Rethinking Nuclear Weapons


One of the most important and unremarked trends in nuclear weapons thinking is the constant change in the perceived capabilities and value of nuclear weapons. Hailed as miracle weapons in 1945, able to “assure success in negotiations,” prevent attacks, and guarantee great power status, the record of nuclear weapons has been one of continual disappointment.

The Rethinking Nuclear Weapons Project seeks to re-evaluate the utility of nuclear weapons as military and political tools. Beginning with ground-breaking work which persuasively demonstrated that Japan did not surrender because of nuclear weapons attacks in 1945 (2007), continuing on to a prize-winning re-examination of nuclear deterrence (2008), and most recently a careful attempt to remove many of the mythic qualities from nuclear weapons (2013), Rethinking Nuclear Weapons has attempted to use pragmatic analysis to reshape thinking about these dangerous weapons.

Rethinking Nuclear Weapons’ work has led to briefings with government officials on the utility of nuclear weapons, and the link with the emerging humanitarian consequences initiative, in the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Parliament, Norway, Sweden, South Africa and Costa Rica.

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Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons

by Ward Wilson

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Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons is the first realistic challenge to the utility of nuclear weapons.

If nuclear weapons are militarily useful, if they win wars, then no moral objection or political doubt will stop their spread. But if they are clumsy, messy, indiscriminate, and enormously dangerous weapons whose usefulness has been consistently exaggerated, then questions of disarmament and even abolition take on a different cast. 

The book focuses on this question: are nuclear weapons useful? Rather than examine complex theories or moral arguments, it looks at the history of the Cold War and discovers, perhaps not surprisingly, that people who are very afraid sometimes do not demonstrate the soundest judgment. Five myths born out of the Cold War still have a central place in our thinking about nuclear weapons: 1) they won World War II, 2) the H-bomb represented a quantum leap in decisiveness, 3) deterrence is safe and reliable, 4) nuclear weapons have kept the peace for sixty years, and 5) nuclear weapons cannot be gotten rid of. 

Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons is now available in paperback.

Recent content about Rethinking Nuclear Weapons

Conference Videos: Impact of Emerging Technologies on the the Future of SSBN's

On 13th September 2016, BASIC, British Pugwash and the University of Leicester hosted The impact of Emerging Technologies on the Future of SSBNs in Whitehall, London. The conference welcomed contributions from 15 scientific experts and strategic thinkers on the implications of major advances in sonar, non-acoustic detection, new forms of undersea communications and autonomous maritime drones for sea-based deterrence.