Nuclear nonproliferation and unavoidable hypocrisy

It seems that nuclear nonproliferation is one of the most hypocritical areas of diplomacy/international relations, and yet the double standard seems unavoidable.
The United States, for instance, is the only nation to ever have used nuclear weapons in warfare, and has one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world (and also doesn’t seem to mind Israel having nukes,) yet is adamant that Iran cannot be allowed to possess a single nuclear weapon. From the Iranian perspective, it seems perfectly logical for Tehran to scream “hypocrisy!”
And yet there is broad consensus that having many different nuclear-armed nations in the world is a bad thing. It seems to be blatant hypocrisy for the USA, Russia, China, the UK, France, etc. to possess sizable nuclear arsenals while insisting that other countries refrain from building nukes, yet when it comes to one of the most potent weapons in the world, is this double standard simply unavoidable, a necessary hypocrisy?
Also, while there may be broad agreement that a country like Syria, Iran or Libya possessing a nuclear arsenal would be bad news, would this same “no proliferation!” standard be applied with the same urgent disapproval if some Western-democracy nation like Austria, Canada or Denmark were to assemble nuclear weapons? (For the sake of the hypothetical, let’s just overlook the fact that it would be extremely unlikely for a Western democratic nation like Austria, Canada or Denmark to go nuclear…)
Basically, this whole nuclear nonproliferation thing is arguably rife with hypocrisy throughout, yet there seems to be no good alternative.

Okay, then.

Let’s experiment. We’ll randomly select half of the countries ruled by a batshit insane dictator/king/warlord to be given nuclear weapons and see what happens.

As to the charges of hypocrisy, there are at least four defenses:

  1. Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation treaty, which basically says that non-nuclear powers won’t develop nuclear weapons in exchange for nuclear powers’ using them only in response to another nuclear attack. This is a significant treaty, and abrogating it is Serious Business.

  2. While I’m not going to sugar-coat the recent or past history of the United States or its allies, it’s patently unreasonable to assert a false equivalency between their governments and Iran’s. I personally have no problem saying that I’m less worried about the United States having nuclear weapons than I am about, say, North Korea.

  3. The United States is not happy that Israel has nukes; there’s just not much it can do about the situation at this point. (See also: India and Pakistan.) Most people would like to live in a world without nuclear weapons. That isn’t possible, but most of us are at least trying to do the best we can given the circumstances. Allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons is not conducive to peace. Maybe allowing the existing powers to have nuclear weapons isn’t conducive to it either, but there’s nothing much we can do about it now.

  4. If Iran does develop nuclear weapons and related technology, there’s no reason to assume that they’d stay in Iran, and Iran has some very sketchy allies. North Korea, for example, received assistance from Pakistani scientists. The Middle East is hardly a stable place now; adding nuclear weapons to the mix is not conducive to establishing peace in an already unstable region.

After all N Korea has spend the last decade and a half fighting two wars in West Asia including one begun on false pretenses, bombing a dozen other countries, its secret intelligence service has set up torture centers on all continents… wait no. You are absolutkey right, there is no equivalency between the US and N Korea.

Speak for yourself. I am happy I am living in a world with nuclear weapons. Its good to live in (relative) and continuous peace, rather than have to endure a great power war roughly once a generation.

Old history, but the USA didn’t really approve of the Swedish nuclear weapons program back in the 50:s, even though it was primarily directed against them Russian communists, so we Swedes had to back off and do some radio espionage on behalf of NATO in exchange for (presumed) nuclear protection.
And most Swedes still considered us neutral - or “non- allied” as the term was. Now ain’t that a sweet story…

This isn’t the case, I’m afraid. The NPT doesn’t include any such restriction and the US has specifically refused to adopt a “no first use” policy. But the underlying premise of the NPT is indeed a bargain; non-nuclear powers won’t develop nuclear weapons and in exchange the nuclear powers will work towards the “general and complete disarmament” of their nuclear arsenals. I think non-nuclear nations can fairly say that it’s hypocritical for the United States to demand complete compliance on the part of non-nuclear states when the nuclear ones merely make symbolic steps, if that, towards their obligations under the same treaty.

As some politician once said, “The universe is run by the complex interweaving of three elements: energy, matter, and enlightened self interest.”

Should the perfect be the enemy of the good, especially when millions of lives could be at stake?

Nuclear disarmament is the desired end state. However, short of that, limiting the growth of nuclear weapons is a very good idea. It’s pretty insane to conclude that since disarmament is a difficult goal to achieve, that therefore anyone and everyone should get nukes, Katy bar the door.

