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Institute of Technology Political Science Department Working Paper No. 2013-19

Questioning the Effect of Nuclear Weapons on Conflict

Mark S. Bell MIT Nicholas L. Miller, MIT

Electronic copy available at:

This version: April 25, 2013

Questioning the Effect of Nuclear Weapons on Conflict1

Mark S. Bell

Nicholas L. Miller

Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Forthcoming, Journal of Conflict Resolution

ABSTRACT: We examine the effect of nuclear weapons on interstate conflict. Using more appropriate methodologies than have previously been used, we find that dyads in which both states possess nuclear weapons are not significantly less likely to fight wars, nor are they significantly more or less belligerent at low levels of conflict. This stands in contrast to previous work, which suggests nuclear dyads are 2.7 million times less likely to fight wars. We additionally find that dyads in which one state possesses nuclear weapons are more prone to low-level conflict (but not more prone to war). This appears to be because nuclear-armed states expand their interests after nuclear acquisition rather than because nuclear weapons provide a shield behind which states can aggress against more powerful conventional-armed states. This calls into question conventional wisdom on the impact of nuclear weapons and has policy implications for the impact of nuclear proliferation.

Word count: 8,681

1 Mark Bell ( and Nicholas Miller ( are PhD candidates, Department of
Political Science, MIT. We thank Robert Rauchhaus, Erik Gartzke and Dong-Joon Jo for making their data available. We also thank Christopher Clary, James Conran, Jeremy Ferwerda, Brian Haggerty, Yue Hou, David Jae, Gary King, Vipin Narang, Molly Roberts, Brandon Stewart, Christopher Zorn, the panelists and discussant at MPSA 2013, and the JCR editors and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions and comments. Regression tables for all models and robustness checks run are included in an online appendix, along with the materials necessary to replicate all findings.

Electronic copy available at:

What effect do nuclear weapons have on interstate conflict behavior? Do nuclear weapons bolster the defense, deterring aggression and making states more secure? Or do nuclear weapons embolden the states that possess them, leading to conflicts that would not have occurred in their absence? Do nuclear weapons have different effects on conflict depending on the nuclear capabilities of the adversary? These questions, central to policy debates during the Cold War, have only grown in importance in the last few decades with the emergence of new regional nuclear powers such as Pakistan, India, and North Korea. Today, debates over U.S. policy toward the Iranian nuclear program largely hinge on differing opinions about the answers to these questions, as pessimists worry nuclear weapons will increase Irans belligerence (e.g., Kroenig 2012), while optimists argue nuclear weapons will either dampen Iranian aggression (as Iran grows more secure) or have no effect on Iranian behavior due to the U.S. and Israels ability to deter Iran with nuclear weapons of their own (e.g., Waltz 2012). Despite the importance of these questions, we lack clear answers. Empirical work has generally failed to keep pace with the extensive theoretical literature on the topic and findings from the few existing empirical studies are mixed. We identify and improve upon three shortcomings in existing work to seek more conclusive answers to these questions: (1) omitted variable bias stemming from the fact that conflict is one of the core drivers of proliferation, as well as one of its possible consequences; (2) miscoding of cases, specifically the 1999 Kargil War; and (3) the failure to properly deal with the methodological problem of separation. We first review the existing literature on the connection between nuclear weapons and interstate conflict. Next, we analyze a dyad-year dataset (used by Rauchhaus 2009) to examine whether existing findings on the effect of symmetric nuclear weapons possession on conflict are robust to the methodological improvements noted above. We find that once pre-nuclear dyadic

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conflict is controlled for, symmetric nuclear dyads are not more likely to experience low-level conflict. Nor are they significantly more or less likely to experience full-scale war once we confront the problems of separation and the miscoding of the Kargil War, a finding at odds with the literature suggesting that nuclear weapons are a powerful force for peace. However, we find that asymmetric nuclear dyads (dyads in which one state possesses nuclear weapons) are more prone to low-level conflict than non-nuclear dyads, even after controlling for past conflict. To explore the finding on asymmetric nuclear dyads more closely, we use a directed dyad-year dataset that allows us to distinguish between dispute initiators and targets and thus probe the underlying mechanisms that may connect asymmetric nuclear weapons possession and conflict. In contrast to previous work (e.g. Gartzke and Jo 2009), we find that nuclear-armed states are more likely to initiate disputes, even after controlling for the determinants of proliferation, but that this effect is limited and conditional. In particular, there is little evidence that states use nuclear arsenals as a shield behind which to aggress against more powerful conventional-armed states. However, there is evidence that nuclear-armed states are more likely to initiate disputes against new opponents, a finding we interpret as evidence that nuclear weapons lead states to expand their interests in world politics. In short, important elements of the conventional wisdom on the consequences of nuclear weapons on international conflict appear to lack empirical support. We conclude by outlining the significance of our findings and their policy relevance.

