No paradox here? Improving theory and testing of the nuclear stability–instability paradox with synthetic counterfactuals

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Peace Research, 2021, 58, (6), pp. 1178-1193
Issue Date:
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This article contributes to both the theoretical elaboration and empirical testing of the ‘stability–instability paradox’, the proposition that while nuclear weapons deter nuclear war, they also increase conventional conflict among nuclear-armed states. Some recent research has found support for the paradox, but quantitative studies tend to pool all international dyads while qualitative and theoretical studies focus almost exclusively on the USA–USSR and India–Pakistan dyads. This article argues that existing empirical tests lack clearly relevant counterfactual cases, and are vulnerable to a number of inferential problems, including selection on the dependent variable, unintentionally biased inference, and extrapolation from irrelevant cases. The limited evidentiary base coincides with a lack of consideration of the theoretical conditions under which the paradox might apply. To address these issues this article theorizes some scope conditions for the paradox. It then applies synthetic control, a quantitative method for valid comparison when appropriate counterfactual cases are lacking, to model international conflict between India–Pakistan, China–India, and North Korea–USA, before and after nuclearization. The article finds only limited support for the paradox when considered as a general theory, or within the theorized scope conditions based on the balance of resolve and power within each dyad.
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