Security Studies coverPaul C. Avey has done international security scholars a tremendous service with his research on the role played by nuclear non-use norms in military confrontations. In “Who’s Afraid of the Bomb?,” Avery takes on a key question that has seen surprisingly little attention to date: to what extent do non-nuclear states disregard the credibility of nuclear weapons due to normative considerations? After all, we have good reason to think that norms influence the desirability and use of nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapon has been detonated over an enemy target since 1945. Only a handful of states actually possess nuclear weapons today. And those that aggressively seek nuclear weapons—like North Korea—have such low standing among many other states as to have pariah status. It thus stands to reason that no state would want to commit the outrage associated with delivering the first nuclear attack since the Second World War. Adversaries—especially non-nuclear adversaries—should discount being targets of such an attack in fights against nuclear-armed states.

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