Into the bargain : the triumph and tragedy of nuclear internationalism during the mid-Cold War, 1958-1970



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The making of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) occupied the energy and attention of world powers, great and small, from the Irish Resolution’s proposal at the United Nations General Assembly in 1958 to the treaty’s entry into force in 1970. Accounts of why the international community fashioned a treaty whose articles and principles embody a tangle of self-contradictory rights, privileges, and obligations point to United States and Soviet hegemony, the rise of Soviet-American détente, or the intrinsic dangers of nuclear weapons. In contrast to these interpretations, this dissertation claims that the negotiation and achievement of the NPT was a contingent event whose course and content were shaped by a jumble of entangled causes: Cold War alliances, domestic politics, decolonization, the Vietnam War, and a schism in internationalist thought. The common impulse, however, was the perceived need to bring order to the Nuclear Age amid recurrent crises whose outbreak threatened global conflict if the spread of nuclear weapons continued unabated. In the contexts of the Cold War and decolonization, the establishment of a global nuclear order required Soviet-American cooperation in concert with the involvement of an international community then emerging from decolonization. Both were embodied in the cadre of arms control diplomats then working in Geneva and New York City. In the final analysis, the Cold War obstructed more than it abetted the treaty’s brokering and Soviet-American détente was more the result of international nuclear diplomacy than its cause. The Vietnam War both limited U.S. willingness to contemplate nuclear assurances requested by nuclear have-nots and the underlying reason that U.S. President Lyndon Johnson sacrificed a NATO multilateral nuclear force for the sake of an NPT in an effort to quiet antiwar dissent at home. Soviet-American cooperation was necessary but not sufficient to achieve the treaty. The failure of initial efforts, the international consensus required to legitimate the treaty, and concurrent talks for a Latin American nuclear-free zone allowed nuclear have-nots to inscribe their preferences on the NPT, whose fusion of a nuclear hierarchy and a grand bargain remains an open chapter in the history of nuclear internationalism.