Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Genie Out of the Bottle

What's a pacifist's answer to Nuclear proliferation?

Sure, I know the U.S. is often held exclusively responsible for letting that genie out of the bottle. (Or, opening the Pandora of all Pandora's boxes?)

I would argue that German scientists working for Hitler were certainly feverishly at work, before and during WWII, God only knows what would have happened if Einstein had fallen into the hands of the Nazis. And in the aftermath of WWII, the efforts of the Russians and Chinese to acquire the Bomb certainly strategically altered forever our nuclear destiny, and forced our hand in many respects from a strategic planning perspective. And yet, Nuclear Brinksmanship and Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) arguably kept the two superpowers from fighting anything other than proxy wars with conventional arms.

More and more nations joined the Nuclear Club, and now emerge the threats of non-state actors with Nuclear Weapons, with the potential to detonate a dirty bomb or even a nuclear explosion as an act of terrorism. Regardless of how we got here, what's the proper response?

And as a side note, were the Rosenbergs guilty of treason, or if they did commit the acts attributed to them, was their act patriotic? Is an act of that kind a potentially acceptable Pacifist response?

LiberalAvenger response #1:

Nuclear weapons are bad and I wish that they had never been invented.

They were invented, however, and we must accept that. There is no need to point figures at who/when/why was responsible. The bomb was a product of a very dark time and indeed, we can be thankful that the United States secured the first working versions ahead of Hitler or Stalin. I also believe that the use of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the best decision at the time given the circumstances and mankind's general naivité as to the full implications of the existence and use of the bomb.

The very idea of a nuclear bomb is absurd. That human beings would create something so poisonously destructive runs counter to any enlightened sensibilities. We've heard factoids that the world's existing nuclear arsenal is capable of killing every living creature on the face of the earth several times over or turning the entire surface of the earth into glass from the heat. Whether or not these precise statements are indeed "the truth," the destructive potential of nuclear weapons is mind-boggling and evil.

Yes, evil.

Conventional devices that exist to kill people or destroy property and infrastructure are evil. Devices to kill and destroy indiscriminately on a massive scale are even more so.

As you've pointed out, Pandora's box is open. Tragically, we cannot undo this.

In light of the fact that these devices exist, the general strategy of non-proliferation makes sense. It is, in fact, our only hope to save ourselves from armageddon.

That being said, the Bush Administration has failed us on the non-proliferation front. Distracted from the world stage by the Iraq folly, we have allowed North Korea to acquire between 6 and 8 nuclear devices and Iran to move their own program further along. This is inexcusable. Furthermore, the Bush Administration has squandered American credibility internationally with the Iraq misadventure which will make it all the more difficult to keep North Korea and Iran in check.

Thank you, GW Bush and friends for making the world all the more unsafe while we become the mockery of the diplomatic world by engaging in a war of choice in Iraq.

Furthermore, Bush Administration insistence in moving ahead with battlefield and bunker-busting nuclear weapons is unconscionable and adds to our general lack of credibility while undermining the worldwide non-proliferation effort. It is the height of arrogance and is inexcusable.

Update from LiberalAvenger:

I forgot to answer the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg question.

I am under the impression that Julius Rosenberg was guilty. Treason is a crime. He should have been imprisoned. I do not believe in capital punishment and find the fact that he was executed to be barbaric. Civilized societies should not be executing human beings.

I do not think it is clear whether or not Ethel Rosenberg was guilty. Regardless, she should not have been executed.

Additional update from LiberalAvenger:

This article by Robert S. McNamara in Foreign Policy is excellent and relevant.

Dadmanly responds:

I think this sounds partisan. (But that's okay, I expect us to be, even if we're trying to be civil.)

I hear this argument a lot, that Iraq is a distraction from greater dangers, and I don't think it's sincere. Or better, it's a handy argument used almost "marriage of convenience-like," usually by people who would be equally aghast at any of our probable responses to whatever strawman alternative danger they set up.

I worked many years in Intelligence. Within military and civilian intelligence, defense, and diplomatic establishments are thousands and thousands of analysts, each with their own assigned targets and areas of interest. What's on the budget is gargantuan; what's black ops (invisible) is even larger. The idea that some portion of our military or intelligence or diplomatioc corps being focused on Iraq, would have any consequential (negative) impact on analysis or casework elsewhere is naive. There's plenty of capability and focus to go around. We even have time to be attentive to non-immediate threats and not-yet-but-potential threats. Just as there are plenty of resources devoted to the hunt for OBL.

