PLCY 798M: Readings in Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Cooperative Security Policy

Publication Date: 
October 2018


Document Type: 

The central dilemma of the nuclear age is how to obtain the benefits but avoid the risks of an extraordinarily powerful technology when no state can control its spread nor protect itself unilaterally against attacks or accidents. Since the end of the Cold War, policymakers and security experts have continued to grapple with that question in forms compounded by proliferation, terrorism, and incentives to increase global nuclear energy use to mitigate climate change. A new nuclear arms race, or a conventional crisis that escalates into a nuclear war, now seems like a real possibility again, reviving questions about whether arms control can reduce the risks and costs of competition between the United States and a range of potential adversaries, including Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

At the same time, policymakers and experts have been trying to figure out what mix of unilateral action and cooperation can best address information-age problems, such as space and cyber-security. These dual-use technologies share many features with nuclear technology. They also differ in ways that make it even harder to control their spread, prevent deliberate or inadvertent misuse, and defend against attack. The space and cyber domains connect to the nuclear domain in complicated ways, too. Some see these connections as asymmetrical opportunities to gain competitive advantage. Others view them as compelling reasons to develop cooperative constraints in realms that do not seem well suited to traditional arms control.

The course begins by examining different ways of thinking about international security cooperation developed during and after the Cold War. The second part considers questions of central importance to security relations between the United States, Russia, and China, including missile defense, space security, and cybersecurity. The third part focuses on security challenges arising from the spread of powerful multi-use technologies to a much larger number of state and non-state actors. It assesses the continued viability of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in light of challenges posed by specific countries (Iran and North Korea) and the broader critique advanced by the large number of states and civil society groups who see the Nuclear Ban Treaty as a more effective way to reduce nuclear risks. It also considers what, if any, cooperative steps should be taken to address non-nuclear threats to human security, from landmines and small arms to drones and other advanced conventional weapons.