Scholars’ Workshop on Nuclear Norms

Lily Vaccaro
March 31, 2014

About the Workshop

On the weekend of March 20-22, CNS hosted an expert workshop sponsored by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) for a project on “Nuclear Norms and Global Governance.” The workshop was co-organized by Dr. Avner Cohen, CNS Education program director and a Professor at the Non-Proliferation Terrorism Studies (NPTS) at MIIS and by Dr. Maria Rost Rublee of the Australian National University in Canberra.

Nuclear Norms Workshop, CNS Monterey, March 20-22, 2014

Nuclear Norms Workshop, CNS Monterey, March 20-22, 2014

The aim of the project was deepening conceptual and empirical understanding of the norms that govern and guide the nonproliferation and disarmament regime. Fifteen scholars with an interdisciplinary background ranging from philosophy to international law attended the workshop and discussed their most recent work on the topic. This was the first meeting of the USIP project, which aims at producing an edited volume on the subject or nuclear norms and international governance.


The workshop started with a session dealing with linking the gap between theory and practice. Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr., who not only served as a diplomat in almost every major arms control and nonproliferation agreement from 1970-1997 but has also published a number of books in recent years on the subject, kicked off the first session. Graham stepped away from a constructivist approach to norms and looked at how norms, or jus cogen, are formed in the arena of international law. The theme developed in the first session—applying theory to practice—remained central throughout the workshop.

Another exciting theme discussed at the workshop was norm entrepreneurship and nuclear disarmament. Marianne Hanson (University of Queensland in Australia) used the emerging Humanitarian Initiative as an example of how non-nuclear weapons states strive to influence disarmament and pursue a new norm within the Nonproliferation Regime.

The established norm on the non-use of nuclear weapons, or what is often referred to as the “nuclear taboo,” was featured prominently in the fourth session of conference. Nina Tannenwald (Brown University) provoked a spirited debate on the role that the political and military elite plays in enforcing the taboo, even if it may not be popular among their citizens. George Perkovich, vice president for studies and director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, provided that session with the following recorded video presentation of the taboo surrounding the use of nuclear weapons.

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