Balancing Deterrence and the Nuclear Taboo

Balancing Deterrence and the Nuclear Taboo

Balancing Deterrence and the Nuclear Taboo: Lessons from History and Emerging Challenges.


On the clear morning of August 6, 1945, a pivotal moment in history unfolded as the Enola Gay soared over Hiroshima, unleashing a devastating 15kt uranium bomb that obliterated the city center. Witnessing this cataclysmic event, the world’s perception of weaponry and warfare underwent a profound transformation.



GS – 01 (Mineral & Energy Resources)

GS – 03 (Nuclear Technology)


  • Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL)
  • National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC)
  • Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL)
  • Kamini
  • Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Mains question:

  • Discuss the significance of the nuclear taboo and the concept of nuclear deterrence in the context of recent global events and the resurgence of nuclear threats. 150 words

Dimensions of the Article:

  • The Evolution of Nuclear Deterrence
  • The Sanctity of nuclear weapons
  • Testing the Taboo
  •  Perils of Loose Talk

The Evolution of Nuclear Deterrence

  • Over the past 78 years, nuclear deterrence has captivated the minds of nations both possessing and renouncing nuclear armaments.
  • As these weapons grew more potent, it dawned on the global community that their utilization would pose an unparalleled worldwide dilemma.
  • In parallel, a pivotal development surfaced – the emergence of a nuclear taboo. Political scientist Nina Tannenwald elucidated this phenomenon as a coalescing norm that vehemently opposes the use of nuclear weapons, deeming them beyond the pale and almost never justifiable.
  • This taboo, though devoid of legal grounding, is deeply rooted in morality, proportionality, and accountability.

The Sanctity of Nuclear Weapons

  • Nuclear weapons, often referred to as the “absolute weapon” by Bernard Brodie, owe their distinctiveness not solely to their sheer destructive power.
  • In modern times, we possess the ability to modulate the potency of these weapons, and even some conventional munitions can rival their destructiveness.
  • Instead, their exceptional status stems from the harrowing experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, highlighting the indiscriminate nature of these weapons.
  • They fail to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants, contaminating the environment for generations and leaving a legacy of enduring radiation effects. The harrowing consequences of August 1945 continue to haunt Japan and the world.

Testing the Taboo

  • Recent geopolitical events, particularly Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have put the concept of deterrence and the nuclear taboo to the test.
  • President Vladimir Putin’s not-so-veiled nuclear threats and assertions of Russia’s readiness to utilize all available weapons shook the world.
  • The historical declarations of “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” suddenly seemed vulnerable. Speculation arose on whether Russia might resort to tactical nuclear weapons and the potential ramifications of such a move.

Perils of Loose Talk

  • These conjectures, fraught with dangers, could inadvertently influence the behavior of Russian leadership. Inadvertent discussions on the acceptability of using certain types of nuclear weapons to “send a message” risk eroding the nuclear taboo itself.
  • The lack of consensus on what constitutes a tactical nuclear weapon further complicates the matter.
  • Some tactical weapons, while smaller and delivered over shorter distances than strategic ones, could still yield varying levels of destruction.
  • It would be an affront to history to diminish the significance of the Hiroshima bomb as a mere “small, tactical weapon.”

Way Forward

  • Despite the precarious nature of the situation, there are glimmers of hope in the responses of nuclear powers. NATO and other nuclear-armed states promptly countered Mr. Putin’s saber-rattling, vowing a robust and proportional response to any nuclear aggression.
  • Notably, the United States emphasized a calibrated, conventional approach, eschewing any hasty nuclear reactions. Even China’s President Xi Jinping urged the global community to stand united against nuclear weapon use or threats.


The world stands at the crossroads of deterrence and the nuclear taboo. Recent events have underscored the delicate balance between these opposing forces. As we reflect on the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we must strive to reinforce the nuclear taboo and maintain a steadfast commitment to global security and peace. While the future remains uncertain, the enduring memory of those tragic days must guide us towards a world free from the shadows of nuclear devastation.