Alliances With Dictators Won’t Benefit Israel
The world’s leading states have long believed in certain alleged benefits of realpolitik, or power politics. Although such traditional patterns of thinking would normally appear realistic and pragmatic rather than visionary or utopian, it is also clear that such appearances are transient and distressingly short-term. The leading or “great” states of today would be well-advised 1) to acknowledge the inherent limitations of our global threat system, and 2) to begin to identify more promising and durable configurations of international relations and world politics.
While tiny in terms of both population and land mass, Israel fields one of the most significant military forces in the world, let alone in its own Middle East neighborhood. But what might seem realistic to policymakers in the shorter-term is apt to prove futile for Israel’s longer-term survival prospects.
Here, context must be understood. Israel, in the fashion of every other state, is part of a much larger world system. Realpolitik world politics has never succeeded for more than very brief and uncertain intervals. In the future, the unsteadiness of this foundation could be further exacerbated by multiple systemic failures, some perhaps involving weapons of mass destruction.
A zero-sum orientation to world politics has already become so darkly unpromising and corrosively competitive that it is a bewildering chaos. All states that depend upon some form of nuclear deterrence, including Israel, must begin to think more self-consciously and imaginatively about creating alternative systems of world politics — viable configurations that are more war-averse and cooperation-centered.
While any hint of interest in such global integration will sound unacceptably utopian or fanciful to “realists,” the opposite is far more plausible. It is actually more realistic to acknowledge that our “every man for himself” ethos in world politics is endlessly degrading and destined to fail.
Westphalian systemic failures could soon become dire and irreversible. In the longer term, the only sort of realism that can make any sense for Israel, America, and the other states in world politics is a posture that points toward a higher awareness of global “oneness” and an incremental world system of interdependence.
The prophets of a more collaborative world civilization remain few and far between, but this is not because of a lack of need. Rather, it reflects a stubborn unwillingness to take these ideas seriously — that is, to recognize that the only sort of loyalty that can ultimately rescue all states must first embrace a redirected commitment (both individual and national) to humankind in general.
At its heart, this is not a complicated idea. It is hardly a medical or biological secret that those core factors and behaviors common to all human beings greatly outnumber those that differentiate one from another. Unless leaders of all the major states can finally understand that the survival of any one state must inevitably be contingent upon the survival of all, true national security will continue to elude every nation, including even the purportedly “most powerful” — such as Israel.
Here, we must also speak of law. Jurisprudentially, Israel has no special national obligations in this regard; nor can it afford to build its own security policies upon such vague and distant hopes. Nonetheless, Israel remains an integral part of the far wider community of nations, and must do whatever it can to detach nations from the untenable state of nature.
As long as the states in world politics continue to operate as grim archaeologists of ruins-in-the-making, they will be unable to stop the next series of catastrophic wars. Although Israel is not one of the leading national players in world politics — that responsibility still falls on the US and Russia — Jerusalem has been compelled to fashion its survival prospects upon the time-dishonored premises of power politics.
Until now, and perhaps for the next several years, this sort of selection has been fundamentally necessary and correct; accordingly, there are no plausible reasons for expressing any regrets. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of longer-term options and security prospects, Israel — like its historic American patron and ally — must open its security imagination to visionary ways of thinking.
In the final analysis, the language of power politics and realpolitik is the delusional parlance of inevitable and unprecedented failure. To survive into the future, therefore, Israel and other states must change their approach to world politics.
Louis René Beres is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue and the author of 12 books and several hundred articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war. The second edition of his Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield) was published in 2018.
A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.