Nonproliferation Norms: Why States Choose Nuclear Restraint

By Maria Rost Rublee | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE Exploring Nuclear Restraint

The nuclear nonproliferation regime’s list of high-profile and brazen failures is both long and discouraging. Consider that states that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) flaunt their nuclear programs; witness the 1998 nuclear tit-for-tat between India and Pakistan; and NPT signatories evade or ignore their own commitment not to pursue nuclear weapons acquisition, even after discovery, as in Iran and North Korea. Forcing compliance with NPT requirements takes prolonged international debate, drastic unilateral efforts, concerted multilateral pressure (Iran), or war (Iraq). Generous agreements designed to keep states from pursuing the nuclear option are exploited and then brazenly broken (North Korea). Even the regime’s most powerful supporter will not ratify components important to its success (the U.S. failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). So glaring are the specific failures of the nuclear nonproliferation regime that it is easy to overlook the larger picture of success. When looked at from a bird’s-eye view, the nuclear nonproliferation regime might even be called an overwhelming success: for more than three decades, almost all states in the international system chose to forgo nuclear weapons and, in some cases, even gave them up. Numerous reports in the 1960s warned that the number of new nuclear states could reach as high as twenty in a few decades.1 Instead, the count by 2007 is only four.2

What explains the record of nuclear nonproliferation? Why have so many states abstained from nuclear weapons, while a few continue to pursue them against all odds? For the most part, these questions have not only gone unanswered but also unasked. The policy and academic literatures are filled with examinations of states that have acquired nuclear weapons, or continue to try to—such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, India, and Pakistan. Of all of the states in today’s world, the fact that only four have “gone nuclear” since the introduction of the NPT is a fact pregnant with potential for both theoretical and policy

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