North Korea and Iran are bad examples for the point in any case; both countries were aggressively developing nuclear weapons capability throughout the Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton years, and U.S. Foreign Policy (and U.N. Security Council responses) were completely unsuccessful at preventing their eventual transition to nuclear statehood.

And what response now would you propose? What response in 2000 or 2001 or 2002 or 2003 would you have supported? If you don't like or can't support a(n) (relatively easy) overthrow of Saddam in Iraq, how would it be possible for you to support anything that would have succceeded in Iran or North Korea? If you mention anything to do with arms control, or U.N. Weapons Inspectors or Agencies, you really can't be serious. If there is one thing that should be accepted as fact on all sides by now, is that WMD wannabees and U.N. sanctioned regimes can very easily game (and make a total mockery of) whatever system the U.N. puts in place.

American standing in elite world opinion has been low for a long time, Iraq is merely the latest of talking points for a continuous stream of anti-Americanism with 9/11 only a very brief respite. This, in stark contrast to the overwhelming popularity of American culture, ideas, innovation, and technology.

But we are in fact, very credible. The leaders of countries all over the world are quite sure that, under the current administration, if we promise (or threaten) something, we will follow through. The fact that this was quite the opposite just 5 years ago, and how Islamic Terrorists were convinced we would not defend ourselves, speaks volumes about the value of saying what you're going to do and doing what you said you were going to do. That is true credibility. I think what you really mean is popularity. We are unpopular, but I would argue there is more evidence for this being the result of jealousy and envy and resentment over our power and influence. Much of the world would be very happy indeed if we were to suffer grave harm financially and militarily. If that's the cost of us gaining credibility as you mean it -- which I think we will never earn in any real sense -- than I would say the cost is too high.

Our national interest must always be national first, and international only when it is in our interest.


At 3:47 PM, Blogger Terry said...

Jesus, Dadmanly, you just can't ask the easy ones, can you?

Alright - I'll take a stab at it, albeit back-to-front.

If Julius Rosenberg did indeed do what he was accused of doing, I think it would have to be defined as treason. In my personal lexicon, the opposite of treason is patriotism, and I don't think any patriot loses sight of what's best for their country (although what's best for one's country is not always what's right, and in these circumstances patriotism gets tricky). Anyway, I don't think patriotism often entails giving secrets to a rival country (yes - I said 'rival', not 'enemy'. The distinction is important). So yes, Julius committed treason, if the accusations against him were valid. I will not, however, go so far as to concede that acts of treason are, necessarily, morally or ethically wrong. Life just isn't that black and white.

As to nuclear proliferation, I think it was inevitable, and the fact that every other power in the world wants nukes is equally as inevitable. Once a newer, bigger and badder weapon comes into existence, everyone naturally wants it so they can use it to protect their own interests. The proliferation occurred because there were only 2 powers in a position to have them, and they both felt the need to keep upping the ante to keep their counterpart in check (ostensibly - we shouldn't lose sight of the military-industrial complex and all the profits to be had in the continued existence of the Cold War).

Which brings me to another point - when I talk about a country's 'interests', I'm talking about that country's economic interests. Any historian will tell you that every war, as well as every treaty, is ultimately about money. And I'm not implying that this is necessarily a bad thing, even if I would rather live in a world in which it was otherwise.

What I think about nuclear proliferation today is that it's our responsibility (as the only remaining superpower) to do something about it. Since there is no longer any Big Bad threat, we have no reason not to greatly reduce our nuclear arsenal. I wish I could have said 'dismantle' instead of 'greatly reduce', but I don't live in that world. There are threats in this world, and nuclear weapons do seem to have served a function as a deterrent (loath as I am to admit it).

In an ideal world, however, we would be looking toward total nuclear disarmament as a realistic goal. Let's face it - no sane person thinks the use of nuclear weapons is a good idea. I'd like someday to live in a world where humanity acquires the ability to see beyond their own pockets and actually make decisions based upon what's best for the human race and the planet as a whole. But I'm probably just pissing in the wind on this one.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger wanda said...

