Koblentz Asks, Why Do States Help Other States Get Nukes?

Gregory Koblentz

Gregory Koblentz

It’s taken for granted that one persistent problem in international relations circles is that states often share nuclear weapons or technology. But why would states help other states get nuclear weapons when those weapons are so terrifyingly powerful.

This is the question Gregory Koblentz, associate professor of public and international affairs, will be wrestling with this year. A recipient of a New Stanton Nuclear Security Fellowship, he will use the fellowship to draft a book on the subject, along with related articles for the Council on Foreign Affairs.

Koblentz is revisiting the subject of nuclear proliferation after spending the past 14 years working on biodefense. He says he’s excited to change it up and get back to a subject area he’s plied in the past.

Koblentz has been rolling this particular question around in his head for a number of years. It has its origins partly in a 2005 conference paper that lays out his puzzle. Asked whether he was ever nervous that someone else would pick up on his ideas while he worked on other projects, Koblentz chuckles and admits it was a real concern—in fact, at least one other author has addressed the same question since 2005.

Koblentz says he intends to tackle the subject from a different perspective. He says his answers would go in a different direction, and he intends to plumb major theories of international relations for those answers.

According to Koblentz, it’s a troublesome question. While arms trade has a long history, nuclear weapons are uniquely devastating. Some theories question why any country would trade in weapons that give another state the power to deal that much offensive damage.

Koblentz says he will look into several schools of international relations thought and pay attention to such issues as security motivations, the influence of parochial actors such as the military or atomic industries, and the role that ideology and shared identity might play between nations. Some countries, he says, “may view this country as my friend, my ally, my brother even.”

But the real goal, he says, will be to not just examine the possible answers to his research question, but to weigh them individually, tease out their relative influence, and examine how a state’s motives might actually change over time.

Koblentz will be conducting his research and writing a book in conjunction with a year-long sabbatical from Mason, which is part of the support provided to professors so they can continue their research. Koblentz says the time off will allow him to bring his research concepts back into the classroom once he returns.

For next year, Koblentz’s fellowship will take him into Washington, D.C., where an office will be provided.

The article originally appeared in the Department of Public and International Affairs Annual Report.

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