Guest post by Pinar Temocin, Member of the IAPSS Student Research Committee on IR Theory

Considering the dynamics of current political affairs and social issues in regards to weapons of mass destruction in general and nuclear weapons in particular, the current political reflections based on nuclear disputes gradually direct our focus on the centrality of problems somewhat pertaining to (in)security today. Problems of ‘polarity’ in international relations, ‘ethical dilemmas’ and ‘the legal character of the use of nuclear weapons’ as they reveal themselves in our globalized world can be analyzed in relation to each other by employing the concepts of world peace and democracy.

After the Cold War, nuclear discussions based on the global security challenges that have been posed by weapons, especially in regards to the Democratic Peace Theory, became such an interesting aspect of international security affairs. The foreign policy agenda has been occupied by the monadic and dyadic explanations of The Democratic Peace Theory in the post-Cold War world, which asserts that democracies tend to go to war with each other less frequently than other forms of governments. In other words, if all societies were democratic, there would be fewer contemporary security challenges and stable international peace would be realistic. While some critics have asserted that democracy and any kind of weapons of mass destruction (such as chemical, biological, and radiological) cannot co-exist under any circumstances, others have argued that nuclear dissemination can be the cornerstone of international security, when considering the relationship between lasting peace and stability based on the democratic values and liberal societies which are in favor of more effective actions at limiting violence in crises and preventing war (Mises Institute, War, Peace and the State, 20 July 2005). It can be said that using democratic peace in structuring pacifist liberal societies and securing a liberal image with nuclear toleration is a contradictory point to some extent. Seemingly, nuclear aspirant liberal democratic states that embrace optimistic nuclear dissemination on behalf of peace can be considered as liberal proponents of the Democratic Peace Theory.

Let’s look at this theory using the Rawlsian perspective that liberal democracies are less likely to wage war with one another due to the nature of liberal normative principles. (Rawls’ thesis on perpetually peaceful order is that liberal and decent peoples do not go to war with each other). In other words, if all societies were either liberal or decent, perpetual peace might be reached. In this point, the Rawlsian toleration to retain nuclear weapons and its sense of justification (truly liberal societies do not go to war for the sake of power) of nuclear aspirant constitutional liberal democracies pose a dilemma about the creation of a common destiny. According to the Rawlsian liberal perspective, democracies may intervene in other countries for the sake of self-defense and for stopping serious violations of human rights such as unjust war or the use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (The Law of Peoples 2002, p. 8). Rawls goes on to argue that a supreme emergency exemption for self-defense can be applied, in principle, by liberal democracies in certain circumstances (The Law of Peoples 2002, p. 99). That is, political liberalism allows ‘the supreme emergency exemption’, and this could be transformed into an excuse for nuclear threat, which ignores the core idea of modern humanism and political liberalism: respect for individuals as one of the most important aspects of liberal democracy.

What constitutes the essence and the spirit of liberal democracies then? The answer is the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals, political accountability, and restriction or regulation of government intervention in political and moral matters affecting the citizenry. Considering the notion of the supreme emergency exemption of liberal democracies and the possibility of military intervention in defense of human rights, the liberal commitment to the individual person being the ultimate moral entity and value seems inconsistent with its moral basis and liberal principles through specifying a circumstance in which nuclear weapons may permissibly be used. It is fair to say (with regard to the Rawlsian thesis) that liberal nuclear exceptionalism is somewhat justified in the liberal mindset as it also creates a dissonance and a moral illusion on contemporary liberal democratic values such as appropriate governmental decisions for citizen’s security and the respect for citizens.

Scholars have developed many different approaches within the realm of game theory strategies such as the nuclear strategy doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. They have discussed counter-factuals as well as neo-realist arguments, and have commented on normative ethical assessments. They have also worked to scrutinize many theories, such as Just War Theory and jus post bellum, act-based consequentialism, Benthamite / Millian utilitarianism, and Kantian deontology. However, there is a need to answer the following questions under the shadow of these theories:

  • Is a safer and more secure world realistic under the current nuclear security circumstances? If so, what do liberal peace and international security theories suggest in this regard and how can liberal democracies retain possession of nuclear weapons without contradicting their liberal and democratic commitments?
  • Why and in what context does liberal nuclear exceptionalism constitute a contemporary global nuclear order?
  • To what extent do primary liberal democratic values play a role in producing international security, considering the current nuclear order?
  • Can we envisage international peace (understood as universal nuclear disarmament) without nuclear threats as an instrument on the path of future international peace?
  • Do the democratic characteristics of liberal societies coincide with the notion of nuclear peace, considering the current nuclear world order?
  • How could a political doctrine possibly justify a means that leads to a tragedy with such high amounts of destruction and civilian deaths? How can killings be justified by liberal democracies with respect to the value of individuals’ lives?
  • How can the instrumentality of existing nuclear weapons (political and military dynamics of possession or use) be understood towards the aim of preventing war and promoting international security under the concept of nuclear peace?
  • What is the relevance of the “ethics of responsibility” and “governing by morally based rules” of liberal democracies regarding their nuclear possession?

Unless there are comprehensive answers for the justification of nuclear possession by liberal democracies, the contradictory nature of this issue will remain problematic. Unless we distinguish the instrumental role of nuclear weapons from liberal-society oriented values, the Democratic Peace Theory and its role in world security will continue to be blurry.


48Pinar did her BA in Philosophy both in Turkey and Germany. In order to widen her knowledge on politics, she interned at international political organizations such as Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Ankara, Institute of International Relations in Prague. She did her MA in Comparative Politics and Public Policy at the University of Montpellier, France, with a specific focus on the anti­-nuclear movement toward the first nuclear power plant in Turkey as a MA’s thesis project. As she is very keen on environmental philosophy and politics, she coordinated the Global Justice Working Group of the Federation of European Young Greens which enabled her to discuss various topics in the context of inequality and injustice. She is very interested in change­-focused green activism, social movements, human rights, and nuclear ethics. She is now a Ph.D candidate at the Graduate School for International Development and Cooperation of Hiroshima University, Japan, focusing on the nuclear weapons and peace movements. She likes to deepen her understanding of the theoretical knowledge in political science through practical cross-disciplinary research approaches.