Caitlin Talmadge | People

Associate Professor of Political Science


Caitlin Talmadge is Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also serves as a Senior Non-Resident Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution; a member of the Defense Policy Board at the U.S. Department of Defense; and a series editor for Cornell Studies in Security Affairs at Cornell University Press. During academic year 2023-4, she is on leave from MIT as a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.

Professor Talmadge’s research and teaching focus on nuclear deterrence and escalation, U.S. military operations and strategy, and security issues in Asia and the Persian Gulf. She is author of The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes (Cornell, 2015), which Foreign Affairs named the Best Book in Security for 2016 and which won the 2017 Best Book Award from the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association. In addition, she is co-author of U.S. Defense Politics: The Origins of Security Policy (fourth edition, Routledge, 2021), and she is currently writing a book with Professor Brendan Green on nuclear escalation risk in the emerging deterrence environment.

Dr. Talmadge has published articles in International Security, Security Studies, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Journal of Strategic Studies, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Quarterly, The Non-Proliferation Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among others. She has also testified before the Congressionally mandated U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and her commentary on current events has appeared in The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, Newsweek, and other media outlets such as CNN.

Dr. Talmadge is a graduate of Harvard (A.B., Government, summa cum laude) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Ph.D., Political Science). Previously, she has worked as a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; a consultant to the Office of Net Assessment at the U.S. Department of Defense; and a professor at the George Washington University and Georgetown University. For more information, please visit or follow her on Twitter @ProfTalmadge.



Peer-reviewed articles

2024. "When Actions Speak Louder than Words: Adversary Perceptions of Nuclear No-First-Use Pledges, " with Vipin Narang and Lisa Michelini, International Security Vol. 48, No. 4. 

2023. “The Meaning of China’s Nuclear Modernization,” with Joshua Rovner, Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 46, No. 6-7.

2022. “Then What? Assessing the Military Implications of Chinese Control of Taiwan,” with Brendan Rittenhouse Green, International Security 47(1): 7-45 (lead article).

2019. “Emerging Technology and Intra-war Escalation Risks: Evidence from the Cold War, Implications for Today,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 42(6): 864-887. [Reprinted in: Emerging Technologies and International Stability, eds. Todd Sechser, Neil Narang, and Caitlin Talmadge (Routledge, 2021).]

2019. “Emerging Technologies and Strategic Stability,” with Todd Sechser and Neil Narang, Journal of Strategic Studies 42(6): 727-735. [Reprinted in: Emerging Technologies and International Stability, eds. Todd Sechser, Neil Narang, and Caitlin Talmadge (Routledge, 2021).]

2018. “Civil-Military Pathologies and Defeat in War: Tests Using New Data,” with Vipin Narang, Journal of Conflict Resolution 62(7): 1379-1405.

2017. “Would China Go Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States,” International Security 40(4): 50-92.

2016. “Different Threats, Different Militaries: Explaining Organizational Practices in Authoritarian Armies,” Security Studies 25(1), spring: 111-141.

2016. “When War Helps Civil-Military Relations: Prolonged Interstate Conflict and the Reduced Risk of Coup Attempts,” with Varun Piplani, Journal of Conflict Resolution 60(8): 1368- 1394.

2014. “Hegemony, Force Posture, and the Provision of Public Goods: The Once and Future Role of Outside Powers in Securing Persian Gulf Oil,” with Joshua Rovner, Security Studies 23(3), fall: 548-581.

2013. “The Puzzle of Personalist Performance: Iraqi Battlefield Effectiveness in the Iran-Iraq War,” Security Studies 22(2), spring: 180-221.

2008. “Closing Time: Assessing Possible Outcomes of U.S.-Iranian Conflict in the Strait of Hormuz,” International Security 33(1), summer: 82-117.

2005. “Striking a Balance: the Lessons of U.S.-Russian Nuclear Materials Security Cooperation,” Non-Proliferation Review 12(1): 1-35.

Click here for a full list of published articles

Peer-reviewed book chapters

2022. “Deterrence in the Emerging Nuclear Era,” in The Fragile Balance of Terror, eds. Vipin Narang and Scott Sagan (Cornell University Press Series in Security Affairs).

[Excerpted in International Politics: Enduring Concepts and Contemporary Issues, 14th edition, eds., Robert Art, Timothy Crawford, and Robert Jervis (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2023).]

2021. “The U.S.-China Nuclear Relationship: Why Competition Is Likely to Intensify,” in Global China: Assessing China’s Growing Role in the World, eds., Tarun Chhabra, Rush Doshi, Ryan Haas, Emilie Kimball, (Washington, DC: Brookings Press).

