Virtual Reality and Nuclear Crisis Decision Making | 2020 | Events

Virtual Reality and Nuclear Crisis Decision Making
Sharon Weiner
Sharon Weiner
American University
October 7, 2020
Virtual event


Deterrence assumes that decision makers can rationally assess the costs and benefits of their actions.  Yet the literatures on foreign policy decision making and behavioral economics both argue that people frequently use heuristics, past experience, and emotion to insert significant irrationality into their decision making.  This is especially true in situations of extreme uncertainty and stress, both of which are likely to characterize any decision about nuclear use.  Additionally, critics of U.S. nuclear strategy have long argued that ICBMs are especially dangerous because their vulnerability will lead to launch on warning, thus increasing the chances a nuclear exchange will result from misperceptions or misunderstandings.

I will present and ask for feedback on the design of a research project that uses a Virtual Reality experience as the basis for controlled observations and a set of experiments to better understand the decision making behavior that is likely in a nuclear crisis involving ICBMs.


Sharon K. Weiner is Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University. Her research, teaching, and policy engagement are at the intersection of organizational politics and U.S. national security and focus on nuclear weapons strategy and force structure as well as civil-military relations. A 2018-2020 Carnegie Fellow, Weiner’s current project looks at the relationship between conceptions of deterrence and bureaucratic structure, processes, and culture.  From August 2014 through February 2017 Weiner served as a program examiner with the National Security Division of the White House Office of Management and Budget, where she had responsibility for budget and policy issues related to nuclear weapons and nonproliferation. Her other government service includes the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Senate Staff, the House Armed Services Committee, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Weiner's book Our Own Worst Enemy? Institutional Interests and the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Expertise (MIT Press 2011) explored the role of organizational and partisan politics in the success and failure of U.S. cooperative nonproliferation programs and won the 2012 Louis Brownlow award from the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration.  Her work has also appeared in Arms Control Today, Political Science Quarterly, The Nonproliferation Review, Daedalus, International Security, as well as other journals. She holds a PhD in Political Science from MIT’s Security Studies Program.