Do you believe that nationalism prevents the dismantling of nuclear arsenals?

Nationalism is probably one of many factors preventing the dismantlement of nuclear arsenals. Research suggests that nationalism predicts endorsement of more hawkish foreign policy. Leaders who cater to nationalist electorates or espouse nationalism themselves are more likely to view nuclear capabilities as status-enhancing and will be less averse to leveraging nuclear threats to achieve their goals – foreign or domestic. For example, Russia’s President Putin often announces new missiles ahead of elections to portray himself as defending Russia’s great power status vis-à-vis the US and to rally nationalist voters.

The perception of national (in)security, prestige and power are the most dominating factors that have driven states to acquire nuclear weapons. What other factors are at play in countries holding onto their nuclear weapons?

A country’s decision to acquire nuclear weapons creates vested interests. A lot of people are employed to maintain existing nuclear arsenals and to conduct research, design, and development of new capabilities. Nuclear research labs, big corporations that produce deliver systems, various military and civilian agencies all benefit from holding on to existing arsenals and will lobby politicians to achieve their goals.

What is your next project?

My next project will explore cooperation and conflict in diverse societies. I will study how living in a culturally diverse society affects demand for state-provided public goods and willingness to invest in state capacity to provide them. I will also continue working on the legacies of conflict for long-run political development, my second research interest.

Volha Charnysh is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received her PhD in Government from Harvard University in May 2017. Dr. Charnysh’s research focuses on historical political economy, legacies of violence, nation- and state-building, and ethnic politics. She is currently working on a book entitled, Migration, Diversity, and Economic Development, which examines the long- term effects of forced migration in the aftermath of World War II in Eastern Europe. Her work synthesizes several decades of micro-level data collected during a year of fieldwork in Poland, and received funding from the Social Science Research Council and Center for European Studies. Charnysh’s work has appeared in American Political Science ReviewComparative Political Studies, and the European Journal of International Relations. She has also contributed articles to Foreign AffairsMonkey Cage at the Washington Post, National InterestTransitions OnlineArms Control TodayBelarus Digest, among other media. Her personal website is