Journal of International and Global Studies


We apply the “security-hierarchy paradox” to nuclear proliferation. Global security requires a certain amount of hierarchy. A world in which no nuclear proliferation rules exist to constrain states, for example, would not be secure. Global security requires legitimate and authoritative rules, which we define as rules that are mutually negotiated, binding to all and which provide a stable social order. Too much hierarchy, however, amounts to coercion and undermines global security. Rules that are not mutually negotiated, binding to all or do not provide a stable social order are not authoritative. We argue that North Korea and Iran have attempted to build nuclear weapons because they interpret the proliferation rules to lack authority. The coercive U.S. approaches to enforcing proliferation rules – including diplomatic isolation, preemption, and regime change – have undermined the legitimacy of those rules. When the U.S. pursues less hierarchical policies, as it has recently toward North Korea, the ensuing negotiations have facilitated progress toward an agreement. When the U.S. pursues a consistently hierarchical approach, as it has toward Iran, no progress is made. Our analysis suggests that it is worth attempting a less hierarchical approach toward Iran and encourage it to accept a deal similar to the one negotiated with North Korea.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.