Ideas that Stand in the Way of Nuclear Disarmament

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


State actors, civil society organisations and experts have worked to create a world without nuclear weapons since the mid- 1940s. Yet, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons exist and threaten to cause extraordinary harm to humankind. This thesis examines why nuclear disarmament efforts have not reached nuclear zero and asks the central research question: Why has global nuclear disarmament politics failed to free the world of nuclear weapons? The thesis develops the argument that nuclear disarmament efforts have failed because a particular set of ideas has made the abolition of nuclear weapons more difficult. Specifically, the thesis studies three ideas that have stood in the way of nuclear disarmament: the idea that nuclear disarmament has to be a long-term goal, the idea that nuclear disarmament has to happen multilaterally and the idea that nuclear weapons are an insurance against an uncertain future. Each of the ideas is analysed in two steps. First, the given idea’s meaning and origins are reconstructed. Then the analysis shows how ideas influence global disarmament politics in the areas of resource allocation, initiative formation and discursive contestation. Each of the three ideas obstructs progress towards nuclear zero in unique ways. However, they also form together an ideational structure that guides actors’ thinking towards pursuing incremental nuclear disarmament efforts. These take place within the confines of a hierarchically structured nuclear order which allows selective legitimate nuclear weapon ownership. The thesis makes an original contribution to nuclear weapons scholarship by providing a novel explanation for the failure of global nuclear disarmament politics. It advances knowledge about nuclear weapons with a particular focus on the analysis of ideas’ political impacts. Te thesis concludes by pointing out the practical significance of its findings. These concern, in particular, the ways in which practitioners and activists use ideas when they think about and try to achieve nuclear disarmament.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorJan Růžička (Supervisor) & Berit Bliesemann de Guevara (Supervisor)


  • Nuclear Weapons
  • Nuclear Disarmament
  • Ideas in World Politics
  • Knowledge Production in International Politics

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