Pour une histoire transnationale des catégories de la pensée nucléaire

Benoît Pelopidas
Thu, 01/01/2015

This paper delineates a transdisciplinary research project tracing the evolution of fundamental categories of strategic thought and their relationship to the presence of nuclear weapons in the world. It tackles the following paradox of international nuclear history : on the one hand, “rupture talk” is widespread and with it several “revolutions” are evoked ; on the other hand, the concepts used by strategists and policymakers to analyse challenges of today and tomorrow have been crafted before those “revolutions”. A historical approach will be attentive to the evolution of the meaning of those categories over time and in context. By doing so, it will either confirm the paradox and specify its limits of validity – if the meaning of those categories remains essentially unchanged – or dissolve it – if their meaning evolves enough to incorporate and make sense of the different above mentioned revolutions. At the same time, this project intends to identify the scope of the conversation about problems related to the presence of nuclear weapons in the world, beyond the boundaries of classical historiography. It a priori refuses and interrogates linguistic, disciplinary and professional boundaries. It equally questions US-centric, bipolar or national narratives of the “nuclear age”. In doing so, it problematizes the authority of current nuclear categories, given that this authority largely derives from their longevity. Either this longevity hides a flexibility in the meaning of the concepts which allowed them to account for successive revolutions – then the realm of validity of the paradox is reduced – or this longevity actually hides a fundamental rigidity in the meaning of those categories, so that the paradox is at its fullest. Either way, the longevity of current categories loses the character of a sufficient reason to grant them the authority of an inescapable frame and vocabulary of the “nuclear age”.

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