Abstract: While often recognised as a difficult actor in global efforts addressing the proliferation, control, and disarmament of nuclear weapons, the EU is also assumed to have the potential to play a more cohesive “state-like” role, especially in multilateral forum such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons review cycle. Such assumptions raise expectations of EU external action and influence, which the EU then invariably fails to meet. This article offers a reframing of how we understand the EU as an actor, focusing on its role in the nuclear weapons regime complex. Specifically, the article considers how, and under what conditions, the EU orchestrates within and across the nuclear weapons regime complex. Drawing on the orchestration and regime complex scholarship, alongside empirical data of EU external action from 2003 to 2019, the article shows how the EU’s natural proclivity for effective multilateralism, coupled with its functional limitations, the political cleavages impeding both the EU and multilateral progress within the regime complex, and the presence of like-minded intermediaries, create ripe conditions for EU orchestration in this field. It further argues that while the EU has struggled to inject agency within individual nuclear negotiation forums, its use of orchestration as a soft and indirect mode of governance is not only well-established but advancing. Orchestration is therefore found to serve as an important metric for understanding and evaluating the scope of EU agency in the nuclear weapons regime complex.
Keywords: EU; international organisation; nuclear weapons; orchestration; performance; regime complex