Managing nuclear proliferation: Condemn, strike, or assist?
The nonproliferation regime, which denies countries access to critical materials, makes it more likely that defiant proliferators will develop unsafe arsenals. In order to manage proliferation, the U.S. could continue to uphold the regime, hoping to persuade the proliferator to return to non-nuclear status. It could attack, thereby ensuring that the proliferator is unable to join the nuclear club. Or it could concede the nonproliferation goal and render assistance to address the attendant safety concerns. Through a series of deductive models we argue that three factors are important in determining the right option: (1) U.S. preferences on proliferation, whether purist or pragmatist; (2) the proliferator's type, which can vary by size, affinity, and risk tolerance; and (3) the phase in the proliferation process to which the proliferator has advanced: preweaponization, after weaponization but before deployment, the deployment phase, and, finally, full deployment. We analyze the special case of proliferation by a small enemy of the United States such as North Korea as a signaling game wherein each side attempts to push the outcome toward its own preferred equilibrium. The North Koreans prefer the equilibrium in which the United States never attacks regardless of its type, whereas the United States prefers the equilibrium in which North Korea never deploys regardless of its type.
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