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CPSA/ISA-Canada section on International Relations

C21(c) - Nuclear Weapons: Old Risks, Contemporary Fears

Date: Jun 6 | Time: 03:15pm to 04:45pm | Location: SWING 107

Chair/Président/Présidente : Meaghan Shoemaker (Queen's University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Meaghan Shoemaker (Queen's University)

Interrogating the Agency of Nuclear Weapon Launch Decisions Through Popular Narratives in Film: Rebekah Pullen (McMaster University)
Abstract: The Cold War nuclear posturing of the United States and the Soviet Union shaped the strategic understandings that underpin modern nuclear imaginings. However, because of the contemporary dearth of real-world examples of nuclear weapon launches during conflict we must default to imagination as a tool for justifying anticipatory politics, and this includes popular movies depicting nuclear destruction. Accordingly, nuclear imaginings in pop culture have the potential to have immense significance and their potential consequence is worth knowing: my research question considers what influence popular narratives could have in understanding decision-maker agency regarding nuclear weapon launch responsibility. ‘Fictional’ storylines of global conflict and existential threats have become ubiquitous in Western pop culture, signifying something unsettling about how we interpret and reproduce narratives of nuclear danger. Connections between ‘fictional’ presentations of hypothetical dangers, real-world existential threats such as nuclear weapons, and existing positions of power are under examined in IR, and my research contributes to understanding how public ‘popular’ interpretations factor into issues of policy and knowledge (re)creation in critical security studies and IR. Combining content analysis and interpretivism, I am critiquing the use of nuclear weapons from ‘within’ the world that is performed into being through popular films depicting nuclear launch decision-making. I hypothesize that these ‘fictional’ images generate a capacity for agency, and that they are capable of creating impactful change on public impressions and understandings of nuclear weapons. This paper is an expansion on my dissertation proposal and will contribute to my introductory, literature review and methods chapters.


Nuclear Diplomacy in the Age of Social Media: Kathleen Fryer (University of Waterloo)
Abstract: The invention of nuclear weapons was the culmination of man’s ability to destroy himself. Since 1945 states of all political stripes have recognized the awesome destructive power of these weapons and have either sought them for their power as a deterrent or sought to eliminate their existence. Traditionally, nuclear diplomacy has been conducted behind closed doors and at high level summits between state leaders. In the age of social media, particularly under the Trump presidency we have seen nuclear diplomacy play out in cyber space. In the Cuban missile crisis, failure of communication systems between world leaders brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust. That event lead to the installation of a direct phone line between the White House and the Kremlin to avoid a future crisis. In an era of fake news and mixed messages conveyed in a faceless forum faster than the speed of light, nuclear diplomacy is in uncharted waters. Nothing short of the fate of humanity is currently being conducted on Twitter and it poses unprecedented challenges in maintaining the careful balance that is nuclear diplomacy.


Strategic Blunders: Twenty Years Since the India-Pakistan Nuclear Tests: Saira Bano (Mount Royal University)
Abstract: Little had changed in the two decades since India and Pakistan carried out their nuclear tests in May 1998. India developed nuclear weapons hoping to deter China and elevating its status to that of a global power. But it only provoked Pakistan to develop a nuclear deterrent that has successfully countered New Delhi’s conventional military superiority. The Pakistani nuclear program was mainly designed to answer India, but in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons Pakistan has opened up itself to additional security and political challenges. After 9/11 terror attacks, the international community became highly concerned about the possibility of terrorist organizations acquiring Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, which has subjected Pakistan to extreme external pressure. Nuclear weapons have not solved Pakistan and India’s security challenges, but only created newer ones. In this paper the developments over the past two decades are examined and it is argued that the fundamental dynamics of the enduring India-Pakistan conflict has not changed much since the May 1998 nuclear tests. Both countries have increased the war fighting and nuclear architecture that has only brought strategic instability to the region and increased the chances of nuclear escalation.