The Transformation of Arms Control. Norm Dynamics and Notions of Justice in Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Containing the risks that arise from an unbridled, multilateral arms race is among the most important aspects of a world order that is protected by norms. A normative order in relation to arms control and nonproliferation has the potential to dampen risks. On the other hand, an unrestrained arms race has the capacity to delay or even block the consolidation of international norms, and also in other areas of international relations. The central issue addressed by this project was the possibility of establishing a normative order in the area of controlling weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century. We investigated the degree of overlap/commonality and difference/opposition not only in relation to pursued policies but likewise in relation to underlying perceptions, world views, self-images and the vital interests as defined by the actors involved. Our analytical focus was therefore directed towards the issue of “justice/fairness” within both the status quo and the envisioned regulations along with the relationship between the respective standards of fairness and interests.


From this perspective, we researched the connections between identity/role perceptions, interests, the pursued normative orders and the associated underlying standards of justice/fairness and political outputs. The project investigated the dynamics of these normative systems in reference to three variables that previous research had identified as possible “drivers” of norm evolution.

The project distinguished between intrinsic and extrinsic influences for the structural factors. Intrinsic factors relate to conflicts over existing normative systems, particularly those over the interpretation and weight of norms, with a focus on conflicts of justice. Extrinsic factors comprised technological change and profound shifts in the international environment, such as the end of the Cold War, the power shifts among established and emerging powers, and the singular shock from September 11, 2001.

We analysed the role that actors assume through the concept of “norm entrepreneurship”, with a distinction made among great powers, “middle powers”, reformers and revolutionaries from the “global South”, non-governmental organizations, the EU and the United Nations as international norm entrepreneurs.

Individual case studies used content and process analysis approaches to assess whether and which influence the variables had on the creation and/or alternation – though also the weakening and collapse – of international norms. We placed particular emphasis on the justice norm and investigated the extent to which conflicting justice claims shape the dynamics of norm systems.

Our results characterized norm dynamics among regimes as a complex and interactive mix of national interests, justice claims and resultant regime conflicts, influenced by technological developments and key events. The effect of these variables on norm dynamics is, however, ambivalent: though they can either enable or massively limit the further development of the normative structure, they do not determine it. In some cases, the variables presented serious challenges to the regime norms and were able to shake the stability of the regime to its core. In most cases, they motivated regime members to seek compromise for the sake of adapting the regime to changes and preparing it for challenges that may arise. Norm entrepreneurs were driven to undertake measures aimed at creatively developing the regime’s normative structure and thereby increasing its resilience and effectiveness. Owing to such efforts on the part of single actors or groups of actors (and, at times, owing to domestic political changes in certain key states), the risk of norm degeneration and collapse did not surface in our sample of regimes.

This ultimately demonstrated that the development of norms – for “better” or “worse” – is contingent on the consistent engagement of actors. Our investigation into norm entrepreneurs provided us with interesting findings about their reactions to external stimuli, their motivations and their styles of engagement. Among the actors that we investigated, there was one thoroughly heterogeneous group that was willing – based on their specific combination of interests, identities and conceptions of justice – to make the efforts necessary to create a stronger, more efficient and more just regime. They appeared to exhibit a “common-good orientation” that was mixed with a strong desire to achieve justice and other moral goals; these differed in terms of the intensity of this orientation and its relative weight in comparison to other goals such as regime efficiency or alliance considerations. The great powers, along with North Korea (!), appeared to be more driven by interest-based motivations; these were, however, embedded in justice-based justifications and particularly aligned with the principle of status-dependent justice. Another, rather surprising, finding was that even Iran – otherwise often labelled as a norm-breaking “rogue state” – exhibited a certain sense of norm entrepreneurship. Iran pursues a rather fundamentalist approach aimed at essentially changing the status quo by way of a return to the “true meaning” of the established norms, in which unjust inequalities among the nations of the world are overcome.

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Not lost in contestation | 2018

Müller, Harald/Wunderlich, Carmen (2018): Not lost in contestation. How norm entrepreneurs frame norm development in the nuclear nonproliferation regime, in: Contemporary Security Policy, 1–29, DOI: 10.1080/13523260.2017.1394032.

