Julian Lewis’ nuclear arguments

Julian Lewis MP‘s article in International Affairs 82 (4) July 2006, p.667-673 (but also available here) contains an extremely clear and forceful presentation of the arguments against disarmament. Part of its power lies in the historical detail and speculation which makes the reader feel the fear that militates in favour of a deterrent; but here’s a summary of some of his main claims:

1. No tool has intrinsic moral properties, therefore there is nothing intrinsically immoral about nuclear weapons. Morals come into the picture only when we consider the uses to which a tool is put, and though it is wrong implicitly to threaten others with destruction, this wrong is justified by the much greater wrong which it averts (namely, an attack by massive weapons of destruction on the UK).

2. There is a need for a general and flexible deterrent like Trident, because wars break out unpredictably and we can’t know where or when the new threat will arise. We can understand where a war came from in hindsight, but can’t predict it.

3. The disarmament lobby underestimates how dangerous the world is: “it is a constant failing of the disarmament lobby to try to ascribe values of reasonableness, tolerance, goodwill and peaceful intent to states under the control of despots, fanatics and dictators.”

4. There is no causal link between our possession of nuclear weapons and another country’s desire to acquire them: so the purpose of wider disarmament will not be furthered if the UK gives up its nuclear weapons. In fact, it will encourage other countries to attack us.

These arguments seem compelling, but (as argued by KCA77 in the previous post) their logical conclusion seems to be that every state should possess a deterrent – but this is an outrageous conclusion since then acccidental detonation or accidental war would be a near-certainty. Lewis might argue that to avoid this state of affairs, the peace-loving nuclear weapons states should club together to prevent other states getting nuclear weapons! – Exactly what was meant to be happening, before the NPT fell apart.

What do you think? Please comment!

Ben @ kenyersel


2 Responses to Julian Lewis’ nuclear arguments

  1. Lucas says:

    Responses to those points:

    1. Not sure about this: you can never predict who will do what with an object. It seems natural then to give objects a moral value based on the possibilities of what they will be used for. If I choose to make a bomb that randomly explodes, but also definitely explodes if you press a button, doesn’t the object have a moral weighting of being bad because even if you don’t press the button it still might kill people? What we really mean by moral weight of an object is the morality of creating an object. This is judged on what the object can be used for. In this analysis nuclear weapons are surely bad.

    2. Is only valid if nuclear weapons were useful in the event of a war. But I would also question that wars are unpredictable. Many are very predictable and seem that they should be avoidable.

    3. It is unclear to me that having nuclear weapons make the world safer. Isn’t this an argument for disarmament? The world is safer without weapons that could destroy it!

    4. I disagree. If you have nuclear weapons and another country doesn’t you can put them in a position where they have to submit to you or be destroyed. If they also have nuclear weapons such threats don’t work. However, even if this is true, it doesn’t mean we should a have such weapons

  2. Good blogpost, I favorited your blog post so I can visit again in the future, Cheers, Sidney Munchmeyer

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