This is an interesting question and there are several schools of
thought on the matter.
There are those who argue, like kriswrite below, that nuclear weapons
are necessary as a deterent, but only "responsible" nations should
possess them as other "rogue nations" are a threat to peace.
Others argue that all nations should have nuclear weapons, as they
deter aggresion and prevent conflicts. This view has grown more
controversial now, but at one point the nuclear weapon was praised as
a "weapon of peace", an oxymoron if I've ever heard one.
Later, as the dangers of nucler war heightened many recognized the
potential destruction of a world based on these weapons. In 1985 The
Nobel Peace Prize went to International Physicians for the Prevention
of Nuclear War.
Another school of thought is that the only way to minimize the nuclear
threat is through total disarment. Proponants of this view argue that
it is in the best interest of all countries to disarm and that such
action lends large "developed" countries leverage to convince smaller
nations to disarm while they are doing so themselves.
The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) was an important step in the
reduction of nuclear weapons. Proponants of the treaty argued that the
best way for the U.S. and others to convince other nations to abide by
the treaty and reduce their nuclear weapons was to abide by the treaty
themselves and serve as a model for the world.
The U.S. has pulled out of the near 30 year old treaty as of 2001. The
justification of this was that the U.S. must be able to develop and
maintain nuclear weapons programs to protect against "rogue nations"
and terrorist attacks:
The Charter of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP)
It is difficult for a country like the United States to demand a
country like Iran to disarm while they themselves are maintaining a
large nuclear arsenal. Afterall, countries like Iran have regional
nuclear threats like Israel to worry about and view a nuclear program
as a deterent as well.
Finally, some argue that the right to maintain a nuclear aresenal for
self defense is legitimate, but that countries that have exhibited
aggression beyond self defense must be disarmed. This is the view that
the United States publically espouses, but doesn't always follow.
Consistent with this view, Article 51 of the U.N. Charter allows for
the "right of individual or collective self-defense" against "armed
attack...until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary
to maintain international peace and security." Apart from this,
nations "shall refrain in their international relations from the
threat or use of force."
In order for this view to hold water, one must be able to draw a clear
distinction between the actions of "responsible nations" like the U.S.
and "rogue nations" like Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Since the United
States is the only country to use nuclear weapons in any capacity, the
agression must be judged on the actions of the state through
conventional means as well.
Noam Chomsky writes,
"There are legitimate ways to react to the many threats to world
peace. If Iraq?s neighbors feel threatened, they can approach the
Security Council to authorize appropriate measures to respond to the
threat. If the U.S. and Britain feel threatened, they can do the same.
But no state has the authority to make its own determinations on these
matters and to act as it chooses; the U.S. and UK would have no such
authority even if their own hands were clean, hardly the case."
The concept of preemptive aggression may violate the concept of
agression only in self defense, but it has been used as a
justification by the U.S.
<<When the U.S. bombed Libyan cities in 1986, the official
justification was "self defense against future attack." New York Times
legal specialist Anthony Lewis praised the Administration for relying
"on a legal argument that violence [in this case] is justified as an
act of self-defense," under this creative interpretation of Article 51
of the Charter, which would have embarrassed a literate high school
student. The U.S. invasion of Panama was defended in the Security
Council by Ambassador Thomas Pickering by appeal to Article 51, which,
he declared, "provides for the use of armed force to defend a country,
to defend our interests and our people," and entitles the U.S. to
invade Panama to prevent its "territory from being used as a base for
smuggling drugs into the United States." Educated opinion nodded
sagely in assent.>>
A study of the Strategic Command reveals what may be the basic
philosophy of how the U.S, will use its nuclear aresnal in a post-cold
<<A secret 1995 study of the Strategic Command, which is responsible
for the strategic nuclear arsenal, outlines the basic thinking.
