Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, in the absence of other stimulation, media in the U.S. has obsessed over whether President Donald Trump will lob a nuclear warhead eastward. Constantly mentioned but not defined is the idea of whether such a strike would be “legal.” How odd.
I guess there’s a reason the media’s question of a nuclear strike’s legality is left vague. What does that mean? In many broadcast interviews the question was not even asked. Why? It’s too tough a question to answer in 15 seconds. And there is no answer, perhaps. How can widespread annihilation be legal? One answer: Because “war” can be made legal.
In a cruel world where our attempts to maintain rule of law and therefore peace are constantly thwarted, the definition of an “illegal” nuke strike appears to have only to do with whether the decision to use it impinges upon the human rights of potential victims. As if war itself does not destroy human rights. It always does. The weapons are beside the point, though their magnitude is hard to ignore.
There is a question in law about whether weapons are necessary because war is at hand because it has been legally declared. Just to make the obvious point, it should never be at hand because it destroys all. War should be illegal. But the collective decision to make it so does not reflect our current reality.
Clearly — as if clarity is even possible given the sad state of human communication in which assumptions rule unfairly — international law has not advanced as far as it thinks it has toward properly defining what “human rights” are and what “war” is. U.S. media’s ridiculously vague discussions of illegal use of nukes show it in comic relief, or at least display the horrific gap between such mouthpieces’ version of reality and the tremendous efforts of people around the world to make a difference.
As someone who has worked for a UN-affiliated agency in Geneva, Switzerland, dedicated to better-establishing human rights in the context of law and policy, I remain frustrated that we’re not getting any closer to a “Star Trek” ideal of a unified humanity that can get over our differences and save each other and our planet from our abuse — as well as get off this pretty rock if necessary.
We’re not going to get there if we’re not together, able to agree on terms. That means communicating effectively and, frankly, loving each other. Our capacity for that is supposed to be our best quality, after all. I wish to think positively, but we’re going the wrong way. And so there is work to be done and hope to be nurtured. So keep working and keep hoping.