Research What Are You Reading...On Nuclear Weapons

What Are You Reading…On Nuclear Weapons

Though the timing would suggest otherwise, the idea for this post was not conditioned by the Trump administration’s decision to withdrawal from the JCPOA deal this past week. It came from a regular commentator on the Blog who wished to see more posts related to substantive political issues. While this commentator and I have disagreed at times about how to confront such issues, we both agree that our society faces many problems that must be solved soon if we are going to avoid grave consequences. Similarly, we would both like to see academics playing a bigger role confronting these problems. I appreciate this commentator’s willingness to speak out in favor of academic involvement, especially given how many other voices in society decry it.

Solving the issue of nuclear weapons seems at first to be simple. If no country feels safe while any one country possesses them, if this lack of safety triggers more countries to produce them, and if the presence of multiple countries wielding nuclear weapons poses an immanent threat to human survival, then the obvious solution is to eliminate them completely. (While this is a lot of ‘ifs,’ I’m hardly the only one making them, and the world has already had several close calls which illustrate the danger of these weapons.) Why is this not being done? There are doubtless many factors, stemming from things as diverse as the human psyche to the structure of atoms. But from the perspective of liberalism, one problem is that it is difficult getting everyone to agree. As long as one state refuses to give up weapons, other states may see these weapons as necessary for their own defense. And states which get a strategic advantage over others from these weapons are often unwilling to forego it. A more inclusive and nuanced approach to strategy, one which goes beyond conventional thinking, is needed. Here are some papers that attempt to provide such an approach.


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  1. May I suggest that commentators to this blog who wish to engage contemporary political issues may also exercise their First Amendment rights, while we still have them, by, for example, sending emailed comments to the White House? I offer a sample of an email I just sent after reading news of the obscene spectacle of Presidents Trump and Netanyahu celebrating the US/Israeli occupation of Jerusalem while Israeli troops massacred Palestinian protesters in Gaza. I don’t necessarily believe President Trump reads these things, or that they will change US foreign policy. But then, Trump doesn’t read the blog.apaonline, either. And emailing the White House at least directs the comment where the real power lies. And will keep right on lying, until somebody has the chutzpah to speak the truth to it. Sending comments to the White House just maybe, just maybe might help stop the massacres from continuing. Which is more than comments here can expect to do, I’m sorry to say…

    President Trump,

    Since I grew up in the Vietnam War era, I have witnessed many shameful spectacles where the US superpower employed weapons of mass destruction to massacre innocent people under the pretext of defending democracy or defeating communism or whatever. The indiscriminate bombing of Mosul and Raqqa, which killed tens of thousands of civilians and destroyed entire cities to defeat maybe a few thousand Islamic State terrorists, certainly ranks as one of the most shameful. And the shame is currently being compounded by US refusal even to contribute to removing the corpses of the civilian victims from the rubble.

    But the spectacle of Presidents Netanyahu and Trump gloating over the US/Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, while the unarmed Palestinian descendants of the tens of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians evicted from their homes by Israeli terror squads in 1948 and forced into the Israeli prison camps called the West Bank and Gaza, were massacred by heavily armed Israeli troops and Israeli snipers certainly ranks as one of the great days of shame in American history. There is absolutely nothing Christian or American about massacring innocent people who are exercising their civil and human rights to protest their imprisonment and blockading in a prison camp, like caged animals, without dignity or humanity. And America’s moral stature in the world will certainly suffer.

    But not as much as the Palestinians have suffered under Israeli occupation, and will continue to suffer, until the Palestinians have the right of return to their homes and their own homeland, equal to the Israeli State. And their own lives, equal to Israeli lives.

    But today, 58 Palestinians were murdered and thousands injured by Israeli snipers. Israeli’s conduct was and is shameful And now the shame is ours, too.

    Eric D. Meyer

  2. Nathan writes…

    “Similarly, we would both like to see academics playing a bigger role confronting these problems. I appreciate this commentator’s willingness to speak out in favor of academic involvement, especially given how many other voices in society decry it.”

    The first question I would offer in reply is, WHY do members of the public need to speak out to encourage academic involvement in the most pressing issue facing human civilization?

    Next, if we both would like to see academics more involved in this issue, what are we going to do about that? Are we going to press the issue until we get involvement, for example here on the APA blog? Are we going to risk being labeled hyperventilating crackpots? Or are we going to color carefully within the lines of the group consensus to ensure that nobody gets mad at us?

    Next, can we claim to be people of reason if we aren’t regularly engaged with the nuclear weapons threat in some manner? Is it rational to elevate a thousand other topics over the ever pending end of everything built over the last 500 years? What would be the logical argument for such a choice?

    Finally, how do we awaken academic philosophers out of their slumber on the nuclear threat issue, and somehow help them develop the impression that it was their idea to awaken? What kind of psychological Jiu-Jitsu will work in allowing them to make a come back and think of themselves as leaders, so that they can actually take on that role?

    Should the APA exist if it proves incapable of meeting this challenge?

    More on one of the papers you’ve listed in a bit…

  3. In the paper by David Koepsell and Kateřna Staňková, they argue…

    ” The game theoretical approach, used as the primary tool to devise cold war nuclear strategy, demonstrates that the potential for actual first use of nuclear weapons (or other WMD, presumably) goes down with an increasing number of states possessing such weapons. This would seem to argue for proliferation (though not necessarily stockpiling) as a moral and safer alternative to monopolization.”

    They summarize their theory with this…

    “Essentially, we assume that the cost of using nuclear weapons in a first strike goes up in direct relation to the opportunity for retaliation by the world community. With more nuclear states, the greater the costs via punishment by other nuclear states.”

    If I understand correctly, they are arguing that the more states which have nuclear weapons (and other WMD) the better. I must admit, this sounds like academia induced insanity to me, but it is an idea I’d not considered previously so there is value in that.

    Should the nuclear powers drop attempts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and hand them out to any state willing to accept them?

  4. What is the argument for nuclear weapons, and the relationship with knowledge which they spring from, not being a central topic of conversation among intellectual elites?

    Do you feel that the human ability to manage power is unlimited, infinite, god-like? If not, doesn’t it follow that an ever accelerating knowledge explosion producing powers of ever great scale at an ever faster pace will inevitably exceed our ability to manage at some point?

    Aren’t thousands of nuclear weapons poised to destroy civilization at a moment’s notice compelling evidence that we have already reached that point? If I had a loaded gun in my mouth all day every day, would you say that I am successfully managing my firearm?

    What is the obstacle that prevents you from being interested in this?


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