In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nuclear Proliferation

  • Introduction

International Relations Nuclear Proliferation
Jacques Hymans, Miriam Barnum
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0318


This bibliography reviews the scholarly literature on the meaning, causes, and consequences of nuclear proliferation. Specifically, the bibliography focuses on “horizontal” nuclear weapons proliferation, which can be defined as the acquisition of nuclear weapons by states and other political entities that did not previously have them. Overshadowed by the superpower nuclear arms race during the Cold War, nuclear proliferation has become a major field of interdisciplinary international relations (IR) research since the 1990s. Much nuclear proliferation research has revolved around the empirical puzzle of why so many states that could build nuclear weapons have refrained from doing so. Despite proliferation’s surprisingly slow pace, however, the number of de facto nuclear-weapon states has gradually grown larger over time, and a slow pace in the past does not guarantee a slow pace in the future. On the other side of the coin, proliferation reversal, also known as nuclear renunciation, is also possible. In addition to studying the causes of nuclear proliferation, scholars have also investigated the effects of nuclear proliferation on numerous dimensions of policy and politics. But the literature on the consequences of proliferation remains much thinner than the literature on its causes.

The goal of this bibliography of one hundred citations is to present a vision of the overall shape of the proliferation topic, including areas where the literature remains thin. This approach should help researchers better identify where and how to push the field forward. The bibliography covers a great deal of excellent work, but it is not a “Best 100” ranking. Instead, it reflects an attempt to strike several balances: a balance between the field’s most heavily researched topics and other relatively neglected topics that deserve more attention; a balance between the field’s best-known publications and other neglected publications that deserve more attention; a balance among diverse theoretical and methodological approaches, and also among different academic disciplines, notably political science and history. Note that this bibliography does not focus on the related topics of nuclear nonproliferation and counterproliferation efforts, although some of the literature covered here does address them. On those related topics in Oxford Bibliographies Online, see Justin Anderson, Thomas Devine, and Rebecca Gibbons, “Nonproliferation and Counterproliferation.” Another Oxford Bibliographies Online article looks at literature on the broader topic of nuclear weapons: see Carol Turner, “Proliferation.”

General Overviews and Online Resources

This section first recommends two undergraduate-level textbooks that introduce readers to the topic of nuclear proliferation. Then it lists numerous digital resources that are useful for everyone from beginners to advanced experts on the topic.

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