How are our nuclear weapon choices made? Who gets a say in making the knowledge that is used to justify these choices? Led by Benoît Pelopidas, Associate Professor at Sciences Po in Paris, NUCLEAR (“Nuclear Weapons Choices. Governing Vulnerabilities between Past and Future”), a 1.5 million euro project funded by the European Research Council (ERC), one of the most competitive and prestigious EU grants, addresses these questions. The project proposes novel concepts of vulnerability and luck and uses original-language primary sources, interviews worldwide and unpublished Europe-wide surveys. Contrary to the common belief that our nuclear choices are driven by objective material realities of international security or rational learning from all available information, it shows the key role of the imagined versions of the future, specific memories of past events or trends, and affects such as nostalgia.
The project empirically documents two types of vulnerability related to nuclear weapons – a material one and an epistemic one. The latter consists of the temptation to disconnect our beliefs from the available evidence. Professor Pelopidas also establishes a method for assessing the role of factors beyond our control – luck – in the avoidance of the knowledge of past nuclear explosions. He documents this using newly available primary sources. The project thus examines the production of nuclear knowledge. It is also the first empirical study of the effects of the conflict of interest in funding of the most influential think tanks on their production of nuclear discourse. It also shows how the effects of nuclear policies on climate change are obscured in the imagined futures. The project re-characterizes the determinants of horizontal proliferation and establishes the lack of consensus in public opinion on nuclear policies in France and the United Kingdom”.
Professor Benoît Pelopidas is Associate Professor of Political Sciences at Sciences Po, Paris. He is the Principal Investigator of the ERC project NUCLEAR.
The NUCLEAR project has already produced in 25 peer-reviewed publications, including the monograph Rethinking Nuclear Choices published by the Presses de Sciences Po in 2022.
- Egeland, K., & Pelopidas, B. (2022). “No such thing as a free donation? Research funding and conflicts of interest in nuclear weapons policy analysis”. International Relations.
- Pelopidas, B. & Verschuren, Sanne C. J. (2023). “Writing IR after COVID-19. Reassessing political possibilities, good faith and policy relevant scholarship on climate change mitigation and nuclear disarmament”. Global Studies Quarterly (early view).
- Pelopidas, B., Taha, H. & Vaughan, T., (2024).“How dawn turned into dusk: Scoping and closing possible nuclear futures at the end of the Cold War”. Journal of Strategic Studies.
- Podcast: Nuclear Proliferation, Close Calls, and Luck. Vis a vis. Alliance Program at Columbia University. 09/20/2022.
- Video lecture summarizing the key findings of the project. Scoping Nuclear Weapons Choices in an Age of Existential Threats. Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge. 06/14/2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP0N6B1moRU
Facing Nuclear Vulnerabilities. Cogito. 04/16/2023.