Nuclear Arms and Moral Equivalency

In the last few years, as the United States has endeavored, by varied means, to disarm several nations of their nuclear weapons, or weapons programs, (notably Korea and Iran) the question has been raised by some individuals questioning the basis on which we justify this effort while maintaining these weapons ourselves.

On the face of it, the objection to the U.S. maintenance of these weapons while denying them to others seems reasonable, but it is premised on a flawed initial assumption.  That assumption is the idea that there exists moral equivalency between the governments (and societies) in question. 

Victor Davis Hanson writing in National Review, October 25, 2002, noted (not supportively) a new view which assumes moral equivalency:
"In the new morality, institutions, and values are seen as relative concepts, and not subject to absolute or unchanging criteria of evaluation. . . In this view Israel has nuclear weapons, so why not Iraq?  America stockpiles weapons of mass destruction, so what is the big deal with North Korea?" 
Intuitively, though, this line of reasoning is troubling.  For some reason (may I offer Romans 2: 14, 15?), we "know" there is a difference, even while many voices argue that morality is relative and situational.

Let me posit a consideration: Why do we let people with clean records drive cars, and yet deny this to demonstrated drunk drivers?  Why do we allow law-abiding citizens (in at least some locations) to own firearms, yet deny this opportunity to convicted felons?  The answer is clear.  The responsible driver/gun owner has, by his behavior, demonstrated compliance with a defined moral and ethical paradigm which is preferred in our society. Some may argue that the good driver/gun owner is not motivated by morality, but by fear of punishment.  This is true, but that fear is premised on the knowledge that punishment comes from the institution which holds the power to punish him/her (government) when laws are violated.  The laws themselves, though, are premised on a moral framework.  This same calculus also is true of nations, which are constrained by fear of sanctions or punishments from other nations.  

In our view, the safe driver and the drunk driver are not morally equivalent.  Simply put, sober drivers behave better, so we trust them with cars; convicted felons can't be trusted with guns.  These allowances have been motivated by our morals.

The same is true of nations and nuclear weapons.  Moral equivalency does not exist between Iran and Great Britain; nor between North Korea and the U.S.  Reflecting what we all seem to "know", Hanson states:
"It is more likely that Pakistan. . . will use its ‘Islamic' bomb than will. . . India, in the same manner that a nuclear China poses a greater threat than do Great Britain or France." 
And why do we perceive these nations (Pakistan and China) along with others (N. Korea, Iraq) as more likely to use WMDs?  Why do we see them as a "greater threat"?  Answer: Because of their demonstrated past behavior.  All are totalitarian, non-democratic states which have routinely threatened their neighbors and oppressed their own people.  Those demonstrated behaviors, though, are expressions of the moral paradigm that motivates their governments, and possibly their societies.  Why, as Hanson observes, do the holders of power (governments) in these countries "oppress and make the rules, while those without (power) suffer the consequences"?  Simple: because their morality tells them it's OK.  The U.S. (along with certain other nuclear nations) does not practice these behaviors because our morality dictates otherwise.  There is no moral equivalency.

Our moral base is superior, and to be preferred.  Our Judeo-Christian moral base teaches: "Love thy neighbor as thyself!"   This is reflected (largely, though decreasingly) in our laws.  Democracy ("consensual government"), freedom, restraint of power, and other concepts all flow out of this singular command.  The Islamic tint of government in totalitarian Pakistan and Iran, and nihilism in China and N. Korea give us no such confidence.  India, largely Hindu and Sikh bear a legacy of this morality from many years of British occupation.  It was the British who outlawed the practice of suttee; a reprehensible practice often forced on widows.  Some may object that our morality and its manifestations are not necessarily superior, that it's merely an opinion.  But I would suggest that even natural law, that law "written on each man's heart", reveals the truth of our moral superiority.  This understanding of the morality driven by natural law is borne out in the example of Japan.  Japan may yet feel the necessity to acquire nuclear weapons in the face of the North Korean threat.  And while it may be reasonable to object to Japan on the basis of its behavior in the first third of the Showa period (1926-1989), Japan's behavior as a world citizen since 1945, based upon a U.S.-inspired constitution,  has been exemplary.

Though some have accused the U.S. of its own "atrocities", since the advent of nuclear power, with very few exceptions, the United States has lived out the command to "Love thy neighbor as thyself!" The U.S. liberates nations instead of subjugating them, frees peoples instead of enslaving them, feeds and does not starve the needy, and restrains the use of its considerable power until the last resort and only to do good, not evil.  The same behaviors are largely true of the other "free" nations (e.g., Great Britain, France) that retain nuclear weapons.  This is why we can be trusted with awesome power, and others can not. 
In the last few years, as the United States has endeavored, by varied means, to disarm several nations of their nuclear weapons, or weapons programs, (notably Korea and Iran) the question has been raised by some individuals questioning the basis on which we justify this effort while maintaining these weapons ourselves.