Existing Literature and Hypotheses Symmetric Nuclear Dyads Whether nuclear weapons spur or dampen conventional interstate conflict has long been debated (Sagan and Waltz 1995), and is perhaps the most fundamental theoretical question

relating to nuclear weapons. Optimists have typically believed that nuclear weapons make states more secure, reduce the risks of misperception and false optimism, deter aggression, and thus reduce conflict (Waltz 1981, Mearsheimer 1984, 1990, 1993, Jervis 1989). Pessimists, by contrast, have generally accepted the logic of nuclear deterrence while noting the unique risks of interstate conflict that nuclear weapons create. These include the possibility of preventive war, accidental or unauthorized nuclear use, or escalatory risk taking (Feaver 1993, Sagan 1994, Blair 1993; Kapur 2005). A third option is that nuclear weapons have a more nuanced effect on different levels of conflict. For example, the stability-instability paradox suggests that nuclear weapons might deter all-out nuclear war but exacerbate conflict at lower levels (Snyder 1965), a possibility Waltz recognized in his early work (Waltz 1959: 236). Originally suggested by Snyder, the stability-instability paradox suggests that the greater the stability of the strategic balance of terror, the lower the stability of the overall balance at its lower levels of violence...firm stability in the strategic nuclear balance tends to destabilize the conventional balance (1965: 198-199). In short, nuclear powers might not fight all-out nuclear wars against each other, but may experience more conventional conflict. Or, as Jervis puts it, to the extent that the military balance is stable at the level of all-out nuclear war, it will become less stable at lower levels of violence (Jervis 1984, 31). The stability-instability paradox implies the following hypothesis for the conflict behavior of nuclear dyads: Hypotheses 1: Symmetric nuclear dyads are more likely to experience conventional war and low-level conflict than non-nuclear dyads. 2

Hypothesis 1 would also be predicted by nuclear pessimists. It is important to note, however, that we do not examine the full range of predictions of the nuclear pessimists or stability-instability paradox theorists only the predictions of these theories for conventional conflict in the aftermath of nuclear acquisition. For example, the nuclear pessimist position makes predictions about the likelihood of preventive war prior to nuclearization.

The most sophisticated empirical work on the topic, Rauchhaus (2009, reprinted in Rauchhaus et al (eds) 2011), purports to find statistical support for the stability-instability paradox while controlling for the standard predictors of international conflict. He finds that dyads in which both states possess nuclear weapons are more likely to become involved in lowlevel disputes and conflicts, but much less likely to fight wars.3 However, as noted above, the stability-instability paradox in fact implies that conventional war should be exacerbated (not reduced) by a stable nuclear balance; in other words, Rauchhaus (2009)s findings actually contradict the stability-instability paradox, which only suggests that all-out nuclear war should be deterred. Indeed, Snyder suggests that even tactical nuclear exchanges might be included among those levels of conflict that might be exacerbated by strategic stabilitya level of conflict beyond any that the world has yet seen (1965: 199). However, Snyder also acknowledges that one could argue precisely the opposite [to the stability-instability paradox]. This provides further motivation for our analysis. It is possible that a stable strategic balance reduces all levels of conflict, because the fear of inadvertent or mistaken escalation to the nuclear level is sufficient to provide a significant deterrent to belligerence even at low levels of conflict. For example, Mearsheimer argues, nuclear weapons make states more cautious about using military force of any kind against each other (2001: 129, emphasis added). The possibility of nuclear wareven if smallmay make states more cautious instead of encouraging brinksmanship at low levels of conflict. This alternative nuclear optimist position is the one that Waltz and Jervis (in particular 1989: 21) would eventually adopt. This suggests Hypothesis 2: Hypotheses 2: Symmetric nuclear dyads are less likely to experience all levels of

Earlier work by Bueno de Mesquita and Riker (1982) comes to similar conclusions, finding that the probability of war in nuclear dyads approaches zero, but that verbal threats and disputes are more likely.

conflict than non-nuclear dyads. Finally, it is possible that symmetric nuclear dyads behave no differently than nonnuclear dyads. For example, existing theoretical works suggest that military technologies are not major causes of war or peace (Lieber 2005) and that the prohibitively high costs of conventional war in the modern era make nuclear weapons irrelevant as a cause of peace (Mueller 1988, 2010). This suggests Hypothesis 3, essentially a null hypothesis: Hypothesis 3: Symmetric nuclear dyads are no more likely to experience war and low-level conflict than non-nuclear dyads. In addition to the competing theoretical claims about the effects of symmetric nuclear possession on conflict, there are strong methodological reasons for re-examining existing empirical work. First, while existing work finds that that nuclear symmetry is associated with a greatly reduced risk of war, this is suspect due to the failure to address the problem of separation. Separation is a thorny problem that exists when a linear combination of independent variables perfectly predicts a value on the dependent variable, and is often dealt with poorly in political science data (Zorn 2005). In this case, the problem is that is that no two nuclear armedstated have fought a war.4 As we discuss in more detail below, dealing inappropriately with the problem of separation has led existing work to wrongly inflate the effect of nuclear weapons by a factor of some 2.7 million. Second, the association between nuclear symmetry and increased low-level conflict could be spurious since conflict is an important cause of nuclear proliferation. Extant work has largely failed to consider this serious threat to inference. To obtain unbiased estimates one must

We discuss below the potential counterexample of the Kargil War between India and Pakistan, which previous research has omitted from analysis.

control for all variables that are causally prior to the treatment variable (possession of nuclear weapons), affect the outcome (conflict), and are correlated with the treatment. Past conflict meets these criteria, since it is likely associated with variables such as mistrust that affect the probability of future conflict (Jervis 1976), and is correlated with the pursuit and acquisition of nuclear weapons (Singh and Way 2004). It may be that symmetric nuclear dyads are associated with low-level conflict because it is low-level conflict that leads them to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place, not because nuclear symmetry causes low-level conflict.

