Testing the Assumptions of Decision Making in a Nuclear Crisis | Sharon K. Weiner

Tuesday, February 13, 2024
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

William J. Perry Conference Room

  • Sharon K. Weiner

About the Event: Nuclear deterrence assumes that state leaders are able to assess the costs, benefits, and consequences of any decision to use nuclear weapons.  Similarly, U.S. nuclear policy presupposes that, in a crisis, the president will rationally assess how to respond to the threat of an incoming nuclear attack.  Using a virtual reality simulation, we conducted an experiment and two controlled observations of decision making in a nuclear crisis.  The results call into question the degree to which any U.S. president is likely to conform to the basic expectations of rational decision making when confronted with an incoming nuclear strike.

About the Speaker: Sharon K. Weiner is an Associate Professor in the School of International Service at American University as well as a Visiting Researcher for the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University. Sharon's research, teaching, and policy engagement are at the intersection of organizational politics and U.S. national security. Her current work focuses on the theory, practice, and social construction of deterrence, the politics of U.S. nuclear weapon modernization programs, and larger issues of civil-military relations. Her most recent book, Managing the Military: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Civil-Military Relations (Columbia University Press, 2022) analyzes the power of the JCS chairman to help or hinder the president's ability to implement their defense policy preferences.  She also collaborates with Moritz Kutt (Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg) on The Nuclear Biscuit (thenuclearbiscuit.org), a virtual reality experience involving a nuclear crisis. The project analyses how people make high stakes national security decisions under conditions of uncertainty.  She is currently on leave from American University and is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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