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International Relations Arms Races
by
David Atkinson

Introduction

Arms races are an abiding feature of international relations. Despite the subject’s apparent straightforwardness, however, the scholarship has yet to produce one universally accepted definition. At the most basic level, scholars agree that an arms race is an intense armaments competition between two or more rival states, which can manifest itself either qualitatively (technological advancements) or quantitatively (numerical superiority), and which may or may not result in war. There are also unresolved debates concerning the relative influence of domestic or international factors, and disagreement over whether arms races constitute an effective deterrent or actually instigate interstate violence. In the broadest sense, arms race scholars generally investigate how, why, and under what circumstances arms races develop, and with what consequences. Much of the scholarship further investigates how arms races can be precluded, managed, measured, and resolved. The subject is resolutely interdisciplinary, and this is both its strength and its weakness. Researchers from international relations, political science, economics, history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and international law have all contributed to a vibrant and often profitable debate. Too often, however, scholars do not cross interdisciplinary boundaries to engage with one another. The scale, scope, and complexity of the literature will therefore excite some new researchers, and frustrate and bewilder others. Its quantitative and empirical orientation will also inhibit uninitiated undergraduate and graduate students.

General Overviews

The study of arms races can be a complicated and abstruse topic, especially for nonexperts, but a number of general overviews provide insights that will benefit both the novice and the specialist. Hammond 1993 is the most accessible, thorough, and broad introductory survey. It is ideally suited for undergraduate and graduate students. Glaser 2000 provides another extremely useful overview of the subject and suggests topics for future research. Downs 1991 and Buzan and Herring 1998 will prove equally comprehensible to new researchers, as they simplify complicated ideas and offer insightful critiques of the literature from which all scholars will profit. Huntington 1958 is essential reading for all students of arms races, and its straightforward style is particularly appealing. Jervis 1976 is another classic study with significant findings for arms-race theorists. It provides an especially eloquent analysis of deterrence and spiral theory. Bull 1987 is a collection of the author’s most influential and important essays on the subject and will also help to orient new researchers. Finally, Isard 1988 is a must-read for quantitative scholars in the peace-science and conflict-resolution field, although it is not for the inexperienced researcher.

  • Bull, Hedley. Hedley Bull on Arms Control. Edited by Robert O’Neill and David N. Schwartz. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987.

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    This collection of Bull’s important writings on nuclear arms race and arms control charts his intellectual development. All scholars of the subject must come to terms with Bull’s insights; this is a good place to start.

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  • Buzan, Barry, and Eric Herring. The Arms Dynamic in World Politics. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998.

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    This extremely useful and updated primer on arms races addresses the role of technological revolutions, especially weapons of mass destruction. Very good on deterrence, with effective, clear outlines of opposing models, especially external factors (action-reaction models) and internal factors (domestic-structure model). Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

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  • Downs, George W. “Arms Races and War.” In Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War. Vol. 2. Edited by Philip E. Tetlock, Jo L. Husbands, Robert Jervis, Paul C. Stern, and Charles Tilly, 73–109. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

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    This essential introduction to the question of whether arms races lead to war provides a detailed survey and analysis of this literature, highlights ongoing debates, and pinpoints theoretical and methodological shortcomings. Downs rightly calls for greater intermethodological dialogue.

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  • Glaser, Charles L. “The Causes and Consequences of Arms Races.” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (June 2000): 251–276.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.3.1.251Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A valuable review of the arms-race literature, especially concerned with the question of arms races and war. Argues that the literature overemphasizes external factors; scholarship requires deeper analysis of internal causes. Assesses positive and negative consequences of arms races and concludes that more research is needed on when states should rationally engage in arms races.

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  • Hammond, Grant T. Plowshares into Swords: Arms Races in International Politics, 1840–1991. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

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    The most accessible, wide-ranging, and useful introductory survey, clearly written and organized, taking a chronological and thematic approach. Deftly explores definitions, causes, and implications. Helpful bibliography for further research. Highly recommended for beginning researchers.

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  • Huntington, Samuel P. “Arms Races: Prerequisites and Results.” Public Policy 8.1 (1958): 41–86.

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    One of the first systematic studies, this posits an inverse relationship between arms-race length and probability of war. Longer arms races tend to have a stabilizing influence on international politics; quantitative arms races are more likely to result in war than qualitative ones. Essential reading for arms-races scholars of any level.

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  • Isard, Walter. Arms Races, Arms Control, and Conflict Analysis: Contributions from Peace Science and Peace Economics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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    An important, broad collection of interdisciplinary essays, offering a useful survey of various cognitive, behavioral, and “traditional” arms-race models, interpretations, and principles, with a heavy quantitative focus. Though occasionally opaque and challenging for novice researchers, it is especially significant for its seminal contribution to peace-science and conflict-management/resolution research.

