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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Policy Paper 08: The Domestic Sources of Nuclear Postures: Influencing Fence-Sitters in the Post-Cold War Era

  • Author(s): Solingen, Etel
  • et al.

This paper derives policy recommendations from a new understanding of countries unwilling to renounce nuclear designs , or “fence-sitters.” These are the few states reluctant to commit themselves fully and effectively to a global or regional nonproliferation regime.

Academic and foreign policy experts and practitioners alike have traditionally explained the behavior of fence-sitters in terms of fundamental problems of physical survival in an anarchic world. While accepting this fundamental premise, I suggest that fence-sitters have a choice of instruments for coping with security problems. Some have maintained ambiguous nuclear policies; others have chosen to commit to nuclear nonproliferation while embarking on a strategy of integration into the global political economy. Domestic politics largely influenced whether fence-sitters chose one path or the other.

The opening section of this paper explores why it is imperative to bring domestic politics more explicitly into the study of nonproliferation. The section following suggests one plausible approach: outlining the relationship between domestic political coalitions and alternative nuclear postures. I then draw out the practical implications of a domestic focus for multilateral efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Such efforts would include designing multilateral economic sanctions and inducements aimed at domestic targets; evaluating the indirect effects on nuclear postures of International Monetary Fund (IMF)-style conditionality arrangements; promoting supportive nonproliferation constituencies through the democratic process; and enrolling credible nonproliferation nongovernmental agencies (NGOs) in this effort. The conclusion places the approach suggested here within a wider context of policies aimed at reversing nuclear proliferation, none of which alone opens the gate to the holy grail of global nuclear disarmament.

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