Asymmetric Dyads Less work has been done theoretically on the effect of nuclear weapons on the likelihood of conflict between nuclear and non-nuclear states. Some scholars have worried that nuclear weapons make conventional conflict more likely (Betts 1988, Van Creveld 1993), perhaps as nuclear-armed states bully or attack their non-nuclear neighbors and then use their nuclear arsenals to intimidate foreign powers from intervening (Lavoy 1995: 737). This is in line with the long-standing fear that nuclear-armed states may blackmail non-nuclear adversaries with the threat of the offensive use of nuclear weapons, a concern that led China to develop nuclear weapons in response to American coercion in the 1950s (Lewis and Xue 1988), and that alarmed Indian, Japanese, Taiwanese, and American leaders following the Chinese nuclear test in 1964 (Campbell and Sunohara 2004, Ganguly 1999, Mitchell 2004, Gavin 2005, Miller 2013). The belief that nuclear weapons make states more aggressive, both against nuclear and non-nuclear states, underlies much current concern over the Iranian nuclear program (e.g., Kroenig 2012). Others argue that nuclear weapons may reduce the odds of aggression against nonnuclear states. According to Waltz (1981), nuclear-armed states will not need to engage in

aggression, because their nuclear arsenal ensures their security. This rests on a defensive realist theory of international politics in which states seek security and are easily sated. If states seek prestige, to maximize relative power, or ideological or nationalist goals, however, there is no deductive reason to believe nuclear weapons would reduce aggression by the states that possess them (Lavoy 1995: 738). There has been little empirical work on these questions.5 One exception is Gartzke and Jo (2009), which finds nuclear-armed states gain diplomatic status and are able to settle disputes in their favor peacefully, but are no more likely to initiate militarized disputes. Sobek et al (2012) find that nuclear acquisition is associated with higher likelihood of being targeted in a militarized interstate dispute (MID), although this is lower than the likelihood of being targeted while in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons. However, these findings are worth revisiting given concern that conflict may be a potential driver of nuclear acquisition. Sobek et al acknowledge this as a concern, and in robustness checks add a control variable that counts the number of times a state was targeted with a MID in the 5 years preceding an exploration of nuclear weapons. They acknowledge that when they do so that the coefficients on half of their variables of interest become statistically

There is empirical work on distinct but related questions that generally suggests nuclear weapons impact crisis behavior between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. Beardsley and Asal (2009) find that in crises characterized by nuclear asymmetry, the nuclear state is more likely to emerge victorious, that these crises tend to be shorter than crises involving two non-nuclear states, and that nuclear states in asymmetric crises are more likely to achieve victory than states in symmetric nuclear crises. Findings are mixed on whether nuclear weapons deter the onset of war in crises. Huth and Russett (1984), Huth (1988), and Huth and Russet (1988) find little or no deterrent effect of nuclear weapons. By contrast, Signorino and Tarar (2006) finds that nuclear weapons do have a large deterrent effect. Horowitz (2009) finds that nuclear weapons increase the odds that a state reciprocates militarized challenges, although as the time a state has possessed nuclear weapons increases, this effect flips in direction, as nuclear-armed states become more restrained. On the issue of whether nuclear weapons give states coercive leverage, Sechser and Fuhrmann (2013) find negative evidence: possessing a nuclear arsenal does not increase the odds of compellent threat success. Kroenig (2013), however, finds that holding a nuclear advantage is associated with a greater likelihood of emerging victorious in disputes between nuclear powers. Finally, Geller (1990) finds that nuclear weapons do not reduce escalation by non-nuclear states in asymmetric dyads. More recently, Asal and Beardsley (2007) reach opposite conclusions: nuclear weapons reduce the likelihood that a crisis escalates to the use of violence, and the more nuclear states that are involved, the less likely the crisis is to escalate.

insignificant.6 This indicates that past conflict is a powerful confounder and that controlling for only a portion of it reduces the hypothesized effect of nuclear weapons on conflict. Gartzke and Jo acknowledge and explicitly seek to model the selection into nuclear weapons possession, but do not explicitly control for past conflict.7 These conflicting theoretical claims and empirical findings are reflected in the hypotheses below: Hypothesis 4: Nuclear-armed states are more likely than other states to initiate disputes against non-nuclear states. Hypothesis 5: Nuclear-armed states are less likely than other states to initiate disputes against non-nuclear states. Moving beyond existing work, we introduce additional hypotheses to distinguish between two potential mechanisms that may cause nuclear-armed states to be more aggressive against non-nuclear states. First, possessing a nuclear arsenal may convince leaders that the downside risk of conflict is lower (since conquest can be deterred with the threat of nuclear retaliation), allowing them to initiate disputes against stronger conventionally armed enemies that would have been too risky in the absence of a nuclear arsenal. For example, North Koreas nuclear arsenal may make their leadership more willing to initiate disputes with South Korea since their nuclear capability provides a shield against large-scale retaliation. Second, the perceived increase in power associated with the acquisition of nuclear weapons may cause states to take a more expansive view of their global or regional interests, leading them to be more

