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​This book applies the cutting-edge socio-cultural model Cultural Topography Analytic Framework (CTAF) pioneered in the authors’ earlier volume Strategic Culture and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Culturally Based Insights into Comparative National Security Policymaking (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) with an eye towards isolating those vectors of nuclear decision-making on which the US might exert influence within a foreign state. The case studies included in this volume tackle a number of the nuclear challenges—termed “nuclear thresholds”—likely to be faced by the US and identify the most promising points of leverage available to American policymakers in ameliorating a wide range of over-the-horizon nuclear challenges. Because near and medium-term nuclear thresholds are likely to involve both allies and adversaries simultaneously, meaning that US response will require strategies tailored to both the perception of threat experienced by the actors in question, the value the actors place on their relationship with the US, and the domestic context driving decision-making. This volume offers a nuanced look at each actor’s identity, national norms, values, and perceptual lens in order to offer culturally-focused insights into behavior and intentions.



Chapter 1. Introduction: Sociocultural Approaches to Understanding Nuclear Thresholds

This chapter serves as the introduction to the volume Crossing Nuclear Thresholds: Leveraging Sociocultural Insights into Nuclear Decisionmaking, introducing the key conceptual and policy issues addressed in the text and providing an overview of the structure and content of the book. The concept of nuclear thresholds, those associated with decisions both to acquire nuclear weapons and to use them, is developed and situated in the existing nuclear literature; and the unique contributions of turning a sociocultural analytic lens to the question of nuclear decisionmaking are explored. In particular, the author evaluates the novel concept of “sacred values,” as it might apply to nuclear aspirations, and gives attention to the strength or fragility of the so-called nuclear taboo. Finally, this chapter provides an overview of the structure and contents of the book by introducing the authors and the principal contributions of each chapter.
Kerry M. Kartchner

Chapter 2. The Cultural Topography Analytic Framework

This chapter walks the reader through the development of the Cultural Topography Analytic Framework (CTAF), describes the analytical shortcomings it is meant to remedy, and explains the process of employing the framework as a research method. At the core of the CTAF is the goal of isolating the key identity factors, values, norms, and perceptual lens of the state contemplating crossing a nuclear threshold, and then designing a tailored set of traditional and nontraditional foreign policy levers for interlocutors to use to impact that decision. The chapter briefly introduces the field of strategic culture and its early contributions to the nuclear policy literature and highlights continuing deficiencies within this methodological field that the CTAF model is designed to remedy—including failures to account for shifts in national behavior and the inability to identify which of several, often competing, national security narratives will dominate a regime’s nuclear decisionmaking.
Jeannie L. Johnson, Marilyn J. Maines

Chapter 3. Iran’s Strategic Culture: Implications for Nuclear Policy

Nima Gerami strikes a note of caution in his chapter concerning the prospects for preserving the 2015 nuclear agreement—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—between Iran and the P5+1. Explaining the “great civilization” lens through which Iran sees itself as a peer with global superpowers, Gerami discusses aspects of the Iranian national narrative which “fuel its sense of entitlement to advanced nuclear fuel cycle technologies.” Gerami argues that, even if the JCPOA remains intact, some of the deal’s restrictions expire in 10 to 15 years and thus “the question of Iran's nuclear intent will grow increasingly important over the next decade.” Affirming the salience of cultural context in assessing nuclear intent, Gerami emphasizes the primacy of Iranian cultural factors in decisionmaking. He explores these factors through the lens of the Cultural Topography Analytic Framework, offering insights concerning leverage points the United States might apply in its engagements with Iran.
Nima Gerami

Chapter 4. Prospects for Proliferation in Saudi Arabia

J. E. Peterson examines the complex narratives, historic culture, and decisionmaking processes inside Saudi Arabia to formulate his assessment of a low probability that the kingdom will act to acquire nuclear arms in the near term. Peterson identifies triggers within the security threat matrix that may flare Saudi motivation to acquire nuclear capability, including concern over regional disintegration, Israeli provocation, continued Iranian belligerence, and deterioration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or evidence of direct Iranian interference in Gulf States’ domestic affairs; he also argues that the ultimate Saudi reaction will likely hinge on perceptions of the United States as a reliable security partner and its valuation of this relationship. Using his intimate understanding of the royal decisionmaking process and internal operation of policy-building in Saudi Arabia, Peterson offers tailored recommendations to US policymakers concerning the vector points which hold most promise for influence with the Saudis on the nuclear issue.
J. E. Peterson

