Nuclear Weapons: Political, Legal and Ethical Dimensions

Please note: This page refers to a course that has already taken place.

04 - 06 Mar 2015

PRIO, Hausmanns gate 7, Oslo


With participation and approved essay: 5 ECTS

Kristoffer Liden (

​​This year marks seventy years since nuclear weapons were deployed against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  No further battlefield use of these weapons has occurred despite their acquisition by nine countries.  During the Cold War there emerged a vast literature on nuclear deterrence. Then, as now, most nuclear states emphasized that they possessed these weapons to deter attack rather than for actual battlefield use. Over the last two decades academic discussion on nuclear weapons has shifted to new challenges associated with proliferation. As the number of states possessing nuclear weapons has increased, the question of how to halt their further spread (including to non-state actors) has taken on renewed urgency. The regional dimensions of the question have shifted as well from the earlier preoccupation with the European theater to the security dilemmas raised by the presence of nuclear weapons in South Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East.  Debate on nuclear disarmament has also undergone change. For instance, the slow rate of progress toward this goal (a commitment enshrined in the NPT Treaty) and concern for the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use, has led to calls for a legal ban on nuclear weapons use as a way to increase momentum toward multilateral disarmament. This research course will explore these nuclear challenges by discussing the political, legal and ethical dimension of nuclear proliferation and disarmament.

Course Description:

This course will explore the current state of academic debate on nuclear weapons. A broad set of issues will be discussed, including: nuclear infrastructure and dual use technology; drivers and controls of nuclear proliferation; legal and ethical assessments of nuclear weapons use and nuclear deterrence, regional security dilemmas, and strategies for achieving disarmament. The course will provide a critical overview of these issues, drawing on the relevant academic literature from political science, security studies, law and philosophical ethics.


Day 1 - Wednesday, 4 March:

10.00-10.30 Brief presentation of lecturers, participants and their research.

10.30-12.00 Introduction to the course: On nuclear weapons and current state of debate (Sverre Lodgaard, NUPI)

12.00-13.00 Lunch

13.00-14.00 Nuclear technology

  • Dual-use infrastructure (Sibylle Bauer, SIPRI)

14.00-14.15 Coffee/Tea break

14.15-15.45 Proliferation: drivers and controls (Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, IFS)

15.45-16.30 Discussion and questions

19.00 Dinner for lecturers and participants


Day 2 - Thursday, 5 March:

10.00-11:00 Nuclear Disarmament: An achievable goal? (Sverre Lodgaard, NUPI)

11:00-12.00  Ethical dilemmas of nuclear deterrence  (Greg Reichberg, PRIO)

12.00-13.00 Lunch

13.00-14.30 Legal and Ethical assessments of Nuclear Weapons

  • Nuclear weapons use under International Humanitarian Law (Cecilie Hellestveit, ILPI)
  • Proposals to prohibit the use and stockpiling of nuclear weapons (Cecilie Hellestveit, ILPI)

14.30-14.45 Coffee/Tea Break

14.45-15.45 Discussion

15.45-16.00 Wrap up


Day 3 - Friday, 6 March:

08.30-10.00 Public seminar: The Hidden Role of Nuclear Weapons in Today's Security Environment

Speakers: Sverre Lodgaard, Nobumasa Akiyama, Nobuo Hayashi, Pavel Baev, Gregory Reichberg.

10.00-10.30 Coffee/Tea Break

10.30-11.30 Regional perspectives: Japan (Nobumasa Akiyama, Hitotsubashi University)

11.30-12.30 Regional perspectives: Iran (Maral Mirshahi, PRIO)

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-14.30 Regional perspectives: Russia (Pavel Baev, PRIO)

14.30-15.30 Discussion and questions

15.30-16.00 Wrap up and closing remarks


​Application deadline: 20 February 2015

Essay deadline: 15 April 2015


In order to achieve​ 5 ECTS, an essay must be handed in by 15 April 2015.


​The deadline for applications is 20 February 2015​. Please fill in the application form. PhD candidates should specify the topic of their project under 'Research interests'. PhD candidates get priority, but others with graduate studies from a relevant discipline may also apply. Current members of the Resarch School on Peace and Conflict simply register. 

There is no participation fee, but the cost of transportation and accommodation must be covered by the participants. A limited number of stipends to cover basic accommodation at neighbouring Anker Hotel are available for PhD students who do not have funding for such course participation through their universities. ​

Applicants will be notified about the outcome of their application within a week after the deadline. PhD candidates who apply prior to the deadline may request an early evaluation of their application in an e-mail to​.

Course Literature:

Books chapters:

Borrie, John & Caughley, Tim (eds) (2013) Viewing Nuclear Weapons through a Humanitarian Lens. United Nations Institute for disarmament research.

Debouzy, Olivier (2012) 'Nuclear deterrence and war' in Lindley, Julian & Boyer, Yves (eds) The Oxford Handbook of War, Chapter 11, pp.162-184.

Lodgaard, Sverre (ed) (2011) Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. London and New York, Routledge.

Nystuen, G, Casey-Maslen, S, & Bersagel, AG (eds) (2014) Nuclear Weapons Under International Law, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Sagan, Scott Douglas, and Kenneth Neal Waltz. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate. WW Norton & Company, 2013.



Moshirzadeh, Homeira (2007) 'Discursive Foundations of Iran's Nuclear Policy', Security Dialogue December 2007; 38 (4), pp. 521-542. Sage Publications.

Sagan, Scott D. (2012) 'Why do states build nuclear weapons? Three models in search of a bomb.' International Security. Winter 1996/97, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 54-86, MIT Press.

Sagan, Scott D. (2014) 'Two Renaissances in Nuclear Security Studies' in McAllister, James & Labrosse, Diane (Eds) H-Diplo/ISSF Forum on "What We Talk About When We Talk About Nuclear Weapons.", 15 June 2014, pp. 2-10.

Sauer, Tom & Pretorius, Joelien (2014) Nuclear weapons and the humanitarian approach. Global Change, Peace & Security: formerly Pacifica Review: Peace, Security & Global Change, 26:3, pp. 233-250.

Schelling, Thomas C. (2009) 'A world without nuclear weapons?', Dædalus. Fall 2009, Vol. 138, No. 4, pp. 124-129.


Recommended readings:

Cohen, A. & Frankel B. (1991) 'Opaque Nuclear Proliferation' in Frankel, Benjamin (ed) Opaque nuclear proliferation – methodological and policy implications. London: Frank Cass.

Hymans, J.E.C. (2006) 'Theories of nuclear proliferation – The state of the field', Nuclear Weapons Proliferation: 2016 (Special Issue) (November 2006), Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 456-465.

Levite, A. (2003) 'Never say never again: nuclear reversal revisited', International Security, 27(3), pp. 59–88, MIT Press.

Paul, T.V. (2000). Power Versus Prudence: Why Nations Forgo Nuclear Weapons. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Sagan, Scott D. (2011) 'The Causes of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation', Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 17 no. 14, pp. 225-24.

Solingen, E. (1994) 'The Political Economy of Nuclear Restraint', International Security, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Autumn 1994) pp. 126-169, MIT Press.

Solingen, E. (2007) Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.