More specifically, the coefficient on their exploration and acquisition variables become insignificant, although the pre-effort and pursuit variables retain significance (Sobek et al 2012: 159) 7 Gartzke and Jo use a probit model with an endogenous treatment assignment, but this controls for past conflict only indirectly through a rivalry variable. In addition, models of this sort are highly sensitive to misspecifications, andmore importantlyrequire either a strong exogeneity assumption or strong distributional assumptions (Simmons and Hopkins 2005).

aggressive and assertive with conventionally armed states that they may not have bothered with in the past. For example, American acquisition of nuclear weapons may have led American leaders to expand their conception of American interests in the post-1945 era, resulting in disputes against new non-nuclear states. While identifying and testing theoretical mechanisms is normally a task reserved for qualitative research, we provide an initial assessment of the plausibility of these mechanisms by inferring and testing their observable implications. If the first mechanism is right, and nuclear weapons make states more likely to fight by lowering the downside risk of war, this suggests (1) that the nuclear-armed state should initiate disputes, and (2) that the disputes should be disproportionately targeted at relatively powerful states (those that conceivably could have severely punished the nuclear state in the absence of its nuclear arsenal). If the second mechanism is correct, and nuclear weapons lead states to expand their global interests and assertiveness, we would expect (1) that nuclear-armed states initiate disputes, but (2) that these disputes should be aimed disproportionately at states with no history of conflict with the nuclear state. These two mechanisms suggests the following hypotheses: Hypothesis 6: Nuclear-armed states are more likely to initiate disputes against nonnuclear states, and this association should be magnified against relatively powerful non-nuclear states. Hypothesis 7: Nuclear-armed states are more likely to initiate disputes against nonnuclear states, and this association should be magnified against non-nuclear states with whom the state has no history of conflict.


Data, Methods, and Results In order to re-examine the effect of nuclear weapons in symmetric and asymmetric nuclear dyads, we use Rauchhaus (2009)s data. We use Gartzke and Jo (2009)s data to examine in more detail the effect of nuclear weapons on asymmetric dyads. These studies are among the most recent and empirically sophisticated existing work, and thus represent a strong starting point from which to begin our analysis.

Symmetric Dyads To assess the conflict behavior of symmetric nuclear dyads, we start with a dyad-year dataset (used by Rauchhaus (2009)). However, we make important methodological adjustments to previous work. First, we address the problem of separation discussed briefly above. Rauchhaus analysis uses a logit generalized estimating equation (GEE) partly because GEE allows us to deal with the problem of perfect separation...the data does not include any instances of two nuclear states engaging in war with one another. Thus, there is a perfect correlation between the absence of war and dyads in which both states possess nuclear weapons (2009: 268).8 However, while GEE does allow one to deal with the auto-correlation that occurs in panel data where observations in one time period are highly dependent on those in previous years, it does not get around the problem of separationseparation leads to non-identification with GEE just as with many other generalized linear models for binary dependent variables such as logit or probit.9 Given the small number of nuclear-armed states, the limited period in which

We discuss below the issue of the India-Pakistan Kargil War and whether it is correct that nuclear weapon states have not engaged in war. 9 Non-identification occurs because the likelihood function is flat in the region of the estimate of the coefficient causing separation. The intuition behind this can be illustrated using a logit link function. With separation, certain observations have predicted probabilities of 1 for the dependent variable taking on a particular value. To get a fitted probability of 1 using a logit link function requires that:


they have interacted, and the low baseline rate of war in general, it is plausible that the lack of major wars between nuclear powers is the result of chance, or is overdetermined by the presence of other conflict-reducing factors in nuclear dyads. Because different software programs deal differently with separation, the results obtained depend strongly on the software program and convergence criterion used (Zorn 2005). In fact, Rauchhaus is only able to obtain results because the software he uses fails to detect the separation in the data.10 Because GEE coefficients cannot be easily be interpreted substantively, we use Rauchhaus results to simulate the ratio of the probability of war in a non-nuclear dyad to
11 Nuclear Weapons and Foreign2000). Policy that in a nuclear dyad (King, Tomz and Wittenberg This ratio describes how many

times more or less likely, on average, a non-nuclear dyad is to experience a given level of Mark Bell conflict compared to a nuclear dyad (holding other variables constant). Because the probability March 20, 2013 of conflict between any two states in a given year is low, this provides a straightforward and intuitive way of assessing the impact of nuclear weapons on conflict. A ratio of 1 implies that a

Introduction dyad in which both states have nuclear weapons are equally likely to experience conflict as
are twice

