Jeffrey R. Fields, ed. State Behavior and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014. 256 pp. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8203-4729-5.
Reviewed by Sunil Dasgupta (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
Published on H-Diplo (May, 2015)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)
Scholars and policymakers have devoted considerable ink to the question of why some states want nuclear weapons—which can be described as the demand problem—but have spent less time studying the supply problem, or why states committed to the objectives of nuclear nonproliferation nevertheless undermine the regime.
Those not familiar with the nonproliferation literature might be surprised, for example, to find that France and West Germany have been two of the biggest supply-side violators. Both countries changed their tune after the Cold War, but why they did it in the past continues to be puzzling and should inform future efforts to prevent such actions. This enduring puzzle of supply animates State Behavior and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime, a volume edited by Jeffrey R. Fields, with contributions from authors belonging to all the major schools of thought in international relations.
The book sets out by explaining that the nuclear nonproliferation regime is often conflated with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on which the regime is anchored. In reality, the regime is a larger set of agreements, rules, and protocols that have been developed in the face of new proliferation challenges. The latest of these rules—the Additional Protocol (AP), which was adopted to deal with states wanting to cheat—has been rejected by some states that had signed the NPT and previous efforts to strengthen the regime. The AP allows the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect any location in a member country at short notice.
Not surprisingly, the AP has been received with less enthusiasm by a number of countries. As Andrew Grotto, an arms control expert at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, is quoted in the book to frame the argument: “NPT [The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968] parties are under no legal obligation to support measures intended to bolster basic (nonproliferation) norms such as the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, modern export controls, economic sanctions against norm violators, and constraints on fuel-cycle activities” (p. 5). The NPT is clearly not a self-reinforcing regime in the same way as the international economic system, where defection has significant costs and no state can ensure long-term economic growth by staying out of the regime.
The realists and rational-choice authors in Fields’s volume highlight the transactional nature of the regime and offer incentives that can win over states reluctant to do more. For example, Jim Walsh in chapter 9 argues that the Western states need to make side payments to win over states in the Middle East to secure their compliance with the Additional Protocol. Walsh wrote this chapter before the Iran deal was agreed in April 2015, but the lifting of economic sanctions is clearly a side payment offered in return for Tehran agreeing to among other things the Additional Protocol.
In an early chapter in the book, Jason Enia emphasizes this importance of incentives more generally using collective action theory. Enia argues that states presented with options to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime weigh private and public benefits and maximize utility. If the private gains could be expanded, states would be more willing to jump on board.
In the chapter on Russia’s nuclear policy toward Iran, Robert J. Reardon argues that Moscow is similarly rational. Reardon says that the Russian government carefully evaluates its potential gains of preventing Iranian proliferation against other strategic, economic, and domestic interests. His reprising of Russia’s cost-benefit calculations suggests that the United States address Russia’s central strategic concerns in designing any side payments for Moscow.
Following Reardon’s findings, it seems as though the West was not offering the Russians the right incentives at the time the Fields volume was published. Since then, however, the United States gave up the search for side payments that would be acceptable to Russians, and instead pursued side payments that would be acceptable to Iranians. The economic sanctions against Iran, which gave competitive advantage to the Russian energy industry, are set to be lifted. The very thing for which the United States sought Russian assistance is now likely to undermine Russia’s economic progress. Now embroiled in Ukraine and distrusted in Europe, Russia may have come out the worse. Reardon believes that Russia acted in its long-term interests, but, if the Iran deal succeeds, Moscow miscalculated.
If a regime is purely transactional, as these authors suggest, then what is the point of having one? Regimes are less meaningful if all they do is reflect the extant distribution of power and interests. Bilateral negotiations can achieve the same goals. Regimes are supposed to change the very incentive structure of the actors. In the classic example of the iterated prisoner’s dilemma game, Robert Axelrod showed that cooperation emerges from within the regime, without the application of outside influence. This view of regimes as self-reinforcing is what makes them truly powerful and an independent analytical category.
