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Who stole disarmament? History and nostalgia in nuclear abolition discourse

Abstract : Influential members of the disarmament community have in recent years maintained that further progress towards the international community's nominally shared goal of a world without nuclear weapons depends on recapturing the spirit and practices of cooperation that prevailed in the late 1980s and 1990s. Proponents of abolition, in this view, should focus their efforts on revitalizing the tried and tested arms control formula that was implemented following the end of the Cold War. In this article, I argue that this call to make disarmament great again reflects unwarranted nostalgia for a past that never was, fostering overconfidence in established approaches to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Far from putting the world on course to nuclear abolition, the end of the Cold War saw the legitimation of nuclear weapons as a hedge against ‘future uncertainties’ and entrenchment of the power structures that sustain the retention of nuclear armouries. By overselling past progress towards the elimination of nuclear arms, the nostalgic narrative of a lost abolitionist consensus is used to rationalize the existing nuclear order and delegitimize the pursuit of new approaches to elimination such as the movement to stigmatize nuclear weapons and the practice of nuclear deterrence.
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Kjolv Egeland. Who stole disarmament? History and nostalgia in nuclear abolition discourse. International Affairs, Wiley, 2020, 96 (5 (July 2020)), pp.1 - 17. ⟨10.1093/ia/iiaa096⟩. ⟨hal-03385836⟩



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