Are we entering a dangerous new age of nuclear proliferation? A world in which the use of nuclear weapons is truly imaginable or even likely? And do the democratic nations of the world have a strategy to preserve order and protect themselves in this brave new world?

This one-week course will explore the ways nuclear weapons transformed the world we inhabit today, the effects of nuclear weapons on the conduct of international politics, and how policymakers have dealt with the issue of the shifting strategic balance, especially the loss of the American nuclear monopoly. Through background readings and discussion of case studies, students will gain the historical, strategic, and theoretical background necessary to allow them to understand and assess the key debates and policies regarding nuclear weapons that the United States will likely face in the coming decades.

The course will consist of two sessions per day. Each morning, students will participate in a seminar led by former under-secretary of defense Eric Edelman, who helped manage the nuclear portfolio for the George W. Bush administration. Each afternoon, they will hear from a leading expert or practitioner on the real strategic, moral, and political challenges of the current nuclear era. Past guest speakers have included Hal Brands (AEI), Matthew Kroenig (Georgetown), and Ray Takeyh (Council on Foreign Relations).

Image courtesy

Eric Edelman on today's global threats


Eric S. Edelman

Ambassador Eric S. Edelman is Counselor at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He retired as a career minister from the U.S. Foreign Service on May 1, 2009. He has served in senior positions at the Departments of State and Defense as well as the White House, where he led organizations providing analysis, strategy, policy development, security services, trade advocacy, public outreach, citizen services, and congressional relations.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Discussion Questions:

  1. What is deterrence, and what is necessary for it to work?
  2. How much is enough for effective deterrence?
  3. What is extended deterrence, and how do alliance commitments complicate credible deterrent threats?
  4. How does the “Second Nuclear Age” differ from the first? What new (and old) challenges does the U.S. face?
  5. Is the current U.S. approach to extended nuclear deterrence likely to remain adequate? If not, how might the U.S. adapt its extended nuclear deterrence posture to preserve stability across the regions that concern it most?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the U.S. have a strong national interest in preventing nuclear proliferation?
  2. Does nuclear proliferation produce stability or instability in the international system?
  3. What is the relationship between proliferation and arms control?
  4. Should states try to eliminate nuclear weapons or control their spread? What would be the best strategy to prevent nuclear proliferation?



Recommended Reading:


Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the distinctive security challenges of nuclear multipolarity?
  2. What does “strategic stability” mean in a multipolar nuclear world?
  3. Can a state deter, and if necessary fight, nuclear wars with multiple nuclear-armed adversaries?
  4. How and why do nuclear weapons spread? What strategies can we expect emerging nuclear powers to adopt (Iran, North Korea)?

Other Courses You Might Be Interested In

Chinese Grand Strategy

Explore the implications of China’s global rise for U.S. primacy and the liberal international order.

War Studies Program

Learn the theory, practice, organization, and control of war and military forces.

U.S.-Russia Strategic Competition

Consider the nature of the Russian challenge to the United States.

The Iranian Challenge

Consider the strategic options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.

Foundations of Grand Strategy

Assess grand strategic theory and practice in Thucydides and Plutarch.