Conference Abstracts

Andrew J. Coe

Title: Give Peace a (Second) Chance: A Theory of Nonproliferation Deals

Abstract: We formally analyze the possibilities for a deal to avoid proliferation or conflict between a state that might develop nuclear weapons and another that might use force or diplomacy to stop it. We find that the prospects for a deal are best either when the proliferant’s program is rudimentary, or when it has made enough progress that the observing state believes its fruition is close. The viability of an early deal can be undermined by the anticipation of a later one, as the proliferant might refuse an early deal in favor of securing a better one later. A proliferant might pursue a program as much to secure a better agreement as to actually obtain nuclear weapons, and an observing state’s acceptance of a later deal might undermine rather than reinforce nonproliferation. We test the model’s predictions against the historical record of dealmaking over states’ nuclear programs.

 

Campbell Craig

Title: Choosing MAD: Khrushchev and the Nuclear Revolution, 1953-1960

Abstract: In this paper, along with my colleague Sergey Radchenko, we show that Khrushchev, in the face of substantial internal and external opposition, bought into the logic of the nuclear revolution during the second half of the 1950s, and after two Cold War crises (Quemoy-Matsu, 1958; Berlin Ultimatum, 1958-59) pursued a military policy of basic nuclear deterrence and a foreign policy of Cold War detente. In my remarks at the conference, I will focus on how the Soviet experience speaks to contemporary debates about US policy, and in particular the rise of new nuclear strategies and a discourse of winnable nuclear war.

 

James D. Fearon

Title: The Nuclear Revolution, International Politics, and U.S. Foreign Policy

Abstract: Nuclear weapons have transformed international politics, but not our discipline’s or many policy makers’ conceptual apparatus. “Balance of power” politics is out the window, and US alliances – or the real ones – are no longer about aggregating conventional capabilities but instead are at their core about limiting nuclear proliferation. In this world, if pivoting to Asia means a large reallocation of U.S. military might to Asia to “balance” against a rising China, then it is a misconceived effort that wastes resources and distracts attention from the greater long-run dangers of nuclear or biological terrorism. In the nuclear world, analogies of US/China to Sparta/Athens and fears of major war resulting from a “power transition” are anachronistic. The old drivers of intense military competition among the great powers are gone. Instead, for the foreseeable future the area that poses the largest security threat to the U.S. is the Islamic world, and especially the arc from Egypt to Pakistan. This is where the incentives to develop nuclear and other WMD are strongest, but where state capacity to control these weapons is weakest. It is also where there are social and political revolutions in progress that will take at least a generation and probably more to work through, and that contain very strong anti-western and anti-U.S. strains. Finally, the ultimate drivers of these threats – terrible governance, weak state capacity, and revolutionary ideologies that are in part a response to governance failures – are problems that to date U.S. foreign policy has been singularly unable to do anything about.

 

Matthew Fuhrmann

Title: How Leaders Assess Intentions Under Uncertainty: Leader Background Experiences and Nuclear Diplomacy

Abstract: How do leaders assess the intentions of their counterparts under uncertainty? This study addresses this question by analyzing the development of nuclear programs. The technology needed to build nuclear weapons and produce nuclear energy is indistinguishable. How, then, can leaders identify a nuclear developer’s true intentions? An influential body of literature suggests that costly signals play a key role in shaping states’ beliefs about whether a developer of nuclear technology covets energy or bombs. I argue, however, that leader-centric factors could also play a role in how states assess intentions. In particular, the background experiences of leaders — particularly whether they are former rebels — might influence how they are perceived. Leaders with rebel experience are generally seen as aggressive, revisionist, and unreliable, making states more likely to conclude that their intentions are sinister. I test the observable implications of these arguments for military conflict. The findings indicate that former rebels who develop nuclear capacity are significantly more likely than their non-rebel counterparts to be targeted in military disputes, suggesting that countries form impressions about others’ intentions based on leader backgrounds. Costly signals, on the other hand, do not seem to influence whether states believe that nuclear-capable states covet bombs or energy. These findings carry implications for the role of costly signaling in world politics and for leader-centric approaches to the study of IR.

