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Between conformity and innovation: China’s and India’s quest for status as responsible nuclear powers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 March 2018

Nicola Leveringhaus*
Lecturer, War Studies, King’s College London
Kate Sullivan de Estrada*
Associate Professor, International Relations of South Asia, University of Oxford
*Correspondence to: Nicola Leveringhaus, Department of War Studies, School of Security Studies, King's College London, Strand Campus, London, WC2R 2LS. Author’s email:
**Correspondence to: Kate Sullivan de Estrada, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, 12 Bevington Road, Oxford, OX2 6LH. Author’s email:


China and India, as rising powers, have been proactive in seeking status as nuclear responsibles. Since the 1990s they have sought to demonstrate conformity with intersubjectively accepted understandings of nuclear responsibility within the global nuclear order, and have also sought recognition on the basis of particularistic practices of nuclear restraint. This article addresses two puzzles. First, nuclear restraint is at the centre of the pursuit of global nuclear order, so why have China and India not received recognition from influential members of the nuclear order for the full spectrum of their restraint-based behaviours? Second, why do China and India nonetheless persist with these behaviours? We argue that the conferral of status as a nuclear responsible is a politicised process shaped by the interests, values, and perceptions of powerful stakeholder states in the global nuclear order. China’s and India’s innovations are not incorporated into the currently accepted set of responsible nuclear behaviours because, indirectly, they pose a strategic, political, and social challenge to these states. However, China’s and India’s innovations are significant as an insight into their identity-projection and preferred social roles as distinctive rising powers, and as a means of introducing new, if nascent, ideas into non-proliferation practice and governance.

Research Article
© British International Studies Association 2018 

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