Amy J. Nelson

Research Scholar | Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland

CV in brief: Education:  A.B. Philosophy, Stanford University, CA | M.A. French Studies: Intellectual History, Columbia University, NY | M.A. Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, CA | Ph.D. Political Science, University of California Berkeley, CA Previously worked at: Arms Control Delegation, U.S. Mission to OSCE, U.S. Department of State | Visiting Research Associate, John Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies | Policy Analyst, Defense Trade Controls, U.S. Department of State | Stanton Nuclear Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations Current roles: Nonresident Fellow, The Stimson Center | Research Scholar, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) Languages spoken:  English, French Find Amy online: Personal Site, Twitter, LinkedIn, the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) Inspired by Amy’s career? Find careers in policy and foreign services at the U.S. Department of State | Join a summer programme or Executive Education course at SAIS, John Hopkins University | Find internships and jobs and nuclear security fellowships at the Council on Foreign Relations | Gain experience in international peace and security on the Stimson Center Internship Programme | Do you have a project in mind? CISSM hosts a small number of scholars working on security policy issues Relevant reads: Samuel Huntingdon, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order | Fred Kaplan, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War Exclusive interview by Ella Bowie, March 2017

CV in brief:

Education:  A.B. Philosophy, Stanford University, CA | M.A. French Studies: Intellectual History, Columbia University, NY M.A. Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, CA | Ph.D. Political Science, University of California Berkeley, CA

Previously worked at: Arms Control Delegation, U.S. Mission to OSCE, U.S. Department of State | Visiting Research Associate, John Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies | Policy Analyst, Defense Trade Controls, U.S. Department of State | Stanton Nuclear Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Current roles: Nonresident Fellow, The Stimson Center | Research Scholar, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)

Languages spoken:  English, French

Find Amy online: Personal Site, Twitter, LinkedIn, the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)

Inspired by Amy’s career? Find careers in policy and foreign services at the U.S. Department of State | Join a summer programme or Executive Education course at SAIS, John Hopkins University | Find internships and jobs and nuclear security fellowships at the Council on Foreign Relations | Gain experience in international peace and security on the Stimson Center Internship Programme | Do you have a project in mind? CISSM hosts a small number of scholars working on security policy issues

Relevant reads: Samuel Huntingdon, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order | Fred Kaplan, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War

Exclusive interview by Ella Bowie, March 2017

Tell us about your current roles.

I am split between two roles at the moment. At the Centre for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland (CISSM), I am a research scholar. One of my current projects is an article length manuscript which lays out a theory of arms control, informed by decision theory. The piece ties in to the introduction and first chapter of my book, which focuses on "next generation arms control." 

I have done an empirical analysis of arms control negotiations from 1945- 2010, looking at best practices: what results in agreements, and what makes them durable. The article, and the book, address the uncertainty which envelops arms control negotiations, and I believe the theory can help to alleviate such uncertainty to increase security. 

I'm also working on a policy brief on the impact of emerging technologies on existing arms control and weapons regimes and a research paper on the risks and regulatory space for newer nuclear reactor technologies.

How do you approach writing a book?

I came to political science from a background in neuroscience and cognitive science, and before I started my PhD I was based in a laboratory doing work on neuroeconomics. I focused on how individuals make decisions under conditions of missing information, and if the activity in their brain reflects the value of their choice options. When moving into political science, I found it to be such a valuable framework that I continue to explore these decision-making processes and conditions. Afterwards, I did some fieldwork as part of the US Arms Control Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and realised this uncertainty was everywhere, and I wanted to explore this with the theory. 

This must have been quite a shift in your career focus. What were your initial aspirations?

I've always been interested in working in an inter-disciplinary way. I spent some time at the Santa Fe Institute looking at complex systems, at the theoretical, computer-modelling end of neuroscience. At Stanford, I wrote an honours thesis in the philosophy department, looking at the dichotomy between how philosophers speak about the mind, versus how neuroscientists speak about the brain when people are attending to a particular focus. I did my undergraduate degree in philosophy, my Master's in intellectual history, working in neuroscience, only to become a political scientist!  My background in all of these disciplines informs my work. 

What methods do you employ to bridge these disciplines?

I do favour the use of data. However when developing theories of how political patterns emerge, for example, it is an amalgam between political and philosophical theory and data.  You need data to test theories.  This is why I built a database of arms control negotiations.  There wasn't one in existence, which puzzled me both because these decisions are so crucial, and their effectiveness ought to be evaluated by data analysis. 

What drew you to nuclear and arms issues?

Being in the thick of it during my experience with the OSCE, coupled with the dynamism of defence policy changes. I find this field is a fascinating combination of politics and science and technology that suits my interests well. 

You've also worked in government. Tell us a little more about your experiences.

I've worked under the auspices of the US State Department, as part of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE. I worked on maintaining the CFE Treaty in Europe, which sets limitations on the numbers of different types of conventional weapons that states can have, and how transparency and productive dialogue can be maintained. Later I worked in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs, focusing on export controls. It was really eye opening to work in a different realm of the field, to see how the US government handles the export of US-origin weapons. 

What are the biggest challenges you've faced during your career? How do you deal with setbacks?

Funding, especially in the United States. There really are no guarantees in academia, you're always chasing down your next grant or fellowship. For women it's particularly challenging, if you are looking to have children. It can be difficult to sustain your momentum. You just have to hustle. My strategy is to cast a broad net in terms of research interests to open up opportunities. 

You've studied abroad, in Paris. What did you get out of this experience?

It was brilliant. I didn't speak a great deal of French beforehand, and was completely immersed in the culture. I wish I had worked less and played more, a good life lesson! One I will impart on my daughters in due time. 

What skills do you think are essential for any female seeking a career in foreign policy?

Persistence, perseverance and networking! Definitely networking. Women really do seek to help each other in this field, and that has been heartwarming. 

Away from foreign policy, if you could have any job, what would it be?

A chef. I catered my way through grad school, and every now and then I see an empty store and think that'd make a great restaurant or cafe. I'd love to open a cheese shop one day!

That's great! A final question: are there any books you would recommend to those interested in nuclear issues, or foreign policy more broadly?  What are you currently reading?

I always suggest Samuel Huntington's Clash of the Civilizations when people outside of the political realm of practice or research ask for a recommendation.  I'm currently reading Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, by Fred Kaplan, and my book group is reading Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. My daughter brought home a book about women leaders in the world from her school library recently, and she's adamant that I read it. She made it very clear she wants me to read it, not to her, to myself!