COGITO ERGO BOOM

RESCUING ISRAELI STRATEGIC STUDIES
(AND ISRAEL)

By Louis Rene Beres

[20 December 2000] As Israel faces its most significant existential threats since 1948, citizens should begin to ask serious questions about the prevailing levels of strategic discourse. Persistently, a suffocating intellectual stubborness blocks the way of productive Israeli strategic thinking. There is also great danger that Israel's political and military leaders, presuming high-quality scholarship in the universities and think-tanks, will continue to accept academic recommendations with insufficient skepticism. The net effect of such erroneous presumptions could include even unconventional war and unconventional terrorism.

Let me be entirely candid. With precious few exceptions, the leading academic strategists in Israel have offered little pertinent scholarship of any real merit and a great deal of scholarship that is altogether injurious - e.g., the dreadful scholarship that spawned and sustained the Oslo Trojan Horse. Remarkably, on issues that deal with chemical/biological/nuclear threats to Israel, the country's leading strategists remain mired in the outdated "wisdom" of 1950s America. Clinging unimaginatively to certain alleged benefits of nuclear deterrence and a favorable conventional balance of power, these individuals ignore altogether (1) the essential limitations of threat-system dynamics in a region that may soon join CBN technology with irrationality; and (2) the essential and complex nuances of national self-help in an increasingly anarchic world system. There are, to be sure, other factors being widely ignored, but all such shortcomings are the product of a misguided starting point for investigations.

What needs to be done? First, Israeli strategists must look directly, unhesitatingly, relentlessly at their country's existential threats, and must identify these threats - quickly and openly - as the central object of their inquiries. Second, Israeli strategists must understand, without any further delay, that Israel is a system, that the existential threats confronting Israel are themselves interrelated, and that the effects of these interrelated threats upon Israel must always be examined together. Third, Israeli strategists must understand that the entire world arena is best understood as a system, and that the disintegration of power and authority structures within this macro-system will impact, with enormous and partially forseeable consequences, the Israeli micro-system. Fourth, Israeli strategists must turn away from prudence, from fearful and mainstream kinds of analyses that may please the public and their paymasters but are intrinsically valueless and without explanatory benefit. Fifth, Israeli strategists must learn to read literature, not the mundane and simplistic materials generated by American strategists (who themselves read no real literature), but the work of authentic writers, poets and playwrights. Frequently the insights that can be garnered from literature provide a vastly better source of strategic understanding than the matrixes, metaphors and scenarios of "experts." Sixth, Israeli strategists need to recognize the advantages of private as opposed to collective academic thought. Here they should be reminded of Aristotle's view: "Deception occurs to a greater extent when we are investigating with others than by ourselves, for an investigation with someone else is carried on quite as much by means of the thing itself."

In matters concerning Israeli security, one may discover greater intellectual value in the private musings of certain unaffiliated single individuals than in the sum total of collaborative efforts spawned by professional centers of strategic studies. Seventh, Israeli strategists now need to open up, again and with greater diligence and insight, the question of nuclear ambiguity. Here it must be understood that this is not merely a matter of belaboring the obvious, but rather of optimally exploiting appropriate and variable levels of disclosure for purposes of deterrence and, possibly, preemption. Eighth, Israeli strategists need to open up completely the still broader questions of nuclear weapons and national strategy. This should be done, of course, in conformity with all of the other above-listed strategic studies requirements.

Moreover, it is by no means obvious that keeping questions of nuclear weapons and strategy "closed" is in Israel's security interests. Ninth, Israeli strategists must cease their contemplation of an end to national existence as a purely dispassionate, academic consideration. For now, it seems these strategists can contemplate the end of the Third Temple Commonwealth every day, and yet persevere quite calmly and purposefully in their most routine affairs. This ironic and counterproductive juxtaposition should no longer be the case if these scholars could learn to begin to contemplate the very moment of Israel's collective disappearance. It follows that Israeli strategists must begin soon to replace reassuringly abstract conceptualizations of End Times with concrete imaginings of catastrophe. I realize, of course, that such advice is altogether contrary to what Israeli academics have learned in American graduate schools, but their American professors were plainly wrong. As in the case of each individual life, fear in this context has its proper place. And there is no necessary correlation between existential dread and injury to "objective" forms of scholarship. Tenth, Israeli strategists should pay special attention to the requirements of scholarly audacity, of seeking, self-consciously, to steer clear of the comfortable intellectual middle-ground and to take risks, personal and professional, in finding serious answers to vital questions.

There is little time left. Very little.

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LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) Professor, Department of Political Science, Purdue University is the author of twelve books and several hundred scholarly articles dealing with international relations and international law. His work is well-known to the past four Prime Ministers, to the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, to the IDF General Staff and to Israel's intelligence communities.



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