Exceptionalism as an analytical resource in Global International Relations: Views from nuclear South Asia

As ‘Global International Relations’ seeks to overcome the Western-centric parochialism of mainstream International Relations, scholars are cautious about reproducing similarly parochial accounts of the international from differently-situated vantage points. They are suspicious, therefore, of discourses of foreign policy ‘exceptionalism’ among countries of the non-West.

This paper makes a case in defence of exceptionalist narratives in the non-West – with some caveats. It argues that the exceptionalist narratives of foreign policy actors (who may be practitioners and/or analysts) are by definition extra-local because their very purpose is to ‘case’ what is ‘exceptional’ in contradistinction to cognate, and dominant, cases. Exceptionalism as it has been produced within the US and western Europe may have worked to silence the non-West, but this need not be so elsewhere: exceptionalist self-narratives can function as a response to hegemony and a manifestation of resistance.

To illustrate my argument, I draw on ‘global’ theories of nuclear proliferation and particularistic studies of Indian and Pakistani nuclear politics. In doing so, I seek to demonstrate how South Asian self-narratives of nuclear exceptionalism reflect both subordination and agency, and the global as much as the local. Throughout I argue that while we should remain alert to exceptionalism’s ability to enact hegemony, we should also consider it a powerful analytical resource though which to differently read the international.