2003 February 27 Thursday
Nuclear Proliferation, International Order, and Empires

Anglosphere columnist James C. Bennett believes failure to control nuclear proliferation will lead to a shattering of the international order.

Ironically, many of those who profess to hate war, empire and poverty, and who strive for a just international order, accuse Bush and Blair of promoting those things. In reality, a failure of the Bush-Blair coalition would sooner or later (probably sooner) give rise to a world in which a number of regional tyrannies who gradually, under the cover of their weapons of mass destruction, would annex first the states that are sovereign by convention, such as Kuwait, and eventually many that have been sovereign by circumstance.

The existence of such states would force other nations in the region to calculate that their own sovereignty depended on their acquisition of nuclear weapons. Given that most nuclear tyrannies would be happy to sell weapons to out-of-area states with ready cash, such proliferation could proceed more rapidly than many imagine.

Most people overestimate the stability of the current international system. Force holds it together. The United Nations has no power of its own and states routinely ignore its resolutions. Should more states get nuclear weapons then they will become immune to attempts to restrain their most savage actions. Widespread nuclear proliferation would cause such a huge shift in the relative ability of states to exercise force that many buried ambitions would become manifest in bold power grabs.

In ways that are deeply reminiscent of the conditions before WWI and WWII few are aware that the international system stands at a precipice and its foundation is weak and easily shattered.

What should one think about European popular sentiment opposing the war against Iraq? How accurate an indicator is popular sentiment as a guide in foreign policy? Jim Miller quotes historian A.J.P. Taylor on the widespread popularity of the Munich Agreement which Neville Chamberlain negotiated with Hitler.

Nor is it true that the "appeasers" were a narrow circle, widely opposed at the time. To judge by what is said now, one would suppose that practically all Conservatives were for strenuous resistance to Germany in alliance with Soviet Russia and that all the Labour party were clamouring for great armaments. On the contrary, few causes have been more popular. Every newspaper in the country applauded it with the exception of Reynolds' News. Yet so powerful are the legends that even when I write this sentence I can hardly believe it. (p. 292, The Origins of the Second World War, 2nd edition)

Miller argues that the beliefs of the majority are not always an accurate guide to the wisest course of action.

There is a general lesson in the reaction to Munich. Among the logical fallacies so common as to have acquired a Latin name is "ad populum", an appeal to popular sentiment. It is illogical to conclude that a policy is correct just because it is popular.

Any political order is maintained by force. By failing to use force ourselves we do not eliminate the use of force. We just allow its use to shift to those with other intentions for its use.

There are smaller countries in more dangerous regions of the world whose leaders can not afford to make foreign policy decisions based on a sentimental appraisal about the nature of the world order. Martin Walker, in a Walker's World column entitled "Watch what they do" reports on the gap between the public statements sometimes made by Malaysia's leaders and the reality of Malaysia's strong military relations with America.

At the Butterworth Air Force Base outside Penang, the integrated air defense commander is an Australian, under the five-power agreement among Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. U.S. Special Forces troops train at the Malaysian Army's Jungle Warfare school (founded by the British). "Our military-to-military links with the U.S. are excellent, the pillar of our bilateral relations," says the defense minister, whose status as deputy leader of the ruling UMNO party and a son of a former prime minister gives him unusual political influence.

Walker points out that the leaders of Malaysia realize that maintaining a high level of security for their country is essential to ensure Western corporations will be comfortable with making large capital investments in Malaysia.

In a column describing what he thinks a real empire would look like James C. Bennett argues for prevention of the development of the threat of nuclear terrorism because the failure to prevent nuclear terrorism will set in motion a series of events that will lead to a real American empire.

To look at such empire both tells us how far America still is from yet being one, and what the stakes are in preventing the kind of stresses on America's existing civil society than would bring on such an emergency state. The alternative to strong action by a constitutional, democratic state against nuclear-armed terrorism is not life as before; it is something most people who grew up with today's America wouldn't care for.

See previous posts on the need for a containment strategy and the threat of proliferation.

Update: Also see James C. Bennett's article Anglosphere: What a real empire is like

Many people would be surprised by the liberal and progressive nature of the empire's domestic policy. Multiculturalism would be retained and enhanced, and the country would probably be declared officially bilingual in English and Spanish, the better to annex Latin American states. Again, the more divided the citizenry, the easier it is for a strong executive to manipulate them. Surprisingly to some, the neo-Confederate movement in the South would be quietly encouraged as a cultural movement, within limits, again to divide sentiments.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 February 27 12:10 PM  Politics Grand Strategy

Dick Thompson said at February 28, 2003 8:02 AM:

It's frightening to think that the international nuclear genie may be already out of the bottle. There is known cooperation between new nuclear powers and wannabes; Pakistan, in exchange for missiles, gave technical help to North Korea's nuclear weapons program. It's easy to see that this, in addition to bullying, could be an attractive way for a poor nuclear power to leverage its technology.

Saddam is only one wannabe among many, controlling him may be penny wise and pound foolish.

Randall Parker said at February 28, 2003 10:50 AM:


The US gets some major benefits from taking out Saddam.

1) Stop his WMD development.

2) Put an end to Iraq's support of terrorist groups.

3) Intelligence Bonanza about terrorist groups, spies, and other regimes that will be found in his regime's files and by interrogating members of his regime that are captured.

4) A strategic position from which to pressure Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, and other neighbors to stop tolerating and stop supporting terrorism.

Taking out the weakest opponent strengthens our hand in dealing with our other opponents. Militarily it eliminates the need for aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and hence frees up Naval assets for use in other places. It eliminates our dependence on Saudi bases and hence enhances our ability to operate indepedently of Saudi approval while also strengthening our ability to pressure the Saudis.

Taking out Saddam provides many benefits.

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