Internal Security Threats and WMD Proliferation | Miriam Barnum

Tuesday, May 16, 2023
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

William J. Perry Conference Room

  • Miriam Barnum

Seminar Recording

About the Event: Why do states pursue chemical and biological weapons (CBW), despite their limited strategic utility and their prohibition (during some time periods) under international law? Utilizing original quantitative data, I find that internal threats to a state’s governing regime, while of- ten neglected in theories of arming and weapons proliferation, play a significant role in driving states’ choices to pursue chemical and biological weapons. Regimes may pursue CBW in response to two types of domestic threats: coup risk, and the risk of domestic rebellion or civil conflict. In particular, I find that governing regimes facing increases in the risk of a coup may be more likely to initiate chemical and biological weapons programs, and that regimes experiencing domestic unrest may be more likely to begin pursuing chemical weapons. I also examine evidence for external security pathways motivating weapons pursuit, and find that proliferators treat biological weapons more like other ‘strategic weapons’ than they do chemical weapons. These findings have important implications for counterproliferation policy, deterrence, and our theoretical understanding of arming and arms racing.

About the Speaker: Miriam Barnum completed her Ph.D. from the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California (USC). Her research is focused on understanding the motivations and constraints that shape states’ arming choices. In her book project, she examines the role that internal security threats play in driving choices between nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons pursuit options. Other ongoing projects relate to arming choices more generally, international conflict, and nonproliferation and arms control, with a focus on applying computational measurement models to enhance our understanding of these substantive areas.

While pursuing her Ph.D., Miriam was a US-Asia Grand Strategy predoctoral fellow at USC's Korean Studies Institute, and Director of Data Science for the Security and Political Economy (SPEC) Lab. Before coming to USC, she worked as a research assistant in the National Security Office at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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