Wednesday, March 28, 2007

nukes are for hugging.

One of the folks commenting on my "Why the gun is civilization" posts brought up the question of nuclear arms. He specifically wants to know whether I think that all nations "should be allowed" the possession of atomic weapons. (Note the wording of that statement; I'll come back to it later.)

Nations are groups of individuals, nothing more. A nation's right to self-defense springs from the individual right to self-defense inherent to its members. This is where I have to subordinate my feelings to reason and apply my philosophy consistently. To wit: I don't care if my neighbor has a machine gun on his front porch draped in a Nazi flag, as long as he doesn't try to shoot me with it. For my logic to remain consistent, I need to extend the same concept to nations. I don't care if the Iranians or the Israelis or the Micronesians possess atomic arms, as long as they don't try to fire them in my direction.

Of course, the same person who posed the original question is now jumping in joy like a Jack Russell terrier. Folks who pose the Atomic Challenge to a libertarian do so because they think the libertarian will bow out of the debate out of fright and concede the field (note the comments by Chris in the comment section), or the libertarian will respond in the philosophically predictable manner and give the questioner a victory.

"A-ha!" they say. "Libertarians are insane! They would let anyone have a nuclear bomb in the garage!"

The thing about a rational philosophy is that it requires you to act against your feelings when those emotions are contradicted by reason. I wouldn't feel good about it if my neighbor had a machine gun draped in a Nazi flag, but I would have to concede that his right to property and possession of arms overrides my emotional whims. (If he swings it in my direction and works the charging handle, that's a different story altogether.) Opponents of the libertarian position claim that by allowing people or nations to possess dangerous arms, the libertarian leaves himself open to the possibility of attack, and that this philosophy is self-destructive in the end. Personally, I'll side with the Gallatinists in that I'd rather have my principles shot out from underneath me, than put a bullet into them myself.

The argument about the "nuke in the garage" doesn't hold water, anyway. Nuclear arms are extremely expensive, very difficult to manufacture, and completely out of reach for 99.999% of the population even if there were no restrictions at all on the possession and manufacture of thermonuclear warheads.

Regulations of arms, any arms, are merely a restraint on the law-abiding, not those willing to disregard them. We currently have strict regulations on atomic arms worldwide, and it didn't seem to keep Kim Jong-Il from acquiring enough plutonium to roll a few warheads of his own, successfully circumventing the strictest arms ban in the history of the world. You know what keeps people like him from actually bullying someone with those arms? The knowledge that his little fiefdom will be turned into radioactive slag if he shoots his firecrackers at any nation that possesses nukes of their own (or any nation allied with them), that's what.

The threat of overwhelming retaliatory force is what keeps the peace both on a personal and a global scale, as absurd as it may seem to some. When NATO and Warsaw Pact were sure that any offensive use of nukes would result in the attacker being eradicated as well, nobody was crazy enough to start a war. If only a few nations have nukes, all it takes for another global unpleasantness is for those nations to vote themselves a leadership that's willing to use their force advantage to get their way with lesser armed nations. (Does anyone really trust the Russians to keep the ultranationalists out of the Kremlin forever? What would the Romanians, Poles, Lithuanians or Estonians do if Mother Russia decided to re-embrace their former vassal states by force of arms? They'd probably join NATO to level the playing field just to make sure...oh, wait.)

(By the way, every single member of NATO is armed with atomic weapons for self-defense purposes. That's right, even little Estonia. They may not possess any thermonuclear warheads, but their big friends certainly do, and NATO doctrine states that an attack on a member state is an attack on all member states.)

In Washington D.C., Joe Normal may not carry a gun for self-defense. It is expressly forbidden, under severe penalty of law, to even have one in your house, much less walk the doggy with a .38 in your pocket. As a result, D.C. is an absolutely great working environment for armed thugs--our Capital is always in the top two or three when the annual murder and robbery rates are tallied up. Are you honestly able to say you'd feel safer on the streets of D.C. (where nobody is "allowed" to carry arms) than anywhere else in the country? And if you can say that you wouldn't, why would you use a different logic on a global scale?

Lastly, I'd like to address the use of the word "allowed" I've mentioned in the first paragraph. It's instructive, because it shows that the questioner works from a mindset where things are forbidden by default, and one has to ask "permission" before doing anything. Who has the right to tell the Iranians or the Israelis they can't build their own nukes for self-defense? The gun rights crowd always says that weapons are morally neutral, and that it's the person behind the trigger who decides whether the use of the weapon is good or bad. Are we so willing to go back on that principle just because the scale differs? If you can argue that certain nations should be disallowed the use of such arms because "they might snap" and start taking out their neighbors, then you must apply that logic to individuals as well.

And in the end, isn't the best insurance against people who "might snap" the ability of potential victims to answer force with force? What do you think would keep Iran from using its clandestine warheads against Israel more effectively--the prospect of embargoes and frozen bank accounts, or the prospect of Israeli retaliation turning Iran's biggest cities into glowing dust?

Look, any rogue country which wants nukes will get nukes, international controls or no, much like any criminal who wants a gun will get one. The only thing that can keep the Ahmadinejads and Kim Jong-Ils of the world from taking the wallets of the Liechtensteins and Micronesias of the world is the knowledge that their little fiefdoms are going to get turned into glass parking lots if they do. Nothing restrains a bully than the certain promise of retaliatory ass-kicking.

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