Eliza Gheorghe

Eliza Gheorghe, Postdoctoral Fellow

"I applied for this fellowship because Cornell is a center of gravity in international studies. The Einaudi Center brings under the same roof many of my academic role models. They shaped the discipline of international relations into what it is today."


I was born and raised in Cernavoda, the site of the Romanian nuclear power plant (NPP). I have always taken a keen interest in atomic energy, thanks to my father, an engineer at the NPP for the last thirty years. I still remember how he tried to explain fission to me when I was seven or eight, in preparation for my first visit to one of the reactors. As I was growing up, everyone I knew went to work for the nuclear power plant. For me, studying nuclear proliferation was not a foregone conclusion: there are no undergraduate courses in Romania focusing on this topic.

While studying as an exchange student at the Universita degli Studi di Roma Tre in Italy, I enrolled in the History of International Relations with Professor Leopoldo Nuti. This course cultivated my curiosity about how nuclear weapons have shaped modern history, and it changed my life. Professor Nuti introduced me to the Cold War International History Project and later on to the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP) at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Through NPIHP, I had the privilege to meet scholars, such as Professor Francis Gavin at MIT, who coordinates the Nuclear Studies Research Initiative and whose mentorship and support inspired me to engage in the big debates driving the field of nuclear proliferation studies.

With respect to nuclear proliferation, Cornell has one of the strongest and most diverse communities of scholars, whose expertise runs the gamut from disarmament to peace movements, from the causes of proliferation to preventive war and counter-proliferation. The history of the Romanian nuclear program not only corroborates the notion that all nuclear history is international history, but it also presents the Iron Curtain as more porous than previously assumed. Studying nuclear history has helped me better understand how the spread of the atom has altered the configuration of the international system and how middle powers have shaped global affairs. My research holds important lessons for policy makers. My work can inform nuclear suppliers about the challenges and opportunities they face when negotiating technology transfers to developing nations, better equip them for enforcing non-proliferation norms, and thus contribute to a safer world.

Cornell’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program has given me access to two of the most valuable resources for an academic: a vibrant intellectual environment and a window to the world. I have had the opportunity to learn from the path-breaking research carried out or presented at various seminars or lectures organized by the Einaudi Center. I’ve built new relationships with mentors and colleagues and debated key topics in international history and foreign affairs. I’ve also had the opportunity to present my research at international conferences, as well as to carry out new research in a variety of archives. My experience as a postdoctoral fellow has been fantastic so far and I could not have imagined a better start for my academic career. This fellowship has offered me the opportunity to expand the international scope of my teaching and research, push myself beyond my comfort zone, and take part in new and enriching scholarly debates and forums.

The biggest challenge at Cornell is not having nothing to do, but quite the opposite – striking a balance between my own work and attending the many exciting events, reading groups, lectures, and seminars organized on campus.

As a postdoctoral fellow at the Einaudi Center, I work with the History Department and the Government Department. I teach an undergraduate course on the History of Nuclear Weapons. This class seeks to identify and explain the patterns of nuclear proliferation. We examine,

compare, and contrast the nuclear weapons programs of nuclear powers and of countries that tried to obtain an atomic arsenal, but failed. Nuclear proliferation is usually taught through the lens of the American and Soviet experiences, as these two superpowers dominated the Cold War arena. By expanding the scope of academic inquiry, my students acquire a deeper understanding of the challenges that proliferation has posed globally. They draw on the nuclear histories of places as diverse as China and Iran, and South Africa and Japan, to debate critical global issues, such as the effect of nuclear proliferation on international stability or the feasibility and desirability of Global Zero. Students in my class develop a more multi-faceted and refined perspective about how nuclear proliferation affects the world we live in.

It is through international study that students acquire a compass for navigating a global, interdependent, and fast-changing world. A global citizen is an explorer guided by a finely-tuned moral compass. She is driven by a constant thirst for discovery and knowledge. She is inquisitive and perseverant, passionate and open-minded. She asks questions and understands that it is the process of finding an answer more than the answer itself that gives meaning to learning. She fights for the causes she believes in, outside of traditional geographic and temporal boundaries. Her search is guided by the principle that nothing human is alien to her.

After Cornell, I will be headed to the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University for a postdoctoral fellowship. I will continue my research on atomic weapons, embarking on a new project on nuclear dominoes – an unproven theory which predicts that if Iran acquires a nuclear deterrent, other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia or Turkey, will also pursue a nuclear military option.