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Pro (for)
14 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

The US is justified in preempting the spread of nuclear arms.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/9/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,323 times Debate No: 45505
Debate Rounds (4)
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Justified means “having, done for, or marked by a good or legitimate reason.” the sense of the resolution is that the US may be justified in choosing to intervene, including the use of military force, to prevent nuclear arms from being developed or sold to certain nations. The resolution does not imply a requirement to intervene in every case, but that the option is open.

The negation of the resolution is that the US is in no case justified in intervening to slow or prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. For example, the resolution is negated then there is no grounds for the US to interfere with Iran's push to obtain nuclear weapons, either through sanctions or military intervention. The present debate is not confined to Iran, but rather deals with policy in general.

Preemption means “the action of preempting or forestalling, esp. of making a preemptive attack.” The word was chosen to include the possibility of military force.

Current U.S. policy is to preempt the spread of nuclear arms.

The first round is for acceptance, definitions, and clarification only. The Pro case will be presented at the start of Round 2.

DDO site rules apply to this debate. [1.] The first round is for acceptance only. All arguments and source citations must be made within the character limits of the debate. All words not specifically defined are defined by the ordinary dictionary definition that best fits the context. No new arguments may be made by Con in the last round of the debate, because Pro has no debate round left to rebut them.

This debate is the fourth round of ClassicRobert's Gauntlet Tournament. [2. ]

I welcome my opponent to the arena. [crowd roars]



I accept the terms of the debate and look forward to debating the great Roy.
Debate Round No. 1


How about a free market in nuclear arms? Buyers and sellers could meet in a comfortable convention atmosphere to make deals. A nifty suitcase nukes might go for a few million dollars, provided costs can be lowered through volume production. Sellers are no more responsible for home their products are used than are manufacturers of knives. Nuclear weapons would go to whomever has fervent well-healed support to pony up the cash.

This is a bad idea, because people who have the money to buy nuclear arms do not necessarily have an accompanying sense of responsibility about using them. Fanatics believe that their cause justifies any extreme. Thugs savor opportunities for extortion. The reason we do not currently have a free market for nuclear arms are the strong preemptive measures we have in place, over spearheaded by the US, but with worldwide support. Abandoning the policy of preemption would quickly bring about the market in nuclear arms.

1. Self defense justifies preemption

The justification for preempting the spread of nuclear arms is self-defense. If an enemy attacks with conventional weapons there is a possibility of measured conventional response that can fend off or deter further attacks. A single nuclear strike from a nuclear weapon is so serious that we cannot wait to respond.

A 150kT nuclear bomb set off by terrorism at ground level in Manhattan would produce an estimates 830,000 fatalities and 875,000 injuries. [3.] There would be additional fatalities from fallout and the inability to provide medical care to the injured. " ... it is likely that New York City would never fully recover to its present status as one of the country's leading financial and cultural centers." An air burst detonation would be substantially more destructive.

The largest nuclear weapon ever tested was 50 megatons, over 300 times the size of the hypothesised 150 kT terrorist bomb.

According to the US National Academy of Engineering, "The primary obstacle to a nuclear attack is limited access to weapon-grade nuclear materials." [4.] It's also difficult to build an type of nuclear weapon, and especially difficult to build one that is compact and easy to transport. A "suitcase bomb" would be the easiest for terrorists to smuggle into the United States, but a larger weapon could be concealed on board a ship not yet inspected by customs.

2. Preemption has worked

US preemption has thus far been successful in preventing nuclear devices from falling into terrorist hands. "The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR), which is also known as the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction, is a 1992 law sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. The CTR established a program that gave the U.S. Department of Defense a direct stake in securing loose fissile material inside the since-dissolved USSR. According to Graham Allison, director of Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, this law is a major reason why not a single nuclear weapon has been discovered outside the control of Russia’s nuclear custodians." [5. Wikipedia referencing ]

Without a doctrine of preemption, there is nothing to effectively prevent the development of a free market in nuclear arms. Currently Pakistan and North Korea possess nuclear arms. in all likelihood they will soon be joined by Iran. Past preemption in Iran included Stuxnet computer virus sabotaging centrifuges to slow the enrichment of uranium. Officials say it slowed Iran's progress towards developing a nuclear weapon by 18 months to two years. [6.] Current efforts using the threat of continued sanctions are to aimed at keeping Iran at least six months away from bomb construction. [7. ] That leaves the door open for ultimate preemption.

