Anarchy and The Nuclear Option

The US and Russian governments have arrived at a deal to reduce their military inventories by about 1000 nuclear weapons each. While I suspect that nearly everyone thinks this a good thing, it should also serve as an object lesson:

Nearly 65 years into the Nuclear Age, and after 40 years of disarmament initiatives beginning with the SALT talks, the world’s two “super-states” still have so many big, expensive, dangerous nuclear weapons that they can talk about cutting their inventories by 1,000.

Those weapons cost untold billions of dollars to develop and build. None of them have ever been useful to anyone except a) politicians who brandished them against each other and b) “defense” industry parasites who cashed in on their construction.

The very existence of those weapons was made possible only through the machinations of authoritarian welfare-warfare states, and while they’ve thus far been used only twice, in both cases they were used by one of those welfare-warfare states (FDR/Truman’s New Deal regime), and against another (Tojo’s Japan).

And yet, one of the premier counter-arguments trotted out against the notion of a stateless society, time and time again, is the spectre of “private nukes.”

Let’s take this from the top:

The costs of constructing a nuclear weapon are huge. Not only is research and development expensive, but the actual assembly of the weapons requires acquisition of huge amounts of raw material (uranium), processing of that material by large numbers of expensive machines (gas centrifuges), and the attention of skilled technicians who don’t work cheaply.

In other words, only two types of organizations could reasonably be expected to create a nuclear weapon: A state, which can take the cost out of its subjects’ hides whether they like it or not; or a large corporation of the kind which generally only exists under the auspices of the state and which has no profit motive to build such a weapon unless it’s doing so for the state.

Of course, the nuclear genie is unfortunately already out of the bottle. There are already a lot of weapons out there. It’s reasonable to be concerned that if the state disappeared tomorrow, those weapons might fall into the hands of individuals or groups who could never have built them, and who might be inclined to actually use them rather than merely use them as a “Mutually Assured Destruction” threat to keep cold wars cold.

I have two counter-arguments to offer to that reasonable concern.

The first is that the danger it alludes to already exists because the weapons already exist. Maintaining the state does not guarantee that these weapons will never be stolen by force, or illicitly sold by those appointed to guard them. Both possibilities became major concerns during the disintegration of the Soviet Union. For all we know, “private nukes” may already be in play.

The second is that, to the extent that nuclear weapons may fall into non-state hands and be used, the state is the most likely target for their use. Even if the physical target is a civilian population, the justification for their use would be to put pressure on a state to act or react in a given way. To this extent, permitting the continued existence of the state — any state, anywhere — represents an increased risk.

Not only does the existence of nuclear weapons not constitute an argument against the stateless society, precisely the opposite is true: Only states or state-privileged organizations are likely to command the resources to build nukes, or to have any motive to do so. Only states or those attacking states have any incentive to use nukes as instruments of warfare.

“Private nukes” are not, and never have been, a serious threat except to the extent that the existence of the state makes them one. However, I can envision a scenario in which “private nukes” might contribute to the peaceful establishment of stateless societies:

If Earth’s states are serious about divesting themselves of their nuclear weapons, they should offer those weapons, gratis, to private organizations which demonstrate the ability to build “Project Orion” style spacecraft — spacecraft propelled by the detonation of nuclear weapons behind a “pusher plate.”

Such an offer would do Earth the service of getting rid of its states’ most dangerous toys, and open new frontiers where stateless societies could form and demonstrate their own efficacy. The fact that this will never happen should serve as proof that Earth’s states aren’t serious about nuclear disarmament — or about proving their value versus competing visions of society.

Translations for this article:

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist