of nations living in a dangerous world: cool-headed, prudent, self-interested and realistic diplomacy. The two are absolutely interdependent. Without confidence in its ability to defend itself, a country or region will always be subservient to the wishes and interests of a military protector.

The Interview: Zbigniew Brzezinski
By Zachary Keck

you argue that in today’s world no one power will ever be capable of dominating Eurasia in the way Harold Mackinder famously envisioned. Taking that argument at its face, this represents a tectonic shift for U.S. foreign policy given that, long before Washington was able to meaningfully affect the balance of power in Eurasia, its leaders saw preventing a hegemon from dominating it as a key strategic necessity. If the U.S. no longer has to concern itself with safeguarding Mackinder’s “world-island” from a potential hegemon(s), what should be the main objective of U.S. engagement in Europe and Asia going forward?

The main objective of U.S. engagement in Europe and in Asia should be to support an equilibrium that discourages any one power from acting in an excessively assertive fashion towards its neighbors. In the foreseeable future, it is, in any case, unlikely that any single power will have the military superiority that would enable it to assert itself in a hegemonic fashion on as a diverse, complex, and complicated mega-continent such as Eurasia. Having a close relationship with Europe, though maintaining a complex partnership with China and an alliance with Japan, will provide the United States with sufficient foci for a strategic engagement designed to maintain a relatively stable even if delicate equilibrium on the so-called “world island.”

In the book you state that the U.S. should act as a neutral arbitrator between Asia’s major powers, with the possible exception of Japan. The Obama administration has usually heeded this advice but recently diverged from it by issuing a harsh statement about the South China Sea that singled out China. What do you see as the reasoning behind doing this and do you think it was a mistake?

I think the United States’ position on freedom of navigation is generally correct, but it has been pursued lately in a clumsy fashion. It is to be regretted that it was announced in the context of a so-called “strategic pivot,” implying in the process that it involves an augmentation of American military power in Asia as a necessary response to the newly emerging geopolitical realities in the Far East. In brief, it is not surprising that the Chinese understood it to mean that the United States is beginning to fashion a coalition against China, something which at this stage at least is premature and runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Monroe Doctrine just won’t die
By Stephen Kinzer

Musty old documents can shape and shatter worlds. Among the most potent is the Monroe Doctrine, which was proclaimed 200 years ago this month.

The policy was crafted as a direct warning to outside powers: Stay out of the Western Hemisphere. Today, however, we apply it far beyond our own hemisphere. Without explicitly saying so, the United States has sought to turn the Monroe Doctrine into a global principle. We not only assert our right to intervene in places like Africa and the Middle East but oppose other powers that do the same. Today we apply the Monroe Doctrine principle — you stay out, we’ll handle this — to much of the world.

Despite the doctrine’s name, it wasn’t President James Monroe’s idea. His secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, feared that European powers might seek to retake their newly independent colonies in Latin America. So he slipped a few lines into Monroe’s year-end address to Congress in 1823. Monroe declared that Latin American countries were “henceforth not to be considered as subjects for colonization by any European powers. . . . We would consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”

In 1904, however, President Theodore Roosevelt radically expanded the doctrine. He asserted the right of the United States to intervene in any Latin American country it judged guilty of “chronic wrongdoing,” even if it had nothing to do with outside intervention. In what became known as the Roosevelt Corollary, he declared: “Adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”

The Monroe Doctrine is a classic assertion of a great power’s sphere of influence — its determination to shape politics in nearby countries. Yet the United States has not recognized the right of other powers to behave similarly. We condemn Iran for sponsoring militias outside its borders and regularly denounce China for pressuring Pacific island nations. Many in Washington consider the Monroe Doctrine an eternally useful tool.

The Compulsive Empire
By Robert Jervis

Put simply, power is checked most effectively by counterbalancing power, and a state that is not subject to severe external pressures tends to feel few restraints at all. Spreading democracy and liberalism throughout the world has always been a U.S. goal, but having so much power makes this aim a more realistic one.

Great power also instills new fears in the dominant state. A hegemon tends to acquire an enormous stake in world order. As power expands, so does a state’s definition of its own interests. Most countries are concerned mainly with what happens in their immediate neighborhoods; but for a hegemon, the world is its neighborhood, and it is not only hubris that leads lone superpowers to be concerned with anything that happens anywhere. However secure states are, they can never feel secure enough. If they are powerful, governments will have compelling reasons to act early and thus prevent others from harming them in the future. The historian John S. Galbraith identified the dynamic of the “turbulent frontier” that produced unintended colonial expansions. For instance, as European powers gained enclaves in Africa in the late 19th century, usually along a coast or river, they also gained unpacified boundaries that needed policing. That led to further expansion of influence and often of settlement, in turn producing new zones of threat and new areas requiring protection. This process encounters few natural limits.

Don’t Let Great Powers Carve Up the World
By Hal Brands

Spheres of influence have been common throughout history, but Americans have never been quite comfortable with them. In fact, much of U.S. foreign policy dating back to independence has consisted of efforts to prevent rival powers from establishing such domains. In the nineteenth century, U.S. leaders rejected the idea that any European power should have a sphere of influence in North America or the Western Hemisphere at large. They maneuvered—often quite ruthlessly—to evict European powers from these areas. At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States took this regional policy global. The so-called Open Door policy aimed to dissuade foreign powers from carving up China, and later all of East Asia, into exclusive spheres. Washington joined World War I in part to prevent Germany from becoming the dominant European power. A generation later, the United States fought to deny Japan a sphere of influence in the Pacific and prevent Hitler from establishing primacy over the entire Old World. During and after World War II, Washington also engaged in quieter diplomatic and economic efforts to accelerate the dissolution of the British Empire.

Even during the Cold War, Americans never fully accepted Soviet control over eastern Europe. The Truman and Eisenhower administrations sought to roll back the Iron Curtain through ideological warfare and covert action; later administrations expanded trade and diplomatic ties with Warsaw Pact states as a subtler way of undermining Kremlin control. The Reagan administration overtly and covertly supported political movements that were challenging the Kremlin’s authority from within. And when Washington had a chance to peacefully destroy the Soviet sphere of influence after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it did, supporting German unification and the expansion of NATO.

Opposition to spheres of influence, in other words, is a part of U.S. diplomatic DNA.

Of course, that intellectual tradition did not stop the United States from building its own sphere of influence in Latin America from the early nineteenth century onward, nor did it prevent it from drawing large chunks of Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East into a global sphere of influence after World War II. Yet the same tradition has led the United States to run its sphere of influence far more progressively than past great powers, which is why far more countries have sought to join that sphere than to leave it. And since hypocrisy is another venerable tradition in global affairs, it is not surprising that Americans would establish their own, relatively enlightened sphere of influence while denying the legitimacy of everyone else’s.

The idea that spheres of influence are a formula for peace rests on assumptions that often go unexamined: that revisionist powers are driven primarily by insecurity, that their grievances are limited and can be easily satisfied, that the truly vital interests of competing powers do not conflict, and that creative statecraft can therefore fashion an enduring, mutually acceptable equilibrium. The trouble is that these premises don’t always hold. Ideology and the quest for greatness—not simply insecurity—often drive great powers. Rising states are continually tempted to renegotiate previous bargains once they have the power to do so. Offering concessions to a revisionist state may simply convince it that the existing order is fragile and can be tested further. Conceding a sphere of influence to a great-power challenger might not produce stability but simply give that challenger a better position from which to realize its ambitions.

