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The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Normative Basis of Nuclear Non-Use

Nina Tannenwald
International Organization
Vol. 53, No. 3 (Summer, 1999), pp. 433-468
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2601286
Page Count: 36
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The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Normative Basis of Nuclear Non-Use
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Abstract

A normative element--a "nuclear taboo"--must be taken into account in explaining why the United States has not used nuclear weapons since 1945. Realists would deny that a taboo exists or that it can be identified separately from the behavioral pattern of non-use or the material interests of the actors and therefore has any independent analytical leverage. In contrast, I show that an explanation involving a normative element is a better explanation for nuclear non-use than a purely materialist one. I identify three effects of norms--regulative, constitutive, and permissive--and show in four cases how a taboo has played a role in constraining U.S. resort to nuclear weapons. This research challenges a narrow "deterrence" explanation of non-use and shows that norms constrain military capabilities and thus the practice of self-help in the international system.

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