Secrecy and Deniability in the Nuclear Realm


Lauren Borja, Debak Das, and Reid Pauly

Date and Time

February 20, 2020 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

Livestream: This event will not be live-streamed or recorded.


Abstract: State nuclear enterprises are shrouded in secrecy. This fact alone makes nuclear security scholarship difficult. Yet recent scholarship has begun to explain variation in the secrecy of international politics. This panel will investigate the strategic uses of  secrecy and deniability both within and between states in the nuclear domain. We will discuss the role of secrecy in coercive bargaining, the relationship between secrecy, deniability, and dual-use technologies, and assess their value and limitations in matters of nuclear security. Pauly will present ongoing research into the constructive opacity of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Das will present evidence on the role of secrecy and deniability in the sales of nuclear delivery systems that undercut the nonproliferation regime. And Borja will present work on how uncertainty in cyberspace affects the U.S. nuclear arsenal.


Speakers' Biography: 

Lauren Borja is a Stanton Postdoctoral Fellow at CISAC, where her research will focus on the cyber insider threat to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. She is broadly interested in the effect of new technology on nuclear security issues, leveraging her technical skills as a scientist to inform and contribute to the issues in nuclear policy. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where she constructed an ultrafast laser apparatus for studying fundamental interactions inside semiconductor materials with unprecedented resolution. Lauren completed her Ph.D. in December 2016 and is currently a Simons Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia, where she studies nuclear disarmament and risk. She has authored articles on the Nuclear Ban Treaty, nuclear false alarms, and cybersecurity risks in the nuclear arsenal that have appeared in the Vancouver Sun, American Physical Society’s Physics and Society newsletter, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


Debak Das is a MacArthur Nuclear Security Pre-doctoral Fellow at CISAC. He is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Department of Government, Cornell University. His doctoral dissertation examines how regional powers build their nuclear force structures. This research is based on extensive fieldwork in India, the United Kingdom, and France. Debak is also interested in historical archives, public opinion and foreign policy, and South Asian politics. His research has been supported by the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, the Wilson Center, Cornell University’s Graduate School, the Cornell Institute for European Studies, and the Chateaubriand Fellowship in Humanities and Social Sciences. Debak received his M.Phil in Diplomacy and Disarmament, and his M.A. in Politics and International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He also holds a B.A. (Honors) in History from Presidency College, Kolkata. Debak has formerly held research positions at Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies and the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, New Delhi. His prior work includes organizing extensive Track II Dialogues between India and Pakistan specifically on nuclear and other related security issues. 


Reid Pauly is a Stanton Postdoctoral Fellow at CISAC. His scholarship focuses on coercion and nuclear weapons proliferation, especially the causes of credible coercive assurance—why and how targets of coercion believe that they will not be punished after they comply with demands. His broader research interests include wargaming and crisis simulations, nuclear strategy, and tacit cooperation between adversaries. Reid is a PhD candidate in Political Science at MIT and a member of the Security Studies Program. He was also a predoctoral fellow at the International Security Program and the Project on Managing the Atom at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Prior to graduate school, Reid was a research assistant at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and earned a B.A. in History and Government from Cornell University.