What do you think about nuclear weapons? What do other people think?
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You must estimate the
loss of life that would result
from this action in a practical
war situation, including the
response of your forces to an
Can you accept
responsibility for this?
So is it likely that
some more will
want to do so?
So do you need to adjust
your moral standpoint?
You shall not kill.
Is it ever permitted to kill
in self defence?
in self defence?
May a state, acting in self-
defence, kill civilians as the
result of a military action?
You may be a pacifist,
but please continue with
other questions which are
still relevant to your case.
Does the risk of nuclear war
imply a risk of serious
consequences for neighbouring
non-combatant states or even
for the the rest of humanity?
The Morality of the Nuclear Deterrent - how to decide for yourself
Everyone in the world is threatened by the existence of nuclear weapons. Has anyone the right to wield such destructive power? Everyone has a right to ask this question, and those who live in countries
possessing nuclear weapons have a duty to answer it. It has to be a personal moral decision, because if you accept nuclear weapons (NW) for your defence, then morally you hold them in your own hands.
This chart is designed to help you decide, and to make national decision makers more accountable. Just follow the chart, answering the questions for yourself; it's easier than it looks but the decisions can be hard.
You have renounced the principle of the nuclear deterrent as being immoral.
You must therefore put your vote and your best efforts of persuasion behind
its abolition, particularly where it is deployed on your behalf or in
circumstances controlled by your government. However:
Would the unconditional abandonment
of the nuclear deterrent by your country
be more likely or less likely to lead to the
use of nuclear weapons in the long term?
So do you need to adjust
your moral standpoint?
Would the abandonment of the
nuclear deterrent mean that your
country might be subjugated by
others with nuclear weapons?
May a state, acting in self defence,
kill civilians through a deliberate policy?
You have accepted the
standard by which
mass bombing of cities
during World War 2 was
May a state
NW deployed as
Are you prepared to take an action that inevitably
results in destruction of some innocent lives?
Is it acceptable for a state
merely to possess nuclear weapons
as a means of keeping the peace?
Would conventional warfare between
nation states become more likely
without the nuclear deterrent.
Is it acceptable for a state to be willing to
use NW if it is so attacked, believing that this
therefore is very unlikely to happen?
Is it acceptable for a state to thus threaten
to use NW, while not intending to?
CONDITIONS FOR DETERRENCE
The potential aggressor must believe that the capability and
the will to retaliate will survive a nuclear attack. He must
believe that individual members of the defending forces are
sufficiently disciplined that they would inflict an appalling
death on millions of innocent people, even after it would
serve no useful purpose, deterrence having failed.
Are these conditions
Are you certain
that your state could not
become an aggressor
during the lifetime of
a long-term nuclear
Could it be done without also
deceiving a large proportion
of the population?
As holders of NW,
could you deny other
states the right to seek
security through NW?
Is this morally
Are you very
optimistic, or have
you handed over
your conscience to
Is escalation of the
destructive capability of the
nuclear states a most likely
consequence of the
"balance of terror" ?
Could a nuclear deterrent be an effective
defence against non-national groups using NW?
Is it therefore likely
that eventually the
policy of deterrence
will lead to a nuclear
Do you need to
re-examine the case for
retaining a deterrent in
So are you prepared to
compromise your moral
You may support
unilateral nuclear disarmament.
You must now decide what steps are open to you
to bring about the abolition of nuclear weapons.
You have accepted nuclear weapons for your defence, and
therefore also their development, maintenance and deployment.
To be involved in this process, through military service, a civilian
occupation or merely by paying your taxes, would not be
inconsistent with the position you have taken. However, you
already bear responsibility to the extent that your decisions
could allow use of the weapons in the circumstances and
conditions that you have accepted in the above questions.
You should now examine the morality of practical modes of
deployment, e.g. a preventive strike capability - is this an
inevitable development of a deterrent policy?
Your answers so far, indicate that in the long term you
cannot support a nuclear defence policy. If nuclear
weapons are deployed by your country, you must decide
what course you could support in changing the policy,
weighing the risks of various routes to disarmament.
Can NW be an effective deterrent if the intended
use is limited to ensuring defeat for aggressors
(e.g. by targetting of military infrastructure)?
Have you the
right to achieve
your own security
the rest of
In the face of so much real need in the world
can you justify securing your defence through
vast expenditure on the nuclear deterrent?
You believe that
your state has some
intrinsic stability or
moral superiority that
is lacked by potential
Is the possession and
deployment of NW, such
that the perceived threat or the
fear generated by uncertainty
is an effective deterrent,
a morally acceptable
means of defence?
Ref. to notes
Will this moral censure
be likely to prevent
them from doing so?
Is there any other
Is it acceptable
for a state to be
willing to use a NW
as a weapon of
to deter a
The purpose of this document is to enable a broadly based democratic response to a very complex problem. By limiting the scope to
it becomes feasible to present
a basic analysis on one sheet. Notes overleaf give additional background. Anyone who is not happy with the questions or the logic can amend the chart as part of their own individual response. Those who
do so may wish to subject their changes or enhancements to the scrutiny of others and thereby make a contribution to the general debate. Further information is at:
or contact Martin Birdseye +44 (0)77 6274 6895,