Stigmatization by Ridicule: From Dr. Strangelove to Donald Trump

  • Rodger A. PayneEmail author
Part of the Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies book series (RCS)


No nuclear-armed states or their closest allies have signed the Nuclear Ban Treaty. These states emphasize that nuclear weapons remain necessary for deterrence purposes, even as many of them also claim to support disarmament in the long run. This inconsistent approach creates an opportunity to stigmatize nuclear deterrence strategy via the use of public ridicule. The chapter examines numerous instances when academics and former policymakers, diplomats, and military leaders have ridiculed nuclear deterrence strategy and/or weapons deployments, often by identifying logical inconsistencies and paradoxes associated with various policies. The conclusion explains that U.S. President Donald Trump’s bellicose nuclear threats create ongoing opportunities for ridicule.


International norms Political legitimacy Nuclear deterrence Nuclear disarmament Ridicule 


  1. Alinsky, S. ([1971] 1989). Rules for radicals, a pragmatic primer for realistic radicals. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  2. Baldick, R. (1965). The duel: A history of duelling. New York: Potter.Google Scholar
  3. Barnett, T. P. M. (2009, May 14). Seven reasons why Obama’s nuke-free utopia won’t work. Esquire. Accessed 25 September 2012.
  4. Bierman, N. (2017, August 8). Trump warns North Korea of ‘fire and fury’. Los Angeles Times. Accessed 20 April 2018.
  5. Billig, M. (2005). Laughter and ridicule: Towards a social critique of humour. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Borrie, J. (2014). Humanitarian reframing of nuclear weapons and the logic of a ban. International Affairs, 90(3), 625–646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowden, J. (2017, August 10). Colbert questions Trump: What’s tougher than ‘fire and fury’? The Hill. Accessed 20 April 2018.
  8. Boyer, P. S. (2004). ‘Dr. Strangelove’ at 40: The continuing relevance of a Cold War cultural icon. Arms Control Today, 34(10), 46–48.Google Scholar
  9. Brown, H., & Deutch, J. (2007, November 19). The nuclear disarmament fantasy. Wall Street Journal, A19.Google Scholar
  10. Bundy, M., Kennan, G. F., McNamara, R. S., & Smith, G. (1982). Nuclear weapons and the Atlantic Alliance. Foreign Affairs, 60(4), 753–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Butler, L. (1996, December 4). National press club remarks. Accessed 10 February 2010.
  12. Butler, L. (2006). At the end of the journey: The risks of Cold War thinking in a new era. International Affairs, 82(4), 763–769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Australia. Department of Foreign Affairs, and Trade. (1996). Report of the Canberra commission on the elimination of nuclear weapons. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Accessed 10 February 2010.
  14. Cohn, C. (2018, January 5). The perils of mixing masculinity and missiles. New York Times. Accessed 13 April 2018.
  15. Ditum, S. (2018, January 3). Trump’s claim that his button is bigger than Kim Jong-un’s proves that toxic masculinity is going to ruin the world. Independent. Accessed 13 April 2018.
  16. Evangelista, M. (2011). Nuclear abolition or nuclear umbrella? Choice and contradictions in U.S. proposals. In C. M. Kelleher & J. Reppy (Eds.), Getting to zero: The path to nuclear disarmament (pp. 296–316). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Finnemore, M., & Sikkink, K. (1998). International norm dynamics and political change. International Organization, 52(4), 887–917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gaddis, J. L. (1997). We now know: Rethinking Cold War history. New York: Oxford University.Google Scholar
  19. General Lee Butler reflects on working toward peace. (2008). Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Santa Clara University. Accessed 10 April 2018.
  20. Goodall, H. L., Jr., Cheong, P. H., Fleischer, K., & Corman, S. R. (2012). Rhetorical charms: The promise and pitfalls of humor and ridicule as strategies to counter extremist narratives. Perspectives on Terrorism, 6(1), 70–79.Google Scholar
  21. Green, P. (1966). Deadly logic: The theory of nuclear deterrence. New York: Schocken Books.Google Scholar
  22. Hanson, M., & Ungerer, C. (1999). The Canberra Commission: Paths followed, paths ahead. Australian Journal of International Affairs, 53(1), 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. (2009). Eliminating nuclear threats. Accessed 18 August 2018.
  24. Interview: Admiral Stansfield Turner. (1999, February). Russian roulette. Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service. Accessed 10 April 2018.
  25. Interview: General William Odom (ret.). (1999, February). Russian roulette. Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service. Accessed 10 April 2018.
  26. Jervis, R. (1984). The illogic of American nuclear strategy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Joffe, J., & Davis, J. W. (2011). Less than zero: Bursting the new disarmament bubble. Foreign Affairs, 90(1), 7–13.Google Scholar
  28. Kaplan, F. (2010, October 10). No more nukes? Time.,9171,2019614-3,00.html. Accessed 10 April 2018.
  29. Knopf, J. W. (2010). The fourth wave in deterrence research. Contemporary Security Policy, 31(1), 1–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kull, S. (1985). Nuclear nonsense. Foreign Policy, 58, 28–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lewis, J. (2016, August 5). Our nuclear procedures are crazier than Trump. Foreign Policy. Accessed 10 April 2018.
  32. Lieber, K. A., & Press, D. G. (2006). The rise of U.S. nuclear primacy. Foreign Affairs, 85(2), 42–54.Google Scholar
  33. Lindley, D. (2001). What I learned since I stopped worrying and studied the movie: A teaching guide to Stanley Kubrick’s. Dr. Strangelove. PS: Political Science and Politics, 34(3), 663–667.Google Scholar
