Does the Acquisition of Nuclear Weapons Change States’ Behaviour?

Political scientist James Fearon has an interesting blog post on the political science blog, The Monkey Cage. In it, he asks, and then gives an answer to, the question “How do states act after they get nuclear weapons?” The issue, Fearon notes, is gaining increasing attention in the United States, given the alleged quest by Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The issue also resonates in Canada, with Stephen Harper recently affirming his fear of the Iranian regime acquiring nukes. From this CBC interview with Peter Mansbridge, Harper responds in the affirmative to Mansbridge’s characterization of an interview Harper had given a couple of weeks earlier on the issue of Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons:

…in your view, they [Iran’s regime] want nuclear weapons, and they would not be shy about using them.[see the exchange below]

In opposition to views like Harper’s are the views of what Fearon calls “proliferation optimists” such as the well-known realist Kenneth Waltz, who claims that contrary to our repeated expectations about the behaviour of post-nuclear states, the opposite has turned out to be true much more often than not. What does Fearon find empirically? First, he sets up what it is, specifically, that he is measuring:

The following graph shows, for each of the nine states that acquired nuclear capability at some time between 1945 and 2001, their yearly rate of militarized disputes in years when they didn’t have nukes, and the rate for years when they did.

Here is a graph of Fearon’s finding with his summary below:

China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, and the UK all saw declines in their total militarized dispute involvement in the years after they got nuclear weapons.  A number of these are big declines.  USSR/Russia and South Africa have higher rates in their nuclear versus non-nuclear periods, though it should be kept in mind that for the USSR we only have four years in the sample with no nukes, just as the Cold War is starting.


United Nations Security Council Imposes more Sanctions on Iran

In intro to IR, we’ll analyze the role of IGOs, NGOs, and international law in international politics.  Arguably the most important IGO is the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)  Today, the UNSC voted (14-0) to impose tougher sanctions against Iran as a result of that country’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons.  From the New York Times:


UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council on Monday adopted its third resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for its refusal to cease enriching uranium, an activity that the West suspects Iran may be using to create fuel for a nuclear weapon.

 The previous two measures gained the unanimous support of the 15-member panel, but in balloting on Monday Indonesia abstained, saying it “remained to be convinced of the efficacy of adopting additional sanctions at this juncture.” Fourteen countries voted in favor.

The resolution authorizes inspections of cargo to and from Iran that is suspected of carrying prohibited equipment, tightens the monitoring of Iranian financial institutions and extends travel bans and asset freezes against persons and companies involved in the nuclear program.

It adds 13 names to the existing list of 5 individuals and 12 companies subject to travel and asset restrictions. The new names include people with direct responsibility for building fast-spinning centrifuges that enrich uranium ore and a brigadier general engaged in “efforts to get around the sanctions” in the two earlier resolutions.

Notice two things: first, the use of “targeted sanctions.”  Second, the story byline reads “United Nations”, not New York.  I wonder if this is standard practice for stories originating from the United Nations headquarters in New York.  Does anyone know?

NATO–Preemptive Nuclear Strike a Key Option?

We discussed in class today the use of preemptive force to respond to potential security threats and how this was a central component of President Bush’s National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States (2002). Now, according to the Guardian newspaper, it seems that “five of the west’s most senior military officers and strategists” have insisted that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the

west must be ready to resort to a preemptive nuclear attack to try to halt the “imminent” spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Calling for root-and-branch reform of Nato and a new pact drawing the US, Nato and the European Union together in a “grand strategy” to tackle the challenges of an increasingly brutal world, the former armed forces chiefs from the US, Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands insist that a “first strike” nuclear option remains an “indispensable instrument” since there is “simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world”.

The manifesto has been written following discussions with active commanders and policymakers, many of whom are unable or unwilling to publicly air their views. It has been presented to the Pentagon in Washington and to Nato’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, over the past 10 days. The proposals are likely to be discussed at a Nato summit in Bucharest in April.

“The risk of further [nuclear] proliferation is imminent and, with it, the danger that nuclear war fighting, albeit limited in scope, might become possible,” the authors argued in the 150-page blueprint for urgent reform of western military strategy and structures. “The first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Remember that in one of our earlier sessions we wondered aloud if there were any institutionalized norms in international relations and we thought that maybe there was a normative injunction against the use of nuclear weapons. Nina Tannenwald has written about the “nuclear taboo” but suggests that in the aftermath of WWII, officials in the US and Europe thought that nuclear weapons would come to be seen as another type of conventional weapon.

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