Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Tristan Volpe

Tristan Volpe is a Lawrence Scholar in Global Security E Program and a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the George Washington University.

Tristan’s dissertation research at LLNL answers two central questions about nuclear latency and coercive threats. Why do states wait in nuclear limbo? States with the capability to produce nuclear weapons often pause at this dangerous stage of nuclear development for prolonged periods of time. He proposes that one reason states such as Japan, North Korea, and Iran flirt with nuclear latency is because it offers coercive bargaining benefits. Nuclear proliferation poses high costs to other states. Under some conditions, this provides challengers in nuclear limbo with an opportunity to extort their friends and enemies. When does nuclear latency offer coercive blackmail benefits? Tristan argues that nuclear latency confers coercive threat advantages when a weak challenger demands concessions from a superior target, and the proliferation threat is backed with a credible promise to stay in nuclear limbo. Yet challengers must surmount a dilemma to reap blackmail benefits: the more they threaten to proliferate, the harder it becomes to promise the target that compliance will be rewarded with nuclear restraint. He delves into the technology and politics of nuclear latency to show that challengers are most able to hit this sweet spot of moderate threats and strong promises when they first enter nuclear limbo. Less nuclear latency yields more coercive benefits.

This research received additional support from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at Monterey. He is a member of the Project on Strategic Stability Evaluation (POSSE). Tristan received a B.A. (honors) in Political Science from UCLA.