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Nuclear Disarmament

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Goddard Eliot Lewko:
Special pleading.

This isn't special pleading. Walking down the street with a gun in your holster doesn't constitutute a threat. When you pull out the gun, point it at someone, and say, "Stop or I'll shoot", this constitutes a threat. The reason it constitutes a threat is not because the gun "can only be used to do damage" or whatever. It is based on the person weilding the gun, aiming it a certain way, and stating their intention to cause physical harm. Even without the verbal statement a threat can be seen as valid, similar to a scenario where I walk into a store and point at something on a shelf to show I intend to buy that thing. Consider this scenario:

A, a police officer, is chasing B, who just robbed a bank. C, a woman pushing a stroller is coming out of a side street when A issues the threat as above. C feels harm, but the blame rests on B for creating the situation. If a case weren't so clear cut as this though, say as in a hypothetical future defense provider who wants to wield nukes or even conventional missiles, the economic imperative is on other security firms to watch such groups. This is all going to take place as extra-judicial measures, likely even if the outside groups view mere possession of nuclear devices a threat.

Anyhow, here is why the case of nukes, generally speaking, is different:

special pleading:

Special Pleading is a fallacy in which a person applies standards, principles, rules, etc. to others while taking herself (or those she has a special interest in) to be exempt, without providing adequate justification for the exemption. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

  1. Person A accepts standard(s) S and applies them to others in circumtance(s) C.
  2. Person A is in circumstance(s) C.
  3. Therefore A is exempt from S.

These are entirely different circumstances than with weapons which can be aimed at a target without harming innocent people. 

  1. A person accepts the non-aggression principle, or can't coherently object to anyone applying it. Carrying a gun, in and of itself, does not constitute a threat, therefore this person and anyone they come in contact with, held to the same standard, must not aggress upon each other for the mere circumstance of one or both carrying a gun.
  2. A person accepts the non-aggression principle, or can't coherently object to anyone applying it. Operating a nuclear ICBM facility constitutes a threat, in and of itself, because the weapon can't be used without harming innocent people. Given no specific, legitimate threats issued, anyone at all is justified in disarming the threat.

How could one have a "specific, legitimate threat" though? I'll explain this in a bit. It was included in my response I mentioned to Conza that ought not become a missive. For more on threats, read this.

Now, these analogies aren't perfect, but people continue to not read the article I linked and give this oversimplistic argument for nukes qua weapons. This is basically how absurd it is to say that a person wielding a nuke versus a person wielding a gun, knife, or cluster bomb are not two entirely different sets of circumstances:

  1. Knowing my neighbor only has validly homesteaded a certain 3-dimensional area around his house and that he does not have rights ad coelum, I decide to hoist a giant anvil from a crane on my property and hang it over his house. "It's art, not a threat.", I say.
  2. You contract an airline to "do all that is reasonable to ensure one's safety" during flight (i.e. not toss you out at 30,000 feet). You have a couple cocktails, enjoying your flight, but when you awake from your nap, you find that you have been moved to a chamber and are trapped into a device straight out of the movie Saw. Playing in a loop is your flight attendant's voice, "We will do all that we can to ensure your safety during this trip. Thank you for allowing us to test the comfort of this new chair in partnership with Acme Prisons. Relax, we will be landing shortly."

You've completely misused 'special pleading', then proceed to attack the strawman you erected:

Goddard Elliott Lewko:
You're not demonstrating why a nuclear device is fundamentally different from any other explosive that the non-aggression principle cannot apply to its possession. The real issue seems to be not that the weapons are nuclear explosives per se, but rather that the pre-assumed size of the explosive in question is sufficiently large to the extent that the odds of having a legitimate non-aggressive use approaches zero. This I'm guessing stems from a lack of study on the subject of nuclear explosives.

I didn't feel the need to elaborate on what, I believe, everyone was understanding we are talking about with "nuclear weapons". That I am not an expert on nuclear weapons is irrelevant to the discussion of a general category of things which cannot be operated without harming innocent people in the context of legal theory. If technology advances such that some form of nuclear device can be used in a manner similar to conventional weapons, the circumstances are different and can be evaluated as such within the imaginary construction of a free society. 

For all of your extensive study, you sure didn't educate us very well here. Where are the "safe nukes"? Can you cite an example of their use that hasn't resulted in either direct death or radioactive pollution in surrounding areas? If you can, it seems to me to be at odds with the results of the bulk of the history of the use of atomic weapons.

