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By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics
Former Instructor St. John's University, New York City

Can Muslims be Trusted with Nuclear Weapons?

Many people believe that Muslim nations can not be trusted with nuclear weapons. Of course, a reasonable view might be that no nation, Muslim or non-Muslim can be trusted with nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, there are several reasons why a Muslim nuclear bomb might actually be safer.

Alcohol and Nuclear Weapons, a Potentially Deadly Combination

First, Muslims do not drink, or at least their religion forbids it, and they seem to drink a lot less and get drunk much less frequently. Deterrence and mutually assured destruction (MAD) are based on the idea that those that control nuclear weapons are sane. As far as I can see the theorists completely ignore the problem that the leaders of the nuclear nations might be drunk.

There are rumors that Nixon would get drunk and talk about using the bomb. There are also stories that one of the leaders of France did much the same. But it is the stories from the Soviet Union that are truly horrific.

Soviet Horror Story

Vladimir Simunek, the most distinguished economics professor in the economics department at the College of Business Administration at St. John's University where I taught, told me this story. He was a high official in the Czechoslovakian government. He attended a state dinner at the Kremlin with the Czechoslovakian delegation. A row of small glasses of vodka was placed before each dignitary, one for each person that would sit at the table. Each dignitary was to make a toast to the glories of socialism and then all were to drink a glass of vodka.

Each glass was much smaller than a one oz. shot glass, but by the time they drank twenty or so glasses the dignitaries were very drunk. The dignitaries hated this because they were terrified that they would say something that would get them arrested. This was called the liquid police.

Brezhnev came into the party drunk before this all started, so he got very drunk as they proceeded through the toasts. In the middle of the party he stood up yelling, I'll show them, I'll show them. He tried to leave the room, but the other Soviet officials jumped up and wrestled him to the floor, in the middle of the state dinner. Of course, the other countries were all Soviet satellites, so this did not matter too much.

A member of the Czechoslovakian delegation got up and asked the Soviets what he wanted. They said he wants to start the war.

Brezhnev took over in 1964 and my friend fled the Soviet Block in 1969 so this happened in that time frame, I believe it happened before the Prague spring in 1968.

These drunken Soviet parties for the highest officials were going on from the time of Stalin to I suppose the fall of the Soviet Union. So this may have been a problem that happened more than once.

The Curious Case of Gorbachev

I found it curious that Gorbachev rose to the top of the Politburo. His background seems to have been in administering agriculture. I suppose he did this reasonably well, but there is little evidence that he was a miracle worker. I wondered why they found his so impressive. Eventually, I found out that he had a physical condition that prevented him from drinking alcohol.

Was Gorbachev the designated driver, or designated keeper of the nuclear button? Was that why he was chosen to lead the country? Did he overthrow the system from his position as designated keeper of the button?

North Korea

Today, we seem to be headed for a replay of the Soviet horror. Kim Jong-un holds drunken parties and according to some reports gets very drunk. North Korea is moving forward quickly as a nuclear power. Many experts argue, do not worry Kim is sane. Sane yes, sober not necessarily.

Furthermore, it is worrysome that given Kim's vicious murder of underlings that defy him in the slightest there might not be enough brave officials to wrestle him to the floor if he announces that he wants to start a nuclear war.

Muslims and Alcohol

Muslims, however, do not drink. It is against their religion. Sadam Hussein did have a glass of wine every night. He was not a very serious Muslim. But even he did not drink to excess. I am not worried about nuclear weapons in the hands of a leader that has a twelve oz. beer in him. I am worried about the seriously drunk. The Muslim extremists that we worry the most about probably abstain from all alcohol. No doubt there are exceptions and that is a worry, but generally, Muslims are far better on this than non-Muslims.

There are also several other reasons to think that Muslims might be safer than non-Muslims with nuclear weapons.

Holy Cities

People worry that Muslims with their focus on the afterlife can not be deterred. Indeed, Mulsim claims that they will be victorious because their enemies love life, while they love death, contribute to this fear.

But holy cities, particularly Mecca and Medina have a significance to Muslims that no city has to the secularist. If nuclear bombs were to wipe out New York or Paris it would be a shock for the secularist. But if it did not go beyond that then life would go on and a hundred years later it would all be history. But if Mecca or Medina were to be destroyed by nuclear bombs there would be an aching hole in the Muslim heart a thousand years from now.

I believe that the Saudi's take their role as protectors of the holy cities very seriously. This maybe why they have kept out of all but the first Arab-Israel war. The first war was the one that established Israel as a nation. The Saudis spent over nine percent of their gross domestic product, GDP on defense in 2016. This gave them the fourth largest military in terms of budget, just behind Russia. Out of the 15 countries with the largest total military budgets, they had by far the largest as a percent of GDP. Yet they have been remarkably peaceful over the last few decades.

The existence of holy cities and other holy sites ties religious people to this world in ways that do not affect secularists.

Death of Coreligionists

Muslims often talk about those who die for the cause of Islam as martyrs. They even refer to Muslims that die as unintended casualties of their attacks as martyrs. But in many cases, even the terrorists are concerned that Muslims will be killed in their attacks. We have evidence that this was one of the concerns that discouraged Al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attack. Unfortunately, it did not discourage them enough.

What is more, it seems likely that Muslims would be discouraged from attacking in a case where the lives of a large portion of their sect are put in danger. A large portion of the world's Shiites live in Iran, devout Shiites would not want a large portion, perhaps a majority of the world's Shiites to die, this would threaten the survival of their sect.

Similarly, a large portion of the world's Salafis are in Saudi Arabia and many of the rest are in neighboring countries. Devout Salafis would not want to see these people slaughtered. This may contribute to Saudi Arabia's conservative use of its military.

The Fewer Fingers On The Button The Better

Can anyone be trusted with nuclear weapons? Frightening things have happened even in the United States and other developed democracies. So the fewer fingers on the button the better. But are Muslims particularly dangerous? Granted there are reasons for thinking they are, but there are also very good reasons for thinking the Muslims might be more not less responsible.


Many people will scream Islamophobia when ever anyone suggests that Muslims are in any way different from the rest of the world. This is clearly ridiculous. Muslims are different. Religion is supposed to make you different. To deny any difference is to insult the adherents of that religion.

Furthermore, religion is not external, like the color of your skin. It is supposed to be the deepest most fundamental part of your personality. Not only is Islam a religion and not a race, but religions are close to being the opposite of races.

There is, however, a problem of Islamophobia and that is what this essay deals with. People who admit the obvious, that Islam does influence behavior, then go on to list every problem that they think of that Islam causes, and ignore all the many cases that Islam prevents problems.

In poor developing countries, we commonly see that AIDS has been a hundred times as prevalent in non-Muslim countries as in neighboring Muslim countries. Writers will go on endlessly about the various factors that influence the prevalence of AIDS without ever noting the Muslim elephant in the room.

Furthermore, America lost tens of thousands of men in both the Korean and the Vietnam war. The Muslims, however, mostly did their own fighting, and very successfully kept communism at bay.

Many people will not miss a chance to condemn Muslims for terrorist attacks but never think to credit Muslims for the areas where they have been better.

The Source of Hate

This is the source of Islamophobia and hate in general. When people fall in love they can see no fault in the one they love. As a marriage breaks up they can see no virtue in the person they formerly swore was without a fault.

We can lie and pretend Muslims are the same but we can not believe it. We can silence those who tell the truth by calling them bigots and threatening their employment. But none of this convinces people and a price is frequently paid on election day. What we can do is take a balanced view that sees both faults and virtues.

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Last updated October 29, 2019

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