The acquisition nuclear weapons is a revolutionary act in global politics. happens to the dyads of without nuclear weapons. A ratio of, say, 2 would implyWhat that non-nuclear dyads foreign policy aspirations and practices of the states that take that leap into an unknown and unknowable nuclear future (Hymans, 2006, 1)? These questions have grown in importance since the

as likely to experience conflict as nuclear dyads. A ratio of 0.5 would imply that non-nuclear

dyads half as likely to experience as nuclear end of the Cold are War as new nuclear powers haveconflict emerged and other dyads. states have moved closer to
joining the nuclear club. Indeed, the costs that the United States other states should be prepared These ratios demonstrate that failing to and account for separation leads to to pay to prevent the arrival of new nuclear states hinge on assessing how nuclear weapons aect state behavior. However, existing examinations of this question are theoretically and empirically


results. As Table 1 shows, Rauchhaus results imply that a non-nuclear dyad would be 2.7 possessed

million times more likelya to go to than the same dyad in which of both incomplete. This prospectus outlines project towar a) provide a more thorough typology the countries eects
of nuclear weapons on foreign policy; b) theorize the circumstances in which we should expect to observe them in new nuclear powers; and c) test this theory using qualitative case studies and large-n analyses. P (X = 1) =
1 1+e X

nuclear weapons. To correctly estimate the effect of nuclear weapons on war in the presence of
= 1. For this to be true, must be infinite. Standard errors will also be infinite because once X

is very large, even large changes in the estimate of will only lead to very small changes in the fitted probability. 10 Rauchhaus uses the xtgee function in Stata 10, specifying the AR-1 error structure. This fails to detect the separation in the dataset when AR error structures are used (StataCorp, pers. comm.). Existing Literature 11 All regression tables are included in the online appendix.

The literature on nuclear proliferation and weapons is voluminous. However, the literature on the eect of nuclear weapons on foreign policy is more limited than might be expected. First, work on nuclear weapons has tended to focus on the question of how nuclear weapons


separation, we follow Zorn (2005) and use a penalized maximum likelihood estimator developed by Firth (1993) as an alternative to the maximum likelihood estimation employed by GEE. By using the Jeffreys prior (1946), this method, Firth logit, allows for the consistent estimation of parameters even in the presence of separation (Heinze and Schemper 2002). We utilize this method for the model where full-scale war is the dependent variable. Second, we make a small coding adjustment. In good social scientific research, coding rules should be determined ex ante and followed consistently. The dataset used in Rauchhaus (2009) excludes the 1999 Kargil war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. This is justified in a footnote stating that the number of casualties was insufficient to warrant inclusion.12 However, four wars with lower casualties than the Kargil war are retained in the dataset. Further, the Correlates of War dataset (whose coding is accepted for every other conflict) codes Kargil as a war: total losses of 1172 are over the 1000-casualty threshold necessary for classification as a war, and the conflict featured two months of intense fighting in Kashmir.13 We reinstate the Kargil war, and use Rauchhaus original logit GEE model on the new data. Reinstating the Kargil war means there is no longer separation in the data, allowing us to assess the robustness of the war result both to the choice of estimator (logit GEE vs. Firth logit) and to small changes in coding the dependent variable. Table 1 below displays the results of the models where war is the dependent variable. Simply switching from logit GEE to Firth logit drastically changes the finding: instead of being 2.7 million times more likely to go to war, non-nuclear dyads are in fact no more likely to fight wars than nuclear dyads. The same finding holds if Kargil is included and the logit GEE model is maintained. Thus, regardless of whether we adopt a more appropriate estimator or change the
12 13

Rauchhaus 2009: 268, fn 20. On the Kargil war, see Lavoy (ed) 2009.


coding of one observation in a defensible manner, we reach the same conclusion: nuclear dyads are not significantly less likely to go to war than other dyads. Table 1 also shows that the Firth logit produces more plausible and stable results than GEE: including or excluding Kargil has a smaller impact on the results.14 Regardless of whether Kargil is included or excluded, the confidence intervals on the estimate of the relative risk include 1, indicating that symmetric nuclear dyads are not significantly less likely to go to war than non-nuclear dyads.


We now examine the effect of nuclear weapons on low-level conflict (fatal MIDs, MIDs that escalate to the use of force, and all MIDs). Before controlling for past conflict, Table 2 shows that non-nuclear dyads had only around 12-15% of the probability of engaging in conflict as symmetric nuclear dyads, suggesting that nuclear dyads are more prone to low-level conflict, with this difference being highly statistically significant. However, as discussed above, these estimates are likely to be biased because they do not control for past conflict. We remove this source of bias by controlling for the total number of MIDs a dyad has experienced prior to the year in question.15 When we do so the difference between non-nuclear dyads and nuclear dyads is significantly reduced, and at each level of conflict the 95% confidence interval includes 1. In short, there appears to be little evidence that symmetric nuclear possession is associated with significantly higher levels of conflict at any level.16

