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Morality Question - Scott Adams' Blog

Morality Question

Suppose an unfriendly country is suspected of building nuclear weapons. In reality, it isn’t even trying, and it officially denies any nuclear weapons ambitions.

For the sake of discussion, assume this is NOT Iran or it will bias the exercise. Most of you think Iran looks a bit too guilty at the moment to fit this hypothetical situation. So put Iran out of your mind for this exercise.

Let’s say the accused country chooses to not allow full inspections for some reason, and you don’t know for sure what those reasons are. I can imagine several innocent reasons.

  1. The inspectors might be spies.
  2. There’s a security advantage in making others suspect you of having nuclear weapons.
  3. Allowing foreign inspections is a national humiliation and a sign of weakness.
  4. Legitimate nuclear research could be misconstrued.
  5. Inspectors would demand access to all military sites, which would be a security risk.
  6. The leader thinks he would lose his next election (or head) if he allowed inspections.

Now imagine that your own country has a long, bad history of disputes with the hypothetical country in question. Do you have a moral right to make a preemptive military attack simply because your enemy refuses to do enough to disprove it has nuclear weapons in the pipeline?

It’s a tough question because any country could be falsely accused, and they might have good reasons for not allowing inspections.

Now suppose the accused country makes the following counteroffer to the world, because it genuinely doesn’t want to be suspected of making nuclear weapons. The accused country says, “You can send inspectors, and they will have full access, but no unmonitored communication with the outside world during their stay. The control of their communications is to make sure they are not spies. At the end of their inspections, and after they report about the nuclear inspections only, they will be put to death to preserve any national security secrets they might have picked up along the way. Moreover, it is agreed that the inspectors can include in their report some sort of secret code that signals to their governments whether the report is coerced or honest.”

If the inspectors are tortured for the secret code, everyone knows they could just lie about it and put in the real “I was tortured” code anyway, so coercion wouldn’t work. The torturers would have no independent way to know if they were getting accurate information.

This model guarantees that the suspect country can keep its national security secrets, and it makes them appear strong since they are the ones doing the killing. This counteroffer puts the accusing countries on the defensive because they would have a hard time choosing war over the sacrifice of a handful of citizens (per country) for the inspection team.

Getting good inspectors might be a challenge. But I’m always surprised at the things people will volunteer to do for the good of the world. History is full of examples of people volunteering for suicide missions. And the suspect country would always have the option of putting the inspectors on death row for some period of time and then issuing a pardon, for public relations reasons. 

Like most of my ideas, it would never work. I only ask this sort of thing to make you think about a question in a different way.