Rethinking Nuclear Deterrence: The Role of nuclear weapons in the 21st century


Location: B101 JNH


To join virtually: Meeting ID: 963 9799 2206

We will not take questions virtually, this is a strictly to listen and watch.


Francesca Giovannini is the Executive Director of the Harvard Belfer’s Initiative on Managing the Atom and the Research Director of the Nuclear Deterrence Research Network funded by the MacArthur Foundation. 

She is also an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she teaches a Master degree course on global nuclear policies and a course of Technology and National Security. 

Dr. Giovannini served as Strategy and Policy Officer to the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), based in Vienna. In that capacity, she oversaw a series of policy initiatives to promote CTBT ratification as a confidence-building mechanism in regional and bilateral nuclear negotiations, elevate the profile of CTBT in academic circles and promote the recruitment of female scientists from the Global South. 

Prior to her international appointment, Dr. Giovannini served for five years at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston as Director of the Research Program on Global Security and International Affairs. Working to leverage academic knowledge to inform better policies, she led and promoted countless academic research on issues such as bilateral and multilateral arms control frameworks, regional nuclear proliferation dynamics, and nuclear security and insider threats. 

With a Doctorate from the University of Oxford, UK and two Masters from the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Giovannini began her career working for international organizations and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She led humanitarian and development projects targeting refugees and internally displaced people in the Palestinian Territories, Turkey and Lebanon. She also worked as consultant for the United Nations Crisis Prevention and Recovery Network, drafting regional and national strategies to set-up political violence early warning systems in the Levant and in the South-Pacific. 

Dr.  Giovannini speaks three languages fluently (Italian, English and French). She is an assiduous traveller, an amateur photographer and a devoted collector of spiritual artefacts from around the world.



Reliance on nuclear deterrence remains the central tenet of nuclear strategies around the world. Yet, the concept and its practice have been historically contested and highly disputed. Since the end of the Cold War, for instance, legitimate questions have been raised about how universally appropriate nuclear deterrence is as the answer to existential security risks in a world of multiple nuclear weapons states, economic and technological global interdependencies, and widespread concerns over international humanitarian law and developmental challenges. 

Dangerous geopolitical tensions demand a serious rethink of both defense and security strategies. Is the concept of nuclear deterrence still viable and valuable today, and if so, under what conditions and circumstances? And can alternative security mechanisms to nuclear deterrence be established in today’s world?