On SAGE Insight: Social Scientific Analysis of Nuclear Weapons

Article title: Social Scientific Analysis of Nuclear Weapons: Past Scholarly Successes, Contemporary Challenges, and Future Research Opportunities

From Journal of Conflict Resolution

Although the world is fortunate that there are only a handful of nuclear-armed states, this small sample imposes problems that plague social scientific research. Why study a topic that is resistant to the best available analytical tools? While recognizing these challenges, authors remain enthusiastic about opportunities for scholarship concerning nuclear weapons issues. There remain ample opportunities to conduct innovative scholarship on questions of nuclear security. New nuclear challenges bring fresh opportunities for the next generation of research on topics including limited nuclear war; nuclear nonproliferation diplomacy; emerging technology, weapons proliferation and strategic stability; nuclear modernization and arms races; and many other issues.  In this paper authors examine identified limits on the growth of research in this field, next, they consider pressing nuclear security challenges facing the international community and foreign policy makers. Third, they discuss a possible future research agenda for sophisticated social science research to help address emerging policy challenges. Finally, the article offers a brief conclusion and charge to future research. Current security challenges provide a new set of important theoretical and empirical questions to which the next generation of scholars can apply increasingly sophisticated social scientific tools. Issues surrounding North Korean and possible future Iranian proliferation, for example, raise a range of questions about nuclear nonproliferation diplomacy.

Abstract                                                                                                                                

Scholars interested in researching nuclear security are increasingly expressing the fear that the “important questions” have already been answered. At the same time, recent studies highlight the potential for major limitations on the ability to conduct casual inference on nuclear proliferation in particular, suggesting perhaps that we know much less than was previously believed. Although recognizing these challenges, this article argues that there remain ample opportunities to conduct innovative scholarship on questions of nuclear security. New nuclear challenges bring fresh opportunities for the next generation of research on topics including limited nuclear war; nuclear nonproliferation diplomacy; emerging technology, weapons proliferation and strategic stability; nuclear modernization and arms races; and many other issues. More precise theory, new data, and improved methods of inference also allow researchers to revisit and possibly resolve persistent debates. Although the problems confronting research on nuclear security are serious, they can be addressed. In sum, the questions in this field are so consequential that they deserve the best available analytical attention, even if the resulting answers are not perfect.

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Article details
Social Scientific Analysis of Nuclear Weapons: Past Scholarly Successes, Contemporary Challenges, and Future Research Opportunities
Erik Gartzke, Matthew Kroenig
First Published August 22, 2017
DOI: 10.1177/0022002717721389
From Journal of Conflict Resolution

     
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