Our evaluation aims to offer insights into how non-proliferation and disarmament issues are taught in practice. By analyzing numerous course
outlines, we identify the most common topics, blind spots, and diversity issues in non-proliferation and disarmament education.

Data Sources

For our evaluation, we have created a non-representative dataset which encompasses courses dealing with arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation at Western universities. Course data and syllabi were obtained by browsing module handbooks and course directories of the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Consortium’s university members. Moreover, we have consulted the Learn WMD Spreadsheet to acquire further data from universities which are not part of the Consortium.

The dataset includes a total of 59 university courses. For 24 of these classes, lecturers have kindly provided us with their syllabus or course outline. Out of these 24 syllabi, we have analyzed the required readings in a sample of 13. This amounts to 311 readings in total.

Courses on NPD Education

Country Distribution

Most courses on NPD education in our dataset were taught in the United States (25), Germany (149), and the United Kingdom (9). These three countries combined accounted for 48 of the 59 university classes we have analyzed.

Study Levels

The overwhelming majority of the courses in our dataset (63 percent) was aimed at postgraduate (Master) students, while only a comparatively small share of classes (22 percent) was dedicated to undergraduate (Bachelor) students. For ten percent of the courses, we were unable to ascertain the study level, and five percent were taught cross-level. This uneven distribution may be explained in part by the fact that the Learn WMD Spreadsheet emphasizes postgraduate programs, but it would nevertheless suggest that courses about arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation are primarily taught on the postgraduate level.

Main Course Topics

Most of the courses in our dataset had nuclear weapons (37%), arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation more broadly (30%), and weapons of mass destruction (18%) as their primary topic. Only a few courses were devoted exclusively to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, space, and cyber.

Courses by University Department

Almost all the courses on arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation in our dataset were taught by political science or international relations faculty (79 percent). Only some classes were taught by natural sciences departments.

Gender Structure | Lecturers

The gender structure in NPD education remains highly uneven. For 68 percent of the courses in our dataset, the instructor was male. Only 22 percent of the classes were taught be female lecturers, and five percent were instructed jointly by male and female lecturers. For five percent of the courses, we could not find information on the lecturer.

Courses by Nuclear Weapon Status

Most of the courses in our dataset were taught in nuclear weapon states (61 percent) or countries that participate as host nations in NATO nuclear sharing (27 percent). This would suggest that NPD education is more prevalent in countries which rely on nuclear deterrence for their security, although the distribution might be skewed due to the focus on Western universities.

Syllabus Availability

The majority of all faculty did not share their syllabus publicly on their university’s website. However, we have not conducted a follow-up survey to inquire into the motives for doing so.

Mandatory Literature in NPD Education

Gender Distribution in Assigned NPD Literature

The gender distribution in NPD literature is highly unbalanced. For three out of four mandatory readings we have analyzed, the author(s) was/were male.

Top 5 Most Popular Journals in Assigned NPD Literature

  1. International Security | 13 articles
  2. The Nonproliferation Review | 10 articles
  3. Survival | 8 articles
  4. Daedalus | 8 articles
  5. Contemporary Security Policy | 7 articles

Top 3 Most Assigned Literature

  1. Sagan, S.D. (1997) ‘Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb’, International Security, 21(3), pp. 54–86. doi:10.1162/isec.21.3.54. | 6x assigned
  2. Sagan, S.D. and Waltz, K.N. (2013) The spread of nuclear weapons: an enduring debate. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. | 3x assigned
  3. Futter, A. (2015) The politics of nuclear weapons. Los Angeles: Sage Publications. | 3x assigned


Assigned Readings by Weapon Type

By far the most frequent weapon type covered in the assigned readings are nuclear weapons. This would suggest that NPD education is still very much influenced by the Cold War, although the focus on nuclear weapons would also seem to reflect their unique destructiveness.

(Please note that only weapon types that appeared more than two times are included in the graph below.)

Assigned Readings by Concept

The concepts most frequently dealt with in the assigned literature are Disarmament, Arms Control, and (Non-)Proliferation. Furthermore, deterrence and international order are frequently covered, too.

(In the chart below, we have only considered concepts that appeared more than five times.)

Assigned Readings by Theory

As our data would seem to suggest, Realism remains the prevailing international relations theory in assigned readings about arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation. However, there appears to be a trend to include more critical perspectives as well.