The Problem of Weak Nuclear States

William Barclay Walker, Nicholas J Wheeler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Governments are increasingly recognizing the problem posed by internally weak nuclear-capable states. The problem, however, is under-theorized. This article brings together literature on sovereignty and international order, the nonproliferation regime, and weak states, and introduces new concepts to provide a more structured understanding of this problem. Insight comes from focusing attention on the function and governance of two nuclear estates (termed the production and operational estates), and on their resilience to decay and disorder occurring within the state and society. Drawing on empirical observation, the authors suggest a typology of weakness in nuclear states, involving state fragmentation typified by the former Soviet Union, the “hard weak state” typified by North Korea, and the internally conflicted state typified by Pakistan. Although these types give rise to distinctive difficulties, their alleviation depends heavily on the maintenance of internal authority within the state and estates, the presence or absence of cooperative relations, and the international regulatory framework's vitality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-431
Number of pages21
JournalThe Nonproliferation Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • sovereignty
  • international society
  • weak states
  • Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
  • nuclear security
  • United States
  • Russia
  • Pakistan
  • North Korea
  • Iran


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