Preemption was ultimately abandoned to allow North Korea and Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons. It's not clear if preemption will be abandoned in the case of Iran. Nonetheless, slowing the spread through preemption has substantially reduced the threat.

3. The spread of nuclear arms risks miscalculation

The threat of retaliation makes it unlikely that any of these three nations would directly attack the US in the near future. However, Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea all have unstable systems of government whereby a new regime could quickly come to power and pose an immediate threat.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is noted for extremist rhetoric of Holocaust denial and killing all the Jews. He references "primary jihad" in which the return of the 12th imam presages world annihilation. Khomeini has gone so far as to issue a fatwa in which he authorizes primary jihad without the return of the 12th imam. [8.]

North Korea's Kim recently executed his uncle, with the "shocking public purge of Jang as a sign of instability in Kim Jong Un's leadership." [9.] Secretary of State Kerry said, “It tells us a lot about, first of all, how ruthless and reckless he is. And it also tells us a lot about how insecure he is, to a certain degree,”

In 2009, "President Barack Obama said the government in Pakistan is “very fragile” and expressed concern about security in the nuclear-armed nation, as Pakistani forces battled Taliban militants in the northwest." [10.] Since then, the country has held on an accomplished a peaceful transition of government. With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, there will be renewed pressure to ally with terrorists taking over the region.

The direct threat from established governments lies in a miscalculation from an extremist leader. For example, radical leadership in Iran might assume that a first strike on Israel could be successfully accomplished without the U.S. retaliating.

North Korea has made a business of extortion:

For almost two decades, North Korea's Kim dynasty ran a reasonably successful extortion racket based on the theory that South Korean, Japanese and American leaders would appease the hereditary dictatorship rather than accept the material, moral and global economic risks a war in East Asia entails. The Kim mob's crude bargain has been, "Give us food and fuel, and we won't kill a bunch of people." [11.]

An extremist regime may risk use against a US ally, believing the US will not intervene.

4. Nuclear proliferation diffuses responsibility

The greater threat is probably from providing nuclear arms to terrorist organizations. Iran might provide nuclear weapons to the terrorist Hamas, to whom it provides financial support. they could do this with a story that Hamas needs to deter an Israeli strike. Additional steps could be taken to distance Iran from Hamas potential use of the weapons, such as signing a treaty prohibiting use. Hamas could claim that the weapon was stolen by an even more extreme organization.

Currently about 40 nations have the technical ability to manufacture nuclear weapons. [12.] If preemption is abandoned, we can expect Saudi Arabia to be among the first to add nuclear weapons. The BBC reports that weapons are ready to be shipped from Pakistan, in a move that would start the free market in these weapons. [13.]

As more nations have weapons, the probability of one falling into terrorist hands, either directly or through a country that claims plausible deniability. A strong policy of preemption is justified to forestall this threat.



I will be proposing my arguments against the case for US justification for preemption regarding the spread of nuclear arms. Then in the following round I will rebut Pro's arguments.

1. National & Economic Sovereignty

In order for the United States to pursue a preemptive strategy against the spread of nuclear arms they would have to trample the economic and national sovereignty of foreign nations to do so. There is no global market for nukes so in order to preempt the spread of nuclear weapons the United States must then act to preempt the spread of materials used to assemble nuclear bombs. Take this hypothetical example:

A small, poor nation discovers a deposit of uranium on its land. The deposit is substantial and selling the material could bring untold wealth to the ailing nation. The nation in question wants to sell the material to its close neighbor and ally who is rumored to be building a nuclear bomb. The poor nation doesn't care, all they see is a client for its sovereign material that it has chosen to mine off of its land. Seeing a potential threat the United States moves in to prevent the sale of the material to the nation rumored to be building a bomb and slaps on economic sanctions for both countries for good measure.

Sound familiar? The United States engages in this sort of policy all the time but has no real justification for doing so.

If a nation digs up a material on its own land and decides to sell it to a neighbor, that's all legal under economic and national sovereignty. If this material was water or iron or cars it would go over without a hitch but since it is uranium the United States suddenly feels as if it has a justified right to stop it? What if the United States tried to justify blocking the sale of iron between two nations? It would never stand. So why does it stand with nuclear material?

