The voice of young liberal democrats

RE: Nuclear Policy by georgeinwashington
October 25, 2007, 5:19 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, nuclear weapons

London Liberal,

In terms of the prisoners dilemma and the development of nuclear weapons there are two arguments that I would use to say that the argument still does not hold. Firstly, although revealed to the public by a whistle blower in 1986 the Israeli nuclear program was known to the French, (who built the reactor) since the early 50’s and by the CIA since 1960, both log before any weapons were produced. The fact that these programs were kept secret by these governments was a product of the strategic situation of the time, but in a nuclear free world these secrets would immediately become public knowledge in order to build public anger against the program. Secondly even if a country managed to develop a bomb in complete secrecy, which I still find implausible, and I might add that Stalin knew about the Manhattan Project before Truman, the country would face two immediate problems. Firstly, only having a small arsenal it would not be able to attack Britain or the US without a serious conventional attack that it would lose. If the US and the UK still had nukes at this point it would lose more quickly, in other words, it would not be a credible offensive threat. Secondly there is the problem of delivery systems. The method of delivery would be problematic. Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles require space technology, the other means of long distance delivery, a plane, would be impossible to implement against a country with modern air defences. The type of rockets that were are needed to deliver a nuclear weapon are also difficult to conseal.

Secondly, yes the NPT is undermined by countries not participating, but at the moment is is the best prospect we have. We should concentrate therefore on bringing in the very few people who are not part of the regime rather than disposing of it altogether. One way we could start to do this, would be to uphold our end of the bargain.

A point I would make which you fail to address is the possibility for a nuclear accident. With all of the stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world the possibility of an accident is real, and its consequences catastrophic. The scenario presented the film Dr Strangelove, although satirical was not entirely without foundation and the the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction was not given the acronym MAD without reason. The only way to really prevent this disaster happening is to work towards a nuclear free world.

Finally, I believe that the crucial moral argument here is with the intended use of the weapon. The threat they pose and any political advantage you gain from their possession can only be realized if others believe you will use them. Even though you may not explicitly threaten their use, I could only ever see any political advantage in the implicit threat carried that you have them and that they are available for use. People will only believe you will use them if you do not rule out using them and leave that possibility open. However I believe that the use of nuclear weapons is immoral. If you believe that they are immoral than you should rule out their use, making their utility redundant. With the further possibility of an accident happening I see therefore no reason why we should keep them. Yes of course I understand that there are others throughout the world with out such scruples, but if they can be prevented from gaining the weapon in other ways and if they controlled by other means, as I think is clearly the case, than this should be our policy, rather than to act as the world’s bully.

As an update, and keeping on the subject of defence, I will be attending an event with Admiral Mike Mullen, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tonight in Washington, which I will be blogging on tomorrow.

1 Comment so far
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It’s not just the french and americans who knew of Israel’s ambitions for a nuclear arsenal – Labour MPs and Civil Servants covertly brokered and directly sold heavy water and other necessities to Israel at a very early stage.

I have to agree – the usage of nuclear weapons is indiscriminate, immoral and against international law.

Also the MAD doctrine isn’t actually effective outside of the cold war scenario of two super-powers (and their proxies) where the leaders make a rational decision not to strike first because of the assured retaliation.

Current scenarios are very different
– Israel has stated that it would strike first against any of it’s neighbours on the suspicion that they might have or be working on a nuclear arsenel.
– India and Pakistan have the closest scenario to the cold war, but are neighbours – a nuclear strike against either would have a huge negative impact on both nations – contaminating shared water supplies, crops, etc not to mention the very significant risk of China intervening using conventional or nuclear weapons.
– Terrorists aren’t party to MAD, the current suicide cults are obviously immune – and any terrorist group not directly tied to a state or region fail to offer any target or retaliation
– Iran doesn’t have nukes, and is signed up to treaties and open to inspection.

From what I can see, any rogue state prepared to make a first strike wouldn’t care about MAD so MAD is no longer effective.

Also it’s clear now that it would be impossible to secretly build an arsenal – any rogue nation getting to close can be brought into line with conventional warfare (after all that was claim used to invade Iraq), or be monitored closely as a party to the international treaties in exchange for aid, diplomatic recognition, or just not being the next Iraq.

Comment by Aaron Trevena

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