  34. McNamara, R. (1983). The military role of nuclear weapons: Perceptions and misperceptions. Foreign Affairs, 62(1), 59–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Meyer, P., & Sauer, T. (2018). The nuclear ban treaty: A sign of global impatience. Survival, 60(2), 61–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Minor, E. (2015). Changing the discourse on nuclear weapons: The humanitarian initiative. International Review of the Red Cross, 97(899), 711–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Morgenthau, H. J. (1964). The four paradoxes of nuclear strategy. American Political Science Review, 58(1), 23–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mueller, J. E. (1989). Retreat from doomsday: The obsolescence of major war. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  39. Mueller, J. E. (2010). Atomic obsession: Nuclear alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. National Security Archive. (2006, October 13). The Reykjavik file. George Washington University. Accessed 20 April 2018.
  41. Nitze, P. H. (1976–1977). Deterring our deterrence. Foreign Policy, 25, 195–210.Google Scholar
  42. Obadare, E. (2009). The uses of ridicule: Humour, ‘infrapolitics’ and civil society in Nigeria. African Affairs, 108(431), 241–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Paul, T. V., Morgan, P. M., & Wirtz, J. J. (Eds.). (2009). Complex deterrence: Strategy in the global age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  44. Payne, K. B. (2012, April 9). Nuclear utopianism, the wishful thinking of U.S. arms control. The Weekly Standard. Accessed 25 September 2012.
  45. Payne, R. A. (2019). Grappling with Dr. Strangelove’s ‘wargasm’ fantasy. International Studies Review, viz018.
  46. Perry, W. J. (2011, February 24). Have we reached the nuclear tipping point? Second annual Robert S. McNamara lecture on war and peace. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Institute of Politics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Accessed 10 April 2018.
  47. Powell, T. (2017, February 7). ‘Become a suicide bomber’: Spoof navy posters appear across London in anti-trident campaign. The Standard. Accessed 31 January 2019.
  48. Rapoport, A. (Ed.). (1967). Editor’s introduction. In C. von Clausewitz (Ed.), On war. Baltimore: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  49. Ray, J. L. (1989). The abolition of slavery and the end of international war. International Organization, 43(3), 405–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Reagan, R. (1984, January 25). Address before a joint session of the congress on the State of the Union. Accessed 20 April 2018.
  51. Rhodes, E. (1989). Power and Madness: The logic of nuclear coercion. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Rhodes, R. (2008). Arsenals of folly: The making of the nuclear arms race. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  53. Sauer, T. (2016, April 18). It’s time to outlaw nuclear weapons. National Interest. Accessed 20 April 2018.
  54. Sauer, T., & Pretorius, J. (2014). Nuclear weapons and the humanitarian approach. Global Change, Peace & Security, 26(3), 233–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Schlesinger, J. (2010, August 11). Keynote. 2010 strategic deterrence symposium, United States strategic command. Accessed 25 September 2012.
  56. Senn, M., & Elhardt, C. (2014). Bourdieu and the bomb: Power, language and the doxic battle over the value of nuclear weapons. European Journal of International Relations, 20(2), 316–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Shultz, G., Perry, W., Kissinger, H., & Nunn, S. (2007, January 4). A world free of nuclear weapons. Wall Street Journal, A15.Google Scholar
  58. Shultz, G., Perry, W., Kissinger, H., & Nunn, S. (2008, January 15). Toward a nuclear-free world. Wall Street Journal. Accessed 10 April 2018.
  59. Singer, J. D. (1961). The strategic dilemma: Probability versus disutility: A review of Herman Kahn, ‘on thermonuclear war’. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 5(2), 197–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Skinner, Q. (2008). Political rhetoric and the role of ridicule. In K. Palonen, T. Pulkkinen, & J. M. Rosales (Eds.), The politics of democratization in Europe: Concepts and histories (pp. 137–149). Burlington, VT: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  61. Smith, J. (2018, January 12). Dr. Strangelove in the age of Trump. Balder and Dash, Accessed 13 April 2018.
  62. Statement on nuclear weapons by international generals and admirals. (1996, December 5). Accessed 10 February 2010.
  63. Stillman, G. B. (2008). Two of the maddest scientists: Where Strangelove meets Dr. No; or, unexpected roots for Kubrick’s cold war classic. Film History: An International Journal, 20(4), 487–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Tannenwald, N. (2007). The nuclear taboo: The United States and the non-use of nuclear weapons since 1945. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Trachtenberg, M. (1989). Strategic thought in America, 1952–1966. Political Science Quarterly, 104(2), 301–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Trump, D. J. (2018, January 2). Twitter post. Accessed 18 August 2018.
  67. UPI Archives. (1986, March 28). Thatcher calls nuclear free world ‘pie in the sky’. Accessed 10 April 2018.
  68. Van Laar, J. A. (2008). Confrontation and ridicule. Informal Logic, 28(4), 295–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Waller, J. M. (2006). Ridicule as a weapon. Public diplomacy White Paper, No. 7. Institute of World Politics.Google Scholar
  70. Walt, S. M. (1999). A model disagreement. International Security, 24(2), 115–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Waltz, K. N. (1979). Theory of international politics. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  72. Waltz, K. N. (1990). Nuclear myths and political realities. American Political Science Review, 84(3), 730–745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Zagare, F. C., & Kilgour, D. M. (2000). Perfect deterrence. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations