There is a lingering disagreement among scholars on how the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) affects nonproliferation and disarmament outcomes, in particular the political motivations of states to acquire or renounce nuclear weapons. Drawing on constructivist scholarship, this research project conceptualizes a range of normative mechanisms through which international norms and regimes could affect domestic political deliberations and proceeds to examine them in the cases of nuclear disarmament of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

In the wake of the Soviet collapse, these newly independent states inherited parts of world's largest nuclear arsenal and were met with the expectation of the international community to disarm and join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapons states. The three states proceeded along very different paths toward fulfilling these expectations, with Ukraine in particular formulating a controversial claim that it was the rightful "owner" of nuclear armaments on its territory as a successor state of the USSR on par with Russia.

Engaging previously untapped archival sources, this research reconstructs the nuclear discourses in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine and argues that much of decision-making about the fate of their nuclear inheritance was embedded in the negotiation of the post-Soviet political and security settlement and their new identity as a sovereign states vis-à-vis Russia and the West. At the same time, the NPT played a salient, constitutive role in shaping the environment, in which the post-Soviet denuclearization discourses transpired, by guarding a separate normative space for nuclear possession, providing the normative grammar of denuclearization, and legitimizing the pressure exerted by their interlocutors to conform with the nonproliferation regime.

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