The Other Side of the Nuclear Coin

The world is well into a second nuclear age in which nuclear weapons are proliferating for reasons different from the strategic calculations that drove the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War, said Barry Watts, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. As a result, the once strong “firebreak” between the use of conventional and nuclear arms is weakening, said Watts during a May 30 presentation sponsored by AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies in Arlington, Va. This makes Watts “increasingly skeptical” that the world would go another six decades without seeing the use of nuclear weapons. There exists the “darker” possibility that limited use of low-yield nuclear weapons will become the “new normal” and make the second nuclear age’s dangers and uncertainties “dwarf those of the first,” he said. Watts’ talk touched on the observations of his recent CSBA study: Nuclear-Conventional Firebreaks and the Nuclear Taboo. (For more coverage of Watts’ presentation, see Looking at Nuclear Motivations.)