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  • Jervis, Robert. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

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    This is a classic in international-relations theory for its innovation and insights. It blends psychology and foreign policy and offers exceptional and lucid analysis of the debate between deterrence theorists and spiral theorists. Uses historical examples as support.

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Journals

A number of journals provide analysis and information relating to modern and historical arms races. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been a vital source of thoughtful analysis since the beginning of the atomic era and continues to provide trenchant commentary on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is a sporadically valuable periodical that published a seminal issue on arms control in 1960. Contributors have occasionally revisited the issue in homage to that influential edition. In the closely related fields of peace studies and conflict resolution, the Journal of Conflict Resolution and the Journal of Peace Research have featured incisive and important contributions to the study of arms races since the height of the Cold War. Scholars will also find research on every facet of contemporary and historical arms races periodically featured in the major political science journals, especially the American Political Science Review, the Political Science Quarterly, the American Journal of Political Science, and Foreign Affairs.

Theoretical Studies

Much of the international-relations literature on arms races approaches the question within a quantitative framework, and research from the disciplines of economics, peace economics, peace science, mathematics, and psychology has enriched and enlivened the field. The insights of game theory have proven especially popular and useful among arms-race theorists. This has produced a large number of models and methodologies of varying complexity, which continue to inspire debate, argument, and yet more models. Arms-race-model theorists are generally divided between those who privilege external causation (especially deterrence and spiral theory), and those who place equal or greater emphasis on internal causes (domestic-structure model). In addition, a great deal of theoretical and quantitative work has been produced on the extent to which arms races cause or escalate wars. This remains a contentious field, with scholars contesting the validity and applicability of each other’s analytical and predictive models. The ability of any model to predict accurately the dynamics of a particular arms race remains decidedly unresolved. The practice of arms-race modeling is an intricate and sometimes byzantine endeavor, which untrained undergraduates and even graduate students may find overwhelming if not incomprehensible

General Quantitative Studies

Lewis Fry Richardson was the pioneer of quantitative approaches to arms races. His posthumously published Arms and Insecurity (Richardson 1960) is a landmark in applied mathematics and inspired a great deal of work in its wake. Students without reasonably advanced mathematical training will find it impenetrable. Huntington’s “Arms Races: Prerequisites and Results” (Huntington 1958) was and continues to be a formative read for many international-relations scholars, and it is a much more accessible entry point to the field. Singer’s Correlates of War project continues to generate data sets reaching back to 1816 and is the basis of much of the empirical work on arms-race modeling, especially with regard to conflict causation. Three volumes of essays published by Singer and his acolytes (Singer 1979, Singer 1980, and Singer and Diehl 1990) provide a panorama of the project’s output and serve as a convenient entry point to this vibrant but controversial branch of the literature. Isard 1988 and Isard and Anderton 1992 represent a second distinct branch of the empirical approach to arms races. Isard’s innovative work on peace economics and peace science has inspired a similarly dynamic literature, but this also requires relatively advanced familiarity with quantitative methodologies.

  • Correlates of War

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    This data-collection project, founded in 1963 by J. David Singer, collects and disseminates data sets for the international-relations community. Frequently used by quantitatively oriented arms-race scholars. Free online access.

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    • Huntington, Samuel P. “Arms Races: Prerequisites and Results.” Public Policy 8.1 (1958): 41–86.

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      This article represents an early attempt to quantify arms races and their effect on international relations. It pays particular attention to what kinds of arms races are likely to cause wars, concluding that longer arms races are less likely to result in violent conflict. Very important study that is still cited by arms-race scholars.

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    • Isard, Walter. Arms Races, Arms Control, and Conflict Analysis: Contributions from Peace Science and Peace Economics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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      Useful collection of essays that presents a wide variety of quantitative approaches to arms-race theory and modeling, with a focus on peace science and peace economics. New undergraduates will find it difficult, but graduate students and experienced scholars interested in cognitive and behavioral approaches will find it especially valuable.

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    • Isard, Walter, and Charles H. Anderton. Economics of Arms Reduction and the Peace Process. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science, 1992.

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      A collection of essays edited by two prominent peace-science practitioners; interdisciplinary, with a focus on peace economics. Includes a useful literature survey. A number of the essays address various arms-race and arms-control models.

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    • Richardson, Lewis Fry. Arms and Insecurity: A Mathematical Study of the Causes and Origins of War. Edited by Nicolas Rashevsky and Ernesto Trucco. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1960.