Because people feel as though nuclear material is a threat to world peace and US security. Both are false.

2. Deterrence = Peace

Kenneth Waltz was a great defender of nuclear proliferation because he argued that nuclear deterrence causes peace. If we look at the beginning of the 20th century compared to the end of the 20th century we see two completely different stories. The beginning of the 20th century was marked with unprecedented bloodshed. World War 1 and 2 followed each other by a mere 20 years (1919-1939). Then in 1945 everything changed with the invention of the nuclear bomb. The first half of the century saw two bloody conventional wars. The second half saw a handful of minor conventional wars but no major wars, although the geopolitical stage was set for one.

The Cold War never erupted into a conventional war between the US and the USSR because of nuclear weapons. The policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), while terrifying, worked. It worked because it was terrifying. It was deterrence. Nuclear deterrence is so potent because of the terror it inspires. Who wants to risk a bloody conventional war when the threat of nuclear weapons hangs over their heads? It causes peace. India and Pakistan have paired off with nuclear weapons [1] and neither has made any moves to go to war because of the nuclear deterrence. The reason Iran wants a nuclear bomb isn't so it can act aggressively against its neighbors but because it wants to try and counter the nuclear weapons that Israel has [1] by obtaining its own deterrence.

There have only been two nuclear bombs used by one nation against another, both in 1945 by the United States. Since then no one has dared to use a nuclear bomb because of rival nuclear deterrence. It is widely known and a policy of the United States to use nuclear weapons as a deterrence [2]. If one nation uses a nuclear bomb, other nations will retaliate. It is this nuclear balance that causes peace. If you threaten the outbreak of a conventional ground war with nukes the cost of initiating a ground war rises to unthinkable levels. The risk involved with such a war rises so high that in every case involving nuclear states since WWII no major war has broken out. Multiple studies have concluded that the addition of nuclear weapons to a conflict scenario reduces the intensity of the conflict and raises the chance for peace [3] [4].

Taking these studies to heart and using historical data we can come up with this argument.

i. Nuclear weapons cause peace.
ii. The United States wants to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.
iii. Therefore, the United States wants to halt the spread of peace.

Are we justified in preempting the spread of peace? Especially when preemption damages national and economic sovereignty? No. The fact that the spread of nuclear weapons seems to cause peace and halt the outbreak of conventional warfare through deterrence shows that the United States does not have valid justification for preempting the spread of nuclear weapons.

3. The History of Preemption

Frankly the United States' history of preemption has been an utter failure. In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq on the pretense of finding weapons of mass destruction. We found none [5]. If the mission was to find and destroy WMDs we failed and wasted US lives and money. The United States has acted preemptively through threat of military force and economic sanctions both on North Korea and Iran. North Korea is in possession of a nuclear bomb and Iran is close to getting one [6]. Yet we have hypocritically allowed Israel and India to obtain nuclear weapons without entering the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [1]. And still yet, no nuclear weapons have been used since 1945.

Ironically, the fight for the preemption of nuclear weapons in Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea etc has caused more deaths than nuclear weapons have since 1945. 4804 people have died in Iraq since 2003 fighting for this preemptive cause [7]. 0 people have died in nuclear weapons attacks. Is this just?


Justified - having, done for, or marked by a good or legitimate reason

- The United States would have to trampled economic and national sovereignty to pursue it's preemptive policy on nuclear weapons.
- Nuclear weapons actually promote peace in unstable and hostile situations through nuclear deterrence. This can be seen through studies, theories and historical data.
- Therefore, preempting the spread of nuclear arms preempts the spread of peace.
- Preemptive policies in the past have caused more loss of economic capital and human life than nuclear bombs have.
- Preemptive policies don't seem to be working.

I know I have glaringly left out arguments regarding the spread of nukes to terrorists. I will be focusing on that mainly in my rebuttal. But I will put this thought in your head...

There is a very free market for the trade in heavy weapons machinery such as tanks, fighter planes etc. yet it seems no terrorist organizations have obtained an F-16. Just a thought for now...


Debate Round No. 2



Con says a policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) worked between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and among other major powers. Con did not address the reasons I gave for it not being reliable in the future. MAD requires:

  • The power first using the weapon to believe they will be identified and located.

  • The power first using the weapon to believe the other side will retaliate.

  • The power first using the weapon to fear potential destruction.

