A Moral Analysis of Nuclear Deterrence Theory From a Contemporary Catholic Perspective

Dissertation, University of Southern California (1984)

John O'Callaghan
University of Notre Dame
The nuclear weapons predicament has troubled humanity since the first atomic bomb was exploded in Alamogordo, New Mexico, July 16, 1945. Currently, the issue has been injected with new life, characterized by intense debate and widespread protests. ;This study addresses primarily the ethical dimensions of the issue. First, in the context of the adversary relationship of the nuclear superpowers, there is a summary of some quantitative aspects related to nuclear weapons, such as numbers, configuration of forces, possible effects of a nuclear conflict, and a brief discussion of the concept of balance and various nuclear policies and strategies. ;Second, the study reviews the evolution of the just war theory and discusses opposing opinions on the application of just war principles both to the question of the use and the deterrent role of nuclear weapons. ;Third, the centerpiece of the study is an analysis of the Machiavellian/Hobbesian assumptions basic to nuclear deterrence theory. These assumptions are seen as giving preeminence to the negative or evil in man/woman, from which a system of nuclear terror is constructed and defended as being a realistic and appropriate way to regulate relations between political communities. ;This perspective is contrasted with that of Catholic social theory, which, it is argued, expresses a more balanced conception of human nature and consequently proposes social arrangements that incorporate the negative and positive dimension of man/woman. Related to nuclear weapons, this world view, which is considered to be more realistic, calls for nuclear disarmament since, on the one hand, such weapons provide an unwarranted risk and temptation for fallible mortals and, on the other hand, are offensive to the dignity and good of human persons. ;Finally, two attitudes to the nuclear dilemma--the retention of nuclear weapons with some form of arms control, or their abolition--are criticized in the light of principles previously enunciated. As a program toward a solution, it is suggested that a shift from the Machiavellian/Hobbesian conception and practice of the State toward a more Rousseauian or moral-contractual view will be both necessary and effective in bringing about disarmament.
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