Understanding Military Implications of Nuclear Weapons : A Frame Analysis of U.S. and Russian Nuclear Policy Discourses 2017-2020
Abstract: The paper discusses how strategic nuclear capabilities possessed by the world’s largest nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, affect how their state leadership makes sense of the role of military force in international politics. Using the theoretical framework of the theory of nuclear revolution (Jervis 1989) and nuclear realism (van Munster & Sylvest 2016), the author parses the ways in which the role of military force is framed in U.S. and Russian nuclear policy discourses in 2017-2020. For this purpose, the method of frame analysis is applied that draws on the writings of Goffman (1986) and van Hulst & Yanow (2016). The paper concludes that both in Russia and the United States, the understanding of nuclear weapons is symbolic. In other words, policymakers agree upon the fact that nuclear war cannot be fought or won. However, while Moscow distinguishes between nuclear and non-nuclear military capabilities as instruments of diplomacy and coercion, the distinction is absent in Washington’s discourse, whereby nuclear weapons are considered but one aspect of state military might. In both states’ discourses, nuclear weapons have a connection to state identity, which is particularly pronounced in the case of Russia. Finally, U.S. policymakers talk about nuclear weapons “from a position of strength”, whereas Russian state leadership appeals to its nuclear capabilities to boost its international influence and reinforce its great power status.
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