The Tradition of Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons

By T. V. Paul | Go to book overview

2 BASES OF THE TRADITION OF NON-USE

from a social science perspective, it is crucial to explain the sources of the tradition of non-use of nuclear weapons and the reasons for its persistence today. Social scientists have not yet fully unpacked the rise, persistence, or weakening of an informal social norm similar to the one inherent in the tradition of non-use. Understanding the mechanisms by which the tradition emerged is important in order to know the causes of its persistence and the conditions of its potential demise. In this chapter, I outline the plausible sources of the tradition of non-use and assess their relative significance.

To begin with, is there a normative prohibition on nuclear use? Only a few scholars have delved into this question directly. But they differ significantly on the existence of the norm and its importance. Here I look at two perspectives. One comes from realpolitik skeptics who reject the existence of a taboo or a tradition on the non-use of nuclear weapons. The other is developed by Constructivist scholars who treat the norm of non-use as a powerful, taboo-like prohibition, with both regulative and constitutive effects over the choices of nuclear states. Some scholars who do not identify themselves as belonging to any particular theoretical paradigm have discussed the tradition as a powerful force in international politics. They include Thomas Schelling, John Lewis Gaddis, George Quester, and McGeorge Bundy; their writings, although containing many realist assumptions and theoretical components, nevertheless accept the existence of a normative tradition.

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