The role of transnational non-governmental organizations in the disposition of chemical and nuclear weapons in the United States: A comparative analysis

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


W. H. Lambright


Nuclear weapons, Chemical weapons, Nongovernmental organizations

Subject Categories

Environmental Sciences | International Relations | Physical Sciences and Mathematics | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation furthers our understanding of transnational NGOs by comparing the participation of eight NGOs involved in the technological debates surrounding chemical and nuclear weapons disposal in the United States. It examines four areas of inquiry: (1) what types of NGOs are involved; (2) what types of challenges NGOs face in establishing credibility in highly technical issue areas; (3) how NGOs mobilize their constituents around abstruse technical issues; and (4) why NGOs decide to forge transnational ties. The dissertation finds that while grassroots advocacy NGOs in the two cases now play a pivotal role in determining the pace and manner in which international arms control treaties are implemented domestically, they have also faced difficulties. In particular, they have had difficulty mobilizing their constituencies around such technical issues, and have had difficulty establishing scientific and political credibility. In addition, scientific NGOs have had difficulty mobilizing large masses of people because they lack the infrastructure to do so and often convey their goals using technical language that does not resonate with the public. As a result, in these two cases, a symbiotic relationship has developed between advocacy NGOs and scientific NGOs to both augment credibility and mobilize more people. Most importantly, the dissertation identifies a new form of political strategy used by some NGOs. This new strategy is termed "translational" politics, or the distillation of highly scientific information into language that can be understood by the general public. This strategy has been used by advocacy organizations when they cannot rely on traditional symbolic politics, and by scientific organizations when they need to simplify their message. These "translational" NGOs occupy the understudied political space between scientific elites and advocates. The dissertation adds to our understanding of the strategies used by NGOs to mobilize constituencies around highly technical issues, the tensions between scientific expertise and participatory decision-making processes, and how differing perceptions of risk become incorporated into the policy-making process.


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