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Improving the Efficacy of Arms Control: From Risk Reduction to Uncertainty Management


My dissertation research addresses a role for decision-­making theory in international politics. Specifically, It examines the effect of uncertainty--as distinct from risk--on the negotiation of arms control agreements. This work is driven by the following paradox and foreign policy impediment: current best practices for arms control negotiations recommend strategies for risk reduction, including limiting the scope, scale, and duration of agreements, but these strategies are inconsistent with the overarching goals of arms control, which include the pursuit of long-­term peace and stability. When goals and strategies for arms control negotiations instead provide effective "uncertainty management," we get broader and more durable agreements.

This project is also motivated by the fact that we have little empirical information on the efficacy of arms control agreements in general, and none that speak to the optimization of these agreements in order to meet long-­term security goals. My research aims to fill that gap so we can best consider the most effective role for arms control.

Drawing on case studies of successful and unsuccessful nuclear and conventional arms control negotiations and a novel dataset consisting of 43 bilateral and multilateral negotiations and agreements, my findings suggest that current arms control practices tend to fail not for lack of ambition; they fail because the more modest goals which allow agreements to be reached more quickly and easily result in an efficiency that comes at a price. The durability of arms control agreements is better facilitated by including a wide range of treaty terms, including confidence and security building measures (CSBMs) that work in concert to manage multiple sources of uncertainty over time. This means that if we want negotiations to succeed and agreements to survive, we need to strike a better balance between long-­ and short-­term goals. It may also mean that we need to scale back expectations for what can be achieved in the short-­term and develop new ways of extending what are thought of as "insignificant" achievements, like CSBMs.

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