Archive for August, 2010

Ross Douthat’s recent columns on gay marriage and Cordoba House (the so-called Ground Zero Mosque) are practically a parade of privilege. Never mind the Constitution, minorities should conform to Douthat’s conceptions. Muslims with First Amendment rights – no, they should defer to Douthat’s particular perspective on Middle East politics. For instance, this sentence directed at any religious group in America is nonsense, to quote Douthat:

For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June).

Who exactly made Feisal Abdul Rauf such a “leader” of Muslim Americans that his perspective has knock on implications for millions? This XKCD comic springs to mind.

Individuality as a hidden benefit of privilege.

As for gays and lesbians expecting equality under the law – no, Douthat claims there’s something mystically extra-special about opposite sex marriage. Douthat writes permitting gays to marry means,

we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate.

Douthat has certainly taken his privilege pill. Side effects include aggrandizing oneself and all the groups one is personally a member of, dramatic declines in empathy levels, and free admittance of tautologies into argumentation. Heterosexual marriage is important because heterosexual marriage is important – well that certainly clears things up, thanks Ross Douthat.

Is there any more to conservatism than luxuriating in privilege? Boundless compassion for the haves and the have mores, relentless weeping for the wealthy, and a dose of veiled or not so veiled bigotry (aimed at Muslims, the undocumented, gays, etc., etc.) – as represented by far too many elected officials, Republicans have surpassed themselves. After the presidency of George W. Bush, that’s really something.


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Kyoko Niiyama, an intern at the Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum, described the message of Hiroshima as “not an indictment, but rather a warning for peace and against the nuclear bomb” (Der Spiegel). On August 6 the city marked the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing; Nagasaki marks the anniversary of its bombing today.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki mark one part of the reason I am unconvinced by those who doubt the aspiration for a world without nuclear weapons. The Obama administration has made not insubstantial strides in that direction, with the Strategic Arms Control Treaty wending its way through the Senate now. Obama is careful to include plenty of wiggle room when explaining the aspiration, particularly the assurance that as long as nations possess nuclear weapons America will be one of them (Prague 2009 Speech). Unilateral American disarmament is not imminent.

There is a remarkable failure of imagination amongst those who criticize, even the aspiration for a world without nuclear weapons. Failure of imagination is how I’d characterize Ross Douthat’s column and blog post on whether a world without nuclear weapons is possible or even desirable.

International law scholar extraordinaire Louis Henkin’s observation that “almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all of the time,” underpins where my argument is headed. That is to say those fretting about global security in a world without nuclear weapons have less to worry about than they think. They imagine a world always on the brink of nuclear rearmament, nations capable of building nuclear weapons on a hair trigger.

These critics of the world without nuclear weapons activists ignore Henkin’s observation. I’ll quickly breeze by some key arguments in Harold Koh’s review essay Why Do Nations Obey International Law? (Jstor, gated). In short, the discursive landscape, the legitimacy of the rules, and internalization of the rules contribute to the possibility of a safer, more durable non-nuclear world. Koh has a far more in depth, scholarly analysis of the arguments about compliance with international law that I breeze by here.

Koh lays out the scholarly discussion on the analysis of state compliance with international law, examining what’s missing from different scholar’s arguments about compliance. For my purposes, all of the above contribute to an answer as to the potential durability and safety of a world without nuclear weapons. One line of thought says states, international organizations and the public are engaged in a process that pushes towards compliance (The New Sovereignty by Chayes and Chayes). Another line of thought argues the fairness of the rules themselves pushes towards compliance (Fairness in Int’l Law and Institutions by Franck). Koh adds, nations internalize the strictures of international law.

In sum, I am relying on an ideational understanding of international relations, basically a constructivist account arguing that identity and interests are shaped by the discourse itself. The relevant actors will imagine themselves differently after the no-nuclear weapons norm is global. A world without nuclear weapons is an initiative that will take decades to achieve. It is a project worthy of a president. And after they’re gone, will we miss them? How much good do they do in the world? Is a world of constant deterrence – a kind word for retaliatory nuclear strikes that would maim and kill millions – better than a world of positive peace?

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