Those conditions have been met in the past, and there are cases where they would be met in the future. For example, if Japan chose to acquire nuclear weapons in the face of North Korean demands for bribes it might well decrease the likelihood of a nuclear attack. The North Koreans might believe that the U.S. would never actually retaliate, while the Japanese would.

A rational actor like the Soviets worries a great deal about the risk of nuclear destruction. However, we now have jihadists on the world stage who believe their place in heaven is secured by suicide bombing. The leadership of Iran says that Armageddon will usher in the 12th Imam who will lead radical Islam to world domination. They are probably just posturing to impress allies and opponents, but that is not a safe assumption.

The Middle East is full of nutcase jihadists who really believe they will get their 72 virgins by killing everything in sight, including themselves. With an unstable undemocratic regime in Iran, there is significant risk that such a person could come to power. If the resolution is adopted, we must suppose that unstable regimes like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, or Yemen might also obtain nuclear weapons and come under jihadist rule.

Short of anticipating suicide, a leader may miscalculate the risks involved. According to the UN, Kim Jung Un, the boy wonder of the tyrant world, is currently diverting $600 million from his impoverished nation to support his indulgent lifestyle. [14. [] Kim has only two large sources of money: bribes extracted from other countries and sales of nuclear weapons technology. If cash gets tight, he might decide that selling a nuke to jihadists would be an acceptable risk, or he might demonstrate a nuclear strike on some isolated Japanese Island to boost enthusiasm for paying protection money, in the belief that retaliation would not be triggered.

Iran, having acquired nuclear weapons, may calculate that nuclear weapons are then off the table. They may then feel safe in carrying out their promise of destroying Israel using conventional arms. It does not require belief in jihad, just a willingness to accept higher risk.

With no restrictions on nuclear weapon production and sale, we can expect a free market to develop for the weapons. Suppose that al Qaeda acquires a weapon and takes out New York City. They might get the weapon from Hamas who got it from Iran, or maybe it came from North Korea who sold it to Egypt who sold it to the Muslim Brotherhood. MAD works poorly in those circumstances. Al Qaeda delivered the weapon, but they are a franchised operations worldwide, so there is no apparent target of retaliation. Nukes may eventually be available on a roadside stand between Tehran and Damascus. Who in the chain of sales should be the subject of retaliation, assuming that the chain of sales could even be discovered? Keep in mind that under the resolution, US policy is not interfere in the market for nuclear arms.

National sovereignty

Con supposes that a small nation might need to sell nuclear materials for it's well-being, and if that means New York City gets nuked, the economics must nonetheless prevail. That's obviously wrong in the primary assumption that economic well-being trumps self-defense against nuclear attack. Part of Con's argument is that the U.S. has traditional pursued it's economic self-interest over the rights of other nations, and that's evil. But wait, Con is arguing that the economic self-interest of small nations ought to prevail over the human right's interests of the United States. He cannot have it both ways, either economic self-interest is above all else or it is not.

I'm firmly on the side of placing self-defense above economic interests. If the US has placed it's economic interests above the self-preservation of others, that's wrong. (Whether that's the case is another debate.) Similarly, small nations don't have the right to aid murdering large ones for economic reasons.

The hypothetical is also wrong because the conceived dilemma does not actually exist. There is a large and expanding market for nuclear materials to fuel nuclear power plants [15.], so excluding the weapons market is not going to do any significant harm. In fact, the preferred method for the U.S. to preempt use of nuclear materials is to buy them from the producing country. That was done to absorb the left-over Soviet materials.

History of Preemption

Con ignored the important case of preemption that succeeded in securing the nuclear materials left over by the Soviets. I think it is absurd to suppose the U.S. should have stayed out of it and let the materials be sold off to terrorists. Con must argue why that would be better than US preemption.

Currently forty nations are capable of producing nuclear weapons, but have not done so. That is because the US has used preemption to minimize the spread of nuclear weapons. One mechanism is to enter into alliances where the US provides the nuclear deterrent. That's worked well.

Con argues that because no nuclear weapons were found in Iraq, we should just assume that none exist anywhere. Interviews with the captured Saddam by FBI agent George Piro revealed that Saddam had visions of developing nuclear weapons. [16.] The intelligence agencies of the US, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, and Russia all thought he had an active nuclear weapons program. Saddam wanted to keep Iran under the impression he had WMDs.[17.]

