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The Death Penalty, Nukes and Revenge

France and Great Britain adopted the theory of "mutual assured destruction" during the Cold War but nonetheless strictly oppose capital punishment.  MAD, is pretty simple to explain -- If you nuke me, I will nuke you, even if the only possible outcome is that all of us die.  Are these consistent positions?  Professor Yin suggests they are not.

In Disposable Deontology: The Death Penalty and Nuclear Deterrnce, 51 Ala. L. Rev. 111 (Fall, 2003), the Professor asks us to imagine that Bin Laden is captured in France or Great Britain.  Before the United States can extradicte him, we are told that we must promise not to execute him.  This is not unlikely, since, according to Yin:

In the last four years, there have been at least nine high-profile death-eligible suspects, including four alleged Al Qaeda terrorists, whom the United States has sought to extradite; Europe or Canada has required the United States to waive the death penalty in each case. 

However, the same European countries that so vehemently oppose capital punishment have adopted the MAD policy.  Under MAD, if someone fires a nuclear weapon at Western countries with nuclear arms, they will unload on them. 

Although Professor Yin addresses all of the arguments that these countries might proffer for the incongruity, his death blow is this: "[I]f the other side has launched enough nuclear weapons to annihilate a country, that country gains nothing from launching against only the remaining nuclear forces."  In other words, if Great Britain is going to be blown into the ocean, it launches its own bombs - that will surely kill innocent civilians - only out of revenge.  Thus:

It seems incongruous that a country possessing nuclear weapons--and threatening retaliation in response to a nuclear attack--would claim the higher moral ground with respect to executions, and, in fact, there are sound reasons to question that moral integrity[ ].

There is a lot more to the article, which unfortunately is not available online, even though I would really like to link to it.  But the thesis is interesting.  What do you think -- Is it inconsistent for a country that opposes the death penalty to also adopt a nuclear policy of mutually assured destruction?

 

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