2017. “Too Much of a Good Thing? Conventional Military Effectiveness and the Danger of Nuclear Escalation,” in The Sword’s Other Edge: Trade-offs in Military Effectiveness, ed. Daniel Reiter (Cambridge University Press).

2016. “The Future of U.S. Force Posture in the Gulf: The Case for a Residual Forward Presence,” in U.S. Military Commitment to Defend Persian Gulf Oil, eds., Charles Glaser and Rose Kelanic (Georgetown University Press).



2023. “Internal Instability Can Have Nuclear Consequences,” in “What is the fallout of Russia’s Wagner rebellion,” post on Brookings blog, June 27.

2023. “AUKUS defines an emerging alliance at sea,” post on Brookings blog, March 15.

2023. “Nuclear Deterrence: When We Go, We Will All Go Together,” in “Lessons from Ukraine,” Brookings Institution report, February 24.

2022. “Managing the Risks of U.S.-China War: Implementing a Strategy of Integrated Deterrence,” Brookings Global China Policy Brief, September.

2022. “The Consequences of Conquest: Why Indo-Pacific Power Hinges on Taiwan,” Foreign Affairs, with Brendan Green (July/August).

2022. “Why Russia’s mobilization may lower the risk of war—for now,” The Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post, September 21.

2022. “The US is expanding its goals in Ukraine—that’s dangerous,” Washington Post, May 11. Talmadge, p. 5

2022. “Putin just tested a new nuclear missile. Here’s what it means for the United States—and China,” The Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post, April 26.

2022. “What Putin’s Nuclear Threats Mean for the U.S.,” Wall Street Journal, March 3.

2022. “The Ukraine Crisis Is Now a Nuclear Crisis,” The Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post, February 27.

2022. “Implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” post on Brookings blog, Order from Chaos, February 25.

2021. “Impressions and conclusions from President Biden’s first international trip,” post on Brookings blog, Order from Chaos, June 18.

2021. “Why China Wants More and Better Nukes,” Foreign Affairs Snapshot, November 19, with Abraham Denmark.

2021. “Introduction to Roundtable Review of Brendan Green’s The Revolution that Failed: Nuclear Competition, Arms Control, and the Cold War,” H-Diplo Roundtable, November 9.

2021. “Don’t Sink the Nuclear Submarine Deal: The Benefits of AUKUS Outweigh the Proliferation Risks,” Foreign Affairs Snapshot, September 27.

2021. “The U.S.-China Nuclear Relationship: Growing Escalation Risks and Implications for the Future,” Testimony to the U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission, June 10.

2021. “The Strategic Implications of Chinese Control of Taiwan,” report to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, May 31.

2020. “The nomination of Gen. Lloyd Austin,” post on Brookings blog, Order from Chaos, December 10.

2020. “Is Trump hurting the military? Using the military as a political prop may have these three consequences,” The Monkey Cage blog at The Washington Post, with Elizabeth Saunders, Alice Hunt Friend, and Alex Downes, June 2.

2020. “The U.S.-Iran crisis has calmed down—but things won’t ever go back to how they were before,” The Monkey Cage blog at The Washington Post, with Christopher Clary, January 12.

2020. “Was it risky for the U.S. to take public responsibility for killing Soleimani?” The Monkey Cage blog at The Washington Post, January 3.

2020. “The Predictable Hazards of Unpredictability: Why Madman Behavior Doesn’t Work,” The Washington Quarterly (fall), with Samuel Seitz.

2019. “Are nuclear weapons keeping the India-Pakistan crisis from escalating—or making it more dangerous?” The Monkey Cage blog at The Washington Post, March 5.

2018. “Beijing’s Nuclear Option,” Foreign Affairs, November/December.

2017. Review of Jasen Castillo, Endurance and War: The National Sources of Military Cohesion, H-Diplo Roundtable, January 3.

2016. Response to Reviews of The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes, H-Diplo Roundtable, July 18.

2016. “Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of North Korea,” proceedings of South Korean Army Research Institute Army Power Forum, Sogang University, June 21.

2014. “Less Is More: The Future of the American Military in the Persian Gulf,” Washington Quarterly, 37(3), with Joshua Rovner.

2009. “Costs and Difficulties of Blocking the Strait of Hormuz,” correspondence with William D. O’Neil, International Security 33(3), winter: 182-88.

2007. “Deterring a Nuclear 9/11,” Washington Quarterly 30(2): 21-34.

2006. “Transforming the Pentagon: McNamara, Rumsfeld, and the Politics of Change,” Breakthroughs 15(1): 12-20.

2002. “The Restrained Hegemon: the Political Limits of U.S. Military Power,” Harvard International Review, Fall 2002.