Russia is a formidable player because of its willingness to take risks and pursue asymmetric strategies; but Moscow will not rebuild a meaningful sphere of influence so long as the United States opposes that ambition. In Europe, Russia is still dramatically outmatched. Admittedly, on NATO’s eastern flank, geography and the local balance of power favor Moscow; but even there, the alliance has been strengthening its capabilities for several years. Studies by the RAND Corporation show that with the right troop deployments, NATO could establish a credible—and affordable—deterrent to Russian aggression without posing any offensive threat. Russia, meanwhile, has struggled even to pull Ukraine back into its orbit: although Russian-backed separatists are waging a bloody war in the eastern part of the country, and Moscow has annexed Crimea, western Ukraine has gravitated toward Europe and the United States since 2014. And although Russia can wield some influence in the Middle East, it can emerge as the region’s primary outside power only if the United States abandons its role there.

Why the Middle East Still Needs America
By Daniel Byman

Today, the United States has some 45,000 troops in the region, including around 2,500 troops in Iraq, 900 in Syria, and others stationed at bases in countries such as Bahrain, Djibouti, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. About 15,000 of these troops were deployed to the region as part of a temporary surge in the wake of October 7, before which the United States maintained around 30,000 troops. Although sizable, these forces are a fraction of the number the United States deployed in 2010, when it had over 100,000 troops in Iraq and around 70,000 in Afghanistan, as well as many more in neighboring countries. By 2015, these numbers had fallen, as the U.S. presence plunged in Iraq and decreased substantially in Afghanistan; the total fell further after the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A pessimistic view of the United States’ record and prospects in the region, however, misses important, if less dramatic, U.S. achievements in the Middle East. Although these outcomes are less visible and can be difficult to quantify, a strong U.S. military presence prevents a variety of actions by adversaries and allies that might make the region even less stable and generate more civil strife, nuclear proliferation, dangerous interventions, and other grave threats.

The United States has not brought peace to the region, turned dictatorships into democracies, or otherwise transformed a perennial trouble spot into a zone of peace; but the U.S. presence, on balance, has helped preserve the United States’ interests and those of its allies.

The most important consequences of the abiding U.S. presence in the Middle East are the dangerous events that do not happen because the United States is still there. Iran, for example, might attack shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, where about 20 percent of the world’s oil consumption transits, as a way to press Israel and the United States in a far more consequential version of what the Houthis are doing in the Bab el Mandeb. Such attacks could cause global oil prices to skyrocket, potentially plunging the world into recession. Currently, the likelihood that the United States would attack Iran and forcibly open the strait makes this prospect far too risky for Tehran—as Iran learned the hard way during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, when it tried to attack shipping and lost vessels and oil platforms to a U.S.-led military response. The Biden administration’s strikes on the Houthis make U.S. warnings regarding the Strait of Hormuz even more credible.

In the absence of U.S. forces, Tehran would be freer to foment regional instability or mount aggression toward rival states, such as by overthrowing the government of Bahrain and installing a pro-Iranian Shiite-led regime, as it has attempted to do in the past.

Allies, too, might respond to a U.S. abandonment of the region in dangerous and self-defeating ways. Without credible U.S. security assurances, Israel—now wounded and hypersensitive to any perceived threat—could persuade itself to not only attack Hezbollah but also launch a conventional assault on the Iranian nuclear program, likely prompting Iran and the militant groups it helms to respond with full force, including terrorist attacks. Other allies that currently fall under the U.S. security umbrella, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, might want to take security into their own hands—including by trying to build, or just buy, a nuclear weapon.

Israel’s foreign policy could well become even more a prisoner of its fractious domestic politics. Israeli leaders have long used U.S. pressure as an excuse for inaction on domestic and international fronts, telling right-wing constituents that they would attack Iran or annex the West Bank but for Washington’s objections; an excuse Israeli hardliners largely accepted given the importance of the U.S.-Israeli security relationship. Without this external pressure, Israeli leaders could cave to the influence of the rising far right and move to annex the West Bank, restore settlements in Gaza, or take other inflammatory steps that would worsen regional tension.

It is tempting to look at the U.S. role in the Middle East and see only failures, for there are many. Yet amid these failures are successes, big and small. Many of the most important accomplishments involve preventing disasters that, because of the U.S. presence, never occurred: vital achievements, but ones that are hard to boast about.

Two Iranian women, two very different views on how the West should deal with Iran
By Stephen Kinzer

To engage or not to engage: That is the diplomatic question. Today it shapes debate over American policy not only toward Iran but toward Russia, China, Syria, North Korea, and other real or perceived enemies. Do we isolate and seek to crush them or deal with them as they are and hope that diplomacy and commerce will slowly lead their leaders toward greater tolerance?

In societies ruled by repressive governments, like Iran, the most positive influence outside powers can have is to help build a middle class. A stable and ambitious middle class usually begins to press for political as well as economic freedom. Promoting a middle class was a main goal of the Marshall Plan, which helped stabilize Europe after World War II. More recently, middle classes contributed decisively to democratization of East Asian societies like South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The policy of promoting change this way, however, works slowly. Americans are often impatient and seek quick answers to geopolitical problems. This leads us to support sanctions and other coercive measures to punish countries whose leaders we dislike — even though in the case of Iran, 40 years of sanctions has produced no positive result.

The Age of Great-Power Distraction
By Michael Kimmage and Hanna Notte

Long a central arena for great-power competition, the Middle East may represent something new. The civil war in Syria, which began in 2011, was a harbinger. A single country became the site of multiple battlefields contested by myriad adversaries: Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists; Turkey and the Kurds; Israel and Iran; an autocrat—Bashar al-Assad—and his democratic antagonists; and Russia and the United States, whose militaries curiously cohabited the region, neither aligned nor at loggerheads. There is a risk that Israel’s new war with Hamas could expand into a similarly unwieldy conflagration, engulfing neighbors such as Lebanon and Syria.

There should be no nostalgia for past ages of great-power competition. They have never been orderly: great-power competition pushed Europe into the excesses of nineteenth-century imperialism and lured it into World War I, when a local disturbance triggered great-power competition. Adolf Hitler’s lust to see Germany as a great power led directly to World War II. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States competed so ferociously that they came to the brink of nuclear war.

But the current cocktail of competition and distraction poses a different problem, one the world is ill prepared to tackle. Tension now emanates from two separate and often overlapping sources: the collision of great powers’ ambitions in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia as well as the great powers’ paralysis and passivity outside of a few hot spots. And so a profusion of crises is emerging in which midsize powers, small powers, and even nonstate actors collide, and the great powers can neither deter nor contain them.

Great-power distraction invites considerable long-term risk. It invites revisionism and aggressive risk-taking by other actors. Azerbaijan is anything but a superpower: its population is some ten million people. And yet it has been able to act with impunity in Nagorno-Karabakh. Hamas is not a state at all, but it was emboldened to attack a country with world-class military and international partners, the United States among them.

As tensions in the Middle East boil over, great-power competition—classically understood—cannot be the world’s sole focal point and means of analysis.