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      A pioneering work of applied mathematics and an early attempt to establish methodology for mathematical modeling of international conflict. Richardson posits and tests mathematical models using linked differential equations. Data are based on the arms expenditures of great powers. The paper is deterministic and raises more questions than it answers, but nevertheless it is a seminal quantitative study. Published posthumously.

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    • Singer, J. David, ed. The Correlates of War. Vol. 1, Research Origins and Rationale. New York: Free Press, 1979.

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      A collection of fifteen essays chronicling the Correlates of War project’s origins, orientation, and data collection techniques. An essential starting point for researchers employing this methodology, it is imperfect but remains influential among arms race scholars.

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    • Singer, J. David, ed. The Correlates of War. Vol. 2, Testing Some Realpolitik Models. New York: Free Press, 1980.

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      Ten essays based on early findings from Correlates of War project. Focuses on the origins, expansion, and outcomes of wars. Like Volume 1, an essential starting point; imperfect but still influential.

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    • Singer, J. David, and Paul Diehl, eds. Measuring the Correlates of War. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990.

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      This collection of major articles produced as part of the Correlates of War project is a necessary orientation to this sometimes flawed but nevertheless influential approach to the quantitative study of arms races.

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    Modeling the Causes of Arms Races

    The literature on the causes of arms races is large and encompasses a wide range of approaches. The field breaks down into two basic approaches: external causation and internal causation. Those who favor the external causation approach (or the action-reaction model) imagine arms-race escalation as an action-reaction relationship, stimulated by international rivalries and the actions (or inaction) of an adversary. Simply put, rational states choose to respond to an adversary’s real or perceived provocation by increasing their own military capabilities to either equal or exceed their rival’s. Within this approach, distinctions can be drawn between those who pursue models of deterrence and those who employ the spiral model, which characterizes arms races as beset by uncertainty and misperception. A related branch of this literature highlights the security dilemma posed by arms racing. Since armaments can be either offensive or defensive, it is difficult (and dangerous) to predict how rival states might interpret quantitative or qualitative improvements. Those who favor the internal approach (or the domestic structure model) emphasize the influence of domestic interests, be they political, military, economic, technological, or bureaucratic. These two approaches are not always mutually exclusive, and scholars have combined aspects of the two with varying degrees of success.

    External Causes

    External causation is the most obvious answer to the question of what causes arms races. In this interpretation, the action or inaction of a real or perceived rival necessitates an equal or greater response. Jervis 1976, Downs 1991, Glaser 1992, and Buzan and Herring 1998 each provide clear and thorough explanations of the major theories adopting this approach. Researchers who are new to the field will benefit from their expertise and erudition of the authors of these works. Booth and Wheeler 2008 is an excellent and straightforward introduction to the security dilemma and its numerous manifestations and applications in international relations. All students will find it rewarding. Kydd 1997 and Kydd 2000 provide a convenient starting point for those interested in game theory and its application to spiral and deterrence arms-races modeling, respectively.

    • Booth, Ken, and Nicholas Wheeler. The Security Dilemma: Fear, Cooperation, and Trust in World Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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      An exceptional introduction to the security dilemma. Clear prose makes it especially suitable for undergraduates and beginning graduate students.

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    • Buzan, Barry, and Eric Herring. The Arms Dynamic in World Politics. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998.

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      An exceptionally valuable introduction to arms races. Provides a readable and comprehensible introduction to opposing models of arms-race causation, with particular emphasis on external factors (action-reaction models). It is especially useful for its lucid discussion of technological revolutions and their impact on arms races.

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    • Downs, George W. “Arms Races and War.” In Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War. Vol. 2. Edited by Philip E. Tetlock, Jo L. Husbands, Robert Jervis, Paul C. Stern, and Charles Tilly, 73–109. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

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      Extremely useful essay for those seeking an introduction to the question of whether or not arms races lead to war. It offers an excellent, although now somewhat dated, overview of the literature on this subject. It ultimately stresses the need for greater interaction between methodologies.

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    • Glaser, Charles L. “Political Consequences of Military Strategy: Expanding and Refining the Spiral and Deterrence Models.” World Politics 44.4 (July 1992): 497–538.

      DOI: 10.2307/2010486Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      The deterrence model tends to apply to expansionist states, and the spiral model to status quo states. Glaser concludes that both models are inadequate and confusing and identifies a need to address motives, context, and perceptions in greater depth. Offers numerous approaches for arms race management, drawing on the experience of the US-Soviet arms race.

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    • Jervis, Robert. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

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      Remains a classic exposition on the subject of arms races and international-relations theory in general. It is particularly useful for those new scholars who are looking for a clear explanation of the differences between deterrence theory and spiral theory. It also makes good use of empirical evidence.

