Sunday, October 03, 2004

Hugh Hewitt Symposium...

Hugh Hewitt has posed some questions for a Virtual Symposium regarding comments made by John Kerry at Thursday night’s debate. Hugh states,
John Kerry's passionate denunciation of the research into nuclear bunker busters was one of four major mistakes on his part in Thursday's debate, the others being his “global test” remark, his proposal to sell nuclear reactor fuel to Iran, and his demonstration of a very limited grasp of the nature of the terror network. I have begun researching the bunker-buster question because I sense Kerry's outrage at the very idea of America developing and possessing such weapons was both authentic on his part and potentially disturbing to millions of voters who instinctively understand that the armory of America is different from the armory of every other country in the world, that our nation can be trusted with all sorts of weaponry that the world cannot be trusted with, and that our electorate will not reward a candidate who, as Kerry did on Thursday night, proclaims our weapons program to be part of the proliferation problem. But I could be wrong about that. The nuclear freeze think of the 1980s, in which Kerry fully participated, was never close to a majority movement, but perhaps times have changed and the electorate does not want unquestioned military superiority and new capabilities. Perhaps “bunker buster nukes” are this decade's “neutron bomb.” My symposium questions: Did Kerry blunder in denouncing nuclear bunker busters? If so, why? If so, how great the damage to his candidacy?
I agree with Hugh in that Kerry’s outrage at the idea of America developing new nuclear weapons is sincere. From a strictly pragmatic point of view, I think that Kerry is wrong and that the majority of Americans can see beyond the naïve assumptions that lie behind his conclusions. At the core of those assumptions, I believe, is a worldview which relies on the belief that morality is ultimately relative. Listen carefully to the arguments posited supporting the view that Kerry espoused: “We have no right to tell others how to live.” “If it’s wrong for other countries to possess such weapons, then it’s wrong for us as well.” “We’re being hypocrites if we invade countries, remove their WMDs, yet not only retain ours but develop new ones.” Inherent in these arguments is the notion of moral relativism. While it appears, on the surface, that the argument is actually one of moral absolutism (i.e., “what’s right for them is right for us”), it really isn’t, and it can be demonstrated as such by simply “taking the roof off” the argument. The argument appears to rely on the idea that the development and ownership of nuclear weapons is inherently wrong. Why would this be the case? I believe that there are essentially only two reasons: 1) An owner of nuclear weapons could use them to destroy innocent human life. 2) While simply owning nuclear weapons poses no direct threat on human life, it could incite an enemy to commit acts of aggression if he feels threatened by such ownership. Reason # 1 could apply to any type of weaponry, but the sheer destructive power of nuclear weapons renders it a valid concern. However, the concern is not necessarily the destructive power of the nuclear weapon, but the misuse of the weapon by the owner. So the real issue is whether the owner of the nuclear weapon is deemed responsible enough for such ownership. Consider the fact that I, as an average citizen of the United States, cannot drive around in an M1 Abrams tank. However there are other citizens (and non-citizens) doing so. They are known as military personnel. Why should they be allowed to operate such a weapon while I am not? The reason is simple: They are allowed to do so because they have been deemed responsible for the duty of protecting the interests of the United States. The issue of the ownership of nuclear weaponry is essentially no different. Yes, there is the chance that those entrusted with the privilege of operating such weapons will abuse that privilege, but such abuse is understood to be a violation of the moral code. We understand it to be a violation not because the United States military had no right to own such weapons, but because certain individuals abused that right. If we are to follow Kerry’s argument to its conclusion, then we would have to declare that just as an average citizen, or a criminal, should not be allowed to operate an M1 Abrams tank, so should the United States military not be allowed to. This is, of course, absurd – or so it should be to any thinking person. Reason # 2 is a bit trickier. Of course the thought behind it hearkens back to the Cold War era and concepts such as Mutually Assured Destruction or Doomsday Devices. The foundational idea of those concepts is very simple – two opposing forces develop and maintain equal measures of destructive power. Whatever weaponry you develop, I develop in like manner – tit for tat. Note, though, the requirements for this process to be effective: The need for at least two sovereign powers who, while disagreeing ideologically, operate with enough logical sense to understand the imminent threat the other poses. Within these requirements is the understanding by both powers that each are willing to negotiate terms of co-existence. Yet, even while both powers are shaking their right hands in agreement, their left hands are cautiously resting on a sidearm. Remember the Eagle on the back of the dollar bill that holds both an olive branch and a bunch of arrows? An interesting sidenote to this policy is that… it worked. The situation with the War on Terror is entirely different. Arguments against the United States developing and maintaining nuclear weaponry collapse when one throws into the mix rogue countries and / or terrorist networks. Such entities do not wish to engage life in co-existence with the United States or her allies. To argue that we should strive for such co-existence legitimizes terrorist networks such as Al-Qaeda. We should not be about co-existing with terrorists – we should be about squashing them from the face of the earth. Some questions that should be asked of Kerry are:
On what grounds do you consider the United States government not responsible enough to develop and maintain nuclear weaponry? Please elaborate Senator, what moral obligation does the United States violate when it engages in the development of nuclear weaponry? Considering that Osama bin Laden may be living deep within a cave in a remote section of Afghanistan, what is it about a nuclear bunker buster that you oppose? Would you rather send in American troops to search for bin Laden? Given that you do not consider the United States government responsible enough to develop and maintain nuclear weaponry, do you also not consider it responsible enough to engage in pre-emptive actions designed to prevent attacks on American soil?


