Disarmament Law and Morality: A Critique
DR. CHRISTOPHER ASHLEY FORD, ASSISTANT SECRETARY
BUREAU OF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AND NONPROLIFERATION
CONFERENCE ON NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND INTERNATIONAL LAW IN THE CONTEMPORARY ERA SPONSORED BY THE NEW YORK BAR ASSOCIATION
NOVEMBER 12, 2020
Let me start by thanking my Jonathan Granoff for inviting me to participate in this event. Jonathan and I surely don’t agree on much in this area of public policy, but you may be surprised to know that he and I are old friends, including through the Engaged Buddhist community. Jonathan and I approach nuclear weapons issues from quite different perspectives, but I have always found him willing to listen, to take ideas seriously, and to engage open-mindedly with such ideas even – indeed, especially – when they challenge preconceptions and preferences. That is something that is all too rare in today’s political climate, particularly on these topics, which helps make it a special pleasure to be a participant here today.
In that generous spirit, I would like, as my opening contribution to this discussion, to offer a legal – but more importantly – a moral critique of the disarmament movement. I hope you will take it in the spirit of friendly challenge in which I intend it.
This is a time in our national life when it’s all too fashionable to shout down those with whom one disagrees. Whether they be of the political Right or of the political Left, however, self-reinforcing ideological monocultures are almost always intellectually stunted and prone to errors in judgment in direct proportion to the unfalsifiable certainty they attribute to their own foundational assumptions. So let’s enrich each other today by challenging premises and conclusions, and by learning from the encounter.
Accordingly, I’d like to offer some thoughts, first on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – a.k.a. the “Ban Treaty” – and then on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) issues related to the possession and use of nuclear weaponry.