It seems to me the odds of a nuclear weapon being used depends more on the number of countries that have them, rather than the numbers owned by a small number of countries. (Use is less likely with two countries that have 50,000 nukes than if 100 countries had 5 nukes each.) Just how important is this principle of hypocrisy that millions more lives need be at risk to satisfy someone’s sense of fairness? That’s more obscene than anything in the OP.

I was going to start a thread related to this but this one will do.

Who cares if Iran gets a nuke? They can’t use it.

A nuclear bomb is a large explosive with unpleasant side effects. It is not magic and it will not make an entire country disappear. Now we suppose that if Iran had one they would use it on Israel. I don’t wish to see this happen. However, I don’t think there’s any realistic scenario where it does happen.

First of all, Israel will not just let it happen. The borders into Israel are hardened because of constant threats of infiltration by people who mean to do the nation harm. I assume the many security services and military intelligence organizations of Israel are pro-active in making sure no one brings any kind of explosive into the country, much less a nuke. If your plan begins with “All we have to do is get past Mossad, Shin Bet, Shaldag, Sayeret Matkal, the border guards, the military, the police and et cetera…” then it cannot be said to be a solid plan.

Second, let’s assume the Iranian nuke hits at just such a perfect time that it completely decapitates command authority in Israel. Every politician and military leader who has any say in the matter happens to be gathered in the same spot when this miraculously smuggled nuke goes off right next to them. Chaos and panic reigns because no one ever thought of having to respond to a decapitation strike, right? Mutual Assured Destruction ceases to apply if you just kill the right group of people all at once, correct? Or perhaps Israel is smart enough to not put the entire bridge crew in the same shuttlecraft. What then?

Furthermore, I assume the rest of the world would feel compelled to respond to an unprovoked nuclear attack. Remember how after 9/11 the NATO nations invoked article 5 and said that an attack on one was an attack on all? Israel can’t count on that level of support from the rest of the world but it only needs the support of the US of A, which it will most assuredly receive, no matter how much Bibi and Obama might not care for one another.

Let us not forget that Israel is rumored to have a nuclear arsenal of its own. I would assume the Israeli military has drawn up contingency plans to deal with exactly such a situation taking place. Before the mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv dissipates, the mushroom cloud over Tehran is forming and there might be several more joining it all across the Iranian countryside.

If Iran had a nuke and used it, they would give Israel a bloody nose. The casualties would be immense and the devastation would be profound. But it is akin to sucker punching a world champion fighter. You may catch him off guard and hurt him with that first blow but when it’s his turn to hit back, you’re going to wish you had never tried it in the first place. We ascribe fanatical motivations to the Iranian mullahs but at the end of the day I’d like to think they’re at least semi-rational human beings who do not wish to die in response to a showy but ultimately ineffective strike.

Alright, you got me. North Korea is a much kinder and more peace-loving nation than the US is and can definitely be trusted with nukes much more than we savage war-loving Americans can. :rolleyes:

No one is going to feel that any country (besides his own) can be “trusted” with nukes. However, while there are many many reasons to be unhappy about N Korea having nuclear weapons, claims that they are a threat to world peace, are not one of them. If they are, then frankly, every nation that has them is.

I feel that Britain and France can be trusted with nukes. Neither of those is my own country.

Well, then it’s good no one in this thread has made that claim!

As John says, I don’t have an issue with any NATO country having nukes. I don’t have a real issue with China having the things either. None of these countries act as a destabilizing force, plus I seriously doubt that any of them will collapse into anarchy where whoever is strongest will eventually gain control of the things after a long and bloody civil war. North Korea and Iran, I think it’s safe to say, are not stable regimes, could very well collapse at some point putting these nukes into the hands of gods know who, and by possessing nukes they destabilize their regions. North Korea especially is worrying, since they have pushed their development of a ballistic missile technology to deliver the things further and further as well as gone on a ridiculous expansion program of building as many of the things as they can (while starving their people to pay for all of this idiotic crap).

You seem to think that there is some sort of equivalency between the US and North Korea because the US has engaged in some foreign adventures in the last ‘decade and a half’, but there is none at all when it comes to nuclear weapons. The US is not a destabilizing force wrt nuclear weapons…just the opposite in fact. North Korea is and will remain so as long as they have a loose cannon on the throne and an unstable and highly volatile government and economy. It’s scary as hell thinking that the same crazy assholes that sank a South Korea warship (deliberately) have the capability of firing off a nuke that, today, can hit any target in South Korea or Japan, and that we are relying on the fact that if they do that we will massively retaliate back. It’s scary because gods know if the NKs, who seem to only have a tenuous grasp of reality understand that…and it’s scary because anyone who would kill millions of their own citizens due to bad agricultural policies and silly economy ignorance would seemingly not factor this in when considering the use of nukes.