The Downside of Imperial Collapse
By Robert D. Kaplan

Wars are historical hinges. And misbegotten wars, when serving as culmination points of more general national decline, can be fatal. This is particularly true for empires. The Habsburg empire, which ruled over central Europe for hundreds of years, might have lingered despite decades of decay were it not for its defeat in World War I. The same is true of the Ottoman Empire, which since the mid-nineteenth century was referred to as “the sick man of Europe.” As it happened, the Ottoman Empire, like the Habsburg one, might have struggled on for decades, and even re-formed, were it not for also being on the losing side in World War I.

But the aftershocks of such imperial comeuppance should never be underestimated or celebrated. Empires form out of chaos, and imperial collapse often leaves chaos in its wake. The more monoethnic states that arose from the ashes of the multiethnic Habsburg and Ottoman empires often proved to be radical and unstable. This is because ethnic and sectarian groups and their particular grievances, which had been assuaged under common imperial umbrellas, were suddenly on their own and pitted against one another. Nazism, and fascism in general, influenced murderous states and factions in the post-Habsburg and post-Ottoman Balkans, as well as Arab intellectuals studying in Europe who brought these ideas back to their newly independent postcolonial homelands, where they helped shape the disastrous ideology of Baathism. Winston Churchill speculated at the end of World War II that had the imperial monarchies in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere not been swept away at the peace table in Versailles, “there would have been no Hitler.”

The twentieth century was largely shaped by the collapse of dynastic empires in the early decades and by consequent war and geopolitical upheaval in the later decades. Empire is much disparaged by intellectuals, yet imperial decline can bring on even greater problems. The Middle East, for example, has still not found an adequate solution to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, as evidenced by its bloody vicissitudes over the past hundred years.

No great power lasts forever. But perhaps the most impressive example of endurance is the Byzantine Empire, which lasted from AD 330 to the conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, only to recover and survive until a final Ottoman victory in 1453. This is doubly impressive when one considers that Byzantium had a more difficult geography and stronger enemies, and consequently greater vulnerabilities, than Rome did in the West. The historian Edward Luttwak has argued that Byzantium “relied less on military strength and more on all forms of persuasion—to recruit allies, dissuade enemies, and induce potential enemies to attack one another.” Moreover, when they did fight, Luttwak notes, “the Byzantines were less inclined to destroy enemies than to contain them, both to conserve their strength and because they knew that today’s enemy could be tomorrow’s ally.”

In other words, it is not just a matter of avoiding major war whenever possible but also a matter of not being overtly ideological, so as to be able to consider today’s enemy tomorrow’s friend, even if it has a political system different from one’s own.

Zbigniew Brzezinski on ISIS, Ukraine, and the future of American power
By Benjamin Landy

MSNBC: You’ve been a part of the foreign policy establishment for well over half a century. President Obama recently said that “if you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart.” But, he said, “the world’s always been messy … we’re just noticing now in part because of social media.” Setting aside the optics of that statement, do you think there’s some truth to that? That today’s challenges are “not something that is comparable to the challenges we faced during the Cold War”? In other words, is the world a safer place today, despite the horrible foreign policy setbacks the U.S. has experience this summer?

Brzezinski: Let me answer the question this way. During the Cold War, we were always faced with the risk of a nuclear war. A nuclear war would produce momentous casualties almost instantly. For example, if there were a collision between America and the Soviet Union, within 24 hours more than 80 million people worldwide, and particularly in our respective societies, would be dead.

This is not what we’re facing. But we are facing a kind of dynamically spreading chaos in parts of the world. Now in the Middle East, but that could spread to other portions of West Asia, to Central Asia, even into Russia, perhaps even into China. It could spread and is spreading somewhat into Africa, and so forth. And then we have this residual, late-Cold War — or Cold War revived — conflict with Russia, not directly by military force, but clearly overly the stability and security and freedom of Ukraine.

MSNBC: Are those different events the result in some way of the U.S. not exerting its leadership? Is there some way we can solve those problems or are they outside our sphere of influence?

Brzezinski: Well maybe alternatively, we exerted too much leadership. I was against the war in which the United States attacked Iraq in 2003. I thought it was fraudulent and it has produced a mess in Iraq, which continues to perplex and engage us. When we first went into Afghanistan after the al-Qaida attacks of 9/11, I told the secretary of defense myself that I fully supported the decision to go in and overthrow the Taliban and see if we can destroy al-Qaida. I did not feel we should stay there in order to promote democracy because I thought this would engage us in a prolonged and eventually self-destructive conflict.

I think we made some errors. We were on top of the world by the beginning of this century. I think our position has dramatically declined. We’re still the strongest, but we’re not necessarily the most respected or the most legitimate leader as the United States historically was prior to the beginning of this century.

MSNBC: How can the U.S. regain that stature and position? Is that possible?

Brzezinski: Well to some extent it’s impossible because power is more decentralized now — China is certainly a more serious player, for example. But I think it can be regained to some extent by being steadfast, by being true to our principles, and by being cool-headed in what we do. In other words, don’t lapse into total self-isolationism — in effect, defeatism — but don’t become over-engaged militarily. Be very selective about how you do it, with whom you do it, and arrange for the heavy lifting to be done by the parties most directly concerned and most directly affected by the conflict.

The End of Grand Strategy
By Daniel W. Drezner, Ronald R. Krebs, and Randall Schweller

A grand strategy is a road map for how to match means with ends. It works best on predictable terrain—in a world where policymakers enjoy a clear understanding of the distribution of power, a solid domestic consensus about national goals and identity, and stable political and national security institutions.

The ability of states to exercise power, the way they exercise power, the purposes to which they put power, and who holds power—all have fundamentally changed. The result is an emerging world of nonpolarity and disorder.

Military power rarely achieves national goals or fixes problems anymore; interventions usually only make bad situations worse. The yawning outcome gap between the first and the second Gulf wars makes this plain.

International relations will no longer be dominated by one, two, or even several great powers. Because economic and military power no longer yield influence as reliably as they once did, the top dogs have lost their bite. The weak and the mighty suffer the same paralysis and enjoy the same freedom of action. Moreover, new actors, from local militias to nongovernmental organizations to large corporations, each possessing and exerting various kinds of power, increasingly compete with states. Relatively few states represented in the UN can claim a monopoly on force within their territorial borders. Violent nonstate actors are no longer minor players. Ethnic groups, warlords, youth gangs, terrorists, militias, insurgents, and transnational criminal organizations—all are redefining power across the globe.

These changes in power are producing a world marked by entropy. A world populated by dozens of power centers will prove extremely difficult to navigate and control. In the new global disorder, even countries with massive economies and militaries may not be able to get others to do what they want. It is essentially impossible for modern states, no matter how militarily and politically powerful, to influence violent groups that prosper in ungoverned spaces or online. Not only do such actors offer no clear target to threaten or destroy, but many are also motivated by nonnegotiable concerns, such as the establishment of a caliphate or their own separate state. Worse still, violence is for many a source of social cohesion.

With traditional power no longer buying the influence it once did, global order and cooperation will be in short supply. International relations will increasingly consist of messy ad hoc arrangements. The danger comes not from fire—shooting wars among the great powers or heated confrontations over human rights, intellectual property, or currency manipulation. The danger comes instead from ice—frozen conflicts over geopolitical, monetary, trade, or environmental issues. Given the immense costs of warfare, great powers that cannot resolve their disputes at the negotiating table no longer have the option—at least if they are rational—of settling them on the battlefield.

