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9 - Unipolarity and nuclear weapons

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

G. John Ikenberry
Princeton University, New Jersey
Michael Mastanduno
Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
William C. Wohlforth
Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
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The nuclear–unipolarity puzzle

What are the implications of nuclear weapons for unipolarity? Both unipolarity and nuclear weapons have been subject to extensive analysis. Virtually every treatment of contemporary unipolarity makes reference to nuclear weapons, but virtually no analysis of nuclear weapons considers unipolarity. Exploring the impact of nuclear weapons on unipolarity would seem straightforward enough, but in reality is very complicated because theorists disagree about so many important aspects of both nuclear weapons and unipolarity.

Theorizing about nuclear weapons has been a central part of international theory for more than six decades. While there are still some outliers, theorists of the effects of nuclear weapons on international politics have a near consensus on the central importance of nuclear deterrence. Dispute remains about what is necessary to achieve deterrence, and how prone it is to failure. But the proposition that nuclear weapons deter conflicts by vastly raising the cost of war is both theoretically robust and widely held. According to this view nuclear deterrence has made international politics much more peaceful than in pre-nuclear times. The topic of nuclear weapons and unipolarity therefore can be simplified into a consideration of the relationship between nuclear deterrence and unipolarity.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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