International norms in the face of technological change: challenges for constructivist theory of arms control

International norms in the face of technological change:
challenges for constructivist theory of arms control

Istomin I.A.,

MGIMO University, Moscow, Russia,

elibrary_id: 333124 | ORCID: 0000-0002-8334-6343 | RESEARCHER_ID: A-8494-2017

Crowley-Vigneau A.,

MGIMO University, Moscow, Russia; University of Reading, Reading, UK,

elibrary_id: 1090824 |

Article received: 2023.02.06. Accepted: 2023.05.10

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2023.04.02

For citation:

Istomin I.A., Crowley-Vigneau A. International norms in the face of technological change: challenges for constructivist theory of arms control. – Polis. Political Studies. 2023. No. 4. P. 7-22. (In Russ.). EDN: UAPADM

The authors are deeply indebted William C. Wohlforth, Irina Bolgova, Alexander Chekov, Ivan Fomin, Christopher Korten, Nikolay Silaev, Maxim Suchkov and Andrey Sushentsov for their kind comments, suggestions and criticism.


The emergence, diffusion and internalization of international norms face underestimated challenges in the sphere of arms control, which attempts to regulate and restrict the development and use of weapons. We explore the concept of uncertainty and reveal how it sets arms control apart from some other spheres that have experienced a rapid development and consolidation of international norms. The dynamic nature of technological change creates expectations of revolutionary novelty and perceptions of radical uncertainty, which run against some of the main mechanisms supporting international norms including grafting, strategic bargaining and moral consciousness raising. An original qualitative case study on norms related to the prohibition of biological weapons confirms that overcoming uncertainty is particularly difficult in arms control and that norms regulating weapons remain fragile after their institutionalization, due to ever-evolving technological change. 

norms, constructivism, arms control, biological weapons, technological change, uncertainty.


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Content No. 4, 2023

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