I was recently reading the January 2011 copy of Imprimis from Hillsdale College. Excerpts from “It’s Never Just the Economy, Stupid“ delivered by Brian T. Kennedy (President of the Claremont Institute and also directs also directs the Institute’s Ballistic Missile Defense project) for Hillsdale’s ”First Principles on First Fridays” speech. He covers a number of areas related to national defense but I wish to focus on his comments regarding the New START treaty which concern criticism that The New START treaty will allow Russia to reduce its stockpiles of outdated nuclear weapons while preventing us from doing so. Kennedy notes that supporters of the treaty argue that this will provide moral high ground in our efforts to convince others to reduce their own nuclear weapons stock piles.
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Kennedy argues that creating a vulnerability is not the moral high ground. I want to offer an additional criticism of the moral high ground view.
First, there are four states with nuclear weapons that are not allied with the Unites States. They are: Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea. Russia has inked its new deal with us. Expecting the remaining three to respond to a moral high ground argument is wonderfully idealistic and just as naive.
China: China is modernizing their military in all aspects. They are not strong and cannot project force. However, their nuclear weapons are a sufficient deterrent to prevent enemies from exploiting their relatively weak conventional forces.
Pakistan: Presuming their weapons are not sold on the black market the best argument to convince them to reduce or eliminate their nuclear weapons is the threat of them falling into the wrong hands coupled with a non-aggression treaty between them and India enforced by the US. Arguing that our reduction in nuclear capacity is a sound reason will not make it into the room because it would eliminate any and all credibility a negotiator may have.
North Korea: They have played three successive administration with broken promises until they actually got nukes. Previous carrots have not worked. Threats have not worked. An anti-carrot (pulling our pants down) is less impressive than the first two making their resistance more likely than their cooperation.
Moral High Ground: This has never protected a state. The best a policy of moral high ground can do for the United States is produce condemnations from our allies about attacks from those without the moral high ground and their sympathy. It will not deter those who mean us harm.
Moral pressure is useless against those who don’t care and even if they do - you can get further with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word.
The point… moral pressure means nothing in the absence of strength to enforce it.