A Fighting Chance: The Moral Use of Nuclear Weapons

by josephpmartino

I wrote this book  at the height of the Cold War. It was a time when too many people were ready to surrender to the Soviet Union because of their horror of nuclear devastation. It was thought that the only possible targets for nuclear weapons were cities with their civilian populations, and the only real use for nuclear weapons was to deter the Soviet Union from using such weapons against our cities, by threatening theirs. And if we couldn’t deter the Soviets, our only hope was some form of what was then called “Finlandization,” after the way Finland in effect became a Soviet satellite nation even though it wasn’t occupied by Soviet forces. “Mutual Assured Destruction” was the official strategy of the United States (if you can call that a strategy). Our war plans were to make an attack on the Soviet Union as horrible as possible. I thought this was completely wrong. As I put it at the time, if deterrence fails, we don’t want to be programmed for holocaust.

In writing the book, I applied Just War Doctrine (I insist it’s a doctrine; a teaching; not a “theory”) to the use of nuclear weapons in war. That is, in actual fighting, not just in deterring a nuclear-armed enemy. If we actually had to use nuclear weapons, could we use them in ways that supported a rational military policy and strategy, rather than Armageddon? I argued that the Just War Doctrine showed a way to achieve this. In summary, I argued for targeting nuclear weapons only at military targets, making the weapons accurate enough that they didn’t hit other things, and sizing them to minimize unintended damage outside the target. All of this was technically feasible, but we had to make up our minds to do it, instead of pretending that if we made the threat horrible enough, we’d never be faced with the need to carry it out, and therefore didn’t have to think about it.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the disintegration of Russian armed forces, concern about nuclear weapons vanished. We were allegedly the world’s only Superpower. We were faced with terrorism, “asymmetric warfare,” and other threats for which nuclear weapons didn’t seem to be a proper counter. The end result was not just the downgrading of our nuclear-capable forces and the refusal to design new weapons, it was a complete abdication of any thought of how those weapons should be used.

Unfortunately, history didn’t stop. We are now faced with a revived Russia and a growing China, both armed with nuclear weapons. In addition, we will soon face a nuclear-armed Iran. Beyond those, Pakistan, India and North Korea are also armed with nuclear weapons. So are Britain and France, although I don’t consider them to be potential threats. South Korea, Taiwan and Japan all have the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons. In the face of China’s growing power, it’s entirely possible they may turn that capability into reality. In short, while we were taking a nuclear holiday from history, the world actually became more dangerous.

From the standpoint of nuclear weapons, the world is no longer bipolar. It is  multipolar. So, even though this book focused on the Soviet threat, the Just War analysis is still valid. In the next few years, we may need to think about how to use nuclear weapons within moral limits, even more than we needed to do during the Cold War.

I have a few copies left. I’m making them available through Amazon. If there’s enough demand, I’ll find some way to get more.

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