Grand strategy is not well suited to an entropic world. Grand strategic thinking is linear. The world today is one of interaction and complexity, wherein the most direct path between two points is not a straight line. A disordered, cluttered, and fluid realm is precisely one that does not recognize grand strategy’s supposed virtue: a practical, durable, and consistent plan for the long term. To operate successfully in such an environment, actors must constantly change their strategies.

Highly uncertain conditions call for decentralized but mutually coordinated decision-making networks. The corporate sector has learned that managers must avoid the temptation to control every decision and instead figure out how to steer innovation, by shaping the environment within which choices emerge. Smart corporations decentralize authority and responsibility, encourage employees to address problems through teamwork, and take an informal approach to assigning tasks and responsibilities. Governments should organize their foreign policy machinery in the same way. Appreciating regional knowledge and trusting expert feedback is a better way to handle trouble spots and emergent problems and to defuse crises before they metastasize.

By David Von Drehle

Robert S. McNamara says his memoir, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,” was intended to heal the still-sore wounds of that war. But it hasn’t worked out that way. So far, the book has drawn mostly scorn and rage and vilification.

It’s called the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences: An enterprise launched toward one goal ends up at another destination altogether.

At 78, McNamara pauses during an interview in his comfortable downtown office and thinks back across the expanse of his remarkable life to his earliest memory. “It is of a city exploding with joy,” he says in a gravelly tenor. “The date was November 11, 1918, Armistice Day. I was 2 years old. The city was San Francisco. They were celebrating not just the end of World War I; they were celebrating the belief that we’d won a war to end all wars.

“And yet,” he continues, as his voice grows somber, “this century has been the bloodiest in all of human history. We human beings have killed roughly 160 million people.” He shakes his head at the thought of it: a whole century gone awry.

About 3 million people died in Vietnam, which was the third American war after the war to end all wars. Vietnam, which was widely known as “McNamara’s War.”

He is a man who ought to know a lot about the tendency of things to go wrong.

“Now, these are the two points,” he says, and he raises two fingers to emphasize the situation. He knew America was going to lose, but at the same time, America could not be allowed to lose. “As an officer of the government, I had to try to reconcile the two,” he says. “And my means of reconciling them was to try to move toward negotiations which would lead to a settlement that . . . would not lead to the use of South Vietnam as a steppingstone for the Soviets and Chinese to extend their hegemony across all of Asia.”

According to Halberstam in “The Best and the Brightest,” McNamara pushed for 400,000 troops in 1965, the same year he told the president the war couldn’t be won. According to Neil Sheehan in “A Bright Shining Lie,” McNamara showed “abundant moral courage” in 1967 by telling President Johnson to negotiate — but “the high moral courage that Robert McNamara could summon up within the secrecy of the American state he could not summon up outside of it to denounce what the American state was doing.”

The road to Vietnam was paved with good intentions, McNamara says.

“The facts are that the majority of the Congress, the majority of the public, the majority of the press, well into the war, favored exactly what Kennedy and Johnson did,” he notes purposefully.

The pro-war view “was the majority view, go back and check it,” he says. “We were captives of our experience.

“All this time,” he says, “the Soviets and the Chinese were backing the North Vietnamese in a program that Eisenhower, back in 1954, had said would lead to a fall of the dominoes — meaning we’d lose Vietnam and then we’d lose Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and possibly India, and that would in turn weaken the forces of the West in NATO and in our relationship with Japan.” He throws up his hands and falls back in his chair.

“Now, what I say in the book is I think we misjudged that threat. But it was a real threat. And we, having been part of the World War II generation, were very sensitive to that.”

“I think we were wrong strategically,” he answers, “wrong from the point of view of pursuing the interests of this nation, to insert 500,000 men into Vietnam and carry on combat there. I think we could have protected the security of the nation without it, and therefore we were wrong to do it.”

But when one reads the book, the whole thing seems inevitable.

“Nothing’s inevitable,” he says emphatically. And then repeats, with even more emphasis: “Nothing is inevitable. That’s why you have leaders. Not to follow but to lead . . . to break out of the inevitable.”

Perhaps McNamara and his colleagues were the wrong men at the wrong time, men who believed too much in power. This is a possibility McNamara resists most strongly. “It wasn’t inevitable!” he repeats once more. “We were captives of our experience, but we should’ve broken out of it. That’s the point!”

“We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions. For one whose life has been dedicated to the belief and practice of problem solving, this is particularly hard to admit. But at times, we may have to live with an imperfect, untidy world.”

Sliding Toward a New Cold War
By Evan Osnos

Not since the Berlin Wall fell has the world been cleaved so deeply by the kind of conflict that John F. Kennedy called a “long, twilight struggle” over the shape of its future. In broad terms, it is a schism between the realms of democracy and autocracy, pitting the U.S. and its allies against Russia and its dominant partner, China.

The blocs in this new cold war are hardening. Within days of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Germany announced a “turning point” in its long-standing relationship with Russia, which would alter its military and energy policies. A reinvigorated NATO, at a summit last summer, to which leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand were invited, voiced unprecedented concern about China’s ambitions. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration has strengthened military ties with Australia, Japan, and India; most recently, it announced plans to expand military activities in the Philippines, to bolster its ability to defend Taiwan.

But the war has also delineated the limits of U.S. influence. Despite Russia’s brutality in Ukraine, it has maintained, or reinforced, ties with a host of nations. India, which is working with the U.S. to counter China, nevertheless relies heavily on weapons and oil from Russia, and has quintupled trade with it. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, recently visited nine countries in the Middle East and Africa. But none are as vital to Russia as China: though the two nations have little fellow-feeling, Xi and Putin have forged a circumstantial bond out of hostility to Washington’s dominance. Beijing has aided Moscow by buying Russian oil and selling it commercial drones and microchips, and by abstaining from efforts in the United Nations to condemn the invasion. Xi’s government calls itself a neutral party, but, on Friday, it proposed a ceasefire in terms that echo many of Russia’s claims.

All too often, the onset of a great-power standoff inspires more attention to weapons than to communications. George F. Kennan, the architect of America’s “containment” policy toward the Soviets, often lamented that his theory was used to justify a military buildup rather than a sustained commitment to political and economic diplomacy. In a new biography, the historian Frank Costigliola writes that, after Kennan “spent the four years from 1944 to 1948 promoting the Cold War, he devoted the subsequent forty to undoing what he and others had wrought.” The Soviet example holds only limited lessons for today, though, because of China’s economic scale. Toward the end of the Cold War, U.S. trade with the Soviet Union was about two billion dollars a year; U.S. trade with China is now nearly two billion dollars a day.

Washington should fiercely oppose Beijing’s abuse of human rights, its militarizing of the South China Sea, and its threats to Taiwan. But, if we are to limit the worst risks of a cold war, the U.S. should also prepare for what the Nixon Administration called détente—the policy, adopted in the late nineteen-sixties, with regard to the Soviets, that Henry Kissinger later summarized as “both deterrence and coexistence, both containment and an effort to relax tensions.”

Kennan, to his final days, warned about the seductive logic of wars, both cold and hot. In 2002, at the age of ninety-eight, he campaigned against the march to war in Iraq, arguing that history suggests “you might start a war with certain things on your mind” but often end up “fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before.”