Even testing, from what I can tell, is similar in most cases to that of The History of Iron County.

As part of a test site public-relations program in March 1953, some 600 observers were invited to view a test shot and its effect on manikins, typical homes, and automobiles in an effort to get Americans more interested in civil defense. Klien Rollo represented the Iron County Record at the media event. Observers watched the detonation seven miles from ground zero and later were taken into the test area, after debris and dust had settled. Rollo at first thought it was "his good fortune" to be invited to the test site, but not many weeks later the newspaper began questioning the safety of nuclear fall-out. It printed a long article by University of Utah student Ralph J. Hafen of St. George in which he wrote that he felt "morally obligated to warn people of the irreparable damage that may have occurred or may in the future occur" from exposure to radiation. He also called upon the AEC to explain why cars entering St. George were washed after the shot. Predicting later problems, he cautioned that "damage done to an individual by radiation often does not make itself known for five to ten years or a generation or more."

The sheep and their owners were Iron County's first victims of radioactivity. While being trailed across Nevada from winter range to the lambing yards at Cedar City, some 18,000-20,000 sheep were exposed to large quantities of radioactive fallout from tests in March and April 1953. Kern and McRae Bulloch first noticed burns on their animals' faces and lips where they had been eating radioactive grass. Then ewes began miscarrying in large numbers and at the lambing yards wool sloughed off in clumps revealing blisters on adult sheep. New lambs were stillborn with grotesque deformities or born so weak they were unable to nurse. Ranchers lost as much as a third of their herds.


Within three to five years after atmospheric testing, leukemia and other radiation-caused cancers appeared in residents of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada living in areas where nuclear fallout had occurred. Communities in which childhood leukemia was rare or unknown had clusters of cases in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the 1990s, people in Iron County believed that those who lived there in the 1950s were guinea pigs and victims, like the sheep. They have adopted the appellation "downwinders," signifying they lived "downwind" of atomic tests. Tests were usually conducted when the wind was blowing east or northeast in order to avoid fallout over more densely populated areas to the south and west, including Las Vegas and southern California. Iron County is centered in the fallout arc. Even though it is impossible to prove that any particular person died or was afflicted by cancer caused by radioactive fallout, the perception of people living in Iron County is that atmospheric nuclear testing brought an epidemic of cancer to the area. The link between radioactive exposure and tumors can, however, be drawn statistically. There is also a local perception that infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects are part of the legacy of living downwind of nuclear tests. Long-time residents of southwestern Utah are quite comfortable blaming a multitude of medical problems on nuclear testing and wonder how many future generations will be affected.

Even though House subcommittee hearings in 1979 found that the government was negligent, that fallout was a likely cause of both adverse health effects to downwind residents and the 1953 sheep losses, its report Health Effects of Low-level Radiation stated that a cause-and-effect link cannot be forged between low-level radiation exposure and cancer or other health effects. Since these might not appear for years or decades, the Federal Tort Claims Act is impossible to apply and compensation had to come through legislation.

Suits were nonetheless brought against the government by Navajo uranium miners, test-site workers, military servicemen forced to watch the tests, and downwind victims of radiation-caused cancers; all were unsuccessful. Twenty-four plaintiffs in one test case, Irene Allen v. United States, represented 1,200 individuals who were deceased or living victims of leukemia, cancer, or other radiation-caused illnesses. Eleven of the twenty-four lived in Iron County during the period of atmospheric testing. Two were children who died of leukemia; eight others died of various other cancers; only one of the eleven was alive in 1984.

I really don't feel the need right now to supply more evidence for the extensive damage done by nukes. The vast majority of these things countries have pointed at each other fall into this category of weapons I've called "nukes" and not whatever you are referring to when you assure us:

Goddard Elliott Lewko:
We're not really there just yet

Maybe we should go somewhere else before we go there. Read from here:

mini nukes


Despite the global sense of relief and hope that the nuclear arms race ended with the Cold War, an increasingly vocal group of politicians, military officials and leaders of America's nuclear weapon laboratories are urging the US to develop a new generation of precision low-yield nuclear weapons. Rather than deterring warfare with another nuclear power, however, they suggest these weapons could be used in conventional conflicts with third-world nations.

Critics argue that adding low-yield warheads to the world's nuclear inventory simply makes their eventual use more likely. In fact, a 1994 law currently prohibits the nuclear laboratories from undertaking research and development that could lead to a precision nuclear weapon of less than 5 kilotons (KT), because "low-yield nuclear weapons blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war."

