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International Political Theory Milla Vaha

June - July 2024

From the Nuclear to the Climatic Threat: Existential Insecurities in the Pacific Island Countries

The research project undertaken by Ms. Milla Vaha delves into the profound impacts of historical nuclear testing and contemporary climate change on the existential security of Pacific Island nations. Spanning from 1946 to 1996, nuclear tests conducted by major world powers have left a lasting legacy on regions such as Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Maohi Nui (French Polynesia). This study seeks to elucidate the interconnections between these historical events and the current climate crisis, exploring how the remnants of nuclear activities have shaped these communities' perceptions of existential threats. The research is structured around pivotal questions addressing the extent to which nuclear testing has influenced the perception of climatic existential threats, how nuclear legacies have informed national and regional security frameworks, and the continuous impacts of vulnerabilities introduced during atomic testing on climate resilience. Through a combination of archival research, interviews, and desk research, the project aims to provide novel insights into the study of existential threats within the realm of International Relations and political practice. It further aspires to offer policy recommendations for addressing losses and damages due to climate change by linking them to the historical responsibilities of nuclear powers. Focusing on three case studies—Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and Maohi Nui—the research highlights the unique vulnerabilities of these small island entities, which have been significantly impacted by their nuclear history. The choice of these cases is justified by their shared experiences as nuclear testing sites and their distinct sovereign statuses, providing a comprehensive understanding of how historical legacies influence current security scenarios and policy responses. The research not only contributes to our understanding of existential threats and security in International Relations but also addresses the broader implications of climate justice and the historical responsibilities of nuclear powers, thereby providing a meaningful framework for compensatory policies for the affected Pacific Island communities.


Dr. Milla Vaha is a Senior Lecturer of Politics and International Affairs at the University of the South Pacific, a regional university of twelve Pacific Island nations. Prior starting at USP in 2019, Dr. Vaha has held teaching positions at the universities in Finland, as well as been a visiting research fellow in Sri Lanka and Australia. In her PhD for European University Institute, she explored the moral agency of the state in international politics. She is the author of The Moral Standing of the State in International Politics: A Kantian Account (University of Wales Press, 2021) as well as journal articles and book chapters in topics varying from climate justice to ethics of war and political philosophy of Immanuel Kant.


Selected publication

Milla Emilia Vaha The Moral Standing of the State in International Politics: A Kantian Account

University of Wales Press