Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Hedley Bull & The Nuclearized Return of Hobbesian Anarchy

Posted by K.E. White on June 28, 2009

IR theorists have long disputed the effects of further nuclear weapons proliferation. Proliferation advocates—perhaps preferring to be caste as proliferation realists—highlight nuclear proliferation’s moderating influences, noting to absence of major war between great powers since the second World War; arms control advocates and others, on the other hand, stress the near misses of the Cuban missile crisis, and worrisome spread of proliferation to not only aggressive regimes, but unstable ones—North Korea, Pakistan and, now, Iran, in different ways, all come to mind.

In his seminal work The Anarchical Society, Hedley Bull adds an interesting plank to the proliferation pessimist platform: the dreaded Hobbesian state of nature infecting interstate relations.

It is this equal vulnerability of every man to every other that, in Hobbes’s view, renders the condition of anarchy intolerable. But in modern international society there has been a persistent distinction between great powers and small. Great powers have not been vulnerable to violent attack by small powers to the same extent that small powers have been vulnerable to attack by great ones. Once again it is only the spread of nuclear weapons to small states, and the possibility of a world of many nuclear powers, that raises the question whether in international relations, also, a situation may come about in which ‘the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest’.

Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (links to Google Book Preview). Colombia University Press, 1979. 3rd Edition, page 48. (For eager readers, find lecture notes on Anarchical Society here)

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