Americans Willing to Use Nuclear Weapons

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dropping the bomb isn’t so bad after all, in the minds of many Americans.


A group of academics from Dartmouth and Stanford conducted a study (pdf) to see how serious a geopolitical situation would have to be in order for Americans to get behind a first strike involving nuclear weapons. The researchers went in thinking there would be a strong aversion to using nuclear weapons.


They were wrong.


“We found you barely have to put a finger on the scale,” Daryl Press, an associate professor at the Dartmouth College Department of Government, told Salon.


Participants in the study were presented with three different scenarios for addressing the problem of terrorists possessing nuclear weapons. Each scenario offered a solution involving conventional arms or nuclear weapons, with varying degrees of success for each choice.


“What we found is that, if we told the respondents that a conventional and a nuclear strike would be equally effective—you’d have the same chance of destroying the target—people preferred the conventional option by roughly 4 to 1,” Press said.


“But if we provided even a slight advantage to the nuclear option, the numbers flipped. At least half of the American public would support the use of nuclear weapons.”


When nukes provided a relatively slight advantage, 51.4% said they favored using them. When nukes provided a big advantage, the level of support jumped to 68.6%.


In one hypothetical scenario, the U.S. mission is to destroy a terrorist laboratory in the Middle East. Respondents were told that a nuclear attack on the lab would be twice as likely to succeed as a conventional attack. However, while 100 innocent bystanders would be killed in the non-nuclear assault, 25,000 people would die in the nuclear strike. In spite of the huge loss of life, 39% of the respondents chose the nuclear option. And 52% said they would approve of it as well if they learned about it after the fact.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

America Has Stopped Worrying, Loves the Bomb (by Tom Jacobs, Salon)

Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons (by Daryl G. Press, Scott D. Sagan, and Benjamin A. Valentino; American Political Science Review ) (pdf)

Rethinking the Unthinkable (by Bill Keller, New York Times)

Is Money Wasted on Nuclear Weapons being Driven by Lobbyists? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Solution to Global Warming…A Small Nuclear War (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Obama Increases Spending for Nuclear Weapons (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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