James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

Nuclear Weapons, Hiroshima, Iran and the NPT

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Let me suggest first, that there is little point in discussing the historical use of the bomb. It’s applicability today is mostly insignificant. I tend to agree with the pro-nuclear side on the historical use of nuclear weapons in Japan during WWII. But, I tend to agree with most disarmament advocates regarding the potential contemporary use. I would suggest that our current stockpiles of high-yield nuclear weapons are not useful and, importantly, serve only as a diplomatic barrier. However, I am not sure about our low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. If those weapons can take out a militant stronghold deep in a mountain and conventional weapons cannot, then I can see strategic reasons for keeping those weapons. However, none of our decisions in this regard are impacted by our obligations under the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), because all the states which signed the NPT did so without requiring the US (or other nuclear states) to disarm.

However, modern discussion of these issues relate less to the US and more to other states. Here, in my view, is the bottom line: Israel is not a signatory to the NPT and has never tested nuclear weapons (a key strategic capability limitation). India and Pakistan are not NPT signatories, but have tested nuclear weapons, for which they suffered economic and diplomatic consequences, even in the absence of a violation of treaty obligations. Iran is an NPT signatory, receives certain benefits as a signatory, and with its as-yet-limited steps towards nuclear weapons has already violated the NPT. These differences are critical differences that differentiate how we handle states’ nuclear aspirations. Whatever harm Israeli, Indian, or Pakistani nuclear weapons do to global security, they do no harm to international rule of law. And, there is no legal requirement that we punish those states for their nuclear activities. American, British, Russian, and certain other nuclear weapon states are specifically protected by the NPT in their status as nuclear states and whatever they do to global security, they do no harm to international rule of law. Iran, however, is a non-nuclear signatory to the NPT and its nuclear ambitions not only harm global security, but they also do irreparable damage to international rule of law, which if permitted without severe penalties, destabilizes the entire framework of international law.

Let me suggest that it is these considerations, and not the propriety of American use of nuclear weapons more than 60 years ago in the absence of the NPT and most of the Geneva Conventions, that should drive modern discussions of the use of nuclear weapons. I would also recommend reading about Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter. Their thoughts on these issues were truly ahead of their time and skillfully cut through the Cold War debate between the defenders of MAD (mutually-assured destruction) and the defenders of total disarmament.


Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Posted in israel

Tagged with , ,

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