The Nonproliferation Jihad


The United States President, using some power found nowhere in the Constitution, has declared and launched an unprovoked war in the cause of 'nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.' As Kafka's badger put defending his burrow ahead of defending his life, the US Executive Branch has put the value of nonproliferation above the value of peace. Is nonproliferation, in itself, worth starting a war? And will launching a preemptive war actually promote nonproliferation?

Nonproliferation is tacitly assumed to further the cause of peace. But simply assuming something doesn't prove it. In political matters, when large quantities of propaganda are distributed that simply assert that a policy is good without producing any evidence, one's BS detectors should be shrieking. The US has been spending money and political capital on nonproliferation since before the end of World War II. What have been the real effects of the policy? Is the world safer because most developed countries (other than the US ) have disarmed?

'Nonproliferation' = Gun Control = Victim Disarmament

The post-WWII US political establishment's foreign nuclear nonproliferation policy and domestic gun control programs have had similar consequences. Both policies have disarmed the peaceful, and thus made the world safer for aggressors. We all live in the shadow that has fallen over America 's city streets over the last few decades. In 1960, US streets were largely safe; home invaders and armed robbers were rare and endangered species, seemingly doomed to extinction from overhunting. Attempted airliner hijackers faced pilots carrying .45s (in fact, they faced that risk in decreasing percentages until Bush banned the practice completely in July of 2001).

But then big-city gun control laws increased the cost of self-defense to the productive classes. Working people in Washington D.C. , New York , and other gun-control utopias are no longer willing to pay the legal and social costs of defending themselves and others. So the ecological niches for armed criminals expanded. In places with even more gun control, like London , armed robbery has become as lucrative a profession as it was in the Middle Ages . . . though of course you'll never hear the English violent-crime figures on the US network news. Now that London assault rates are over twice as high as in New York , and robbery is 1.6 times more common, English crime rates are 'not news.'

Just as the streets of London and New York are no longer safe, the community of nations now lives in a dangerous world. Only the peaceful, productive nations have disarmed. The thug governments have not. A 9mm handgun is more crucial to the lifestyle of an armed robber than to a doctor or pianist, and nuclear weapons are more valuable to totalitarian dictators than to the democracies. US nonproliferation policy has selectively armed aggressors while disarming potential victims.

Productive, peaceful nations such as Switzerland , Sweden , Canada , Taiwan , South Korea , Singapore , Costa Rica , etc. have been coerced into nonproliferation. Thus they have seriously crippled their armed force's fighting strengths: even a few nuclear weapons deny an opponent the ability to concentrate forces. But does anyone really believe that a nuclear-armed Switzerland or Sweden would in any way threaten world peace? Or would they, instead, serve as bulwarks against any 'superpower' that tried to grab power over all? Disarming Switzerland was no victory for peace.

On the other hand, violence-prone political groups have acquired nuclear weapons, in many cases with US assistance. According to FDR's cousin Kermit Roosevelt, during WWII the US shipped enough enriched uranium to the Soviet Union to make two nuclear bombs. In any case, the Soviet Empire quickly became a major nuclear power while receiving massive US economic aid, even though the Soviet economy remained a permanent cripple. The poverty-stricken Chinese Communist Party, which killed 60 million of its own citizens under Mao, then followed the Soviet lead. The US has assisted the nuclear programs of many current nuclear powers; North Korea 's US-supplied reactors are in the headlines now, but the US also helped the nuclear programs of India , Pakistan , Israel , and a score of other countries that have records of aggressive warfare. The US 'nonproliferation' policy has been very selective.

During the Cold War, nonproliferation magnified Soviet power. Nations like Japan could not be sure that the US would risk Washington DC to save Tokyo ; this may be the explanation for their eagerness to give large-scale foreign aid to communist states. Deterrence only works if those who are threatened control the deterrent. Just as Britain and France failed to deter Hitler's conquest of Czechoslovakia in 1938, it is unlikely that the US could deter conquest of Pacific Rim states by China, or the reconquest of the Soviet Empire by some future nationalist movement in Russia. And if the US tries to call the bluff of even a minor nuclear force . . . then our lack of civil defense will ensure that the US ceases to exist as a major nation.

