The Nuclear Taboo and Non-Western Regional Powers
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In the literature on nuclear weapons and international security, a strong argument has been made that a norm against the use of nuclear weapons has developed since 1945. This literature rests almost exclusively on observations of the behavior of specific states (Western ones) during a specific time period (the Cold War). However, Western ideas about the usability of nuclear weapons are likely to differ from those of newer, non- Western nuclear weapon states. Social and cultural norms, experiences with nuclear weapons, and regional security dynamics may lead newer nuclear powers to different conclusions about the circumstances under which nuclear use could be contemplated. To assess the existence and strength of the nuclear taboo outside the Western world, this study examined three non-Western cases – India, Iran, and Pakistan – to identify their cultural, social, and experiential differences and determine how these differences influence the countries’ views of the nuclear taboo. The authors found weak support for the nuclear taboo as typically defined in the literature, especially in Pakistan. Nonetheless, they found that some in Iran believe that the use of nuclear weapons would be normatively unacceptable. They also concluded that India and possibly other non-Western countries are likely to avoid using nuclear weapons in a war-fighting capacity, but will continue using them in the same way Western countries have done— as instruments of coercion that carry high but acceptable risks.
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