About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The nuclear club

I have absolutely no sympathy for the current Iranian leadership, made of first-rate fundamentalist nuts. On the other hand, I am baffled by the fact that nobody seems to notice the obvious flaw in the US, Russian and European effort to stop Iran's path toward nuclear weaponry: we have them, why not them?

Because they are not a democracy, you might say. I have news for you: neither is Pakistan, but they have nukes, and yet this apparently isn't keeping Bush up at night. Well, but Iran is a “rogue state.” What the hell does that mean, anyway? Is a rogue state a state whose policies we don't like? Or one who treats its people unfairly and undemocratically? Because if that's the case, I'd like to add China, Russia, and a few other big guns to the list, way ahead of Iran.

No, the problem is that some Western nations, the US chief among them, insist in treating the rest of the world as a bunch of children. They have to quit even trying to get nuclear weapons, while our silos are chock-full. We have the permanent veto power on the Security Council at the UN, they better behave. Consider the completely undemocratic structure of Security Council (a leftover of the spoils of World War II), through which the US has passed or vetoed countless motions in favor of its own policy. This notwithstanding, that lunatic of the US Ambassador at the UN, one John Bolton, keeps spewing venom about the whole idea of an organization devoted to peacefully resolving conflicts around the world.

Want to gain credibility and to take the high moral road when fighting Iran's insane nuclear desires? Divest yourself of all your own nuke arsenal. Then we can talk again.


  1. The current situation with nuclear proliferation lends credence to the argument that the Cold War was, in retrospect, actually a time of much greater peace and stability than we have today. The Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated that there were two central powers that were equally capable of mutual assured destruction; as a result, the probability of nuclear war diminished into the parameters of a zero-sum game. Smaller states had tremendous incentive to align with one of the two titans, both because they were too small to develop as credible competitors to either of the two superstates, and because alignment helped ensure continued sovereignity and protection from potential enemies.

    Once the Soviet Union fell, the zero-sum stalemate no longer applied: regional conflicts began to escalate, and states previously aligned with with the Soviet Union began pursuing smaller-scale arms races. At the same time, there was no longer much incentive for other states to remain aligned with the United States, so they began to drift away and engage in similar behavior. The end result is that the regional arms race turned nuclear, and now we are in a state of nuclear proliferation that has the potential to become even more unstable than it already is.

    In a situation of ongoing nuclear proliferation, do you really think any long-standing members of the nuclear club would contemplate unilateral disarmament, even if it's in the interest of preventing future mass destruction?

    Nah, didn't think so.

  2. Yes, it is not fair we look to prevent Irans nuclear weapon developement while we are still armed. We are not leading by example, I guess. I don't care. I think Everyone has full confidence that The purpose of U.S nukes is for a deterent. Can we say the same about Iran. Perhaps deterency is part of their purpose, but it wouldn't be hard to imagine what would of happened back when Iraq and Iran were in all out war if Iran had nuclear weapons. U.S. wouldn't be in Iraq today, we would probibly be in the double sized Iran.

  3. Invading Iraq on the grounds that they had WMD's despite them not having them, condoning nuclear proliferation outside the NPT (India), and seeking to make the use of nuclear weapons conventional (bunker busters), doesn't help, either.

  4. Massimo,

    Forgive the off-topic comment, but I had a comments suggestion regarding the timestamp.

    Sometimes I don't check in for a few days and I can't tell if the conversation is still relatively active or has gone stale.

    You can adjust your comment timestamp in the Blogger admin area of your blog to show the date (in addition to the time) of when comments were submitted.

    Just a suggestion. Again, sorry to bother.


  5. Massimo,

    This is one place where I have to disagree with you. Granted, I would sleep easier if NO country had nuclear wepons, but the reality is that the technology exists. That being the case, I prefer a (generally) secular, powerfull country calling the shots to ANY country controlled exclusively by fundamentalist religion any day.

    Yes, we have been hippocrites as to who we allow have these wepons.

    Yes, the very existence of these wepons is a threat to all humanity.