Firth logit does not control for time as GEE does. However, adding peace years, peace years squared and peace years cubed to account for temporal dependence (Carter and Signorino 2010) does not affect the results. 15 To reduce post-treatment bias, for nuclear dyads we use total dyadic MIDs prior to nuclearization. 16 It might be that this finding is driven by a few nuclear-armed states which have historically been involved in significant numbers of conflictssuch as the United States. However, including a dummy variable for the US does not change the significance of the outcome for low-level conflict, although it does somewhat attenuate the effect. We also examine whether nuclear age affects the conflict behavior of nuclear states, as suggested by Horowitz



To probe these results more deeply, we examine the conflict behavior of individual dyads. If dual nuclearization is associated with an increase in dyadic conflict, we might expect to see dyads engaging in more MIDs after the states within them acquire nuclear weapons. Examining the 25 symmetric nuclear dyads with at least five years of experience both pre- and post- dual nuclearization, there are only five dyads that experienced a higher rate of MIDs in the period after nuclearization and eight where the rate of conflict decreased (the remaining 12 saw no change in conflict rates).17 The US-USSR, UK-USSR, and US-China dyads saw the largest increases in conflict rates post-nuclearization, with 17, 6, and 5 more MIDs, respectively, in the 20 years post-nuclearization compared to the 20 years before. Conversely, France-USSR, France-China, and China-India experienced 3, 5, and 8 fewer MIDs in the period postnuclearization. This lack of a consistent effect of dual nuclearization in either direction runs counter to the expectations of both optimists and pessimists. That the US-USSR dyad would provide the strongest evidence of the stability-instability paradox is unsurprising since analysts observing the dynamics of the Cold War developed the
(2009). We test this by including a variable that measures the nuclear age of the youngest nuclear state in a dyad (if neither state is nuclear, the variable is coded zero). The nuclear age variable is insignificant, although its direction is consistent with Horowitzs finding (2009: 248) that dyads with older nuclear states are more likely to experience conflict. Adding nuclear age does not affect the other variables in the model. In order to guard against the possibility of post-treatment bias, we re-run the models but for dyads that acquire nuclear weapons, we freeze major power status and capabilities (the variables we deem most plausibly affected by nuclear weapons) at their final pre-nuclear level for post-nuclearization time periods. This does not affect the results. The results are also robust to using ReLogit instead of GEE and including peace years, peace years squared, and peace years cubed to control for temporal dependence. Results for the above models are available in the online appendix. 17 We use a default 20-year window before and after nuclearization, however this varies depending on data availability (MID data only goes up to 2000). The windows examined were always symmetric, however (e.g. if only ten years of data were available post-nuclearization, we compared the rate of conflict in this period to the ten years prior to nuclearization). The online appendix also includes lowess plots of nuclear dyads that experienced more than 5 MIDs over the entire period. These provide a non-parametric visualization of the rate of conflict before and after nuclearization.


concept. Thus, if there is evidence for the stability-instability paradox anywhere, it ought to be found in the US-USSR dyad. It is certainly true that the number of MIDs increased significantly once both the Soviet Union and the US obtained nuclear weapons. However, attributing this change to nuclear weapons would be unwarranted. Nuclear acquisition by both states coincided with the start of the Cold War, and the corresponding shift in alliance patterns. The rise in MIDs could be equally attributed to this shift in geopolitics as to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. It is therefore hard to disentangle the independent effect of nuclear weapons on the behavior of the US and USSR during the Cold War. Our results, therefore, do not support the stability-instability paradox, nor the positions of nuclear pessimists or optimists. Nuclear dyads do not appear to behave differently to nonnuclear dyadsneither more or less likely to fight wars, nor significantly more or less likely to engage in low-level conflict than non-nuclear dyads. The finding that nuclear dyads are not less likely to experience war is surprising given the influential theoretical literature arguing that nuclear arsenals drastically reduce the odds of war (for example, Waltz in Sagan and Waltz 2003). There are several possible explanations for this null finding. First, it may be that states are more likely to initiate conflict when they have a material advantage, but that on average, symmetric nuclear dyads are relatively evenly matched, as are non-nuclear dyads, making each type of dyad similarly likely to experience conflict. 18 Second, nuclear weapons may have different effects depending on the specific nuclear posture adopted, an argument advanced by Narang (2009-10, 2013). Narang outlines three nuclear postures (assured retaliation, catalytic, and asymmetric escalation) and argues that only an asymmetric escalation posturewhich threatens the first use of nuclear weapons in response to conventional attacksshould theoretically be expected to have a strong deterrent effect on conventional conflict. Third, it 18 We thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion. 16

could simply be that the high costs of conventional war given modern technology make nuclear weapons superfluous as a deterrent, as suggested by Mueller (1988, 2010). Our results also suggest that prior findings that symmetric nuclear dyads are more likely to experience low-level conflict result largely from selection effects: that past and anticipated military conflict drives the pursuit and acquisition of nuclear weapons (a conclusion reached in both quantitative and qualitative studies of nuclear proliferation, e.g., Sagan 1996-1997, Singh and Way 2004, Meyer 1986). Our finding that nuclear dyads are not significantly associated with increased rates of low-level conflict when past militarized disputes are controlled for supports this selection effect argument, and suggests that nuclear weapons may be less a cause than a consequence of conflict, at least in symmetric nuclear dyads.

