Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Nuclear Proliferation and Its Consequences

For an aircraft to crash, it usually takes what's referred to as a "cascading of events." That is, a lot of little things have to go wrong all at once, against very long odds. It rarely happens. My personal support for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein rested on not one, but rather a cascading of reasons. Some of these reasons are more compelling than others but I don't know if any one of them, by itself, would have convinced me that now (last year) was the time to topple Hussein, but all of them taken together do.

Free, tolerant, and prosperous societies is really the only long-term solution to the problem of terrorism and liberal democracy is the only means to get there. Saddam Hussein was in clear violation of countless U.N. resolutions so the legal mandate was there. Combined with the fact that Iraq's populous is composed of an educated, cosmopolitan people most ready for democracy (relative to the rest of the Middle East) made it an opportune place to start. Top that off with the objective fact that 25 million would be liberated from a madman (who was annually murdering them by the thousands) sealed the deal for me.

That's the short of it, but there is more. 9/11 was a cruel reminder of how dangerous (and small) the world really is. The oceans between us and the rest of the world became suddenly irrelevant and the tolerable risk level of WMD's a nuclear proliferation shrunk quite drastically. A few weeks ago, I wrote,

"If and when a nuclear or biological attack happens on U.S. soil we'll wonder why ideas such as those expressed by Ross bothered us at all. The only questions that will remain then, is not who will win, but which parts of the earth will be scorched and how many human beings will be incinerated in the process."

That's a disturbing thought, and Steven Den Beste got me thinking more about this today as he parses through the possibility/implications of just that scenario.
In other words, if you want to be free, you have to be tolerant. For some people, tolerance is very difficult. For others, it's heresy. And that's a problem, especially if their intolerance knows no borders or limits.

That's actually one of the big reasons why we're at war. The Islamic extremists consider tolerance to be heresy. They cannot accept us as we are, even though we're quite willing to accept them as they are. They demand that we conform to their view of how we should behave, and we won't do it.

So either they'll force us to conform, or they'll kill us all, or we'll force them to be tolerant, or we'll kill them all. Or maybe everybody will end up dead.

The first of those won't happen. My nation is not going to surrender, and they are not going to convert this nation into an Islamic Republic without exterminating the vast majority of us first. (If they try, they'll discover the true reason for our Second Amendment.) Each of the others is a distinct possibility, but the third one (us forcing them to be tolerant) is by far the least bloody of those outcomes. That's the basis of the US strategy in the war (though there's much more to it than that).

If it fails, the body count is going to get extremely high. Islamic extremists may eventually gain the means to slaughter large numbers of us, but they won't ever have the ability to wipe us out completely.

On the other hand, we have the ability to wipe them out now, if we're ruthless enough to kill 10,000 innocent civilians for every militant we kill. Burning down the house to kill the roaches is pretty extreme, but there's no doubt it actually would kill almost all the roaches.

If it comes to that, it would be nearly as much of a disaster for us to do that as it would be for them to have that done to them. But if we face the stark choice of surrendering or committing nuclear genocide, then the body count is going to become very large in a very short time.

I'm willing to do almost anything to avoid that. But I am not willing to surrender in order to avoid that.
Such is the world we live in, but I think that toppling Saddam reduced the chances of this coming to fruition. Once rogue nations become nuclear or even posses biological/chemical weapons they are much more difficult to deal with (see North Korea). This means that there is a strong incentive for despots to acquire such weapons. And what's the cost? The U.N. will sign a piece of paper saying "you can't do that"? That amounts to near nothing for the despot. (The population though suffers great costs at the hands of sanctions.) The U.S., by demonstrating the will to actually enforce international law, and impose great costs on the despot themselves, finally is creating a legitimate disincentive to acquire these weapons (see Libya). To some extent this should reduce the aggregate demand for these weapons and thus prevent some stockpiles from ever coming to be and eventually proliferated. Perhaps this is one reason that, by itself, is compelling enough.


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