School of Foreign Service professor Keir Lieber received a $500,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation to conduct a two-year research project on the impact of technology on nuclear warfare with professors from three other universities.
The study will focus on the intersections of technology and strategic stability, which is a belief in nuclear warfare philosophy that conflicting nations will not use nuclear weapons due to the risk of mutual destruction.
Lieber will conduct the study with professors Daryl Press at Dartmouth College, Austin Long at Columbia University and Brendan Green at the University of Cincinnati. All of the professors specialize in political science and international affairs.
Lieber said he hopes to correct misconceptions surrounding nuclear warfare in the United States with the research study.
“We think that there is a general ignorance of the development that technology has brought,” Lieber said. “We fear that the United States in particular, but other states, might find themselves in a conflict, which could escalate to nuclear use if they’re not aware of how technology has changed pretty dramatically.”
The group expects to use the grant to produce a report and host a conference to present their findings by late September 2017. In addition, the researchers will host a series of workshops throughout the next two years to receive ongoing feedback on their findings.
According to Lieber, the grant will allow the team to gather more perspectives from an international community of researchers.
“Much of the grant activity is centered around holding a series of workshops: international workshops where we’ll bring in local regional experts and paid consultant experts. … We wanted to get international perspectives on these developments,” Lieber said.
According to Lieber, he initially conceptualized the study with Press after they spent years on multiple projects on nuclear deterrence issues. The two have collaborated on more than 10 articles on the topic over the past decade.
Lieber said all four researchers are interested in educating students, policymakers and political analysts on the evolving threat of nuclear weapons.
“It’s public education, so all of us can be aware of what’s happening. It’s policy advocacy for better nuclear policies. … A big part of the grant involves teaching the next generation of nuclear analysts modeling techniques and techniques for understanding the impact of technology on strategic stability,” Lieber said.
Lieber also said research on nuclear deterrence has become particularly important since the end of the Cold War.
“We’ve fought half a dozen wars since the end of the Cold War, and the possibility that we will face in a conventional war a nuclear armed adversary is becoming increasingly likely,” Lieber said. “There hasn’t been a lot of thought since the end of the Cold War about how to fight conventional conflict without it escalating to the nuclear level.”
Government professor Matthew Kroenig, who has written two books on nuclear policy, said the research project is particularly important in light of the increased threat of nuclear conflict.
“The risk of nuclear war in Europe is higher now than at any time since the 1980s,” Kroenig wrote in an email to The Hoya. “If Russia were to replay its hybrid warfare playbook from Ukraine against a [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] country, there would be a real risk of nuclear escalation.”
SFS Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Graduate Affairs Anthony Arend said that Lieber’s research will help to further progress the school’s goals.
“We want people who advance our understanding of real life problems so that we can prepare students to better enter a very complex, and in some respects, confusing world,” Arend said. “Faculty members like Keir Lieber are doing cutting edge research that are helping all of us better understand the world.”
Austin Baker (SFS ’16), who is a student in Lieber’s course entitled “Nuclear Weapons: History, Strategy and Technology,” believes it is important for all students to have an understanding of Lieber’s work.
“For Georgetown students especially … [it is important to have] this kind of foundation of knowledge in terms of what these weapons are, what they can do, what they can’t do and how that plays into potential scenarios of which a state might want to escalate with nuclear weapons and the [United States] would be forced to respond,” Baker said.
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