Equal Rights To WMDs?

by Jimmy Akin

in Moral Theology

Down yonder, a commenter writes regarding going to war with Iraq because Saddam was perceived to possess WMDs:

[T]his is a red herring since Iraq is a sovereign State and has as much right to WMDs as any other State.

I strongly disagree. States no more have equal rights to weaponry than individuals do.

I don’t care how much a fan of the Second Amendment one is (and I am a big fan of it, myself), the fact is that not all people have a moral or a legal right to have deadly weapons. Homicidally insane individuals have no moral right (and, one hopes, no civil right) to possess deadly weapons. A responsible person may be able to handle a gun responsibly, and the possession of guns by such people appears to actually decrease the crime rate (actually, not just in theory) because burglars don’t want to break into homes knowing that they may be facing an armed homeowner. But the homicidally insane by definition are not responsible and not capable of possessing firearms without posing a grave danger to the community. They cannot be trusted with the power that such weapons represent because they have too great a risk of misusing it. The community has no obligation to allow such individuals to possess deadly weapons.

In the same way, the community of nations has no obligation to allow homicidally unstable nation states to possess WMDs. Prescinding from the question of whether such weapons should exist, it is clear that if they are to exist that not all nations have an equal moral right to them. If any nations are to have them then it must be those nations that have the maturity, stability, and sense of moral conscience not to use the recklessly or indiscriminately. Those nations should not possess such weapons that are unstable, immature, or evil enough that they stand a good chance of (a) proliferating such weapons to unstables states, (b) passing them to terrorists, (c) using them recklessly, or (d) collapsing into chaos.

Applying this to the present situation, regardless of what one may think of particular instances in the U.S.’s record (which is not perfect; the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wrong), it remains the case that the U.S. is (d) a stable nation (not likely to become a "failed state" like Somalia) that (c) has a large number of citizens *today* who will not tolerate leaders who use such weapons indiscriminately (as at Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and (b) will not pass them to terrorists or (a) proliferate them to unstable states. It also has a sixty-year record of possessing WMDs, much of that period in a tense face-off with the Soviet Union, without using them.

One could fault this or that in U.S. history, but the fact remains that the U.S. has a far greater claim to being the kind of nation that can trusted to possess WMDs than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (or any Middle Eastern country).

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{ 13 comments }

dcs November 24, 2004 at 1:16 pm

In the same way, the community of nations has no obligation to allow homicidally unstable nation states to possess WMDs.
But they also have no right to prevent them from owning them — they have only the right to prevent them from using them. The “community of nations” has no sovereignty — sovereignty resides in the State.
I also think the characterization of Iraq as “homicidally unstable” is wrong.
Prescinding from the question of whether such weapons should exist, it is clear that if they are to exist that not all nations have an equal moral right to them.
Strictly speaking, I don’t think any State has the moral right to nuclear weapons. (Or any other weapons that are classified as WMDs, use of which is enjoined by the Geneva Conventions.) However, given Israel’s propensity for attacking its neighbors, and the widely-held belief that that State has a stockpile of nuclear weapons, Iraq’s desire to posess them is entirely understandable.

dcs November 24, 2004 at 1:20 pm

has a large number of citizens *today* who will not tolerate leaders who use such weapons indiscriminately (as at Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
I think if the circumstances of WWII were repeated, many if not most of the citizens of the U.S. would support using nuclear weapons against an enemy, even if the targets were civilian. I hope and pray that I am wrong. But how many U.S. citizens denounced the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombings?

BillyHW November 24, 2004 at 1:39 pm

Those nations should not possess such weapons that are unstable, immature, or evil enough that they stand a good chance of (a) proliferating such weapons to unstables states, (b) passing them to terrorists, (c) using them recklessly, or (d) collapsing into chaos.
I agree Jimmy. France should give up its nuclear weapons immediately. :)

Polycarp November 24, 2004 at 3:09 pm

[i](Or any other weapons that are classified as WMDs, use of which is enjoined by the Geneva Conventions.)[/i]
Huh??? The Geneva Conventions require the use of weapons of mass destruction?? Are you sure you didn’t mean to say “forbidden” rather than “enjoined”?
“However, given Israel’s propensity for attacking its neighbors,”
Israel’s propensity for attacking its neighbors?? Are you serious? Israel is surrounded by, and even inhabited by, hordes of people who have been trained from childhood to desire and to work for the death of all Israelis, and even the death of all Jews everywhere. Israel has been attacked numerous times by those people, and has also taken defensive action against them. But you think it is Israel that has a propensity for attacking its neighbors, and not the other way around. Very telling. Very telling indeed.

dcs November 24, 2004 at 3:20 pm

Huh??? The Geneva Conventions require the use of weapons of mass destruction?? Are you sure you didn’t mean to say “forbidden” rather than “enjoined”?
The secondary meaning of “enjoin” is “forbid” or “prohibit.”
Israel’s propensity for attacking its neighbors?? Are you serious?
Yes of course.
Israel is surrounded by, and even inhabited by, hordes of people who have been trained from childhood to desire and to work for the death of all Israelis, and even the death of all Jews everywhere.
That was never the position of Lebanon and Syria whom Israel attacked without provocation. Nor was it the position of Iraq when Israel bombed their nascent nuclear reactor, once more without provocation.
But you think it is Israel that has a propensity for attacking its neighbors, and not the other way around. Very telling. Very telling indeed.
I do not deny that Israel has been attacked by its Arab neighbors. But to whitewash the history of Israel and blame all the problems of the Middle East on Islam — and none of them on Zionism — is wrong.

