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Karl, "Does nuclear proliferation really matter? A comparative examination of nuclear rivalries in Asia," 1996

USC Dissertation in Security.
August 26, 2009

David Joseph Karl, Ph.D.

Abstract (Summary)
The dissertation addresses the major conceptual and empirical limitations that plague theories about the strategic consequences of nuclear weapons proliferation. It does so, first, by expanding the evidentiary base concerning two conspicuous but little studied nuclear rivalries, the Sino-Soviet and Indo-Pakistani rivalries, and, second, by employing this database to conduct empirical tests of the theories involved in the scholarly debate on proliferation. These theories fall roughly into three competing schools. One school, the "nuclear revolution" perspective, contends that nuclear weapons are powerful deterrents to aggression in virtually every context and thus stabilize international politics by reinforcing the reasons for caution and the incentives for accommodation. In opposition, a "nuclear dangers" school questions the universal efficacy of nuclear deterrence and its capacity to be a stabilizing factor in international politics. A third school, the "nuclear irrelevancy" view, argues that these weapons are irrelevant or indeterminate to the prospects for peace or war, in part because situational variables have a greater impact on the prospects for stability than the presence of nuclear weapons.

The dissertation's findings suggest, on balance, a cautious optimism in terms of the stability of a more proliferated world. The most striking conclusion is how poorly much of the conventional wisdom in the proliferation debate fared in comparison to the contrarian "nuclear revolution" approach. Additionally, the case study findings cast doubt on the "irrelevancy" view that nuclear weapons are extraneous to the propensity for, and prevention of, hostilities between nuclear-armed belligerents. While the findings indicate that the "nuclear revolution" perspective was generally correct in assuming that nuclear weapons place important restraints on interstate conflict behavior, it was entirely mistaken as to where along the spectrum of conflict those restraints took hold, since in the Indo-Pakistani rivalry proliferation seems to have promoted low-level warfare by bringing the "stability-instability paradox" into play. Thus, under certain conditions not recognized by the "nuclear revolution" perspective, there may be a direct relationship between nuclearization of a rivalry and the outbreak of crisis situations.

Advisor: Not listed