Lauren Sukin

Ph.D. Candidate, Stanford University Department of Political Science
Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation

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About

Education

I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University, and a pre-doctoral fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). I will join the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science as an Assistant Professor in 2022. I graduated from Brown University in 2016 with B.A.s in Political Science and Literary Arts.

Research

In my research, I examine issues of international security, focusing on the role of nuclear weapons in international politics. My book project argues that credible nuclear guarantees can create fears of reliance on nuclear allies, leading to support with client states for stronger and more independent military capabilites. My broader research agenda also explores the dynamics of crisis politics, cyber security, public opinion, and international conflict.

Policy Writing

I am an Editorial Fellow at The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. You can find monthly articles from me here or by following me or The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on Twitter. My writing focuses on issues of nuclear politics and international security. My policy writing has previously appeared in Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Washington Post, Arms Control Wonk, The National Interest, The Washington Quarterly, and other outlets.

CV

Download a copy of my C.V. here.

Dissertation

My dissertation examines how nuclear states manage the dual nuclear foreign policy goals of 1) reassuring allies that nuclear proliferation is not necessary for their security and 2) deterring adversaries from using or acquiring nuclear weapons. Traditionally, these aims are accomplished through demonstrations of states' resolve to use their nuclear arsenals in defense of allies or against adversaries. Existing literature posits 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 and deter adversaries, overly credible demonstrations of resolve can also backfire. This backfire effect occurs in two critical, but underappreciated, ways. First, while nuclear states' demonstrations of resolve are designed to reassure their allies of defense commitments, they can create fears of entrapment in precipitous nuclear conflicts. In this way, demonstrations of resolve can drive nuclear states' allies to seek independent sources of security, including acquiring nuclear weapons. Second, demonstrations of resolve can escalate crises by posing threats that cause adversaries to respond aggressively. I test these arguments using a least-likely case: nuclear security on the Korean Peninsula.

One chapter of my dissertation builds on an article published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution. In this work, I examine the effectiveness of demonstrations of resolve meant to reassure allies, using two waves of survey experiments fielded in South Korea. The evidence shows that overly credible demonstrations of resolve can threaten allies. In particular, highly credible U.S. nuclear security guarantees increase South Koreans' support for nuclear proliferation. 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.

My dissertation also assesses the risks of demonstrations of resolve towards adversaries. It does so in three ways. First, using a new dataset of North Korea's rhetorical threats against its adversaries from 1997-2016, I apply computational text analysis to show that these threats are frequent and belligerent, but any individual threat is unlikely to be acted on. However, changes in the volume of North Korea's threats at any given time are predictive of belligerent actions such as missile and nuclear tests. In this way, even North Korea's lowest-level demonstrations of resolve, threatening propaganda, constitute meaningful signals of the intent to escalate. This raises questions about current understandings of deterrence and cheap talk. Second, in a paper published at Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, I field and analyze survey experiments in South Korea and the United States. These demonstrate how, at the micro-foundational level, statements of resolve by adversaries increase the risk of escalation during conflicts. These results contradict existing theories about security guarantees and deterrence, identifying new risks of resolve. Third, I establish that demonstrations of resolve are perceived as threatening not just by individuals, but also by states. Using a new dataset of South Korean joint military exercises, I show in a co-authored paper published at the Journal of Conflict Resolution that North Korea escalates in response to military exercises. Specifically, North Korea exhibits more belligerence when confronted with more concretely threatening military exercises, such as those that are larger, closer to North Korea, or that involve field maneuvers. This behavior suggests joint exercises do not deter North Korea but, instead, that North Korea perceives these exercises as threatening signals necessitating reactive demonstrations of resolve. Taken together, the components of my dissertation combine original data collection with a variety of causal inference techniques to bring to bear new evidence on when and how demonstrations of resolve fail to reassure allies and to deter adversaries.

Research

Click on a research topic to learn more.

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Security Guarantees
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Cybersecurity
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Laws of Warfare
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Northeast Asia
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Nuclear Crises
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Proliferation

Teaching

Stanford University, Teaching Assistant

Stanford University, Pre-Collegiate Studies Instructor

Syllabi

Find more information about my teaching here and on my C.V.

Policy Engagement

Funding and Fellowships



Selected Policy Writing

  • "Biden’s Pivot to Asia is Missing Something: Diplomats." The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. September 28, 2021.
  • “The Costs and Benefits of the New Approach to U.S.-ROK Joint Exercises,” The National Interest. March 18, 2021.
  • “American Public Reticent to Retaliate Against SolarWinds Hack,” with Kathryn Hedgecock and Leah Matchett The National Interest. January 16, 2021.
  • "Pandemic Politics: Why the US police should read 'just war' theory, with Kaitlyn Robinson." International Affairs and Future Strategy Forum. August 20, 2020.
  • "Elizabeth Warren Wants A Nuclear No First Use Policy, But It Won't Be Easy to Implement." The National Interest. October 24, 2019.
  • "The United States Treats Migrants Worse Than Prisoners of War." Foreign Policy. July 26, 2019.
  • "Presidential appointees decide our futures. We should be able to vote for them," with Selim Sazak, Washington Post, April 4, 2017.
  • "Nuclear Claims at the First Debate," with Selim Sazak, Arms Control Wonk, September 27, 2016.
  • "The Old Arguments About US Nukes in Europe Aren't Working. Here's A New Approach," DefenseOne, May 23, 2016.
  • "How America Can Dominate Global Nuclear Energy," The National Interest, May 19, 2016.
  • "The Other Liquid Gold," with Selim Sazak, Foreign Affairs, November 10, 2015.
  • "In Saudi Arabia, nuclear energy for nuclear energy's sake," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July 28, 2015.
  • More details and articles are available on my C.V.

    Contact

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    Lauren Sukin

    lsukin@stanford.edu
    @Lauren_Sukin

    Lauren Sukin
    Encina Hall West #100
    616 Jane Stanford Way
    Stanford, CA 94305

    Pronouns: She/Her
    Pronunciation: Lor-ren Soo-kin