Oslo and Israel's Risks for Peace?

A Thoughtful Memorandum For The New Prime Minister
By Louis Rene Beres

"It is necessary," said the previous Government of Israel about Oslo, "that we take risks for peace." Certainly this government was correct! Who could possibly disagree. Peace is better than war, and the pre-Oslo situation was anything but satisfactory.

But the Rabin/Peres Governments' assertion, wittingly or unwittingly, missed the point. The question, always, is not whether to take risks, but rather how much risk should be taken. If the risks turn out to be acceptable, then the Oslo option represents a rational choice. If they do not turn out to be acceptable, this option represents an irrational choice. This question, Mr. Prime Minister, must now be asked by your Government.

You have announced that Israel will comply with the Oslo accords. Assuming that the Netanyahu Government chooses rationally between all available security options, this means that, in your judgment, the risks associated with compliance are indeed acceptable. This determination, in turn, would have had to follow your prior calculation that the "risks for peace" currently in place are lower than all other pertinent risks, i.e., lower than the risks of returning to pre-Oslo security arrangements. If you have, in fact, made this prior calculation, the Government will have already examined systematically two complex dimensions of the problem: (1) utility and (2) probability.

Have you actually undertaken such an examination? As an American professor, of course, I have no real way of knowing. But I do know that any democratic government owes an answer about such required analysis of national survival to its own citizens. What this means, for citizens of Israel, is that they should now ask their new government this question:

"Have you looked, in an aptly comparative way, at the expected utilities and probabilities of Oslo-generated policies vis-a-vis all conceivable security alternatives?" Mr. Prime Minister, this is a very fair question.

I have a pretty good idea of what Israeli citizens will hear in reply. Based upon my own rather lengthy acquaintance with Israeli academic strategists and with the not-so-impressive history of IDF Intelligence Branch (Aman) predictions, I would guess that an honest answer would be"no." Oh, of course the responsible scholars and officials will have considered entire mountains of detail, but it is remarkably unlikely that they will have thought through matters systematically.

Mr. Prime Minister. Here is what your government should now be doing. Before it can properly commend the risks associated with even your interpretation of Oslo - the newest version of "risks for peace" - it needs to identify the expected utilities of Oslo (which range from durable peace to annihilation of the state) and the expected probabilities associated with each plausible outcome. Thereafter, using what informed scholars sometimes call Bayesian forms of calculation (after the eighteenth-century mathematician Thomas Bayes), its analysts need to compare the "expected desirability" of their planned "risks for peace" with the "expected desirability" of all outcomes that do not call for such risks. If the expected desirability of the "risks" option exceeds that of all other relevant options, they are indeed choosing rationally.

The new Government of Israel, to the best of my knowledge, has not yet been able to undertake such an essential analysis. I, however, have undertaken just such an analysis. Here is what I have discovered, using a Bayesian model of deliberation in which Israel's notions of the utilities and probabilities of conceivable outcomes are represented by sets of numbers combined to compute an expected desirability for each act under consideration: Israel's Oslo "risks for peace," which are definitional correlates of the Accords, offer the lowest possible expected value or expected gain of all conceivable security options. In technical terms, this means that if each security option is assigned a particular utility and probability, the expected value of Oslo "risks for peace" - expressed as the sum of utilities multiplied by probabilities - is lower than the sum of all other security options. In nontechnical terms, this means that Oslo-generated risks carry so great an existential threat for Israel that if the dangers are relatively improbable the risks are irrational and if the dangers are relatively probable the risks posed are inexcusable. Simply put, by my calculations, Israel's Oslo "risks for peace," even in the particular form acceptable to the Netanyahu Government, are wholly unjustified.

Mr. Prime Minister. Perhaps I have miscalculated. Maybe I have made mistakes. Maybe the Government of Israel and its planners have far more compelling analyses. Nothing could please me more. By all means, then, let them be made public. These are not matters of state secrecy. On the contrary, they are matters that positively cry out for disclosure in a democracy, especially a democracy that now bets its very existence on "risks for peace" that are completely unprecedented and intrinsically injurious.

There is one last point. In undertaking its expected value/expected gain calculations concerning Oslo, Israel's planners must take careful account of possible enemy irrationality. In other words, in offering rational calculations of all possible security outcomes, these planners must consider that Israel's enemies may not necessarily calculate rationally. Should they omit the prospect of enemy irrationality from their comparative calculations, Israeli planners would themselves fail to be acting rationally. Consider, for example, a nuclearizing Iran that could conceivably decide to launch missiles with unconventional warheads against Israel in spite of devastating retaliatory expectations. This prospect, which in fact may be more likely because of Israel's Oslo concessions, should not be disregarded by Israeli planners. Significantly, looking back at the mechdal and similar Israeli intelligence failures of the past, there is an ominous history in Israel of disregarding prospects of enemy irrationality.

The cost-effectiveness of Israel's intended "risks for peace" is not self-evident. It must be supported by appropriate forms of expected value/expected gain calculations. Before continuing with Oslo in any form can be properly endorsed by the citizens of Israel, it is incumbent upon your Government to make these calculations and to report on the outcomes. If you should disagree, Israel's next mechdal will likely permit no recovery.

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LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and has been familiar with Bayesian models of deliberation for more than twenty-five years. These models were used in his 1973 book, THE MANAGEMENT OF WORLD POWER: A THEORETICAL ANALYSIS and in his APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (1980/University of Chicago Press). He has written elsewhere on the intrinsic illegality of the Oslo Accords under international law.

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