Book review: Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, Defending Frenemies: Alliance Politics and Nuclear Non-proliferation in US Foreign Policy

AuthorSaira Bano
DOI10.1177/2347797021992166
Published date01 April 2021
Date01 April 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, Defending Frenemies: Alliance Politics and Nuclear
Non-proliferation in US Foreign Policy. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2019, 312 pp. ISBN: 978-0-190-93930-4.
Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the United States has pursued nuclear non-
proliferation policies against its enemies and allies alike. Even nuclear-armed
allies could reduce the US leverage over its allies and drag superpowers into
a nuclear conflict. If the core objective of Washington since 1945 has been to
prevent its allies from developing nuclear weapons, then what might account
for variation in the US non-proliferation policies? Why did the United States
pursue coercive policies to halt nuclear weapons programs of certain vulnerable
allies, but far more accommodating strategies towards the nuclear ambitions of
other equally strategically vulnerable allies? Why did the United States embrace
accommodative policies for allies like Israel and Pakistan for their nuclear
weapons program while adopting coercive policies to prevent allies such as
South Korea and Taiwan from developing nuclear weapons? What explains this
variation? Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts
University, accounts this variation by using neo-classical realism approach in his
book Defending Frenemies: Alliance Politics and Nuclear Nonproliferation in
US Foreign Policy. In this book, Taliaferro argues that the competing demands of
the Cold War realpolitik explain the varied outcomes in the US non-proliferation
policies against frenemies—a state having bilateral defence relationship with the
United States despite the divergent security and political interests. He demonstrates
how neo-classical realist theory is well-positioned to explain the inconsistent US
non-proliferation policies towards frenemies like Israel, Pakistan, South Korea
and Taiwan.
Taliaferro tests several theories (nuclear domino theory, security commitment
theory and credible sanctions theory) and finds that their tunnel vision concerning
non-proliferation policies leads to their failure to explain the variation in
Washington’s tolerance of nuclear weapon procurement efforts. Instead, Taliaferro
relies on neo-classical realism’s ability to explain the non-proliferation policies
into a wider foreign policy context. He makes a convincing case that when US
policy-makers perceive an unfavourable regional distribution of power and short
time-horizon threats, they pursue accommodative non-proliferation policies
by giving priority to security challenges. When the regional balance-of-power
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
8(1) 127–138, 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/2347797021992166
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