Judging Henry Kissinger
By Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Kissinger was a complex thinker. As with other postwar European émigrés, such as the international relations theorist Hans Morgenthau, he criticized the naive idealism of pre–World War II U.S. foreign policy. But Kissinger was not an amoralist. “You can’t look only at power,” he told the audience at Harvard. “States always represent an idea of justice.” In his writings, he noted that world order rested on both a balance of power and a sense of legitimacy. As he once told Winston Lord, his former aide and the ambassador to China from 1985 to 1989, the qualities most needed in a statesman are “character and courage.” Character was needed “because the decisions that are really tough are 51–49,” so leaders must have “moral strength” to make them. Courage was required so leaders could “walk alone part of the way.”

One of the most important questions for foreign policy practitioners is how to judge morality in the realm of global politics. A true amoralist simply ducks it. A French diplomat, for instance, once told me that since morality made no sense in international relations, he decided everything solely on the interests of France. Yet the choice to reject all other interests was itself a profound moral decision.

There are essentially three different mental maps of world politics, each of which generates a different answer as to how states should behave. Realists accept some moral obligations but see them as severely limited by the harsh reality of anarchic politics. To these thinkers, prudence is the prime virtue. At the other end of the spectrum are cosmopolitans, who believe that states should treat all humans equally. They see borders as ethically arbitrary and believe that governments have major moral obligations to foreigners. In between are liberals. They believe that states have a serious responsibility to consider ethics in their decisions but that the world is divided into communities and states that have moral meaning. Although there is no government above these countries, liberals think the international system has an order to it. The world may be anarchic, but there are enough rudimentary practices and institutions—such as the balance of power between countries, norms, international law, and international organizations—to establish a framework by which states can make meaningful moral choices, at least in most cases.

The question is often one of degree, and leaders should not arbitrarily reject human rights and institutions. Since there is never perfect security, they must first figure out what degree of security their states need before considering other values—such as welfare, identity, or the rights of foreigners—in how they make policy. Ultimately, they might factor morals into a wide range of decisions. Most foreign policy choices, after all, do not involve survival. Instead, they involve questions such as whether to sell weapons to authoritarian allies or whether to criticize the human rights behavior of another country. They involve debates about whether to take in refugees, how to trade, and what to do about issues such as climate change.

At the same time, leaders cannot always follow simple moral rules. They may need to make amoral choices to prevent even great catastrophes; there are no human rights, for example, among those incinerated in a nuclear war. As Arnold Wolfers, a prominent European American realist, once said, the most one can hope for in judging the international ethics of leaders is that they make “the best moral choices that circumstances permit.”

International relations are a difficult milieu for ethics, and foreign policy is a world of compromises among values.

A People’s Obituary of Henry Kissinger
By Greg Grandin

Kissinger wasn’t alone among postwar policy intellectuals in invoking the “tragedy” of human existence and the belief that the best one can hope for is to establish a world of order and rules. George Kennan, a conservative, and Arthur Schlesinger, a liberal, both thought human nature’s “dark and tangled aspects” (in Schlesinger’s words) justified a strong military. The world needed policing. But both men (and many others who shared their tragic sensibility like Reinhold Niebuhr and Hans Morgenthau) eventually became critical, some extremely so, of American power. By 1957, Kennan was arguing for “disengagement” from the Cold War, and by 1982, he was describing the Reagan administration as “ignorant, unintelligent, complacent and arrogant.” The Vietnam War provoked Schlesinger to advocate stronger legislative power to rein in what in 1973 he would call the “imperial presidency.” Not Kissinger.

“There are two kinds of realists,” Kissinger wrote in the early 1960s, “those who manipulate facts and those who create them. The West requires nothing so much as men able to create their own reality.”

America’s wars in Southeast Asia destroyed the ability to ignore the consequences of Washington’s actions in the world. The curtain was being drawn back, and everywhere, it seemed, the relationship of cause and effect was coming into view: in the reporting by Hersh and other investigative journalists on US war crimes; in the scholarship of a new questioning generation of historians; in documentary films like Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig and Peter Davis’s Hearts and Minds; among apostate former true believers, like Daniel Ellsberg; in the dissent of intellectuals like Noam Chomsky. Worse, the sense that the United States was a source of as much bad as good in the world began to seep into popular culture, into novels, movies, and even comic books, taking the shape of a generalized skepticism and anti-militarism.

Kissinger helped the imperial presidency adapt to this new cynicism. He was a master of advancing the proposition that the policies of the United States and the violence and disorder that exist outside its borders are entirely unrelated, especially when it came to accounting for the consequences of his own actions. Cambodia? “It was Hanoi,” Kissinger writes, pointing to the North Vietnamese to justify his four-year bombing campaign of that neutral nation. Chile? That country, he says in defense of his coup-plotting against Salvador Allende, “was ‘destabilized’ not by our actions but by Chile’s constitutional president.” The Kurds? “A tragedy,” says the man who served them up to Saddam Hussein, hoping to turn Iraq away from the Soviets. East Timor? “I think we’ve heard enough about Timor.”

Reporters and academics might dig up hard-to-argue-with facts that proved that the overthrow of any given democratic government or the funding of repressive regimes generated blowback. But Kissinger never wavered in his insistence that the past shouldn’t limit the US’s range for options in the future. Great powers, like great men, are absolutely free—free from not only moral oversight but also causal logic that might link past actions to current problems.

Kissinger is, of course, not singularly responsible for the evolution of the US national security state into the perpetual motion machine that it today has become. That history, starting with the 1947 National Security Act and running through the Cold War and now the War on Terror, comprises many different episodes and is populated by many different individuals. But Kissinger’s career courses through the decades like a bright red line, shedding spectral light on the road that has brought us to where we are now, from the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia to the sands of the Persian Gulf to deadlock in Ukraine to moral bankruptcy in Gaza.

At the very least, we can learn from Kissinger, who unhesitatingly supported Gulf War One and Gulf War Two, and every war between and since, that the two defining concepts of United States foreign policy—realism and idealism—aren’t necessarily opposing values; rather, they reinforce each other. Idealism gets us into the quagmire of the moment; realism keeps us there while promising to get us out; and then idealism returns anew both to justify the realism and to overcome it in the next round. So it goes.

Scholar Robert L. Jervis passed away this month. He pushed policymakers to see the world’s complexity.
By Stacie Goddard, Jack Snyder and Keren Yarhi-Milo

In Jervis’s later work, he challenged both scholars and policymakers to take “system effects” seriously. International politics, he argued, was a complex social system, with overlapping, interrelated parts. To social scientists, that complexity undercut attempts to predict outcomes, he cautioned. To practitioners, he warned that complexity meant that all policies were likely to have unanticipated consequences.

The Human Factor
By Thomas J. Christensen and Keren Yarhi-Milo

Over the course of six decades, Jervis made landmark contributions to the understanding of the most consequential issues of war and peace: the implications of nuclear weapons, the causes of intelligence failures, the consequences of misperceptions that complicate even the best-intentioned diplomacy. That work was always rooted in the complexities of actual decision-making by real people with quirks and flaws. Although Jervis crafted general theories regarding the political logic of international security, he was invariably quick to note that actual leaders often fail to behave according to that logic.

Among policy analysts, Jervis is famous for his study of crisis management, coercive diplomacy, and nuclear deterrence. Here, he built on the Nobel Prize–winning game theory of his friend and colleague Thomas Schelling in recognizing that deterrence is a bargain: it requires both a credible threat of punishment if the target behaves in proscribed ways and a credible assurance that the target will not be punished if it complies with the deterrer’s demands. Assurances are not a supplement to deterrence but rather an essential piece of the puzzle (and if one wants to know if the assurances were effective, one must study the target’s perceptions, not one’s own). Yet policymakers routinely fail to understand this lesson. Consider President Barack Obama’s statement that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go” as part of any effort to resolve the Syrian civil war. Once Assad’s demise became an essential negotiating demand of U.S. coercive diplomacy (without assurances made that his personal interests would be protected), he had no incentive to adjust his behavior in ways desired by the United States. The failure to offer credible assurances undercuts deterrence just as much as the failure to level credible threats does.

