The Birkelund Fund for Watson Institute Faculty Research on Development, Governance, and Security contributes to Watson’s objective of providing “more support for faculty research, especially early-stage research,” said Watson Institute Director Ed Steinfeld. This year, in its initial cycle, the Birkelund Fund grants provided valuable seed funds, up to $20,000, to each of the six research proposals. These grants said Steinfeld, “are not huge in scale, but they position our faculty to get their work going to the point where it’s eligible for larger outside grants.”
Faculty seeking a Birkelund Fund grant are invited to include collaborators from across Brown or beyond, provided at least one principal investigator is a Watson faculty member. “We don’t want to be siloed; rather, we want to stimulate collaborative research beyond Watson, and we’re eager to see graduate students involved with these research projects,” Steinfeld said.
Evaluating the risk of nuclear brinkmanship
A Birkelund Fund grant will enable Dean’s Assistant Professor of Nuclear Security and Policy Reid Pauly to bring together scholarship on nuclear brinkmanship and psychology to evaluate the risks of nuclear war in crisis. His project, “Threats That Leave Something to Chance,” will investigate how nuclear powers compete under the shadow of a nuclear war that threatens their mutual annihilation.
“Vladimir Putin may be engaged in nuclear brinkmanship today,” said Pauly, among the younger generation of nuclear scholars interested in updating the Cold War nuclear brinkmanship strategy scholarship.
“The Birkelund Fund offers faculty a great way to hire research assistants and support our graduate students,” said Pauly. He has hired research assistants, Beenish Pervaiz and Omar Afzaal, Ph.D. candidates in Political Science, and John Michael Slezak, an undergraduate research assistant with concentrations in physics and applied math, to conduct a literature review and build a data set of all cases of brinkmanship, including in Ukraine.
With a commitment to a larger tranche of research funds in 2023, Pauly said, “When the external grant money becomes accessible, I can hit the ground running.”
While Putin’s invasion of Ukraine did not motivate Pauly’s research, he said, “The nuclear signaling around the invasion is further evidence of how these research projects are necessary. Even before the war in Ukraine, nuclear weapons – and great power politics – were back. Current events are accelerating the trend and demonstrate the need for rethinking these issues.”