I agree with almost everything terry said.
With one exception. We are not the only remaining superpower. One only need look at China to know that is a mistake. Especially if war is ultimately about money and money is power. In which case China owns us. We are more heavily indebted to them than any country in the world. If Bush has his way we will soon be borrowing billions of dollas more from them. If our government were a business we'd be one step away from being an Enron or Worldcom.
China can match (maybe even surpass) our nuclear arsenal. They have now made it clear they are fine with N.Korea's obtaining nuclear weapons.
To refuse to acknowledge and respect China's position as a superpower is a serious mistake. Very serious. Especially if they should decide to create their own allied forces with Iran, and other countries of the Middle East. Remember in war, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
We need to begin to find a way to work toward peace. Even the most arrogant or foolish of Americans can't really believe there would be a winner in an all out nuclear war.

At 11:10 PM, Blogger RepubAnon said...

I'm a pragmatist rather than a pacifist, but here goes:

If we assume the Rosenbergs did what they were accused of (there's some question of whether the USSR got the atomic secret from other spies), then yes, they were traitors.

Were they patriots? This depends upon their hearts. If they were doing it for the good of the USSR, they were USSR patriots. If they were doing it for the long-term benefit of the US (to keep absolute power from corrupting us absolutely) then they were (misguided) US patriots, and so on.

Mutual Assured Destruction is the only weapons control technique we know works. It has a proven track record dating back almost 90 years. (Hitler and the Allies didn't use chemical weapons against each other for fear of retaliation, so MAD has worked since the end of World War One.)

How to put the nuclear worms back into the can? Certainly not by giving everyone their own nuke. ABM sites are also useless, as nobody is dumb enough to traceably launch against someone else.

The true danger is from nuclear suicide bombers. Hijack a freighter headed for the US, install your nuke, sail it to your target. Works well with dirty bombs, bioweapons and chemical weapons, too.

The only solutions I see are:

1) Live with proliferation, and possibly help even opposing nations beef up their security so stolen weapons can't be easily set off, or

2) Set up an international organization with enough military power to take on even the US. (I think it'd be a bad idea - but it might solve the problem. Of course, that organization could fall into a dictator's hands...)

At 6:07 PM, Blogger RepubAnon said...

More on modern piracy:
Resurgence of piracy on tsunami-hit seas
...The new pirates appear more organised and better armed.

They often attack in larger formations, sometimes with flotillas of up to seven boats.

Some vessels have electric fences or high pressure hoses to try and fend off pirates, but without these a simple grappling hook is often enough to get on board the relatively lightly crewed ships.

The crew are not usually armed because vessels have to travel through so many different territorial waters where weapons are not allowed to be carried.

At 7:12 PM, Blogger Ryan said...

Dadmanly: I would argue that German scientists working for Hitler were certainly feverishly at work, before and during WWII, God only knows what would have happened if Einstein had fallen into the hands of the Nazis.

Arguing isn't necessary. The history is well known. In my opinion, the definitive source is Leslie Groves' Now It Can Be Told.

The Germans were working toward a nuclear weapon, and Heisenberg was close to a self-sustaining pile, but as was learned during the Manhattan Project, this was merely the science. The vast majority (I'd say 90%) of the problem was engineering. The Germans weren't even close, and some of the leading scientists were so discouraged that they were convinced it wouldn't be possible.

Einstein had no hand in the actual development of the bomb. He did sign a famous letter to Roosevelt urging him to develop the weapon before the Germans could. British and American intelligence also collaborated to sabotage the German program at the behest of these same urgings.

Finally, had the Germans gotten ahold of Einstein, they would likely have killed him. Nazi scientists were outwardly opposed to what they believed to be "Jewish science." The journal Nature published an essay by Johannes Stark where he argued against Relativity strictly because his Nazi leanings. I could dig up the reference if anyone is interested.

(I know this isn't really related to the whole question, but I think I'll stand back and wait for Liberal Avenger to comment.)

At 6:57 AM, Blogger Huntress said...


China is light years away from being a superpower threat to anyone.

India is far more superior in its tech and weaponary than China is..India 's gov't is a democratic go'vt and is far more respected by world powers than China.

Without a democratic gov't in place, China's economic growth will be severly stiffled.

India poses a far greater superpower threat. But to whom? It's a democratic US friendly country. So most democracies have little to fear. On the other hand a continued mutual "teaming up" of India and the US destroys any hope that China may have had of asserting any kind of Superpower status or threat.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger wanda said...