Last year, Senate Republicans John Warner (R-VA) and Wayne Allard (R-CO) buried a small provision in the 2001 Defense Authorization Bill that would have overturned these earlier restrictions. Although the language in the final Act was watered down, the Energy and Defense Departments are still required to undertake a study of low-yield nuclear weapons that could penetrate deep into the earth before detonating so as to "threaten hard and deeply buried targets." Legislation for long-term research and actual development of low-yield nuclear weapons will almost certainly be proposed again in the current session of Congress.

Senators Warner and Allard imagine these nuclear weapons could be used in small-scale conventional conflicts against rogue dictators, while leaving most of the civilian population untouched. As one anonymous former Pentagon official put it to the Washington Post last spring,

"What's needed now is something that can threaten a bunker tunneled under 300 meters of granite without killing the surrounding civilian population."

Statements like these promote the illusion that nuclear weapons could be used in ways which minimize their "collateral damage," making them acceptable tools to be used like conventional weapons.

As described in detail below, however, the use of any nuclear weapon capable of destroying a buried target that is otherwise immune to conventional attack will necessarily produce enormous numbers of civilian casualties. No earth-burrowing missile can penetrate deep enough into the earth to contain an explosion with a nuclear yield even as small as 1 percent of the 15 kiloton Hiroshima weapon. The explosion simply blows out a massive crater of radioactive dirt, which rains down on the local region with an especially intense and deadly fallout.

Moreover, as Congress understood in 1994, by seeking to produce usable low-yield nuclear weapons, we risk blurring the now sharp line separating nuclear and conventional warfare, and provide legitimacy for other nations to similarly consider using nuclear weapons in regional wars.


However, mini-nuke advocates — mostly coming from the nuclear weapons labs — argue that low-yield nuclear weapons should be designed to destroy even deeper targets.

The US introduced an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon in 1997, the B61-11, by putting the nuclear explosive from an earlier bomb design into a hardened steel casing with a new nose cone to provide ground penetration capability. The deployment was controversial because of official US policy not to develop new nuclear weapons. The DOE and the weapons labs have consistently argued, however, that the B61-11 is merely a "modification" of an older delivery system, because it used an existing "physics package."

The earth-penetrating capability of the B61-11 is fairly limited, however. Tests show it penetrates only 20 feet or so into dry earth when dropped from an altitude of 40,000 feet. Even so, by burying itself into the ground before detonation, a much higher proportion of the explosion energy is transferred to ground shock compared to a surface bursts. Any attempt to use it in an urban environment, however, would result in massive civilian casualties. Even at the low end of its 0.3-300 kiloton yield range, the nuclear blast will simply blow out a huge crater of radioactive material, creating a lethal gamma-radiation field over a large area.


Just how deep must an underground nuclear explosion be buried in order for the blast and fallout to be contained?

The US conducted a series of underground nuclear explosions in the 1960s — the Plowshare tests — to investigate the possible use of nuclear explosives for excavation purposes. Those performed prior to the 1963 Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty, such as the Sedan test shown in Figure 4, were buried at relatively shallow depths to maximize the size of the crater produced.

In addition to the immediate effects of blast, air shock, and thermal radiation, shallow nuclear explosions produce especially intense local radioactive fallout. The fireball breaks through the surface of the earth, carrying into the air large amounts of dirt and debris. This material has been exposed to the intense neutron flux from the nuclear detonation, which adds to the radioactivity from the fission products. The cloud typically consists of a narrow column and a broad base surge of air filled with radioactive dust which expands to a radius of over a mile for a 5 kiloton explosion.1 In the Plowshare tests, roughly 50 percent of the total radioactivity produced in the explosion was distributed as local fallout — the other half being confined to the highly-radioactive crater.

In order to be fully contained, nuclear explosions at the Nevada Test Site must be buried at a depth of 650 feet for a 5 kiloton explosive — 1300 feet for a 100-kiloton explosive.2 Even then, there are many documented cases where carefully sealed shafts ruptured and released radioactivity to the local environment.

Therefore, even if an earth penetrating missile were somehow able to drill hundreds of feet into the ground and then detonate, the explosion would likely shower the surrounding region with highly radioactive dust and gas.