The more liberal and constructivist authors in the volume see the nuclear nonproliferation regime in these grander terms—that is, as having a life of its own. Nina Srinivasan Rathbun, for example, examines the impact of US nuclear policy on the proliferation behavior of other states. As the leading country in the world, the United States has helped establish and defend the legitimacy of the regime. Rathbun writes, however, that Washington has not always acted to preserve this legitimacy. Thus, for example, the George W. Bush administration’s decision to create an exception for India with the 2005 nuclear deal brought in its wake Russian and Chinese reluctance to enforce the rules. The Obama administration continued with the India exception, but a return to a position of universalism and renewed focus on US nuclear disarmament nevertheless reinvigorated the regime.
Maria Rost Rublee’s chapter goes further to argue that the efficacy of the nuclear nonproliferation regime depends on how countries view the threats stemming from proliferation and even from the consequences of nonproliferation. Japan, for example, feels security and normative compulsion to support nonproliferation objectives, but Brazil, which does not face any proliferation threat and instead views nonproliferation as a tool of American bullying, wants to weaken the regime.
Norms and security interests interact over time to produce attitudes that vary across the members of the regime. In Mexico and Brazil, civil-military relations have shaped threat perceptions. Arturo C. Sotomayor argues that institutional civil-military relations in Brazil remain weak even in an era of civilian supremacy over the armed forces. The decision to continue developing a nuclear submarine, for example, was the result of the civilian leaders buying out the navy. In Mexico, too, civil-military relations are under attack, and greater military input in government policy may come at the cost of Mexico’s traditional leadership of nuclear nonproliferation in the Western hemisphere. Rublee believes that elite attitudes on threat perceptions can be changed with regime leaders such as the United States doing a better job of fair and universal application of the rules, which is an argument for internal regime coherence improving compliance.
The clearest path to a fair and universal nonproliferation surely lies in the Nuclear 5—the countries enshrined in the regime as legitimate possessors of the bomb—keeping their part of the NPT bargain by ridding themselves of the most destructive weapon in human history. Deepti Choubey’s chapter in the book reports her findings from interviews with policymakers from the Non-Aligned Movement, who overwhelmingly point to the lack of Nuclear 5 disarmament as a reason for their reluctance to support more measures against non-nuclear weapon states.
The linkage between nuclear disarmament and regime compliance is one of the most compelling chapters in the book. Jeffery W. Knopf examines the different versions of the linkage argument beyond the normative and legitimacy-centered arguments by Rathbun and Rublee. Some of these arguments expect negative linkage, where nuclear disarmament by the Nuclear 5 could lead some states to pursue their own bomb programs if past protection became unavailable. Therefore, Knopf argues that the linkage need not be linear or direct; certainly, any expectation of one-on-one progress in nonproliferation and disarmament is misguided, since the continued existence of even a handful of nuclear weapons maintains their currency of power.
The book’s wide-ranging exploration is interesting, but ultimately leaves the reader without a clear idea of what needs to be done. First, the empirical evidence in the book points to the effectiveness of side payments in pushing forward nonproliferation goals, but the final conclusion of the volume editor suggests a level of complexity that cannot be easily understood, let alone reconciled.
Second, building regime coherence can impose significant costs on nuclear weapon states in terms of increased vulnerability to security risks, including proliferation in the hands of states currently protected by the American nuclear umbrella. Nuclear weapon states will also lose freedom of action similar to the loss of efficacy in monetary policy faced by the United States when it offered up the US dollar as the international reserve currency. There is little appetite for such dramatic moves among political leaders, and the book does not address this issue.
Third, the end of the Cold War presented the best opportunity for total disarmament, but now, more than two decades later, Russian recalcitrance and Chinese military modernization have increased the perceived risks of going down that dramatic path. Because the Fields volume offers no practical solutions for these issues—and perhaps there are none—the book leaves readers with little satisfaction.
. Andrew Grotto, “Why Do States that Oppose Nuclear Proliferation Resist New Nonproliferation Obligations? Three Logics of Nonproliferation Decision-Making,” Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law 18, no. 1 (2010): 1-43.
[2.] Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984).
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Sunil Dasgupta. Review of Fields, Jeffrey R., ed., State Behavior and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime.
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