American Nuclear Hysteria

Internal cultural factors in the United States largely influence the actions of the nation in international relations. While a myriad of cultural factors influence international relations with the United States, the unit level internal phenomenon of nuclear hysteria in the United States has vast implications upon international policy.

Historically speaking, nuclear hysteria is a manufactured response to the development of nuclear technology in the wake of World War II and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An effort to curb the possibility of unlimited use and expansion of nuclear weapons, actors in the development of nuclear technology greatly encouraged and spurred the debate on the subject brought into other disciplines. This in turn developed a healthy skepticism of nuclear technology in the United States which greatly contributed to the mutual adoption of minimum deterrence both by the United States and the Soviet Union. Thereby, its existence would seem to confirm an offensive realist position that systemic factors influence internal factors and by extension foreign policy. Furthermore, the development of the culture of skepticism was for systemic and factors and influenced foreign policy–particularly in the adoption of a strategy of minimum deterrence and the eventual development of the NPT.

While the offensive realist position seems to explain the development of nuclear hysteria and its impact upon United States foreign policy as it relates to nuclear technology, the theory remains falsifiable and other schools of analysis can account for the development and implementation of skepticism. While actors moved to place the discussion into a sphere not limited to military strategy, the preexistence of cultural factors in the United States absolutely influenced the emergence of nuclear skepticism. The United States is largely influenced by fundamentalist religious ideas that traditionally approach scientific developments with distrust–particularly when said developments require a large degree of abstract theoretical thinking. In addition to religious influences, a strong culture of ecologically minded groups oppose the toxic nature of manipulating nuclear forces leading to an internally motivated opposition to nuclear technology that develops independent of external systemic factors. Furthermore, the ability to understand nuclear technology fully requires extensive education in chemistry and physics as well as abstract and theoretical comprehension. An educational lacking in STEM fields in the United States certainly confirms that this lacking in education remains a factor. Therefore, the implementation of minimum deterrence strategies for nuclear weapons, limitations upon expansion of nuclear power both internally and internationally, and arms limitation treaties such as the NPT can be explained by an unit level developed culture of distrust of nuclear weapons.

The implementation of such international treaties also is not necessarily confined to an offensive realist motivation to control power structures in the international scene. It can just as much be a motivation found by defensive realist motivations and neo-liberal ideas. Defensive realists would argue for nuclear skepticism in order to protect itself from the potential of another actor gaining technological superiority over itself–thereby limiting access to all to avoid falling behind. Whereas a neo-liberal would see the adoption of a nuclear skepticism as beneficial for the facilitating cooperation between nations. While the implications of each school carry differing predictions and conclusions, it remains a plausible explanation that internal unit level cultural factors can lead to adoption of international positions just as legitimately as an offensive realist position requiring systemic factors only.

An empirical study could be conducted to measure the veracity of the argument that nuclear hysteria as a unit level factor influences international policy. Initially, a broad analysis of art and literature that has relevance to nuclear technology would yield an understanding of the motivating factors for nuclear skepticism. Such an analysis could then be parsed into categories that see nuclear technology as threatening due to factors based on systemic factors of fear between nations or unit level factors such as religious conviction, ecological mindedness, or educational deficiencies. Grouping these works would then facilitate a percentage based analysis which would enable a partial understanding of why cultural forces maintain a fear toward nuclear technology. In addition to an artistic analysis, an opinion poll asking whether American citizens support the repeal of the NPT along with a reason for the position would yield a more direct understanding of what cultural factors influence the nation at a unit level. From this, the results could be parsed into systemic and unit level, as well as religiously motivated, ecologically motivated, or educationally motivated(determined by responses that demonstrate a severe lacking in understanding the technology).

After empirical data is gathered to determine the extent of nuclear hysteria among American citizens, a more viable theory can be established to demonstrate how nuclear hysteria acts as an influenced unit level factor on United States foreign policy.

Weart, Spencer R. The Rise of Nuclear Fear. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Sagan, Scott D. and Waltz, Kenneth N. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate. Third Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2013.

Mahaffey, James. Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2014.

Bracken, Paul. The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics. New York: MacMillian, 2012.


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