Op-Ed: How the nuclear weapons taboo is fading fast
We’ve been living in a world where nuclear weapons are taboo. What’s changing?
Nuclear weapons are in the news every day, yet the taboo around their use is still in force in many circles, and it’s keeping them under the radar more than ever. This week, I was in Doha (Qatar) to speak at a Qatar-UK security conference about the future of defence cooperation between these two countries – as well as the potential for further cooperation and cooperation between them. I arrived after a very long flight from London, with a packed schedule that included meeting with a range of defence ministers and officials, as well as a range of civil servants.
For someone who was not aware that the country of Qatar had nuclear weapons, I was surprised to discover that the official media here (which is the news media) does not cover the subject very often. The Doha Post, the largest English-language newspaper in the country, for example, only occasionally ran one-paragraph stories on it, or in a couple of cases, a single photo was used on the front and back pages.
But there’s no point dwelling on that. What was more interesting was that even as I was sitting down to talk to the ministers and officials, the day’s discussions were dominated by the debate on the role of nuclear weapons in a future regional conflict.
This debate was not at all surprising to me. Over the past few months, I’ve been looking at the history of how the taboo against nuclear weapons has played out. We’ve lived in a world where nuclear weapons are highly illegal, taboo and highly vulnerable to misuse by terrorists and rogue regimes. What’s changing?
And I’ve started to realise that there’s a good reason for it, one that has been playing itself out for a long time, but that’s really only coming to the fore as the taboo on nuclear weapons is melting down.
So the answer to the question of changed circumstances is twofold: first, there’s a very real change in the way we now think about the use of weapons of mass destruction; second, the way international agreements are