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July 31, 2007



There are two cases in which nuclear weapons programs might be enough reason for war. 1) We must do the utmost to prevent regimes run by true crazy people with unilateral control from developing nuclear weapons because ordinary deterrent (i.e. MAD) in such cases does not work. Also, 2) we need to keep nuclear technologies out of the hands of countries that can reasonably expect to avoid any blowback from marketing their weapons to terrorists.

The only country in the world that fits *both* criteria is actually North Korea. War is probably not the most effective avenue in this case, but it certainly has warranted more focus than it has gotten.

Iran can arguably fit case 1 (though I think Nathan would agree that, Ahmadinejad notwithstanding, it does not), and certainly does not fit case 2. No country in the Mid-East can possibly expect to avoid blowback by selling weapons to terrorists. They do so anyway, of course, but sell WMD? They'd be fools.


Well, some people want an apocalypse and holy war. Would they wage the war with nukes if they could? That's a tough question. Nukes have only been used in war once in Human history. There are a couple ways to look at this fact: either 1) nukes are sufficiently devastating as to be seen as only a last resort by most countries, or 2) most countries haven't even had the opportunity to resist the urge to use nukes, and it's only a matter of time until nukes are used again. US and UN policy indicates that they believe number 2 to be the case, and are thus concerned with stopping as many countries from getting nukes as possible. I don't really have a problem with this goal even if it is a double standard. I don't consider "possession of nukes" to be a universal right of countries and their citizens.

I suppose it's also sort of a double standard that in some countries law enforcement officials can bear arms but private citizens can't. What makes law enforcement more trustworthy than private citizens? When you think about it, not much really. I imagine the ratio of immoral to moral people is the same in law enforcement as it is in the general populace. So there really is no reason to trust law enforcement officials more than private citizens. The same analogy could be made about countries, I suppose. But in the end, even in America, we do put more trust in law enforcement than we do in the general populace. We don't let private citizens possess any sort of arms they want. No one is allowed to have an RPG sitting in their living room. So I think the destructive scale of a weapon is very relevant to whether or not it should be allowed to proliferate. Regarding nukes, ideally an international body should control proliferation and designate a unit for enforcement of non-proliferation. And in fact, that is what the UN does (sort of). Non-proliferation is a good goal to strive for, and what we really need is a UN with more power and authority (and gutts) to enforce this regulation.

Nathan Smith

Tom's discussion of the "double standard" that law-enforcement officials can carry weapons not generally permitted to private citizens is useful. Governments are considered legitimate. What the grounds are for this and whether and when they are valid can be debated, but the basic case for the legitimacy of the US government is well known and widely accepted, including by the private citizens who are on the losing end of this "double standard."

Something akin to this would be needed to justify a global anti-nuclear proliferation regime. There would need to be a strong and widely-accepted case that such-and-such five or seven or eight nations have a special role as guardians of world peace and as a result they, and only they, are entrusted with nuclear weapons. This would need to be accepted as legitimate by most of those who are forbidden to have nuclear weapons.

Instead we have a regime that is based on the pseudo-principle of anti-proliferation, and which reserves a presumptively permanent nuclear monopoly for five-- or seven, or eight-- nations, based on nothing more or better than the chance status quo of fifty years past.

I think this matters. There's no reason for Iran or any other nation with nuclear ambitions to accept the current regime, other than maybe fear of force. But is the West willing to use force on the scale necessary to stop nuclear proliferation? And *should* we be willing to use force on that scale, for that end?

I don't think you can brush questions of justice under the rug. For one thing, the justice, or not, of our cause buttresses, or not, the credibility of our threats. An attack on Iran right now might make perfect sense in terms of anti-proliferation, but it won't get much support from the American people because the American people care about justice.


I should note that while Ahmadinejad might want (or at least be willing to tolerate) nuclear apocalypse, I do not think he would have the power the bring that about because Iran has too many hands on the reins.


The only way for countries acting as "world police" would gain legitimacy is if the rest of the world was enfranchised in some way vis-a-vis the police countries. I think the only way to pull that off is through a body like the UN. So, despite my libertarian leanings, I am a big proponent of the UN and other international bodies. I wouldn't want the UN to have the same power as a federal government, however. I'd just want it to be powerful enough to settle international disputes and police rogue countries.

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