Asymmetric Dyads Although symmetric nuclear dyads do not appear more belligerent at any level of conflict once past conflict is controlled for, asymmetric nuclear dyads do appear more prone to low levels of conflict (MIDs and uses of force). 19 As Table 3 shows, even once past conflict is controlled for, non-nuclear dyads have approximately two thirds the probability of experiencing low-level conflict that asymmetric nuclear dyads do.


To further probe the low-level conflict behavior of asymmetric nuclear dyads, we use a directed dyad-year dataset (as used by Gartzke and Jo 2009). Unlike the dyad-year dataset used

Asymmetric nuclear dyads have a marginally significant association with increased numbers of Fatal MIDs, but this is insignificant in some of the robustness tests run (see online appendix).


above, the directed dyad-year dataset allows us to identify the states which initiate conflict in a given MID, and thus evaluate hypotheses 6 and 7. We use a rare events logit estimator (King and Zeng 2001),20 controlling for the same variables as Gartzke and Jo (2009), and for temporal dependence using a variable measuring the number of years since the last conflict, along with the squared and cubed term of this variable (Carter and Signorino 2010). The results in Table 4 reinforce those obtained using the undirected dyad-year dataset. Once the determinants of proliferation are controlled for, nuclear weapons states are not more prone to initiate MIDs against other nuclear states; but are more likely to initiate MIDs against non-nuclear states.21


We now seek to provide some traction on the question of whether this association exists because nuclear weapons reduce the downside risk of war and thus take on more powerful opponents than they would otherwise; or because nuclear weapons lead states to expand their interests and thus initiate MIDs with states who they would otherwise not engage in conflict with. We test the first mechanism using an interaction between the nuclear possession dummy variable for the initiating state (state A) and the ratio of state A to state Bs capability. We test the second mechanism using an interaction between the nuclear possession dummy for state A and a dummy variable indicating whether state A and state B had ever experienced a MID in the 20 Using a probit or logit model does not alter the results.

There have been recent advancements in the quantitative study of proliferation that suggest some additional drivers of proliferation. In particular, the work of Kroenig (2009) and Fuhrmann (2009) suggest that sensitive and/or civilian nuclear assistance may spur proliferation. As a robustness check, we rerun our models including variables for whether each country in the dyad has received sensitive or civilian nuclear assistance in the past. Adding these variables does not change any of the results. To examine whether nuclear states behavior varies over time, we also run models that include nuclear age nuclear age is generally significant and positive, supporting Horowitzs finding that older nuclear states are more likely to initiate MIDs (2009: 248). Last, to address the possibility of posttreatment bias, we rerun the models but for dyads that acquire nuclear weapons, we freeze latent nuclear capacity, CINC scores, nuclear rival, and rival has nuclear ally at their final pre-nuclear level for post-nuclearization time periods. The results are not significantly affected by including these variables.


past. While this approach can only indirectly test the relevant theoretical mechanisms (Imai, Keele, Tingley, and Yamamoto 2011), it allows for a tentative initial assessment of the relative plausibility of the two mechanisms. We also control for the full battery of variables used by Gartzke and Jo (2009), including the determinants of proliferation. The results in Table 5 favor the second mechanism. Nuclear weapon states are more likely to initiate MIDs against states with whom they have no previous MIDs, but no more likely to initiate MIDs against countries with whom they have a history of conflict. However, the interaction between nuclear possession and capabilities ratio is insignificant the level of relative capabilities does not affect the association between nuclear weapons and conflict.


The expanding interests finding is not driven by one or a few nuclear powers. In fact, the data shows that eight different nuclear states (USA, UK, France, Russia, South Africa, Israel, China and India) initiated MIDs after nuclearization against states they with whom they had no history of conflict.22 These results hold when the dependent variable is changed from simply initiating MIDs to initiating MIDs that escalate to the use of force or to fatalities. While it is possible that this effect could be due to nuclear states initiating MIDs against powerful states that had previously deterred them with conventional superiority, and thus could in fact provide evidence for the first mechanism, the dyads involved suggest this is not the case. Out of 44 cases where a nuclear state initiated a MID against a new, non-nuclear opponent, in only one of these cases was the target more powerful than the initiator conventionally (measured by CINC scores). The mean ratio of capabilities of initiator to target is 389:1 while the median is 47:1. It seems

The full list of cases is included in the online appendix, along with capability ratios for each dyad.


unlikely that states this conventionally inferior were able to deter the initiator pre-nuclearization. Rather, the evidence suggests that nuclear states find newand often weakopponents.

