President Trump’s late night Twitter rants and the seemingly arbitrary manner in which he hires and fires high-ranking bureaucrats have led many commentators and members of the public alike, including prominent members of his own party, to question his fitness to hold office. According to his detractors, his actions hint at mental instability, cast doubt on his mettle and thus his ability to steer the ship of state.
In defence of President Trump, these allegations could be considered rather unfair, as exhibiting a substantial degree of “instability” might be an inherent demand of the job of US President if not a prerequisite for entry into the highest elected office. In support of this assertion, consider that one of the requirements of being US President, or the leader of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council or any other nuclear state for that matter, is to profess a willingness to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons. Arguably, since even a limited strike (i.e. one that involves the detonation of a fraction of the weapons of mass destruction in their country’s arsenal) is likely to result in catastrophic consequences for their citizens, the only individual fit for high office is one who is prepared at some level to countenance the genocide of their people.
Importantly, these consequences arise in the event of a nuclear first strike against a nuclear-armed country (or a close ally thereof), in response to an attack by a nuclear-armed country or an attack against a country that does not possess nuclear weapons. In the two former cases, any nuclear strike is guaranteed to provoke a retaliatory strike that would devastate one’s country whilst the fallout from using nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country will cause severe meteorological effects globally which would result in the deaths of countless numbers of one’s own citizens and those from non-belligerent countries besides. There is thus no safe way to use a country’s nuclear weapons.
Seen from this perspective, leaders of nuclear-armed countries are expected to exhibit more pathological tendencies than the reviled suicide bomber, who desires to inflict the maximum amount of casualties on the enemy through their own sacrifice but not so indiscriminately as to invite the wholesale slaughter of their people. Only a sociopath can be relied upon to entertain, let alone execute, this task unflinchingly. To be fair to the leaders on whom this responsibility falls, their willingness to being placed in the position of having to consider the use of nuclear weapons might not reflect some defective individual character trait alone. By their very existence, nuclear weapons states demand that their leaders be open to the possibility of having to consider this decision at some time. As such, a nation that possesses nuclear weapons may at some level force their leaders to become pathological or only attract individuals who do not truly care about the welfare of their own people to begin with to run for high office.
Banning nuclear weapons is one way to free citizens of these countries from this conundrum. By banning nuclear weapons, nations will take away the perceived advantage which candidates who are willing to contemplate committing national suicide, and unafraid to express their willingness to do so, would enjoy. Taking away this advantage would allow citizens to identify and reject sociopaths and others who, deep down, do not genuinely care about the welfare of their compatriots, for all their boasts about their mental genius and stability.
In similar vein, a nuclear-free world may persuade individuals for whom genocide and mass murder, of one’s own people and those currently vilified as “the enemy”, are unconscionable and beyond contemplation to run for high office. These very characteristics are likely to be assets given that the major threats facing humanity are global ones for which evermore destructive military action is unlikely to ensure the sustainability of our inter-connected planet and our survival as a species. Needless to say, having persons of such calibre in office in the richest and most powerful nations is likely to make for a more just and caring world.
If you would like to live in such a world, then support the ban on the development and possession of nuclear weapons by, for instance, petitioning your public representatives to sign up for and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Arguably, given the abundant mineral resources (vast uranium deposits among them) with which we in Africa are blessed, we Africans could strengthen international support for this treaty by advocating for the banning of all shipments of uranium to countries that refuse to sign this treaty or to nuclear-armed countries that refuse to abide by their existing commitments to downsize and ultimately destroy their nuclear arsenals.
Yes, this will require sacrifice on our part. It would mean, for instance, having to forgo much-needed revenue from the sale of uranium. These sacrifices are to be expected. Indeed, when the goal is as lofty as helping to free citizens of the nuclear club of countries from the tyranny of rule by sociopaths, it would be naïve not to expect rulers who do not really care about the welfare of their own citizens to bare their most sociopathic tendencies. History will judge, however, that the sacrifices Africans were prepared to make in pursuit of the prospect of finally lifting the threat of nuclear annihilation would have been worth it.
* Doctor Gerard Boyce is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Howard College). He writes in his personal capacity.