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Unit information: Dilemmas of a nuclear-armed world in 2015/16

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Unit name Dilemmas of a nuclear-armed world
Unit code SPAI30029
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Benoit Pelopidas
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


The unit sets out to explore and analyse the impact of nuclear weapons on the world we live in since their invention. It investigates the following questions: Can there be an international order in a nuclear armed world? What does sovereignty mean in a nuclear-armed world? How do nuclear weapons programs affect democratic accountability? How does the invention of nuclear weapons affect the role and possibility of a public intellectual? How do the pursuit of stability, incremental change or revolutionary change address the problems associated with nuclear weapons? What are the ethical implications of the existence of nuclear weapons? Why do states build nuclear weapons? How can the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons be decided? Can nuclear weapons be used for coercion? Is nuclear proliferation inevitable?

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of nuclear weapons technology, its history and its effects
  2. Critically engage with statements about nuclear weapons in the news
  3. Relate technical and political arguments about nuclear weapons to broader policy and ethical questions.
  4. Demonstrate skill in specific methodologies of historical interpretation and analysis.

Teaching details

1hour lecture and 2 hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

Formative: 1500 word research proposal including a literature review.

Summative: 3000 word research paper

Both assessments assess all learning outcomes.

Reading and References

William Walker, A Perpetual Menace. Nuclear Weapons and International Order, London: Routledge, 2011 Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons. An Enduring Debate, New York: W.W. Norton, 2012 David Mutimer, The Weapon State. Proliferation and the Framing of Security, Lynne Rienner, 2000 Lawrence Wittner, Confronting the Bomb. A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2009 Lynn Eden, The Whole World on Fire. Organizations, Knowledge and Nuclear Weapons Devastation. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2004 Carol Cohn, “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defence Intellectuals”, Signs 12:4, Summer 1987