The Effectiveness of Nuclear Treaties: The Case of Iran

Jason Poirier Lavoie Essays Leave a Comment

By Pascal Dubois

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Nuclear non-proliferation has been an objective of states since Little Boy and Fat Manlanded on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How effective have non-proliferation treaties been since then in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and avoiding the events marking the end of the Second World War? The conventional wisdom professes that non-proliferation treaties are ineffective in avoiding proliferation. An overwhelming number of scholars believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is simply unavoidable. However, the evidence is that there has been a surprising lack of further state proliferation, and the states which are nuclear today haven’t changed that much over time. In this paper, I will examine and summarize the literature on the topic of nuclear non-proliferation in a first part, going over the conventional wisdom that treaties are ineffective, and presenting evidence from my alternative model. I challenge the conventional wisdom and my argument is that treaties have in fact been effective in preventing proliferation but under specific circumstances. In this context for the alternative model to the conventional wisdom that I present, my dependent variable is “the effectiveness of treaties” which is indicated by successful treaties, there are several independent variables such as: (i) Political agreement prior to signing which is evidenced by support from institutions and states which is given prior to signing; (ii) The breadth and depth of an agreement, indicated by narrow and shallow versus deep and broad agreements; (iii) The negotiating process which can be evidenced by how inclusive or exclusive it is and the level of negotiations (i.e negotiations between ministers or low level officials); (iv) The implementation and monitoring which is supported by domestic politics and the interests of respective states. Furthermore, in a last instance, I will examine the hard case study of Iran’s nuclear development from the 1950’s to the present according to deterrence theory. This is a hard case as it is often used as an example of the failure of non-proliferation actions, as Iran was able to conduct its weapons program clandestinely for a prolonged period of time. Iran also provides evidence that sanctions are an ineffective means of preventing nuclearization as they are overall regarded as failures in deterring Iran from developing a weapons program. Finally, I will offer policy prescriptions as concluding remarks from this research.