America Has Never Been Safer -- So Why Are Politicians and the Media Trying to Terrify Us?
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MC: This is the argument that I always find so amusing, this notion that -- and this was one that was used to justify the war in Iraq, of course -- that deterrence doesn’t work with crazy terrorists. And so the idea is that Iran is run by crazy terrorists who want to get a bomb that they can then deliver against Israelis or the U.S. – it’s a very bizarre cultural notion that somehow these people are operating on a crazy idea of a plan of national suicide which is basically what a lot of people argue about the Iranians.
They’re a country that, like any other country, sees themselves vulnerable regionally and internationally and having a nuclear weapon is generally a defensive tool on their part. And most countries that have had nuclear weapons, in fact all countries with a nuclear weapon, have not acted irrationally with them.
Now, granted, there’s a first for everything and you don’t want to have it with nuclear weapons, but there’s really no reason to believe that Iran is any different from any other country when it comes to how they would use and protect their nuclear weapons.
JH: And I would just note that Ahmadinejad has no control over the Iranian military.
MC: Right, and that’s a great point and one that needs to be made. In fact, he’s the one that makes crazy statements; he has no actual foreign policy power in the government.
JH: I think that’s really important to point out. Have you read Stephen Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined ?
MC: I have not read the book, though I’m very familiar with his arguments, which have very much informed a lot of what we wrote in this piece.
JH: The piece very much reminded me of his book. And he talks about a number of “civilizing factors” as the reasons that violence has declined -- he basically makes the same argument that you do, except over a much longer period of time. He goes back thousands of years, and one of the things he talks about and that you echo, is the expansion of trade. And this means that when you have relationships with for example China, it’s not a zero sum game.
Another point he talks about is what he calls the second human rights revolution in the middle of the last century. This is the framework of the UN Treaty and you talk about this as well – how there are now dispute-resolution avenues. Tell me a little bit about that.
MC: This is what’s interesting about this. His argument is, and I very much agree with it, is a lot of what civilized the world are normative changes. So the human rights thing is a huge part of it. It is no longer appropriate to kill civilians in warfare, because there are war crimes treaties against it -- it’s a prosecutable offence in international law.
If you look at things like global trade for example, there are resolution mechanisms for arbitrating trade disputes. You don’t need to go to war over them. If you look at all the advances in democracy, in literacy, in health, you have all these normative shifts that have happened over the past 50 or 60 years.
And here’s the thing about this that’s so important, a lot of this is because of the United States. We deserve credit for this, we should take a bow for this. A lot of the stuff we think of as the world we want to live in -- where human rights are respected, where there’s less warfare, where there’s more democracy, where there’s more open economies -- are things that we’ve been pushing for since the end of World War II. So we’ve created the international system that we want, and we should really reflect that reality in our foreign policy as opposed to looking for new enemies and new threats that don’t really exist.