Re-imagining global nuclear ordering beyond proliferation and deterrence

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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 and visiting fellow at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies for 2015-2016.