Punctuated equilibrium in multilateral nuclear disarmament

In this article, ILPI advisor Kjølv Egeland discusses the institutional history of the multilateral nuclear disarmament regime, identifying three distinct «waves» of innovation and change.

The historical record of the multilateral nuclear disarmament regime suggests that legal and institutional adaptations to the regime have not come about through a continuous process of change. Rather, the pattern of change suggests a process of “punctuated equilibrium”, a concept first used by the evolutionary biologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould to describe how evolution in the animal kingdom appears to take place in rapid bursts followed by longer periods of stasis (negating the original Darwinian thesis of continuous change). Change takes place when “a stable structure is stressed beyond its buffering capacity to resist and absorb”, Gould claimed. This is true of the multilateral nuclear disarmament regime as well. When the non-nuclear-weapon states voice their interests in the same forums and in the same ways over long periods of time, the effect of their advocacy becomes stale, habitual, and ineffectual. Thus, at certain intervals, new ways of keeping the heat up on the nuclear-armed states to disarm must be devised.

To access the full article, click here. (The article is available through online library login or purchase)

Egeland, K. 2016, «Punctuated Equilibrium in Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament», Peace Review 28(3).

 

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