No Paradox here? Improving theory and testing of the nuclear stability-instability paradox with synthetic counterfactuals

Journal of Peace Research

37 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2017 Last revised: 1 May 2021

See all articles by Francesco Bailo

Francesco Bailo

The University of Sydney

Benjamin E. Goldsmith

School of Politics & International Relations - Australian National University

Date Written: April 28, 2021

Abstract

This article contributes to both the theoretical elaboration and empirical testing of the ‘stability-instability paradox,’ the proposition that while nuclear weapons deter nuclear war, they also increase conventional conflict among nuclear-armed states. Some recent research has found support for the paradox, but quantitative studies tend to pool all international dyads while qualitative and theoretical studies focus almost exclusively on the US–USSR and India–Pakistan dyads. This article argues that existing empirical tests lack clearly relevant counterfactual cases, and are vulnerable to a number of inferential problems, including selection on the dependent variable, unintentionally biased inference, and extrapolation from irrelevant cases. The limited evidentiary base coincides with a lack of consideration of the theoretical conditions under which the paradox might apply. To address these issues this article theorizes some scope conditions for the paradox. It then applies synthetic control, a quantitative method for valid comparison when appropriate counterfactual cases are lacking, to model international conflict between India–Pakistan, China–India, and North Korea–US, before and after nuclearization. The article finds only limited support for the paradox when considered as a general theory, or within the theorized scope conditions based on the balance of resolve and power within each dyad.

Keywords: Interstate Conflict, Nuclear Weapons, Synthetic Control, Stability-Instability Paradox

JEL Classification: F51, C15

Suggested Citation

Bailo, Francesco and Goldsmith, Benjamin E., No Paradox here? Improving theory and testing of the nuclear stability-instability paradox with synthetic counterfactuals (April 28, 2021). Journal of Peace Research, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2947349 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2947349

Francesco Bailo

The University of Sydney ( email )

University of Sydney
Sydney, 2006
Australia

Benjamin E. Goldsmith (Contact Author)

School of Politics & International Relations - Australian National University ( email )

Canberra
Australia

HOME PAGE: http://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/goldsmith-b

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