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Private Ownership of Nukes

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SkepticalMetal Posted: Mon, Sep 3 2012 9:36 PM

I myself identify myself as a libertarian, although I am extremely anarchist-leaning. The only thing that keeps me from identifying purely as an anarcho-capitalist is the question of private ownership of nukes. I believe in owning weapons for self-defense, but should a line be drawn?

 

I really would just like to know if there should be private ownership of them, and why. Thanks.

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Welcome to the forum.  As you might be able to guess, this isn't a new issue.  For a collection of threads on nuclear weapons, see here. For your question of private ownership in particular, see here.

For more topics and forum tips and how to's be sure to check out The Ultimate Beginner meta-thread.  Great to have you!

 

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Well, I think it'd be pretty hard to even conceive the market producing things like nuclear weapons or something like the LHC.  The amount of time and resources that need to be poured into them against their relative value in the market seem to point toward, "They don't get made."

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There is nothing wrong with private ownership of any kind of weapon.

If man X used a nuke, his whole neighborhood would get destroyed, or another neighboorhood, and in turn everyone will raid his house and kill him, because, you know, we hate people that use nukes, because theyre dangerous?? And should a nuclear war ensue, only 2 parties will be drawn into it, instead of government owned nukes which affect the whole territory that the government controls.

He will also suffer from extreme unpopularity and lose profit from his business.

Not to mention that a nuke costs like 1-2 million dollars.

It will also be highly unpopular to just own one, even if youre not going to use it. No one will want to talk to you, or trade with your business.

There isnt much use for a nuke. It is just an invention by the state to put fear into citizens of other states.

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If man X used a nuke, his whole neighborhood would get destroyed, or another neighboorhood, and in turn everyone will raid his house and kill him, because, you know, we hate people that use nukes, because theyre dangerous?? And should a nuclear war ensue, only 2 parties will be drawn into it, instead of government owned nukes which affect the whole territory that the government controls.

You realize that nuclear war effects are uncontainable, right?  There isn't a way to localize the effects of a war like that.

He will also suffer from extreme unpopularity and lose profit from his business.

If there is someone willing to kill tens of thousands of strangers, my guess is, they probably don't  care what other people think of them.

It will also be highly unpopular to just own one, even if youre not going to use it. No one will want to talk to you, or trade with your business.

As far as nation states go, this is untrue.  Most nations covet those who have nuclear weapons.  They are signs of respect and nationhood nad maturity in the international realm.  Do people trade with China or the U.S.?  Yes, of course they do.

There isnt much use for a nuke. It is just an invention by the state to put fear into citizens of other states.

This is true.

Don't try to justify WMD's with private property man.  It makes libertrians look like fools.

If we lived in your world...

Not to mention that a nuke costs like 1-2 million dollars.

...eventually some dumb redneck that wins his state (or a privately run lottery :| ) lottery will buy one to show the world how powerful he is, then there is a T.M.I. arms race that ends the world when someone gets mad.

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The way I see it is that the ownership of nuclear, chemical, etc. weapons is just however in certain cases it would be justifiable to stop a person from manufacturing them or forcing them to store it in a different location.

For example, I am not a nuclear scientist and am completely unqualified to build a nuclear weapon. Building a nuke in my garage would be a threat to my neighbours because of the possibility of accidents. It is a kind of unintentional threat but aggression does not have to be intentional. Building a nuke under these circumstances is a clear and present danger in my opinion. The magnitude of danger is not the issue, the likelihood of an accident is. It would be up to the court system to decide, with expert testimony, etc, whether the likelihood of an accident is high enough to view it as a threat.

On the other hand, if I do know what I am doing and/or there is no threat to anyone else then I can do whatever I feel like. For example, if I go to my Fortress of Solitude in the Antarctic I could try to build any crazy weapons I want to as long as it doesn't threaten the research bases there.

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Then if nukes arent justified by private property, then what will happen to nukes? Who will seize them? Will it be held collectively? Will it be held by scientific institutes for study? 

The reason why it is untrue for nation states, is because people TRUST their nation states governments. People wont trust their neighboor next door that has a nuke. 

Yes nuclear war effects are uncontainable i admit, however this just makes waging nuclear battles ever more dangerous; anyone that owns this particular nuke will probably never use it.

By extreme unpopularity, i mean this mans fellow citizens razing his house and killing him because a war just started.

So, where would the nukes go?

