I study the Politics of nuclear proliferation in three ways:
First, I explore how countries use nuclear power technology to achieve foreign policy goals. In particular, I focus on the integration of nuclear latency into coercive strategies designed to wrest concessions from the United States. I am finishing a book manuscript that explains why states opt for this strategy and when latency provides an effective coercive instrument. On the selection side, I show how technology shapes the information environment for revealing motives and practicing deception in ways that make coercion attractive at times but also an option of last resort in other situations. When it comes to the process of coercive diplomacy, my research finds that nuclear latency puts the challenger on the horns of a credibility dilemma between demonstrating resolve and signaling restraint. I identify a sweet spot for reaching an optimal bargain where the proliferation threat is credible while the assurance costs of revealing intent are low. An article version of this argument was published in Security Studies, along with implications for U.S. foreign policy in The Nonproliferation Review. I received funding for this research as a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at CEIP and a predoctoral fellowship from LLNL.
Tristan A. Volpe, “Atomic Leverage: Compellence with Nuclear Latency,” Security Studies 26, no. 3 (July 3, 2017): 517–44, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1306398.
Tristan A. Volpe, “Atomic Inducements: The Case for ‘Buying out’ Nuclear Latency,” The Nonproliferation Review 23, no. 3–4 (July 3, 2016): 481–93, https://doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2016.1246103.
Second, I examine proliferation dynamics in the Middle East and Europe. My research on nuclear latency provided a useful foundation to explore options for dampening a potential arms race between Saudi Arabia and Iran as the United States ceded the nuclear energy marketplace to Russia and China. Nicholas Miller and I continue to assess the implications of this shift toward authoritarian suppliers of nuclear technology. I also worked with Ulrich Kühn to assess the viability and implications of a renewed debate in Germany about nuclear hedge options amid increasing doubts about alliance commitments from the United States. We are currently researching a follow-up project funded by the MacArthur Foundation to explain why an ally (notably Germany) would give up the ultimate hedge capability by phasing out nuclear energy. Our work aims to refine recent scholarship on the political consequences of nuclear latency while engaging with policy debates about the future of extended deterrence in Europe.
Nicholas L. Miller and Tristan A. Volpe, “Abstinence or Tolerance: Managing Nuclear Ambitions in Saudi Arabia,” The Washington Quarterly 41, no. 2 (Summer 2018): 27–46, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2018.1484224.
Nicholas L. Miller and Tristan A. Volpe, “Geostrategic Nuclear Exports: The Competition for Influence in Saudi Arabia,” War on the Rocks, February 7, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/02/geostrategic-nuclear-exports-competition-influence-saudi-arabia/.
Tristan Volpe and Ulrich Kühn, “Germany’s Nuclear Education: Why a Few Elites Are Testing a Taboo,” The Washington Quarterly 40, no. 3 (July 3, 2017): 7–27, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2017.1370317.
Ulrich Kühn and Tristan Volpe, “Keine Atombombe, Bitte: Why Germany Should Not Go Nuclear,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 96, No. 4 (July/August 2017): 103-112, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/germany/2017-06-13/keine-atombombe-bitte [Reprinted in German and Russian].
Third, I assess the impact of emerging technology on the future of proliferation. This research interest originated during my time at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, where I encountered first-rate scientists pushing technology forward in exciting areas, notably with additive manufacturing platforms. After unpacking the potential downsides to this emerging technology with Matthew Kroenig, I teamed up with Wyatt Hoffman to explore whether the digital nature of 3-D printing systems could be leveraged to reap non-proliferation benefits. I received a generous grant to conduct this work at the Carnegie Endowment from the MacArthur Foundation, as well as support from the Stanley Foundation.
Wyatt Hoffman and Tristan A. Volpe, “Internet of Nuclear Things: Managing the Proliferation Risks of 3-D Printing Technology,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (March/April 2018): 1-12, https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2018.1436811.
Matthew Kroenig and Tristan Volpe, “3-D Printing the Bomb? The Nuclear Nonproliferation Challenge,” The Washington Quarterly 38, no. 3 (July 3, 2015): 7–19, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2015.1099022.
Wyatt Hoffman and Tristan A. Volpe, “An Internet of Nuclear Things: Emerging Technology and the Future of Supply Chain Security,” Policy Analysis Brief, The Stanley Foundation, June 2018, https://www.stanleyfoundation.org/publications/pab/IoNTPAB618.pdf.