A Second Nuclear Age: Confessional Militant Regimes & the Imminent Demise of Westphalia

The perfect nightmare is beginning.

We in the West are witnessing the emergence of new nuclear regimes that don’t believe in Western norms of governance; ideological, historical, moral, political restraints that build mutuality are breaking down, embodying challenges faster than formal containment or policy can resolve. The Cold War and its neat bipolar world cannot fortify those at the helm as we try to grapple with the imminent loss of strategy.

That’s right, the nature of emerging threats is not susceptible to strategy. We’re emerging on formal ground that only a Medievalist can understand; I am referring to a world view of conflict that is intrinsically irreconcilable. The West and its trained leadership isn’t capable of wading into such confounded realities. An emerging militant nuclear Caliphate is not open to the advantages that the West offers. We are returning to that ‘Muslim Lake’ (the Mediterranean) we left with the emergence that became the New World.

Is our Civilization capable of diving a way through this conflict?

The dominant institutions of Western Civilization are insufficiently poised. We are not entering a world built on stability, even though currently we live off the remains of a carcass called ‘the Pax Americana’. Look to the fault lines in the Eastern Mediterranean to see risks of unimaginable horror.

With the rise of proliferation, Islamic autocracies are breaking out into a militancy that cannot be contained. The age old strategy of thinking in terms of capability is useless. Why? Because nuclear weapons are thought of as indissolubly linked to questions of deterrence and political strategy. This calculus is over. American strategic thought must enter new (actually old Medieval) frames of thought to embody the tactical maneuvering needed to win? this Civilizational conflict. What’s required is new strategic thought shaped from within the confines of Tocquevillian policy craft, for Alexis Tocqueville understood the strengths of our Republic, especially how it is welcomed (unannounced and unarticulated) in foreign lands. The secret is to learn how to discern the heart of the proverbial Arab Street. If we understand the appeal to liberty and its nemesis in the various forms of absolutism (secular/democratic and Islamic) the West can wrestle the future away from the Salafists.

A dark truth is required here; we must not shy away from recognizing just how invaluable nuclear strategy is and how it should play a role in geopolitics. We err when political leadership refrains from strategic policy craft because of its love affair with mass and capabilities. We face humanist challenges that if harnessed to indigenous political aspirations can nullify militancy. We should know how tactical nuclear weapons actually assist this insight. In a sentence, the West and its political leadership cannot enjoy a frivolous hegemony simply because we arrogate to ourselves an ephemeral lead in sophisticated technology. More is required of us if we are to gain traction against Islamic militancy.

A second nuclear age is upon is as we watch the rise of Pakistan, China, India, North Korea and Iran. South Asia and the Near East will force a change upon traditional American policy craft of applied nuclear brinkmanship. How? Because these regimes recognize no restraints. Understanding new nuclear dynamics and the possibility of pre-emption is required if the West is to handle rising foes.

The rivalries throughout South Asia mark this needed change. Both India and Pakistan have changed their arsenals to accommodate first nuclear strike capabilities. Conventional warfare is not sought given how weak the respective economies of both nation states remains. Both trends point to a region that is crisis prone and explosive. Paralysis is not an option.

Pakistan seeks tactical hegemony given the gains that India has on conventional war. India continues to field sensors tracking Pakistani strategy. How else to say it: the dynamics of a multi-polar world are not susceptible to our Westphalian (Cold War) concept of stability.

The United States can look toward pre-emption through engagement. That would mean developing positive relations with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Britain to mitigate the corrosive influence of militancy. This form of policy engagement is more similar to the Concert of Europe than the Cold War. To win the peace in Islamabad may require winning over the House of Saud, peeling off its love affair with the Wahabbis. New Deli can be opened and managed in Jerusalem, especially given the history of their bilateral relations. Turkey and Egypt have roles to play here, what’s required is a world view that animates a by-gone era, a world of Disraeli, Bismark and Castlereagh.

We should anticipate what awaits us, namely a globe that thwarts order; for there can be no stability with emerging political regimes unalloyed from the norms of western governance. If we seek any form of stability, then American policy craft must anticipate the impact that nuclear capabilities have on confessional identities.

Nuclear weapons harnessed to the sovereign ideals that animate Islamic militancy impede the growth of law based order.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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