The Strategic Logic of Nuclear Proliferation

Nuno P. Monteiro, Alexandre Debs
Content Type
Journal Article
International Security
Issue Number
Publication Date
Fall 2014
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
What causes nuclear proliferation? What role do security threats play in driving states to acquire nuclear weapons? Intuitively, security is the most important factor driving nuclear acquisition. Yet existing security theories of proliferation, while accounting for why some states with grave security concerns have developed nuclear weapons, are unable to explain why others have not. Today only nine states have the bomb, a number much lower than the pessimistic predictions made by early security-based arguments on the causes of proliferation. Clearly, the view that "security is the only necessary and sufficient cause of nuclear proliferation" is not borne out by the history of the nuclear age. This limitation of existing security theories has exposed them to criticism on several fronts. Initially, a burgeoning scholarship emerged focusing on the nonsecurity "sources of the political demand for nuclear weapons." More recently, "supply-side" arguments on proliferation view states' demand for nuclear weapons (for security or other reasons) as largely irrelevant, claiming instead that the odds of nuclear acquisition depend on the availability of international nuclear assistance.
Political Geography
United States