Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East

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Princeton University Press, Feb 9, 2009 - Political Science - 424 pages
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Nuclear Logics examines why some states seek nuclear weapons while others renounce them. Looking closely at nine cases in East Asia and the Middle East, Etel Solingen finds two distinct regional patterns. In East Asia, the norm since the late 1960s has been to forswear nuclear weapons, and North Korea, which makes no secret of its nuclear ambitions, is the anomaly. In the Middle East the opposite is the case, with Iran, Iraq, Israel, and Libya suspected of pursuing nuclear-weapons capabilities, with Egypt as the anomaly in recent decades.

Identifying the domestic conditions underlying these divergent paths, Solingen argues that there are clear differences between states whose leaders advocate integration in the global economy and those that reject it. Among the former are countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, whose leaders have had stronger incentives to avoid the political, economic, and other costs of acquiring nuclear weapons. The latter, as in most cases in the Middle East, have had stronger incentives to exploit nuclear weapons as tools in nationalist platforms geared to helping their leaders survive in power. Solingen complements her bold argument with other logics explaining nuclear behavior, including security dilemmas, international norms and institutions, and the role of democracy and authoritarianism. Her account charts the most important frontier in understanding nuclear proliferation: grasping the relationship between internal and external political survival. Nuclear Logics is a pioneering book that is certain to provide an invaluable resource for researchers, teachers, and practitioners while reframing the policy debate surrounding nonproliferation.


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This is a superb, award-winning book. The author carefully selected a series of hard, least-likely cases (the "Sinatra inference,"as she called it), which, if her theory could pass, ("or make it there, they could make it anywhere"), would largely be validated. The book won two of the most prestigious awards in the political sciences: the Woodrow Wilson Award and the Jervis-Schroeder Prize for Best Book. This work sheds light on the problem of nuclear proliferation, demonstrating that the political economic preferences of the governing domestic coalitions of various states across the globe determine to pursue or forego nuclear weapons programs. This sheds particular light on ongoing confrontations and confidence-building processes, such as with Iran. A great read. 

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I've read a fair amount of what this scholar has written and liked most of it. This book has received a lot of acclaim. Frankly, I don't think it was her best work. Far from being a "pioneering" work, the theory is lifted wholesale from the author's previous book, "Regional Orders at Century's Dawn." This book is a series of tests of the author's argument and- surprise surprise- she finds that she's right in every one of them. I find that she makes several essentialist assumptions- implicitly and explicitly- about different regions and cultures' identities. While these are not necessarily racist, they are somewhat orientalist in their outlook and treatment of many states in the Middle East. The treatment of several states' domestic political constraints, starting with Iran, is overly simplistic; if you've ever been to one of these countries, you might even be offended by the way she glosses over and outright ignores facts or outside opinions that contradict her hypotheses. A disappointment from an otherwise solid scholar.  

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About the author (2009)

Etel Solingen is professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine. Her books include Regional Orders at Century's Dawn: Global and Domestic Influences on Grand Strategy (Princeton) and Industrial Policy, Technology, and International Bargaining: Designing Nuclear Industries in Argentina and Brazil.

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