Nuclear opportunism: A theory of how states use nuclear weapons in international politics

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How do states use nuclear weapons to achieve their goals in international politics? Nuclear weapons can influence state decisions about a range of strategic choices relating to military aggression, the scope of foreign policy objectives, and relations with allies. The article offers a theory to explain why emerging nuclear powers use nuclear weapons to facilitate different foreign policies: becoming more or less aggressive; providing additional support to allies or proxies, seeking independence from allies; or expanding the state’s goals in international politics. I argue that a state’s choices depend on the presence of severe territorial threats or an ongoing war, the presence of allies that provide for the state’s security, and whether the state is increasing in relative power. The conclusion discusses implications of the argument for our understanding of nuclear weapons and the history of proliferation, and nonproliferation policy today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-28
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Strategic Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2019



  • Nuclear weapons
  • foreign policy
  • nuclear revolution

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