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gamma_rat replied on Tue, Sep 4 2012 10:45 AM

The argument could be made that merely assembling a deliverable nuclear warhead is an implicit and credible threat of aggression, like loading a gun and pointing it at someone with your finger on the trigger.

"The history of the world is the history of the triumph of the heartless over the mindless." - Sir Humphrey Appleby
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Hmm, this is true. Thanks.

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Anenome replied on Sat, Dec 8 2012 10:41 PM
 
 

Someone builds a nuke, everyone's going to be want to be at least one multiple away from it's effective explosive range (miles to hundreds of miles). Makes it hard to do business with that person for one thing.

Bringing it towards anyone such as to put them in its effective kill range would, I think, constitute imminent threat of harm. Similarly, firing it on a missile constitutes threat.

Beyond that, seeing as how a free society might very well imbibe thinking predicated on the NAP (much as we have) many people may refuse to associate or do business with a person who sponsors or keeps a nuke anywhere on the planet, because a nuke can be used ethically in a vanishingly small number of circumstances, else it constitutes mass-murder.

Advancing science and business will make nuke detection much better as well, with scanning tech and the like, making nuke-smuggling increasingly impossible.

If a free society did decide that they wanted to sponsor a nuke as a protection measure (they have some utility against incoming ICBMs if exploded in their flight-path, and perhaps one ethical use on transitioning incoming armies where no civvies are nearby), if a free society wanted nukes for w/e reason, they'd probably sponsor a corporation, financed by voluntary subscription, and run by consensus, with all sorts of controls and the like, such that the oversight of such a weapon would rival or exceed the kind of oversight governments have over their own weapons, resulting in equivalent or higher social trust, hopefully.

 
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Eugene replied on Sun, Dec 9 2012 1:37 PM

I am anarcho-capitalist and I think nukes should be illegal

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Blargg replied on Sun, Dec 9 2012 1:52 PM

We could start with a more extreme example, like a bio-weapon or something that is extremely unsafe and hard to contain. Seems that everyone else would say "no way" and use force to prevent them from making it or keeping it. It seems justified, since such a thing poses a constant threat to everyone.

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Nukes are legal as long as they're kept outside of blast radius of unwilling individuals who homesteaded their land before you did.

I think there can actually be some other situations where they should be legal as well (a loosening of my previous position), such as in case of attack by another nuclear power.

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Anenome replied on Sun, Dec 9 2012 2:53 PM
 
 

Eugene:

I am anarcho-capitalist and I think nukes should be illegal

There's no such thing as 'organized societal wide force' in an ancap society necessary to make the statement you just did. "Illegal" doesn't exist in that sense. Illegal exists not in the sense of what you think others should be able to do, but only in the sense of what YOU think you should be able to do. So, interpreting that statement in the context of a free society, you're saying that you personally would never build or own a nuclear weapon. Good to know, we can do business now. And if I find out you're lying I will have you prosecuted on the basis of your own words and let a court decide what to do with your nuke or attempted nuke :P

 
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I think murder of innocents should be illegal. Come at me bro.

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Zlatko replied on Sun, Dec 9 2012 3:53 PM

What good would having a nuke do you, even if you were allowed to own it, you wouldn't be allowed to threaten people with it. And that's pretty much their only use.

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Malachi replied on Sun, Dec 9 2012 4:04 PM
You can use a nuke to attack, destroy, threaten, and deter large invasive starfleets with legions of space marines.
Keep the faith, Strannix. -Casey Ryback, Under Siege (Steven Seagal)
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Anenome replied on Sun, Dec 9 2012 5:19 PM
 
 

Wheylous:

I think murder of innocents should be illegal. Come at me bro.

Talking to me?

Fine, if you murder any innocents, we will prosecute you under your assumption of that rule which no one forced on you. And if you did not believe murdering innocents was wrong then I would not associate with you nor do business with you nor let you on my property, nor would most rational people.

Done.

 
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Anenome replied on Sun, Dec 9 2012 5:34 PM
 
 

Good point. A communicable bioweapon constitues a permanent threat across all human territories. Anyone would be justified in destroying such facilities at any time via defensive coercion. The harder task is to learn of their existence with enough surety to justify such actions as reasonable.

Ideally you'd want a small and highly trained covert unit.

I think future libertarian societies will have such units to accomplish things like this, voluntarily funded, and tasked with freeing slaves, taking out existential threats like bioweapons, and perhaps even being proactive in nuke detection so as to stave off that threat.

