Sustaining social license: nuclear weapons and the art of legitimation

Kjolv Egeland
Thu, 01/09/2022

Several observers have in recent years discussed the prospects for advancing arms control and disarmament through determined efforts at delegitimizing nuclear weapons. But surprisingly little attention has been devoted to the question of how nuclear weapons are legitimized in the first place. And while there is widespread agreement that struggles for legitimacy make up a pervasive feature of political life generally and nuclear politics specifically, available typologies of legitimation invariably comprise only a subset of the varied ways in which actors struggle to build or retain a social license to operate. Drawing on scholarship on propaganda, marketing, and legitimacy-seeking, this article offers an investigation of the full range of actions nuclear-armed governments and defence contractors undertake to sustain acceptance for the continued development and deployment of nuclear arms. Four broad categories of legitimation are identified: discursive legitimation, institutional legitimation, behavioural legitimation, and legitimation through information control.

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