Op-Ed: How the nuclear weapons taboo is fading
With the world poised on the verge of a nuclear arms race, the nuclear taboo seems to be more dead than most. The US and South Korea have decided to revive the moratorium on testing on the Korean Peninsula. India and Pakistan agreed to a new code of conduct, which will have the nuclear establishment review how India’s arsenal of small “weapons of mass destruction” – the H-bomb – is structured and what they are designed to do.
But perhaps the nuclear taboo is best viewed as an old-fashioned way of keeping the peace. That taboo is being slowly eroded by the realisation that the world’s biggest nuclear states possess, and probably use, nuclear arms that far surpass anything that the world has seen before. While they have remained so cautious that they have not even announced the type of nuclear weapon they are developing, they are moving ahead with new and previously unimagined nuclear weapons systems – ones that are now far more capable than anything else yet put to the test.
The US, whose nuclear programme has already begun to show signs of slowing down, has announced that it wants to build a new type of nuclear warhead, called the “mother of all bombs”. China, whose recent nuclear tests have left the world stunned, has hinted that it is about to achieve an nuclear weapons capacity that is far more devastating than anything seen until now. The UK is building its own nuclear arsenal, at a time when it can no longer afford to build up its existing one, and even when it has the capacity to build one of its own.
The old taboo – the one that has prevented the world from developing the nuclear arms needed to match the terrifying power of a nuclear weapon – also holds out the illusion that there is some simple formula for a world without nuclear weapons. “There can be no more effective deterrent to nuclear attack than nuclear weapons,” says the Arms Control Association’s chief executive, William J