Saturday, November 7, 2015

Nuclear Deterrence: Credibility & Validity Seriously Eroded - Maj. Gen. (ret.) David Ivry

by Maj. Gen. (ret.) David Ivry

Maj. Gen. (ret.) David Ivry on the substantial changes in the credibility and validity of nuclear deterrence. Is there a point in promoting an agreement for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons?

Mathematically, deterrence is made up of the perception of the capabilities times the intention and willingness to put them to use. Over the last few decades, the number of military conflicts has risen dramatically, but they were all local or regional in scope, and nuclear deterrence was never considered.

The characteristics of the military conflicts of the last few decades, that were mostly low-intensity or asymmetrical, led to a situation where the limitations concerning the employment of conventional power determined the dosage, or intensity of that employment. Conventional power was never employed to its maximum potential. Obviously, in such situations, no one believes that it is possible to cause one of the sides to reach the threshold of justifying the employment of nuclear power.

The intention element in the deterrence equation equals zero. The result of anything multiplied by zero is, naturally, zero. In other words, no nuclear deterrence exists in the context of such conflicts.

During the Cold War era, many non-nuclear countries sheltered under the nuclear umbrellas of the leading superpowers, thus justifying their policies of avoiding the development of nuclear capabilities of their own. Whereas these countries could still be involved in limited-scope conflicts (and some were highly likely to become involved in such conflicts), and whereas nuclear deterrence is not actually a part of such conflicts, those countries must reconsider their policies regarding their military capabilities. Can they still rely on the assistance or actual involvement of other friendly forces? Accordingly, they also have to reconsider their policies regarding nuclear capabilities of their own.

We are witnessing the superpowers avoiding the employment of conventional power in various conflicts, and considerable hesitation on their part regarding the intensity of the power they do employ. The USA hesitated about attacking in Syria after it was proven that the Syrian Army had employed chemical weapons. When the issue of disarming the world of chemical weapons was on the agenda, it was explained that whenever chemical weapons were employed, the option of employing the nuclear capability will always be available.  In the Syrian case, even conventional weapons were not employed. I do not ignore the diplomatic achievement – Syria was disarmed of numerous elements of its chemical weapon arsenal – but that had no effect on the fact that many countries still faced questions marks regarding the extent to which they could rely on external forces.

Two trends of thought have evolved among non-nuclear countries, regarding the significance of the erosion in the credibility of the nuclear umbrella. Does it necessitate the development of an independent nuclear capability while risking a violation of the NPT, or will it be pointless to develop such a capability as no deterrence can be achieved through it in the context of limited-scope conflicts anyway.

In the new Middle East, the discourse regarding a regional nuclear disarmament has restarted very intensively. In the early 1990s, 14 countries, including Israel, participated in the Arms Control and Regional Security in the Middle East (ACRS) multilateral talks. The countries from the region that did not participate in the talks were Syria, Iran and Iraq. In those days it was already established that Iraq had violated the treaty, and there were concerns about Iran and Syria as well. 

The substantial changes in the credibility and validity of nuclear deterrence in the context of limited-scope conflicts and the questionable credibility and validity of the NPT after three countries from this region had violated their commitment to that treaty and were not treated as required raise a serious question: is there a point in promoting an agreement for a region free of nuclear weapons to which the State of Israel should commit, subject to certain provisions? If we only considered the credibility and validity aspects, it would seem to me that Israel should avoid any such commitment, namely – it must not rely on the credibility of disarmament. The considerations should be contemplated in the context of other political interests, such as the interests of initiating a regional discourse as a normalization-promoting element.

Maj. Gen. (ret.) David Ivry


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