Huntress, I respectfully disagree with you. And I am not alone. Just this past Sunday the discussion on The Capitol Gang was about the increasing threat of N. Korea and China's role in that threat. Earlier this week N. Korea announced they intend to continue to pursue nuclear weapons. China has also made it clear they have no problem with that.
Everyone on the panel (including those strongly on the right) agreed this is a serious developement. The Bush administration has been counting on China backing us up when it came to N. Korea. That isn't going to happen. Now the US is left with the option of having to turn to Japan for assistance. Japan!
To underestimate China is an mistake. Even Bush & Co knew that. They just mistakenly believed our finanical dealings would be enough to provide a bond with China.
Don't forget that Russia still has a large supply of nuclear weapons. I can easily see them being swayed to allign with China. When you add in Iran you have a formidable and volatile alliance.
There was a time when the US could count on European countries for support if the need arose. That is no longer the case. We certainly cannot depend on France, Spain, or Italy. Nor do I believe Germany would be willing to jump on our bandwagon if the need arose. In fact I suspect most of Europe would simply opt out of taking sides.
Personally I don't see India as a viable threat. And maybe not even an ally.

At 7:13 PM, Blogger Terry said...

LA, I have to question a point you made:

"we have allowed North Korea to acquire between 6 and 8 nuclear devices and Iran to move their own program further along."

We have allowed? Who are we, that we can allow or disallow a sovereign nation its right to develop weapons of its choosing? This sounds like the usual, mistaken American opinion that we live on some kind of moral and ethical high ground, and we therefore have the right to pass judgement on the rest of the world. The offshoot of this is that we tend to think that what we have is so damned wonderful that everyone in the world wants it. We can't fathom why anyone would choose a form of government other than democracy (despite the fact that we don't have one).

I just think it's arrogant to presume that we have the right to decide who can or cannot have nuclear weapons, especially since we're the only nation that has ever used nuclear weapons against civilians.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger The Liberal Avenger said...


As a pacifist, the idea of North Korea or any other country acquiring nuclear weapons is problematic. If one subscribes to the strategy of non-proliferation this is problematic as well.

If we're taking non-proliferation seriously then it is inexcusable that we got sidetracked in Iraq and yes, "allowed" this to happen.

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Synova said...

I can't be sad about nuclear weapons because the alternative is to live in a world without the technological base that makes them possible... and inevitable. Anything can be fashioned into a weapon and will be by someone. I'd prefer that someone to be with me.

Perhaps I read too much science fiction.

Still, we can't have the medical technology that we have without being able to make bio-weapons. We can't have the knowledge necessary to go to the moon without the knowledge to make ICBMs. We can't do gene therapy without enabling genetic weapons. We can't build nano-machines without the ability to create Gray Goo.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Synova said...

"Our national interest must always be national first, and international only when it is in our interest."

I just wanted to say that this should be true (and is) for any nation. Popularity has to be second to self-interest and self-interest has to be primary to pouty obstructionism.

Otherwise we're talking about cutting off noses to spite faces.

I can't believe that nations would oppose the US in something that was in their best interest because we're rude and they're in a snit anymore than I would expect any nation to act contrary to their own best interest on the strength of friendship.

Sure, there's posturing. Political hay is made where the sun shines. But (to reference current events) those nations who oppose the war do so for their own reasons and those who support it do so for their own reasons. The one group may proclaim whatever offense on our part (or Bush's) that has put us out of favour and the other group may explain that they are doing it out of loyalty, but none of that trumps pragmatic self interest. It just doesn't.

I have a certain sympathy for Korea, (though none at all for her leader.) I have rather more sympathy for Iran. What I don't expect is for any nation to happily submit to non-proliferation efforts. It's got to feel a whole lot like being told you aren't old enough to use the sharp scissors and have to use the dull ones with the round edges. No one likes being assumed to be a child.

At 9:55 PM, Blogger Brian H said...

"Superpower". Let's have a bit more care in throwing the word around. It takes more than tech and human quantity and even quality to qualify. Russia/USSR carried it off badly, because its internal functioning was so ramshackle that it had to take a tunnel-vision approach to external influence, basically using disinformation, bribery, and heavy nuclear weapon investment to influence world affairs. I challenge anyone to name another effective tool it had or used.

