PO2NUK-The Politics of Nuclear Weapons

Module Provider: School of Politics, Economics and International Relations
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2019/0

Module Convenor: Dr Joseph O' Mahoney

Email: j.p.a.omahoney@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

How do nuclear weapons affect international politics? How likely is nuclear war or nuclear terrorism? How dangerous is nuclear proliferation? Is nuclear disarmament possible? This module examines the historical, and political contexts for nuclear policy making, including the development of nuclear weapons by states, the evolution of nuclear strategy, the role nuclear weapons play in international politics, the risks posed by nuclear arsenals, and the policies and strategies in place to mitigate those risks. Emphasis is given to political and technical considerations affecting national choices. The module considers the issues surrounding non-proliferation strategies, nuclear security, and next steps for arms control. 


The aims of this module are to provide students with a basic understanding of the theoretical issues surrounding nuclear weapons, their historical development, and the impact they have had historically on global politics and in current policy debates. It will focus not only on social science theories, but also on integrating technical expertise into policy discussions.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the politics, history and technologies surrounding nuclear weapons and nuclear energy;

  • Synthesize and apply major theoretical tools to analyse proliferation dynamics, and engage in contemporary proliferation policy debates;

  • Combine theoretical and empirical knowledge into informing policy analysis on a contemporary nuclear issue;

  • organize and articulate arguments effectively in writing, both under timed conditions and in assessed essays.

Additional outcomes:

The module also aims to encourage the development of oral communication skills and the students' effectiveness in group situations, with some analytical procedures carried out as part of a team.

Outline content:

Students will be exposed to the science and technology behind the weapons, the histories of the existing nine nuclear weapons states, and will build on technical and case knowledge to explore critical issues of nuclear strategy. Topics will include, but not be limited to, deterrence, compellence, nuclear use and non-use, and nuclear strategy. A significant amount of attention will also be paid to the theoretical debates, policy concerns, and historical evidence regarding the causes and consequences of nuclear proliferation.

Global context:

There is a very strong global component to the module, which is primarily focused on the examination of global events and theories that seek to explain international outcomes.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module is taught through a combination of lectures and seminars, as well as in-class exercises.  Assessment is through written assignments, including a case study and a policy memo, and a timed examination.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 20
Guided independent study: 170
Total hours by term 200
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 35
Written assignment including essay 45
Oral assessment and presentation 20

Summative assessment- Examinations:

One two-hour examination. 

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

  • Students will write one essay of 2000 words, worth 25% of the overall module mark. Non-submitted essays will be awarded a mark of zero.

  • Students will also write one policy memo of 1500 words, worth 20% of the overall module mark. Non-submitted essays will be awarded a mark of zero.

  • Students will also give an oral seminar presentation to an in-class group, (10%) with a prepared handout (10%), on a specific seminar question.  Total: 20%.

Visiting Students

Visiting students who are only attending for the Spring term will submit, in lieu of the final exam, an additional written assignment of 2000 words. 

Formative assessment methods:

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:

    If a student fails to pass the year at the first attempt there is an opportunity to be re-assessed on one further occasion at the next opportunity in those modules achieving a mark of less than 40%. Students who are eligible for re-assessment have the right to re-assessment in all elements even if they have previously passed one of those elements. It is expected, however, that the majority of students would probably elect not to repeat an element in which they had already passed, in which case the confirmed marks would be carried forward.

    Examination: Re-examination takes place in August of the same year.

    Coursework: Failed or missing coursework should be re-submitted within the stipulated resubmission period, emailed directly to politics@reading.ac.uk, AND submitted on Blackboard.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 20 June 2019


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