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Irony-challenged

August 19th, 2005

Judging by his response to this post, Andrew Bolt hasn’t read Swift lately. [1]

Actually, Bolt’s article reads as if he didn’t look at the post at all, but reprinted something he found at Tim Blair’s or some similarly irony-challenged site, without going to the original source to check his quotes. Since that would be a violation of journalistic ethics, let’s charitably assume that the phrase “a modest proposal” didn’t ring any bells with him.

The point of the post was not to seriously advance a policy option that (as is patently obvious from the post itself as well as the title) has no chance of being put into practice, but to get people to think about why countries like Britain and France feel the need to have nuclear weapons, and what impact that has on proliferation in general.

Here’s the update I put on the CT post, once the thread had fizzled (I meant to put it up here, but didn’t get around to it).

update The comments thread has now ended up in the usual Palestine-Israel slanging match. So I thought I’d sum up now.

As my title suggested, I wasn’t expecting a very positive response to this post. In over 100 comments here and at my blog, no one has come up with a reason for Britain and France keeping nuclear weapons more plausible than the suggestion that they might want to use them on each other. At the same time (with a handful of exceptions) everyone is agreed that it’s unthinkable that either Britain or France should implement their obligations under the NPT and actually take steps towards nuclear disarmament.

This is, I think, pretty representative of public opinion in all the countries that currently have nuclear weapons, or are planning to acquire them, including Iran. In this context, the nasty, repressive nature of the Iranian regime is beside the point: progressive opponents of the government generally back the nuclear program from what I can see. The examples of South Africa and Brazil, which abandoned well-advanced programs to develop nuclear weapons, now seem like inexplicable exceptions to a general rule.

In these circumstances, it seems almost inevitable that nuclear proliferation will continue and that nuclear weapons will sooner or later be used.

end update

There’s more at Boltwatch

fn1. Unlike readers here, who’ve already made this point in comments.

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:
  1. August 19th, 2005 at 18:07 | #1

    (1) Conservative in Britain want Nukes to Feel Safe.
    (2) Conservatives in France want Nukes to Feel Safe.
    (3) Conservatives in Iran want Nukes to Feel Safe

    Conservative Bolt in Australia wants 1 and 2 to have Nukes and 3 to have no Nukes.

    These nutty conservatives can’t see that it is their cousins in Iran that are the problem. Self reinforcing delusions derived from hate.

  2. August 19th, 2005 at 18:34 | #2

    I think South Africa’s abandonment of the bomb (it was more than a program, they actually *had* the bomb) can be easily explained. It was the act of the white minority government who knew that they were soon to lose power and didn’t trust their black successors with it.

    Dunno about Brazil; I also don’t think they got nearly as far along as South Africa.

  3. August 19th, 2005 at 22:25 | #3

    Bolt is sarcasm challenged as well.

  4. Paul Norton
    August 20th, 2005 at 09:33 | #4

    “update The comments thread has now ended up in the usual Palestine-Israel slanging match.”

    For heaven’s sake! I got over this sort of thing when I was 23. Why can’t we have Lou Richards and Jack Dyer, Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam or Jack Strocchi and Fyodor for a change?

  5. Simon JM
    August 20th, 2005 at 14:49 | #5

    Having looked at different blogs on a range of topics from the environment to Iraq to abortion I’m even more convinced we in fact do often use bounded rationality and confirmation bias to rationalize our non-rational points of view/attitudes and is often fundamentally no different to arguing over fashion or taste in music.

    On abortion I’m with Bolt but very much against him on the environment and Iraq and find him dishonest and irrational on many points. But I’ve also seen those that I agree with over say Iraq and religion are emotive, irrational and abusive on abortion or dismissive over environmental problems.

    Intelligence is not a safeguard I’ve found Sci Hon’s and PhD’s that believe that dinosaurs walked with human; I know that doesn’t invalidate their worth but it does make you think that we can be ‘rational’ or ‘objective’ on some subjects and go off the deep end on others. I’m not going to say we live in a some Post Modern hell but I very strongly think we aren’t nearly as ‘rational’ as we think or that any one persons point of view is as substantive as they think it is.

    So abortion or ahving or not having Nuke’s is not so much about what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but more like a non-rational/semi-rational attitudinal preference which can be swayed in the same way as our other more mundane preferences for music and fashion.