Paul said...

I think the argument against nuclear bunker-buster bombs actually revolves around 2 key factors:

1. Some weapons are so horrific that most people find their use unconscionable. Nuclear weapons teeter on the edge of this classification; they're only saved by the paradoxical fact that we don't expect to use them. Bunker-busters cross that line, as they're supposed to be used.

2. They're not really required; the difficulty with making a bunker-buster is not the size of the explosion, it's putting the explosion close enough underground to the bunker. That problem remains for nukes or conventional devices, except that if you get it wrong with a conventional device you don't poison the earth for centuries.

A less common part of the argument is that the US is the only country to have used weapons of mass destruction (chem and bio weapons don't justify that classification). Given the US's proclivity for using these things, it seems we should be cautious about developing new ones.

Paul said...

btw - that 'taking the roof off' link is hilarious. Perhaps the author should reflect on the meaning of the word "hurt".

Anonymous said...

The taking off the roof link is broken for me.

The tricky part with any nuclear weapon is that, with our current understanding of how nuclear weapons work, we have to say that killing OBL in a bunker in Afganistan is worth poisoning anyone who goes near there ever again in the next 150,000 years.

Tough Call.


Rusty said...


Good point on the potential use of general nuclear devices vs. the intended use of nuclear bunker-busters. I guess the thing I'd research next is the delta in the amount of fallout between the two. Additionally, if one could demonstrate that a nuclear bunker buster renders such a bunker useless, would that be enough to prevent the occupation of the bunker? If so, then the nuclear bunker-buster has proved effective without having to actually be detonated. If not, then it leads into the next paragraph...

The U.S. has used nuclear weapons in the past (although I would certainly not state that the U.S. has a proclivity to use them). Two bombs, 60 years ago, that ended a war we didn't start, and saved how many U.S. lives?

The stance of the U.S. is: If we need to use a nuclear device... we will.

Of course, the question that then arises is: When, exactly, do we need to use them?

BTW, the intent of the taking the roof off tactic is to show the logical absurdity of your opponent's view.

Paul said...

Rusty - see, we agree all the time! I too think the central question is when do we *need* to use them. I dont have an answer, I'm afraid.

As to the 'roof' article - all it showed to me was the same principle used with ID - misunderstand a part of your opponents argument (in this case the use of the word 'hurt') then repeat your argument without listening to any response.

Rusty said...


I would argue that we were justified in using at least the bomb over Hiroshima.

The roof argument is meant to conclude in the absurd, but it's not meant to misunderstand an opponent's view - simply to take it to its logical conclusion.

Paul said...

Rusty - I think there's a very good argument to be made for the actions in Japan. But nuclear bombs are the worst thing humanity knows how to do, so it just gives me pause.

I understand the idea in the 'roof' article, but what it actually does is deliberately misinterpret part of the opponents argument before it even gets to the 'logical conclusion' bit (I'll give you a clue - the raped girl *was* hurt). That devalues the entire argument.