Sagan – Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb 

Continuing our look at nuclear proliferation, this week we take a look at ‘Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb’ by Scott Sagan (International Security 21, no. 3 (1996): 54), available here. It is over 20 years old now, but still provides plenty of interesting points and is definitely worth a read. Let us know what you think.


Published now over 20 years ago, this article from International Security gives a good oversight of three key models to assessing the motivations behind nuclear proliferation: the security model, the domestic model, and the norms model. Each model certainly has its pros and cons, and it seems slightly strange to me as a modern reader to find out that just so little work was done prior to this article to consider any option other than the security model. The recent example of North Korea would certainly seem to suggest that nuclear proliferation in some cases is far more skewed towards the domestic and norms approach, rather than security. It is then perhaps testament to the legacy of this paper that examples such as North Korea have essentially demonstrated that the author is ‘right’ and that nuclear proliferation is far more nuanced and complex than the chain-reaction-approach suggested by the security model alone.  

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University 


What was nice to see in this article was an acceptance that understanding nuclear issues is really hard. Perhaps it is due to my limited reading on nuclear proliferation being focussed on a number of modern papers on nuclear weapons, or that some of the players in the push towards the recent nuclear prohibition treaty presented that argument as relatively simple to make, but it does seem that a lot of thinking on nuclear weapons is fairly simplistic. Perhaps the influence of game theory parsing the discussion down to simplified win or lose terms helped with this, and indeed that is a valid route of enquiry. But I felt it refreshing to read this piece and have someone acknowledge that dealing with nuclear weapon politics is really difficult. I also liked the thorough way in which the author dealt with the troika of reasons states have for wanting to develop nuclear weapons. 

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s