Third, when you're the most powerful country in the world, it's possible to think that international law is just something you pay lip service to, a moral nicety that only eggheaded philosophers care about. But, again as Robert Wright has argued, in Slate and elsewhere, there is little reason to believe, and much historical reason to doubt, that we will maintain our supremacy forever. We, too, will come to appreciate how respect for international law has made the world a safer place. We should not be the ones to destroy that respect.
Yes, we do need to worry about the possibility of terrorists acquiring unconventional weapons, but the best way to prevent that is with international weapons control, for which the Bush administration has little enthusiasm.
The advocates of war say that Saddam wouldn't ever have to carry out a nuclear attack to make his weapons useful. As Charles Krauthammer puts it, he could "use them as accessories to aggression"—to invade a neighboring country and hold on to his conquest by brandishing the nuclear sword. But if that were a plausible strategy, Stalin could have swallowed West Berlin and Mao could have taken over Hong Kong long before 1997.
There's a problem with the Stalin analogy: Saddam did take over Kuwait. Even though the US was in possession of nuclear weapons Saddam attacked anyhow. Saddam miscalculated. This illstrates problem with deterrence. Isolated tyrants surrounded sycophantic yes-men lack an accurate way to appraise the likely responses of other governments. Also, Wright ought to answer this question: if Saddam had waited a few years to finish developing nuclear weapons before attacking Kuwait would the US have intervened to expel him from Kuwait?
On the Friday part of this Slate exchange Steve Chapman says:
Nuclear weapons are highly effective for defensive purposes—deterring an attack on one's own territory. But they're useless for offensive conquest.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were offensive uses of nuclear weapons. The US was on the offensive at that stage of WWII and wanted a way to defeat Japan without invading. Well, nuclear weapons worked rather well for that purpose.
Share | By Randall Parker at 2002 October 04 06:09 PM