Jervis saw that finding the proper mix of threats and assurances was never easy but was still essential to preventing crises from escalating into conflict. Indeed, the concept of the security dilemma—in which one state’s efforts to bolster its defensive capabilities are seen as threatening to its adversaries, who respond in kind, leaving both states less secure in a spiral of tensions and mistrust—is deeply rooted in the tensions between credible threats and credible assurances. Jervis’s analysis of this concept formed the basis of what may be the most influential article in the history of international relations theory, his 1978 “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma.”

Within this theoretical framework, Jervis also considered how weapons technologies, military doctrines, and geography influence the stability or instability of international politics. Technologies and doctrines that give the advantage to early offensive aggression are destabilizing, and those that provide a defensive advantage have the opposite effect, reducing the premium on early aggression while providing time and space for diplomacy. In The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution, Jervis argued that the two superpowers’ development of second-strike nuclear capability provided the structural conditions for wide-ranging stability during the Cold War. He captured the reality of the situation in plain language: given the nature of nuclear weapons technology and the size and diversity of the Soviet and American arsenals, the condition of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) “was a fact, not a policy.” Jervis believed that MAD not only prevented nuclear war but also cast a large and stabilizing shadow over any potential superpower conflict.

As long as a credible “slippery slope” from conventional war to nuclear war existed, Jervis argued, the actual balance of conventional and nuclear capabilities was less important—leaders would be loath to exploit tactical advantages at lower levels of violence if it carried a real risk of escalation to strategic nuclear war.

Despite these elegant theoretical conclusions, Jervis was acutely aware that the superpowers’ military postures often ignored the reality of MAD.

Perception in Politics: An Interview with Robert Jervis
By Shilpa Sajja

SS: For readers who may not know about your work with decision making, could you give me a brief summary of how something like deterrence theory can be impacted by decision making heuristics?

RJ: The basic problem [with deterrence] is that standard deterrence theory assumes that the two countries – let’s just make it two for simplicity – see the world the same way, that they are playing the same game. But when you start looking at the psychology involved and looking at cases, you find that they are often not playing the same game. There are very different perceptual worlds. I sum it up by saying that people studying international relations know that the game of chess is a bad analogy [for international politics] because all the players are out in the open. However, bluffing and deception is an important part of IR [international relations]. So people say, “Oh, well, chess isn’t the right game, but it’s poker because that’s bluffing and deception.” But actually poker is not a good analogy. In poker, all players understand the rules and are playing with the same rules. I think the best analogy for international politics is the Japanese short story and movie Rashomon which shows a particular incident, in this case robbery, murder, and rape in medieval Japan. It shows the incident from the perspective of four people and they tell four very, very different stories. We saw when we had conferences after the Cold War, [that] participants sitting around talking about events that occurred 10, 20, 30 years ago just saw those events very differently. They saw the moves differently, they thought the game started at different places, they interpreted each other’s behavior very differently. In some ways that doesn’t take a lot of fancy psychology [to see], but it’s an important lesson that you must not assume that the other side is understanding the world the way you understand it or understanding the moves or the signals you’re trying to send as you intend them. And some of the reasons for that is countries have different political cultures, their leaders are socialized by their own domestic systems and see the world differently. Ideologies are powerful.

SS: How would you recommend policy makers and our politicians be more cognizant of different cultures and their own perceptions of different nations?

RJ: Some presidents have done quite well. To be bipartisan, I think Obama and President Eisenhower both lived outside the country for significant periods. That helped them realize that perceptions of world views tend to be parochial, and that they had to learn that others might see the world differently.Whereas, for Trump, who is of course very self-centered, this multiplies the effect [of misperception]. It becomes very hard for him to see how others might really see differently, and so that’s partly why when he meets Kim Jong Un, he thinks, “Oh, Kim is going to do what I want him to do.” He interprets Kim’s remarks in ways very favorable to him and then when he gets rebuffed, as he did in Hanoi, he’s just totally flummoxed. So, having had a wide variety of experience probably, well certainly, helps. No guarantee, but it certainly helps. And others who haven’t, if they are just intellectually sophisticated, will know that they need to talk to people with quite different views and to escape from the bubble and the echo chamber. It’s hard to do that because the bubble is very comfortable, but good people will do it.

SS: To go back to your work with deterrence during the Cold War, how does the multipolar world system now complicate the Cold War theories of deterrence and misperception?

RJ: [In the Cold War], deterrence was essentially a two actor system. What do we do with multiple adversaries and also multiple audiences, including allies, that can be very important? The audiences may interpret your behavior differently and sometimes that can work in your favor, but often it does not work in your favor and you have to try to take into account how you think each audience will see your behavior. Today with multiple adversaries that are sort of similar you have that problem even more where what we do with North Korea is presumably being watched by Iran and maybe by Venezuela. And again, what we do or don’t do in Venezuela may have some impact on what North Korea says. The North Koreans have public statements which show no reason to doubt that when they saw us overthrow Gaddafi in Libya and also invade Iraq, the obvious lesson was that the U.S. will overthrow or push around countries that don’t have nuclear weapons and that, they’ll say, increased their incentives to get nuclear weapons. It’s quite plausible that Iran reasoned the same way.

SS: Could you touch on how the increasing domestic polarization we’ve seen has the potential to impact our international policies?

RJ: Well, the main thing is the parties have polarized more on foreign policy and on a wide range of foreign policy issues which makes continuity much harder. When Bush came into the office his policy was ABC – “anything but Clinton.” And when Obama came in, actually, when Trump came in even more strongly, we saw the policy become “anything but Obama.” Why did Trump renounce the nuclear deal with Iran? Well, because it was Obama’s deal. And if Trump loses in November, the next Democratic president will reject Trump’s policies wholesale. I personally think there are a lot of things there that should be rejected, but you really do want to look with some care at these. So, the domestic polarization means just a blank renunciation, so you may not get as careful consideration of what was good or bad and what the international constraints are. It’s also really hard for the United States as a country to commit itself to get a treaty ratified. It takes two thirds — that’s very, very hard. And so it means that if you can’t do treaties, you do executive agreements, but it’s much easier to back out of executive agreements than treaties and other countries know that, so [other countries] know they can’t trust any promises we make to them which is a great harm to American foreign policy.

We Forget Henry Kissinger’s Effectiveness at Our Own Peril
By Charles A. Kupchan

Fueled by the ideological hubris that emerged at the Cold War’s end, the United States is coming off two decades of strategic overreach in the Middle East. Mr. Kissinger tamed relations with China and Russia while dividing the Communist bloc, but the United States is now in a dangerous rivalry with both powers that pushes them together. The ends of U.S. policy are today outstripping its political means, exacerbating polarization and the appeal of an America First neoisolationism. “The acid test of a policy,” as Mr. Kissinger presciently warned in 1957, is its ability to obtain domestic support.” Washington would now be wise to rediscover the practice of realpolitik as a fractured America seeks to navigate a fractured world.