The FBI interrogations of the toppled tyrant - codename "Desert Spider" - were declassified after a Freedom of Information Act request. ... The records show Saddam happily boasted of duping the world about stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. [18.]

Saddam's idea was that the nuclear (and other WMD) story would deter Iran from invading. Saddam firmly believed that the US would never invade. [19.]

The US invasion was only partly to preempt nuclear weapons. Saddam had amassed a million tons of conventional weapons and announced plans to rule the Arabian Peninsula, had killed about a quarter million Iraqi's to keep authoritarian rule, was in violation of UN resolutions, and was actively attempting to shoot down US airplanes.

When a ruthless dictator claims to be developing nuclear weapons, shows brutally aggressive behavior, and announces plans to take over US allies, preemption is justified.

North Korea developed nuclear weapons because the US decided not to carry out a program of preemption. The world would be a better place had the US chosen to preempt them.

The US did not succeed in preempting Pakistan because China defeated the controls. "China played a major role in the development of Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure, especially when increasingly stringent export controls in western countries made it difficult for Pakistan to acquire materials and technology elsewhere." [20.] If Pakistan maintains a stable government, MAD will work.


We are debating whether US preemption is justified. Preemption is justified even if it is not completely successful because it lowers the risk of nuclear weapons coming into the possession of jihadists or foolish risk-taking dictators. Nuclear weapons are not comparable to markets for ordinary commodities because nuclear weapons they have unique destructive potential.



The crux of my opponent's argument is that the United States is justified in preempting the spread of nuclear arms because of the chance of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and dictators. I am going to show why neither of these things is a big worry for the status of nuclear arms in the world.

1. Dictators

Everyone believes that dictators are more unstable or unpredictable than democracies or accepted nations but this is a misconception. Dictators have the same incentives as democracies to act within a rational action model. Dictators still act under the threat of massive retaliation by global powers for use of nuclear weapons same as any nation. The idea that they would somehow misuse their nuclear weapons because they are not a democratic force is inaccurate.

In fact, Kim Jong-Un, while a brutal dictator, has been labeled a ration actor [1]. He can be expected to act in similar ways to the United States, China, Israel etc. There is no reason to proclaim some countries better than others because you disagree with their government type.

Again, despite some proliferation and an increase in the number of nuclear nations increasing over the years no country has used a nuclear weapon and there has not even been a credible threat to use of nuclear weapons by any nation. Just blindly declaring dictators unstable as a reason to preempt the spread of nuclear weapons is a weak argument. Dictators don't want to face the threat of massive nuclear or conventional retaliation. No country does which is why the threat of nuclear weapons is so successful in creating peace.

Also, the threat of retaliation is more comprehensive than my opponent has let on. Due to the United State's nuclear umbrella the credible deterrent threat of nuclear retaliation is spread across most of the globe [2]. With the United State's and their allies the presence of a credible deterrence is not only widespread but effective.

The increase of the presence of nuclear weapons can only add to this effective nuclear peace. Dictators or not. Countries have no incentive to act in an irrational matter.

2. Terrorists

My opponent seems to think that a free market in nuclear weapons would supply terrorists with nuclear weapons but such a claim is completely unfounded and paranoid. Like other weapons of destructive potential such as heavy missiles, fighter planes, war ships, tanks etc. there is a lot that goes into the creation, handling and deployment of a nuclear weapon. Terrorists have not obtained fighter planes, tanks or other heavy war equipment because a) countries rationally guard them jealously and b) it takes a lot to operate and maintain such weapons. Terrorists don't have these capabilities.

My opponent tried to use a shock value argument by giving stats about a 150 KILOTON nuclear bomb detonating in New York City. The Fat Man bomb that detonated over Japan in 1945 was only 10 kilotons [3] which means my opponent is supposing a terrorist organization could both assemble a bomb 15 times bigger than the one dropped on Japan, get the ~100 pounds of plutonium needed [3] and then get it to New York City and detonate it. It's a completely unrealistic situation.

The transport and collection of 100 pounds of plutonium seems to be outside of the ability of terrorists groups alone much less assembling a working bomb which isn't as easy as it sounds. Most nuclear weapons have a large chance of "fizzling" if not assembled and executed correctly [4]. Considering these are the same people who could not detonate an underwear bomb after it was already on a plane, I think the likelihood of terrorists obtaining and assembling and transporting nuclear weapons and materials successfully is remarkably small.

