Re-imagining global nuclear ordering beyond proliferation and deterrence

Publication Categories: 

This article analyzes nuclear weapons related scholarship as a subset of security studies

particularly prone to self-censorship, even in the post-Cold War era. It argues that self-
censorship effects come from the joint use of the notions of deterrence and non-proliferation

and the invocation of an expected veto player. The effects of the words 'proliferation' and

'deterrence' and the assumption that a supposedly important player in nuclear policy will veto

proposals for change, create avenues for self-censorship and delegitimize transformative

thinking. This is because the utterances including 'proliferation' and 'deterrence' do double

work: they want, simultaneously, to describe the world as it is and to have an impact on it.

This tension shapes a space in which transformative thinking appears to be either incompetent

or dangerous. Furthermore, the invoked existence of an important player inexorably reluctant

to change makes critical thinking look futile: it prevents some actors inclined to accept change

in principle from actually modifying their practice. To show how these delegitimizing

mechanisms and the self-censorship effect operate, the article analyzes the op-ed piece of

Harold Brown and John Deutsch rejecting the policy shift towards nuclear disarmament, on

the one hand, and more briefly those of George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and

Sam Nunn advocating it, on the other. Finally, it provides a strategy to create space for

transformative thinking about nuclear weapons in security studies.


Benoit Pelopidas

Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Bristol, Affiliate of CISAC, Stanford University andvisiting fellow at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies for 2015-2016.