Mr. Kissinger’s approach to global affairs was heavily influenced by his interpretation of the history of the Concert of Europe, a diplomatic forum that preserved great-power peace in Europe for much of the 19th century. The subject of his first book (“A World Restored”), the Concert was founded in 1815 by Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria after they had finally defeated Napoleonic France. This great-power directorate had the good sense to admit France in 1818, turning a vanquished adversary into a stakeholder in the postwar peace.

The Concert preserved a stable equilibrium of power by providing a forum in which its members could exercise mutual restraint and resolve their disputes peacefully. Restraint applied to ideology as well as to power. Concert members had their political differences, but the five powers agreed to disagree about the merits of liberal reform versus absolute monarchy, thereby preventing matters of ideology and domestic governance from impairing international cooperation. As Mr. Kissinger concluded in “A World Restored,” the architects of the Concert were “statesmen of the equilibrium, seeking security in a balance of forces. Their goal was stability, not perfection.”

Despite his reputation as a callous practitioner of realpolitik, Mr. Kissinger acknowledged “America’s exceptional nature” and encouraged the United States to continue to advance “the human quest for freedom.” But he wisely cautioned that “America’s moral aspirations need to be combined with an approach that takes into account the strategic element of policy in terms the American people can support.”

Ever the strategist, Mr. Kissinger, in one of his last public messages a few months ago, warned that “we must develop a concept of where we are going and how we intend to get there across party lines and through political differences. Such is the requirement of leadership.”

Leadership at War
By Margaret MacMillan

Although the question of leadership is an old one—think of the attention paid to Alexander the Great or Napoleon—it has tended to be overlooked as experts focus on systems or quantifiable measures of power. The outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914, for example, has been studied intensively in such terms to understand why wars start. As historians and international relations experts have variously suggested, the slide from peace to war in Europe can be interpreted as an example of a breakdown in a balance of power, a dangerously polarizing alliance system, imperial or economic rivalries, an arms race, too rigid military plans, or perhaps the result of domestic factors such as the upper classes seeking to overcome internal divisions through war. Less often scrutinized are the individuals who contributed to or failed to prevent that slide.

Kaiser Wilhelm II loved his soldiers but knew that they thought he was a coward. He wanted to be a powerful ruler and feared that he was not. Through his reckless actions and speeches, he helped create the fear of a belligerent, militaristic Germany, which in turn led to the growing partnership between France and Russia and ultimately Great Britain. Following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, hawks in the Austro-Hungarian imperial government, such as Conrad von Hötzendorf, the chief of the general staff, were prepared to wage war on Serbia, even in the knowledge that Russia might declare war on Austria as a result. “It will be a hopeless struggle, but it must be pursued, because so old a Monarchy and so glorious an army cannot go down ingloriously,” Conrad wrote.

Other leaders failed to take seriously the threat of a Europe-wide conflict, with far-reaching consequences of their own. Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, was perhaps too ready to assume that Europe’s leaders, following the assassination, would judge the costs of a general war too high and therefore would behave sensibly. He persisted in dismissing the assassination as but yet another unfolding crisis in the Balkans until it was too late. In the last frantic days of July 1914, as their respective militaries urged mobilization of their vast armies and other war preparations, the three hereditary rulers of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia, with their great power, still could have refused to sign the orders. All gave way to the pressures on them: Wilhelm, who did not want to back down in the face of crisis, as he had done before; Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, who was old and alone; and, in Russia, Tsar Nicholas II, who gave up his resistance to war, apparently because he was told it was the only way to save his dynasty. In the ensuing catastrophe, Europe and the world changed forever. Some nine million combatants died, as well as an unknown number of civilians; Russia was transformed by revolution; Austria-Hungary disintegrated; and a defeated Germany emerged smaller and a republic. The Great War, as it was known until a second even greater one came, was not inevitable. With other, stronger, more skillful leaders, those mass armies need not have been set in motion.

How Did It All Happen?
By Richard Aldous

President John F. Kennedy once remarked that “in 1914, with most of the world already plunged in war, Prince Bulow, the former German chancellor, said to the then-chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg: ‘How did it all happen?’ And Bethmann-Hollweg replied: ‘Ah, if only one knew.’ If this planet is ever ravaged by nuclear war,” Kennedy went on, “if the survivors of that devastation can then endure the fire, poison, chaos and catastrophe, I do not want one of those survivors to ask another, ‘How did it all happen?’ and to receive the incredible reply, ‘Ah, if only one knew.’ ”

It’s Not Just Ukraine and Gaza: War Is on the Rise Everywhere
By Max Hastings

One of the primary reasons Europe went to war in 1914 is that none of the big players were as frightened as they should have been, of conflict as a supreme human catastrophe. After a century in which the continent had experienced only limited wars, from which Prussia had been an especially conspicuous profiteer, too many statesmen viewed war as a usable instrument of policy, which proved a catastrophic misjudgment.

A Practical Guide to Perpetual Peace
By Stephen M. Walt

War’s persistence across the millennia calls for humility, even as we grope for solutions.

Marxists thought overthrowing capitalism would remove incentives for war and usher us into a tranquil socialist paradise. Liberals think spreading democracy will accomplish the same miracle, even if they don’t know how to export democracy and even if it requires us to first fight “wars to end war.” Libertarians want to shrink the state; fascists tell us to worship the state; and anarchists want to destroy the state completely—and each group is convinced that all will be well if we just follow their advice. Some believers think peace will emerge once everyone worships the right god, and some atheists maintain we would have a more peaceful world if we stopped worshiping any gods. Because these proposals all require imposing political beliefs on others who may not want to accept them, they typically make the problem worse rather than better.

Going to war unleashes a vast array of complicated and unpredictable elements that cause most wars to last longer, and cost more, than their initiators expect. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was hardly a pacifist, but he did grasp this enduring feature of world politics. As he wrote in My Early Life, “The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.” George W. Bush kept a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office while he was president, but I doubt he ever read that little kernel of wisdom. If he had, he might have thought harder before invading Iraq in 2003.

And while I’m on the subject of Churchill, the frontispiece to his multivolume history of World War II reads, “In War, Resolution; in Defeat, Defiance; in Victory, Magnanimity; in Peace, Good Will.” That’s not a bad catechism, and I call your attention to the last two phrases. Imposing a one-sided victor’s peace is a recipe for more trouble down the road, especially when one’s former opponents are likely to recover from their defeat. The United States didn’t help rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II out of a sense of philanthropy, but neither did it impose the Carthaginian peace that some officials advocated. The contrast with the punitive Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I could not be more striking. Similarly, treating Russia like a defeated power and paying scant attention to its legitimate fears for years afterward poisoned relations and helped pave the way to today’s troubles, as a number of prescient observers repeatedly warned.

How Wars Don’t End
By Margaret MacMillan

Before the Russian invasion, many assumed that wars among major twenty-first-century powers, if they happened at all, would not be like earlier ones. They would be fought using a new generation of advanced technologies, including autonomous weapons systems. They would play out in space and cyberspace; boots on the ground would probably not matter much. Instead, the West has had to come to terms with another state-to-state war on European soil, fought by large armies over many square miles of territory. And that is only one of many ways that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine harks back to the two world wars. Like those earlier wars, it was fueled by nationalism and unrealistic assumptions about how easy it would be to overwhelm the enemy. The fighting has taken place in civilian areas as much as on the battlefield, laying waste to towns and villages and sending populations fleeing. It has consumed vast resources, and the governments involved have been forced to use conscripts and, in the case of Russia, mercenaries. The conflict has led to a search for new and more deadly weapons and carries the potential for dangerous escalation. It is also drawing in many other countries.

