Hugh Gusterson


Hugh Gusterson is Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at George Washington University.  Gusterson is the author of Nuclear Rites (University of California Press, 1996), People of the Bomb (University of Minnesota Press, 2004), and Drone (MIT Press, 2016).  He is co-editor of Cultures of Insecurity (University of Minnesota Press, 1999), The Insecure American (University of California Press, 2009), and Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong (University of California Press, 2005).  He has a regular column for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and for the new public anthropology website, Sapiens.  He has also published in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Science, Nature, New Scientist, American Scientist, and The Sciences.

From 2009-2012 Gusterson served on the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association, in which capacity he co-chaired the final phase of approval of the Association’s new ethics code.  He is President of the American Ethnological Society, and was a member of the American Anthropological Association’s Task Force on Engagement with Israel/Palestine.


The proliferation debate in cross-cultural perspective

US national security professionals often speak as if the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) permanently established two categories of states: those entitled to nuclear weapons and those not entitled.  They also argue that the US “nuclear umbrella” reassures allies such as Germany and Japan, so that they do not seek their own nuclear capability, and that counties seek nuclear weapons because their national interest demands it, not out of inchoate resentment against the nuclear double standard of the official nuclear powers.  Antinuclear activists and those from non-aligned countries point out that Article VI of the NPT obligates the five official nuclear powers to abolish nuclear weapons in the long term and warn that the five official nuclear powers’ behavior legitimates nuclear weapons and will thus cause nuclear proliferation in the long run.  

If we look at countries that have acquired nuclear weapons since the NPT was ratified, we find that one (India) was largely motivated by a desire for international prestige, another (Pakistan) was motivated by fear of its neighbor (India), and another (North Korea) was motivated by a not unreasonable fear of US conventional capability.  If preventing nuclear proliferation is the primary goal, the best means to achieve this is the treaty banning nuclear weapons, adopted in July 2017 by 122 countries, but the five official nuclear powers oppose a treaty that would deprive them of their near-monopoly of the ultimate weapon.

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