Chapter 5. Israeli Strategic Culture and the Iran “Preemption Scare” of 2009–2013

Gregory Giles offers a useful and unconventional take on the Israeli nuclear question by focusing on the Jewish State’s commitment to protecting its widely presumed regional nuclear monopoly—with unilateral military force if necessary—and US efforts to steer and moderate potential Israeli action. Giles succinctly captures the basic elements of Israel’s operational cultural narrative as they relate to the Begin Doctrine. To demonstrate a specific set of critical factors which have consistently functioned within Israel’s operational cultural narrative on nuclear issues, Giles details the decisionmaking process behind the Israeli military strikes on nuclear facilities in Syria and Iraq, showing how each of the criteria within that narrative was met. He then compares and contrasts those two cases with Israel’s failure to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities during the critical 2009–2013 period. Observing that cracking the code of the Israeli decisionmaking process may prove difficult when US interests and projected security behavior do not cleanly line up with Israel’s preferred mode of action, Giles provides invaluable insights and recommendations for the way ahead.
Gregory F. Giles

Chapter 6. Cultural Underpinnings of Current Russian Nuclear and Security Strategy

Dima Adamsky tracks Russian strategic culture from the Soviet period through the current day, arguing that more continuity than change is featured in Russian security thinking. Adamsky interweaves an analysis of Russian strategic culture with descriptions of the current Russian geopolitical threat perception, the architecture of its nuclear community, and the evolution of Russian nuclear and cross-domain coercion strategies over the last two decades. Cautioning that Russia’s siege mentality will continue to color its perceptual lens, Adamsky argues that imagined threat perceptions may encourage Moscow to draw flawed conclusions and attribute non-existent aggressive intentions to its adversaries, resulting in overreaction. Adamsky ends with a powerful contribution to deterrence thinking: Inspired by Clausewitz’s “culminating point of victory,” Adamsky argues that US practitioners may benefit from considering the “culminating point of deterrence”—a term he employs to refer to the moment after which additional threats may become counterproductive, provoking escalation instead of restraint.
Dmitry (Dima) Adamsky

Chapter 7. Ukraine’s Nuclear Culture: Past, Present, Future

Kate Svyatets maps Ukraine’s social circles and values in order to explain Ukrainian restraint regarding pursuit of nuclear weapons, despite its Soviet inheritance of nuclear facilities and latent capability. Svyatets examines the aspects of Ukrainian identity, social and security norms, values, and public memory of its nuclear age to identify those cultural factors which are likely to strengthen Ukraine’s nonproliferation stance and those likely to push against it. Particularly innovative are her analysis of traditional and nontraditional actors and her exploration of popular culture and memory, including that surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Ultimately, Svyatets predicts that as Ukraine’s security woes continue to flame, so too will its wistful narratives of nuclear capability. Svyatets makes clear where the United States has a critical opportunity to intervene by providing Ukraine the incentives it is looking for to remain a “team player” and forgo the nuclear path.
Ekaterina Svyatets

Chapter 8. North Korea’s Strategic Culture and Its Evolving Nuclear Strategy

Shane Smith addresses one of the most opaque and inaccessible regimes on the planet, examining the regime’s voracious nuclear appetite. Smith assesses North Korean threat perceptions holding that the United States is bent on destroying the state and explains how North Korea’s identity narratives have increasingly featured nuclear weapons in a dominant role. Examining North Korean norms that include a history of “willingness to impose extreme deprivation on its people and to call on them to make great sacrifices,” Smith explains that the North Korean mindset is conditioned to expect “a final war against imperialism.” Smith warns that consistent exposure to these narratives may mean that North Koreans have internalized the bellicose nuclear discourse of the regime and hold an unreasonable degree of confidence in the state’s capacity for victory in a nuclear war. With these warnings as backdrop, Smith offers carefully constructed advice to would-be interlocutors on the nuclear question.
Shane Smith

Chapter 9. Conclusion: Using Strategic Culture to Explain Real-World Decisionmaking

This chapter serves as the conclusion to the volume Crossing Nuclear Thresholds: Leveraging Sociocultural Insights into Nuclear Decisionmaking, summarizing the core conceptual and policy issues addressed in the text, reporting on the utility of the Cultural Topography Analytic Framework as a methodology to apply a sociocultural lens to the question of nuclear thresholds, and delivering key insights unearthed by the volume’s case study authors.
Jeffrey A. Larsen


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