Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail

  • Todd S. Sechser (a1) and Matthew Fuhrmann (a2)

Do nuclear weapons offer coercive advantages in international crisis bargaining? Almost seventy years into the nuclear age, we still lack a complete answer to this question. While scholars have devoted significant attention to questions about nuclear deterrence, we know comparatively little about whether nuclear weapons can help compel states to change their behavior. This study argues that, despite their extraordinary power, nuclear weapons are uniquely poor instruments of compellence. Compellent threats are more likely to be effective under two conditions: first, if a challenger can credibly threaten to seize the item in dispute; and second, if enacting the threat would entail few costs to the challenger. Nuclear weapons, however, meet neither of these conditions. They are neither useful tools of conquest nor low-cost tools of punishment. Using a new dataset of more than 200 militarized compellent threats from 1918 to 2001, we find strong support for our theory: compellent threats from nuclear states are no more likely to succeed, even after accounting for possible selection effects in the data. While nuclear weapons may carry coercive weight as instruments of deterrence, it appears that these effects do not extend to compellence.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Robert J. Art 1980. To What Ends Military Power? International Security 4 (4):335.

Kyle Beardsley , and Victor Asal . 2009. Winning with the Bomb. Journal of Conflict Resolution 53 (2):278301.

Michael Brecher , and Jonathan Wilkenfeld . 1997. A Study of Crisis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

James D. Fearon 1994. Signaling Versus the Balance of Power and Interests: An Empirical Test of a Crisis Bargaining Model. Journal of Conflict Resolution 38 (2):236–69.

James D. Fearon 2002. Selection Effects and Deterrence. International Interactions 28 (1):529.

Rosemary J. Foot 1988. Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict. International Security 13 (3):92112.

Matthew Fuhrmann , and Sarah E. Kreps . 2010. Targeting Nuclear Programs in War and Peace: A Quantitative Empirical Analysis, 1941–2000. Journal of Conflict Resolution 54 (6):831–59.

Francis J. Gavin 2004. Blasts from the Past: Proliferation Lessons from the 1960s. International Security 29 (3):100–35.

James J. Heckman 1979. Sample Selection Bias as a Specification Error. Econometrica 47 (1):153–62.

Henry A. Kissinger 1956. Force and Diplomacy in the Nuclear Age. Foreign Affairs 34 (3):349–66.

Robert S. McNamara 1983. The Military Role of Nuclear Weapons: Perceptions and Misperceptions. Foreign Affairs 62 (1):5980.

Vipin Narang . 2009. Posturing for Peace: Pakistan's Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability. International Security 34 (3):3878.

Robert S. Norris , and Hans M. Kristensen . 2006. Global Nuclear Stockpiles, 1945–2006. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 62 (4):6466.

Robert A. Pape 1997. Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work. International Security 22 (2):90136.

Walter J. Petersen 1986. Deterrence and Compellence: A Critical Assessment of Conventional Wisdom. International Studies Quarterly 30 (3):269–94.

Scott D. Sagan 1994. The Perils of Proliferation: Organization Theory, Deterrence Theory, and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons. International Security 18 (4):66107.

Scott D. Sagan 2004. Realist Perspectives on Ethical Norms and Weapons of Mass Destruction. In Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Religious and Secular Perspectives, edited by Sohail H. Hashmi , 7395. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Todd S. Sechser 2011. Militarized Compellent Threats, 1918–2001. Conflict Management and Peace Science 28 (4):377401.

Sonali Singh , and Christopher R. Way . 2004. The Correlates of Nuclear Proliferation: A Quantitative Test. Journal of Conflict Resolution 48 (6):859–85.

Nina Tannenwald . 2007. The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Nonuse of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 22
Total number of PDF views: 405 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 892 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.