  6. August 20th, 2005 at 15:24 | #6

    Would Pr Q be unhappy if FRA and UK nuclear weapons were consolidated under a central USE command. That would reduce by one the number of European nuclear powers, which would be a start. It would also retain Europe’s nuclear capacity, which would certainly impress the other non- social democratic powers such as CIS, USA and PRC.

  7. August 20th, 2005 at 19:13 | #7

    Here is a more specific link to Andrew Bolt’s piece referring to John Quiggin’s modest proposal.

  8. Simon JM
    August 20th, 2005 at 20:29 | #8

    Sorry about the other off topic post but I’m just getting a bit sick of many blogs turning into flame wars that often conceals a lack of honesty and critical thinking ability.

    Anyway I don’t see anything happening until some major geo-political change or limited nuclear exchange shifts the deck chairs.

    Maybe after the US financial meltdown and it becomes an anglo has been like the UK maybe but with the new lone megapower of China and it’s close ties with a resurgent Russia it will want to keep its deterents.

    I really don’t see China behaving and I think they will love putting their fingers up at the less dominant US. Maybe a limited nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran or fundamentalist Pakistan and India would swing the world against them.

  9. Simon
    August 21st, 2005 at 17:27 | #9

    I am mystified by this post.

    Bolt took your original post at face value. I did when I read it. All of the commenters did so, as did you in the comments. Bolt presumably took the title “A Modest Proposal” as a pretentious play on Swift. I have seen the phrase used in that context often.

    My recollection of a Modest Proposal is that it was a deliberately offensive proposal by Swift to satirise the British policy in Ireland.

    Are you saying that this was what your original post was ? If not then what on earth was it.

    Why not stand by your foolish wafflings rather than resile from them when they are referred to in the press.

  10. jquiggin
    August 21st, 2005 at 17:41 | #10

    Simon, if you weren’t alerted by the heading, perhaps the sentence beginning “OK, I’m joking about France …” might have suggested to you that this proposal was being put forward to raise questions about the hypocrisy of existing policies rather than as something anyone was seriously likely to implement.

  11. August 21st, 2005 at 17:48 | #11

    Actually, “joking about France” suggests that the rest was serious.

  12. Simon
    August 21st, 2005 at 17:58 | #12

    Yes that is how I took it PM Lawrence.

    I still don’t understand your point John. If the existing policies are correct (as you imply) then isn’t it rather dishonest to satirise them as hypocritical, without saying anything further. To do otherwise is to make a very cheap shot.

    Anyone with a modicum of intelligence recognises that the nuclear powers’ position is hypocritical, however anyone with a modicum of intelligence also understands that (in the real world) it is still the correct policy for them to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

  13. jquiggin
    August 21st, 2005 at 19:47 | #13

    I’m not saying the existing policies are correct. I was inviting people to put forward a justification for Britain and France holding on to nuclear weapons that didn’t apply equally well to Iran developing them. No one did so, and hence I drew the conclusion that nuclear proliferation is pretty much inevitable.

    To be boringly clear, I don’t expect that either France or Britain is going to disarm. I don’t know whether a decision to disarm would have any impact on Iran, but I’m confident that their continued failure to implement their own obligations is contributing to proliferation in general.

  14. Katz
    August 22nd, 2005 at 08:30 | #14

    Seems that Warden Blot’s School of Post-Ironism is acquiring acolytes.

    For would-be Blottists with a short attention span (more or less co-terminous sets), here is “Blottism for Dummies”:

    1. insist that the least defensibe literalist gloss of his hate object as the argument of the hate object.

    2. reduce that argument to absurdity.

    3. Indulge in a prolonged grump about postmodernism, anti-Americanism and the chattering classes.

    4. Pout in an unconvincing counterfeit of sagacity.

  15. Simonjm
    August 22nd, 2005 at 10:41 | #15

    JQ the fact is I don’t think there is any point putting forward any proposals given the current and future geo-political situation all the best intentions in the world won’t budge the US.
    If they cannot even support the World Court they certainly aren’t going to give up their nukes.

    I take is along similar lines to that it wasn’t only due to the moral crusade that slavery was ended but the fact the economics of no longer justified it. It just occurred that this could be said with the recent change on asylum seekers, it is more to do with the fact that their are no longer any boatloads of foreigners appearing on our shores and other political factors than any moral or treaty consideration.

