The nuclear taboo

Authored by: Nina Tannenwald

Handbook of Nuclear Proliferation

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  February  2012

Print ISBN: 9781857436044
eBook ISBN: 9780203840849
Adobe ISBN:


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Why have nuclear weapons remained unused since 1945? This question remains one of the puzzles of the modern era. Since August 1945, when the USA dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan to end the Second World War, no nation has employed nuclear weapons. Many reasonable observers expected that nuclear weapons would be used at some point during the Cold War. As historians note, it is rare for a weapon found useful on one occasion to remain unused in the next. At the height of the nuclear arms race in the mid-1980s, nearly 70,000 nuclear weapons existed in the world’s arsenals, along with an extensive array of military plans and organizations, public commitments and alliances all contemplating the employment of such weapons. Yet not one has been used in anger since 1945. Instead, a nearly 70-year tradition of non-use of nuclear weapons has arisen. Furthermore, nuclear weapons have spread more slowly than expected, and their numbers have been reduced.

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