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    • Kydd, Andrew. “Game Theory and the Spiral Model.” World Politics 49.3 (April 1997): 371–400.

      DOI: 10.1353/wp.1997.0012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Kydd uses rational-choice theory and game theory to analyze the psychological premises of spiral theory, challenging some older assumptions about state behavior in a spiral-mode. A good introduction to spiral model construction and to the uses of game theory in studying arms races.

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    • Kydd, Andrew. “Arms Races and Arms Control: Modeling the Hawk Perspective.” American Journal of Political Science 44.2 (April 2000): 228–244.

      DOI: 10.2307/2669307Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This paper presents the deterrence model and explores its implications for arms-control efforts. Explores the relationship between conflict and uncertainty. Another prime example of modeling and its potential applications.

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    Internal Causes

    Internal causation provides an alternative interpretation of why arms races happen. In this schema, external threats alone do not motivate arms races. For those who apply the domestic-structure model, the decision to engage in an arms race often comes from within the state and can be driven by a variety of political, military, economic, technological, or bureaucratic interests. Hammond 1993 and Buzan and Herring 1998 contain succinct and straightforward surveys of this approach. Holloway 1983 stresses Soviet domestic interests in the Cold War nuclear competition. Allison and Morris 1974 suggests an alternative model based on the authors’ analysis of American weapons-acquisition processes. Both of these approaches demonstrate the possibilities of the domestic structure model. Thee 1986 assesses the role of military research and development in destabilizing and distorting the nuclear arms race. Evangelista 1988 explores tactical nuclear-weapon development in the United States and the Soviet Union to bring together both internal and external factors. Similarly, Bolks and Stoll 2000 presents a representative model that melds domestic and international factors.

    • Allison, Graham T., and Frederic A. Morris. “Armaments and Arms Control: Exploring the Determinants of Military Weapons.” Daedalus 104.3 (Summer 1975): 99–129.

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      This paper argues for examination of national weapons-acquisition processes, concentrating on the United States. Investigates numerous case studies, highlights the importance of organizational interests and political bargaining, and suggests implications for arms-control agreements. Dated, but emblematic of the internal-causation interpretation.

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    • Bolks, Sean, and Richard J. Stoll. “The Arms Acquisition Process: The Effect of Internal and External Constraints on Arms Race Dynamics.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 44.5 (October 2000): 580–603.

      DOI: 10.1177/0022002700044005002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This paper models naval arms races between 1860 and 1986, incorporating both domestic and international factors. The model is based on numbers of ships rather than on expenditure. The authors conceptualize arms races as a system rather than simply two-state competitions and concludes that domestic factors matter, but not as much as international factors.

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    • Buzan, Barry, and Eric Herring. The Arms Dynamic in World Politics. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998.

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      Stresses the influence of technological developments in fostering and prolonging arms races. It offers an excellent overview of the various models, and includes an extremely valuable discussion of the difference between internal and external factors, which will be especially useful to new scholars.

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    • Evangelista, Matthew. Innovation and the Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988.

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      Evangelista attempts to develop a nuanced approach to nuclear-weapons innovation, addressing internal and external factors and employing economic and organizational theories. Useful for its detailed examination of tactical nuclear-weapon development in both countries, if not for its policy prescriptions.

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    • Hammond, Grant T. Plowshares into Swords: Arms Races in International Politics, 1840–1991. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

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      An eminently accessible introduction to arms races that will ground new researchers in the various explanations for why arms races happen. It offers the clearest path through an often dense literature, and it is highly recommended to beginning undergraduates. It provides a particularly good overview of internal and external causation.

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    • Holloway, David. The Soviet Union and the Arms Race. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.

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      Holloway explores Soviet attitudes toward nuclear weapons, military power, and foreign policy, stressing the role of the Soviet domestic sphere in arms races and the role of the Soviet military in arms policy. Includes economic and political considerations. Limited by lack of open information but relatively influential in its time.

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    • Thee, Marek. Military Technology, Military Strategy, and the Arms Race. London: Croom Helm, 1986.

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      Thee focuses on the role of military research and development in arms races and examines political and socioeconomic factors in weapons development. New technologies distort and destabilize strategy. An excellent example of the domestic-structure model, with a useful assessment of the literature.

