Rethinking nuclear choices, a manifesto.

Illustration abstraite

Nuclear weapons choices commit populations and societies for decades and can wipe them out in matters of minutes. How is the scope of available nuclear weapons choices decided? Direct experience cannot be the answer as no one can rely on personal experience of nuclear war. Most decision-makers no longer even have the experience of the effects of such weapons either given that North Korea has been the only country testing nuclear weapons since 1998. The populations’ wishes do not qualify either, since they are very rarely consulted and only few studies on those attitudes exist. Therefore this programme offers the first in depth global investigation of the grounds on which the scope of publicly acceptable nuclear choices have been based since the end of nuclear testing. To do so, it investigates four ways in which nuclear weapons choices are bounded:

1) the intellectual categories we depend on to think about those issues;

2) the governance of nuclear knowledge by nuclear-weapons related institutions;

3) specific readings of the past identifying events or trends from which lessons are expected to be learned about the scope of the possible, and

4) the imaginary of possible futures as opposed to the ones deemed utopian.

Combining archival research and interviews worldwide, large-scale polling and discourse analysis of policy officials and strategists over several decades, it assesses the blinding power of categories created several decades ago and sometimes still deemed as irreplaceable lexicon of the nuclear age as well as the way in which nuclear weapons programs modify the governance of knowledge. Based on those findings, it offers a renewed notion of responsibility in the nuclear age built on full awareness of nuclear vulnerabilities in their epistemic and political dimensions, and not only the material ones.   


"The Courtroom of World Opinion": Bringing the International Audience into Nuclear Crises


Dans le cadre du séminaire de Nuclear Knowledges - Chaire d’excellence en études de sécurité.

"The Courtroom of World Opinion": Bringing the International Audience into Nuclear Crises

Debak Das, PhD candidate, Cornell University

What role does the international audience play in moderating nuclear crises? Scholars of nuclear crises and deterrence have treated nuclear crises as dyadic interactions between two sides. However, states do not only interact with each other during a nuclear crisis. They also signal to a third actor – the international audience. Two related reasons explain this. First, states care about their international reputation and want to be perceived as a ‘good community member’. Second, there are material benefits to states maintaining a good reputation with the international audience, which possesses the leverage to condemn and sanction. States thus attempt to leverage this power of the international audience to apply diplomatic pressure on their adversary during nuclear crises. They also engage in costly signaling and strategic restraint to ensure that the international audience considers its actions legitimate during the crisis. Empirical evidence from the Kargil war (the only instance of a war fought between two nuclear states), the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1969 Ussuri Crisis between the Soviet Union and China support this conclusion. Incorporating the international audience as a critical third actor during nuclear crises has important academic and policy implications for the study of nuclear crises and their management.

Benoît Pelopidas, Sciences Po-CERI, Nuclear Knowledges
Thomas Lindemann, Université de Versailles St-Quentin-en-Yvelines et Ecole Polytechnique

Les présentations seront données en anglais, cependant les questions en français seront également les bienvenues.

Responsable scientifique : Benoît Pelopidas, Sciences Po-CERI.
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