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Valuing and Devaluing Nuclear Weapons

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Publication details

JournalContemporary Security Policy
DatePublished - Apr 2013
Issue number1
Number of pages23
Pages (from-to)146-173
Original languageEnglish


Nuclear weapons remain deeply embedded not only in strategic thinking and force postures, but also in our political cultures in ways that assign multiple, powerful socio-political values to the bomb. Progress towards nuclear zero will necessarily require peeling away the layers of value to the point where it becomes politically, strategically, and socially acceptable to permanently relinquish a nuclear capability. The concept and process of ‘devaluing’ nuclear weapons is contested. It is a broad concept that covers notions of ‘reducing the role’, ‘delegitimising’, ‘reducing the salience’ and ‘marginalising’ nuclear weapons in the declaratory and operational policies of the nuclear powers. This article argues that to understand what a process of devaluing might look like we first need a deeper understanding of how nuclear weapons are valued. To do that the article moves through four stages: first, it provides an overview of the lexicon of devaluing and subsidiary terms in global nuclear discourse since the end of the Cold War; second, it discusses how we ‘know’ nuclear value and its discursive construction; third, using the UK as a case study it explores the ‘regime of value’ in which UK nuclear weapons are embedded and the implications for devaluing; finally, fourth, it reflects on William Walker’s notion of ‘responsible nuclear sovereignty’ and the tensions at the nexus of deterrence/devaluing.


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