 

Eliza Gheorghe

Title: Proliferation and the Logic of the Nuclear Marketplace

Abstract: Since the discovery of fission in 1938, 62 countries have sought to use atomic energy: of these, 37 have gone down the proliferation path. Nuclear proliferation has progressed in fits and starts, primarily as a result of the interaction between three types of actors: aspirants (countries that want nuclear weapons), suppliers (exporters of nuclear technology) and thwarters (countries that try to prevent, freeze, or rollback the spread of nuclear weapons). Some periods saw thwarters excelling at slowing down the spread of nuclear weapons, while on other occasions, aspirants had the upper hand. I argue that the differences in the pace of proliferation can be explained by the structure of the nuclear market. Competitive markets advance nuclear proliferation because competition among suppliers gives aspirants leverage in their negotiations for atomic assistance. Aspirants obtain nuclear transfers with more ease by employing the age-old strategy of playing suppliers off against each other. When thwarters apply pressure on suppliers to forge a cartel-like structure, proliferators have a harder time manipulating the market to their advantage. I test these arguments by analyzing nuclear negotiations and transfers throughout history, and I found that proliferation depends on the ability of nuclear aspirants to exploit tensions among suppliers and to circumvent restrictions imposed by thwarters. I also examine the implications for non-proliferation and nuclear export controls policy in the context of a growing interest in nuclear power among developing countries.

 

Brendan Rittenhouse Green (co-author, Austin Long)

Title: Clandestine Capabilities in World Politics

Abstract: International political outcomes are deeply shaped by the balance of power, but some military capabilities rely on secrecy in order to be effective, especially those of some nuclear force postures. These “clandestine capabilities” pose problems for bargaining between states. If clandestine nuclear capabilities are revealed, adversaries may be able to take steps that attenuate the advantages they are supposed to provide. On the other hand, the well-known incentives to misrepresent military strength imply that other states are not likely to take vague references to unknown sources of military power seriously. Though little studied by scholars, clandestine capabilities have for these reasons usually been cataloged as dangerous sources of “private information” that can cause bargaining failure and war. In this article, we outline a conceptual and propositional inventory about the status of clandestine capabilities in world politics, focusing our analysis on nuclear forces. After outlining the importance of clandestine capabilities for policy and theory, we provide a typology of clandestine capabilities, using it to argue that military power is increasingly dependent upon secrecy. We then discuss the conditions under which clandestine nuclear capabilities might provide coercive leverage short of war initiation, and the mechanisms by which they can do so. The resulting propositional inventory is fleshed out with a diverse array of empirical examples, with the hopes that our conjectures will invite rigorous empirical testing.

 

Avery Goldstein

Title: The End of the Beginning: China and the Consolidation of the Nuclear Revolution

Abstract: Following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, some immediately grasped the strategic implications of what would be the most genuine revolution in military affairs in modern times. But it would be several decades before many of the essential features of the nuclear age were more fully understood. The thirty years following Hiroshima can be viewed as a period of strategic learning and discovery. These decades coincided with the period when the significance of new technologies consolidating the nuclear revolution (especially hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles) were also developed and deployed, rendering conventionalized thinking about the possible uses of atomic bombs obsolete. China’s experience as the fifth openly declared nuclear weapon state, played a key role in this learning process. Its nuclear history between 1955 and 1974 provides insights about many now familiar aspects of the nuclear era. I highlight some of the most significant ways in which China’s nuclear history either did, or perhaps should have, been helpful in refining our understanding of the nuclear revolution. I do this by focusing on eight ways that China’s experience either challenged or cast a different light on beliefs about the new nuclear age.

 

Andrew Kydd

Title: The Sturdy Child vs. the Sword of Damocles: Nuclear Weapons and the Expected Cost of War

Abstract: Is the world better off with nuclear weapons or without? Anti-nuclear activists point to the potentially devastating costs of a nuclear war. Deterrence theorists argue that nuclear weapons reduce the likelihood of war and so are beneficial. This debate is inconclusive because it misses an important conceptual point. We should care both about the cost of war and the likelihood of war as they combine to form the expected cost of war which is the product of the two. The anti-nuclear argument is supported if we believe there is a floor on the likelihood of war, and if we are risk averse over casualties from war. The pro-nuclear argument is supported by strategic models that exhibit a declining expected cost of war, and data that show that the expected cost of war is declining over its observed range in the past 200 years.

