Nonproliferation: A Global Issue for a Global Ethic

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 27.3 (Fall 2013)

September 16, 2013

CREDIT: Heavy weapon via Shutterstock

A global ethic for the twenty-first century will be different from that of the twentieth century. While themes of normative and political continuity will exist, humankind’s main moral challenges have changed. Between the two centuries lie the end of the cold war, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the global financial crisis, and the double transformation of the structure of power in world politics and the norms of sovereignty and intervention. Nuclear weapons will remain high on the agenda of a global ethic, but they will not hold as dominant a place as they did in the past century. This essay, focused on the continuing moral challenge of nuclear weapons, recalls the intellectual and moral lessons of the last century and identifies three leading issues in nuclear ethics today: post-cold war challenges to nonproliferation and deterrence, the new challenges posed by the terrorist threat, and recent proposals for Going to Zero.

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