The Nuclear Taboo

Nuclear weapons have not been used in war since the devastating bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Professor Nina Tannenwald argues, in her widely-known theory, that a nuclear taboo has been established: a taboo against the first use of nuclear weapons. This taboo has emerged over time as the result of both strategic interests and moral concerns.

The nuclear taboo is reinforced by international institutions and states’ perception. In 2017, a majority of UN member states adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty codifies the nuclear taboo in international law – regardless of the persistent opposition by nuclear armed states and their complicit allies.

In other words, the TPNW reinforces the nuclear taboo. Professor Tannenwald will reflect on some lessons from the history of the taboo, challenges to the taboo today, and the role of the TPNW in strengthening the taboo going forward.



Nina Tannenwald


Nina Tannenwald is currently Fulbright Visiting Professor of International Studies at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.