August 17th, 2005

Edge of the world

Nuclear weapons are morally indefensible

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the current crisis of international diplomacy between Iran and various Western nations. Iran claims it is pursuing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, while many internationally suspect they have ulterior motives and wish to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. Of course, it isn't hard to see why Iran might wish to have nuclear arms - nearby Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers, Israel may be, and the nuclear-equipped USA labelled Iran as a member of the "axis of evil".

Well, I think a lot of people in the world would do well to stop for a second and cast their minds back to 1985. A few days ago, former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange passed away; Lange was famous for, amongst other things, being a superb orator, and one speech in particular is highly relevant. In March 1985, Lange argued so convincingly for the affirmative on the topic that nuclear weapons are morally indefensible at the Oxford Union that he received a standing ovation. In doing so, not only did he stand up and assert New Zealand's position internationally, but he also presented a stellar argument against nuclear weaponry. I highly encourage every single one of you to read the text of his speech, especially the brilliant second page. Heck, there's now even a link in the introduction to audio of the speech!

The speech is so amazingly quotable; the ultimate point is that nuclear weapons are not a defence, as they simply encourage the further development on both sides of weapons that can annihilate the entire human race. They are inherently offensive weapons that, through their very existence and destructive powers, create a sense of insecurity not just to one's enemy but to one's self and one's allies as well. Lange also brings up a powerful point against world superpowers that attempt to assert their own morality and decisions upon 'weaker' nations. It's so good that I will quote it here. Think about this, reflect upon it, consider it in context of both the time it was made and the time we live in today.

But the result [of New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance] has been that we have been told by some officials in the United States administration that our decision is not, as they put it, to be cost-free; that we are in fact to be made to pay for our action. Not by our enemies, but by our friends. We are in fact to be made an example of; we are to be ostracised, we are to be convicted of some form of heresy and put on probation. We are going to be kept there until we are compelled to resume our seat in the dress circle of the nuclear theatre.

We have been told that because others in the West - and their advocates are here tonight - carry the fearful burden of a defence which terrorises as much as the threat it counters, we too must carry that burden. We are actually told that New Zealanders cannot decide for themselves how to defend New Zealand, but are obliged to adopt the methods which others use to defend themselves.
And there's no humanity at all in the logic which holds that my country, New Zealand, must be obliged to play host to nuclear weapons because others in the West are playing host to nuclear weapons. That is the logic which refuses to admit that there is any alternative to nuclear weapons, when plainly there is.

It is self-defeating logic, just as the weapons themselves are self-defeating: to compel an ally to accept nuclear weapons against the wishes of that ally is to take the moral position of totalitarianism, which allows for no self-determination, and which is exactly the evil that we are supposed to be fighting against.

I would like to conclude by saying just how immensely fun it was to listen to the audio of that speech and enjoy Lange's speaking and debating style! He has such an effective command of speech and a powerful, booming voice that he employs very persuasively. Oh, being a dork is so much fun it's insane.