"Anne-Marie Slaughter is dean of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a co-director of the Princeton Project on National Security. Thomas Wright is senior researcher for the Princeton Project on National Security."
There is, as the saying goes, a certain humor in finding an op-ed on nuclear proliferation authored by a pair surnamed Slaughter Wright. Slaughter, appropriately enough, heads the Woodrow Wilson School, and with such a namesake and ideological progenitor, it's unsurprising to find this sort of neo-Wilsonian hoobajooba: "This initiative would make international law work as a tool of American national security strategy rather than as a constraint on it." Now there's the sort of thinking that's sure to wow 'em in The Hague. For nothing so appeals to your average European technocrat or Chinese Communist Party member or Central Asian strongman as the idea of "international law as a tool of American national security strategy." However will we make ourselves heard above the eructing hosanas?
The Slaughter-Wright Thesis is that we should make "nuclear transfer a crime against humanity" in order to "[capture] the enormity of the crime" and to "dramatically increase the cost of getting caught." How precisely the latter will occur appears to escape our authors' attention, although they do go on to explain that:
Nuclear transfer threatens the lives of millions of people. It merits a place in infamy alongside genocide and other evils. Creating a nuclear transfer taboo would strip away feigned protestations of innocence and illusions of a victimless crime. It would stigmatize black-market financiers and other facilitators of nuclear transfers as the ultimate merchants of death.The white elephant loudly shitting in the corner of this room is that it is not "nuclear transfer" per se that threatens the lives of millions of people, but nuclear weapons, which, as the authors point out, must be produced by states, which are the only entities currently able (to our knowledge) to marshall the substantial industrial resources necessary for the production of such weapons. Why, I wonder, does that not "merit a place in infamy along genocide and other evils?"
That's a question to which I'll momentarily return. First, note that "black-market financiers and other facilitators of nuclear transfers" are not, as a general rule, terribly concerned with being "stigmatized." They're concerned with money, which, I'm told, has all sorts of salutary effects on the damaged consciences of arms dealers. Nor, let us be clear, are these people "the ultimate merchants of death," at least not yet. At present, the ultimate merchant of death is the United States, the world's largest dealer in regular, boring weapons like grenades and machine guns and land mines and cluster bombs, a $500 billion per year industrty of which over half takes place in the so-called developing world. Which brings us to the fissile heart of the matter: The United States currently possess over 5,700 active nuclear warheads and just under 10,000 total. (As a measure of how crazy we used to be, this number is down from a 1966 peak of over 32,000.) Why?
The bright, filmic aesthetics of nuclear weapons captivate the yakkety-yak class, and it is true that nuclear weapons are uniquely terrible--by scale, at very least. There remains, however, a more mundane horror: a nuclear weapon is on some levels still just a commodity, a physical thing, exchangeable for money. Fortunately they are comparatively rare, and so somewhat easier to account for and monopolize than, say, machetes. But just as no one can forever prevent machetes from falling into the hands of those we euphemize as "non-state actors," just as no one can forestall the transfer of AKs, hand grenades, TOW missiles, helicopters, and on up the scale of increasing expense, and just as it is inevitable that states will collude, cooperate, and actively support the sale of all of these, so too is it with nukes. The idea that states will pursue nuclear weapons, that states will stockpile them, and that somehow "transfer" will nevertheless be prevented is a desperate and stupid fantasy of that odd class of people who rule us, who can read and write while remaining unable to think.