President’s Message: The Nuclear Guns of August

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true,” wrote Barbara Tuchman in The Guns of August.[ref]Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (New York: Dell, 1962).[/ref] Today, the United States and other nuclear-armed states are not addressing the harder alternative of whether nuclear weapons provide for real security. The harder alternative, I argue,  is to work toward elimination of these weapons at the same time as the security concerns of all states are being met. If leaders of states feel insecure, those with nuclear arms will insist on maintaining or even modernizing these weapons, and many of those without nuclear arms will insist on having nuclear deterrence commitments from nuclear-armed states. Therefore, security concerns must be addressed as a leading priority if there is to be any hope of nuclear abolition.

Among the many merits of Tuchman’s book is her trenchant analysis of the entangled military and political alliances that avalanched toward the armed clashes at the start of the First World War in August 1914. The German army under the Schlieffen Plan had to mobilize within a couple of weeks and launch its attack through neutral Belgium into France and win swift victory; otherwise, Germany would get bogged down in a two-front war in France and Russia. But this plan did not go like clockwork. As we know from history, years of trench warfare resulted in millions of soldiers killed. The war’s death toll of military and civilians from multiple causes (including pandemic influenza) was more than 16 million.

The danger today is that alliance commitments could drag the United States into an even more costly nuclear war. While the United States must support its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and in East Asia (including Japan and South Korea), it must be wary of overreliance on nuclear weapons for providing security. This is an extremely difficult balancing act. On the one hand, the United States needs to reassure these allies that they have serious, reliable extended deterrence commitments. “Extended” means that the United States extends deterrence beyond its territory and will commit to retaliating in response to an armed attack on an ally’s territory. Such deterrence involves conventional and nuclear forces as well as diplomatic efforts.

NATO allies have been concerned about the security implications of Russia’s incursion into Crimea and its influence over the continuing political and military crisis in Ukraine. Do nuclear weapons have a role in reassuring these allies? A resolute yes has come from an August 17th op-ed in the Washington Post by Brent Scowcroft, Stephen J. Hadley, and Franklin Miller.[ref]Brent Scowcroft, Stephen J. Hadley, and Franklin Miller, “NATO-based nuclear weapons are an advantage in a dangerous world,” Washington Post, August 17, 2014.[/ref] (The first two gentlemen served as national security advisers in the Ford, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations while the third author was a senior official in charge of developing nuclear policy for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.) Not only do these experienced former national security officials give an emphatic affirmation to the United States recommitting to nuclear deterrence in NATO (as if that were seriously in doubt), but they underscore the perceived need for keeping “the modest number of U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe.” The United States is the only nuclear-armed state to deploy nuclear weapons in other states’ territories.

The authors pose three arguments from opponents and then attempt to knock them down. First, the critics allegedly posit that NATO-based nuclear weapons “have no military value.” To rebut, Scowcroft et al. state that because NATO’s supreme allied commander says that these weapons have military value, this is evidence enough. While by definition of his rank he is an authority, he alone cannot determine whether or not these weapons have military value. This is at least a debatable point. Scowcroft et al. instead want to emphasize that the weapons are “fundamentally, political weapons.” That is, these forward deployed arms are “a visible symbol to friend and potential foe of the U.S. commitment to defend NATO with all of the military power it possesses.” But would the United States go so far as to threaten Russia with nuclear use? The authors do not pursue this line of questioning. Perhaps they realize that this threat could lead to a commitment trap in which the United States would risk losing credibility because it would not want to cross the nuclear threshold, but Russian President Vladimir Putin could call the U.S. bluff.[ref]For more on the commitment trap as applied to the riskiness of nuclear threats against chemical and biological weapons, see Scott D. Sagan, “The Commitment Trap,” International Security, Spring 2000, pp. 85-115.[/ref]

The United States can still demonstrate resolve and commitment to allies with its strategic nuclear weapons based on U.S. soil and on submarines under the surfaces of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Moreover, the United States can show further support by working with European allies to make them more resilient against disruptions of energy supplies such as oil and natural gas from Russia. By implementing policies to reduce and eventually eliminate dependencies on Russian energy supplies, these countries will strengthen their energy security and have further options to apply economic and diplomatic pressure, if necessary, on Russia. These measures are not explicitly mentioned in the op-ed.

Rather, Scowcroft et al. argue that Russia has been modernizing its nuclear forces because these weapons “clearly matter to Russian leadership, and as a result, our allies insist that the U.S. nuclear commitment to NATO cannot be called into question.” But of course, these weapons are valuable to Russia due to the relative weakness of its conventional military. While Scowcroft et al. raise an important concern about continued modernization of nuclear weapons, this argument does not lead to the necessity of deployment of U.S. nuclear bombs in European states.

Scowcroft et al. then argue that NATO’s overwhelming conventional military superiority in the aggregate of all its allies’ conventional forces is a fallacy because it “masks the reality that on NATO’s eastern borders, on a regular basis, Russian forces are numerically superior to those of the alliance.” Moreover, “Russia’s armed forces have improved significantly since their poor performance in [the Republic of] Georgia in 2008.” The authors then state that looking at conventional war-fighting capabilities alone miss the point that “NATO’s principal goal is deterring aggression rather than having to defeat it. And it is here that NATO’s nuclear capabilities provide their greatest value.” Although I have no argument against deterring aggression, they have not proved the point that forward-deployed U.S. nuclear weapons have done so. Indeed, Russian forces have occupied parts of Ukraine. While Ukraine is not part of NATO, it is still not proven that U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe are essential to block Russia from potentially encroaching on NATO allies in Eastern Europe. Perhaps at best nuclear forces on either side have stalemated each other and that there are still plenty of moves available for less potent, but nonetheless powerful, conventional forces on the geopolitical chessboard.

Finally, they address the opponents’ argument that deep divisions run through NATO allies about the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. While they acknowledge that in 2007 and 2008 domestic politics in several alliance states fed a debate that resulted in several government officials in some European states expressing interest in removal of U.S. nuclear weapons, they argue that the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept (endorsed by all 28 NATO heads of government), demonstrates unity of policy that “We will maintain an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces [and] ensure the broadest participation of Allies in collective defense planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces, and in command, control, and communications arrangements.” Of course, one can read into this statement that “broadest participation” and “peacetime basing” can suggest forward deployment. On the other hand, the statement can be read as purposively ambiguous to iron over differences and achieve consensus among a large group of states. These governments have yet to seriously question nuclear deterrence, but this does not demand forward basing of U.S. nuclear bombs.

Left unwritten in their op-ed are the steps the United States took at the end of the Cold War to remove its nuclear weapons from forward basing in South Korea and near Japan.  Although some scholars and politicians in Japan and South Korea have at times questioned this action, the United States has frequently reassured these allies by flying nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 strategic bombers from the United States to Northeast Asia and emphasizing the continuous deployment of dozens of nuclear-armed submarine launched ballistic missiles in the Pacific Ocean. Japan and South Korea have not built nuclear weapons, and they have not experienced war in the region since the Korean War ended in 1953 in an armistice. It would be a mistake for the United States to reintroduce forward-deployed nuclear weapons in and near Japan and South Korea. These allies’ security would not be increased and might actually decrease because of the potential for adverse reactions from China and North Korea.

The urgent required action is for the United States to stop being the only country with nuclear weapons deployed in other countries, and instead it should remove its nuclear bombs from European states. The United States should not give other countries such as China, Russia, or Pakistan the green light to forward deploy in others’ territories. For example, there are concerns that Pakistan could deploy nuclear forces in Saudi Arabia if Saudi rulers make such a request because of their fears of a future nuclear-armed Iran.

In conclusion, ideas in books do matter. President John F. Kennedy during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis drew lessons from The Guns of August. The main lesson he learned was that great powers slipped accidentally into the catastrophic First World War. This sobering lesson in part made him wary of tripping into an accidental war, but he still took risks, for example, by ordering a naval quarantine of Cuba. (He called this action “quarantine” because a blockade is an act of war.) During the quarantine, it was fortunate that a Soviet submarine commander refrained from launching nuclear weapons that were onboard his submarine. This is just one example of how close the United States and Soviet Union came to nuclear war.

Let us remember that the crisis was largely about the United States’ refusal to accept the presence of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba that was within 100 miles of the continental United States. At that time, the United States had deployed nuclear-capable Jupiter missiles in Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union. Both sides backed down from the nuclear brink, and both countries removed their forward deployed nuclear weapons from Cuba and Turkey. Thus, it is ironic that we seem to be headed back to the future when senior former U.S. officials argue for U.S. nuclear bombs based in Europe.


Charles D. Ferguson, Ph.D.

President, Federation of American Scientists


JFK, One World or None and “A New Effort to Achieve World Law”

In the wake of the extraordinary media focus on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and on the search to define his legacy, a significant element was overlooked: the story of a young congressman joining in a legislative initiative to advance no less than the solution to the problem of war. It is an initiative Kennedy pursued again in a major address in his creative last season as president.

On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy delivered the commencement address at American University in Washington, DC. That speech is often remembered for a pair of nuclear announcements – the suspension of American atmospheric tests and the opening of negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty. It is usually forgotten that JFK also presented in this speech the idea of a pathway toward “not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

In the speech, President Kennedy asked Americans to reexamine their pessimism about the human prospect. “Too many of us think … that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.” But he insisted that “human destiny” remained in human hands. A durable peace, said JFK, could be constructed “not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions … World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor. It requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement.”

Then President Kennedy became more specific:  “We seek to strengthen the United Nations … to develop it into a genuine world security system … This will require a new effort to achieve world law. … Our primary long range interest … is general and complete disarmament … to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms.”

Fourteen years earlier, JFK had endorsed a legislative action that described the kind of “new institutions of peace” that would constitute “a genuine world security system.” In June 1949, Representative John F. Kennedy – along with more than 100 other sitting members of the House and the Senate – proposed the transformation of the United Nations into a world federation.

House Concurrent Resolution 64 read as follows: “. . . [I]t is the sense of the Congress that it should be a fundamental objective of the foreign policy of the United States to support and strengthen the United Nations and to seek its development into a world federation, open to all nations, with defined and limited powers adequate to preserve peace and prevent aggression through the enactment, interpretation, and enforcement of world law.”

The measure was co-sponsored in the House by 91 members. The list notably included Representatives Jacob Javits, Mike Mansfield, Abe Ribicoff, Peter Rodino, Henry Jackson, Walter Judd, Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Charles Eaton, future Eisenhower Secretary of State Christian Herter, first-term Congressman Gerald Ford, and second-term Congressman John F. Kennedy, all of whom served in senior U.S. government leadership positions in later years.

On the Senate side, the 21 co-sponsors included Senators Paul Douglas, Russell Long, Wayne Morse, future vice-presidential candidate John Sparkman, and future Vice President Hubert Humphrey; here again, all became major leaders in the U.S. government.