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Global Non-proliferation ‘Clubs’ vs. the NPT | 2014

Fey, Marco/Müller, Harald/Wunderlich, Carmen/Ricke, Klaus-Peter/Schaper, Annette (2014): Global Non-proliferation ‘Clubs’ vs. the NPT, in: Swedish Radiation Safety Authority Report, 4, www.stralsakerhetsmyndigheten.se/(..).

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Norm Dynamics in Multilateral Arms Control. | 2013

Müller, Harald/Wunderlich, Carmen, Norm Dynamics in Multilateral Arms Control, Athens (University of Georgia Press), 2013.

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Good International Citizens: | 2013

Becker-Jakob, Una/Hofmann, Gregor/Müller, Harald/Wunderlich, Carmen, Good International Citizens: Canada, Germany, and Sweden, in: Müller, Harald/Wunderlich, Carmen, Norm Dynamics in Multilateral Arms Control, Athens (University of Georgia Press), 2013, 207-245.

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Die 7. Überprüfungskonferenz des Biowaffen-Übereinkommens | 2012

Becker-Jakob, Una/Nixdorff, Kathryn (2012): Die 7. Überprüfungskonferenz des Biowaffen-Übereinkommens, in: Vereinte Nationen, 3/2012, S. 130-131.

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Die 7. BWÜ-Überprüfungskonferenz | 2012

Una Becker-Jakob, Die 7. BWÜ-Überprüfungskonferenz, in: Wissenschaft und Frieden, Dossier Nr. 70, Nr. 2, 2012, S. 10-11.

Online: www.wissenschaft-und-frieden.de/seite.php?dossierID=074

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IAEO | 2012

Giorgio Franceschini, IAEO - Internationale Atomenergieorganisation, in: Katja Freistein/Julia Leininger (Hg.), Handbuch Internationale Organisationen: Grundlagen und Akteure, München (Oldenbourg), 2012, S. 119-128.

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Gerechtigkeitsvorstellungen im Regime zur Kontrolle biologischer Waffen | 2011

Una Becker-Jakob, Gerechtigkeitsvorstellungen im Regime zur Kontrolle biologischer Waffen, in: Claudia Baumgart-Ochse/Niklas Schörnig/Simone Wisotzki/Jonas Wolff (Hg.), Auf dem Weg zu Just Peace Governance. Beiträge zum Auftakt des neuen Forschungsprogramms der HSFK. Frankfurt (Nomos), 2011, S. 95-115.

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Trauma "9/11" und die normative Ordnung der amerikanischen Sicherheitspolitik | 2011

Fey, Marco (2011): Trauma "9/11" und die normative Ordnung der amerikanischen Sicherheitspolitik, in: Jäger, Thomas (Hg.), Die Welt nach 9/11. Auswirkungen des Terrorismus auf Staatenwelt und Gesellschaft, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, 32-52.

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Notions of Justice in the Biological Weapons Control Regime | 2011

Una Becker-Jakob, Notions of Justice in the Biological Weapons Control Regime, PRIF Working Papers, No.09, Frankfurt/M., 2011.

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Frieden und Rüstungskontrolle/Abrüstung | 2011

Harald Müller/Elvira Rosert, Frieden und Rüstungskontrolle/Abrüstung, in: Hans J. Gießmann/Bernhard Rinke (Hg.), Handbuch Frieden, Wiesbaden (VS Verlag), 2011, S. 529-540.

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Rüstung, Rüstungskontrolle und Abrüstung | 2011

Elvira Rosert, Rüstung, Rüstungskontrolle und Abrüstung, in: Peter Schlotter/Simone Wisotzki (Hg.), Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Baden-Baden (Nomos), 2011, S. 252-281.

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Auf dem Weg zu Global Zero? | 2010

Marco Fey/Giorgio Franceschini/Harald Müller/Hans-Joachim Schmidt, Auf dem Weg zu Global Zero? Die neue amerikanische Nuklearpolitik zwischen Anspruch und Wirklichkeit, HSFK-Report Nr. 4/2010, Frankfurt/M.

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