 

Keir A. Lieber

Title: Conventional War and Nuclear Escalation

Abstract: The theory of the nuclear revolution (TNR) contends that nuclear weapons have transformed international relations: in a world of nuclear-armed states, war and traditional forms of security competition are pointless because nuclear weapons make their possessors fundamentally secure. The danger of even a limited conventional war escalating to a catastrophic nuclear exchange should be enough to dissuade any kind of conflict among nuclear powers. Yet, security competition among nuclear powers has persisted – a fact not lost on the proponents of TNR, who have sought to explain such apparently anomalous behavior as a result of misperception, miscalculation, various domestic decision-making pathologies, or other non-rational factors. This paper explains why certain countries face powerful rational incentives to use nuclear weapons in a conventional war; why expectations of such incentives and preparations for escalation inevitably exacerbate broader military competition; and (thus) why nuclear weapons have not ended the tragedy of international politics.

 

Austin Long (co-author, Brendan Rittenhouse Green)

Title: Clandestine Capabilities in World Politics

Abstract: International political outcomes are deeply shaped by the balance of power, but some military capabilities rely on secrecy in order to be effective, especially those of some nuclear force postures. These “clandestine capabilities” pose problems for bargaining between states. If clandestine nuclear capabilities are revealed, adversaries may be able to take steps that attenuate the advantages they are supposed to provide. On the other hand, the well-known incentives to misrepresent military strength imply that other states are not likely to take vague references to unknown sources of military power seriously. Though little studied by scholars, clandestine capabilities have for these reasons usually been cataloged as dangerous sources of “private information” that can cause bargaining failure and war. In this article, we outline a conceptual and propositional inventory about the status of clandestine capabilities in world politics, focusing our analysis on nuclear forces. After outlining the importance of clandestine capabilities for policy and theory, we provide a typology of clandestine capabilities, using it to argue that military power is increasingly dependent upon secrecy. We then discuss the conditions under which clandestine nuclear capabilities might provide coercive leverage short of war initiation, and the mechanisms by which they can do so. The resulting propositional inventory is fleshed out with a diverse array of empirical examples, with the hopes that our conjectures will invite rigorous empirical testing.

 

Vipin Narang

Title: Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation

Abstract: How do states pursue nuclear weapons? The literature on nuclear proliferation has focused on the question of why states might pursue nuclear weapons, while more recent work examines how efficiently states achieve their nuclear ambitions. Yet the question of how states think about pursuing nuclear weapons, or their strategies of proliferation, has been ignored. In this paper, I explore the broader political strategies of proliferation that states choose in the face of external and internal constraints and opportunities. I identify four broad strategies available to states—hedging, sprinting, sheltered pursuit, and hiding—and develop a theory for which strategies are likely to be chosen at a given time by a given state. I present evidence and codings on the universe of nuclear pursuers suggesting that disaggregating nuclear acquisition strategies is analytically useful. Although a definitive test of the theory is beyond the scope of the paper, I provide evidence—including novel data—from India’s long march to nuclear weapons that establishes the analytical power of the theory.

 

Daryl G. Press

Title: The New Era of Counterforce

Abstract: The foundation of stable nuclear deterrence rests on the survivability of nuclear arsenals. Potential attackers are strongly dissuaded by the threat of devastating retaliation, whereas the prospect of launching successful disarming strikes makes attack more likely. “Counterforce” disarming attacks have long been considered impossible, and deterrence has reigned. But technological changes rooted in the computer revolution have dramatically undermined the survivability of nuclear arsenals around the world. Specifically, the two key strategies of survivability – hardening and concealment – have been undercut by leaps in weapons accuracy and a revolution in remote sensing. This paper presents a variety of models, methods, and evidence to demonstrate the emergence of new possibilities for counterforce disarming strikes. The new era of counterforce challenges the basis for confidence in contemporary deterrence stability, and raises critical issues for national and international security policy.

 

Or Rabinowitz

Title: Alliance and nuclear exports: why Israel never received Nixon’s promised nuclear power plants

Abstract: In the 1970s Israel was on the cusp of what some perceived to be a nuclear power revolution; its first nuclear power plant was expected to go on-line in 1983-1984, followed be the envisioned establishment of up to 20 reactors by 2000. These hopes were fuelled by President Nixon’s June 1974 deceleration regarding his intent to export nuclear power reactors to both Egypt and Israel, in a deal which was internally viewed as a ‘partial NPT’ agreement. Yet Nixon’s initiative never materialized and Israel, Washington’s closest ally in the Middle East, was left ‘high and dry’. Washington consequently chose to abandon the proposed deal in favour of a strengthened nonproliferation exports policy, on Israel’s expense. This paper will explore the proposed deal and the roots and causes of its demise.

