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Nuclear non-use: Constructing a Cold War history

Journal Article


Abstract


  • Nina Tannenwald’s The Nuclear Taboo seeks to explain why the state that invented

    and used nuclear weapons during World War Two (WWII) has not done so since.

    From a deft blend of theory and empirical analysis comes a big bold argument:

    nuclear deterrence alone does not explain the non-use of nuclear weapons by

    America since 1945; equally important has been a powerful taboo prohibiting

    nuclear use. This impressive book joins other constructivist scholarship in challenging

    the realist take on international security, in showing that ideas and identity

    matter as much as material power and military things in shaping when and how

    states use force.1 It also offers a new interpretation of Cold War history, which up

    to now has focused on the role of credible mutual deterrence in discouraging US

    and Soviet nuclear use.

    In this opening article of the forum I introduce Tannenwald’s concept of the

    nuclear taboo, and present the mechanisms by which it works and has evolved.

    I suggest the broader significance of, as well as subtle improvements to,

    Tannenwald’s fine theory. Tannenwald does an excellent job of demonstrating the

    presence and effect of the nuclear taboo in civilian policy. Nonetheless, I find a

    number of limitations in the application of the taboo, both in US military beliefs

    and practice during the Cold War, and more recently in international law and

    civilian guidance on nuclear use developed under President George W. Bush.

Publication Date


  • 2010

Citation


  • Farrell, T. 2010, 'Nuclear non-use: Constructing a Cold War history', Review of International Studies, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 819-829.

Scopus Eid


  • 2-s2.0-79953013432

Number Of Pages


  • 10

Start Page


  • 819

End Page


  • 829

Volume


  • 36

Issue


  • 4

Place Of Publication


  • United Kingdom

Abstract


  • Nina Tannenwald’s The Nuclear Taboo seeks to explain why the state that invented

    and used nuclear weapons during World War Two (WWII) has not done so since.

    From a deft blend of theory and empirical analysis comes a big bold argument:

    nuclear deterrence alone does not explain the non-use of nuclear weapons by

    America since 1945; equally important has been a powerful taboo prohibiting

    nuclear use. This impressive book joins other constructivist scholarship in challenging

    the realist take on international security, in showing that ideas and identity

    matter as much as material power and military things in shaping when and how

    states use force.1 It also offers a new interpretation of Cold War history, which up

    to now has focused on the role of credible mutual deterrence in discouraging US

    and Soviet nuclear use.

    In this opening article of the forum I introduce Tannenwald’s concept of the

    nuclear taboo, and present the mechanisms by which it works and has evolved.

    I suggest the broader significance of, as well as subtle improvements to,

    Tannenwald’s fine theory. Tannenwald does an excellent job of demonstrating the

    presence and effect of the nuclear taboo in civilian policy. Nonetheless, I find a

    number of limitations in the application of the taboo, both in US military beliefs

    and practice during the Cold War, and more recently in international law and

    civilian guidance on nuclear use developed under President George W. Bush.

Publication Date


  • 2010

Citation


  • Farrell, T. 2010, 'Nuclear non-use: Constructing a Cold War history', Review of International Studies, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 819-829.

Scopus Eid


  • 2-s2.0-79953013432

Number Of Pages


  • 10

Start Page


  • 819

End Page


  • 829

Volume


  • 36

Issue


  • 4

Place Of Publication


  • United Kingdom