Op-Ed: How the nuclear weapons taboo is fading
A look at the legacy of nuclear weapons and the future of the nuclear taboo.
The nuclear weapons taboo is fading more and more under the pressure of public awareness. But what does it mean for the future of nuclear weapons? Could it mean, for example, that states like the United States and Russia might be forced to give up their nuclear weapons or at least reduce the amount of weapons in their arsenals?
The nuclear taboo was created in the 1960s as part of the United Nation’s nuclear non-proliferation efforts and was meant to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of adversaries. It was supposed to force states to sign agreements (the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) to never use them and to keep them out of their territories.
But the taboo also served as a protection for the nuclear weapons industry. The industry was already seeing the end of the Cold War, so it wanted to continue to make profits. Many countries feared to get rid of their nuclear weapons, especially when they knew that the weapons had been declared “weapons of mass destruction” by the United States in the 1990s.
The taboo was lifted by the Barack Obama administration in 2009 after the conclusion of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. According to that decision, the nuclear weapons states were required to remove their ground-launched cruise missiles from their territory, which meant that they could not use them for offensive purposes but were free to use them for defense purposes.
But while the United States was lifting the nuclear taboo, there also was a significant increase in the number of nuclear weapon tests conducted by Russia and China, which meant that the nuclear taboo had not been completely lifted, and in fact had already begun to come back.
A good example of this would be in 2017, when the United States tested a new ground-launched nuclear warhead that has a range of between 400 and 700 kilometers. That was the first nuclear test in 50 years, and many wondered whether the United States was planning to use it