Is the Nuclear Taboo Stronger Than Ever?

“the previous dread of a nuclear Armageddon has largely evaporated. The fact that it never happened has fostered a feeling that it never could have happened.”

– Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch, March 29, 2022

The dread of nuclear Armageddon is as dreadful as ever. Moral and scientific revulsion toward nuclear weapons began before the first A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945, and has grown ever since.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said yesterday that “Russia would only use nuclear weapons in the case of a threat to his country.” As ominous as this sounds, during  the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the use of nuclear weapon to defend one’s country mirrors United States’ nuclear weapons policy.

Nuclear weapons have not been detonated in war for seventy seven years. During that period The United Nations adopted as Article 1 its first official act, calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Various other international treaties have called for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the banning of nuclear weapons testing, banning nuclear weapons in space, the banning of missile defense systems (no longer in effect) and the banning of entire classes of missile delivery systems (no longer in effect).

The vast majority of nations oppose nuclear weapons and voted to abolish them in 2017. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons now makes nuclear weapons illegal in 60 countries. The nuclear arsenals of Russia and the U.S. have been reduced by 80%, though they remain abominably high totaling 16,000.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones encompass more than three continents, Africa, South American, Australia and other countries.

Presidents Biden and Putin agreed in June 2021 in Geneva, that “A nuclear war can never be won  and must not be fought” That is the policy of both the U.S. and Russia barring an existential threat.

And nuclear weapons themselves pose an existential threat. Detonation of even one hundred nuclear weapons would create enough atmospheric debris to cause decades long “global winter” killing most life on Earth, first if not foremost, humans!

As abysmal as the Russia invasion of Ukraine is, we cannot reflexively abandon ongoing nuclear weapons treaty discussions with Russia. Had the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty been in effect, Russia may have felt less antagonistic. Negotiations to renew the NewSTART treaty  are crucial to avoid a full- scale nuclear arms race.

A world taboo against the use of nuclear weapons begun by Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project  and backed by some of the most brilliant people starting with Albert Einstein has take hold. The threat of nuclear attack will always haunt us until they are eliminated. But no nuclear weapons have been exploded in war since Nagasaki, and that proves a nuclear weapons taboo is strong. It has not yet “evaporated.”