Nuclear Weapons in International Relations

School: School of Government
Department of Political Science and International Studies

Modular value: 20 credits

The nuclear revolution remains one of the most consequential developments in international politics. Nuclear weapons are unique in their capacity to inflict genocide instantly, they alter the calculus of governments, proliferation risks are a constant source of anxiety (as well as part of our popular culture), and they consume significant resources. With new modernisation programmes from Washington to Moscow, and with relatively recent proliferation in Asia, the issue will not go away soon. And recent shifts in domestic politics are putting the question of nuclear possession and use back on the table of discussion.

All students live in the shadow of the bomb, and British students have grown up in a nuclear armed state. Britain’s largest scale war of the post 1945 period, the invasion of Iraq, was partly a war of counter-proliferation. Yet within education, it remains largely a silent subject.

Very few modules about nukes exist at the undergraduate level in the UK. This module provides a remedy. It will acquaint you with the rich body of theory that has grown up around nukes, given that the prospect of nuclear exchange is still a possibility in the realm of conjecture rather than history. And it will challenge you to  evaluate the question both empirically (“is”) and normatively (“ought”)

Learning outcomes:

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Explain and critically evaluate the history of nuclear weapons and the ideas attached to them from the era of Nuclear Monopoly to the present day
  • Articulate and critically evaluate competing visions of how nuclear weapons should be understood
  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of debates around what drives proliferation, deterrence and disarmament
  • An advanced understanding of theoretical approaches to international relations


  • 2,000 word bibliography paper (50%)
  • 2 hour exam (50%)

The optional modules listed on the website for this programme may unfortunately occasionally be subject to change. As you will appreciate key members of staff may leave the University and this necessitates a review of the modules that are offered. Where the module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you make other choices.