Right and Left, on Proliferation -
Whatever happens, we have got
The Atom Bomb, and they have not
Pat Buchanan writes on The Great Equalizer:
God may have created all men, but it was Sam Colt who made them equal. So it was said of the Old West, where Colt’s six-shooter gave the small man a certain equality. In the 21st century, the atom bomb is the great equalizer. No matter how evil the outlaw regime, acquisition of an atom bomb can earn it respect. When one has the bomb, attention must be paid.

Compare how America treats Kim Jong Il, the Stalinist who has starved millions, and Saddam, who has gassed thousands.
Meanwhile, writing in the Nation, Jonathan Schell writes a very interesting (and much longer) piece about the war. Some excepts:
Wars, let us recall, are not fought for their own sake but to achieve aims. Victory cannot be judged only by the outcome of battles. In the American Revolutionary War, for example, Edmund Burke, a leader of England's antiwar movement, said, "Our victories can only complete our ruin." Almost two centuries later, in Vietnam, the United States triumphed in almost every military engagement, yet lost the war. If the aim is lost, the war is lost, whatever happens on the battlefield. The novelty this time is that the defeat has preceded the inauguration of hostilities.

The aim of the Iraq war has never been only to disarm Iraq. George Bush set forth the full aim of his war policy in unmistakable terms on January 29, 2002, in his first State of the Union address. It was to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, not only in Iraq but everywhere in the world, through the use of military force. ...

The Bush policy of using force to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction met its Waterloo last October, when Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly was informed by Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju of North Korea that his country has a perfect right to possess nuclear weapons. ... "We will not permit..." had been Bush's words, but North Korea went ahead and apparently produced nuclear weapons anyway. The Administration now discovered that its policy of pre-emptively using overwhelming force had no application against a proliferator with a serious military capability, much less a nuclear power. North Korea's conventional capacity alone--it has an army of more than a million men and 11,000 artillery pieces capable of striking South Korea's capital, Seoul--imposed a very high cost; the addition of nuclear arms, in combination with missiles capable of striking not only South Korea but Japan, made it obviously prohibitive.
Schell is, of course, against the war. But unlike Buchanan, Schell has a positive agenda as well. He thinks the issue of nuclear weapons does deserve attention.
The Administration has embarked on a nonproliferation policy that has already proved as self-defeating in its own terms as it is likely to be disastrous for the United States and the world. Nevertheless, it would be a fatal mistake for those of us who oppose the war to dismiss the concerns that the Administration has raised. By insisting that the world confront the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, President Bush has raised the right question--or, at any rate, one part of the right question--for our time, even as he has given a calamitously misguided answer. ... the issue of proliferation must be placed at the center of our concerns. For example, even as we argue that containment of Iraq makes more sense than war, we must be clear-eyed in acknowledging that Iraq's acquisition of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction would be a disaster--just as we must recognize that the nuclearization of South Asia and of North Korea have been disasters, greatly increasing the likelihood of nuclear war in the near future. These events, full of peril in themselves, are points on a curve of proliferation that leads to what can only be described as nuclear anarchy.

For a global policy that, unlike the Bush policies, actually will stop--and reverse--proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction is indeed a necessity for a sane, livable twenty-first century.
I tend to agree that proliferation is bad. But I don't think it's a disaster. States, thus far, have been pretty sane about (not) using them. Only one did, and that in the depths of war-feeling that I doubt most people can imagine.

What I worry about more than states having nukes, is that the more nukes there are, in the hands of weak, corrupt, and impoverished states, the more likely it is that some will leak out to non-deterrable actors - "terrorists", or "freedom fighters", or perhaps just criminals of some ilk.

Buchanan's allusion to hand guns is useful here. There is definitely an analog between international arms control, and gun control. I shan't spell it out since probably everyone reading this can easily enough. If it is right, then controlling nukes is not a good idea - they are needed for deterrence. But I think the analogy fails in mapping individuals onto nations. It is possible to selectively attack individuals with guns. But it is not possible to selectively attack states with nukes - to kill one Saddam and the other high ministers of his evil state, you end up slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people. This is unacceptable. So the question arises, is there any moral use for nuclear weapons? Should one use them even in self-defense?

This is one of the reasons I am an anarchist. Anarchists don't have to be moral, and can cut off the moral problems associated with the extremal problems of rights-based philosophy. Rights are a good and handy way of approaching almost all political problems, rather like Newton's laws are sufficient for almost any practical physics you could do. But push hard enough, and "rights" collapse into contradiction. Anarchocapitalism generates most of libertarianism without reifying rights. (Push hard enough on Newton - very high speeds, for instance - and you break it, and need relativity. Push even harder and you need, well, some grand unified theory that does not yet exist.)

Anyway, back to nukes. Leaving aside the morality of their use, it is hard to question that they do seem to bring stability to the world. But they would do so in much smaller numbers than currently exist. The US could easily drop down perhaps several hundred nukes in existence, not tens of thousands.

Schell has this interesting observation about possession of nukes:
Nuclear arsenals are endowed with a magical quality. As soon as a nation obtains one it becomes invisible to the possessor. Nuclear danger then seems to emanate only from proliferation--that is, from newcomers to the nuclear club, while the dangers that emanate from one's own arsenal disappear from sight. Gen. Tommy Franks, designated as commander of the Iraq war, recently commented, "The sight of the first mushroom cloud on one of the major population centers on this planet is something that most nations on this planet are willing to go a long ways out of the way to prevent." His forgetfulness of Hiroshima and Nagasaki might seem nothing more than a slip of the tongue if it did not represent a pervasive and deeply ingrained attitude in the United States. Another revealing incident was Secretary of State Powell's comment that North Korea, by seeking nuclear weapons, was arming itself with "fool's gold." But the military establishment that Powell once led is of course stuffed to bursting with this fool's gold.
Schell goes on to argue existing nuclear arsenals are quite visible to the non-nuclear club, as is the prestige of possession. And this, ultimately causes further proliferation. Thus we (and other nuclear powers) cause the problem of proliferation, or at least contribute to it. Yet, as he says above, we are largely blind to our own possession.
The world's prospective nuclear arsenals cannot be dealt with without attending to its existing ones. As long as some countries insist on having any of these, others will try to get them. Until this axiom is understood, neither "dialogue" nor war can succeed. ...

The days of the double standard are over. We cannot preserve it and we should not want to. The struggle to maintain it by force, anachronistically represented by Bush's proposed war on Iraq, in which the United States threatens pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons to stop another country merely from getting them, can only worsen the global problem it seeks to solve. One way or another, the world is on its way to a single standard. Only two in the long run are available: universal permission to possess weapons of mass destruction or their universal prohibition.
Just so. Worth thinking on seriously. I don't think it will end up as universal "permission" - who permits? It will end up as universal possession, though, permitted or not. And that's a pretty scary thing.

Universal possession of nukes may or may not make war obsolete. But it will certainly speed the day when the first terrorists get a nuke. On that day, I want the US to be living at peace with the world, and I want the US to have had been living at peace with the world for many long years. Safety via innocuouty.

I highly recommend reading the whole piece.

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