This article was published in the Summer 1996 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
The State as the Only Defense Against Nuclear War
by Roy Halliday

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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: 

What can we say about this argument? Is it sound? Yes. Is it moral? No.

Let's check the soundness of this argument, premise by premise.

I have no difficulty imagining that the leaders of these states are criminals who would have no moral inhibitions that would deter them from murdering the hostage population in a rival's country. So the nuclear war argument for the state applies to anyone living within the borders of any of the hostile states that have nuclear weapons, and it applies to those who live in nearby countries, because they too would probably be destroyed in a nuclear war. Some scientists believe that a nuclear war would destroy all life on earth. If so, we are all hostages to the nuclear-armed states, and this argument applies to everyone on earth. So, private industry cannot provide the nuclear deterrent needed to prevent our destruction by nuclear weapons owned by existing states. Now that we have accepted the argument, let's see what it really proves and what it does not prove. It proves that a state is needed because of certain conditions that exist now. These conditions have not always existed, and they may not exist in the future.

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 murder. D

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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