    But there hasn't been a nuclear attack against ANY country since WWII. There is a reason for that.

    Reality trumps philosophy.

    That being said, I realize you are not advocating Iranian proliferation; your advocating total NON-proliferation.

    I just think it may be a little too late (or too soon) for that position.


  6. P.S.

    You're still on my short list of people I'd like to have over for dinner. So if you're ever in Lancaster, PA...


  7. This is a topic that should sadden and frustrate any humanist. No nation should use such weapons, yet "against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain."

  8. Noah, I appreciate the spirit of your comment. I'll let you know if I find myself in your neck of the woods.

  9. Alan, thanks for the suggestion, I changed the time stamp for comments.

  10. I can't say anything that hasn't already been said. Bravo, Massimo.

  11. "This is a topic that should sadden and frustrate any humanist. No nation should use such weapons, yet "against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain."

    Passivity simply isn't the same as civility.

    And don't mislead yourself to accept the idea that the onset of arms race as had anything to with God. Hitler was an occultist at heart, and believed in a quest for PERSONAL power. When Einstein realized what level of capability he had optimalized for the Germans, he agonized over it for the rest of his life. But it was not Einstein’s fault. (I have always felt very sorry for Einstein on this count) He merely created the mode of operation and the tool for the ultimate "revenge".

    On one side of an argument (or ocean) all seems reasonable and right.

    So after all is said and done, the explosive, expansive power of 'the bomb', is almost the best representation of the level of hatred - if one could register personal hatered of others on some type of a Richter scale - that has resided in the heart of man, towards his fellow man - especially one who looks or seems different to him - for all of time.

    So what's all the hand wringing about, really? If you really want to do one better than Einstein, and the rest of us, don't ever say or do anything that you can't UNDO.

    simple, isn't it.


  12. That quote did not mean I was saying belief in God was responsible for nuclear weapons, Cal. It was an allusion to Asimov's The Gods Themselves, itself an allusion to this passage from The Maid Of Orleans.

    Folly, thou conquerest, and I must yield!
    Against stupidity the very gods
    Themselves contend in vain. Exalted reason,
    Resplendent daughter of the head divine,
    Wise foundress of the system of the world,
    Guide of the stars, who art thou then if thou,
    Bound to the tail of folly's uncurbed steed,
    Must, vainly shrieking with the drunken crowd,
    Eyes open, plunge down headlong in the abyss.
    Accursed, who striveth after noble ends,
    And with deliberate wisdom forms his plans!
    To the fool-king belongs the world.

  13. I agree that the possession of nuclear weapons by the US has been a deterrent(considering of course that we are the only nation to have ever used them in anger) up until the year 2000. But since then I believe that the leadership of this country should be classified "first rate fundamentalist nuts" my feeling that our holding nukes to be a deterrant has been diluted considerably.

    I feel confident that G. Bush and Co. would be capable of using nuclear weapons for no more reason that to prove to the world they can do it. They have shown no restraint up to now nor have they considered the consequenses of any of their actions to date, so why would they flinch at unleashing a nuke?

    I hope that I am wrong!

  14. This administration has already suggested it would be willing to use nuclear weapons as an extension of the Bush doctrine. Think Iraq invasion done with nukes.

  15. I have had the same thoughts as Massimo's original post many times, but haven't heard anyone else say it - perhaps others have thought it. It seems fundamentally unfair to have developed a nuclear aresenal ourselves, and yet demand that other sovereign nations not do the same. If I were in another nation, then I would demand that we develop our own equivalent weapons - if only to prevent other large entities from invading us - it seems to have worked for N. Korea so far. (that and a 2M+ person army)

    If I had my wish, there would be multi-lateral nonproliferation - but as the saying goes, you can't put the genii back in the bottle. So, having said that, I would prefer to have nukes, than not - especially given that even if we could come to a worldwide agreement to have no nukes anywhere - somebody would still try to get them - and trust but verify is hard to do. Who's to say what the actual number of nukes are in the world?

    As usual, I have no idea of how to actually proceed and lament the state we find ourselves in.



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