Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why isn't it okay for Iran to have Nuclear Weapons since we hae them?

Polly writes, “Public opinion can be a fine thing, but it doesn't answer the question of why it's okay for us to have nuclear weapons but not for others? I wonder if anyone polled Germany before WWII and asked the question of whether it's okay to invade other countries for one's own benefit? 91% approval rate you think? Likewise, public opinion was very much in favor of invading Iraq. Lots of people thought the earth was flat at one time too. Lots of people still think it's okay to hit children to "discipline" them. And on and on. If we were serious about reducing nuclear proliferation, we wouldn't be proliferating and spurring others to do the same; case in point, if Iraq had nuclear weapons, would we have invaded them? Obviously not. So, why is it okay for us to have and spend mightily on nuclear weapons but evil of Iran to?”

Consider Polly’s key word "okay." What does she mean by it? It assumes that there ought to be a leveling, a sameness, an equality. Is such a leveling possible or even desirable?

If we look at the world, we do not see evidence that leveling, sameness, or equality prevails. We have seen modern attempts to enforce an artificial equality or leveling, but they haven't proved a permanent good and are in the process of being abandoned. Consider the matter of education. Many Liberal educators wanted to abandon grades. Grades lowered the self-esteem of students who couldn't do well and experiments were conducted in grade leveling. These experiments are being abandoned. Perhaps the fact that our students weren't competing well against students from other countries contributed to their demise. Affirmative action is another Liberal leveling-type experiment intended to enable women and minorities to "catch up" with WASM's (White Anglo-Saxon Males). But these experiments are also being abandoned. Women and Minorities appreciate a leveling in the sense of a "level playing field," but beyond that they want to be judged on merit. They don't want it said that they were granted favor beyond their abilities – at least the most talented and outspoken are saying that. Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas are examples.

While it is more a Leftist than a traditional Liberal desire, Communism, has advocated a leveling of society: from each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs. That was one of the great experiments of the Soviet Union, and it failed. Workers didn't work hard enough under that system, and the Soviet Union was not able to compete economically with a system based largely upon merit. That is, one in which the best and smartest workers get paid the most. A society in which hard work is rewarded monetarily does better than one in which it is not. The Soviet Union fell because of its ongoing competition with the U.S. and not because of Al Quaeda's victory over them in Afghanistan (a false claim, by the way, according to Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower).

Moving now into the relationships of nations, we know that neither at the time of the League of Nations nor the formation of the United Nations, was any desire for “leveling, sameness, or equality, entertained. Had someone made such a suggestion it would have been considered preposterous. What guarantees peace in the world, the founders of both institutions would have agreed, was the powerful nations of the world enforcing that peace. The proposal that powerful nations give up some of their power to weaker nations, would have been considered counterproductive.

And beyond that, in history we see that the times that are most peaceful are times in which a powerful empire or nation guarantees that peace. The Pax Romana is the classic example. Times in which nations are more or less equal are times of frequent wars. Given the evidence of history, it would not be wise for the guarantor of the peace to give up power because of some idealistic belief in sameness, leveling, or equality.

It is helpful to consider wars in two different categories: 1) wars between equals and wars and 2) wars between a powerful nation and a much weaker one. Wars between equals are bloodier. World Wars One and Two were of that nature. There was no overarching power that could exert its will over either side. After World War Two there were two superpowers in existence. Their wars were unequal, brief and relatively bloodless. Since 1990 there has been but one superpower that remains. Would it be wise, or “okay” for this superpower to give up any of its power in the interest of sameness, leveling, or equality? It would be quite an adventure. No such power in history has ever done it. It not only be dangerous; it would be foolish. We know for example, that if we were to abandon our power, large numbers of nations would feel it necessary to arm themselves. If the U.S. abandoned its willingness to protect Japan, for example, then Japan would arm itself so that it could protect itself.

By the way, if the U.S. declared that it was no longer willing to guarantee the defense of Japan, then Japan, which has signed the non-proliferation treaty would very likely renounce that treaty and develop nuclear power. If the U.S. isn’t willing to enforce non-proliferation, then who else can do it?

Now since it makes no sense for a superpower to give up its power or move toward a leveling or sameness or equality of power, why is there a popular argument claiming that the U.S. is being hypocritical for maintaining its power while denying Iran such power? The answer is in human nature. The weak will take whatever advantage they can get. If they are weak they will complain about the strength of the powerful. But once they become strong, should that happen, such complaints are abandoned. John Lewis Gaddis describes this process in Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. Robert Kagan also does it in Dangerous Nation.

To return to Polly’s argument, I don’t believe it can be shown that it would be “okay,” for the U.S. to give up its power advantage over belligerent nations such as Iran. Quite the contrary, it would be the height of foolishness.

Lawrence Helm

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