04 February 2007

Human Weapons of Mass Destruction

I have yet to come upon any popular discussion of nuclear proliferation that seems at once lucid, rational and realistic. Everyone seems to regard it is beyond question that acquisition of nuclear weapons by developing countries is an intolerable evil. Most especially, this is true of the NRA set, those staunch defenders the right of American citizens to possess lethal force for self defense, regardless of any demonstrated fitness to manage and responsibly use such weapons. The irony of that position is (in the words of Mike Dunford on Panda's Thumb) is "so dense that four mining firms have put in bids on it". But even if one thinks that warfare has served an evolutionary purpose in human history, enhancing our technological skills, nuclear weapons represent a new and significant opportunity for us all to collectively win a cosmic "Darwin Award." So, I hereby take it upon myself to supply said discussion of nuclear proliferation.

My beef with the NRA position on personal weapons lies in the unwillingness to treat this analogously to the licensing of automobile drivers. Cars are arguably as lethal as guns, and every bit as important to the rights of an individual. The right to autonomous transportation is something I personally find to be far more important than self-defense, because I've been fortunate enough to live in benign environments where there are essentially no threats to a healthy male. So, I would argue that it is every bit as important to train, test, and license the possession and use of guns as the uses of automobiles. This is self-evident truth to me. No one could credibly sloganize to the effect that "now that cars are outlawed, only outlaws own cars."

It also seems self-evident to me that the representative, democratic rule of law that we practice in the industrial world should also be practiced on the international level among nations. The principal problem there is the lack of a credible and legitimate International respresntative government, which seems to have eluded our efforts with the League of Nations and then the United Nations. All war among nations is civil war in my view, and occurs only through a deficit of will on the part of the nations to organize the adjudication of disputes through a representative legal process.

Nation states have a self-evident right to defend themselves when faced with aggression, just as individuals do in a democratic state. The argument that individuals should be empowered with the strongest forms of lethal force carry directly over to an argument that nations should also be empowered with the strongest forms of lethal force, for self defensive purposes. However, they should also be required to demonstrate the capability to manage and deploy that force in a responsible manner, just as we require individuals to do so when operating vehicles, and as we should do for individuals seeking to possess guns.

Currently, there exists a process for nation states to control the acquisition of nuclear weapons, known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, proposed by Ireland and signed by 188 nations. According to Wikipedia, two confirmed nuclear powers (Pakistan and India) and one unconfirmed nuclear power (Israel) would not sign the treaty. And one nation that signed has withdrawn and become a nuclear power (North Korea). The treaty prohibits additional proliferation beyond the five current nuclear states (USA, France, Russia, UK, and China), promotes disarmament, and legitimizes the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. However, the treaty provides no legitimate way of acquiring nuclear weapons except for leaving the treaty agreement. It does provide for an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor nuclear materials in nonnuclear states and to alert the treaty parties to any violations of the treaty. The IAEA estimates that 40 states could develop nuclear weapons if they so chose and withdrew from the treaty.

When the NPT is reviewed every five years, it is routine for the US and other powers to assert NATO agreements to share nuclear weapons, while complaining about proliferation among other nations and opposing Iran's rights to develop a civilian nuclear power capability. The NATO powers also assert that the treaty will be voided if a state of "general war" should arise, effectively releasing them from the terms of the treaty in that case. More recently, the Bush administration has asserted the right to share civilian nuclear technology with India, in violation of treaty terms, while continuing to accuse Iran of developing weapons in violation of its treaty agreement.

Nations with adversarial postures relative to the western industrial nations, and especially those with alleged ties to terrorist organizations, are naturally regarded with suspicion as potential threats, especially if empowered with nuclear weapons. However, taking military action to interdict the acquisition of nuclear weapons would clearly violate the rule of law dictum mandating that violence be used in only in self defense. But rule of law can be practiced successfully only when an authority exists that can monitor and deal with perceived threats.

We clearly need a treaty that puts the UN or other international body in place as the adjudicator of nuclear disputes. Ideally, the treaty rules would allow for "licensing" the acquisition of civilian nuclear technologies by any nation seeking to do so, provided that specified criteria were met, as judged by an organization like the IAEA. Among those criteria might be the demonstration of freedom from terrorist links. In addition, licensing of nuclear weaponry should also be explicitly provided, with more stringent criteria to be met, such that it would be exceedingly difficult to meet them. Qualifications might include the demonstration of a credible nuclear threat from a non-participant nation.

With this sort of rule of law in place, the US could quite properly insist that nations like Iran must meet basic requirements for use of even civilian nuclear technologies. A representative agency could regulate the acquisition and use of nuclear arms by nations, including the USA, regardless of their agreement, by monopolizing the legitimate use of force to take military action against those nations that violate the law as set by the participating nations.

A treaty, after all, is just an agreement to a common good that is shared by the signatories and infringes on the acknowledged rights of none. The problem is that a treaty cannot be imposed on non-signatories as well, even if they are a minority.

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