This resolution did not spontaneously appear in the halls of Congress. The idea of abolishing war through the establishment of a world government was already then very old. It had been expressed in centuries past by figures like Dante Alighieri, William Penn, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Victor Hugo – even Ulysses S. Grant. (Last year marked the tercentenary of the 1713 Project for Perpetual Peace by the Abbey of Saint Pierre — which influenced both Kant and Rousseau.) The long historic background of the idea is charted in Strobe Talbott’s 2008 book, The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation. Talbott pegs his account on Plutarch’s report that one of the indictments of Socrates, for which he chose to drink the hemlock, was his declaration that he was not an Athenian or a Greek but “a citizen of the world.”

Few generations in human history had experienced as much upheaval as those living through two cataclysmic world wars (with a great depression in between) in the space of three decades. The new United Nations that emerged from the San Francisco conference in June 1945 fell far short of an institution able to keep the peace, with a Security Council that could only act to prevent aggression if unanimity prevailed among its five permanent members. Then came the atom bomb in August 1945, an apocalyptic addition to the human predicament.

Out of these experiences, a genuine grassroots movement started to emerge during the Second World War, advocating the establishment of a federal and democratic world government in order to bring about the elimination of national armies and the abolition of war.  Its central contention was that humanity could no longer permit anarchy on the world level, and that the civil society, constitutions, and rule of law that prevailed within nations now had to be instituted among nations as well.

An organization known as the Student Federalists, founded in 1942 by author Wofford, over the next several years formed 367 chapters on high school and college campuses around the country. (A 2001 book by Gilbert Jonas, One Shining Moment, chronicles that story.) The chancellor of the University of Chicago, Robert Maynard Hutchins, convened a group of distinguished scholars from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and St. John’s College as well as Chicago, and grandly designated them the “Committee to Frame a World Constitution.”[ref]The group met regularly for more than two years, published a monthly magazine known as Common Cause which deeply explored the structure, benefits, costs and risks of a hypothetical future world government, and issued in 1948 its Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution. The preamble of that document still stands as an eloquent expression of the ultimate purposes of a world republic.[/ref] (As an undergraduate at Chicago, author Wofford assisted the Committee in the launching of their draft world constitution.) [ref]Text of the preamble: “The people of the earth having agreed that the advancement of man in spiritual excellence and physical welfare is the common goal of mankind;  that universal peace is the prerequisite for the pursuit of that goal; that justice in turn is the prerequisite of peace, and peace and justice stand or fall together;  that iniquity and war inseparably spring from the competitive anarchy of the national states; that therefore the age of nations must end, and the era of humanity begin; the governments of the nations have decided to order their separate sovereignties in one government of justice, to which they surrender their arms; and to establish, as they do establish, this Constitution  as the covenant and fundamental law of the Federal Republic of the World.” The draft constitution appears in its entirety, along with extensive commentary, in a 1965 monograph published by The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, California, called A Constitution for the World. The preamble appears on page 26. [/ref] By 1949, the United World Federalists, which aimed “to strengthen the UN into a world government,” had established 720 chapters and enlisted nearly 50,000 members and was led by future U.S. Senator Alan Cranston – who at various times served as a mentor to both of the authors of this essay. Between 1941 and 1951, more than half the state legislatures in the United States passed resolutions advocating some form of world federation with power adequate to prevent war.[ref]The full story of these resolutions (and hearings) in both state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, along with much else on the lineage of the world government idea, is told in the masterful two-volume historical work by Joseph Preston Baratta, The Politics of World Federation, Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.[/ref]

Albert Einstein declared: “The world’s present system of sovereign nations can lead only to barbarism, war and inhumanity. There is no salvation for civilization, or even the human race, other than the creation of a world government.”[ref]Einstein served as the founding chair of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists — an affiliate of the Federation of American Scientists — and was named in 1999 by TIME Magazine as its “Person of the Century.”[/ref] That sentiment was endorsed by many more luminaries of the day, including Oscar Hammerstein II, Clare Booth Luce, Carl Sandburg, Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells, Dorothy Thompson, Albert Camus, Arnold Toynbee, and U.S. Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas and Robert H. Jackson (chief prosecutor at Nuremberg). Even Winston Churchill proclaimed in 1947 that if “it is found possible to build a world organization of irresistible force and authority for the purpose of securing peace, there are no limits to the blessings which all men may enjoy and share.” And in 1950 he revealed his appraisal of the stark alternative: “Unless some effective world super-government can be set up and brought quickly into action, the prospects for peace and human progress are dark and doubtful.”

Many of the young members of the Student Federalists were filled with not just activist energy, but also an intellectual engagement with the great issues of the day. A number were profoundly influenced by literary works including The Anatomy of Peace by Emery Reves, How to Think About War and Peace by Mortimer Adler, and The Wild Flag: Editorials from The New Yorker on Federal World Government by E.B. White.

As instrumental as any of these was a 1946 collection of essays from Manhattan Project scientists and others, assembled by the Federation of American Scientists, called One World or None: A Report to the Public on the Full Meaning of the Atomic Bomb.

Not all the articles in this compilation directly grappled with proposals for world government. A few forecast the danger of nuclear terror – called by Los Alamos Associate Director E.U. Condon “the new technique of private war.” Others examined the promise (but not much of the peril) of the yet-to-be-realized development of nuclear energy. Others still focused on the likely inescapable advantages of offense in the new atomic age, and the contention that, in the title of radar pioneer Louis N. Ridenour’s essay, There is No Defense.

However, many asserted that the primeval scourge of war must now be brought to an end — through the creation of supranational institutions with the power to enact and the means to enforce supranational law. “Conflicts in interest between great powers can be expected to arise in the future … and there is no world authority in existence that can adjudicate the case and enforce the decision,” said Leo Szilard, who first conceived the nuclear chain reaction. But humanity had at its disposal, he insisted, “the solution of the problem of permanent peace … the issue that we have to face is not whether we can create a world government … (but) whether we can have such a world government without going through a third world war.”

“The greatest need facing the world today is for international control of the human forces that make for war,” said General of the Army Hap Arnold, the only Air Force officer ever to hold the rank of five stars, in his final official statement as head of the U.S Army Air Forces. The atom bomb, he declared, presents “a tremendous argument for a world organization that will eliminate conflict … we must make an end to all wars for good.” (After his retirement from the military, General Arnold served as founder of the RAND Corporation.)

Finally, “there are few in any country who now believe that war itself … can be regulated or outlawed by the ordinary treaties among sovereign states,” said Walter Lippmann, a founder of both The New Republic magazine and the Council on Foreign Relations. “No one can prove … what will be the legislative, executive, and judicial organs of the world state. … (But) there are ideas that shake the world and change it. The project of the world state is now such an idea … the ideal of the union of mankind under universal law.”

In 2007 the Federation of American Scientists and the New Press republished One World or None, with a new introduction by Richard Rhodes, which is available in bookstores.

With the coming of the Cold War and the arms race, the steam went out of the movement.  One powerful spokesman for the United World Federalists, Cord Meyer, who often ended his talks saying, “If this hope is naïve, then it is naïve to hope,” left to become an important strategist for the CIA.  Senator Cranston ran for president in 1984 on a platform for nuclear arms control and the strengthening and transformation of the United Nations – in a losing campaign. By the early 1950s, the idea of a world federation was no longer debated in dormitories, at dinner parties, and in public forums.

As we reflect upon the tragic end of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, we should recognize the central proposition he offered at the beginning of his inaugural address: “The world is very different now.  For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”  He went on to say that our goal for the United Nations should be: “To enlarge the area in which its writ may run . . . and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.”

“So let us begin anew,” Kennedy said.  He called for “a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.”

We cannot know what Kennedy would have done if he had lived, and been elected to a second term.  Would he have stopped the mounting war in Vietnam?  Would the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty have become the first stage of the new endeavor for peace he promised? One of Kennedy’s big commitments was fulfilled, on his timetable of one decade: “to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.”  Would Kennedy have gone on to build enduring world peace through the world rule of law, and to cultivate an allegiance to humanity, with the same can-do spirit that took us to the moon?

We cannot say. But we do know that in July 1979, on the tenth anniversary of that landing, Neil Armstrong was asked what had been going through his mind as he stood on the moon and saluted the American flag. “I suppose you’re thinking about pride and patriotism,” he replied. “But we didn’t have a strong nationalistic feeling at that time. We felt more that it was a venture of all mankind.”


Former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford (D-PA) served as President Kennedy’s Special Assistant for Civil Rights, and as Special Representative of the Peace Corps to Africa; while in the Army Air Corps in World War Two, he wrote It’s Up To Us: Federal World Government in Our Time (Harcourt Brace 1946).

Tad Daley, who directs the Project on Abolishing War at the Center for War/Peace Studies (, is the author of Apocalypse Never: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World (Rutgers University Press 2012). He previously served as a policy analyst and speechwriter for both former Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and the late U.S. Senator Alan Cranston (D-CA), and received his Ph.D. before that from the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School.




Feasibility of a Low-Yield Gun-Type Terrorist Fission Bomb


Edward Friedman and Roger Lewis’s essay “A Scenario for Jihadist Nuclear Revenge,” published in the Spring 2014 edition of the Public Interest Report, is a sobering reminder of both the possibility of a terrorist nuclear attack based on stolen highly-enriched uranium and the depressing level of public ignorance of such threats.[ref]Edward A. Friedman & Roger K. Lewis, “A Scenario for Jihadist Nuclear Revenge,” Federation of American Scientists Public Interest Report 67 (2) (Spring 2014).[/ref] Articles exploring the issue of terrorists or rogue sub-national actors acquiring and using a nuclear weapon or perpetrating some other type of nuclear-themed attack have a long history and have addressed a number of scenarios, including a full-scale program to produce a weapon from scratch,[ref]Robert Harney, Gerald Brown, Matthew Carlyle, Eric Skroch & Kevin Wood, “Anatomy of a Project to Produce a First Nuclear Weapon,” Science and Global Security 14 (2006): 2-3, 163-182.[/ref] use of stolen reactor-grade plutonium,[ref]J. Carson Mark, “Explosive Properties of Reactor-Grade Plutonium,” Science and Global Security 4 (1993): 1, 111-128.[/ref] an attack with a radiological dispersal device,[ref]J. Magill, D. Hamilton, K. Lützenkirchen, M. Tufan, G. Tamborini, W. Wagner, V. Berthou & A. von Zweidorf, “Consequences of a Radiological Dispersal Event with Nuclear and Radioactive Sources,” Science and Global Security 15 (2007): 2, 107-132.[/ref] and the vulnerability of research reactors.[5]Equally vigorous are discussions of countermeasures such as detecting warheads[ref]Steve Fetter, Valery A. Frolov, Marvin Miller, Robert Mozley, Oleg F. Prilutsky, Stanislav N. Rodinov & Roald Z. Sagdeev, “Detecting nuclear warheads,” Science and Global Security 1 (1990): 3-4, 225-253.[/ref] and searching for neutron activity due to fissile materials hidden inside cargo containers.[ref]J. I. Katz, “Detection of Neutron Sources in Cargo Containers,” Science and Global Security 14 (2006): 2-3, 145-149.[/ref] An excellent summary analysis of the prospects for a terrorist-built nuclear weapon was prepared almost three decades ago by Carson Mark, Theodore Taylor, Eugene Eyster, William Maraman and Jacob Wechsler,[ref]J. Carson Mark, Theodore Taylor, Eugene Eyster, William Maraman & Jacob Wechsler, “Can Terrorists Build Nuclear Weapons?” Paper Prepared for the International Task Force on the Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism. Nuclear Control Institute, Washington, DC (1986). Available at[/ref] who laid out a daunting list of materials, equipment, expertise and material-processing operations that would be required to fabricate what the authors describe as a “crude” nuclear weapon – a gun or implosion-type device similar to Little Boy or Fat Man. The authors estimated that such a weapon might weigh on the order of a ton or more and have a yield of some 10 kilotons. Perpetrators would face a serious menu of radiological and toxicological hazards involved in processing fissile materials. For example, both uranium (U) and plutonium (Pu) are chemically toxic; also, U can ignite spontaneously in air and Pu tends to accumulate in bones and kidneys. Of course, longer-term health effects might be of little concern to a group of suicidal terrorists.[ref]Cristoph Wirz & Emmanuel Egger, “Use of nuclear and radiological weapons by terrorists?” International Review of the Red Cross 87 (2005): 859, 497-510.[/ref]

