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.
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 60 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 17. This amounts to 442 readings in total.
Evaluation Part I: Courses
Most courses on non-proliferation and disarmament education in our dataset were taught in the United States (41.7%), Germany (25%), and the United Kingdom (15%). These three countries combined accounted for over 80 percent of the university classes we have analyzed.
The overwhelming majority of the courses in our dataset (61.7%) was aimed at postgraduate (Master) students, while only a comparatively small share of classes (21.7%) was dedicated to undergraduate (Bachelor) students. For 11.7 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.
Most of the courses in our dataset had nuclear weapons (38.3%), arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation more broadly (30%), and weapons of mass destruction (18.3%) as their primary topic. Only a few courses were devoted exclusively to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, space, and cyber.
Almost all the courses on arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation in our dataset were taught by political science or international relations faculty (65.7 percent). Only some classes were taught by natural sciences departments.
The gender structure in non-proliferation and disarmament education remains highly uneven. For 66.7 percent of the courses in our dataset, the instructor was male. Only 23.3 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.
Nuclear Weapon Status
Most of the courses in our dataset were taught in nuclear weapon states (61.7%) or countries that participate as host nations in NATO nuclear sharing (26.7%). This would suggest that non-proliferation and disarmament 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.
The majority of all faculty (61.7%) 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. [add picture: Course Evaluation – Syllabus Availability – Heading]
Evaluation Part II: Literature
The gender distribution in non-proliferation and disarmament literature is highly unbalanced. For almost three out of four mandatory readings we have analyzed, the authors were male.
About half of the assigned readings were journal articles (50.9%), followed by monographs (14.5%), edited volumes (14.5%) and reports by various institutions (9.7%). Occasionally, instructors also assigned blog posts and opinion pieces.
Most Popular Journals
The most frequently assigned journals (five or more mentions) were International Security (21.1%), The Nonproliferation Review (13%), Daedalus (8.9%) and Survival (8.9%), among many others.
By far the most frequent weapon type covered in the assigned readings are nuclear weapons (64.9%). This would suggest that non-proliferation and disarmament education is still very much influenced by the Cold War, although the overwhelming focus on nuclear weapons also seems to reflect their unique destructiveness.
The concepts most frequently dealt with in the assigned literature are arms control (10%), disarmament (9.7%), deterrence (8.4%), and non-proliferation (8.4%). Many readings, however, did not cover a specific concept.
As our data would seem to suggest, Realism remains the prevailing international relations theory in assigned readings about arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation, with 22% percent of the readings employing a realist view. However, there appears to be a trend to include constructivist (6.9%) and critical perspectives (4.9%) as well. Almost half of the readings did not refer to any international relations theory at all.