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    Arms Races as Cause of War

    The question of whether arms races are more or less likely to produce interstate conflict is much debated. The first interpretation—generally associated with spiral theory and the security dilemma—contends that arms races are intensified by misperception and fear and therefore increase the likelihood of conflict. The second interpretation—generally corresponding to a deterrence model—contends that arms races do not cause wars, and instead tend to increase international security for each participant. These competing views are most succinctly explained by Jervis 1976. Downs 1991 also offers a helpful introduction to this debate. Kennedy 1983 provides an unusually lucid discussion of a rational-actor model with implications for both deterrence and spiral theory. A third interpretation, which is empirically and quantitatively oriented, concludes that arms races exercise little independent influence on the outbreak of wars, although debate continues over whether or not arms races intensify dispute escalation. Wallace 1979 spurred much of the debate. Altfield 1983 and Diehl 1983 vigorously challenge Wallace’s measurements and contest his findings. Conversely, Sample 1997 finds supports for Wallace 1979. Much of the newer empirical work derives its data from the Correlates of War project, and the debate continues unabated.

    • Altfield, Michael F. “Arms Races?—And Escalation? A Comment on Wallace.” International Studies Quarterly 27.2 (June 1983): 225–231.

      DOI: 10.2307/2600547Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Altfield challenges the findings of Wallace 1979, claiming they were based on flawed measurements and data. Those findings do not distinguish between genuine arms races and independent but simultaneous increases in arms production. A good counterpoint to Wallace 1979, and indicative of modeling’s challenges.

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    • Diehl, Paul F. “Arms Races and Escalation: A Closer Look.” Journal of Peace Research 20.3 (September 1983): 205–212.

      DOI: 10.1177/002234338302000301Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Diehl disputes the index and coding in Wallace 1979, finding that wars are more likely to occur without preceding arms races. Calls for greater precision and transparency for models. Based on data from the Correlates of War project.

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    • Downs, George W. “Arms Races and War.” In Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War. Vol. 2. Edited by Philip E. Tetlock, Jo L. Husbands, Robert Jervis, Paul C. Stern, and Charles Tilly, 73–109. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

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      This is a clear and well-written introduction to the contested question of whether or not arms races cause wars. The literature review is thorough and accessible although now somewhat out of date. New undergraduate and graduate-student researchers will want to read this essay with care.

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    • Jervis, Robert. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

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      This classic international-relations text adroitly blends theoretical and empirical approaches to provide an excellent overview of arms races and their contribution to international state violence. It is especially strong on the competing claims of deterrence theory and spiral theory. It is recommended to all researchers.

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    • Kennedy, Paul M. “Arms Races and the Causes of War, 1850–1945.” In Strategy and Diplomacy, 1870–1945. By Paul M. Kennedy, 165–177. London: Allen and Unwin, 1983.

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      A clear, concise, and comprehensible introduction to a rational-actor model, more history than political science. Arms races are caused by political, ideological, racial, economic, and territorial differences; these tensions cause war, not arms races. Political will can end arms races. Arms control often fails because it doesn’t address these underlying causes.

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    • Sample, Susan G. “Arms Races and Dispute Escalation: Resolving the Debate.” Journal of Peace Research 34.1 (February 1997): 7–22.

      DOI: 10.1177/0022343397034001002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Sample explores the controversies plaguing empirical studies since Wallace 1979 and finds support for Wallace’s contention that arms races significantly escalate disputes. Based on data from the Correlates of War project.

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    • Wallace, Michael D. “Arms Races and Escalation: Some New Evidence.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 23.1 (March 1979): 3–16.

      DOI: 10.1177/002200277902300101Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An important article that revitalized the debate. Wallace created an arms-race index to predict the likelihood of conflict. He contends that interstate disputes preceded by arms races usually escalate to war and concludes that arms races are an indicator of war, though not necessarily a causal factor. The paper has been criticized for flawed measurements, data, and findings (see other entries in this section).

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    Historical Arms Races

    Three 20th-century arms races have been the subject of a rich and varied historical and theoretical literature. The pre–World War I Anglo-German naval arms race is a classic case, which international relations scholars often cite in their studies and models. There is a large historical literature on this competition that highlights both internal and external causes. Less well studied, but no less significant, is the growth in land armaments that preceded World War I. Recent monographs have greatly improved our knowledge of this development. A second example can be found in attempts to mitigate the interwar naval arms race among Great Britain, the United States, and Japan in the Pacific, and between France and Italy in the Mediterranean. The 1922 Washington Conference and, to a lesser extent, the 1930 London Conference are often cited as successful exercises in arms limitation, with important lessons for future arms-control efforts. Of course, the best-known 20th-century arms race remains the Cold War nuclear competition between the Soviet Union and the United States. The consequences of this struggle remain with us today.

