Systemic Conditions and Security Cooperation: Explaining the Persistence of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Regime 1

T. V. Paul
  • Cambridge Review of International Affairs, April 2003, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/0955757032000075753

Explaining the Persistence of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Regime

Why is it important?

This article analyzes systemically the understudied topic of why and how the nuclear non-proliferation regime has remained a sustainable, even expanding entity, despite the unequal status of its members, and the fragility of international regimes as a species. The author argues that the convergence of two sets of distinct interests derived from the systemic roles and preferences of nuclear 'haves' and 'have-nots' has determined the creation and sustenance of the regime. For the nuclear-armed major powers the key factors that facilitate cooperation are the preservation of monopoly rights to possess nuclear weapons and the denial of similar rights to non-major power states. For most non-nuclear states, the regime's norms and principles render an important constraint against nuclear acquisition by their neighbors and a powerful normative restraint against nuclear use by the nuclear weapon states. This unique combination of interests and norms explains why the regime has persisted despite predictions of its demise. The larger theoretical implication is that favorable systemic conditions and system-induced interests have to be present in order for a multilateral security regime to emerge and persist. Conversely, when these favorable systemic conditions change, the regime is likely to weaken or dissipate.

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