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Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons




How strong are normative prohibitions on state behavior? We examine this question by analyzing anti-nuclear norms, sometimes called the “nuclear taboo,†using an original survey experiment to evaluate American attitudes regarding nuclear use. We find that the public has only a weak aversion to using nuclear weapons and that this aversion has few characteristics of an “unthinkable†behavior or taboo. Instead, public attitudes about whether to use nuclear weapons are driven largely by consequentialist considerations of military utility. Americans’ willingness to use nuclear weapons increases dramatically when nuclear weapons provide advantages over conventional weapons in destroying critical targets. Americans who oppose the use of nuclear weapons seem to do so primarily for fear of setting a negative precedent that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons by other states against the United States or its allies in the future.

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  • Press, Daryl G. & Sagan, Scott D. & Valentino, Benjamin A., 2013. "Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 188-206, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:apsrev:v:107:y:2013:i:01:p:188-206_00

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    Cited by:

    1. Jonathan A. Chu, 2019. "A Clash of Norms? How Reciprocity and International Humanitarian Law affect American Opinion on the Treatment of POWs," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 63(5), pages 1140-1164, May.
    2. DiGiuseppe, Matthew & Del Ponte, Alessandro, 2023. "Bottom-Up Sovereign Debt Preferences," SocArXiv wxr67, Center for Open Science.
    3. Michal Onderco & Michal Smetana & Tom W. Etienne, 2023. "Hawks in the making? European public views on nuclear weapons post‐Ukraine," Global Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 14(2), pages 305-317, May.
    4. Erik Gartzke & Matthew Kroenig, 2017. "Social Scientific Analysis of Nuclear Weapons," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 61(9), pages 1853-1874, October.
    5. Christopher W. Blair & Jonathan A. Chu & Joshua A. Schwartz, 2022. "The Two Faces of Opposition to Chemical Weapons: Sincere Versus Insincere Norm-Holders," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 66(4-5), pages 677-703, May.
    6. Amelia C Arsenault & Sarah E Kreps & Keren LG Snider & Daphna Canetti, 2024. "Cyber scares and prophylactic policies: Crossnational evidence on the effect of cyberattacks on public support for surveillance," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 61(3), pages 413-428, May.
    7. Friedman, Jeffrey A. & Lerner, Jennifer S. & Zeckhauser, Richard, 2015. "How Quantifying Probability Assessments Influences Analysis and Decision Making: Experimental Evidence from National Security Professionals," Working Paper Series 16-016, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    8. Lauren Sukin, 2020. "Credible Nuclear Security Commitments Can Backfire: Explaining Domestic Support for Nuclear Weapons Acquisition in South Korea," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 64(6), pages 1011-1042, July.
    9. Brian C. Rathbun & Rachel Stein, 2020. "Greater Goods: Morality and Attitudes toward the Use of Nuclear Weapons," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 64(5), pages 787-816, May.

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