On the face of it, the objection to the U.S. maintenance of these weapons while denying them to others seems reasonable, but it is premised on a flawed initial assumption.  That assumption is the idea that there exists moral equivalency between the governments (and societies) in question. 

Victor Davis Hanson writing in National Review, October 25, 2002, noted (not supportively) a new view which assumes moral equivalency:
"In the new morality, institutions, and values are seen as relative concepts, and not subject to absolute or unchanging criteria of evaluation. . . In this view Israel has nuclear weapons, so why not Iraq?  America stockpiles weapons of mass destruction, so what is the big deal with North Korea?" 
Intuitively, though, this line of reasoning is troubling.  For some reason (may I offer Romans 2: 14, 15?), we "know" there is a difference, even while many voices argue that morality is relative and situational.

Let me posit a consideration: Why do we let people with clean records drive cars, and yet deny this to demonstrated drunk drivers?  Why do we allow law-abiding citizens (in at least some locations) to own firearms, yet deny this opportunity to convicted felons?  The answer is clear.  The responsible driver/gun owner has, by his behavior, demonstrated compliance with a defined moral and ethical paradigm which is preferred in our society. Some may argue that the good driver/gun owner is not motivated by morality, but by fear of punishment.  This is true, but that fear is premised on the knowledge that punishment comes from the institution which holds the power to punish him/her (government) when laws are violated.  The laws themselves, though, are premised on a moral framework.  This same calculus also is true of nations, which are constrained by fear of sanctions or punishments from other nations.  

In our view, the safe driver and the drunk driver are not morally equivalent.  Simply put, sober drivers behave better, so we trust them with cars; convicted felons can't be trusted with guns.  These allowances have been motivated by our morals.

The same is true of nations and nuclear weapons.  Moral equivalency does not exist between Iran and Great Britain; nor between North Korea and the U.S.  Reflecting what we all seem to "know", Hanson states:
"It is more likely that Pakistan. . . will use its ‘Islamic' bomb than will. . . India, in the same manner that a nuclear China poses a greater threat than do Great Britain or France." 
And why do we perceive these nations (Pakistan and China) along with others (N. Korea, Iraq) as more likely to use WMDs?  Why do we see them as a "greater threat"?  Answer: Because of their demonstrated past behavior.  All are totalitarian, non-democratic states which have routinely threatened their neighbors and oppressed their own people.  Those demonstrated behaviors, though, are expressions of the moral paradigm that motivates their governments, and possibly their societies.  Why, as Hanson observes, do the holders of power (governments) in these countries "oppress and make the rules, while those without (power) suffer the consequences"?  Simple: because their morality tells them it's OK.  The U.S. (along with certain other nuclear nations) does not practice these behaviors because our morality dictates otherwise.  There is no moral equivalency.

Our moral base is superior, and to be preferred.  Our Judeo-Christian moral base teaches: "Love thy neighbor as thyself!"   This is reflected (largely, though decreasingly) in our laws.  Democracy ("consensual government"), freedom, restraint of power, and other concepts all flow out of this singular command.  The Islamic tint of government in totalitarian Pakistan and Iran, and nihilism in China and N. Korea give us no such confidence.  India, largely Hindu and Sikh bear a legacy of this morality from many years of British occupation.  It was the British who outlawed the practice of suttee; a reprehensible practice often forced on widows.  Some may object that our morality and its manifestations are not necessarily superior, that it's merely an opinion.  But I would suggest that even natural law, that law "written on each man's heart", reveals the truth of our moral superiority.  This understanding of the morality driven by natural law is borne out in the example of Japan.  Japan may yet feel the necessity to acquire nuclear weapons in the face of the North Korean threat.  And while it may be reasonable to object to Japan on the basis of its behavior in the first third of the Showa period (1926-1989), Japan's behavior as a world citizen since 1945, based upon a U.S.-inspired constitution,  has been exemplary.

Though some have accused the U.S. of its own "atrocities", since the advent of nuclear power, with very few exceptions, the United States has lived out the command to "Love thy neighbor as thyself!" The U.S. liberates nations instead of subjugating them, frees peoples instead of enslaving them, feeds and does not starve the needy, and restrains the use of its considerable power until the last resort and only to do good, not evil.  The same behaviors are largely true of the other "free" nations (e.g., Great Britain, France) that retain nuclear weapons.  This is why we can be trusted with awesome power, and others can not.