Released through the Freedom of Information act, the study, Essentials
of Post-Cold War Deterrence, "shows how the United States shifted its
deterrent strategy from the defunct Soviet Union to so-called rogue
states such as Iraq, Libya, Cuba and North Korea," AP reports. The
study advocates that the U.S. exploit its nuclear arsenal to portray
itself as "irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are
attacked." That "should be a part of the national persona we project
to all adversaries," particularly the "rogue states." "It hurts to
portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed," let alone
committed to such silliness as international law and treaty
obligations. "The fact that some elements" of the U.S. government "may
appear to be potentially ?out of control? can be beneficial to
creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an
adversary?s decision makers." The report resurrects Nixon?s "madman
theory": our enemies should recognize that we are crazed and
unpredictable, with extraordinary destructive force at our command, so
they will bend to our will in fear. The concept was apparently devised
in Israel in the 1950s by the governing Labor Party, whose leaders
"preached in favor of acts of madness," Prime Minister Moshe Sharett
records in his diary, warning that "we will go crazy" ("nishtagea") if
crossed, a "secret weapon" aimed in part against the U.S., not
considered sufficiently reliable at the time. In the hands of the
world?s sole superpower, which regards itself as an outlaw state and
is subject to few constraints from elites within, that stance poses no
small problem for the world.>>
The U.S. has imposed double standards- Israel as an example:
<<"The civilian toll of Israel?s U.S.-backed invasion of Lebanon in
1982 exceeded Saddam?s in Kuwait, and it remains in violation of a
1978 Security Council resolution ordering it to withdraw forthwith
from Lebanon, along with numerous others regarding Jerusalem, the
Golan Heights, and other matters; and there would be far more if the
U.S. did not regularly veto such resolutions. But the common charge
that Israel, particularly its current government, is violating UN 242
and the Oslo Accords, and that the U.S. exhibits a "double standard"
by tolerating those violations, is dubious at best, based on serious
misunderstanding of these agreements. From the outset, the Madrid-Oslo
process was designed and implemented by U.S.-Israeli power to impose a
The U.S. has noted that Iraq used weapons of mass destruction as a
reason why the country should be disarmed.
<<Returning to Iraq, it surely qualifies as a leading criminal state.
Defending the U.S. plan to attack Iraq at a televised public meeting
on February 18, Secretaries Albright and Cohen repeatedly invoked the
ultimate atrocity: Saddam was guilty of "using weapons of mass
destruction against his neighbors as well as his own people," his most
awesome crime. "It is very important for us to make clear that the
United States and the civilized world cannot deal with somebody who is
willing to use those weapons of mass destruction on his own people,
not to speak of his neighbors," Albright emphasized in an angry
response to a questioner who asked about U.S. support for Suharto.
Shortly after, Senator Lott condemned Kofi Annan for seeking to
cultivate a "human relationship with a mass murderer," and denounced
the Administration for trusting a person who would sink so low.>>
However, the use of WMD does not provide a clear distinction. Iraq had
used the weapons in the past with no response from the U.S. or U.N.
<<And Lott failed to note that his heroes Reagan and Bush forged
unusually warm relations with the "mass murderer." There were no
passionate calls for a military strike after Saddam?s gassing of Kurds
at Halabja in March 1988; on the contrary, the U.S. and UK extended
their strong support for the mass murderer, then also "our kind of
guy." When ABC TV correspondent Charles Glass revealed the site of one
of Saddam?s biological warfare programs ten months after Halabja, the
State Department denied the facts, and the story died; the Department
"now issues briefings on the same site," Glass observes.>>
My personal view:
It is difficult to argue that one set of countries should disarm
because of their agressive actions, but another set of countries is
allowed to maintain their arms despi?e similar acts. The dichotomy of
"rogue states" and "responsible states" is vague and dangerous in my
At the very least, all countries should be held to certain
international standards of conduct, like those prescribed by the U.N.
Charter and various internation arms treaties. It is unfair for the
powerful to decide the criteria by which to judge the weak and then
act in violation by that very criteria. It is also dangerous for the
powerful to designate entire nations as "rogue" or part of an "axis of
evil". This type of rhetoric may serve as a self fulfilling prophesy
and acts more as a provocation than a source of direction for smaller