Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Outlaw the bomb?

Norman Geras, and then Francis Sedgemore, comment on a proposal from David Krieger to make illegal the possession of nuclear weapons.

They both notice the stark absence of any practical proposal on how to enforce this measure. As the current preferred instrument to prevent the use of nuclear weapons is the threat of nuclear retaliation, it would seem that an effective sanction to enforce a law against possession would need to be something rather substantial, certainly something greater than the proposed penalty for the unauthorised detonation of a nuclear weapon in the Irish Republic.

Both Norm and Francis find it hard to imagine a world where such a thing is possible, but that won't stop me trying, at least for a couple of paragraphs. The neatest solution would be a global political union with a universal civil law, as described at length here in the unusual writing style of peace campaigner John Runnings.

Failing that, we would need a law that would work in this world of competing nation states. A measure to make illegal the possession of nuclear weapons would have to include worldwide open access to weapons inspectors. I don't believe any power that felt themselves under threat would put their security solely in the hands of the IAEA, so instead inspectors from any country would have to be allowed into any other country. This is beginning to get problematic.

Every country would need to have the right to use conventional military force against any other country breaking the law. This could not be conditional on agreement by the Security Council or some other international body, as from past experience that would give no guarantee of security to a state threatened by another state breaking the law. Every state would need the right to an equivalent of citizen's arrest, that equivalent being pre-emptive military action against a nuclear threat.

This is too much, I hear someone shout! There has to be some order, we can't allow a free-for-all! Very well, include the Security Council, the IAEA, or some other international arbiter populated by competing interests, but don't expect a country believing itself to be under threat of nuclear attack to wait for the result. They'll go to war if they think they have to.

I suspect the outcome of such a measure, were it even possible, might be a massive increase in conventional arms spending, a race to develop more destructive conventional weapons, and greater instability.

For all the strangeness of his writing, the eccentricity of his costumes, and his sometimes doubtful thinking during the Gulf War, I feel John Runnings may have been right in suspecting diplomatic treaties between military powers, trusting instead only in political union to end war.

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