    I do agree that with no moves to disarm which is part of the Non-Proliferation treaty some countries will continue to look for their pon nuclear deterrent.It smaks of do what I say not what I do. Also given the US’s recent history they certainly won’t consider the US and the some of the west as upholders of international justice and being worthly of the only ones to hold nuclear weapons.

  16. Andrew Reynolds
    August 22nd, 2005 at 13:01 | #16

    Maybe all the nukes should come under UN control. Kofi can then authorise their use against a meteor.
    Short of that, PrQ, I trust the UK and US not to use them. I trust the French also not to use them – although not as much. I do not think Putin will use them – but I am unsure on his successors. I put the Chinese into the same category, except they are more likely to use them against their own people.
    Others I would not be so sure about. If Iraq had got them I would have been truly worried. North Korea having them worries me a lot. Iran having them also worries me, though not as much as North Korea.
    .
    I believe that they are needed for two reasons. The first is similar to the reason for having them during the cold war – so the other side will not use them. The second is to defend against the (incredibly unlikely) meteor strike.
    If only Iran and North Korea had them the rest of us could, should and would be very worried and their sway on the world stage would be much greater than it would otherwise be. That is why, if the other nuclear powers somehow gave up their arsenals you could be very sure that Iran and North Korea would not. It would also trigger a race by every other tinpot in the world to obtain them.
    This is the best reason why the UK and US should have them – because others will try to get them. Dictators are (IMHO) much more likely to use them than others, and those chances are increased if they see no real possibility of a meaningful and forceful response. Once every nation in the world is a liberal democracy (or otherwise regularly responsible to their people) we should not need them for national defence. Short of that, they will be needed and should be in the hands of liberal democracies.

  17. Hal9000
    August 22nd, 2005 at 17:29 | #17

    Various posters’ child-like trust in the goodness of the US and the UK is touching. I don’t recall Iran having invaded any other country in living memory, nor indeed even starting a war of any kind. The same cannot be said of our great and powerful friends. On the other hand, Iran has been invaded by its neighbour and had WMD actually used against it in recent times. It has also been threatened in blunt terms by the US, which has recently demonstrated its willingness to a) start wars b) invade without provocation and c) lie through its teeth. The US, like Iran, is presided over by god-bothering hypocrites. And we know for a fact the US military has at least twice wanted to use nukes – in Korea and in the Cuban missile crisis. Doesn’t fill me with confidence, I have to say. Surely the main point is that nuclear weapons are genocidal weapons – just like the gas chambers, only quicker and less discriminate. No nation should have them.

  18. August 23rd, 2005 at 09:36 | #18

    To see an early insight into the broader question, read some of Heinlein’s fiction on the subject of control of A bombs that he wrote in the late ’40s. To him it seemed to be a genuine dilemma with no pat answers.

    Of course, that amounts to a partial justification for the maintenance of any currently existing status quo, on the separate principle of letting sleeping dogs lie. Acknowledge what is, knowing that we don’t have any operating principles to steer by, but equally don’t use that as a principle itself that would allow a change in the situation that could lead to problems that we have been lucky enough to escape so far – by luck, not design.

    If there is a principle here at all, it’s “when in fog, heave to”.

  19. Ian Gould
    August 23rd, 2005 at 09:48 | #19

    PM,

    In one of his juveniles, (Star Watchman?) Heinlein advocates putting all nuclear weapons under UN control.

    There’s a scene where his protagonist (an American) tells his father he’d nuke an American city if ordered to do so by his commanders.

    Funny how that never gets mentioned by right-wingers trying to co-opt Heinlein.

  20. August 23rd, 2005 at 23:17 | #20

    “The comments thread has now ended up in the usual Palestine-Israel slanging match”

    There could be an extension to Godwin’s Law about such slanging matchs.

  21. jquiggin
    August 24th, 2005 at 02:22 | #21

    Andrew R. Given that the US has nuclear weapons and is unlikely to give them up, what benefit do you see from the UK having them as well?

  22. Andrew Reynolds
    August 24th, 2005 at 11:07 | #22

    None, except perhaps the fact that it means that Dubya is not the only person I trust with a nuclear button.
    I just thought – there may be some flaw in my logic there.

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