For the next 30 to 70 years, nuclear weapons states plan to continue to rely on nuclear weapons for national and international security while nonetheless facing crises such as the one involving Russian nuclear threats in the context of the war in Ukraine.
Based on his recent book Rethinking Nuclear Weapons Choices (published in French), Benoît Pelopidas interrogates the legitimacy of nuclear strategies and their public justifications while clarifying coherent alternatives to proliferation.
To do so, he first interrogates four claims which commonly make the continuation of existing nuclear weapons policies a priori good:
horizontal proliferation has been a fundamental trend since at least the end of the Cold War;
perfect control over nuclear weapons over the last 77 years explains the absence of unwanted nuclear explosions;
existing policies have been supported by public opinion, at least in the UK and France; and
a debate on possible nuclear weapons policies is actually happening among experts. Drawing on French, British, and American archives, as well as interviews in many countries and an unprecedented opinion poll in Europe, Benoît Pelopidas disproves the validity of these four claims.
He then presents proliferation as part of the problem, mapping vulnerabilities, exposing the limits of existing knowledge, and proposing tools to avoid the traps of overconfidence in discourses of power. Finally, he sheds light on the wagers that underline different possible policies and documents the role that chance has played in avoiding unintentional nuclear explosions.
In shifting away from horizontal proliferation and disarmament as key to nuclear deterrence and deep nuclear reductions, he instead underscores vulnerabilities, luck, fear, and fortuitous disobedience in thinking about nuclear policies, as well as the value choices and imagined futures that underpin them.
Benoît Pelopidas is an Associate Professor and the founding director of the Nuclear Knowledges program at the Center for International Studies, Sciences Po Paris.
Nuclear Knowledges is the first scholarly research program in France on the nuclear phenomenon which refuses funding from stakeholders of the nuclear weapons enterprise as well as from anti-nuclear activists in order to problematize conflicts of interest and their effects on knowledge production. The program mobilizes interdisciplinary methods to critically assess accepted claims about nuclear realities. Benoît is an affiliate to CISAC at Stanford University and has been a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. He is the Principal Investigator of the project NUCLEAR funded by the European Research Council.
Gregoire Mallard, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology and Director of Research, Geneva Graduate Institute
Marc Finaud, Senior Advisor and Associate Fellow, Global Fellowship Initiative, Geneva Centre for Security Policy