Analysing Nuclear Weapons Acquirement and Counterproliferation

Nuclear weapons are tools of great destruction and can obliterate a state’s infrastructure and kill millions of its citizens. Because so much is at stake, it is of great importance to examine why a state chooses to develop or buy nuclear weapons and how that affects counter-proliferation. Sagan’s state models for the reasoning behind the acquirement of nuclear weapons explains the first question adequately but in regards to counter-proliferation, it downplays the importance of weaker nuclear states.[1] A country with a strong nuclear weapons program is still beholden to the demands of a weaker hostile nuclear state, precisely because nuclear weapons are so destructive.[2] Sagan’s models can be used as tools to examine the most successful solutions for a strong state’s counter-proliferation strategies towards weaker states.[3] Although Sagan’s models do have drawbacks, I argue that the most successful strategy for counter-proliferation follows Sagan’s “norms model”.[4] The ideal solution for counter-proliferation therefore would be for stronger nuclear states to negotiate with weaker ones rather than direct disarmament. [5]

Sagan grouped nuclear weapons acquirement into three categories, “the security model”, “the domestic politics model”, and “the norms model”.[6] In each of Sagan’s models, the motivations for acquiring nuclear weapons was dependent on what values the state placed most importance on and which sectors of the state had control over the decision to obtain nuclear weapons.[7]  In “the security model”, the state’s military and security sector play a key role in obtaining nuclear weapons to defend the state from hostile states or other external enemies.[8] Following this type of model, a strong state’s solution for counter-proliferation would be to use military force or intelligence to disarm a weaker state. However, there are issues with this method. Glaser and Fetter described a scenario in which a weak state might overestimate its nuclear capacity and attack with its nuclear arsenal when threatened by a stronger state.[9] An attack with even a small number of nuclear weapons could be devastating and a stronger state may be pressured to follow the demands of a weaker state regardless of its military strength.[10] Glaser and Fetter also argued that even if a stronger state like the United States took the initiative and destroyed a hostile state’s nuclear facilities, the weaker state might have hidden nuclear weapons and strike back with all of its the nuclear force.[11] An additional issue with counter-proliferation efforts is that the use of intelligence to rid a state of nuclear weapons is not a guaranteed strategy as information could be outdated or not accurate.[12]

In “the domestic model”, the perceptions of the state’s citizens and the state of domestic affairs is a prime motivator for obtaining nuclear weapons.[13] In a non-democracy, the model might be led by a state’s top officials or those within other state government positions but in both types of political systems, efforts are led by the state’s politicians and state bureaucrats with various degrees of power.[14] Counter-proliferation efforts by strong states using this model would either be the use of negotiations or the carrot and the stick approach: financial rewards or sanctions.[15] Strong states can give financial incentives to weak states to dismantle their nuclear weapons programs or conversely, cut funding to stifle the growth of such programs.[16] In theory, it could lead to a weakening of military-led governments and a transition to a more democratic and transparent forms of government, which could have less incentive to create nuclear weapons.[17] Sanctions however could lead to a backlash in hostile weak states as state actors would not want to appear weak to their state’s citizens, its allies, and its enemies, leading to the further proliferation of nuclear weapons.[18] States that face sanctions for their nuclear programs could also continue nuclear development by working together with other penalized states in “proliferation rings”.[19]

Finally, in “the norms model”, the state and all its sectors as a whole use nuclear weapons as a display for the state’s progress and power, to both domestic and foreign audiences.[20] This model could also be applied by stronger nuclear states to “model” responsible behaviour to weak states.[21] Glaser and Fetter’s argument was that strong states can only prevent proliferation if they led by example and reduced the number of their own nuclear weapons.[22]  Sagan’s “negative security assurances” are made by strong nuclear states in order to take a pacifist stance with weaker states and reassure them that they will not act hostile.[23] Such assurances could lead to state collaboration and in theory, create more stability. The “Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty” was one such example of multi-state collaboration.[24] If strong states followed the NPT and other agreements, then those agreements could become more viable and weaker states would be more likely to follow their nuclear guidelines.[25] However Sagan countered this argument in that assurances would not be enough deterrence as conflicts between states arise.[26] Likewise in Braun and Chyba’s argument of “latent proliferation”, states may pretend to follow agreements such as the NPT, with no intentions to shut down their nuclear weapon programs.[27]

While it may not be ideal, I do think that Sagan’s “norms model” is the best model to apply to counter-proliferation, particularly in hostile weak states.[28] Unlike military force and intelligence, the risks are low and information is more transparent in the form of legal documents.[29] The “norms model” encourages cooperation between states and fosters trust and egalitarianism, unlike “the domestic model” which treats weaker states like vassals to stronger states.[30] In the “norms model”, stronger states would have a greater responsibility to police themselves rather than other states, creating a sense of shared accountability and an example to emulate.[31] Weaker states in turn would feel respected and therefore would be more likely to join non-proliferation efforts. The long-term consequences of such a model would be changing attitudes and behaviours of all states with nuclear weapons, regardless of their nuclear capability, towards policies that reduce or eliminate nuclear weapons. Although it may not have immediate results, a model that encourages more peaceful and egalitarian means of counter-proliferation will have more long-term success and therefore, will result in a more secure world.[32]


Bibliography

  1. Braun, Chaim, and Christopher F. Chyba. “Proliferation Rings: New Challenges to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime.” International Security 29, no. 2 (2004): 5-49. Accessed February 23, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4137585.
  2. Glaser, Charles L., and Steve Fetter. “Counterforce Revisited: Assessing the Nuclear Posture Review’s New Missions.” International Security 30, no. 2 (2005): 84-126. Accessed February 23, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4137596.
  3. Sagan, Scott D. “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb.” International Security 21, no. 3 (1996): 54-86. doi:10.2307/2539273. Accessed February 23, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2539273.

 

[1] Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, (International Security 21, no. 3, 1996), 55, 63-64.

[2] Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Counterforce Revisited: Assessing the Nuclear Posture Review’s New Missions”, (International Security 30, no. 2, 2005), 103-104.

[3] Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, (International Security 21, no. 3, 1996), 55, 63-64.

[4]Ibid., 55, 73.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 55, 63-64.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Counterforce Revisited: Assessing the Nuclear Posture Review’s New Missions”, (International Security 30, no. 2, 2005), 103.

[10] Ibid., 103-104.

[11] Ibid., 106.

[12] Ibid., 91.

[13] Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, (International Security 21, no. 3, 1996), 55, 63-64.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 71.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 72.

[18] Ibid., 62.

[19] Chaim Braun and Christopher F. Chyba, “Proliferation Rings: New Challenges to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime”, (International Security 29, no. 2, 2004), 5-6.

[20] Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, (International Security 21, no. 3, 1996), 55, 63-64.

[21] Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Counterforce Revisited: Assessing the Nuclear Posture Review’s New Missions”, (International Security 30, no. 2, 2005), 116.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, (International Security 21, no. 3, 1996), 62.

[24] Chaim Braun and Christopher F. Chyba, “Proliferation Rings: New Challenges to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime”, (International Security 29, no. 2, 2004), 5.

[25] Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Counterforce Revisited: Assessing the Nuclear Posture Review’s New Missions”, (International Security 30, no. 2, 2005), 116.

[26] Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, (International Security 21, no. 3, 1996), 62.

[27] Chaim Braun and Christopher F. Chyba, “Proliferation Rings: New Challenges to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime”, (International Security 29, no. 2, 2004), 5.

[28] Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, (International Security 21, no. 3, 1996), 55, 73.

[29] Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Counterforce Revisited: Assessing the Nuclear Posture Review’s New Missions”, (International Security 30, no. 2, 2005), 103-104.

[30] Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, (International Security 21, no. 3, 1996), 71-72.

[31] Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Counterforce Revisited: Assessing the Nuclear Posture Review’s New Missions”, (International Security 30, no. 2, 2005), 116.

[32] Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, (International Security 21, no. 3, 1996), 55, 73.

 

 

 

 

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