Three Models for Nuclear Weapons Proliferation: Theory and Practice

In Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb, Sagan discusses the three theoretical models that affect a states’ decision to build a nuclear arsenal. Although the three “theoretical frameworks”/models share common features with the well-known international relations theories (i.e. realism, liberalism, institutionalism), it’s interesting to look at and analyze each of them individually.

  • The Security Model: the concept of balance of power is central. Sagan argues that states use nuclear weapons as a deterrent tool or as a coercive tool to force a change in the status quo. Sagan also suggests that “every time one state develops nuclear weapons to balance against its main rival, it also creates nuclear threat to another state in the region” (p.58) causing a domino effect. Is this always true or only when states feel directly threatened? Why didn’t Ukraine or the post-Soviet Union states develop a nuclear weapons arsenal?
  • The Domestic Model: like liberalism, argues that state behavior is dictated by state preferences, in this case by: 1) state’s nuclear establishment, 2) units in the military, 3) politicians. Nonetheless the author fails to identify under which conditions these three actors come together and produce the desired outcome. How do you think these actors come together? Of these three actors who do you think is more decisive?
  • The Norms Model: stresses the importance of “nuclear symbolism”. According to this model states build nuclear arsenals because “they are part of what modern states believe they have to possess to be legitimate, modern states” (p.74). Do you think the same principle could apply to terrorist groups (i.e. ISIS)?

Final questions: Do you think there could be other reasons affecting a state’s decision to build nuclear weapons? How would the international scenario change if every country had a nuclear arsenal? (Consider the Russian military intervention in Ukraine) — Marco