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2008 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award
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2008 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award

For the best book published in the U.S. during the previous calendar year on government, politics, or international affairs.  The award is supported by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

Award Committee: Raphael J. Sonenshein, California State University, Fullerton (Chair); Arlene W. Saxonhouse, University of Michigan; Judith Stiehm, Florida International University

Recipient: Etel Solingen, University of California, Irvine

Title: Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East (Princeton University Press, 2007)

Citation: Fifty years ago, Henry Kissinger won the APSA’s Woodrow Wilson Award for Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (Harper & Row).  Kissinger wrote at a time when only the great powers held nuclear weapons and the use or non-use of such monstrous force was a decision reserved to a few nations.  Kissinger argued provocatively that the United States should not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in foreign policy. 

This year’s award winner, Etel Solingen, has written a book that is equally important for understanding the contemporary and horrifying prospect of proliferation of nuclear weapons to nations of all shapes and sizes.  Decisions to hold and use these weapons are no longer in the hands of the great powers, as they were when Kissinger wrote his book. The need to understand “nuclear logics” is compelling.

In this deeply researched and carefully argued book, Solingen challenges conventional wisdom about how nations make critical decisions. Further, it provides clues that policy makers can use to draw nations away from a decision to develop and maintain nuclear weapons.

Solingen has examined how nations decide whether to develop nuclear weapons.  She looks at nine cases in two regions: East Asia and the Middle East.  In East Asia most nations have sworn off nuclear weapons, with North Korea standing as the exception.  In the Middle East, by contrast, a number of nations have tried to go down the nuclear path, with Egypt standing as the exception. 

Conventional theories about the behavior of nations would explain these differences in terms of the perception of threat from neighbors as the motive to adopt, or, conversely,   would give credit to external, international pressure for a decision not to adopt. But, as Solingen shows, these theories poorly explain actual behavior.  She finds that some states that would be expected to go nuclear to protect themselves from threats do not do so, while others whose borders are safe move ahead.  Similarly external pressure is not as predictive as its proponents maintain.

If a perception of threat determined decisions to develop nuclear weapons, then the international community ought to seek to reduce perceptions of external threat and, perhaps, use the stick of sanctions to influence behavior.  While these tactics may help, they have by no means been magic bullets. Maybe “magic bullets” is a little casual?   By no means been generally effective.

Solingen argues that nuclear decisions are closely tied to domestic politics and especially to the extent that a nation’s leaders value their nation’s integration into the global economy. If national leaders see global economic integration as essential to their domestic political standing, they are likely to foreswear the nuclear option.   Solingen provides a truly impressive and detailed analysis of the domestic politics of these nine nations.  Anyone reading her chapters will be struck by the richness of the discussion of domestic politics and nuclear logics, and by the lack of sophistication that often characterizes current debates about proliferation.  Solingen makes a forceful, and challenging argument that in order to curtail proliferation we should focus on political struggles within nations.  Our strategy should also entail linking nations to the global economy in a way that national leaders (both those currently in power and  those on the horizon) will see non-proliferation as advantageous to themselves.

Solingen does not presume to have all the answers, and is careful to place limits on what her remarkable analysis can tell policymakers.  But the cautions she offers about how sanctions can influence domestic politics either away from or toward the nuclear option, should be carefully examined.  Clearly, she has made the case that an understanding of internal political dynamics, rather than  a somewhat cartoonish portrait of misbehaving nations to be managed with carrots and sticks, can go a long way toward making the world safer. A model of thorough, creative and challenging research, Nuclear Logics is a book that should change how we think about an issue central to the world’s survival. It is likely to hold its relevance for another fifty years.