    World War I

    There is a vast and lively historical literature on the origins of World War I, and some of it speculates on the role of prewar arms races. Joll 1984 provides an engaging summary of the larger arguments on the origins of World War I. Two distinct approaches emerge with specific reference to prewar arms races. One approach places responsibility on the Anglo-German naval arms race, sparked by Great Britain’s introduction of dreadnought-class battleships in 1906. Kennedy 1980 is a near-definitive and extremely well-researched exponent of this argument. Maurer 1992 offers an interesting and unusually accessible application of game theory to the latter stages of the Anglo-German naval arms race. Padfield 1974 provides a gentler, more literary introduction to this topic. The second approach places responsibility on the land-armaments arms races sparked by the Balkan and North African crises of the immediate prewar years. Taken together, Stevenson 1996 and Herrmann 1996 both offer exceptional introductions to this argument.

    • Herrmann, David G. The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

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      An admirable and essential study of prewar expansion of armaments in Europe. Increase in land armaments was an essential cause of war. A good overview of both technological developments and growth in armed forces, best read in conjunction with Stevenson 1996.

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    • Joll, James. The Origins of the First World War. 2d ed. New York: Longman, 1984.

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      This engaging, readable synthesis is useful to place prewar arms races in their larger context and is a good guide to broader questions. Joll concludes that arms races contributed to the outbreak of war but were not its only cause. Interesting discussion on the often-overlooked role of European armament producers. Third edition by Gordon Martel published in 2006 (Harlow, UK: Longman).

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    • Kennedy, Paul M. The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860–1914. Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1980.

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      A near-definitive account of the Anglo-German naval arms race prior to World War I. Exhaustive in its research and magisterial in scope, but it is sometimes criticized for its determinism and pro-British bias. Kennedy traces Anglo-German antagonism to the Bismarckian era, and to economic, colonial, and personal rivalries that animated their relations.

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    • Maurer, John H. “The Anglo-German Naval Rivalry and Informal Arms Control, 1912–1914.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 36.2 (June 1992): 284–308.

      DOI: 10.1177/0022002792036002004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An effective, accessible application of game theory to a historical arms race, this paper applies the notion of the Prisoner’s Dilemma to Anglo-German rivalry. Sees Churchill as a proponent of a modified tit-for-tat strategy. The multifaceted approach explores domestic, strategic, and international factors in controlling the arms race. Maurer speculates on why eventual restraint failed to limit antagonism.

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    • Padfield, Peter. The Great Naval Race: Anglo-German Naval Rivalry, 1900–1914. New York: D. McKay, 1974.

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      The emphasis is on personalities and politics. The style somewhat detracts from rigorous analysis.

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    • Stevenson, David. Armaments and the Coming of War: Europe, 1904–1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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      This excellent study of the European land-armaments race argues that this caused the war, rather than the Anglo-German naval arms race. North African and Balkan crises were key factors in the prewar continent-wide arms buildup, which became essentially reactive. Thoroughly researched and clearly argued; best read in conjunction with Herrmann 1996.

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    Interwar Period

    Interwar naval limitation treaties provide another instructive historical example of arms races and efforts to forestall them. The 1922 Washington Conference represents a particularly rich example. McKercher 1992 grounds the reader in the broader disarmament efforts of the early 20th century, of which the Washington Conference was a prime example. Dingman 1976 places the impetus to limit naval competition firmly in Tokyo, Washington, and London. Goldstein and Maurer 1994 expands the vista beyond Japan, the United States, and Great Britain by also exploring French, Italian, and Chinese concerns. An older but nonetheless absorbing account of the United States’ role in the Washington Conference, focusing on its political and diplomatic objectives, can be found in Buckley 1970. A political-science perspective is offered by Goldman 1994, which sees the Washington Conference as a lesson for post–Cold War arms-control efforts. Fanning 1995 takes the story through the 1930 London Naval Conference and is a useful and easily accessible survey of interwar arms-control efforts. Overy and Wheatcroft 1990 presents an excellent nation-by-nation account of World War II’s origins that outlines the move away from disarmament and toward rearmament in the mid- to late 1930s.

    • Buckley, Thomas H. The United States and the Washington Conference, 1921–1922. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1970.

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      This historical treatment focuses on American participation. A solid account of America’s diplomatic and political interests and objectives, it treats each aspect of the settlement in turn, from naval limitation to China. Later accounts provide greater international insights.

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    • Dingman, Roger. Power in the Pacific: The Origins of Naval Arms Limitation, 1914–1922. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

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      An award-winning historical account of events leading up to the Washington Conference. This multiarchival study based on Japanese, American, and British sources focuses, perhaps too much, on civil-military relations, bureaucratic interests, and domestic political concerns, while it downplays economic necessity. A very useful study nonetheless.

