In his excellent post on evangelicals and nuclear abolitionism, Brian Auten notes that “it is important for, again, non-experts—national security and theological alike—to see that there are other, in some cases radically different and yet still Christian, perspectives to many of [Two Futures Project]’s and [Baptist minister and a nuclear policy expert Tyler] Wigg-Stevenson’s claims.”
Theological reflection on the use of nuclear weapons has always been lacking within the evangelical community. But since the end of the Cold War, almost no thought has been given to the subject at all. This unfortunately leads to the acceptance of positions—such as complete nuclear abolitionism—that are strategically and theologically problematic. For example, one of the questions that Auten recommends we consider is:
Are nuclear weapons inherently sinful? Wigg-Stevenson insists that all nuclear weapons are “un-justifiable” and sinful because they are categorically indiscriminate and therefore fail the jus en bello requirement of noncombatant immunity. Wigg-Stevenson’s assertion rises or falls on whether all nuclear weapons are equally and completely indiscriminate in how they are used and who they are used against. His theological argument for nuclear abolition would appear to require the total exclusion of nuclear weapons from the just war framework.
Like many other evangelicals, I believe that the use of force against evil is not only in keeping with God’s ethical mandate but can even be a positive act of love. For this to be true, however, the use of military force must be justifiable under the parameters of just war theory, including the requirements for a jus ad bellum (circumstances for using force) and jus in bello (just means in using force). The issues of when and how nuclear weapons should be used fall under this category of just means and should be examined it that light.
Unfortunately, the emotional baggage we bring to the topic makes it nearly impossible to rationally discuss the use of nuclear weapons. For those who grew up in the Cold War era, the threat of global annihilation has so colored the debate that for many of us it is considered an axiomatic truth that the use of such weaponry for any purposes can never be justified. While we should empathize with the anxiety that leads to this conclusion, we cannot condone a stance that could lead to morally repugnant consequences.
Since the end of WWII, there has been a propensity to judge nuclear weapons by their maximal use rather than by the standards of jus ad bellum. Rather than asking under what conditions it would be morally acceptable to use, for instance, tactical nukes, nuclear abolitionists like Wigg-Stevenson appears to want to exclude the use on the basis of our emotional responses. Unfortunately, this approach can require accepting grave injustices in order to compensate for the reluctance to renounce an inferior principle.
The examination of an all too plausible scenario can help illustrate why this approach is tacitly immoral.
Imagine that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il announces he will finally implement his long-stated objective of unifying the Korean peninsula. To ensure that no one interferes with his invasion of South Korea, he has hidden his nuclear missiles in the tunnels beneath the DMZ. The dictator threatens that these weapons, which can quickly be moved out of the tunnels, will be launched against both Seoul and Japan if South Korea, the U.S., or any other nation interferes with his plan.
The Western democracies would be left with only two options. They can concede to North Korea’s demands and allow the enslavement of millions of people or they can launch a preemptive nuclear strike using bunker-buster tactical nukes. Would the abolitionists sacrifice the freedom of the South Koreans on the altar of the absolutist principle of nuclear proliferation?
As G.K. Chesterton claimed, “War is not ‘the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you.” By rejecting a legitimate and just means of using force, Wigg-Stevenson appears to be willing to allow others to settle our differences for us. By repudiating a valuable tool in the nation’s armament, nuclear abolitionists would acquiesce to a dangerous mindset that puts a weak theological justification above both justice and security.