Jessica Varnum

Adjunct Professor NTI Project Manager and Research Associate at CNS

Jessica C. Varnum is the NTI Project Manager and a Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). Varnum manages all of CNS's work for the Nuclear Threat Initiative website, including extensive research databases on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their delivery systems, educational resources, country profiles, and issue briefs. She also contributes research to a number of CNS projects, focusing particularly on Turkey, and the role of U.S./NATO extended deterrence commitments in Turkish national security policies. Varnum's book chapter, "Turkey in Transition: Toward or Away from Nuclear Weapons?" appears in Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century: A Comparative Perspective, an edited volume from Stanford University Press (2010).

Varnum frequently presents her research at conferences and guest lectures, and is a participant in the Program on Strategic Stability Evaluation, a collaborative project between CNS and Georgia Tech to promote international scholarship on issues of strategic stability under deeply reduced or eliminated nuclear arsenals. She received a UC IGCC Public Policy and Nuclear Threats Summer Seminar Fellowship (2008), and the award for "Most Outstanding Paper" at the 2007 Women in International Security Summer Symposium in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in The Nonproliferation Review and The International Herald Tribune.

Varnum has worked at CNS since 2006. She previously interned for the Center for Strategic and International Studies through the support of the Anne Armstrong Leadership Award, at the Atlantic Council of the United States, and with U.S. Senators Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe.

Link to full CNS bio


Nuclear nonproliferation; Turkey (including Turkish national security and nuclear policies, Turkish foreign policies, and Turkish domestic politics); NATO and extended deterrence; peaceful nuclear trade and cooperation; the responsible expansion of nuclear power; and the science and technology of nuclear policymaking (including the role of science advisors in the policy process and the scientific and technical underpinnings of nuclear policy challenges).


Varnum earned an M.A. in international policy studies with a certificate in nonproliferation studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and graduated summa cum laude from Colby College with a B.A. in government and international studies. She is proficient in French.

Course List

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

IPOL 8651 - Sem:ScienceTech&NucPolicyMakng      

As future nonproliferation analysts or policymakers, graduates of the MANPTS program will regularly encounter nuclear policy challenges with both political and technical dimensions, from nuclear forensics to missile defense or arms control verification. Yet policymakers are in many cases ignorant of the technical aspects of nuclear policy, and scientists are often equally guilty of coming up with technical solutions to nuclear policy challenges that cannot be implemented because they ignore political realities. The course will explore a series of current and historical nuclear policy case studies to understand the technical and policy dimensions of key nuclear policy challenges, including: nuclear terrorism; nuclear forensics and attribution; the use of science in nuclear intelligence estimates; U.S. nuclear weapons targeting policies; stockpile stewardship and the nuclear weapons labs; the U.S. Reliable Replacement Warhead; detection of nuclear tests and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; historical debates over the development of thermonuclear weapons; and ongoing debates about the possibility for “nuclear winter” following either limited or extensive use of nuclear weapons. The current and historical role of scientists and science advisors in the nuclear policy process will also be explored alongside the cases, especially in the United States, but with some comparative consideration of “science and the state” in China, India, and Russia. In addition to seminar-based discussion, the course includes a role-playing simulation exercise, guest lectures by high-level practitioners with hands-on experience of the issues; and the opportunity for students to pursue a research project related to the course that aligns with their academic and professional interests. The course is suitable for MANPTS students of any background, though students will find it helpful to either concurrently or previously have taken “IPOL 8559 Science & Technology for NPTS.”

Fall 2011 - MIIS, Fall 2012 - MIIS

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NPTG 8675 / IPOL 8675 - Sem:Nuc Renaissance& Nonprolif      

This seminar focuses on the nonproliferation, nuclear security, and safeguards challenges associated with the global spread of nuclear energy and other “peaceful” dual-use nuclear technologies, placing these issues in the larger context of the technical, diplomatic, legal, economic, infrastructure, and energy security dimensions of the so-called nuclear renaissance. We will examine key reactor and fuel cycle technologies, and look at the merits/shortcomings of attempts to “fix” proliferation, security, and safeguards challenges with technical innovations. In particular, we will look at Generation IV technologies, designs using the thorium fuel cycle, and safeguards technologies. We will discuss the economic, power infrastructure, regulatory, and capacity-building challenges faced by new nuclear build, especially among nuclear newcomers in the Middle East and Asia. Following discussion of the international organizations charged with assisting and overseeing the responsible implementation of nuclear power programs (and especially the IAEA), we will look at policy proposals to increase international control, such as the creation of multilateral fuel cycle facilities. We will also look at key players—who are the nuclear suppliers, and how do their policies agree/differ concerning export of sensitive nuclear technologies? The seminar is highly participatory, and will involve hands-on activities, such as a nuclear security satellite imagery analysis exercise, and an in-class simulation game.

Spring 2011 - MIIS, Spring 2012 - MIIS, Spring 2013 - MIIS, Fall 2013 - MIIS

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