While the difficulties of such a project might provide reassurance that such an effort has a low probability of being brought to fruition, we might ask if nuclear-armed terrorists along the lines envisioned by Friedman and Lewis would be willing to settle for a relatively low-yield device to achieve their ends. A bomb with a yield of 10 percent of that of Little Boy would still create a devastating blast, leave behind a radiological mess, and generate no small amount of social and economic upheaval. Such a yield would be small change to professional weapons engineers, but the distinction between one kiloton and 15 kilotons might largely be lost on political figures and the public in the aftermath of such an event. Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 Oklahoma City truck bomb used about 2.5 tons of explosive; a one-kiloton detonation would represent some 400 such explosions and make a very powerful statement.

Motivated by Friedman and Lewis’s scenario, I consider the feasibility of an extremely crude gun-type U-235 device configured to be transported in a pickup truck or similar light vehicle. My concern is not with the difficulties perpetrators might face in acquiring fissile material and clandestinely preparing their device, but rather with the results they might achieve if they can do so. The results reported here are based on the basic physics of fission weapons as laid out in a series of pedagogical papers that I have published elsewhere.[ref]B. Cameron Reed, “Arthur Compton’s 1941 Report on explosive fission of U-235: A look at the physics.” American Journal of Physics 75 (2007): 12, 1065-1072; “A brief primer on tamped fission-bomb cores.” American Journal of Physics 77 (2009): 8, 730-733; “Predetonation probability of a fission-bomb core.” American Journal of Physics 78 (2010): 8, 804-808; “Student-level numerical simulation of conditions inside an exploding fission-bomb core.” Natural Science 2 (2010): 3, 139-144; “Fission fizzles: Estimating the yield of a predetonated nuclear weapon.” American Journal of Physics, 79 (2011): 7, 769-773; The Physics of the Manhattan Project (Heidelberg, Springer-Verlag, 2010).[/ref] The essential configuration and expected yield of the device proposed is described in the following section; technical details of the physics computations are gathered in the Appendix.


A Crude Gun-Type Fission Bomb

The bare critical mass of pure U-235 is about 46 kg; this can be significantly lowered by provision of a surrounding tamper. I frame the design of a putative terrorist bomb by assuming that perpetrators have available 40 kg of pure U-235 to be packaged into a device with a length on the order of 2-3 meters and a total estimated weight of 450 kg (1000 pounds), of which 200 kg is budgeted for tamper material. The 40-kg core is subcritical, and the uranium need not be divided up into target and projectile pieces as in the Friedman-Lewis scenario, although the design suggested here could easily be modified to accommodate such an arrangement.

As sketched below, I assume that the uranium is formed into a cylindrical slug of diameter and length Lcore. The core and a plug of tamper material are to be propelled down an artillery tube into a cylindrical tamper case such that the core will be located in the middle of the case once assembly is complete; the assembled core-plus-tamper is assumed to be of diameter and length Ltamp. The choice of tamper material is a crucial consideration; it can seriously affect the predicted yield. In the case of Little Boy, readily-available tungsten-carbide (WC) was employed. Beryllium oxide (BeO) has more desirable neutron-reflective properties, but is expensive and its dust is carcinogenic; more importantly, an effort to acquire hundreds of kilograms of it is likely to bring unwanted attention. I report results for both WC and BeO tampers.

Figure 1: Sketch of a cylindrical tamper case and core/tamper-plug projectile assembly. A 40-kg U-235 core of normal density will have Lcore = 14 cm.

Adopted parameters and calculated results are gathered in Table 1. Technical details are described in the Appendix; the last line of the table gives estimated yields in kilotons. To estimate these yields I used a FORTRAN version of an algorithm which I developed to simulate the detonation of a spherical core-plus-tamper assembly (see the numerical simulation paper cited in footnote 10). A spherical assembly will no doubt give somewhat different results in detail from the cylindrical geometry envisioned here, but as the program returns an estimated yield for a simulation of Little Boy in good accord with the estimated actual yield of that device, we can have some confidence that the results given here should be sensible.

For both configurations in Table 1, the sum of the core, tamper, and artillery-tube masses is about 315 kg (700 lb). With allowance for a breech to close off the rear end of the tube, neutron initiators, detonator electronics, propelling chemical explosives and an enclosing case (which need not be robust if the weapon is not to be lifted), it appears entirely feasible to assemble the entire device with a total weight on the order of 1,000 pounds. Beryllium oxide is clearly preferable as the tamper material, but even with a tungsten-carbide tamper the yield is about 10 percent of that of Little Boy. In open terrain a 2-kiloton ground-burst creates a 5-psi overpressure out to a radius of about one-third of a mile; such an overpressure is quite sufficient to destroy wood-frame houses.

In summary, the sort of vehicle-deliverable makeshift gun-type fission weapon envisioned by Friedman and Lewis appears to be a very plausible prospect; yields on the order of a few kilotons are not out of reach. In view of the fact that all of the calculations in this paper are based on open information, there are sure to be nuances in the physics and particularly the engineering involved that would make realization of such a device more complex than is implied here. But this exercise nevertheless serves as a cautionary tale to emphasize the need for all nuclear powers to rigorously secure and guard their stockpiles of fissile material.


Technical Appendix

Refer to Table 1 and the figure above. A 40-kg U-235 core of normal density (18.71 gr cm-3) will have Lcore = 13.96 cm. The first three lines of Table 1 give adopted atomic weights, densities, and elastic-scattering cross sections for each tamper material. The next two lines give the tamper size and plug mass, and the sixth line the total length of the core-plus-plug bullet.

To estimate the yield of the proposed device I assumed for sake of simplicity that the core is spherical (radius ~ 8 cm) and surrounded by a snugly-fitting 200-kg tamper. Each fission was assumed to liberate 180 MeV of energy and secondary neutrons of average kinetic energy 2 MeV. The number of initiator neutrons was assumed to be 100, radiation pressure was assumed to dominate over gas pressure in the exploding core, and the average number of neutrons per fission was taken to be n =  2.637.

Lines 7 and 8 in Table 1 refer to two important considerations in bomb design: the speed with which the core seats into the tamper and the propellant pressure required to achieve this speed. The core material will inevitably contain some U-238, which, because of its high spontaneous fission rate (~ 7 per kg per second), means that there will be some probability for premature initiation of the chain reaction while the core and tamper are being assembled. (There is no danger of pre-detonation before seating as 40 kg is less than the “bare” critical mass of U-235. The danger during seating arises from the fact that the tamper lowers the critical mass.) The key to minimizing this probability lies in maximizing the assembly speed. If our 40-kg core contains 10 percent by mass U-238, the pre-detonation probability can be kept to under 10 percent if the time during which the core is in a supercritical state during assembly is held to no more than four milliseconds (see the pre-detonation paper cited in footnote 10). The seventh line of Table 1 shows corresponding assembly speeds based on this time constraint and the core-plug lengths in the preceding line. These speed demands are very gentle in comparison to the assembly speed employed in Little Boy, which was about 300 m s-1.

To achieve the assembly speed I assume that (as in Little Boy), the core-plus-plug is propelled along a tube by detonation of a conventional explosive adjacent to the rear end of the tamper plug in the tail of the weapon. To estimate the maximum pressure required, I assumed that the propulsion is provided by the adiabatic expansion (in which no heat is gained or lost) of the detonated explosive. Adiabatic expansion of gas to propel a projectile confined to a tube has been extensively studied; an expression appearing in Rohrbach et. al.[ref]Z. J. Rohrbach, T. R. Buresh & M. J. Madsen, “Modeling the exit velocity of a compressed air cannon,” American Journal of Physics 80 (2012): 1, 24-26.[/ref] can be used to estimate the initial pressure required given the cross-sectional area of the tube, the mass of the projectile, the length of the tube, a value for the adiabatic exponent   _gand the assembly speed to be achieved. This pressure also depends on the initial volume of the detonated explosive; for this I adopted a value of 0.004 m3, about the volume of the core-plug assemblies. The eighth line of Table 1 shows the estimated necessary initial pressures (neglecting any friction between the projectile and the tube) for a travel length of 1.5 meters for g = 1.4; this value of g  is characteristic of a diatomic gas. These pressures are very modest, and would set no undue demands on the tube material. Stainless steel, for example, has an ultimate strength of ~ 500 MPa (~75,000 psi); such a tube of inner diameter 7 cm, thickness 1 cm, and length 2 meters would have a mass of about 75 kg. This would bring the sum of the core, tamper, and tube masses to ~ 315 kg (700 lb).

A final technical consideration is the so-called fizzle yield that this makeshift weapon might achieve, that is, its yield if the chain reaction should begin at the moment when the core achieves first criticality. As described by von Hippel and Lyman in Mark (footnote 3), the fizzle yield as a fraction of the nominal design yield can be estimated from the expression Yfizzle/Ynominal ~ (2t F/a tO)3/2, where t  is the average time that a neutron will travel before causing a fission, F is the natural logarithm of the number of fissions that have occurred when the nuclear chain reaction proper can be considered to have begun, a is a parameter in the exponential growth rate of the reaction set by the masses and sizes of the core and tamper, and tO is the time required to complete the core assembly. As described by Mark, t ~ 10-8 sec and F ~ 45. For the design posited here, a~ 0.32 for the WC tamper and ~ 0.47 for the BeO tamper; see Reed (2009) in footnote 10 or Sect. 2.3 of the last reference in footnote 10 regarding the computation of a. Taking tO = 0.004 sec gives Yfizzle/Ynominal ~ 1.9 x 10-5 for the WC tamper and 1.0 x 10-5 for the BeO tamper. With nominal yields of 1.4 and 4.9 kt, the estimated fizzle yields are only ~ 27 and 50 kilograms equivalent. While the perpetrators of such a device might be willing risk such a low yield in view of the low pre-detonation probability involved, they would be well-advised to increase the assembly speed as much as possible.


Table 1:  Adopted and calculated parameters for a simple gun-type fission weapon, assuming a 40-kg core of U-235.