Nations such as the aforementioned Iran have no incentive to give nuclear materials to terrorist groups. If such a transaction was traced by rival nations they would prompt a potential military retaliation. My opponent forgets that the majority of terrorism in the Middle East is not focused on the United States but is rather Sunni vs. Shia tensions. Spreading nuclear material through terrorist groups has a chance of causing an unfavorable situation for the nation that spreads them. Terrorist groups aren't loyal to any nation and despite your geopolitical loyalties there is no guarantee that spreading nuclear weapons won't hurt your own country. Therefore, no country has an incentive to spread nuclear weapons to non state actors. The incentive just isn't there. It's an irrational move.

States have an incentive to guard and protect their nuclear weapons. Pakistan has protected their nuclear weapons besides their anti-US leanings and political instability because it is too dangerous to not protect such weapons.

The arguments about the history and effectiveness of preemption is superfluous and distracting because I am arguing that it is unjust. The justness of nuclear preemption is independent from the success of past preemption because past preemption was also unnecessary and unjust.

The two primary concerns for my opponent were dictators and terrorists. I have shown that these two groups of people are feared irrationally.

In order for something to be "just" it has to be done for legitimate reason. In order to preempt the spread of nuclear weapons there must be a legitimate reason for doing so however there doesn't seem to be any legitimate reason for doing so. History is on the side of proliferation. Nuclear peace is a theory that has not been given a serious intellectual challenge by theorists or my opponent. The only two avenues left were terrorists and dictators who have been shown to be trumped up threats and not truly legitimate.

- Nuclear deterrence works. It is widespread and credible.
- Dictators are rational actors and act within rational means. There is no incentive for dictators to act outside of this model and risk retaliation.
- Terrorists don't have the means to acquire and deploy nuclear materials.
- Nations don't have any incentive to share nuclear weapons with terror groups or non state actors.

Therefore, as nuclear deterrence and nuclear peace is a time tested success and dictators and terrorists are not a legitimate threat to national security when concerning nuclear weapons the preemption of the spread of nuclear weapons is not just.

Debate Round No. 3


Self-defense justifies preemption

Con claims to show that the threat of nuclear arms falling into the hands of dictators and terrorists is not a “big worry.” Does that mean if the chances of it happening are 1 in 10, we shouldn't worry? Or maybe 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000? The reason to worry is that nuclear destruction is so bad we should try to lower the odds.

Con does not argue against a right of self defense, he argues that other nations have greater rights. He argues that a right to make money from selling nuclear arms selling trumps any concern we have with preventing a nuclear strike. Con downplayed that argument in the face of the obvious priority of saving a million lives, but it also fails because there is a large legitimate market for the fuel for nuclear power plants.

Con also claims that a right of sovereignty also trumps the right of self defense. He says preemption “trample[s] economic and national sovereignty.” Rights of a nation derive from the people, and because dictators deny free speech and free elections, they cede the right to be left alone. Other nations have no obligation to boot dictators, but self-defense takes precedence. Self-defense is so fundamental it would require an amendment to the US Constitution to require the President to subordinate protection of the United States to preserving the economic or sovereign rights of other nations.

Sovereignty is “a country's independent authority and the right to govern itself.” [21.] Terrorists have no nation over which they are sovereign. Terrorists by definition wish to achieve political goals in independent states by terrorist acts, including the mass murder of civilians. Bin Laden said he wanted to impose sharia law. That's not a right of sovereignty. Having no state, terrorists have no apparent target of retaliation to deter them.


Con argues that dictators are rational and hence reliably deterred. He has only one supporting source, a blogger without foreign policy or psychoanalysis credentials. However, even Con's one source does not support Con's case.

The blogger says Kim Jung Un is a rational actor. The blogger defines a rational actor is a person whose actions are predictable, as distinct from a madman that behaves unpredictably. For example, a serial killer who has murdered eleven young women can be confidently predicted to kill a twelfth – and thus is a rational actor. The blogger predicts: “When an “almighty leader” like Kim feels threatened, he acts by inducing more fear, proof being that the number of mass public executions has grown tremendously in the last months. … Another normal feature that rational dictators have is paranoia, everyone is a potential threat, a potential enemy to the leader and to the regime as well. If history serves as an example, dictator's “rational paranoia” led to horrible events, like the ones at the hands of Stalin, Hitler and others.” There is no better method of producing fear than nuking something. The blogger's prediction is stronger than my claim risk.

