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The invention of nuclear weapons has given rise to a new and powerful argument for the state. The argument is as follows:
2. Nuclear weapons can destroy us.
3. Some states have nuclear weapons and would be willing to use them to destroy us if they could get away with it.
4. Our only defense against these states is the threat of retaliation with nuclear weapons.
5. Private industry cannot threaten such retaliation.
6. Therefore, we need a state that will threaten to destroy any country whose government uses nuclear weapons against us.
Let's check the soundness of this argument, premise by premise.
2. Based on what scientists have told us, it is true that nuclear weapons can destroy us.
3. We have to face the terrible fact that several states now have nuclear weapons, and some of them are hostile toward each other. They have these weapons primarily for two reasons: (A) For offense; to help them win a war against another state as the U.S.A. did to Japan in the second world war. (B) For defense; to threaten to destroy any country whose state would be so foolish as to launch a nuclear attack.
5. Nuclear weapons are clearly too dangerous to be allowed to be privately owned or traded in the free market. Would you trust someone who wanted to buy nuclear weapons? Why would anyone go to the expense of buying nuclear weapons unless they intended to use them? What would a private individual or corporation want to use nuclear weapons for except to terrorize whole populations into meeting their demands? Almost everyone would agree that nuclear weapons should not be privately owned. Anyone who has one is a threat, and we would be within our rights to use force against him to disarm him.
The argument is not relevant to conditions prior to the nuclear age. So it cannot justify any states prior to the nuclear age.
The argument would not be sound if all governments destroyed their nuclear weapons, because that would negate premise 3.
The argument would not be sound if we could destroy nuclear weapons with laser guns or by some other, as yet unknown, technology, because that would negate premise 4. If weapons could be manufactured that could destroy incoming nuclear-armed missiles and those antimissile weapons could be used without killing innocent people, then private individuals or groups would have the right to own and use them, and this argument for the state would not be sound.
One of the special conditions that this argument assumes is that states with nuclear weapons already exist (premise 3). So the argument cannot be used to justify the establishment of the first state. Nor can this argument be used to justify the existence of any particular state. It only proves that one state is needed to provide a threat of retaliation so that another state with nuclear weapons will be afraid to use them. The argument cannot be used to justify any state that does not have nuclear weapons. Nor can it be used to justify any particular state that does have nuclear weapons, because any particular state could be overthrown safely, as long as there is another one that has enough nuclear weapons to deter nuclear war.
Another point to remember about this argument is that it doesn't prove that a state can guarantee our survival. It only proves that, under the existing conditions, a state that can make other states afraid to use nuclear weapons is our only defense. We have been fortunate, so far, that the leaders of the states with nuclear weapons have not been insane enough to start a nuclear war.
However, if these weapons continue to exist, it is very likely that somebody will eventually be mad enough to use them and that their rival will be criminal enough to retaliate. All of our lives are threatened by the people who control these weapons. We are all hostages.
Finally, remember that this is a
utilitarian argument for the state rather than a moral argument. In so
far as it justifies the existence of a state under particular circumstances,
the justification is a practical one rather than a moral one. There is
no moral justification for the use of nuclear weapons. The argument amounts
to a defence of the state on the grounds that the state can threaten mass
Roy Halliday is a longtime libertarian
who works as a technical editor for a major software development company
in Research Triangle Park, NC.
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