Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation: How States Learned to Love Getting the Bomb

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Ohio State University. Mershon Center for International Security Studies

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How do states pursue nuclear weapons? The literature on nuclear proliferation has focused on the question of why states might pursue nuclear weapons, while more recent work examines how efficiently states achieve their nuclear ambitions. Yet the question of how states think about pursuing nuclear weapons, or their strategies of proliferation, has been ignored. This paper explores the strategies of proliferation available to states — hedging, sprinting, sheltered pursuit, and hiding — and develops a theory for which strategies are likely to be chosen at a given time by a given state. I present evidence and codings on the universe of nuclear pursuers suggesting that disaggregating nuclear acquisition strategies is analytically useful. Although a definitive test of the theory is beyond the scope of this paper, I provide evidence from the Indian case that establishes the plausibility of the theory. I conclude with implications for nonproliferation objectives and policies, suggesting why different strategies of proliferation matters to international security.


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nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation