Nuclear Holocaust, Crazy State

I’ve thought three times before posting this. Four times. It’s so bleak that it’s difficult to digest. But it gives too much insight into the regnant Israeli view of nuclear deterrence to withhold comment.

The recently published “interview with Uzi Arad”: by Ari Shavit in _Ha’aretz_ includes this passage about nuclear deterrence failure:

bq.. [Arad] On the face of it, what is the point of this? Why execute the enemy after deterrence has failed? But according to Dror, it is important to ascertain that the deterrence will work, even if you yourself have been destroyed. He sees this as a contribution to the repair of the world (tikkun olam).* When we say “never again,” this entails three imperatives: never again will we be felled in mass numbers, never again will we be defenseless and never again will there be a situation in which those who harm us go unpunished.

[Shavit] Is the Holocaust relevant to our strategic thought in an era of a nuclear Middle East?

[Arad] Look at the way memory guides people like Netanyahu, who refers time and again to the 1930s. Bernard Lewis also said a few years ago that he feels like he is in the late 1930s. What did he mean? On the one hand, an imminent threat, rapidly approaching, and on the other, complacency and conciliation and a cowering coveting of peace. When I visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem) not long ago, I could not bear the psychological overload and left halfway through. I don’t think there is an Israeli or a Jew who can be insensitive to the Holocaust. It is a painful black hole in our consciousness.

[Shavit] When you look around today, what is your feeling? Are we alone?

[Arad] We are always alone. Sometimes we have partners and lovers and donors of money, but no one is in our shoes.

p. (*This is an unusual interpretation of “tikkun olam”:, to say the least. Usually it means something like “social justice” and suggests making the world a better place. At least in the present context, it might be understood as meaning “cosmic justice.”)

The “Dror” to whom Arad refers must be Yehezkel Dror, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He may be better known for his “work on public policy”: “and the social sciences”:, but in 1971, he produced a small book published in English as “Crazy States: A Counterconventional Strategic Problem”:

Lacking a copy at hand, I’ll turn to the summary in Barry Wolf, “When the Weak Attack the Strong: Failures of Deterrence”: As part of his discussion of “highly motivated” attackers, Wolf provides this sketch of Dror’s idea:

bq.. A “crazy state” culture may also result in a cost-benefit calculus that is difficult for outsiders to comprehend. The term “crazy state” has been used by Yehezkel Dror to refer to such groups as “the Christian Crusaders or the Islam Holy Warriors… anarchists… contemporary terrorist groups… Nazi Germany; and–to a more limited extent–Japan before the Second World War.” Although Dror’s concept is multidimensional and cannot be easily defined, the historical examples he uses tend to be groups with an extremely strong commitment to nonrational (by contemporary Western standards) ideologies and a willingness to use force to realize their goals. It is important to remember that the term “crazy state” is used to identify states whose cost-benefit calculus may be extremely difficult for a contemporary Westerner to understand; the term is not a judgment that the state’s values are “crazy” in an absolute or universal sense.

Many states that have attacked substantially stronger counterparts certainly could have been “crazy states,” the Jewish zealots who revolted against Rome being an especially likely example. Both Iran and Libya can arguably be considered states of this type, and a “crazy state” cost-benefit calculus seems likely to have contributed to their attacks against U.S. forces. A weak “crazy state” led by a psychopathological leader may have particularly great potential to take actions that appear to defy logic; Adolf Hitler’s Germany occupied the Rhineland at a time (1936) when France’s army was substantially stronger than Germany’s. Although Hitler in that case read Allied intentions correctly, perhaps no wholly sane leader would have taken this risk because the consequences of failure would have been so terrible. As Hitler himself said, “A retreat on our part would have spelled collapse.”

p. This post has gone on long enough already, and it’s not my intention to revisit the not-so-great “rationality debate”: here. Suffice it to say that there’s not a person alive, let alone a nation-state, that conducts its affairs in keeping with the “von Neuman-Morgenstern axioms”: Vague objectives, impulsivity, and gross errors are altogether commonplace. The worst outcomes are rare, but we are condemned to live with uncertainty.

So let’s conclude with one last snippet from Arad, who insists that Israel must “must not be militant, but we must entrench our defense and security prowess and act with wisdom and restraint and caution and sangfroid.” That much, I think, is hard to argue with.

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