Scholarship on security communities often invokes a common goal: for war to become unthinkable. Unthinkable here means impossible, and states are considered to be most secure when war is unthinkable between them. Interestingly, the term unthinkable appears in policy discourse with nearly the opposite meaning, referring to wars that are eminently possible but horrifying to contemplate, such as war with a nuclear Iran. Taking this discrepancy as my starting point, I propose that the social phenomenon of unthinkability is not well understood and that a deeper understanding of it can point toward new directions for research on security communities. I conceptualize unthinkability along two dimensions, empirical availability and normative acceptability, combining these to create four distinct types of unthinkability. I then use this typology as a heuristic device to identify research directions on security communities and on the phenomenon of unthinkable war.


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