Probing International Security

Theorising on the Causes of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

October 19, 2013

Despite the degree of uniqueness stemming from its particular specifics, each case of nuclear weapons proliferation also exemplifies one or more of the five main determinants of a state’s decision to acquire nuclear weapons that have been identified in the relevant literature: security, domestic politics, norms, technology and economics. While recognising the complexity of multi-causality, I would argue that a careful analysis of existing cases leads to sufficient explanations about the general causes of proliferation, which can potentially be used to formulate predictions and policy recommendations, even if no one-fit-all theory does or can exist. This post will examine the effect of the first two drivers: security and domestic politics.





Theorising has always proved problematic and highly contentious. The inherently inconclusive nature of human knowledge, the uncertainty associated with inductive reasoning, and the intricacies of causal relations are just a few of the factors which inhibit our ability to generalise credibly and form theories based on our observations of the factual reality around us. The issue of nuclear weapons proliferation could not have escaped the additional troubles pertaining to social sciences, in which the concreteness of physical laws is absent and, hence, causality is exceptionally difficult to establish. Yet, theory is fundamental in our efforts to understand phenomena in a structured and fruitful way, and hence, necessary.


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