An earth-penetrating nuclear weapon must protect the warhead and its associated electronics while it burrows into the ground. This severely limits the missile to impact velocities of less than about three kilometers per second for missile cases made from the very hardest steels. From the theory of "long-rod penetration," in this limit the maximum possible depth D of penetration is proportional to the length and density of the penetrator and inversely proportional to the density of the target. The maximum depth of penetration depends only weakly on the yield strength of the penetrator.4 For typical values for steel and concrete, we expect an upper bound to the penetration depth to be roughly 10 times the missile length, or about 100 feet for a 10 foot missile. In actual practice the impact velocity and penetration depth must be well below this to ensure the missile and its contents are not severely damaged.

Given these constraints, it is simply not possible for a kinetic energy weapon to penetrate deeply enough into the earth to contain a nuclear explosion.

I rest my case on that for now.

Goddard Elliott Lewko:
To put it another way, let's consider another high explosive. Dynamite can make a large explosion, and certainly if you gather enough together a person could create a blast large enough to threaten a sizable population, but we wouldn't be ones to rail against the explosive simply because it can hurt someone, would we? Why then would we decry the existence of another kind of explosive simply because it's more energy dense (and thus potentially more economical in currently extreme circumstances) than what we're used to? Is the non-aggression principle scared off by big numbers too?

Perhaps we shouldn't frame nukes within the more narrow mindset of weapons. There are a million different applications for something that goes boom beside that, and certainly we young blades of economics aren't the ones to consult first when it comes to finding what works best.

There's nothing wrong with CERN making minute amounts of anti-matter. I don't blame dynamite by itself for possibly creating a "risk zone". When you are talking about dynamite factories, oil refineries and the like, the stated purpose of these is progress and commerce not destructive weapons. They aren't missiles that can cross half the globe. It is true, nonetheless, that they pose a risk to surrounding populations.

This danger is more substantively similar to the patent aggression of industrial pollution than that of nuclear arms, however. Government has distorted whatever market for these torts that would have arisen, so we have a problem far beyond just factories that might go boom here. We can't say how people would best resolve these conflicts between societal safety and preexisting, state-granted legal easement rights of polluters. We can recognize that people are capable of collective action aside from state collectivism and let the cards lie where they fall. All I can say is that it is the responsibility of the aggressor to make recompense and/or purchase a contractual easement right to pollute.

This has gotten quite long, but the answers to your questions are "No." and "We don't". I've thought about the reply I started the other day more and will finish it now.


Ok, ok, cut me some slack here. That was the last gasp of air from a drowning belief. Its almost gone. 

Good to hear. Now I am going to explain, why Dr. Block's analysis is not as thorough as it could be and the issue isn't so simple. I could be wrong about this next part; however, afterwards I will explain why it doesn't really matter if I am wrong and I don't think such is the case.

Consider present day as we know it, with states and statism dominating the Earth. Now consider two different possible states of affairs in the future. Of course there are other possibilities, like a meteor destroying all human life before statism is buried, but this isn't important:

  1. Imagine a transitional period where the majority of the Earth still recognizes state sovereignty, but there also exists a free society, we can suppose growing out of part of the economic collapse of the US, but this isn't important.
  2. Then imagine the Earth is mostly state-free, save some of what we would now consider "primitive" cultures.

In #2, we can say that the maxim holds true. The mere possession of a nuke is criminal, given you aren't in the process of dismantling it or something. In #1 though, I would like to make the case that it would be legal, from the viewpoint of other libertarian judges, for a trustworthy defense firm to threaten to nuke some "rogue state" like a "North Korea" if they use nukes, or maybe even lesser offenses of aggression, toward their customers.

Now, this open threat of retaliatory action is against what is, for all we care about, viewed as the group of criminals running the rogue state. We know, still, that the device can't be used without harming innocent people. Even if it could be targeted at some remote military base, and those in it are all actively engaged in a war of aggression, the fallout is still going to do damage to tons of innocent people in the region. So, I think that it is, technically okay to threaten to use these types of things, given the target of the threat is a country run by nuke-wielding criminals. It still isn't justifiable to use the things thereafter though. Part of being deemed a "trustworthy" defense firm, in light of the highly important nature of private military defense against states, might be to certify that the computerized targeting  system is restricted to the rogue state, or a certain radius outside of the free zone, of course all subject to modification by an independent, private consumer safety firm. (See What Keeps Us Safe?, and this is in reference to a "specified, legitimate threat" above).

In light of what I emphasized just above, isn't a "Kim-Jong Il" type just going to cackle, "Silly libertarian army, we know that your threat is empty!", and press the button? Maybe, but I don't see where he is typically going to stand to gain from this. We're also ignoring several reason why this whole argument is almost pointless and there are other solutions to problems in the imaginary construction of a world where both states and a free society exists.

