This article was co-authored by Prof. Rebeccah Heinrichs, who teaches IWP’s course on Nuclear Deterrence and Arms Control.
Nuclear illiteracy has grown since the end of the Cold War.
Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling directed at NATO while it continues its war against Ukraine has brought nuclear weapons back into public consciousness. Tom Nichols, author of the Death of Expertise, recounts in an Atlantic essay that since the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons illiteracy has grown. Then Nichols inadvertently provides a lesson on just how pervasive misinformation on the subject is by proceeding to misinform the public. He states, “By treaty, Washington and Moscow have limited themselves to 1,550 [nuclear] warheads apiece. The basic idea is that these numbers deny either side the ability to take out the other’s arsenal in a first strike, while still preserving the ability to destroy at least 150 urban centers in each country. This, in the world of nuclear weapons, is progress.” That is completely wrong.