Nuclear Weapons and International Politics


The majority of countries rely on armament for protection, and nuclear weapons (NWs) seem to gather the most attention. The topic of NWs is important because while such equipment gives states military superiority, it is also extremely destructive. Accordingly, this essay investigates the research question of whether nuclear weapons make the world more or less secure. The IR (International Relations) theoretical framework can be used to construct an analysis of the matter by concentrating on perspectives of realism, liberalism, and constructivism. This essay develops as follows: first, it explains the use of the theories, then applies each approach to examine NWs, and clarifies the true nature of NWs. Specifically, the paper argues that NWs do not make the world secure.

Theoretical Framework

Standpoints within the scope of IR can explain why countries rely on nuclear weapons and demonstrate that NWs are affiliated with danger rather than security. IR can help better understand the world by exploring certain prior occurrences or conditions (Kauppi & Viotti, 2020). In particular, constructivism, realism, and liberalism may claim that NWs are necessary for defense or prosperity, but such assumptions are wrong at their core. The theory of nuclear revolution suggests that a nuclear-armed world is safer than one with traditionally armed countries (Bell, 2019). However, based on empirical analysis, Sears (2020) proposes that states use NWs as means of violence between humans that maintain peace through a “balance of terror” (p. 8). Therefore, a debate emerges between the proponents of NWs and those who believe that such equipment would destroy the planet.


Realism implies that governments need NW in order to defend themselves. According to realists, states rely on NWs for national security reasons or to accumulate a strategic advantage in the face of the outside world (Futter, 2021; Kauppi & Viotti, 2020). NWs are affiliated with protection because attacking or even provoking a country with such armament is quite dangerous (Bell, 2019). For instance, North Korea has NWs to guard against a possible attack from the US (Futter, 2021). Nonetheless, realism insinuates that states can employ their power to serve their interests and achieve their objectives (Kauppi & Viotti, 2020). Consequently, a government may utilize its NWs if it assumes a threat, even if there is no factual danger because nuclear arms are political objects rather than “tools of national security” (Egeland, 2022, p. 108). For example, North Korea has recently broken its moratorium on long-distance launches and has test-launched a missile (“North Korea,” 2022). Notably, nuclear testing generates toxic and radioactive wastes, imperils biodiversity, and decreases the wellness of species (Lengefeld, 2020). Although realists claim to use NWs for protection, they are likely to destroy lives pursuing their own goals.


In comparison to realism, liberalism does not concentrate on power but also wrongly justifies NWs. Liberalism focuses on domestic life, with governments guaranteeing security and freedom (Jervis, 2020). Accordingly, countries with liberalism, such as the US, turn to NWs due to internal interests in preserving independence (Futter, 2021). Liberalists value individuals and their basic rights and emphasize the importance of democracy (Kauppi & Viotti, 2020; Jervis, 2020). However, the existence of NWs opposes democratic beliefs because the production and utilization of such armament require centralized decision-making and secrecy (Lengefeld, 2020). Although the public is rarely involved in matters of national security, liberal democracy requires considerable state-citizen interaction (Hanson, 2018). Consequently, if authorities are willing to jeopardize their relations with people over NWs, those in power are also likely to damage the environment and humanity by developing weaponry (Lengefeld, 2020). Interestingly, even the theory of nuclear revolution recognizes that government may not behave rationally when dealing with NWs (Bell, 2019). For instance, the US’s atomic strategy is often illogical and contradictory (Bell, 2019). Liberals argue that NWs secure sovereignty, but the armament contradicts the theory’s principles and leads to sufficient problems.


Unlike the two perspectives discussed above, constructivism concentrates on more than the happenings of a country. Constructivists are interested in the state but are also concerned with transnational and international organizations and assume that global structure can influence agents’ identities and preferences (Kauppi & Viotti, 2020). The proponents of constructivism build and retain NWs due to the prestige associated with the equipment (Futter, 2021). For example, the United Kingdom appears to expand its NWs because the armament is affiliated with a powerful position (Futter, 2021). Bell (2019) suggests that governments with NWs should not be disrespected because they can destroy any city by utilizing one to ten nuclear bombs. Nevertheless, NWs may facilitate aggression and prevent development due to increased willingness to maintain the status quo (Bell, 2019). Furthermore, Egeland (2021) proposes that when compared to states that have refrained from building NWs, the UK is now faced with more difficult security issues. While constructivists may rely on NWs to exert dominion, the arsenal hinders growth and does not guarantee peace.


To summarize, nuclear weapons make the world less secure because most countries are not concerned with safety. From the IR theoretical framework standpoint, governments have various reasons to produce NWs, whether for protection, independence, or high status. However, states are unpredictable in their behavior and are likely to use the armament to pursue their own objectives, which can result in the destruction of cities. The creation of NWs jeopardizes citizens’ involvement in the processes that change people’s surroundings and may affect freedom. Moreover, testing of NWs endangers the environment and can cause long-term damage. Nuclear weapons do not secure anything but rather generate uncertainty about the future.


Bell, M. S. (2019). Nuclear opportunism: A theory of how states use nuclear weapons in international politics. Journal of Strategic Studies, 42(1), 3-28.

Egeland, K. (2022). A theory of nuclear disarmament: Cases, analogies, and the role of the non-proliferation regime. Contemporary Security Policy, 106-133.

Futter, A. (2021). The politics of nuclear weapons (2nd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan.

Hanson, M. (2018). Normalizing zero nuclear weapons: The humanitarian road to the Prohibition Treaty. Contemporary Security Policy, 39(3), 464-486.

Jervis, R. (2020). Liberalism, the blob, and American foreign policy: Evidence and methodology. Security Studies, 29(3), 434-456.

Kauppi, M. V. & Viotti, P. R. (2020). International relations theory (6th ed.). Rowman & Littlefield.

Lengefeld, M. (2020). Nuclear weapons and the treadmill of destruction in the making of the Anthropocene. Journal of World-Systems Research, 26(2), 203-230.

North Korea launches three missiles into the sea, including suspected ICBM. (2022). NPR.

Sears, N. A. (2020). International politics in the age of existential threats. Journal of Global Security Studies, 6(3), 1-23.

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