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    • Fanning, Richard W. Peace and Disarmament: Naval Rivalry and Arms Control, 1922–1933. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995.

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      This basic narrative of interwar naval arms-control efforts among the United States, Great Britain, and Japan identifies a common belief that arms races cause wars. A short and useful introductory survey of naval arms races of the 1920s and 1930s and arms limitation efforts.

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    • Goldman, Emily O. Sunken Treaties: Naval Arms Control between the Wars. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.

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      Written from a political-science perspective, with a historical and narrative orientation and limited theoretical emphasis. Goldman seeks relevant lessons from interwar naval arms-control efforts for the post–Cold War period and draws the lesson that greater emphasis on political and strategic strategies yields more effective arms-control measures than do purely technical approaches.

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    • Goldstein, Erik, and John Maurer, eds. The Washington Conference, 1921–22: Naval Rivalry, East Asian Stability and the Road to Pearl Harbor. Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1994.

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      Ten essays chronicling the Washington Naval Conference, from the perspective of each principal participant, based on multilingual and multiarchival research. An extremely useful introduction to the subject, with insights for specialists and nonspecialists alike.

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    • McKercher, B. J. C., ed. Arms Limitation and Disarmament: Restraints on War, 1899–1939. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1992.

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      This edited volume on major disarmament efforts of the early 20th century includes chapters on the 1907 Hague Conference, Paris Peace Conference, Washington Conference, and first and second London Conferences (1930–1936). A good place to start for research on arms races and disarmament in the interwar period.

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    • Overy, Richard, and Andrew Wheatcroft. The Road to War. New York: Random House, 1990.

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      This excellent survey of World War II’s origins treats Poland, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, the Soviet Union, Japan, and the United States in sequence, exploring domestic and international factors in each case. A solid treatment of rearmament efforts in each country, with a useful appendix on relative military expenditure and strength during the 1930s.

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    Nuclear Arms Race

    The literature on the nuclear arms race is substantial and varied, and much of it was written in the midst of the Cold War. The political-science literature is therefore somewhat dated, and historical studies are often superseded by new archival releases in both the United States and the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, some classics still demand to be read. Kahn 1960 and Schelling and Halperin 1961 remain must-reads for students of the arms race and its management. Bull 1965 is another groundbreaking and innovative study that requires attention. For beginning researchers seeking an orientation in this often complicated topic, Powaski 1987 and Sheehan 1983 offer straightforward and readable accounts of the history, development, and deployment of the major weapons systems. Rhodes 1995 and Rhodes 2007 offer thoroughly engaging historical accounts of the Cold War arms race. Holloway 1994 suggests the possibility of future historical research; the author’s use of sources from the former Soviet Union points the way to exciting new developments in the field.

    • Kahn, Herman. On Thermonuclear War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960.

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      The first major study to consider how a thermonuclear war would be fought suggested that nuclear war was winnable, and that society could recover from it. Controversial, unemotional, but nevertheless a necessary exercise, it is often complex, dense, and technical, but a classic nonetheless. It should be read in conjunction with Schelling and Halperin 1961 and Bull 1965.

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    • Bull, Hedley. The Control of the Arms Race: Disarmament and Arms Control in the Missile Age. 2d ed. New York: Praeger, 1965.

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      Groundbreaking for its original and innovative approach, which that made Bull’s name, this book explores the conditions and objectives of arms control, as well as technological innovations. Bull questions the notion that disarmament is commensurate with international security. Should be read in conjunction with Kahn 1960 and Schelling and Halperin 1961.

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    • Holloway, David. Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939–1956. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.

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      The first comprehensive account in English of the Soviet atomic-weapons program argues that Stalin’s desire to match US atomic achievements was implacable. Based on interviews with key surviving Soviet scientists and recently opened Soviet archival sources, this is a benchmark study that will inevitably be refined by future scholars using newly available archival materials.

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    • Powaski, Ronald E. The United States and the Nuclear Arms Race, 1939 to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

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      An undemanding introduction to the nuclear arms race, largely descriptive and chronological. Powaski demystifies technical concepts and stresses the reactive nature of American weapons production and development. A good starting point for new researchers and beginning students.

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    • Rhodes, Richard. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

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      A Pulitzer Prize–winning popular historical account of the Manhattan Project by an eminent chronicler of the nuclear age. Engagingly written, and notable for demystifying complex technical issues. Based mostly on published sources, it focuses on personalities and debates over the atomic bomb’s manufacture and initial deployment.