I was reading the LIbertarian Forum recently, from way back. The first issue mentions something about ad hoc world-courts in essence, private citizens getting together and passing judgment on the sovereign use of power and the like, as a way of bringing pressure on regimes.

I think if a protective agency discovered someone building bioweapons, they could go public, construct an ad hoc court or contract with an arbitrative court, seek a conviction in absentia, and then take donations to destroy the facility/bioweapon as constituting imminent threat of harm to every human being.

Now, there is a moderating factor. Bioweapons aren't actually designed to be communicable. Thus I don't think any exsit that would be deployed that are actually designed to wipe 90% of the human race off the map, such as a weaponized smallpox could do. Rather, when you weaponize a virus you seek to limit its ability to infect, elsewise it would infect your own people.

This is why anthrax was an effective bioweapon, it's not communicable at all, you have to breath it in. Similarly, I think a weaponized smallpox would likely have any infectability stripped out of it at the genetic level. You breathe it in you're infected, but you cannot spread it. Dunno if that's what the Russians were able to do or not, but that's what would make sense.

At that point, all you have to worry about are nihilistic environmentalist terrorists, ala the 12 Monkeys scenario, where humans create a virus specifically in order to wipe out humanity, out of beliefs stemming from radical environmentalism that values the existence of animals and the planet higher than human lives, people who believe the ideal is to reduce human population to half a million lives or so, and such people might rely on natural resistances to do so.

Another more dangerous form of bioweapon is one that contains triggers in the presence or lack of certain racial alleles. This means scientists would try to make a virus that would only kill certain racial groups, or fail to kill a certain one. This is the holy grail of certain racialist ideologies, such as pan-arabism.

Such a virus is the root conflict of a certain novel I'm working on ;)

 
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Eugene replied on Sun, Dec 9 2012 11:20 PM

No, I mean everyone can sue a person who holds a nuke.

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Anenome replied on Sun, Dec 9 2012 11:43 PM
 
 

Eugene:

No, I mean everyone can sue a person who holds a nuke.

If you're outside its effective blast range, on what basis would you sue? I suppose if he had an ICBM and you were in its effective strike radius you might sue for some assurance of safety? Dunno.

Let's say you're next door to a gasoline storage center. Ever heard of a BLEVE? Whether the source is nuclear combustion or other kinds of combustion isn't really important. What I'm saying is, people deal with the issue of living next door to someone without something potentially explosive all the time.

My father's a firefighter; he's fond of pointing out large liquid-methan storage facilities and saying they'd take out a quarter-mile if they exploded, or w/e.

 
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Meistro replied on Mon, Dec 10 2012 12:45 AM

Luckily we don't have to worry about private ownership of nukes; we have governments to entrust them to, and as well all know governments would never initiate aggression!

 

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Meistro replied on Mon, Dec 10 2012 12:49 AM

Facetiousness aside, what would happen to nukes in a libertarian society?  I presume most would be dismantled, but not all; after all a nuke is the only counter to a nuke - there's still no better alternative to MAD.  Then again, a nuke can never be used, not even in self defense.  Imagine if you were the commander of an army (or DRO, if you prefer), the man who had the finger on the trigger.  A nuke strike is launched against you.  Would you really retaliate, and murder millions more, when you can do nothing to stop the incoming strike?  When your people are already dead?  

Uranium / plutonium could still be tightly controlled without a state.  Perhaps a charity - citizens against nuclear war - could monitor and control the supply of fissionable materials and the dismantling of nuclear weapons.

 

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Anenome replied on Mon, Dec 10 2012 3:12 AM

The answer is to make not having nukes more profitable than the protection or w/e that would be felt by someone having one.

A free society might sponsor the purchase of uranium at well above-market rates in order to purify out 235 and dump it into subduction zones in ocean trenches where it will be effectively sucked into the lower mantle.

Anyone getting their hands on fissionable material would rush to sell it to this organization rather than dream up some ransom scheme--much less risky with nearly the same financial reward.

That's one possible solution, but it requires a mature and very wealthy society to pull off, one that would voluntarily fund in large amounts a charity with a very specific purpose, to end nuclear war by moving all fissionable material effectively out of human reach anymore, for the time being anyway.