Table 1

*Fission-spectrum averaged elastic-scattering cross-sections adopted from Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute Table of Nuclides,


Cameron Reed is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics at Alma College, where he teaches courses ranging from first-year algebra-based mechanics to senior-level quantum mechanics. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Waterloo (Canada). His research has included both optical photometry of intrinsically bright stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and the history of the Manhattan Project. His book The History and Science of the Manhattan Project was recently published by Springer.

UAVs: An (unexploited) Seller’s Market

Today, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or “drones”), are an ever-present entity in both political discourse and the skies above countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unmanned aerial vehicles can be used for a wide variety of missions. While intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and target acquisition are missions that frequently fall under the purview of basic UAVs, more advanced drones can be used for specialized tasks such as laser targeting, cargo transportation, and precision strike missions. Over 50 countries possess the ability to produce their own UAVs, and those that cannot do so are able to receive UAVs from exporters around the world.[ref]Drone Wars UK. “Mapping Drone Proliferation: UAVs in 76 Countries.” Global Research. Centre for Research on Globalization, 18 Sept. 2012. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref] The most valued UAVs in the export market are those capable of long range flight or armed operations, as these platforms are significantly more difficult for many countries to independently produce. The United States holds the technological edge in UAV production, but Israel is the world’s leading exporter of UAV systems. Systems such as Israel Aerospace Industries’ Heron UAV have been sent to countries such as Indonesia, Germany, and India.[ref]Sherwood, Harriet. “Israel Is World’s Largest Drone Exporter.” Guardian News and Media, 20 May 2013. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref] The only indigenously produced British drone, the Watchkeeper WK450, is a variant of the Israeli Hermes 450, a medium-size UAV manufactured by Haifa’s Elbit Systems Ltd.[ref]Defense Industry Daily Staff. “The UKs Watchkeeper ISTAR UAV.” Defense Industry Daily RSS News. Defense Industry Daily, 05 May 2014. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref] Between 2006 and 2013 UAV exports from Israel totaled $4.6 billion.[ref]Sherwood, Harriet. “Israel Is World’s Largest Drone Exporter.” Guardian News and Media, 20 May 2013. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref]

It may seem strange that the United States is not the world’s largest exporter of UAVs. After all, the U.S. holds the unequivocal edge in UAV technological development. No other UAV can hold an offensive payload within 1,500 pounds of the nearly two tons carried by the American MQ-9 Reaper, an aircraft whose upgrade the General Atomics Avenger, has already been tested in Afghanistan.[ref]“MQ-9 Reaper.” U.S. Air Force. United States Department of Defense, 18 Aug. 2010. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref] [ref]“New Predator C “Avenger” Drone Operationally Ready after Testing.” Global Aviation Report. Global Aviation Report, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref] UAVs such as the Avenger or the Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 Sentinel (an advanced reconnaissance drone), are designed with stealth in mind, and no other country has been confirmed to have developed and put into service an independently-designed UAV with stealth capabilities.

It is understandable that the United States does not wish to export the Avenger or the Sentinel, two of its most cutting-edge systems, to foreign countries. The secrets of such technological advancements may have no dollar equivalent. Yet the United States has developed many UAVs such as the MQ-1 Predator or the RQ-7B Shadow that while advanced, do not represent the absolute cutting edge in UAV technology. Historically, the United States has had few quandaries with exporting other advanced weapons systems to countries around the world: the M1 Abrams tank has been exported by the hundreds to countries around the world, as has the F-16 Fighting Falcon jet or the Apache AH-64 attack helicopter. All of the vehicles were exported in what was at the time the most advanced version of the product.[ref]Defense Industry Daily Staff. “2006 Saudi Shopping Spree: $2.9B to Upgrade Their M1 Tank Fleet.” Defense Industry Daily RSS News. Defense Industry Daily, 19 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 July 2014.[/ref] [ref]Defense Industry Daily Staff. “Top Falcons: The UAEs F-16 Block 60/61 Fighters.” Defense Industry Daily RSS News. Defense Industry Daily, 26 Jan. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.[/ref] [ref]Cole, J. M. “Taiwan Showcases AH-64E Apache Guardian Helicopters.” The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 14 Dec. 2013. Web. 22 July 2014.[/ref] What is it about UAVs that leads to the United States’ hesitancy to fully invest in the export field?

The answer is hard to define, and impossible to pin on only one factor. A major factor slowing down UAV exports is the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a set of federal regulations that require Department of State authorization in order to allow domestic firms to export information or material with military applications, specifically those on the United States Munitions List.[ref]“ECFR — Code of Federal Regulations.” Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Government Printing Office, n.d. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref] Yet this is an obstacle faced by many U.S. manufacturers, whether they wish to export tanks, jet fighters, helicopters, or nuclear weapons. Although the nuclear weapon exportation field is admittedly a small one, the ITAR has still allowed for robust exportation of the aforementioned Abrams, Fighting Falcons, and Apaches. Instead, the United States is imposing constraints on itself and other suppliers through a multilateral mechanism.

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a partnership between the United States and 33 other countries that aims to prevent the reckless proliferation of WMD delivery systems by attempting to limit the transfer of “missile equipment, material, and related technologies” used to deliver weapons of mass destruction. This is achieved by member states establishing license authorization requirements for trade of MTCR-designated goods.[ref]“Missile Technology Control Regime.” Missile Technology Control Regime. Government of Canada, n.d. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref]The MTCR attempts to limit the export of a broad range of goods beyond completed missile systems: these include propellant systems and turboprop engines usable in ICBMs to both short and long-range UAV systems.

While manned aircraft are specifically mentioned as not covered under the MTCR, the text of the agreement does specifically mention UAVs as an entity to be regulated by the Regime. As far back as 1987, (the year the MTCR was established), UAVs were seen by the international community as a potent delivery method for weapons of mass destruction, despite the fact that intercontinental ballistic missiles dominated the news of the day. The end of the Cold War brought with it a reduced threat of global nuclear war. Yet the rise of global terrorism means the MTCR will still be relevant in the years to come as a safeguard against weapons proliferation among non-state actors. Representatives from member countries convene at an annual plenary meeting in an attempt to ensure MTCR regulations remain effective and feasible.

The MTCR separates WMD delivery systems into “Category I” and “Category II” items. Category I items are systems capable of carrying a payload of at least 500 kg to a distance of at least 300 km (roughly 1,100 lbs. to a distance of 186 miles). Category II items include systems with a range of 300 km (but a sub-500 kg payload) and other dual-use, “missile-related,” components. These items are subject to less scrutiny under MTCR guidelines, although goods judged by an exporting country to be intended for WMD delivery are subject to a “strong presumption of (license) denial.”[ref]Ibid.[/ref]

American UAVs that would be classified as category I delivery systems include the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper.[ref]“MQ-1B Predator.” U.S. Air Force. United States Department of Defense, 20 July. 2010. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref] [ref]“MQ-9 Reaper.” U.S. Air Force. United States Department of Defense, 18 Aug. 2010. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref] In the case of the Predator and the Reaper, the United States would be encouraged under MTCR guidelines to require General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (the producer of the above two systems), to attain a special export license (which is no easy task) in order to export its UAVs.

It is easy for analysts to point to the MTCR as the reason the United States has not entered the UAV export market with the force it is capable of. However, the MTCR is not a treaty, and is not binding or enforceable. MTCR guidelines even allow for the exportation of category I items at the member states’ discretion, although it frowns upon the practice. The only thing “prohibited absolutely” under MTCR rules is the exportation of “production facilities” for category I goods, defined as the equipment and software designed to be integrated into installations for product development or production.[ref]MTCR. “Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Annex Handbook – 2010.” (n.d.): n. pag. MTCR English. Missile Technology Control Regime, 2010. Web.  22 July 2014.[/ref]

Under the MTCR, the United States would be able to export its UAVs without violating its Regime obligations, provided it does not export the aforementioned production facilities for said drones. The U.S. could even increase UAV exports without worrying that such exports make it significantly easier for another country or non-state actor to deploy a WMD. While they could theoretically be used to deliver a WMD, UAVs (even those that fall into the MTCR’s category I), are not the optimal delivery method for the utilization of such weapons. They are much slower than jets or missiles, and while their payloads can be impressive, they pale in comparison to those of dedicated bombers, which have proven stealth abilities. A UAV’s strength lies in the unique ability to conduct surgical strikes and reconnaissance while guaranteeing the safety of its operator.

Why does the United States hesitate to export UAVs on the scale they export other types of military equipment? It is possible that the answer in large part reflects the existence of a belief in the United States that UAVs represent the latest development in military technology, a feat of military engineering that has the potential to give the United States an ever-increasing ability to discretely gather intelligence and attack high-value targets.  Given its advanced nature, it would be unwise and perhaps even dangerous to share such technology with other nations. Yet, if the United States continues to be hesitant in selling UAVs to foreign countries, what will these other countries choose to do? They will not simply decide to continue operating a military with limited or outdated UAVs; they will get their UAVs from other countries, which would be an economic, political, and military setback for the United States.

During the Cold War, it was routine for a country’s military to be built around Soviet or American weapons and vehicles. Through the selling of arms and equipment, the 20th century superpowers managed to influence the policy of allied countries looking for foreign and domestic security in an unstable world. Over two decades after the end of the Cold War, the same situation holds true. The UAV may be able to perform a similar role to that of the Kalashnikov, a tool that could be used to empower nations while keeping them drawn to an even more powerful patron.

What if potential customers choose to take their business to countries whose worldviews are less in line with those of the United States, such as China or Russia? These two countries have UAV and UCAV development programs of their own and both are eager to expand their influence into areas such as Africa and Central Asia. If the United States finds itself unwilling to keep up with the trends of the defense export market, it could find itself with shrinking influence in geopolitical regions key to its interests. Of course, there are other factors besides arms sales that draw countries together. Common cultural bonds, economic aid, and similar geopolitical interests can naturally bring countries together. Yet it would be foolish to ignore military dependency as a valuable tool in the struggle to win international allies. The ability of military sales to build relationships is hard to deny; India is the largest importer of Israeli military goods, and this is undoubtedly a foundation of the international partnership between the two nations.[ref]Riedel, Bruce. “Israel & India: New Allies.” The Brookings Institution. The Brookings Institution, 21 Mar. 2008. Web. 22 July 2014.[/ref]

Of course, many countries could choose to simply develop their own UAVs. A platform that can ably perform the missions of ISR and target acquisition is not extraordinarily hard to develop; the British military was operating the remote-controlled, reusable Queen Bee UAV as early as the 1930’s. Despite its early development date the Queen Bee would prove reliable enough to serve with the Royal Navy until 1947, long after further developments in UAVs had been made.[ref]Krock, Lexi. “1930s – DH.82B Queen Bee (UK).” NOVA. PBS, Nov. 2002. Web. 15 July 2014.[/ref] It is significantly more difficult to design a UAV that can accurately deliver a heavy offensive payload while maintaining the ability to travel long distances with reasonable speed. Due to this challenge, many countries will choose to import rather than develop UAVs.

