Amy J. Nelson, Ph.D.


I am currently a Nonresident Fellow with the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center and was previously a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California Berkeley in December of 2013.  I completed my dissertation while a Research Fellow at SIPRI North America and the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. and subsequently worked as a policy analyst at the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.

My book manuscript focuses on the effect of uncertainty on the negotiation of arms control agreements.  More precisely, the project addresses uncertainty about the capabilities and intentions of rival nation-states within a decision-theoretic framework.  I argue that when nation-states rely on risk reduction and threat elimination strategies during arms control negotiations, they tend to produce agreements of limited scope, scale and duration--outcomes that aren't necessarily conducive to security goals of long-term peace and stability.  The irony is that, in many cases, these kinds of agreements are the best we can hope for because they remove barriers to reaching negotiated outcomes. Broader agreements that are loaded with confidence- and security- building measures do tend to last longer because they are more effective at managing uncertainty about capabilities and intentions in the long run.  To address these issues and help inform best practices for negotiating new agreements, I have assembled a dataset of arms control negotiations dating from 1945 to 2010. 

Additional research projects include: pathways to proliferation for emerging weapons technologies, the diffusion of digitized weapons information, the future of defense coproduction agreements, obstacles to successful implementation of nuclear safeguards, improving policy processes for the U.S.'s conventional defense trade, and cognitive obstacles to thinking rigorously about cybersecurity.

I also have an M.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley; an M.A. in French Studies (Intellectual History) from Columbia University, and an A.B. in Philosophy with Honors from Stanford University.  My doctoral research was supported by fellowships from the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, the Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) and the Marshall Foundation.  In 2011 I worked as a member of the U.S. Arms Control Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.   In 2012-2013 I was also a Visiting Research Associate with the Conflict Management Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) (2012-2013).  I have two beautiful daughters and live in D.C.  You can find my husband's work here.

Research