The issue of nuclear taboo (and how to make it stick) was the most popular of the “Taboos, Secrets, and Hidden History of Nuclear Weapons” trio. Here is Nina Tannenwald's article in International Security on the issue. If there is indeed a taboo, I'm wondering to what extent it exists not because nuclear weapons are “abhorrent and unacceptable weapons of mass destruction,” but because they are essentially useless from the military point of view.
One way of looking at the history of deliberations about use of nuclear weapons is that in every practical situation nuclear weapons had very little to offer. Of course, the cost that would be associated with a nuclear weapons use is also very high (and keeps raising) but the value seems to be nonexistent to begin with. Now that the cold war is a distant past, even the deterrence value of nuclear weapons seems to have disappeared (people tend not to take the risk that Saddam Hussein or North Korea could be deterred, with nuclear weapons or not).
I am wondering what the panel on utility of nuclear weapons (at 9am on Tuesday) has to say about that.
(Originally posted on the 2005 Carnegie Non-Proliferation Conference web site)