The experience of an earlier great war in Europe—we know it as World War I—should remind us of the dreadful costs of a prolonged and bitter armed conflict. And like today, that war was widely expected to be short and decisive. Yet the world, and Ukraine, now face disquieting questions. How long will Russia persist with its campaign, even though its hopes of celebrating victory continue to recede? What greater damage and horrors will be inflicted on Ukraine and its people? And when can those countries most affected by the conflict, from Ukraine’s neighbors to the wider membership of NATO, stop worrying that the war will spill outside Ukraine’s borders? But the past also offers an even darker warning—this time, for the future, when the war in Ukraine finally comes to an end, as all wars do. Ukraine and its supporters may well hope for an overwhelming victory and the fall of the Putin regime. Yet if Russia is left in turmoil, bitter and isolated, with many of its leaders and people blaming others for its failures, as so many Germans did in those interwar decades, then the end of one war could simply lay the groundwork for another.

It is worth recalling that World War I started as a local confrontation in the Balkans between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. Within five weeks, it had become a general European war because the other great powers chose to intervene, acting, so they believed, in their own interests. Then, at each successive stage, other powers steadily followed: Japan in the late summer of 1914, Bulgaria and Italy in 1915, Romania in 1916, and China, Greece, and the United States in 1917. Although Ukraine’s many friends have not yet crossed the line of becoming actual combatants, they are more and more closely involved, supplying, for example, intelligence and logistical support, in addition to more and more potent and sophisticated weapons. And as they increase the quality and quantity of their support, that in turn increases the risk that Russia will choose to escalate, possibly attacking neighboring countries such as Poland or the Baltic states. A further risk is that China could begin backing Russia more actively, sending lethal assistance and thereby raising the chances of a confrontation between Beijing and Washington.

Even if the war in Ukraine can reach something like an ending, building peace in its wake will be a formidable challenge. Losers do not easily accept defeat, and victors find it hard to be magnanimous. The Treaty of Versailles was never as punitive as Germany claimed, and many of the treaty’s clauses were never enforced. But the Europe of the 1920s would have been a happier place if the Allies had not tried to extract high reparations from Germany and had welcomed it back into the community of nations sooner.

History can offer more encouraging examples. In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. Marshall Plan helped rebuild the countries of western Europe into flourishing economies and, equally important, stable democracies. In what would have seemed extraordinary in 1945, West Germany and Italy, admittedly under the threat of the Cold War, were allowed to join NATO and became core members of the transatlantic alliance. Even former enemies can be transformed into close partners.

The fate of the Axis powers after World War II offers at least hope that the Russia of today may one day be as distant a memory as is the Germany of 1945. For Ukraine, there is the promise of better days if the war can be wound down favorably for it, with the country recovering much of its lost eastern territories and its Black Sea coast, as well as being admitted to the EU. But if that does not happen and the West does not make a sustained effort to help Ukraine rebuild—and if Western leaders are determined to treat Russia as a permanent pariah—then the future for both countries will be one of misery, political instability, and revanchism.

Are we drifting towards World War?
By Charles Cockell

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Barbara Tuchman’s gripping and fascinating account of the world’s drift into the First World War, The Guns of August, is the apparent contingency in the unfolding drama.

On every page, one has the sense that a small turn here, a minor deviation there, would have led to a very different outcome. And yet, contemplate the scope of the events in their totality and what strikes you is that the world was caught in a fearful riptide in which small perturbations would have had little influence on the ultimate trajectory.

We find ourselves here again. A lack of collective leadership has slowly allowed currents to accumulate from different directions. Beneath us, a powerful whirlpool is swelling and threatening to drag the whole of civilization into war.

These tides have increased in intensity largely because we failed to block them when they were in a weaker state.

At any point in human history, one could take a map of the globe and imagine alliances and axes through which a world conflagration could materialize. What brings these alignments into practical reality instead seems to be a psychological collapse, a resigned torpidity and lethargy in swimming against the current.

The greater the number of conflicts that emerge, the more each of these fights, and other ones besides, become diminutive events in the broader disruption. Thus, each turn of the handle encourages others to take their chance and slowly but surely, we are sucked into a terrific maelstrom.

A new report says the world faces a ‘dangerous decade’ as instability and military spending rise
By Danica Kirka

The world has entered an era of increasing instability as countries around the globe boost military spending in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Hamas attack on Israel and China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

That’s the conclusion of a new report released Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which also highlighted rising tensions in the Arctic, North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the rise of military regimes in the Sahel region of Africa as contributing to a “deteriorating security environment.” The London-based think tank has compiled its annual estimate of the global military situation for 65 years.

“The current military-security situation heralds what is likely to be a more dangerous decade, characterized by the brazen application by some of military power to pursue claims — evoking a ‘might is right’ approach — as well as the desire among like-minded democracies for stronger bilateral and multilateral defense ties in response,’’ the report said.

Can the spread of war be stopped?
By David Ignatius

At the dawn of 2024, we should recognize that violence is ravaging our planet and the mechanisms to prevent it are failing badly. U.N. peacekeeping resolutions are routinely vetoed by combatants or their protectors; “deterrence” doesn’t deter Russia, Hamas or the Houthis. The “rules-based order” that President Biden proclaims has become a slogan rather than a fact.

The folly of war is the belief that it solves problems. Israelis and Palestinians have been battling for more than 50 years without gaining lasting security. Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine began as a fever dream of President Vladimir Putin. He failed to conquer Kyiv, thanks to brave Ukrainian resistance, but the bloody war of attrition has cost Russia an estimated 320,000 casualties and Ukraine an estimated 170,000 to 190,000.

The United States embraces the “rules-based order” when it suits its purposes. When President George W. Bush wanted to wage a misconceived war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he steered around U.N. objections; when he wanted to battle the Taliban in what proved a fruitless 20-year war in Afghanistan, he used the shopworn authorization of military force from Sept. 11, 2001, along with a beefy coalition from NATO. The United States insists on the primacy of international law but won’t join the International Criminal Court for fear its officials might be targeted.

America has often invoked its values in going to war or supporting insurgencies. That interventionist spirit is infused with idealism, and often I’ve shared it. But it has led to an almost unbroken chain of U.S. involvement in conflict overseas, from Vietnam to Central America to the Balkans and, most of all, to the Middle East.

Putin is wrong about most things. But there was an element of truth in his 2015 address to the United Nations about the effects of U.S. intervention in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt: “Rather than bringing about reforms, an aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster.”

Because the United States has been so willing to intervene abroad to help its friends and values, it creates a kind of moral hazard for smaller, weaker countries or political groups. They start wars they can’t finish, expecting the United States will come to their aid. That was true in the Balkans in the 1990s and in the Middle East during the Arab Spring of the 2010s, and I fear it might become true again as Israel moves toward a direct confrontation with Iran. America isn’t good at saying no.

Military strategists always insist that the best way to prevent war is to prepare for it. But we have to admit to ourselves, as another year of bloody conflict begins, that the current model isn’t working. We need new rules at the United Nations to stop wars and a new framework for crisis management with allies and adversaries. Otherwise, in 2024 and beyond, we’ll have to think about the unthinkable.

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