 

Scott D. Sagan

Title: Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran

Abstract: Numerous polls demonstrate that U.S. public approval of President Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has declined significantly since 1945, with less that 50% now thinking it was the right thing to do. Polls also suggest that only a small minority of the U.S. public today support using nuclear weapons in any scenario other than if the U.S. is retaliating after suffering a nuclear attack. Many political figures, scholars, and pundits have suggested that this is evidence of the emergence of a “nuclear taboo.” Such polls are misleading, however, because they do not force respondents to contemplate the trade-off the U.S. government believed it faced in 1945: choosing between the use of nuclear weapons and a potentially bloody ground invasion of an adversary’s homeland to end the war. This paper reports the results of an original survey experiment recreating that kind of a trade-off in a hypothetical war with Iran. In order to avoid a ground assault on Tehran that was estimated to kill 20,000 American soldiers, almost 60% of the U.S. public approved of an atomic attack on an Iranian city that would kill 100,000 civilians and similarly numbers approved of an atomic attack that would kill 2,000,000 civilians. In addition, an even larger percentage of Americans preferred a conventional bombing attack that was estimated to kill 100,000 Iranian civilians. Republicans were significantly more likely to support using atomic attacks than were Democrats. A majority of women were supportive of nuclear attacks on an Iranian city, even surpassing male supporters in some cases. One particularly disturbing finding is that the prospect of killing non-combatants appeared to trigger beliefs in retribution and Iranian culpability among respondents, as a way of justifying the decisions. Our findings provide little support for the nuclear taboo thesis and suggest that the publics’ support for the principle of non-combatant immunity is shallow and easily overcome in war.

 

Jayita Sarkar

Title: Neither Coercion nor Persuasion: U.S. Influence on Export Policy Shifts of Nuclear Suppliers

Abstract: Newly available archival evidence indicates that U.S. influence on supplier states’ nuclear export policies has been more constrained than expected. Supplier states — ally or adversary — do not always toe the U.S. line on nonproliferation owing to their own commercial and strategic interests in providing nuclear assistance. So, when does U.S. influence work to change supplier states’ nuclear export policies in favor of nonproliferation? The empirical evidence from French and German nuclear assistance from the 1970s indicates that neither U.S. coercion nor persuasion led to suppliers’ export policy changes but quid pro quo bargains between Washington and the supplier states were most effective. Transactional bargains made to prevent commercial losses to the French and German nuclear industry allowed the United States to secure the cooperation of the two key European suppliers through their participation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. These bargains involved, among others, the relaxation of COCOM regulations to permit French and German nuclear assistance to the Communist bloc. The research findings underline that the United States did not merely use a carrot-and-stick approach towards suppliers but quietly concluded innovative bargains to attain its nonproliferation goals.

 

Caitlin Talmadge

Title: Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States

Abstract: Could a conventional war with the United States inadvertently prompt Chinese nuclear escalation? This paper develops a general framework identifying both the military-technical and perceptual variables that could lead to this type of nuclear escalation, and applies the framework to assess the likelihood of Chinese first use in response to a U.S. conventional campaign to defend Taiwan. The analysis finds that Chinese nuclear escalation under these conditions is plausible, although not inevitable. Notably, the danger stems less from the purely military-technical threat that a U.S. conventional campaign would pose to China’s nuclear arsenal, which is sometimes overstated, than from what China is likely to believe the campaign signals about broader U.S. intentions once a conventional war is underway. Together, these military-technical realities and perceptual dynamics could lead to reasonable Chinese fears that the United States might be attempting conventional counterforce, or considering or preparing for nuclear counterforce. Under these conditions China could see nuclear escalation for purposes of coercion or punishment as a viable response, notwithstanding the country’s no-first-use policy and inability to limit damage by going first. These findings have important ramifications for U.S. policy and military strategy, and illustrate broader dilemmas that the United States may face in conventional wars with other nuclear-armed adversaries.