Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Ronald C. Kramer

Second Advisor

Dr. Gerald Markle

Third Advisor

Dr. Helenan Robin


Criminologists have generally ignored the crimes of governmental actors and agencies. This study delves into this neglected area of sociological inquiry by addressing definitional, legal, empirical, and theoretical dimensions of the phenomenon of governmental crime. The four research objectives are to:

1. Demonstrate that socially deleterious governmental actions can be studied criminologically through the epistemological framework of international law.

2. Document the existence of such governmental crimes in the area of nuclear weapons.

3. Describe and compare the patterns of the United States' violations of international laws during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

4. Inductively generate hypotheses and theoretical propositions on the structurally located etiological factors related to the United States' criminal threats to use nuclear weapons.

Through relatively detailed legal and sociological arguments, it is established that violations of international law, particularly nuclear weapons threats, are illegal acts which can be studied criminologically. Qualitative, socio-historical case studies of U.S. threats to use nuclear weapons against the countries of North Korea and North Vietnam are then presented as empirical examples. The similarities and differences between the cases are examined, and it is concluded that many structural similarities exist between the circumstances faced by the Administrations of Eisenhower and Nixon. A structural/institutional grounded theory of international governmental crime is then developed which posits that organizational goals, ideological and historical constraints, projected social reactions, and the opportunity for secrecy play key roles in the decision-making process leading to international governmental crime. While the theory is quite compatible with the data on which it is based, and thus sheds insight into factors likely to facilitate a certain type of governmental criminality, it is acknowledged that the degree of explanatory power relative to other instances of governmental crime is difficult to gauge. The endeavor concludes with a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the study and recommendations for future research.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access