he normative imperative for states to disarm is obvious. However, even if the outliers to the international community can be brought back into the mainstream, strategic obsolescence (both imaginative and doctrinal) of nuclear forces is difficult to achieve.
Fears of humanitarian disaster, nuclear winter, failure of deterrence and nuclear accidents do not provide a tangible enough cause for the nuclear strategic community, or even atomic publics at large, to transform what are now traditional notions of strength and power. Nuclear weapons are a currency of hard power. Can the strategic community in countries possessing nuclear weapons be disincentivised to stop placing the premium they currently place on nuclear arms?
Nuclear arms are likely to pass out of strategic discourse only by obsolescence. For some, the creation of a ‘taboo’ through ‘discrediting and delegitimizing’ the use of nuclear weapons can go a long way in achieving this objective (Rebecca Johnson: Preventing Nuclear Use: The Humanitarian Imperative to Disarm, 2013). There is a perception that nuclear weapons have already been stigmatised as unacceptable weapons and that there already exists a powerful taboo against the use of nuclear weapons (Nina Tannenwald: The Nuclear Taboo: the United States and the non-use of nuclear weapons since 1945, 2007). However, as Johnson points out, “The use of nuclear weapons is legitimised by the presence of nuclear weapons in military doctrines.” Even a doctrine of ‘no first use’ advocates and legitimises the use of nuclear weapons with devastating effect. The taboo that came about on chemical and biological weapons was primarily because of the number of times that these weapons have been used. As the same is unlikely to be true of nuclear weapons, its role in the strategic imperatives of nuclear states is likely to remain the same.
Even if there is a nuclear taboo followed by a…