All Options on the Table? Nuclear Proliferation, Preventive War, and a Leader's Decision to Intervene Open Access
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Under what conditions do states use preventive military force to forestall or destroy an adversary's nuclear weapons program? If nuclear weapons are so dangerous, why do leaders disagree about the magnitude of the threat posed by specific nuclear programs? Despite the fact that nuclear proliferation has been a growing source of concern, counter-proliferation decision-making remains poorly understood. In addition, though the logic of preventive war pervades the international relations literature as one state response to a relative decline in power, even after five decades of scholarship it remains unclear when this leads to war and when it does not. This manuscript demonstrates that the decision to consider and use preventive force rests not only on structural factors, such as power differentials and military feasibility, but critically on a leader's prior beliefs about the consequences of proliferation and threat posed by a specific adversary, generally and once armed with nuclear weapons. Conducting comparative and historical analysis using archival research and process tracing, this manuscript examines American decision-making against the Chinese, Iraqi, and North Korean nuclear programs.