Nuclear weapons, value and legitimacy

Nick Ritchie (York)




Progress towards nuclear zero will necessarily require diminishing the value of nuclear weapons to the point where it becomes politically, strategically, and socially permissible to permanently relinquish a nuclear capability. Nuclear weapons are valued in multiple ways by possessor states but the legitimacy of the values assigned to nuclear weapons is contested. This paper argues that the NPT regime is deeply implicated in both legitimising and delegitimising the values assigned to nuclear weapons at multiple levels in ways that complicate processes of devaluing nuclear weapons and strategies for delegitimation.
The paper will move through four stages drawing on contemporary NPT discourse over the 2010 NPT Review Conference in New York and 2012 Preparatory Committee in Vienna. First, it will outline the concept of idiosyncratic regimes of value in which nuclear weapons are discursively embedded; second, it will trace the continuing reproduction of nuclear value by the Nuclear Weapon States and prescriptive proposals to devalue nuclear weapons by Non-Nuclear Weapon States over the current NPT review cycle; third, it will examine the relationship between nuclear value and legitimacy; fourth, it will unpack the multiple and contradictory ways in which legitimacy is invoked, conferred, and disputed by NPT actors, ideational signifiers, actions and processes, in particular the permissive role of the NPT in legitimising the NWS’ nuclear arsenals and the role of extreme counter-proliferation through military force in reproducing the values assigned to nuclear weapons.

Dr. Nick Ritchie

Dr Nick Ritchie is a Lecturer in International Security at the Department of Politics, University of York, where he teaches international security, arms control, and US national security. His current work on British nuclear weapons policy is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Recent publications include ‘Rethinking security: a Critical Analysis of the Strategic Defence and Security Review’ (International Affairs, March 2011) and ‘Relinquishing Nuclear Weapons: Identities, Networks and the British Bomb’ (International Affairs, March 2010). He previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, and as a researcher on international security issues at the Oxford Research Group.