StephenL November 24, 2004 at 5:10 pm

In the same way, the community of nations has no obligation to allow homicidally unstable nation states to possess WMDs.
But they also have no right to prevent them from owning them — they have only the right to prevent them from using them. The “community of nations” has no sovereignty — sovereignty resides in the State
I would say to the above that the stable nations have a moral responsibility to keep WMDs out of the hands of rouge nations. The very nature of WMDs so outclasses conventional weapons that humanity cannot risk their being used by Iran, North Korea or terrorists. Hence they cannot be allowed to have them.

Jimmy Akin November 24, 2004 at 5:49 pm

If the developed nations have a right to keep rogue states from using WMDs then the developed nations have a right to invade the rogue states and take away their WMDs.
That’s the only way to keep them from using them.

dcs November 24, 2004 at 7:38 pm

That’s the only way to keep them from using them.
No, I believe the doctrine of mutually-assured destruction (MAD) takes care of that quite handily. It worked with the USSR for decades.
I doubt that the U.S. would actually invade another State — rogue or not — that had nuclear weapons (the only real WMDs in my opinion). And that is why other States will seek to develop them.

Ontario Emperor November 24, 2004 at 9:44 pm

I have to agree with a point that dcs made – while the community of nations has no moral obligation to allow all sovereign states to possess WMDs, the community of nations has no moral power to prevent a sovereign state from possessing WMDs.
Now the community can certainly use various methods of force to persuade a nation against pursuing WMDs, but this raises the question of what types of force are “moral” – is it moral to invade a rogue nation? Is it moral to institute a trade embargo against a rogue nation? Is it moral to deny food to a rogue nation?
In my case, I believe in the application of the Bush doctrine to Iraq, if for no other reason than the invasion of Iraq stopped Saddam’s torture of his own people. On the other hand, it seems that many U.S. interventions have eventually resulted in adverse consequences to us – one can claim that our opposing of Soviet troops in Afghanistan led to the Taliban, the two World Trade Center attacks, the U.S.S. Cole attack, etc., and it is quite possible that our removal of Saddam may result in a theocratic Muslim state in Iraq. And a few extremists (not myself) would probably even argue that the Marshall Plan was flawed…

Christopher November 24, 2004 at 10:05 pm

Excerpted from Idealism Without Illusions: U.S. Foreign Policy in the 1990′s, by George Weigel. 1994.] . . . Moral reasoning, too, leads us to conclude that the principle of state sovereignty must not be considered exceptionless. Suppose that Nazi Germany had forsworn aggression after recovering the Rhineland and the Sudentenland, and had proceeded to implement the “Final Solution” to the Judenfrage within its own internationally recognized borders. Would the principle of state sovereignty have meant that other states were forbidden to interfere in this German “internal affair”?
Most reasonable people today would regard a positive answer to that question as morally absurd. But suppose an Indian government, controlled by militant Hindu nationalists and capable of deploying nuclear weapons, decided to settle the “Pakistan problem” and redress what it considered to be the fundamental injustice of the 1947 partition of the subcontinent, using its claims to sovereignty in Kashmir as the opening wedge for military action. Or at a somewhat less apocolyptic level, suppose the government of Turkey decided to rid itself of the Kurds in the manner in which it had once decided to rid itself of the Armenians. Does the principle of state sovereignty mean these affairs would be no one else’s business?
Would it constitute a fundamental breach of the principle of sovereignty of an international force — or an individual state, for that matter — intervened to stop the genocide of Christian tribesmen in the south of Sudan? Put that way, the question seems to answer itself: whatever else it might mean, the principle of state sovereignty cannot mean that states are free to engage in the indiscriminate slaughter of religious, racial, or ethnic minorities within their borders. When that is taking place, othes have a right — perhaps even a duty — to intervene to stop the killing. [pp. 99-100]
DCS disagrees with the characterization of Iraq as “homicidally unstable”. But to say that Iraq was a “sovereign nation” is an abuse of the term, and Jimmy Akin’s label is appropriate — especially after studying Sadaam’s rise to power and Kanan Makiya’s eyewitness accounts of life in Iraq under Hussein. It was a “nation” literally held together by fear and persecution of its civilians.

BillyHW November 24, 2004 at 10:19 pm

“No, I believe the doctrine of mutually-assured destruction (MAD) takes care of that quite handily. It worked with the USSR for decades.”
Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe this will work against radical Islamist terrorists or psychologically unstable tyrants.
“…nuclear weapons (the only real WMDs in my opinion).”
A correctly designed and deployed biological weapon could possibly do much more damage than nuclear weapons (in terms of human lives lost). And the effects could be felt for many hundreds of years, possibly even forever.

BillyHW November 24, 2004 at 10:31 pm

But to say that Iraq was a “sovereign nation” is an abuse of the term
Also don’t forget the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein invaded or attacked 6 countries:
Iran (invasion)
Kuwait (invasion)
Israel (scud missile attack)
Saudi Arabia (scud missile attack)
Jordan (some of those scuds meant for Israel landed in Jordan)
Qatar (a scud missile possibly intended for Saudi Arabia landed here)
A nation loses its “right to sovereignty” when it attacks another nation.
I find the idea of an inalienable “right to sovereignty” of a state to be somewhat ridiculous also.

dcs November 25, 2004 at 8:50 am

And a few extremists (not myself) would probably even argue that the Marshall Plan was flawed.
We should just thank our lucky stars that the Marshall Plan was implemented and not the horrific Morganthau Plan.

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