Volume > Issue > Moving Beyond Nuclear Pro-Choice

Moving Beyond Nuclear Pro-Choice


By Julianne Wiley | September 2021
Julianne Wiley, who has also published as Juli Loesch Wiley, writes from Johnson City, Tennessee. She has not yet been banned from Twitter, though she’s been pushing the limit.

Some arguments against strategic nuclear deterrence (SND) fail because they are based on unsound factual views, are rooted in inadequate ideologies like utopianism, or are morally tainted by the sort of collapsed pacifism that denies the natural-law right — even duty — to use force to secure the safety of a community or a nation. However, the fact that some arguments against SND are faulty does not permit the conclusion that there are no compelling moral arguments against SND. I am convinced, and I will argue, that SND is morally unacceptable in its very foundation and must be replaced by a different system to protect our nation and the world from threats and acts of military aggression.

Andrew Latham discusses the morality of strategic nuclear weapons without laying the groundwork of why they and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are morally problematic in the first place, and without analyzing what kinds of actions either lead us away from moral offenses or further implicate us in them. Perhaps this is because Latham skips over the true deontological judgment against intentionally indiscriminate killing as being intrinsically evil in all cases. He also neglects the underlying principle that it is never “prudential” to choose something that is prohibited by an exceptionless norm, and that there is always a duty to refuse formal cooperation with intrinsic evil.

That said, Latham’s rebuttal of a variety of faulty anti-deterrence arguments is correct. But his failure to take seriously the moral argument against nuclear arms undermines his whole project. Nuclear deterrence is wrong, but not for the reasons the integral disarmers, the utopians, and the pacifists say it is.

Prudential arguments, by definition, involve choices between options that are, in themselves, either morally good or at least morally neutral (i.e., not prohibited). Many choices that involve lethal actions, including in policing and military defense, are prudential in nature. Using lethal force against a lethal aggressor is permitted as long as less-than-lethal or non-lethal means are impracticable, and all non-force options (e.g., negotiation) have proven insufficient. Many such decisions rightly involve proportionality: for instance, a good-faith assessment that even proportionate collateral loss of life does not negate the moral propriety of protecting even more lives or human values by the just use of force.

However — and this is a crucial distinction — proportionalism is not the same as consequentialism, the theory that the consequences of an act are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that act.

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