Assistant Professor Michael Cohen Visits Griffith Asia Institute

Griffith Asia Institute was proud to host Assistant Professor Michael Cohen last Friday May 17th. GAI’s Director, Professor Andrew O’Neil, and Professor Michael Cohen (University of Southern Denmark) were selected for the 2012 Collaborative Travel Grant Scheme Award for their project titled: Testing the Nuclear Umbrella: Asia and Europe Compared.  The project has been awarded $10,000 in the first round of the scheme.  Co-funded by the two institutions, the collaborative scheme aims to assist researchers from each institution to undertake onsite visits to colleagues in the other institution in order to develop collaborative research projects which will lead to joint publications in high quality research outlets and joint external grants. GAI was very fortunate that Prof Cohen took some time to address a group of researchers about Nuclear Proliferation during his visit.


Prof Cohen’s speech titled “When Nuclear Proliferation Causes Peace: Leaders and the Psychology of Nuclear Learning” discussed how Iran and North Korea are pushing closer to developing nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf and East Asia face the challenge of realising regional objectives in the face of new nuclear powers.


A key question addressed was the effect that nuclear proliferation will have on the conflict propensity of these weak revisionist states. Prof Cohen discussed how the historical record shows that nuclear proliferation often prevents conflict but sometimes causes it. This presents a puzzle: when does nuclear proliferation cause peace?


Prof Cohen used statistical, experimental and historical evidence to support the argument that nuclear proliferation is dangerous when leaders learn that nuclear compellence is safe and safe when they learn that it is dangerous. He argued that this suggests counter intuitive policy prescriptions for the United States and its allies in engaging such new nuclear powers. If Iranian or North Korean leaders cause a nuclear crisis where they experience fear of imminent nuclear war, the historical record suggests that ensuring that they believe that they have some control over the crisis will make nuclear proliferation cause peace.


Michael D. Cohen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Southern Denmark. His research has been published in the journal International Security and a Stanford University Press edited volume, and has been funded by the Simons Foundation, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, and numerous fellowships from the University of British Columbia and the University of Southern Denmark. He is currently completing a book manuscript titled When Nuclear Proliferation Causes Peace.