A New Nuclear Age

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the possibility of nuclear war felt like a problem of days past. Now, as great-power competition heats up, the potential for nuclear conflict seems higher than at any point in decades. How did the nuclear taboo fade, and what does nuclear proliferation mean for the United States?

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  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Director, Podcasting

Asher Ross - Supervising Producer

Markus Zakaria - Audio Producer and Sound Designer

Molly McAnany - Associate Podcast Producer

Episode Guests
  • J. Andrés Gannon
    Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow
  • Rupal N. Mehta
    Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Show Notes

Nuclear weapons never went away, but as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine extends into its second year, nuclear worries are making a comeback. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, reigniting concerns about nuclear weapons and proliferation. Elsewhere, China has built up its own nuclear arsenal while ratcheting up tensions with Taiwan, and North Korea and Iran have continued to develop their own nuclear programs. Meanwhile, U.S. allies and bad actors alike could be seeking nuclear weapons of their own, and long-standing nuclear arms control agreements remain suspended.


A map of Europe showing the location of six U.S. nuclear weapon storage sites in U.S. allies, and nine Russian nuclear weapon storage sites in western Russia.

As U.S. officials confront these and other nuclear challenges, they will be tasked with preventing further proliferation that increases the likelihood of mutually assured destruction. How serious is today’s nuclear threat, and what are the prospects for global denuclearization?


A chart of the number of stockpiled nuclear warheads by country, showing Russia and the U.S. with far more than any other country.



From CFR


Jonathan Masters and Sabine Baumgartner, “Timeline: U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Control


Jonathan Masters and Will Merrow, “Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Mapping U.S. and Russian Deployments” 


Kali Robinson, “What Is the Iran Nuclear Deal?” 


Richard Haass, “The New Nuclear Era” 



From Our Guests


J. Andrés Gannon, “If Russia Goes Nuclear: Three Scenarios for the Ukraine War,” CFR.org


Rupal N. Mehta, Delaying Doomsday: The Politics of Nuclear Reversal, Oxford University Press



Read More


Jonathan Tirone, “U.S. Sees a New Era of Nuclear Risk Dawning in China-Russia Cooperation,” Bloomberg


What Happens if Nuclear Weapons Are Used?,” International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons



Watch and Listen


As Nuclear Tensions Rise, Should the World Be Worried?,” CFR.org


Plan A,” Princeton University Program on Science and Global Security


U.S. Preparedness for Nuclear and Radiological Threats,” CFR.org


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In a wide-ranging conversation, Foreign Affairs Editor Dan Kurtz-Phelan joins Why It Matters to discuss nonpartisan publishing in a polarized political climate, the state of press freedom around the world, and the future of journalism.

Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Thirty years ago, Rwanda’s government began a campaign to eradicate the country’s largest minority group. In just one hundred days in 1994, roving militias killed around eight hundred thousand people. Would-be killers were incited to violence by the radio, which encouraged extremists to take to the streets with machetes. The United Nations stood by amid the bloodshed, and many foreign governments, including the United States, declined to intervene before it was too late. What got in the way of humanitarian intervention? And as violent conflict now rages at a clip unseen since then, can the international community learn from the mistakes of its past?

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