Working Group 4:

Beyond Nuclear Deterrnce

The core objective of this working group is to facilitate discussions aimed at advancing cutting-edge academic scholarship on alternatives to nuclear deterrence.


Working Group Co-Chairs

Rebecca Davis Gibbons

University of Southern Maine, Department of Political Science

Hassan Elbahtimy

King's College London, Centre for Science and Security Studies

Stephen Herzog

ETH Zurich, Center for Security Studies

Baselines & Questions

The core objective of this working group is to facilitate discussions aimed at advancing cutting-edge academic scholarship on alternatives to nuclear deterrence. The Global South will be a key focus area for the WG with the goal of promoting dialogue between scholars from there and other parts of the world. These states are a particular priority because of their lack of reliance on nuclear deterrence. The WG will thus create a new network of scholars to consider national and international security through lenses and frameworks offering alternatives to nuclear deterrence.


While the WG has not yet convened, a number of key concepts in nuclear politics indicate quite fertile grounds for interrogating the future of deterrence. The means of addressing interstate disputes encompass a wide spectrum of activities. These range from conventional deterrence to non-military means of conflict resolution. Only a minority of states in the world actually rely on nuclear deterrence. In fact, even states that depend on nuclear arsenals or extended nuclear deterrence have other tools at their disposal, which they frequently employ. Thinking through what makes nuclear crises different from other security incidents will be essential in terms of comprehending what contextual triggers cause states to rely on nuclear threats.


Likewise, a world without nuclear deterrence means an eventual transition toward nuclear disarmament. Hence, this WG will also need to convene some sensitive conversations wherein advocates of deterrence and disarmament address each other on equal, non-hostile terms. Doing so will not just involve better understanding the use of alternative tools to deterrence; it will also necessitate a discussion of the institutional means for credibility committing to non-nuclear status and how confidence can be built in a world without nuclear weapons. Is universalization of the NPT (190 members) with the AP (137 states and Euratom) sufficient after the development of disarmament protocols for nuclear-armed states? What is the role of NWFZs (114 states) and the TPNW (60 members)?


Taken together, five key questions naturally emerge for the working group.

Questions for the Working Group

  • How do non-nuclear states provide for their security?
  • What are the circumstances under which states that depend on deterrence draw on alternative tools for conflict resolution instead of relying on nuclear threats?
  • What are the security-related, normative, and institutional pathways through which populations and states may come to reject nuclear deterrence?
  • How do various states perceive the risk of nuclear weapons possession? Relatedly, among nuclear-armed states, why is the risk and vulnerability of a nuclear attack or accident preferable to the vulnerability of not possessing nuclear weapons?
  • How might norms in other areas, most prominently the growing attention that will continue to come to environmental issues, intersect with norms about nuclear weapon possession and use?