While there would certainly be advantages to the United States increasing its activity in the UAV export market, there could be significant drawbacks as well. Currently, UAVs operate with a quasi-legality and de facto acceptance around the world. The United States executes strike missions in countries like Pakistan that would be politically infeasible with manned aircraft. After an almost six-month hiatus, drone strikes are once again occurring in Pakistan, a country that publically claims such strikes violate its sovereignty.[ref]Khan, Ismail, and Declan Walsh. “Drones Kill 5 as Pakistan and U.S. Target Tribal Belt.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 June 2014. Web. 27 June 2014.[/ref] Should multiple countries gain access to Predator or Reaper drones, a similar situation of frequent strikes may well be seen on a global scale. This could prove a serious threat to global international relations and the security of internationally recognized borders.

The United States faces a decision of great importance. Should it export its advanced UAVs in greater numbers, earning tremendous amounts of funds while expanding its sphere of influence? Or, should it operate on the side of caution, weighing the benefits of influence versus the hazards of proliferating a weapon whose rules of use have not been properly defined?

The unfortunate truth is that, in the end, the technology behind advanced UAVs and UCAVs will be spread around the world. With the exception of the MTCR, there are no internationally-recognized bodies who name the limiting of military UAV exportation as a primary objective. If it is not spread by the United States, it will be spread by another country. The United States should take a lead in this market, securing its influence and building alliances around the world. Through this method, the United States could reap the valuable long-term rewards that come with UAV exportation.

Michael Bodner is a Legislative Fellow with the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center in Washington, D.C. Mr. Bodner is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where he majored in International Studies with a concentration in Global Security and Counterterrorism. He has also attended Freie Universität in Berlin, where he studied the European role in international security.  His past work with FAS includes research and writing about chemical weapons use in the Syrian Civil War, international biosecurity, and the enforcement of sanctions against Iran. Special research interests include the Arab-Israeli conflict and the international proliferation of surface-to-air missiles.



In Memoriam

Andrew Marienhoff Sessler

Editor’s Note: This article[ref]Article available online here:[/ref]originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Physics Today; it can also be accessed online. Dr. Sessler was involved with FAS for over four decades and served as Chairman of the Board from 1988 to 1992.


Andrew Marienhoff Sessler, visionary former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), one of the most influential accelerator physicists in the field, and a human-rights activist, died on 17 April 2014 from cancer.


Born on 11 December 1928, Andy grew up in New York City. He was one of the first Westinghouse Talent Search finalists, for which he visited the White House as a high school senior in 1945. He enrolled at Harvard University just as World War II ended. He received a BA in mathematics, then went to Columbia University and earned a PhD in physics in 1953 under Henry Foley. After an NSF postdoc—in the first group ever awarded—at Cornell University with Hans Bethe and a stint on the faculty at the Ohio State University in 1954–59, Andy joined the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory—as LBNL was then called—in 1959; he spent the remainder of his career there.

Andy left his mark in several areas of physics, including nuclear structure theory, elementary-particle physics, and many-body problems. His 1960 paper with Victor Emery is generally acknowledged, along with a paper from a competing group led by Philip Anderson, as the first to predict the superfluid transition of helium-3.

His interest in accelerator physics began in the summer of 1955 when Andy was invited by Donald Kerst to join the Midwestern Universities Research Association (MURA) study group. MURA researchers were working to host a multi-GeV proton accelerator project in the Midwest based on a novel accelerator scheme called the fixed-field alternating gradient. Although the project did not materialize, their R&D achievements profoundly transformed accelerator design from an intuitive art to a rigorous scientific discipline centered around beam physics.

In collaboration with Keith Symon (another MURA member), Andy studied the RF acceleration process and for the first time in accelerator research employed the full power of Hamiltonian dynamics and computer simulation, using the most powerful computer at that time, ILLIAC. They discovered a method to produce intense circulating beams by “stacking,” repeatedly collecting the injected beam into a phase-space “bucket” and raising its energy. But if the intensity gets too high, beams in general become unstable, rendering them useless. In collaboration with several colleagues, Andy showed that high intensities can still be maintained by carefully controlling the beam environment.Those discoveries made high-luminosity proton colliders feasible; the most famous implementation, the Large Hadron Collider, recently discovered the Higgs particle.

After being at LBNL for several years, Andy became interested in the impact of science and technology on society. He helped usher in a new era of research on energy efficiency and sustainable energy technology and was instrumental in building the research agendas in those areas for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and later the Department of Energy.

In 1973 Andy was selected as LBNL’s third director. His first act was to establish the energy and environment division, with Jack Hollander as director, and the two men started more than 50 research projects in the first year. The division initiated many major research programs in such fields as air-pollution chemistry and physics, solar energy technology, energy economics and policy, and internationally prominent energy efficiency technology under the guidance of Arthur Rosenfeld. Andy supported the development of the nation’s largest geothermal research program, which led to the lab’s establishing one of the nation’s leading Earth-sciences research divisions.

Stepping down from his post as LBNL director in 1980, Andy returned to his first love—research. He began work in earnest on a new area of accelerator physics: the generation of coherent electromagnetic waves through the free-electron laser (FEL) interaction.

Together with Donald Prosnitz, Andy proposed in 1981 a high-gain FEL amplifier for high-power millimeter-wave generation. The group Andy assembled to perform and analyze the successful 1986 millimeter FEL experiment also explored FELs at x-ray wavelengths. The researchers found that the x-ray beam being amplified in a high-gain FEL does not diffract but stays close to the electron beam. That “optical guiding” phenomena presaged the success of x-ray FELs more than two decades later.

Andy noted that the high-power millimeter wave from an FEL can be used for high-gradient acceleration that could reduce the size, and hence the cost, of a multi-TeV electron linear collider. Thus he proposed in 1982 the concept of a two-beam accelerator in which a high-current, low energy accelerator runs parallel to and supplies millimeter power to a low-current, high-energy accelerator. The scheme is still very much alive as the Compact Linear Collider project at CERN.

At the American Physical Society (APS), Andy helped expand the organization’s focus to encompass many issues related to “physics and society,” including national funding, science education, and arms control. With a life-long interest in promoting human rights, Andy was instrumental in initiating the APS Committee on International Freedom of Scientists and raising funds to endow the APS Andrei Sakharov Prize. He and Moishe Pripstein cofounded Scientists for Sakharov, Orlov, and Sharansky; the group’s protests along with those of other groups led to the release of the three Soviet dissidents.

In 1998 Andy served as president of APS. He received many honors, including the AEC’s Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 1970[ref][/ref], APS’s Dwight Nicholson Medal in 1994[ref][/ref], and the Enrico Fermi Award from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2014.[ref][/ref]

An avid outdoorsman, Andy enjoyed physical activities—swimming, rowing, skiing, bike riding—especially when shared with family and friends. Even later in life, when maintaining his bodily balance took extra effort, he kept up his lunchtime jogging routine and shared jokes and some good physics with the entourage around him. He was a mentor to many younger colleagues and to many his own age who learned more from him than a lot of them realized at the time. Andy ever kept the physics community at the center of his life and work.


Dr. Robert J. Budnitz has been involved with nuclear-reactor safety and radioactive-waste safety for many years.  He is on the scientific staff at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he works on nuclear power safety and security and radioactive-waste management.  From 2002 to 2007 he was at UC’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, during which period he worked on a two-year special assignment (late 2002 to late 2004) in Washington to assist the Director of DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to develop a new Science & Technology Program.  Prior to joining LLNL in 2002, he ran a one-person consulting practice in Berkeley CA for over two decades.  In 1978-1980, he was a senior officer on the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, serving as Deputy Director and then Director of the NRC Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research.  He earned a Ph.D. in experimental physics from Harvard in 1968.

Kwang-Je Kim received B.S in Physics from Seoul National University (1966) and Ph.D. in Elementary Particle Physics from the University of Maryland (1970). Kwang-Je was originally trained as a theorist in elementary particle physics, but switched to accelerator physics in 1978 when he joined LBNL. He moved to Argonne National Laboratory in 1998, where he is currently Argonne Distinguished Fellow. He is also a part time professor at the University of Chicago. He performed groundbreaking research in the emerging area of generating highly bright photon beams via synchrotron radiation and free electron lasers.  He is a Fellow of APS since 1995, received International FEL Award in 1997, USPAS Award for Achievement in Accelerator Physics and Technology in 2013, and Robert R. Wilson Prize for Achievement in the Physics of Particle Accelerators in 2014.

Herman Winick is a Professor (research) emeritus at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Applied Physics Department of Stanford University, where he has been since 1973. After receiving his AB (1953) and PhD (1957) in physics from Columbia University, he continued work in experimental high energy physics at the University of Rochester (1957-9) and then as a member of the scientific staff and Assistant Director of the Cambridge Electron Accelerator at Harvard University (1959-73). In the early 1960s his interests shifted to accelerator physics and then to synchrotron radiation. In 1973 he moved to Stanford University to take charge of the technical design of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Project. Since then he has played a leadership role in the development of synchrotron radiation sources and research at Stanford and around the world.


George S. Stanford

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Stanford served as a member of FAS’s National Council from 1986 to 1990.


The far-ranging and versatile impact of George S. Stanford as a professional colleague includes many contributions to human betterment.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, George — a Canadian-born PhD physicist — became a contributor and spokesperson for universal, conscientious nuclear composure and restraint. His role was initially manifested throughGeorge Sanford opportune and enduring participation with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Chicago chapter, which had been transplanted from the University of Chicago to Argonne National Laboratory.

As a physicist at Argonne, George engaged in hands-on work with reactor and accelerator facilities. He gained a comprehensive understanding and appreciation not only of nuclear reactors, but also of the basic science underlying nuclear weapons and their potential risk to civilization. After retirement, he devoted much of his personal time to promoting the Integral Fast (Breeder) Reactor, having professionally been part of the large Argonne team that worked on power-reactor safety.

Born July 23, 1928, he graduated in 1949 from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia with a BS in Physics/Math; Wesleyan University, in 1951 with an M.A. in Physics; and Yale University in 1956 with a PhD in Experimental Nuclear Physics. He passed away on 7 October 2013.

During much of his professional lifetime, the Cold War seemed to be spiraling out of control, with many hardline protagonists promoting armaments and strategies that could lurch the United States uncontrollably toward nuclear war and human devastation. Along with other nuclear scientists at Argonne and elsewhere, George tried to inject some sense of realism and perspective. He was one of those who frequently practiced public outreach, widely communicating the devastating potential of excessive nuclear armaments.

His outreach extended to then-raging complex and emotionalized issues such as excessive nuclear-armed missiles, needed arms-control initiatives, and improved nuclear-reactor safety. In this connection, George helped organize and became co-chair of the Concerned Argonne Scientists (CAS), an ad-hoc organization of laboratory employees which had separated itself from the local FAS chapter because of the war in Vietnam. The CAS persisted as the Argonne-based group that contributed systemic experience and advocacy about a broad range of public issues.

George served a stint on the FAS national council, and he frequently contributed his knowledge and experience to both the Argonne FAS Chapter and the national organization.

