Competition, masculinities, and peacekeeping: constructions of Soviet nuclear identity and policy from Stalin to Gorbachev
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2021
This thesis examines the most powerful constructions of Soviet nuclear identity at three stages of nuclear decision-making (acquisition, the arms race, disarmament) throughout the course of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States from 1941 until 1991. Most importantly, it elaborates on the significance of this identity to the enactment and justification of Soviet nuclear policy from Joseph Stalin to Mikhail Gorbachev. Soviet nuclear policy during the Cold War was broadly attributed in the International Relations (IR) literature to security/deterrence concerns, the Soviet desire for ideological and military superiority over the US, and the psychology of the Soviet leaders. By adopting a poststructuralist gender-mindful identity-focused approach, this thesis explores not why these nuclear policies were enacted, but how they were made possible seeing nuclear identity as both constitutive of and a product of policy. This direction of inquiry has been traditionally overlooked within the literature on nuclear proliferation but can be utilised to answer important unanswered questions. Through analysis of the official speeches, notes, private conversations, press releases, and autobiographical reflections of Soviet leaders, this thesis demonstrates that representations of identity mattered when it came to nuclear policy in the Soviet Union. First, it argues that the articulation of an aggressive, competitive, and hypermasculine superpower identity grounded in the strength of the military-industrial complex was interlinked with nuclear weapons acquisition and with the politics of a rapid nuclear build-up. However, the evolution of Soviet nuclear identity enabled a different course of policy, moving from the rapid arms race to the most significant arms reduction in history under the leadership of Gorbachev in the late-1980s. Consequently, the second argument is that the continuous construction and reinforcement of a cooperative, ethical, and paternalistic nuclear identity grounded in human security and total nuclear abolition eventually made disarmament possible. In exploring various nuclear identity constructions in the Soviet Union over time, this thesis makes a significant contribution to ideational IR scholarship on nuclear proliferation as well as to the poststructuralist identity/policy literature and feminist IR studies. It deepens our comprehension of the Soviet case, with implications for understanding nuclear states’ behaviour and the possible directions for achieving disarmament.