Wednesday, October 06, 2004


Global tests

"It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not." -- Alfred Nobel (1895)

Try to imagine one of the recent Nobel prize winners in chemistry--two Israelis and one American--ever arguing thusly: "As a scientist, I never gave another country a veto over my findings." It is hard to imagine, no? That's because science advances only on the premise that conclusions have to pass a "global test." In fact, if the reasons for a scientific theory only pass the muster of particular countries, that's a good indication that it's bad science.

Perhaps I am naive for wishing that both of our presidential candidates were more like scientists in this regard. Theories about global security are surely even more important than theories about the subatomic structure of the universe, even though in our nuclear age these subjects are increasingly related. When our national leaders make decisions about whether to deal in death and destruction, surely they should abide by the same standards of reasoning that constrain chemists when they talk about how certain proteins receive the "kiss of death." Reasons for attacking terrorist cells, just like reasons for assertions about biological cells, should abide by the global tests of logic, truth-telling, and empirical proof. That's what John Kerry meant when he said on Thursday night that the case for any pre-emptive war has to pass a global test. He means it has to be backed by "legitimate reasons," reasons that seem legitimate to any fair-minded person, "whether he be Scandinavian or not," as Alfred Nobel put it.

But the Bush campaign's spin has encouraged Kerry to back away from the strength of his claim. Last night, when asked about the "global test," John Edwards basically gave the Bush line on Kerry's behalf--that he will never allow other countries to veto our national security. That response only validates Bush's spurious opposition between our national security and a "global test." In fact, these things are not opposed at all. Passing a "global test" is as essential to our security as it is to the verification of scientific theories.

Here is what Kerry should say, but what he won't say because it is deemed too politically risky. When we wage preemptive wars, we are making a decision that not only affects our national security, but the security of countries besides our own. So if we can't give legitimate reasons to the world for destabilizing its security, then our wars deserve to be vetoed, in the same the way that the global scientific community ought to veto a theory that is clearly wrong.

Perhaps some see that position as a betrayal of our national interests. But there is a hypocrisy in this position. President Bush's vision for national security has no problem "vetoing" the national interests of other countries. When he insists that no country should ever be able to veto our national security, he means that only we should have such veto power over the views of our allies. And in order to make political gains, Kerry is beginning to sound like he's saying the same thing.

My plea to Kerry is to stick with his original statements about the "global test." Senator Kerry, don't be boxed into President Bush's categories. Reassure us that you understand how our security is inextricably bound up with the security of other nations. Persuade people who don't see it already that we live in an interdependent world. Convey your belief that President Bush's go-it-alone rhetoric is antiquated and therefore dangerous. Give us a President who says: "No country--including our own--should be able to veto the considered judgment of the world."

Collective Improvisation:

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