Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Illegal Logic of Nuclear Deterrence

Today, a letter to my MP:
Dear John

The Prime Minister is clearly minded to replace Trident with a new nuclear weapon of mass destruction. Now the International Court of Justice has ruled in July 1996 that the use of nuclear weapons would be illegal. Possession of such a weapon without having a firm intent to use it if deemed necessary by Government would be a total waste of £25 billions of taxpayers money. Therefore the Government is prepared to break the law.

The only defence that Government has against this charge is the deterrence argument, that in possessing nuclear weapons it prevents other nuclear weapons states (NWS) from using theirs. They are there “to keep the peace”. There are two flaws in this defence.

First, by possessing nuclear weapons of mass destruction (NWMD), the Prime Minister is creating the perception in other states (notably Iran and North Korea) that they also need to acquire NWMD in order to defend themselves against the perceived threat from ourselves. Our own nuclear weapons stimulate the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In addition, our persistent breach of Article 6 of the Nuclear Non–Proliferation treaty only serves to make this situation worse. The more NW proliferate, the more likely it is that Britain and others will break the law by using them.

Second, deterrence is physically founded on an elaborate system of command and control, a web of sensors, computers, communications and decision makers. Deterrence theory is predicated on the assumption that this system can be made perfect, which is clearly not the case, since no human system is perfect and incapable of failure, not least such a vast and complex system. Therefore the deterrence argument cannot be sustained, and it is a sound legal case that possession of NWMD implies the readiness to break the law by using them.

Now Common Law requires me to take action to prevent another person from breaking the law, especially in such a genocidal way as the Government proposes to do in the case of using nuclear weapons, even if my action is in breach of a law designed to prohibit behaviour of a less harmful kind. In that it would be bound to kill thousands or even millions of innocent civilians if he turned the key on Trident, Mr. Blair is prepared to commit an act of terrorism that makes 9/11 pale into insignificance.

I would be very grateful if you would ask the Prime Minister, who carries the ultimate responsibility for ordering this crime to be committed, if he can find a reason that I and other citizens should not break the law if such lawbreaking actions might prevent him from committing the crime of actually ordering the use of Britain’s weapons of mass destruction.

With many thanks



Anonymous said...

They are there “to keep the peace”. There are two flaws in this defence.

Hmm, let's see.

Our own nuclear weapons stimulate the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Arguably true, but a non-sequitor. Nuclear deterrence may be incompatible with non-proliferation, but that does not render it illogical on its own terms.

Deterrence theory is predicated on the assumption that this system can be made perfect

Not really. I may install a visible alarm system on my house to deter burglers, but tha does not mean I am assuming it will always work perfectly. Of course the result of a mistake might be a huge disaster, but that wont dissuade the "might makes right" brigade from indulging in arms races.

Proliferation reduces global security, and the best arguments against it are based on mutual trust and agreement. As US foreign policy becomes more aggressive and pre-emptive, that approach has diminishing international support.

DocRichard said...

Hi Anonymous
(or may I call you Anon?)

First: If I utilise a system designed to keep the peace, but the instruments I use cause others to wish to acquire their own instruments, and the more people who own these tools, the more the system becomes unstable and vulnerable to breakdown, then if follows ("sequitur") that the system is inherently unstable, namely, that the utilisation of the system implies its failure at a later date. QED

Second point: It is illogical to install a burglar alarm that blows up the house when a burglar is detected.

if the consequence of a breakdown of a system is infinitely negative, we should use that system if and only if the probability of its failure is zero. In the case of nuclear deterrence it is not zero, and therefore there is no logical case for using the nuclear deterrence system.

Logic dictates that we should go for total abolition of nuclear WMD.

DocRichard said...

See here: Mabinogogiblog: MAD is not Rational