US nuclear weapons test in Nevada in 1953. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. flickr cc.

Brian Johnstone CSsR

US President Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea can be taken to mean totally destroy the North Korean government, writes Greg Sheridan in the Australian on 21 September. Is this what Trump really meant? How could a nuclear attack be so precisely targeted that it would destroy only the North Korean government, and not kill thousands or probably millions of innocent people? The great majority of the people of North Korea are, of course, innocent.

Or does Trump ‘really mean’ only a limited conventional attack, targeting only government buildings? Hardly. The logic of Nuclear Deterrence policy entails a real intention to use nuclear weapons; a mere bluff will not suffice.

But a real intention to use nuclear weapons, even on the condition that the other party attacks first, is still a real intention. “I intend to kill you if you don’t stop annoying me” is the expression of a real intention. It is a real intention, even if I hope genuinely that you will stop annoying me.

A real intention to act so as to kill millions of innocent people is a morally evil intention. This position was established as long ago as 1988 by the eminent Australian Oxford philosopher John Finnis. It still holds.

Trump’s tactics are ethically unsound. As Greg Sheridan himself said on TV, we are going to have to learn to live with a nuclear armed North Korea. We have to learn to do that without intending and planning to kill innocent people.


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