Professionally, he made significant contributions to Argonne analytical and experimental programs in nuclear-diagnostics for reactor safety, and later in arms control and treaty verification.

George’s perceptivity is reflected in several books of enduring relevance. He was a co-author of the two-volume, multi-authored Nuclear Shadowboxing: Contemporary Threats from Cold War Weaponry, which later was transitioned into the contemporary three-volume Nuclear Insights: The Cold War Legacy. The latter book was billed respectively as “an insider history” of U.S. and Soviet weaponry, an analysis of contemporary “nuclear threats and prospects,” and discussion of “nuclear reductions.”

With Gerry Marsh, he co-wrote The Phantom Defense: America’s Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion. George not only participated in the troublesome, but widely publicized Progressive Case in the late 1970s that drew international attention to thermonuclear weaponry and government secrecy, but he was  a consummate and fastidious editor of the resulting narrative: Born Secret: The H-bomb, the Progressive Case, and National Security. [Editor’s note: The Progressive Case involved independent investigator Howard Morland, who was lured by the Progressive magazine to research using openly available resources how thermonuclear weapons worked.]

A sample of wide-ranging articles he wrote or co-wrote include, “Reprocessing method could allay weapons fear,”  “Smarter use of nuclear waste,”  “Reprocessing is the answer,”  “Integral Fast Reactors: Source of Safe, Abundant, Non-Polluting Power,”  “LWR Recycle: Necessity or Impediment?” and “The antiballistic missile: how would it be used?”

George had been a member of the American Nuclear Society and the American Physical Society. Long after formal retirement from Argonne, he was contributing time and intellect to a comparison of future reactors, favoring fast breeders. One of his contemporary memberships was the Science Council for Global Initiatives.

To his very, very last days, he was applying his intellect and experience in promoting nuclear-reactor development and in assessing improved radiation-diagnostic methods.

George Stanford was married twice, living in the Chicago western suburbs, first to Ann Lowell Warren, having several children together, and later to Janet Clarke — all of whom, along with his many friends and colleagues, dearly miss him.

Peace, humanity, and progress were always on George’s mind.


Dr. Alexander DeVolpi,  George Stanford’s colleague and friend since the 1950s, is a nuclear physicist long active in arms-control policy and treaty-verification technology. Retired from Argonne National Laboratory, he has authored or coauthored from first-hand experience several books about arms control. After earning an undergraduate degree in journalism from Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va., Alex served with the U.S. Navy, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander, with numerous assignments to the Naval Research Laboratory and the Radiological Defense Laboratory. Later he received his Ph.D. in physics (and MS in nuclear engineering physics) from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Va. 

Alex was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society for contributions to arms-control verification and public enlightenment on the consequences of modern technology. As a citizen-scientist, he has long been involved in public-interest arms-control issues, including the Chicago/Argonne Chapter of the FAS.  He was cofounder of Concerned Argonne Scientists, and a member of activist organizations and executive committees in the Chicago area. Alex was a participant and technical consultant in the FAS/NRDC joint project with Soviet counterparts on nuclear-warhead dismantlement, as well as an elected member of the national FAS council in 1988-92.


The Need for a Comprehensive Approach to Reduce Nuclear Risks

There is broad international consensus about reduction of nuclear risks as one of the most relevant drivers to enhance global security. However, degrees of involvement, priorities and approaches adopted to deal with the issue differ from state to state. They are dependent on interests and self-perceived roles as well as cultures and traditions of nations. As in the past, the recent statements at the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference are again a good sample of such different postures.

While nuclear-armed states and their allies are primarily focused on demanding more nonproliferation and nuclear security[ref]The current working definition of Nuclear Security accepted by the IAEA is, “The prevention and detection of and response to theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material, other radioactive substances or their associated facilities.”  Taking into account the evolution of global threats more comprehensive and explicit definition of Nuclear Security would be: “The prevention (including deterrence)  and detection of and response (including emergency preparedness) to theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer, cyber attack, or other malicious acts involving nuclear material, other radioactive substances, their associated facilities (including security concerns in the design), equipment, technology, and related security sensitive information.”   Irma Arguello, John Bernhard, Caroline Jorant, Chang-Hoon Shin, private discussions, Nov 2012.[/ref], the majority of states without nuclear weapons mainly demand the fulfillment of nuclear disarmament commitments. States on each side tend to think that they have done more than enough, but it is clear that there is much more to be done.

In today’s multi-polar world, nuclear threats have undeniably increased, and even more so since nuclear terrorism became a plausible threat. At the same time the fragility of international trust progressively becomes more evident, mainly due to lack of global common goals and frustration over ineffective multilateral action. This fragmented scenario puts traditional strategies for reducing nuclear risks at a crossroads.


Global threats require global solutions

In order to understand the global dimension of nuclear threats, it is worthwhile to analyze potential scenarios from the perspective of their consequences.

The negative consequences of any potential incident would be twofold: those directly affecting the target of the attack in terms of casualties and destruction, and those indirectly stemming from the high degree of global interconnection. Such global impacts would surely include political disruption, environmental damage, disturbance of the global economy, restrictions to international trade (including that of primary resources), and deep psychosocial commotion. Also, they would encompass a deferral in the delivery of humanitarian international aid to developing countries due to a change in funding priorities of the developed countries.In other words, almostevery aspect of human activity around the world would suffer chaos and disruption.

Furthermore, in the case of a large-scale nuclear exchange, there would be severe impacts on the climate and food supplies, which would lead to extreme poverty. It is clear that in terms of nuclear risks, what happens to one happens to all.

The existence of more than 16,000 nuclear weapons deployed in 14 countries and in the oceans of the world (many of them on a high state of alert), implies risks of intentional or unintentional detonation. A recent study by Chatham House revealed 13 known cases involving six nuclear-armed states, from 1962 to 2002, when the arms were on the verge of being detonated by error or accident.[ref]Patricia Lewis, Heather Williams, Benoit Pelopidas and Sasan Aghlani, Chatham House, “Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy,” April 2014. <>[/ref]

Besides the risks of potential use, the mere existence of the weapons entails more negative impacts. Nuclear-armed states jointly spend around $11 million dollars per hour to maintain their nuclear weapons complexes, and the rate of spending follows an upward trend. Despite reductions in the number of weapons, such expenditures are sustained by on-going modernization efforts.[ref]Based on Bruce G. Blair and Matthew A. Brown, “World Spending on Nuclear Weapons Surpasses $1 Trillion per Decade,” Global Zero Technical Report, June 2011.  <>[/ref]

These funds are constantly drained away from investments to close basic social deficits in several of the states, and international aid, which developed nations normally devote to fight extreme poverty. The socio-economic impacts are extremely significant as these expenditures- if used for another purpose, would be enough to reduce world poverty by 60 percent over ten years.

Nuclear weapons are also a factor of global inequality, as they fictitiously divide the world in two different categories of actors: the “haves” and the “have-nots.” In fact, the possession of nuclear arms leads to international power in the hands of very few, and in this way, contaminates multilateral dialogue at the expense of respect and equal treatment of the interests of the non-possessors. In addition, the high relevance of nuclear weapons in national/collective security doctrines acts as a powerful attraction for further proliferation, as they are perceived as icons of international power and prestige.

In terms of potential terrorist and criminal acts, the facilities where these arms are stored are protected in different ways and therefore may be subject to intrusion or theft, among many other threats. There is weapons-usable material distributed in 25 countries which involve similar risks.[ref]2014 Nuclear Security Index, NTI. <>[/ref]

The immediate conclusion is that the detonation of nuclear weapons (be it sophisticated or improvised, carried out by states or non-state actors), would impact every member of the global community in many different dimensions and there would be little distinction as to the perpetrator– or to the reason for use: intention, error or accident.

The strategies to avoid potential devastating incidents (by the elimination of current arsenals, and the prevention of proliferation and of terrorist use), are in essence mutually dependent. In other words, an integrated system to reduce nuclear risks would be the most efficient option as it would harmonize the strategies adopted to promote nuclear disarmament, nuclear security and the prevention of further proliferation.


Integrating disarmament, nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts

The goal of opening paths toward efficient integration of strategies for the reduction of nuclear risks poses big challenges, but is well worth the effort in view of the current crisis of the traditional instruments that rule the global nuclear order. It is key to recognize that separation and imbalances among disarmament, nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts are factors that play against the stability of the present system.

Experience shows that even the most valuable and innovative approaches in nuclear risks reduction tend to miss out on opportunities to promote integrated views and synergic actions. For example, the Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons held earlier this year in Nayarit, Mexico (which brought together 146 states and many non-governmental organizations), focused almost exclusively on the humanitarian impact of nuclear exchanges between states. Even though the Conference took place a short time in advance of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in the Netherlands (which focused on preventing nuclear terrorism), only a few voices pointed out in Nayarit the similarities in terms of risks and humanitarian consequences with nuclear terrorist attacks. On the other hand, at the NSS in The Hague, there was little debate about how to link nuclear security, disarmament and nonproliferation efforts as building-blocks of a common strategy.[ref]The Nayarit Conference was held on February 13 – 14, 2014. More details in the official website:[/ref] [ref]This issue was raised in the joint statement put forth by Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Ukraine and Vietnam titled, “In Larger Security: A Comprehensive Approach to Nuclear Security,” Nuclear Security Summit, La Hague, March 2014. <>[/ref]

To do away with these conceptual silos opens up a broad range of opportunities. To take advantage of them requires a change of beliefs and paradigms-from both internal politics and international relations- that have been firmly in place for years. In order to advance in this direction, it is absolutely necessary that states take into consideration not only their own interests – and those of their strategic allies – but also the interests of other different actors and those of the international community as a whole.


Restoring balance and building confidence

Today, limited progress in disarmament can be attributed to the prevailing role of nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence in the security doctrines of key states and alliances. For example, NATO’s 2012 Defense and Deterrence Posture Review reaffirms the role of nuclear weapons by recognizing them as “a core component of the Alliance’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defense alongside conventional and missile defense forces.” It also recognizes strategic nuclear forces as the supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies.[ref]NATO, “Deterrence and Defense Posture Review,” Press Release 063, Chicago Summit, May 20, 2012. <>[/ref]

However, the performance of nuclear weapons as an effective deterrent is increasingly questioned by the expert community. It is accepted that they are of no use to deter acts of nuclear terrorism, and in practice, history has also made it clear the unlikeliness of use against non-nuclear armed states, even in the worst conflict. The belief in nuclear deterrence as a source of power contrasts with the plausibility of any use, and only finds a place within the framework of the strategic dialogue among nuclear-armed states. It is crucial that possessors re-think deterrence in light of such evidences in order to progressively reorient towards the use of less risky means. They owe this effort to the entire global community.

Nuclear sharing and extended deterrence also poison any intent of a positive evolution toward nuclear disarmament and should be reconsidered. It seems at least questionable to see non-nuclear weaponsstates hosting nuclear weapons in their territories, or others benefitting from nuclear umbrellas and requesting security based on these weapons.It is essential that those states jointly work with their strategic allies to make conscious decisions to favor other kinds of deterrence in order to satisfy their security needs. A virtuous example could be the creation of a strategic dialogue among Japan, South Korea, the United States and China to agree upon a solution involving other means regarding North Korea’s security threats.

