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Non Conformity to Norms: Why Do States Proliferate in Opposition to Well Established and Powerful Non-Proliferation Norms

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posted on 2021-11-12, 20:22 authored by Kerr, James Te Rangihiwinui Latimer

Nine countries currently have nuclear weapons and of these only three have acquired them in the past 40 years. The primary reason for this has been the establishment of a powerful nuclear non-proliferation regime and its associated norms. The powerful influence of both the regime and the resulting norms on state behaviour is unquestionable. However a limited amount of state proliferation continues and some states’ behaviour suggests that they either reject, or believe that they are outside of the influence of the regime and its norms. My study is looking at the problem of non-conformity to the non-proliferation norm to see why it occurs. The issue is specifically a nuclear one however non-conformity to norms has wider implications in the study of international relations (IR). Regimes and norms clearly do not exist in a vacuum but operate within an international social environment. This nuclear issue remains a central consideration for state foreign policy and hence has justified extensive examination in the field of IR. The intellectually and ethically complex issues that surround access to this technology were acknowledged from its devastating baptism in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. International regulation was seen as the most appropriate form of control of nuclear weapons. This was in part due to the potential consequence of the misuse and the impact of accidents transcending national boundaries. This ultimate destructive capability has only been in the hands of a few states and the dissemination and control of this capability has been contentious from the day it was first used. Initially its power came from its potential to completely dominate militarily. As soon as the second country gained the same capability it became a lot more complicated. The destructive capability of nuclear weapons is such that any future war that saw their use could result in the annihilation of the human species. The Cold War and its extreme vertical nuclear proliferation actualised this fear. Nuclear technologies dual purpose functionality, of both peaceful power generation and the creation of a military nuclear capability make for a complex situation. There is an obvious power imbalance between the nuclear haves and have-nots and a self protective desire to stop or at least limit the number of countries attempting to join the ‘nuclear club’. Both realism and neo-liberal institutionalism are able to explain, in part, conformity and non conformity to regimes and their associated norms within today’s social environment. In this study I will use a social constructivist approach, which is based on the outcomes of persuasion, identification and social conformity, to see if it can add to the current explanations of state nuclear proliferation.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Relations

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of International Relations

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


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