Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

Why Competence Matters: Counter-Proliferation and Deterrence

Wednesday, November 27, 2019, 12:00-1:00 pm
Robert Sutherland Hall, room 448 (light lunch available at 11:45)


Jean François Belanger photo



Jean-François Bélanger  

Postdoctoral Fellow 
International Security Studies, Yale University





Why are some states accepted within the nuclear club while others are preventively attacked in the process? More specifically, why aren’t more states attacked while they seek nuclear weapons? Only 1 in 5 states is attacked as it proliferates. This is puzzling considering how proliferation is portrayed as dangerous and destabilizing for international security by the international community. The typical response against grave security threats, preventive attacks and wars, are not used as often as we would expect given the rhetoric on nuclear weapons spread and their effects. The question is, then, what explains variation in the use of force for counter-proliferation purposes? Using insights from practice theory and applying them to a strategic setting, I argue that due to the high cost of prevention, counter-proliferators prefer to rely on deterrence in the future. However, deterrence is difficult. It involves tangible and intangible rules for it to work. When deciding whether or not to attack, counter-proliferators assess whether the proliferating state understands the rules of deterrence. I demonstrate how states look for indicators of competence from past interaction and deterrent crises. Proliferators deemed to be competent, I argue, are not attacked. I test this argument through a structured, focused comparison of seven cases of nuclear proliferation and its response by the United States, the Soviet Union, and Israel: the Soviet Union, China, India, Israel, Iraq, North Korea, and Iran.


Jean-François Bélanger is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale's International Security Studies. His book project, titled Why Competence Matters: Counter-Proliferation and Deterrence, focuses on the variation in the use of force against nascent proliferators. Using concepts from practice theory and applying them in a strategic setting, the book examines how competence in previous deterrence crises plays an important role in the decision by counter-proliferating state to use force or not to curb proliferation. His postdoctoral project examines the role of status inconsistencies and nuclear proliferation. His broader research interests focus on questions of competence and rule adherence, nuclear proliferation, deterrence theory, bargaining and credible commitment, nuclear strategy, nuclear restraint, and public opinion related to questions of international security. He has recently co-authored pieces on the diplomatic strategies of sea powers (Journal of Global Security Studies) and the China-India rivalry (Georgetown University Press). Jean-François has a B.A. from Concordia University, an MA from Dalhousie University, and a PhD. in Political Science from McGill University.