I suppose better than ocean trenches would be just sending it into the sun, but that's beyond us for now :P

---

Also, to say that nukes are the only protection against nukes is becoming increasingly untrue. That was the whole point of Reagan's Star Wars bluff, and we have recently witnessed the Son of Star Wars with the recent shelling of Israel and their Iron Dome system. That's the future of inbound missile destruction in the short terms. Lasers really will be viable for the same purpose in the long-term as well.

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Kakugo replied on Mon, Dec 10 2012 5:09 AM

As I posted before we may muse as much as we want about private ownership of nuclear weapons but the reality is the damn things are so unbelievably expensive no private entity could afford them.

Gun-assembly type bombs (the kind used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki) are relatively cheap but they have two serious drawbacks. First they are huge relatively to destructive power. Second, they require an enormous amount of "babying". And size does matter: what good is an atomic weapon if you cannot threaten to deliver it where you want? Granted, you can fit it in a bomber's weapons bay and drop it Enola Gay style but modern air defenses would make that operation impractical if not downright suicidal. And let's not even talk about the problems of fitting such a huge weapon to a missile. "Babying" costs can well exceed the weapon purchase price in a short time: what good is a "cheap" atomic weapon if in five years maintenance costs will triple the price?

Of course it can be argued Israel, a small nation with limited resources, maintains an enormous nuclear arsenal and has the means to deliver it almost anywhere. Problem is we know so little about the Israeli nucler program we cannot use it as a comparison for a privately owned arsenal. Yes, Israel bought the initial technology from the French "off the shelf" (though Israeli chemists and computer programmers had been vital to the French nuclear effort) but that was only good to cobble together two primitive, low yield gun-assembly bombs before the Six Days War. In about thirteen years they had not only surpassed their former partners in terms of quantity and quality but could build anything the Soviets and the Americans could. Right now Israel is fielding an increasing number of Jericho 3 ICBM, which are fitted with the latest in inertial guidance and ABM avoidance technology, making them more advanced than the vast bulk of the US and Russian missile arsenal. Since it's highly unlikely Israel developed the tech herself whence did it come from? If it was bought from abroad how much did it cost? Much more critical: would Israel even be able to fund a nuclear program of this scope without generous backing from the US, Europe and the Jewish community abroad? It's well known the Pakistani nuclear weapon program is nowhere near as sophisticated as Israel's, is much much smaller in scope and yet almost bankrupted the country (only generous Saudi financial aids helped them stay afloat). Pakistani delivery systems are short ranged, crude and mostly based on Chinese "off the shelf" technology.

Finally there's the big issue that having a nuclear deterrent implies developing a doctrine for its use, both on the battlefield and as a bargaining chip. The US in the '50s and '60s poured untold resources to develop a "tactical use" doctrine which could be employed in highly populated Central Europe. What little traspired is "collateral damage" would have been truly enormous, especially around the highly critical Fulda Gap. The Soviets had a much simpler doctrine: the strategic arsenal was aimed at the US and (later) at China as a deterrent while the bulk of tactical nukes were allocated to the Red Navy to take out US Navy carrier groups at a distance. Israel has apparently a much more sophisticated doctrine, ranging from use of the nuclear arsenal as a bargaining/blackmail chip ("Take out Iraq for us or we will take out Baghdad in one shot") to the Samson Option (self explanatory).

Since individual ownership of nuclear weapons is out of the question (costs alone rule it out), it would have to be owned (assuming the costs for a "ready to fire" system aren't prohibitive) by a vast number of individuals, each one with his/her own motivations, personal beliefs etc or by huge corporations. And that's where the problems come in. Nuclear weapons are unbelievably powerful: they range from missile warheads able to turn a metropolis into an irradiated wasteland for decades to neutron bombs, able to wipe out all life in an area with little damage to structures. I wouldn't trust anyone with similar devices: so far governments have been restrained in their actions by fear alone. Mutually assured destruction, not international treaties or good will, has done the job of preventing the use of nuclear weapons for over six decades now. There's a reason Nikita Krushchev was so obsessed with fielding a large number of ICBM so rapidly: the US had the upper hand by far and could wipe out the Soviet Union with relatively loss to themselves (apart from Japan and Europe). Privately owned nukes would present the same problems: only mutually assured destruction would ensure they are used as a deterrent and in defensive fashion, nothing else would do.

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Umm, technically, wasn't only the Little Boy of the gun type? AFAIK, the Fat Man was based on implosion - thus the shape.

