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Global Politics of Nuclear Weapons - POL00043H

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  • Department: Politics
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Nick Ritchie
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

This module examines how and why nuclear weapons remain embedded in global politics as a source of both national security and potentially unlimited violence and asks what, if anything, we should do about them.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

Nuclear weapons pose great challenges to humanity but they are also seen by some states as an essential source of security. Seven decades into the nuclear age and significant questions and problems remain: What do nuclear weapons do and why are they a problem? Why do some states have nuclear weapons and not others? Does nuclear deterrence work? Would it ever be ethical to use nuclear weapons? Can the spread of nuclear weapons be stopped? How serious is the threat of nuclear terrorism? How can we manage nuclear threats? Is nuclear disarmament necessary or possible?

This module will introduce you to issues, concepts, and cases to help you examine these questions and think more broadly about how human society has adapted to 'the bomb' and its spread within a system of competitive states and complex societies. In doing we will examine the history of the nuclear age from the Manhattan Project to the current global nuclear order, concepts, and cases of nuclear deterrence, nuclear proliferation and counter-proliferation, and nuclear abstinence and disarmament. Over the course of the module, we will consider the long-term prognoses for managing the risk of catastrophic nuclear violence. I encourage you to arrive at your own conclusions about whether the ‘nuclear peace’ can permanently endure, about the possibility and effects of a general war between great powers involving nuclear weapons, and the idea that we are part of a long-term human experiment in which people have access to a weapon of potentially limitless destruction, now in its eighth decade.

Module learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate empirical and conceptual knowledge of nuclear proliferation, non-proliferation, deterrence and disarmament processes, and cases.
  • Identify and critically appraise competing frameworks for understanding relationships between nuclear issues and policy actions.
  • Organise and synthesise concepts and information to assess the complexities of contemporary of nuclear challenges.
  • Critically engage with the debate on nuclear deterrence, disarmament, ethics, and security.
  • Communicate arguments clearly and concisely through structured and evidence-based analysis.
  • Carry out independent library-based and internet-based research and assess an appropriate range and balance of literature to demonstrate depth and breadth of comprehension through essay writing.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutors feedback and guidance hours.

Students will receive written feedback on their summative assessment no later than 25 working days after submission; and the module tutor will hold a specific session to discuss feedback, which students can also opt to attend. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutors regular feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

Andrew Futter, The Politics of Nuclear Weapons (London: Sage, 2015).

Scott Sagan and Kenneth Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate, 3rd edn. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012).

Shampa Biswas, Nuclear Desire: Power and the Postcolonial Nuclear Order (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014),

Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, 3rd edn. (London: Macmillan for International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2004).

William Walker, A Perpetual Menace: Nuclear Weapons and International Order (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.