John Stuart Mill and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Over on War on the Rocks I have a new essay entitled “Is the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Immoral?” that discusses the new UN-brokered Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.   Among other things, the treaty says that each “State Party undertakes [to] never under any circumstances to…[u]se or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”   (Italics and underlining added).  I find that mandate problematic.

My essay begins with this quote from philosopher John Stuart Mill’s 1881 book Principles of Political Economy:

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse…. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

Here are the first few lines from my piece:

If there was a lawful way to inflict terrible harm on a ruthless enemy bent on the enslavement or even the extermination of your citizenry, would you use it even if there was great risk involved?  Do you agree with legendary Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who famously said, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”?

My effort essentially discusses those and other questions like:  is there really no “circumstance” worthy of even a threat to use a nuclear weapon as a last resort to preserve freedom?  Do you think that there is no circumstance where a nuclear weapon could be used consonant with the law of war?  Are there some bonafide targets that only a nuclear weapon can destroy?  Should we be barred from using a nuclear weapon to, for example, incinerate a ghastly biological weapon that is about to be used to destroy humanity?  Is it truly wrong to use a nuclear weapon to try to divert an asteroid that is hurtling our way and would destroy the planet?

Moreover, isn’t there a moral duty to at least try to save innocents?

If questions like those interest you, take a look here.

As always on Lawfire, get the facts, assess the arguments, and decide for yourself!


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