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    • Rhodes, Richard. Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

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      Written for a popular audience, this is an interesting but sometimes ponderous historical account of arms-control efforts during the latter stages of the Cold War. The subtitle is misleading, since its focus is mostly on the Reagan-Gorbachev years. Rhodes contends that the nuclear arms race was ultimately wasteful, producing no appreciable increase in security.

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    • Schelling, Thomas C., and Morton H. Halperin. Strategy and Arms Control. New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1961.

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      This classic study of the nuclear arms race and arms control offers a comprehensible introduction to a complicated topic. Primarily concerned with the difficulties of managing the nuclear arms race, it is full of insights. Schelling explores implicit and explicit bargaining, proliferation, and verification, and challenges easy assumptions. Should be read in conjunction with Kahn 1960 and Bull 1965.

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    • Sheehan, Michael J. The Arms Race. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983.

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      This introductory text aimed at undergraduates focuses on the Soviet-American nuclear arms race but also addresses conventional and chemical arms race during the Cold War. Includes useful chapters on proliferation and space. Occasional errors detract from the analysis, but overall a helpful introduction for novice researchers.

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    Contemporary and Emerging Arms Races

    The complexity of the post–Cold War world raises serious challenges to the supposed stability of the international-system. As international relations scholars look ahead to emerging threats and the possibility of future arms races, they are constantly challenging and refining old theories and methodologies. The contemporary proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is mapped and analyzed in Cirincione, et al. 2005. This work is an essential road map to possible future arms races across the globe, from India and Pakistan to Iran and North Korea. The question of proliferation and its potentially destabilizing (or stabilizing) influence is expertly discussed by Sagan and Waltz 2003 in a reprisal of the authors’ earlier dialogue on the subject. Solingen 2007 and Peimani 2000 present differing studies on the causes and consequences of contemporary arms races, real and imagined. The future applicability of deterrence theory in the post–Cold War world is addressed exceptionally well by Morgan 2003 and Paul, et al. 2009. These works suggest that deterrence theory will be greatly improved by future theorists facing ever-complex threats. This will likely be a fruitful area for new researchers. Finally, Lennon 2002 explores the myriad facets of ballistic-missile defense and its implications for future arms races.

    • Cirincione, Joseph, Jon B. Wolfsthal, and Miriam Rajkumar. Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005.

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      This essential, very clear guide to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the post–Cold War era addresses the successes and failures of nonproliferation efforts. It tackles declared, former, and prospective nuclear states, and outlines the uses and effects of weapons of mass destruction. Helpful selection of appendices, charts, graphs, and maps.

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    • Lennon, Alexander T. J., ed. Contemporary Nuclear Debates: Missile Defense, Arms Control, and Arms Races in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.

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      A wide-ranging discussion of US missile defense and arms control in the contemporary world by scholars, analysts, and policymakers. It presupposes deployment of an American missile-defense system. Includes interesting, short articles on the relevance of modern arms races in that context. Its relevance will depend on future American political decisions.

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    • Morgan, Patrick M. Deterrence Now. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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      This impressive, sophisticated reassessment of deterrence theory under post–Cold War conditions critiques the current state of the field. Morgan sees collective actors as a possible substitute for traditional deterrence and revolution in military affairs as a special challenge to deterrence.

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    • Paul, T. V., Patrick M. Morgan, and James J. Wirtz, eds. Complex Deterrence: Strategy in the Global Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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      Thirteen essays analyzing “complex deterrence” after the Cold War, especially concerned with irrational and nonstate actors: terrorists, rogue states, and failed states. Authors address new technologies and increasing globalization. There is an up-to-date chapter on India and Pakistan. A very useful study for orienting new researchers in the field.

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    • Peimani, Hooman. Nuclear Proliferation in the Indian Subcontinent: The Self-Exhausting Superpowers and Emerging Alliances. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.

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      This readable short study of India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programs and their implications suggests that the two nations will look to Russia and China. Predicts future multipolarity and a challenge to an American-led system. More useful for its discussion of the subcontinent’s nuclear programs than for its predictions.

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    • Sagan, Scott D., and Kenneth N. Waltz. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed. 2d ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003.

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      Continuation of the debate between two leading theorists. Waltz expounds the argument for proliferation; Sagan argues for nonproliferation. A true “academic” debate, given the ascendency of nonproliferation, but nonetheless fascinating.

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    • Solingen, Etel. Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

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      A highly regarded study, sophisticated, thorough, and eminently readable, which skillfully blends narrative and theoretical approaches. Solingen identifies implications for international-relations theory and proliferation and contrasts nonnuclearization in East Asia and nuclearization in the Middle East. The book would benefit from greater attention to India and Pakistan.

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    LAST MODIFIED: 03/02/2011

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199743292-0002

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