Similarly, but differently, China and India are semi-permanently hampered from being full-spectrum "superpowers" by internal disparities and disconnects between social, economic, intellectual, cultural and technical spheres. These issues will hold them back from being dominant in any other than temporary and artificial ways until they are far more coherently and rationally integrated and open to their own people. India is somewhat less constrained by interal formal barriers to thought and creativity, but its informal cultural disabilities are immense.

Guns, bombs, and money don't suffice. There has to be a visibly vibrant and open and influential intellectual and scientific and cultural-creative life on offer. I see no indication anywhere worldwide that anyone is inspired by the Chinese and Indian models.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Hida Reju said...

The only thing I will say about China is that they have the technology to put a fighter in the air that can match any of ours and in enough numbers to do the kind of air defense we have never faced since WWII.

The ones that are sweating is Japan. They are a toothless sitting duck and they know it. Their defense force can not even mount a defensive action without permission from the prime minister. Chinese missiles can hit almost any target they wish in Japan to cripple air fields and other vital transport centers to keep us from responding long enough to take the whole island.

If we lose our bases in Japan kiss the whole Pacific Ocean goodbye if it is west of Hawaii. It would take over a week to get a fleet in the water capable of doing anything to stop it.

No if you want big theats then China is the one to be worried about. Not because they can hurt us directly but they can hurt the one country in the world we have a formal Defense treaty with. Japan.

BTW did you know that a treaty with a foriegn country was one of the 2 ways to circumvent or change the constitution legally.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Wayde said...


The Rosenbergs were not traitors because in the U.S., treason only consists of "levying war" against the U.S. or providing aid and comfort to her enemies. Since we weren't at war with the Soviets, they (technically) weren't our enemies. So unless you're willing to expand the term "enemy" to include any adversary, whether in war or peace (and I don't think this is what the founding fathers intended), they don't meet the definition.

Regardless of whether or not they meet the constitutional definition, what they did was evil and immoral. They gave Stalin the bomb...! We had 50 years of Cold War as a result. Think of all the resources that were wasted countering the Soviets... not to mention what would've happened if anyone had ever actually fired one of those things, whether by accident or intentionally.

As for China being a threat... not yet, at least not a major one. They do have nuclear weapons and missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland to carry them. But for now they're an emerging competitor on the regional level, but not the world level, unlike the Soviet Union. As for India? Maybe in 20 years they'll be competitors at the level China is... militarily speaking anyway. The biggest "threat" either country poses is in terms of economic competition.

As for proliferation, as technology advances, it makes it easier and easier for nations, and eventually subnational groups to produce nukes. That's why the focus has always been on preventing them from getting the fissile material (fissile means fissionable to the point where it can be used in a nuclear bomb) rather than anything having to do with assembling the other parts of the bomb.

We should be very, very worried about this with groups like Al Qaeda out there who would gladly die if they could set one of those off in the U.S. MAD doesn't work if your enemy doesn't care if he's destroyed (or if he's convinced that he'll go to paradise).

We don't have the right to dictate what weapons soveriegn nations can acquire? That's partly true. A better statement would be to add "unless they agree not to" at the end. N.Korea was a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty at the time it started developing these weapons... that means they agreed to give up the "right" to develop them in exchange for access to peaceful nuclear technology. Do we have the right to force them to give up the bombs now that they've left the NPT? Depends on your philosophy... does a country have a right to attack another if it sees it as a threat?

Just my 2 cents.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Wayde said...

Oh forgot to add...

China doesn't have the military capability to match the U.S. (yet). Their fighters can't match ours, nor their naval forces, nor their ground forces. Not even close.

But, as Clauswitz said, "quantity had a quality all it's own." So while one of our fighters may be as good as 4 of theirs. The fact that they outnumber us 10-1 would put us in a bad spot (I'm just making up those number for the sake of argument... I don't know what the actual qualitative and quantitative ratio is). And the fact of the matter is, if we fight China, it will probably be over Taiwan, and we'll have a heck of a time because of the distances we'll have to travel vs. Taiwan's proximity to mainland China. All the F-22s in the world won't help much if they're sitting at Langley while China's sortieing 100s of MiG-21s!

At 12:59 PM, Blogger APOLLINE said...

O2 Active

At 12:59 PM, Blogger APOLLINE said...

O2 Active


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