The tensions between possessors and non-possessors lead to disagreement about disarmament strategies. The traditional step-by-step approach conflicts with the humanitarian initiative put forward by non-nuclear weapons states, which gained momentum after the 2010 Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. The NPT’s “P5 nuclear weapons states” (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States) made their beliefs clear that the humanitarian initiative contradicts the adopted step-by-step approach and is “a distraction” from the current disarmament efforts.[ref]Andrea Berger and Malcom Chalmers, “Great Expectations. The P5 Process and the Nonproliferation Treaty,” RUSI, Whitehall Report 3-13, 2013.< >[/ref] In this sense, the absence of most of nuclear weapons possessors from both the Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, in Olso and Nayarit showed reluctance not only to act, but also to enter into any kind of innovative disarmament dialogue.[ref]The First Conference which gave an official launch to the Humanitarian initiative was held in Oslo, Norway on March 4- 5, 2013. More information on the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website: <>[/ref]

In order to be successful, any progress in this area should be carried out with – and not without – those in possession of the weapons. It implies bigger challenges in terms of integrating not only diverse interests, but also diverse rhetoric and mindsets.

Nuclear-armed states should seriously consider joining the open dialogue about innovative ways to speed up nuclear disarmament, given the damage to their credibility caused by their absence. For example, they should participate in the Third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, to be held on December 8-9 in Vienna. The international community needs to do as much as possible to persuade those states to attend and to debate.[ref]There have been several recent calls around the world urging nuclear-armed states to participate in the Vienna Conference. Examples are the Statement “On the Comprehensive Reduction of Nuclear Risks,” Latin American and Caribbean Leadership Network for Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation – LALN, March 2014, < >   and the Group Statement “Necessary Steps for a Successful 2015 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” European Leadership Network, May 2014. <>[/ref]

At the same time, the implementation of safeguards is evolving to more enhanced schemes. There has been international pressure to make the more restrictive Additional Protocol (AP) the brand-new standard of verification (in replacement of the current Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSAs) prescribed by the NPT for non-nuclear weapons states). In addition the IAEA is transitioning to a state-level approach aimed at controlling more efficiently the compliance of safeguards agreements. But the trust in the nonproliferation system is seriously damaged and many states show resistance to these proposals. The perceived paralysis in disarmament is politically counterproductive to encourage non-possessors to accept enhanced nonproliferation obligations as well as initiatives which could set limits to their rights to fully develop nuclear energy for peaceful uses. However, states should recognize the relevance of extra nonproliferation guarantees to close the NPT loophole in terms of the control of non-declared nuclear facilities. [ref]IAEA, “The Safeguards System of the International Atomic Energy Agency.” <>[/ref]

The high-level political process of the Nuclear Security Summits promoted by the United States since 2010 has brought to the international agenda the protection of civilian nuclear materials and related facilities from nuclear terrorism and criminal use. Nevertheless, there are still major tasks pending that should be positively resolved with the end-of-cycle Summit in the United States in 2016. A key point is to define the Summits process’ legacy. It intends to reach the necessary agreements to set up a stable and efficient global system for nuclear security. The agreements should ensure continuity to the nuclear security effort beyond the Summits. Taking into account that the totality of nuclear weapons and the 85 percent of weapons-usable materials (HEU and separated plutonium) that are stored in non-civilian facilities, it is essential to include them as an integral part of any realistic global system to prevent nuclear terrorism and illicit trafficking.

Another challenge is to promote the adoption by states of binding, minimum nuclear security standards, which would give assurances to the international community regarding the responsible protection of each state’s materials and facilities.

As recognized by the 2014 NSS Communiqué, there is still much to do to achieve universal adherence to the key binding instruments on the matter, including the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), its 2005 Amendment (which will enter into force once ratified by 22 more states to reach the two-thirds of signatory states of the original convention) and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT).[ref]2014 Nuclear Security Summit, “The Hague Nuclear Security Summit Communiqué,” Netherlands, March 25, 2014. <>[/ref] [ref]The CPPNM requires state-parties to maintain an appropriate physical protection of materials during international transported. The 2005 Amendment extends such commitments to protection to the domestic framework, and therefore includes not only nuclear materials, but also nuclear facilities. The ICSANT sets an international framework to combat nuclear terrorism including measures of cooperation among states.[/ref]

It is necessary for the future of the initiative that the United States overcomes the current domestic stalemate in Congress and move ahead by ratifying both the 2005 CPPNM Amendment and the ICSANT. In fact, such ratifications are essential not only to enhance the whole nuclear security effort, but also to recover the eroded international confidence and good will concerning U.S. proposals and initiatives on the matter. In both cases, as with the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the United States should lead by example.[ref]The U.S. ratification of the CTBT is seen as a key step for the Treaty’s entry into force as many states have declared that they are waiting for the United States move before proceeding with their own ratification processes.[/ref]

The Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation initiative led by the United States, South Korea and the Netherlands is a document in which the signatories recognize that nuclear security is an international, not just a national responsibility. The 35 subscriber states commit themselves to embed the objectives of the nuclear security fundamentals and IAEA recommendations in national rules and regulations, and to host peer reviews to ensure effective implementation. In addition, the signatories pledge to act to further ensure continuous improvement of the nuclear security regime. [ref]2014 Nuclear Security Summit, “Strengthening nuclear security implementation,” Netherlands, March 25, 2014. < >[/ref] [ref]Fissile Materials Working Group – FMWG, “Experts Urge More Action to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism,” March 25, 2014. <>[/ref]

The NSS process shows that positive initiatives would reach broader acceptance within a framework of enhanced understanding, credibility and confidence among states with different backgrounds. A way to achieve such virtuous framework is by restoring a relative balance of commitments concerning disarmament, nonproliferation and nuclear security, for which every state should have a clear role.


A pragmatic approach

The ideas shared here involve pure pragmatism. The unrealistic belief that nuclear weapons can grant global security at the cost of deep international imbalances should progressively give way to innovative thinking on how to break the “status quo” to achieve deeper understanding of threats and design cooperative ways to prevent any further catastrophic incident. The need to define integrated strategies to efficiently reduce nuclear risks is now both indispensable and urgent.

Concerning state-level actors (even in the multi-polar environment), the preeminent roles of the United States and Russia is without question, as they together possess 95 percent of nuclear weapons and the majority of weapons-usable material. Any realistic approach to nuclear security should be based on the close cooperation of both states. For example, it is important that the Ukraine crisis be carefully managed to preserve their nuclear understanding of further deterioration. Leaders on both sides should deeply reflect with responsibility on the negative global consequences of breaking such substantial common ground.

Today the majority of states are paying a very high price in terms of insecurity to satisfy the false perception of security of a small few. It is crucial to bring back the balance between rights and responsibilities of states of different positions and define common goals for the international community, in terms of nuclear risks reduction. Determined actions and gestures of disarmament by nuclear-armed states could become powerful drivers to restore the necessary global confidence.

From a global perspective of threats and consequences, the common goal would be to ensure in realistic terms that no security vulnerability in any state could directly or indirectly contribute to any catastrophic nuclear incident, regardless of where it would happen.

Pragmatism should guide leaders toward innovative approaches to reduce nuclear risks based on comprehensive views and coordinated efforts. Multiplication of conflicts and a resulting and almost uncontrollable global insecurity are enough evidences that such joint efforts should be now maximized.


Irma Arguello is the Founder and Chair of the NPSGlobal Foundation, Secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean Leadership Network for Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation – LALN, member of the Steering Committee of the Fissile Materials Working Group – FMWG, and Associate Fellow of Chatham House.



The Fallacy of Proven and Adaptable Defenses

It is currently U.S. policy to deploy missile defenses that are “proven, cost-effective, and adaptable.”[ref]White House Office of the Press Secretary, “Fact Sheet on U.S. Missile Defense Policy,” September 17, 2009.[/ref] As outlined in the 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review, proven means “extensive testing and assessment,” or “fly before you buy.”[ref]Department of Defense, “Ballistic Missile Defense Review,” (January 2010): vi, 11.[/ref]Adaptive means that defenses can respond to unexpected threats by being rapidly relocated or “surged to a region,” and by being easily integrated into existing defensive architectures.[ref]Ibid, 27[/ref]

While “extensive testing” in the field is an important step towards proven defenses, this article argues that it is insufficient for truly proven—that is, trustworthy—defenses. Defenses against nuclear weapons face a very high burden of proof because a single bomb is utterly devastating. But even if defenses achieve this level of trustworthiness in one context, this article argues that they cannot immediately be trusted when they are adapted to another context. Calls for proven and adaptive defenses thus promote a dangerous fallacy: that defenses which are proven in one context remain proven when they are adapted to another.

To explain why defenses should not be regarded as both proven and adaptable, this article begins by outlining a little-noted yet critical challenge for missile defense: developing, integrating, and maintaining its complex and continually-evolving software. A second section uses experience with missile defense to illustrate three key reasons that software which is proven on testing ranges does not remain proven when it is adapted to the battlefield. A third section outlines some of the challenges associated with rapidly adapting missile defense software to new threat environments. The article concludes that while missile defenses may offer some insurance against an attack, they also come with new risks.


Missile defense as an information problem

Missile defense is a race against time. Intercontinental ballistic missiles travel around the globe in just thirty minutes, while intermediate, medium, and short range ballistic missiles take even less time to reach their targets. While defenders would ideally like to intercept missiles in the 3-5 minutes that they launch out of the earth’s atmosphere (boost phase), geographic and physical constraints have rendered this option impractical for the foreseeable future.[ref]See National Research Council, Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives (Washington D.C.: National Academies Press, 2012). “Report of the American Physical Society Study Group on Boost Phase Intercept Systems for National Missile Defense,” July 2003.[/ref] The defense has the most time to “kill” a missile during mid-course (as it travels through space), but here a warhead can be disguised by decoys and chaff, making it difficult to find and destroy. As missiles (or warheads) re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, any decoys are slowed down, and the warhead becomes easier to track. But, this terminal phase of flight leaves only a few minutes for the defender to act.

These time constraints make missile defense not only a physical problem, but also an informational problem. While most missile defense publicity focuses on the image of a bullet hitting a bullet in the sky, each interception relies critically on a much less visible information system which gathers radar or sensor data about the locations and speeds of targets, and guides defensive weapons to those targets. Faster computers can speed along information processing, but do not ensure that information is processed and interpreted correctly. The challenge of accurately detecting targets, discriminating targets from decoys or chaff, guiding defensive weapons to targets, and coordinating complementary missile defense systems, all falls to a very complex software system.

Today’s missile defense systems must manage tremendous informational complexity—a wide range of threats, emerging from different regions, in uncertain and changing ways. Informational complexity stems not only from the diverse threats that defenses aim to counter, but also from the fact that achieving highly effective defenses requires layering multiple defensive systems over large geographic regions; this in turn requires international cooperation. For example, to defend the United States from attack by Iran, the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) relies not only on radars and missiles in Alaska and California but also on radars and missiles stationed in Europe. Effective defenses require computers and software to “fuse” data from different regions and systems controlled by other nations into a seamless picture of the battle space. Missile defense software requirements constantly evolve with changing threats, domestic politics, and international relations.

