Political Science ETDs

Publication Date



Under what conditions will rivals choose to accept mutual constraints, limitations, and even reductions on their capabilities for waging war? Contemporary political science lacks a strong theoretical basis for understanding this behavior, despite the fact that states in the modern era continue to negotiate and enter into arms control arrangements. This study contributes a theoretical framework and empirical analysis identifying the conditions under which nuclear-armed rivals might choose to curb their deadly arsenals. Traditional theories grounded in classical deterrence theory suggest arms control serves to preserve a deterrent status quo and prevent expensive and destabilizing arms competition; it should therefore only be expected when rivals feel secure in the strength and effectiveness of their respective retaliatory capabilities. This study suggests a more complicated (yet still predictive) causal logic in which this balance of force is dynamically interactive with militarized hostility and rivals convergence or divergence in how they think — both normatively and instrumentally — about the role of nuclear weapons in their national security. The argument is illustrated through qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) of bilateral arms control interactions among nuclear-armed strategic rivals from 1949 to the present. Further analysis is provided through in-depth case studies of arms control dynamics between three pairs of contemporary nuclear rivals — the United States and Russia, India and Pakistan, and the United States and China.

Degree Name

Political Science

Level of Degree


Department Name

Political Science

First Committee Member (Chair)

Peceny, Mark

Second Committee Member

Ross, Andrew

Third Committee Member

Koivu, Kendra




International Relations, Arms Control, Nuclear Weapons

Document Type