ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Who's Next?' Nuclear Ambivalence and the Contradictions of Non-Proliferation Policy

This paper argues that the limit of conventional non-proliferation policy analysis is marked by the inability to come to terms with the ambivalence of nuclear power. Ambivalence is often glossed over in the literature as "dual use" technology; the "dual use" formulation misleadingly transfers attention to the operator or manager of technology rather than see it as a structural feature of the technology itself. By contrast, this paper argues that ambivalence is not a choice under the control of good or bad leaders. Regardless of "good" or "bad" technological choices made at different points of time, the ambivalence of nuclear technology does not go away. Two cases are explored to assess the impact of nuclear ambivalence on non-proliferation policy: the declarations by North Korea and India that they are nuclear weapons states. In both cases, this paper shows, international policymakers assumed long before the actual decisions were taken that these countries intended to build nuclear arsenals. The international community took "appropriate" action, namely, a coordinated policy of sanctions and technology denial, based on this unverifiable conclusion. This approach had the unintended consequence of reducing the costs of each country's eventual decision to "go" nuclear.

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‘Who’s Next?’ Nuclear Ambivalence and the Contradictions of Non-Proliferation Policy

Itty Abraham

This paper argues that the limit of conventional non-proliferation policy analysis is marked by the inability to come to terms with the ambivalence of nuclear power. Ambivalence is often glossed over in the literature as “dual use” technology; the “dual use” formulation misleadingly transfers attention to the operator or manager of technology rather than see it as a structural feature of the technology itself. By contrast, this paper argues that ambivalence is not a choice under the control of good or bad leaders. Regardless of “good” or “bad” technological choices made at different points of time, the ambivalence of nuclear technology does not go away. Two cases are explored to assess the impact of nuclear ambivalence on non-proliferation policy: the declarations by North Korea and India that they are nuclear weapons states. In both cases, this paper shows, international policymakers assumed long before the actual decisions were taken that these countries intended to build nuclear arsenals. The international community took “appropriate” action, namely, a coordinated policy of sanctions and technology denial, based on this unverifiable conclusion. This approach had the unintended consequence of reducing the costs of each country’s eventual decision to “go” nuclear.

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