Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Continuing Debate
By Roshana Nabi '01
The justification for the creation of weapons of mass destruction
and deterrence policies is that the threat of overwhelming destruction
will deter states from waging war. The mention of weapons of mass
destruction, however, does not bring about collective sighs of relief.
Apart from the obvious disrespect for life that these weapons imply,
there is something fundamentally immoral and untrustworthy in attempting
to secure peace by threatening violence. It is horrifying to think
that the human race is the only species on earth to have conceived
and developed the technology to destroy itself, and that we are capable
of reducing our own lives to mere bargaining chips. Given these daunting
realizations, the moral aspects of weapons of mass destruction cannot
During "Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Continuing
Debate," a symposium held April 26 at Mount Holyoke, Kanti Bajpai
from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Steven Lee from Hobart and William
Smith Colleges, Lucinda Peach from American University, and Michael
Walzer from the Institute for Advanced Study, discussed moral issues
surrounding the creation and use of weapons of mass destruction. Each
panelist addressed the following three questions: Is the development
of weapons of mass destruction for deterrence a moral option? Is it
moral to prevent states from having weapons of mass destruction if
other states have them? What does the future hold for the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction, and can moral debate have an impact?
The resounding conclusion of all the panelists was that the creation
and use of weapons of mass destruction, in and of itself, is immoral.
However, they all recognized that there are times when the pragmatic
use of weapons of mass destruction might be unavoidable.
However, the panelists also agreed that the end of the Cold War has
given the international community an unprecedented window of opportunity
to dismantle the system that supports weapons of mass destruction.
Lee stated that because the United States is the only remaining superpower,
it cannot squander the opportunity to act morally. United States disarmament
is especially necessary as an example for other nations not to arm
themselves, to remove the motivation of other states to have weapons
of mass destruction, and to support the international regime for disarmament.
Peach stated that the cost of development in the United States of
weapons of mass destruction is now too high for a policy of deterrence,
given that the United States has many other pressing domestic concerns,
such as homelessness and health care.
Despite this opportunity that has arisen due to the end of the Cold
War, President Bush continues to support the possession of United
States weapons of mass destruction and the development of a defense
shield and to offer guidance to European states who want to do the
same. As Walzer pointed out, although it would be unrealistic to expect
states to completely give up weapons of mass destruction solely for
moral purposes, states must try to maneuver themselves within the
system and dismantle it at the same time.
Sohail Hashmi, newly named Associate Professor of International Relations
on the Alumnae Foundation and the moderator of the symposium, ended
the discussion by asking the audience: Do we as citizens have a moral
responsibility to care about the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction? The question certainly made me question my own sense
of responsibility. Although it is easy to forget about this issue
while we are studying or working, it is a reality that weapons of
mass destruction exist and that they do have the ability to destroy
to an incomprehensible degree. Maybe we push the issue aside because
the level of destruction is so incomprehensible. Maybe we push it
aside because it is more comfortable for us to believe that others
are taking care of the problem. But, the issue is everyones
concern. The issue is about our lives, our dignity, and our future.