Bounding Nuclear Exceptionalism (BNE)

A propos

The demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019 has rendered it impossible for Europeans to know whether the missiles that may fly over their territories carry a nuclear payload or not. This development has brought the question of the entanglement between the nuclear and the non-nuclear world to the forefront of international security. Existing scholarship, however, has operated under an assumption of nuclear exceptionalism, treating nuclear weapons as special and different. In response, nuclear and conventional scholars have each crafted their own fields of study, with their own theories and without much interaction between them. The assumption of nuclear exceptionalism has thus blinded scholars to the question of entanglement. In BNE, I will offer a diagnostic of the problem and formulate proposals to move scholarship beyond this blind spot. To that end, I ask the following question: How do the practices of nuclear exceptionalism shape nuclear weapons policy options? To address it, I first identify scholarly practices of nuclear exceptionalism.

I then examine the effects of the assumption of nuclear exceptionalism on international policy through two novel case studies: (1) the development of tactical nuclear weapons in the United States and France in the 1980s and (2) the successes and limits of disarmament movements as 
compared to other large social movements from the 1980s to the present. Lastly, I propose avenues for re-embedding nuclear scholarship within the broader study of international politics. By bridging the gap between the nuclear and non-nuclear realm, this project allows us to understand how and why countries make certain choices in constructing their military arsenals and reflect upon ways to disrupt the new arms race. Beyond producing the first-ever systemic analysis of nuclear exceptionalism, I aim to publish academic articles on each of the case studies and translate my findings to a broader audience through public engagement.


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