Conclusion Our results call into question several aspects of the conventional wisdom on nuclear weapons and conflict. Using more appropriate methodological approaches than previous studies, we find that symmetric nuclear dyads are not less likely to fight wars, nor significantly more likely to engage in low-level conflict than non-nuclear dyads. This pattern holds up even when one examines individual dyads. Thus, for all its theoretical plausibility, this component of the stability-instability paradox appears to lack strong empirical support, as do the predictions of nuclear optimists and pessimists: the conflict behavior of symmetric nuclear dyads appears much the same as that of non-nuclear dyads. It is important to note, however, that we have only examined one of the predictions of the nuclear pessimiststhat the spread of nuclear weapons increase conventional conflict post-nuclearization. We have not tested the view of the nuclear pessimists that nuclear proliferation may cause incentives for preventive war prior to nuclearization or raise the possibility of nuclear war or accidental nuclear use. With respect to asymmetric nuclear dyads, even after controlling for the factors that lead to proliferation, nuclear-armed states are more likely to initiate low-level conflict against nonnuclear states, but this effect is limited and conditional. Rather than aggressing against more conventionally powerful states, the evidence suggests that states possessing nuclear weapons tend to initiate disputes against new, weak, adversaries. These findings have important policy implications. At least with regard to its consequences for conventional conflict, the findings suggest that nuclear proliferation is neither


as menacing or stabilizing as many have believed. The pessimists prediction that nuclear weapons exacerbate international conflict after nuclear acquisition seems to lack support, except in the case of nuclear-armed states propensity to initiate disputes against new adversaries. Meanwhile, the optimists hope that nuclear weapons significantly reduce the likelihood of conflict also appears largely illusory. Nonetheless, contrary to Mueller (2010), our findings do not imply that policymakers should be unconcerned about nuclear proliferation. Even if nuclear dyads behave similarly to non-nuclear dyads, if the mere presence of nuclear weapons generates some non-zero probability of nuclear war, policymakers still have reason to worry about proliferation given the severe consequences of any nuclear use.23 Moreover, as noted above, we do find that nuclear states are more likely to initiate low-level conflicts against new non-nuclear opponents, suggesting that nuclear weapons may not be completely irrelevant, and may lead states to expand their interests in world politics. This suggests at least a note of caution for those who see little danger in future proliferation.

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We thank an anonymous reviewer for this observation.


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TABLE 1: The ratio of the probability of war in a non-nuclear dyad to that in a nuclear dyad according to (1) GEE, and (2) Firth logit, including and excluding the Kargil War, along with 95% confidence intervals.24 All other covariates are held constant at their median values. An estimate of 1 indicates equal probability of war in nuclear and non-nuclear dyads. Ratios are simulated as recommended by King, Tomz, and Wittenberg 2000, and are based on 1000 simulations. Estimate Kargil excluded Kargil included 2,717,000 0.693 (1) GEE 95% conf. int. (893,000; 8,531,000) (0.545; 9.563) (2) Firth Logit Estimate 95% conf. int 1.606 0.471 (0.088; 30.079) (0.077; 2.985)

TABLE 2: The ratio of the probability of each level of conflict in a non-nuclear dyad to that in a nuclear dyad according to (1) GEE (as used in Rauchhaus 2009), and (2) GEE but controlling for pre-nuclear cumulative MIDs, along with 95% confidence intervals. An estimate of indicates equal probability of conflict in nuclear and non-nuclear dyads. All other variables are held at their median value. Ratios are simulated as in Table 1. Est. Fatal MID Use of Force MID 0.128 0.126 0.145 (1) GEE 95% conf. int. (0.058; 0.289) (0.055; 0.299) (0.055; 0.384) (2) GEE controlling for Past MIDs Est. 95% conf. int 0.462 0.344 0.278 (0.067; 3.373) (0.054; 2.420) (0.051; 1.653)

TABLE 3: The ratio of the probability of each level of conflict in a non-nuclear dyad to that in an asymmetric nuclear dyad, along with 95% confidence intervals. An estimate of 1 indicates equal probability of conflict in asymmetric nuclear and non-nuclear dyads. All other variables are held at their median value. Ratios are simulated as in tables above. Estimate War Fatal MID Use of Force MID 0.730 0.644 0.644 0.633 95% conf. int {0.294 ; 1.857} {0.407 ; 1.024} {0.443 ; 0.945} {0.461 ; 0.873}


All models use for the same battery of control variables used by Rauchhaus: contiguity, distance between states, state capabilities, presence of an alliance, a dummy for major powers, democracy, economic interdependence and IGO membership. Full regression tables for all models run are included in the online appendix.


TABLE 4: The ratio of the probability of MID initiation in a non-nuclear dyad compared to asymmetric and symmetric nuclear dyads using rare events logit, along with 95% confidence intervals. An estimate of 1 indicates equal probability of conflict in nuclear and non-nuclear dyads. All other variables are held at their median values. Ratios are simulated as in tables above. Estimate Asymmetric nuclear dyad Symmetric nuclear dyad 0.598 0.792 95% conf. int (0.397; 0.904) (0.409; 1.528)

TABLE 5: The ratio of the probability of MID initiation in a non-nuclear dyad to an asymmetric nuclear dyad using rare events logit. An estimate of 1 indicates equal probability of conflict in asymmetric nuclear and non-nuclear dyads. All other variables are held at their median values. Ratios are simulated as in tables above. Estimate 0.780 0.353 0.619 0.620 95% conf. int. (0.546; 1.122) (0.222; 0.567) (0.410; 0.940) (0.410; 0.941)

Had previous MID No history of MIDs Capabilities ratio = 2 Capabilities ratio = 0.5