My case went beyond questioning the leaders now in power in North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan. I argued that a danger arises from nuclear weapons being in the hands of countries where a leader may come into power who takes a foolish risk or has a zealous belief. So we don't know for sure if Ayatollah Khomeini really believes that a world conflagration would user in the 12the Imam and Islam supremacy, but we do know that there are many people around him who say that, and it's likely that at least some believe it.

No past dictators, not Stalin or Mao, entertained a radical ideology that preached the virtue of a suicidal jihadist attack. All dictators have few checks on taking unwise risks; look at Saddam. In the past few have had nuclear weapons for their risk taking.


Con's source says “ Building a basic nuclear weapon is not easy, but not all that hard either.“ The source cites an Army experiment years ago in which two PhD's with no experience or access to classified materials completed a successful design in two years.

The underwear bomber was a idiot, but there is plenty of top talent willing to work for money or for a fanatical cause. What they need is to be left alone to work.

Con claimed countries jealously guard their nuclear secrets. China and Russia refused to give nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, but they provided assistance in developing a nuclear power program that provided a nuclear infrastructure with access to uranium and the means to make plutonium. Weapons technology was separately obtained from Pakistan in return for $3 million in bribes to top officials. [22.]

The raw material for a U-235 bomb is uranium oxide, and that's in large supply. Uranium 235 is used to fuel nuclear reactors, and mining of uranium oxide produces about 40 million kilograms per year. 0.72% of natural uranium is U-235, so mining enough material is produced to make 20,000 bombs per year, at 14.4 kg each. A 14.4 kg uranium device would have a yield of about 200 kt. Using 1991 technology, the W-85 warhead was 13.3” x 40.8”, weighed a total of 324 lbs, and had a yield of 200 Kt. [23.]

Both U-235 and plutonium 239 have a theoretical maximum yield of about 20 kt per kilogram. To achieve critical mass, about 14.4 kg of uranium or 4.4 kg of plutonium are required. In 1996 prices of those materials such that a critical mass of uranium would cost $742,000, and for plutonium $20.4 million. [24.] The price of the uranium oxide is now about $100/kg, making the uranium $260/kg. That implies a materials cost of $504,000 for a uranium bomb. [25.]

North Korea uses plutonium, a bi-product of its nuclear reactors.

Terrorism is well financed. The Taliban alone receives about $200 million a year, mostly from Gulf sources. [26.] Terrorists do not have heavy weapons like tanks because they are obvious targets that would be instantly destroyed. Terrorists want instruments of terror, like nuclear weapons.

Con's plan is that there is no preemption, so anyone can order up as much as they want, and Con argues that every country should have unbounded economic rights to sell materials. In fact, without preemption anyone could fund and build nuclear weapons in the open and sell them to third parties. Preemption is now tracks the industrial process of enrichment of the uranium to weapons grade. Without preemption there would be no need to even hide those processes.

Getting a bomb into the United States illegally would not be difficult. Marijuana is smuggled in by the ton using boats. In one case a boat with 3000 to 4000 pounds of marijuana was found abandoned on the California coast. [27.] Custom submarines are also used.

There are unguarded conventional border crossings into Canada. For a high value cargo like a nuclear weapon, the inconvenience of a Canadian route to the target would be justified, whereas for drugs it usually is not. [28.]

History shows preemption should be increased

Preemption has sometimes succeeded and sometime failed. I gave the example of the successful effort to secure the nuclear materials left over from the collapse of the Soviets. Had Saddam been left alone, he would have reconstituted his nuclear weapons program. That there are forty countries with the capability who have not exercised it marks substantial success for preemption. Extending the U.S. nuclear umbrella is one type of preemption.

The cases where preemption failed, like North Korea, show that preemptive efforts should have been stronger. The trend is for smaller and less stable regimes to obtain nuclear weapons, and as a matter of self-defense the U.S. is justified in lowering the risk from fanatics and foolish despots. Con's arguments that it isn't necessary now are beside the point; it's justifed when needed.



To be sure, this was a great debate which is why I'm sad that I have to cut this last round short. I have been traveling and I put it off a bit too long. Thanks to Roy for a great debate!


