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CISSM Global Forum | The Right Tool for the Job: Foreign Policy Effectiveness and Nuclear Proliferation

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Picture of Ariel Petrovics, who is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

The international community has worked for decades to combat the spread of nuclear weapons, but while some efforts succeeded in halting or even rolling back that spread, many others have backfired with dangerous consequences. As a result, those hoping to combat ongoing proliferation are left asking, of all these imperfect options, which policies work best, and do some actually do more harm than good? To answer these questions, Petrovics uses original data from 1945-2012 and within-case analysis of Iran and North Korea to test the effectiveness of common engagement strategies for combating nuclear proliferation. She shows that often cooperative inducements are more effective than coercive strategies, leading to nuclear reversal more often and with a lower risk of inadvertently increasing proliferation instead. But not all senders are equally capable of combating proliferation, so cooperation is most effective when offered by a rival superpower. However, this does not mean superpowers are always more effective. In fact, when these superpowers instead choose to coerce, they risk spurring greater proliferation.  This work provides important policy insights for ongoing proliferation challenges today.

Ariel F.W. Petrovics, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs


Ariel Petrovics is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs where she is jointly appointed to the Project on Managing the Atom and the International Security Program. Her research focuses on foreign policy effectiveness in international security, and has addressed policy challenges including nuclear proliferation, economic sanction success, and engagement with renegade regimes. She previously held positions as a Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at the Belfer Center, the Herbert York Fellow with the University of California, Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC), and a research associate at the Center for Global Security Research in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She received her PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Davis and a BA with honors in History from Bucknell University. Petrovics was also a five-time National Team athlete, representing the USA at World Cups, Pan-Am Games, and World Championships.

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