The Tradition of Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons

By T. V. Paul | Go to book overview

1 INTRODUCTION

in august 2008, the world observed the sixty-third anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, history's first and only instances of nuclear attack. Since 1945, the nuclear age has generated considerable debate on the utility, morality, and legitimacy of the acquisition, possession, control, and use of nuclear weapons. Buried in the global discourse on the nuclear dilemma is the fact that atomic weapons have not been used militarily by any nuclear state since 1945. While their non-use between nuclear states may largely be explained by the operation of mutual deterrence, it remains a puzzle as to why these weapons have not been used against nonnuclear opponents, who could not retaliate in kind. In some cases, nuclear weapon states (NWS) have lost the wars they fought against nonnuclear weapon states (NNWS). Occasionally, NWS have experienced the temptation to use their atomic arms, yet desisted from doing so. In other instances, nonnuclear states initiated crises or wars, anticipating non-use of atomic weapons by the defending nuclear state. In some other cases, NNWS continued fighting with NWS, and thereby imposed enormous costs on the latter in personnel and resources, even though the NWS had the capability to retaliate with nuclear weapons and thus terminate the war expeditiously.

I argue that the unwillingness to use nuclear weapons can be partially attributed to an informal norm inherent in the tradition of non-use, which has gradually emerged since 1945. A tradition in this sense is a time-honored practice of non-use that has been followed by nuclear states since 1945 as an “accustomed obligation.”1 This tradition has largely been shaped by two

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The Tradition of Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • 2: Bases of the Tradition of Non-Use 15
  • 3: The United States and the Tradition I 38
  • 4: The United States and the Tradition II 64
  • 5: Russia, Britain, France, China, and the Tradition 92
  • 6: The Second-Generation Nuclear States 124
  • 7: Nonnuclear States, the Tradition, and Limited Wars 143
  • 8: The Tradition and the Nonproliferation Regime 158
  • 9: Changing U.S. Policies and the Tradition 178
  • 10: Conclusions 197
  • Reference Matter 215
  • Notes 217
  • Select Bibliography 277
  • Index 305
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