The helpless military dependence of Europe and the Pacific Rim nations on the US nuclear deterrent forced them to go along with US policy in other areas. It is unlikely that a Japan or Germany capable of defending itself would get involved in Middle East crusades. But under the current system of global Imperial entanglements, the petty squabbles of Israeli vs. Palestinian threaten to spread into widespread war, involving half the nations of the world.

Worse Than Hiroshima : Superviruses, Toxins, etc.

Another effect of US nonproliferation policy has been to increase pressure among non-nuclear powers for development of biological and chemical weapons. Viruses and nerve gas can be developed and produced in small labs without the costly and large-scale facilities needed for enrichment or breeding of plutonium and uranium. Germs and chemicals can be delivered by cheap little propeller-powered drones instead of expensive, rocket-powered ballistic missiles that travel thousands of miles into space. But living weapons are less predictable in their effects than mere mechanical nuclear bombs . . . a too ambitious program might combine genes of influenza and Ebola, or E. coli and Clostridium botulinium, to make a 'weapon' that killed everyone. The rest of the world may well rest easier knowing that India and Pakistan will fight their next war with nuclear weapons. With any luck, the subcontinent's oligarchies will be killed and thus discouraged from further warmongering, but the fallout will have only minor ill effects on most of the nations not directly involved. Without nuclear weapons, they might use biological weapons and inadvertently kill everyone without access to reliable space transportation . . . i.e., everyone.

Perfection Is Not An Option

It is obvious that nuclear weapons in the hands of politicians are an inherently bad thing. The question is whether restricting these weapons to Russian, Red Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Israeli, North Korean, US, French, and English politicians is worth war. I could certainly wish that the nuclear club were composed instead of: Andorra , Bhutan , Liechtenstein , the Mars Colony, Monaco , Nauru , New Hampshire , and Tibet . But my wishes are no more effective than the wishful thinking of those who wish to keep nuclear weaponry restricted to the armed gangs who possess it now.

The uncertainty that nuclear weapons add to military calculations has probably made a major contribution to peace since 1945. After 1953, the Cold War never turned very hot in any area where the nuclear-armed forces were deployed (although I admit there may have been a lot of luck involved during the Kennedy Administration); only the non-nuclear-armed peasants in Africa , South America , and Viet Nam died. The US initiated war against Iraq specifically because Iraq did not have nuclear weapons; once a nation acquires fission, it is crossed off the Pentagon's target list. No cruise missiles kill children in the cities of China or India when the US President decides to 'wag the dog'; the US military fights only those poor countries that have cooperated and 'nonproliferated.'

Nuclear weapons are a complete wild card in military scenarios; they have never been used in combat, only to massacre the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki . It is unlikely that the command structure or tactical doctrine of any of the world's militaries would hold up well against nuclear weapons. The fear of nuclear weapons may also contribute more directly to peace; even a weak nuclear power may manage to kill the opposing politicians themselves. When politicians face combat themselves, war suddenly loses its appeal.

Nonproliferation Of Aggression Instead Of Weapons

So, how should we try to keep megaweapons out of the hands of aggressive dictators? By focusing on our own peaceful behavior, not on what kind of missiles other nations have. A peaceful country minds its own business and engages in free trade of goods and ideas. The citizens of a peaceful country make provision to defend their families; this means civil defenses and citizen militias. The military forces of a peaceful country are oriented toward defense of civilians and retaliation against aggressive political leaders, not toward Imperial 'power projection' or other euphemisms for opportunistic bombardments and invasions of weak countries. Most of all, peaceful nations do not tax their citizens and give the money to the overseers of foreign gulags. Without the flow of money from the US , the world's most violent governments would be armed with rusty rifles instead of shiny Mach II fighter planes and ICBMs.

Nonproliferation is not worth war. Peace is worth fighting for, but the struggle for peace is the struggle to limit the ambitions of would-be emperors. It is the struggle to prevent irresponsible oligarchies from stealing from the Treasury and making charitable contributions to the world's dictators. The cause of peace is not served by preemptive attacks to take either the revolver from your neighbor's nightstand or the tactical nuke from a non-aggressing foreign nation.

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Bill Walker's picture
Columns on STR: 16

Bill Walker lives in Plainfield NH.