Louis R. Beres, Thomas G. McInerney and Paul E. Vallely

Louis René Beres is a professor of international law at Purdue University. Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, USAF (Ret.) and Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely, USA (Ret.) are coauthors of Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror.

Last November, we elected a new president. Now, to back up credible U.S. deterrence against a still-growing number of adversaries, Barack Obama will need to rebuild a declining military infrastructure and doctrine. Otherwise, it is likely that this country's state and sub-state enemies may increasingly dismiss American retaliatory and other threats as empty bluster and false bravado.

In essence, President Obama must quickly fashion a broad, coherent, and updated strategic doctrine from which effective policy options can be suitably drawn and implemented. Among other major challenges, it will be necessary for the president to modernize our strategic nuclear arsenal, and to reinvigorate all of our associated nuclear capabilities. In hard economic times, especially, this will not be a popular task, but the national security alternatives for the United States are certain to be less popular, and vastly more expensive.

The United States has always drawn its operational military plans from a codified strategic doctrine. Our new president already faces unprecedented vulnerabilities, but the needed framework of principles and goals is now absent, or sorely out of date. Should Mr. Obama simply continue America's basic reliance on the Cold War-based logic of deterrence, even when the critical core assumption of rationality may sometimes now be invalid? This is not your father's international system. Any continued presidential commitment to classical threat-based dynamics of national security could be a big mistake. Today, various enemy states and also their terrorist surrogates could value particular religious or ideological preferences even more highly than their own lives and freedoms. Mr. Obama must understand: Future "martyrdom operations" will not be conducted by rational foes.

Our nuclear age began with theories of "massive retaliation" and "mutual assured destruction." This ultimately gave way to "flexible response" and "nuclear utilization theory." These strategic doctrines, first conceived solely with reference to the Soviet Union, created fierce debates over nuclear targeting options. Now, President Obama and his national security team will need to re-examine both "counter value" (counter-city) and "counter force" doctrines, but this time with measured regard for both states and their non-state proxies, and for plausible expectations of non-rational action. These sensitive examinations will be divisive, but the issues could concern nothing less than America's physical survival.

Although no longer a fashionable military concept at cocktail parties, a pre-emption option must still be made an integral part of any updated U.S. strategic doctrine. International law is not a suicide pact; there are times when a country need not "sit back" and wait to be attacked first by an aggressor. Inevitably, there will be new perils (some perhaps even existential) that may require an effective American resort to "anticipatory self-defense." In some entirely foreseeable circumstances, where enemy rationality cannot be assumed, and where the interception reliability of ballistic missile defense would be low or irrelevant, the only alternative to lawful forms of American pre-emption could be surrender and defeat.

President Obama has not inherited a simple world. Strategic doctrine is always a complex matter, and any improved U.S. plan going forward will have to be creative as well as comprehensive. If, for any reason, (1) Iran is permitted to "go nuclear," and/or (2) already nuclear Pakistan is taken over by jihadist elements, our refashioned doctrine will have to identify viable options for dealing with those countries. These options will require expanding enemy perceptions of truly persuasive American power, and of an authentic American willingness to use this power. They will also have to be backed by more adequate funding for advanced fighter aircraft (soon the United States may have the smallest air superiority force since World War I); upgraded naval strike forces; and appropriate resources for the Army's future mobility capabilities.

How should we best deter a nuclear adversary, both from launching direct missile attacks, and from dispersing nuclear assets among assorted terrorist proxies? Should President Obama do more to aid and empower the growing Iranian opposition, and/or to strengthen the existing Pakistani government? What shall he do about an already-nuclear North Korea's ongoing expansion of long-range missile capabilities? For deterrence against nuclear terrorism, how should he compensate for the absence of discernible "fingerprints," and for the limited value of satellites and radars in fighting insurgents?

Ironically, as the memory of 9/11 recedes into the past, we Americans have become complacent. A serious biological or nuclear threat to American cities could now come from mundane platforms--cars, trucks, and ships. Of course, ballistic missile defense would be of no use against any such ground-based attacks.

To be taken seriously by our enemies, some of whom are intent upon "bleeding the dragon" (weakening us in small but persistent increments), America's refined and expanded strategic doctrine must be able to confront emergent threats at both ends of the conflict continuum. This means a simultaneous capacity to deal successfully with short-range assaults (terrorism/irregular warfare) and long-range attacks (ballistic missiles and WMD). For the increasingly neglected long-range end of the spectrum, this country now requires a state-of-the-art, lethal, penetrating, persistent, survivable long-range strike aircraft. Soon, with the B-52 still flying, America will have the plainly unenviable distinction of keeping the only 50-year-old aircraft in combat mission status.

Can we convince enemy states and their surrogates that any proxy act of nuclear terrorism would elicit a proportionate retaliation against the offending state itself? We must, but how? Meaningful policies can emerge only after President Obama commits to crafting a carefully reconceptualized U.S. strategic doctrine. This must be a very high national priority.

Until recently, enemy state proxies were limited in the damage they could inflict upon us. Today, however, some terror groups could bring greater harms to the American homeland than could certain countries. In fact, these terror groups could possibly bring us greater pain than was deliverable by our national enemies in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

In any military conflict, victory must always be the proper endgame. Yet, in our present and future conflicts, there may no longer be any formal war-terminating agreements, or even any other identifiable demarcations of enemy defeat. Instead, when dealing with conflict outcomes involving both rational and irrational enemies, state and sub-state, we will (however reluctantly) have to accept markedly frustrating conditions of protracted uncertainty. Such an acceptance will be unpopular in a clarity-driven America that, since Vietnam, has come to loathe ambiguous wars.

How should President Obama proceed in the face of such major constraints? After all, in any democratic society, operational considerations of war waging must generally be weighed against a panoply of competing public sentiments.

A final observation: President Obama has expressed a clear preference for a world without nuclear weapons. But these weapons are not inherently good or evil, and it is even likely that a stable nuclear balance of terror during the Cold War may have prevented World War III. Moreover, even if every existing nuclear state's government came to share President Obama's preference, it does not follow that a single one of them would then be willing to give up its own nuclear arms. This is because the reasonableness of denuclearization would always be contingent upon all other existing nuclear states undertaking similar disarmament.

States are not yet ready to overcome the uncertainties surrounding necessary verification of nuclear disarmament or arms control. In the best of all possible worlds, countries could possibly turn back the ticking atomic clock, and impose viable limits on the technologies of mega-destruction. But we do not yet live in such a world, and the realistic incapacity to implement any serious forms of denuclearization means that we shall have to stay prepared for all threat contingencies.

We Americans need an improved and updated strategic doctrine, and the essential forces to support that doctrine.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Professor of International Law at Purdue University. Chair of Project Daniel, he is the author of ten major books dealing with terrorism, counter-terrorism, nuclear strategy and nuclear war.

THOMAS MCINERNEY, Lt. General (USAF/Ret.) is co-author of The Endgame: Winning the War on Terror (with Major-General Paul E. Vallely). General McInerney is retired Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.

PAUL E. VALLELY, MG (US Army/Ret.), is an author, publisher, military strategist and Chairman of Stand Up America USA.






Obama Challenge: Dealing With Irrational, Possibly Nuclear, Enemies