Rival Hierarchies and the Origins of Nuclear Technology Sharing

Forthcoming at International Studies Quarterly

42 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2018

Date Written: September 17, 2018


In the 1950s, the United States and Soviet Union abandoned secrecy and began sharing nuclear technology internationally. Soon thereafter, the two superpowers worked together to create the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to place safeguards on nuclear assistance, and eventually added other non-proliferation measures. What explains these decisions? Conventional accounts are incomplete. We argue that an international hierarchy framework offers a fuller explanation for the superpowers’ behavior and identify three distinct mechanisms through which rival hierarchies can influence the internal workings of one another: competitive shaming, outbidding, and inter-hierarchy cooperation. We then probe the plausibility of our argument by investigating multiple observable implications in our case study of nuclear politics. We show that Soviet competitive shaming motivated the United States’ Atoms for Peace program, which sought to strengthen the loyalty of client states or attract new ones. In response, the Soviet Union attempted to outbid the United States with its own technology-sharing program. Ultimately, Moscow and Washington cooperated on the IAEA to limit the risks that nuclear sharing posed to their own dominant positions vis-à-vis subordinate states.

Keywords: Nuclear Proliferation; Hierarchy; International Relations; Rivalry; IAEA; Atoms for Peace; Nuclear Energy

Suggested Citation

Colgan, Jeff and Miller, Nicholas, Rival Hierarchies and the Origins of Nuclear Technology Sharing (September 17, 2018). Forthcoming at International Studies Quarterly, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3250854 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3250854

Jeff Colgan (Contact Author)

Brown University ( email )

Box 1860
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Nicholas Miller

Dartmouth College ( email )

Department of Sociology
Hanover, NH 03755
United States

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