Nuclear Weapons and Law

By Arthur Selwyn Miller; Martin Feinrider | Go to book overview

1.

Nuclear Weapons and International Law *

Richard B. Bilder**

We would all like nuclear weapons to disappear tomorrow. Most people agree that these weapons are abominable and that no rational society should allow the threat of nuclear holocaust to continue. As international lawyers, we could sit down today and draft the text of a treaty prohibiting the development, possession, deployment, or use of nuclear weapons, providing for the destruction of existing stockpiles, and establishing an international tribunal to impose criminal penalties on individuals, including government officials, violating these rules. If every nation agreed to and complied with this treaty, our problem would be solved.

We all know this isn't likely to happen. The nuclear genie is out of the bottle. There are already over 50,000 of those weapons, knowledge of how to build them will never disappear, and the weapons are continually becoming easier and cheaper to make. Thus, for the foreseeable future, every nation will have to face the prospect that some other state or group may acquire such weapons and be prepared to use them. Public officials are adverse to risks and few of them will be willing to expose their country to nuclear blackmail or destruction. Confronted with this threat—or even the threat of overwhelming attack by conventional arms—many governments will see little choice but to seek a deterrent capability, either through acquiring nuclear weapons itself or alliance with another nation which has them.

The principal means available to nations to defuse and de-escalate this very difficult and dangerous situation is to try to reach international agreements and other normative arrangements providing for the mutual control, reduction, or elimination of nuclear weapons. But in our present international system, international rules, institutions, and arrangements are

* This essay is based on remarks delivered at the Conference on Nuclear Weapons and Law held at Nova University Center for the Study of Law on February 5, 1983.

** Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin School of Law.

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