I cut out some parts here, though they are important, because I figured it would just attract trolls. See this thread from here on more general legal theory.

See Walter Block's Is There an 'Anomalous' Section of the Laffer Curve and this section I wrote before on why "Kim Jong-Il" might think twice about pushing the button:

We must determine and agree upon, as libertarians, the universal indicia of our legal philosophy. In other words, we use logic to decide upon an aspect of the philosophy that [an issue] is clearly wrong and use proportionality to help determine what the maximum punishment ought to be with regards to the details of the crime. Of course, these are mere guidelines, and whatever arbitration systems that actually come about will at times have differences based on economic factors and/or cultural mores. 

Then understanding this eventuality, we can observe some scenarios play out:

  • The relevant guidelines are followed throughout whatever chain of arbitration. The two parties are either clients of the same justice agency, two justice agencies with preexisting agreements, or are able to agree upon a chain of arbitration after a claim has been made.
  • as above, except guidelines are not followed fully. A libertarian arbiter will view the actions taken as an injustice, but all involved agreed to what took place. No libertarian PDA would thusly take action against the parties or arbiter because of the corollary of 'rights of free association'.
  • Guidelines are followed, but arbitration and enforcement occurs when one party refuses to agree to any chain of arbitration whatsoever, both parties suggest sets of arbiters that don't match up, or an agreement is reached and justice rendered but one party later objects to the decision. In these cases, we may believe we're right and win or lose in any violence or negotiation afterward.
  • as above, but guidelines are not followed fully. In the former we defend justice and in the latter we seek it out.
  • An injustice may occur and whatever arbiter simply won't take action at that time.

Democracy means the opportunity to be everyone's slave.—Karl Kraus.

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Conza88 replied on Thu, Jun 24 2010 8:59 AM

"It should further be clear from our discussion of defense that every man has the absolute right to bear arms – whether for self-defense or any other licit purpose. The crime comes not from bearing arms, but from using them for purposes of threatened or actual invasion." - MNR

... further adding to my interpretation of Rothbard's statement on WMD is the actual correct one. Since it's clear as day, if the paragraph is read properly.

Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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The way I see it, extremely heavy ABC weapons conflict with a praxeological NAP because their use would wipe out entire parts of civilisations, basically rendering the law system useless as it will be destroyed too.

In other words, as the proliferation of ABC weapons continues - and it will - libertarians will have to realize that a physical NAP is illogical and only a praxeological one can hold: property as a means of action.

The older I get, the less I know.
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Charles replied on Wed, Jul 28 2010 9:49 PM

I didn't read through this whole thread, but my stance is pretty simple.  The American government should disband all its nukes immediately, even if other countries don't.  Nuclear weapons serve one purpose, and one purpose alone:  the mass murder of innocent people.  Period.  There's no excuse for holding them.  Even if another government was barbaric enough to use them against civilians on our continent, it doesn't matter.  That would not justify the American government's use of this horrendous weapon against other innocent civilians.

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Sieben replied on Wed, Jul 28 2010 9:54 PM

If I had nukes, I could tell every government to piss off and start an awesome ancap society in the middle of America.

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Conza88 replied on Wed, Jul 28 2010 10:20 PM

"The American government should disband all its nukes immediately, even if other countries don't." ... "Even if another government was barbaric enough to use them against civilians on our continent, it doesn't matter.  That would not justify the American government's use of this horrendous weapon against other innocent civilians."

Well since they are naturally 'stolen goods' or funded via - they are thus illegitimate.

"Nuclear weapons serve one purpose, and one purpose alone:  the mass murder of innocent people.  Period."

No. Not period. You haven't seen Armageddon?

Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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mwalsh replied on Wed, Jul 28 2010 11:06 PM

Just to illustrate the point that it is hard to control even the information, IP, when I was in 5th grade, we had to do a scientist porject, and being assigned Lise Meitner, I put the plans for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs up, from a US gov't site, which also contained the complete materials list including amount or part count, ie 5 #6 washers (example, not sure if that's what it was).  Now this was after 9/11 too, this was 2003.

Just adding this little bit of info.

"To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be." - Unknown
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Conza88 replied on Mon, Apr 21 2014 4:23 AM

For the record (further vindication my analysis of Rothbard's position is the correct one):

Rothbard on Nuclear Weapons

  • Murray Rothbard speaking at the 1981 National Libertarian Party Convention. This is an excerpt from the Q & A session where he answers a question as to what is the libertarian position on nuclear weapons.
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