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Anenome replied on Mon, Dec 10 2012 12:18 PM
 
 

Kakugo:

As I posted before we may muse as much as we want about private ownership of nuclear weapons but the reality is the damn things are so unbelievably expensive no private entity could afford them.

That's not exactly true. We have privately owned chip-fabs that cost about what it cost to originally developed the technology of the first nukes--it would be much cheaper to reproduce today, perhaps a few hundred million dollars. The reason a private individual wouldn't want to really do it is because it's only a cost, there's nothing productive in it.

If you were to have nukes in a free society, like I say, they'd probably be broadly funded by individual investment and entrusted in a corporation with tons of controls. But I find it unlikely in the short term. Only in the face of extreme existential threat would a free people go to that extreme.

 
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Kakugo replied on Tue, Dec 11 2012 2:30 AM

Andris Birkmanis:

Umm, technically, wasn't only the Little Boy of the gun type? AFAIK, the Fat Man was based on implosion - thus the shape.

 
What, have I mixed those two up... again? Boy am I getting old.
 
Anemone, I have been plowing through my books yesterday evening to find at least some cost estimates of the Israeli weapons program. No figure is public but it has been estimated Israel paid SGN $130 million in 1960 dollars for the hardware alone used in the original 24 MW thermal reactor at Dimona. This figure excludes the building itself, the control room, training the technicians, the control rooms, various safety measures etc. And of course there's the issue of the reprocessing plant needed to separate, refine and treat weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from spent fuel. Again I have used Israel as a benchmark because it's a small country with limited resorces buying off the shelf technology to get started.
North Korea would be another interesting comparison but raw data are even more lacking.
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Chip-fabs routinely run into multi-billion range.

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Kakugo replied on Tue, Dec 11 2012 5:26 AM

Ok, for simplicity's sake let's say you can somehow manage to build both a thermal reactor and a reprocessing plant and buy enough fuel and heavy water for them for a few billion dollars. Then you have running costs which are pretty high especially for the reprocessing plant (mostly because you need to get rid of unwanted and really nasty byproducts and shield your highly skilled workers from ungodly amounts of radiation) but again let's assume they are on par with a CPU factory for simplicity's sake.

First problem is you need a way to deliver your nukes. Here you want something able to deliver your payload anywhere in the world, and fast. It means an ICBM, better if on a mobile mount like the original US Peacekeeper or the Soviet SSN-25. If you want to splurge and have access to a sea port you may want an SSBN (nuclear-powered submarine carrying ballistic missiles) but the costs are staggering: a US Navy Ohio-class SSBN cost 2 billion dollars plus crew, missiles, nuclear fuel etc. The proposed SSBN-X will at very least double that price. Even if you content yourself with a land-based ICBM you'll want the latest in inertial guidance and ABM avoidance tech, just to make clear to potential aggressors you mean business.

Second problem is recouping these costs. Intel, AMD and other semi-conductor manufacturers build their factories to make money. They sell their products and hence can recoup the costs of building their factories in the long run. If you have nuclear weapon capability do you really want to sell nukes to recoup costs? It's moral and pratcical knot of Gordian proportions.

Also do you really need expensive nukes to act as a deterrent, if your potential aggressors don't have them? Levi Eshkol (Ben-Gurion's Minister of Finance and the most vocal critic of the Israeli nuclear program) objected not on moral but on financial grounds: for much less than a nuclear program Israel could buy advanced conventional weapons and train her own forces as to have a definite edge over the Arabs. Yigal Allon, the most respected Israeli military leader and hero of the 1948 War, objected on strategic ground: if Israel built the bomb it would give Egypt an esplicit moral authorization to obtain it for herself as well to act as a deterrent (Allon was more right than he thought: de-secreted Soviet files tell us Soviet Scud units stationed in Egypt had a a number of nuclear warheads).

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Merlin replied on Tue, Dec 11 2012 5:45 AM

Kakugo:

Allon was more right than he thought: de-secreted Soviet files tell us Soviet Scud units stationed in Egypt had a a number of nuclear warheads.

I would have loved the look on these guy’s faces had Israel heeded Peres’ advice and preemptively detonated a nuke within its own borders in ’73. "Now what?"

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Kakugo replied on Wed, Dec 12 2012 2:25 AM

If you open the dictionary and look up "completely off his rocker" you'll find a picture of Shimon Peres.

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Merlin replied on Wed, Dec 12 2012 2:35 AM

I, for one, would have done just the same.

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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