Lauren Sukin - The Risks of Nuclear States’ Signals of Resolve (Job Talk Practice)

Lauren Sukin

How can nuclear states reassure their allies that nuclear proliferation is not necessary for their security? Traditionally, this aim is accomplished through demonstrations of nuclear states’ resolve to use their nuclear arsenals in defense of their allies. Existing literature suggests that the main challenge for nuclear states lies in making these demonstrations sufficiently credible. I examine the conditions under which demonstrations of resolve succeed, arguing that, while insufficiently credible demonstrations of resolve can fail to reassure allies, overly credible demonstrations of resolve can also backfire. I posit that highly credible security guarantees can backfire by causing some individuals to fear their ally might miscalculate—either by using nuclear weapons in an unnecessary preventative attack or by precipitous escalation of a crisis or conflict. Survey experiments conducted among representative samples of South Korean citizens in 2018 and 2019 support this theory, showing that increases in the credibility of the US nuclear security guarantee lead to increased support for nuclear proliferation among South Korean respondents. Mediation analysis reveals respondents want to avoid becoming embroiled in a U.S.-driven conflict with North Korea and see proliferation as a way to shift nuclear responsibility on the Korean Peninsula away from the United States. This finding upends the conventional understanding of nuclear security guarantees, which views these guarantees as substitutes for nuclear proliferation. 


I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University.

In my research, I examine issues of international security, focusing on the role of nuclear weapons in international politics. Specifically, I am interested in analyzing how nuclear states communicate credibility and enforce commitments in three contexts: 1) demonstrations of resolve, 2) crisis escalation, and 3) nuclear nonproliferation. My dissertation studies demonstrations of resolve in the context of U.S. extended deterrence on the Korean Peninsula. While most previous work in the nuclear policy realm has been limited by studying very few cases at the state level, I use large-N survey experiments, computational text analysis of archival sources, and tools for small-N causal inference to gain new insights on these topics. I couple these methods with detailed case studies and other qualitative approaches. My research agenda explores the dynamics of nuclear weapons, crisis politics, and conflict studies. In particular, I am interested in continuing to study these subjects in relation to pressing issues in contemporary U.S. foreign policy.

I graduated from Brown University in 2016 with B.A.s in Political Science