Iran publicly denies working towards nuclear weapons, and most outside viewers think that while they’d like to be able to make them if they want to, and are working on some technologies that might help them do so in the future (enrichment), they’re not exactly working specifically on nuclear weapons right now. There is disagreement about whether Iran even is in violation of the NPT. Maybe that would be a better starting point of the conversation, than to just assume that Iran wants the nukes and should be stopped at all costs.

Israel never signed the NPT, Iran did. Israel (and India, and Pakistan) can build as many nuclear weapons as they want and not violate the NPT because they are not parties to it. Iran can’t because it is.

This is indeed they actual hypocrisy of the treaty; but its not very surprising given that the wording of the NPT has very specific obligations of non-nuclear weapon states not “to receive, from any source, nuclear weapons, or other nuclear explosive devices; not to manufacture or acquire such weapons or devices; and not to receive any assistance in their manufacture” while the obligations of nuclear disarmament are the very much more vaguely worded "Each party “undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.

The NPT wasn’t something nuclear weapons states forced down non-weapons state’s throats, mind you. It was voluntarily signed by almost all nations, and those that didn’t (Israel, India, and Pakistan) are hardly international pariahs for it.

Why are you focused on the idea that Iran would have to smuggle the weapon in? They have a robust and moderately successful missile development program.

Besides, what if Iran decided to attack some other country in the region?

True, but the general idea is to avoid the harm in the first place.

I think the riskiest thing about Iran becoming a nuclear power is that countries other than Israel would then feel like they must create their own deterrent for Iran. For example, do you think Saudi Arabia and Iraq believe they are part of the U.S., French, or Israeli nuclear umbrella? I should think not, and I would bet they would think about whether they would also want to drop out from the NPT.

Also, the point you did not address is that Iran has clearly learned from the “Axis of Evil” dilemma. The U.S. attacked Iraq in part because it was believed to be relatively low-risk to do so. Iraq did not have nuclear weapons, and thus no deterrent from a major invasion. North Korea both has nuclear weapons and the conventional ability to punish South Korea, and even though its behavior is much, much worse than Iraq’s was up to 2003, they did not get invaded. Iran has surely learned that a nuclear deterrent would give them the freedom to act like North Korea and also not have the threat of invasion or major air strikes hanging over their head.

Do you think Iran is a force for stability with respect to regional terrorism? No? Then why do you imply that things wouldn’t be that bad if Iran had its own strategic deterrent?

I agree that it is very unlikely that the state of Iran would use a nuke if it had it, but I see two compelling arguments why we would prefer that they don’t have one.

  1. Iran’s government is not entirely stable. While a sane rational government of a country would see MAD as sufficient reason not to use or seriously threaten the use of nukes, if Iran destabilized and a decentralized organization like ISIS ended up with the nukes, determining a target for retaliation may not be easy to accomplish. Do you really want to nuke population centers of a country embroiled in a civil war, in which control of cities is changing from month to month?

  2. If Iran has nukes it can no longer be threatened militarily. Nukes are what you use if you have nothing left to lose, and so it is incumbent on your enemies to make sure that you are never placed in that position. As it stands now, if Iran gets too out of line, we can credibly threaten to turn them into Iraq 2.0. However once they have nukes, then if US tanks are driving down the streets of Terran, the Mullahs might as well go ahead and try to blow up Tel Aviv, or give your nukes to insurgent force, as in scenario one.

There’s significant things the US can do it, and its not just that the US isn’t happy about Israel having them. In fact, the US takes an attitude of official ignorance. We know they have it, but until they say so and some outside organization like the UN can prove it, the US is happy to operate in blissful ignorance so that we can continue giving them aid. There’s a law in the US that says we can’t aid countries going rogue on nukes. Israel’s official stance is that they don’t have any. Therefore, we get the best of both worlds: Israel can still have nukes and we can still provide them with money

Officially, I’d rather they not have it. I’d rather the US announces we know they have it and sanction them like any other country. But because we feel its better to let Israel get away with it cause we trust them, we lie in this grey area. Its annoying and that, to me, is the bigger hypocrisy

At least with nuke proliferation, our official stance is more like that we are better stewards of nukes, therefore we get to have it and you don’t

South Africa also voluntarily ended its nuclear weapons program in the 1980’s.

If N.Korea was sitting on a vast reservoir of crude oil you’d better believe we’d be marching American troops through Pyongyang as we speak.