- My opponent ignores the argument that states have no incentive to give the destructive power of nuclear weapons to terrorist groups. It would be too risky in the international community and for themselves. The incentive just isn't there.

- The incentive is not there for dictators to use nuclear weapons either. The threat of destruction and condemnation by the international community is too strong to be ignored.

- Stronger preemption could lead to higher conventional tensions, military operations abroad and economic damage. These things could be replaced by nuclear peace, which my opponent conceded as a valuable and legitimate peace option.

- Nuclear peace works. Spreading nuclear weapons to states decreases the threat level of high risk conventional military situations.

- There has been no instance in which a state has supplied heavy weapons or nuclear material to terrorist groups. Just as governments don't give away fighter jets and battleships, neither would they give away nuclear material. The incentive just isn't there.

- Dictator's, while not savory to westerners, are not irrational idiots. They have every incentive to play by the rules of the international system and not launch nukes around.

- My opponent's only two issues with nuclear proliferation are terrorists and dictators, both of which are paranoid fears. My opponent is arguing that nuclear preemption is JUST, not just desirable but JUST.

If there was harder evidence that nuclear proliferation is as damaging as my opponent wants to believe it is then maybe you'd have a just argument for preemption. But in this case, all we have seen is nuclear peace between states. Yet my opponent wants to throw around economic sanctions, military operations in the name of possibilities in the future. This may be a desirable position but it is not a just one. You cannot spill blood in the name of nuclear preemption on a whim saying the future might be worse if we don't. You can't economically ruin a country for wanting a nuclear defense against other nuclear states. It's not just, especially since nuclear proliferation has shown to increase PEACE between states.

Concerns over nuclear proliferation's side effects in the future are causing bloodshed, economic hardship and unjust action in the present. It's not justified.

Don't let the emotional appeal to your sense of fear override the facts of history and nuclear peace. Nuclear preemption is not just.

Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by whiteflame 2 years ago

This debate essentially comes down to two key questions for me: is it just to preempt a nation's ability to acquire nuclear weapons for the self defense of other nations, and is MAD enough of a deterrent to prevent all possible harms of nuclear proliferation in currently non-nuclear states?

I think Con needs to do more work on the former to sway me. I find that it may indeed be unjust, but I don't find significant reason to say that that unjustness outweighs the theoretical instance of someone being hit with a nuclear weapon. I get some numbers from Iraq, but no measure of how we should assess justice in this regard. I would have found the argument that preemption is assured injustice whereas the theoretical nuclear bombing of a nation is far from assured to be one way to manage this, but as I don't see that line of argumentation, I'm forced to assess what's just based off of the larger argument of impact, with only the knowledge of certainty to support Con's harms of preemption.

The devastating scenarios Pro outlines put a significant dent in this, especially when much of that scenario goes unaddressed by Con. So now I'm just concerned with likelihood. I get two reasons for concern that run through the debate, which are terrorists building a weapon, and the rational/irrational leaders argument. Both are sufficient for me to vote Pro. Con simply hasn't proven that terrorists are unlikely to build these weapons, though admittedly most of the sources and warrants for this come out in R4. However, the lack of response is glaring, and this seems to be highly likely. As for dictators, Pro points out that Con's own source on this argument actually supports his harms scenarios, and states that intervention for obviously irrational leaders is still justified. I would have liked to see some response about previous times where we believed a state was not acting rationally and the harms caused, but I don't see that. Hence the arguments vote.
Posted by thett3 2 years ago
Posted by 1Percenter 2 years ago
I'm pretty stoked for this debate!
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by bsh1 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Frankly, Con needed more sources to add depth to his argument. I accept Pro's arguments that dictators do not always abide by rational decision-making processes. Intervention is needed to prevent enemies, unstable states, and irrational dictators from procuring such weaponry. Con makes a valiant effort, but fails to adequately contest these points. Good round.
Vote Placed by whiteflame 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Arguments given in comments. I vote on citations because Roy simply did a more solid job here both presenting strong sources and refuting Con's more important ones.
Vote Placed by Juris_Naturalis 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Conduct to Pro because Con frequently attacked Pro's arguments as being paranoid. Arguments to Pro because Con didn't manage to prove that an un-checked nuclear economy isn't dangerous at all to the U.S and her allies.