Such complex and forever-evolving requirements will limit any engineer. But software engineers such as Fred Brooks have come to recognize the complexity associated with unpredictable and changing human institutions as their “essential” challenge.[ref]Frederick Brooks, “No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering,” IEEE Computer (Addison-Wesley Professional, 1987),[/ref] Brooks juxtaposes the complexity of physics with the “arbitrary complexity” of software. Whereas the complexity of nature is presumed to be governed by universal laws, the arbitrary complexity of software is “forced without rhyme or reason by the many human institutions and systems to which [software] interfaces must conform.”[ref]Ibid.[/ref]

In other words, the design of software is not driven by predictive and deterministic natural laws, but by the arbitrary requirements of whatever hardware and social organizations it serves. Because arbitrary complexity is the essence of software, it will always be difficult to develop correctly. Despite tremendous technological progress, software engineers have agreed that arbitrary complexity imposes fundamental constraints on our ability to engineer reliable software systems.[ref]When software engineers gathered for the twenty-year anniversary of Brooks’ article, they all agreed that his original argument had been proven correct despite impressive technological advances. See Frederick Brooks et al., “Panel: ‘No Silver Bullet’ Reloaded,” in 22nd Annual ACM SIGPLAN Conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications (OOPSLA), ed. Richard Gabriel et al. (Montreal, Canada: ACM, 2007).[/ref]

In the case of missile defense, software must integrate disparate pieces of equipment (such as missile interceptors, radars, satellites, and command consoles) with the procedures of various countries (such as U.S., European, Japanese, and South Korean missile defense commands). Software can only meet the ad hoc requirements of physical hardware and social organizations by becoming arbitrarily complex.

Software engineers manage the arbitrary complexity of software through modular design, skillful project management, and a variety of automated tools that help to prevent common errors.[ref]For a summary of such techniques, and reasons that they are not sufficient to produce reliable software, see David Parnas, “Software Aspects of Strategic Defense Systems,” Communications of the ACM 28, no. 12 (1985): 1326.[/ref] Nonetheless, as the arbitrary complexity of software grows, so too do unexpected interactions and errors. The only way to make software reliable is to use it operationally and correct the errors that emerge in real-world use. If the operating conditions change only slightly, new and unexpected errors may emerge. Decades of experience have shown that it is impossible to develop trustworthy software of any practical scale without operational testing and debugging.

In some contexts, glitches are not catastrophic. For example, in 2007 six F-22 Raptors flew from Hawaii to Japan for the first time, and as they crossed the International Date Line their computers crashed.[ref]“F-22 Squadron Shot Down by the International Date Line,” Defense Industry Daily, March 1 2007. Accessed June 15, 2014.[/ref] Repeated efforts to reboot failed and the pilots were left without navigation computers, information about fuel, and much of their communications. Fortunately, weather was clear so they could follow refueling tankers back to Hawaii and land safely. The software glitch was fixed within 48 hours.

Had the weather been bad or had the Raptors been in combat, the error would have had much more serious consequences. In such situations, time becomes much more critical. Similarly, a missile defense system must operate properly within the first few minutes that it is needed; there is no time for software updates.


What has been proven? The difference between field tests and combat experience

Because a small change in operating conditions can cause unexpected interactions in software, missile defenses can only be proven through real-world combat experience. Yet those who describe defenses as “proven” are typically referring to results obtained on a testing range. The phased adaptive approach’s emphasis on “proven” refers to its focus on the SM-3 missile, which has tested better than the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD).[ref]See for example, White House “Fact Sheet on U.S. Missile Defense Policy,” September 17, 2009[/ref] The SM-3 Block 1 system is based on technology in the Navy’s Aegis air and missile defense system, and it has succeeded in 19 of 23 intercept attempts (nearly 83 percent), whereas the GMD has succeeded in only half (8 of 16) intercept attempts.[ref]For results on the SM3 Block 1, see Missile Defense Agency, “Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense testing record,” October 2013. On the GMD, see Missile Defense Agency, “Ballistic Missile Defense Intercept Flight Test record,” last updated October 4, 2013[/ref] Similarly, when Army officers and project managers call the theater high altitude area defense (THAAD) proven, they are referring to results on a test range.[ref]See  for example, comments in “THAAD Soldiers take part in historic training exercise,” Fort Bliss Bugle, ; BAE, “Bae Systems’ Seeker Performs Successfully In Historic Integrated Live Fire Missile Defense Test,” Press release, 7 February 2013, . Both accessed June 15, 2014.[/ref] THAAD, a late midcourse and early terminal phase defense, has intercepted eleven out of eleven test targets since 2005.[ref]Missile Defense Agency, “Ballistic Missile Defense Intercept Flight Test record,” last updated October 4, 2013[/ref]

While tests are extremely important, they do not prove that missile defenses will be reliable in battle. Experience reveals at least three ways in which differences between real-world operating conditions and the testing range may cause missile defense software to fail.

First, missile defense software and test programs make assumptions about the behavior of its targets which may not be realistic. The qualities of test targets are carefully controlled—between 2002 and 2008, over 11 percent of missile defense tests were aborted because the target failed to behave as expected. [ref]This is based upon reports that 3 of 42 launches experienced target failures or anomalies between 2002-2005, and 6 of 38 launches experienced such failures from 2006-2007. See U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Sound Business Case Needed to Implement Missile Defense Agency’s Targets,” September 2008[/ref]

But real targets can also behave unexpectedly. For example, in the 1991 Gulf War, short range Scud missiles launched by Iraq broke up as they reentered the atmosphere, causing them to corkscrew rather than follow a predictable ballistic trajectory.[ref]George N. Lewis and Theodore A. Postol, “Video Evidence on the Effectiveness of Patriot During the 1991 Gulf War,” Science & Global Security 4 (1993).[/ref]This unpredictable behavior is a major reason that the Patriot (PAC-2) missile defense missed at least 28 out of 29 intercept attempts.[ref]Ibid; see also George N. Lewis and Theodore A. Postol, “Technical Debate over Patriot Performance in the Gulf War,” Science & Global Security 3 (2000). In fact, though Iraqis launched fewer Scuds after the Army deployed Patriot, evidence suggested that damage in Israel increased—suggesting that Patriot itself caused some damage.  See George N. Lewis and Theodore A. Postol, “An Evaluation of the Army Report “Analysis of Video Tapes to Assess Patriot Effectiveness” Dated 31 March 1992,”  (Cambridge MA: Defense and Arms Control Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1992). Available online at[/ref] Although the Patriot had successfully intercepted six targets on a test range, the unpredictability of real-world targets thwarted its success in combat.[ref]On the Patriot’s performance on the testing range before deployment, see “Performance of the Patriot Missile in the Gulf War,” Hearings before the Committee on Government Operations, 102nd Congress, 2nd sess., April 7, 1992.[/ref]

Second, missile defense tests are conducted under very different time pressures than those of real-world battle. Missile defense tests do not require operators to remain watchful over an extended period of days or weeks, until the precise one or two minutes in which a missile is fired. Instead crews are given a “window of interest,” typically spanning several hours, in which to look for an attack. Defenders of such tests argue that information about the window of attack is necessary (to avoid conflicts with normal air and sea traffic), and realistic (presumably because defenses will only be used during a limited period of conflict).[ref]Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III (ret.) and Rebeccah Heinrichs, “In Defense of U.S. Missile Defense,” Letter to the International Herald Tribune, September 27, 2011[/ref]

Yet in real-world combat, the “window of interest” may last much longer than a few hours. For example, the Patriot was originally designed with the assumption that it would only be needed for a few hours at a time, but when it was sent to Israel and Saudi Arabia in the first Gulf War, it was suddenly operational for days at a time. In these conditions, the Patriot’s control software began to accrue a timing error which had never shown up when the computer was rebooted every few hours. On February 25, 1991, this software-controlled timing error caused the Patriot to miss a Scud missile, which struck an Army barracks at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 Americans.[ref]The Patriot was only designed to operate for 24 hours at a time before rebooting, and hence the timing problem did not matter in previous operating conditions. Technically this would be described as a “requirements failure.” GAO, “Patriot Missile Defense: Software Problem Led to System Failure at Dhahan, Saudi Arabia,”  (Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office, 1992).[/ref] The fix that might have helped the Patriot defuse the Dhahran attack arrived one day too late.[ref]GAO, “Patriot Missile Defense: Software Problem Led to System Failure at Dhahan, Saudi Arabia.”[/ref]

A third difference between test ranges and real-world combat is that air traffic is often present in and around combat zones, creating opportunities for friendly fire; the likelihood of friendly fire is increased by the stressful conditions of combat.[ref]These stresses were one contributing factor to the downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the Vincennes in 1988; for a closer analysis, see Gene Rochlin, Trapped in the Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization (Princeton: Princeton U, 1998).[/ref]For example, in the first Gulf War, the Patriot fired two interceptors at U.S. fighter jets (fortunately the fighters evaded the attack).[ref]Clifford Johnson, “Patriots,” posted in the RISKS forum, 29 January 1991[/ref] When a more advanced version of the Patriot (PAC-3) was sent to Iraq in 2003, friendly fire caused more casualties.  On March 23, 2003, a Patriot battery stationed near the Kuwait border shot down a British Tornado fighter jet, killing both crew members. Just two days later, operators in another battery locked on to a target and prepared to fire, discovering that it was an American F-16 only after the fighter fired back (fortunately only a radar was destroyed).[ref]Jonathan Weisman, “Patriot Missiles Seemingly Falter for Second Time; Glitch in Software Suspected,” Washington Post, March 26 2003.[/ref] Several days later, another Patriot battery shot down an American Navy Hornet fighter, killing its pilot.[ref]Bradley Graham, “Radar Probed in Patriot Incidents,” Washington Post, May 8, 2003.[/ref]

A Defense Science Board task force eventually attributed the failure to several software-related problems. The Patriot’s Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) algorithms (which ought to have clearly distinguished allies from enemies) performed poorly. Command and control systems did not give crews good situational awareness, leaving them completely dependent on the faulty IFF technologies. The Patriot’s protocols, displays, and software made operations “largely automatic,” while “operators were trained to trust the software.”[ref]Michael Williams and William  Delaney, “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Patriot System Performance,”  (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, 2005).[/ref]Unfortunately this trust was not warranted.

These three features—less predictable targets, longer “windows of interest,” and the presence of air traffic—are unique to combat, and are among the reasons that software which is proven on a test range may not be reliable in battle. Other differences concern the defensive technology itself—missile seekers are often hand-assembled, and quality is not always assured from one missile to the next.[ref]Quality assurance has been a significant problem, for example, in the GMD. See David Willman, “$40 Billion Missile Defense System Proves Unreliable,” LA Times, June 15, 2014. The “tacit knowledge” required to fabricate missile guidance technology has historically been a source of significant concern; see Donald MacKenzie, Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Ballistic Missile Guidance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990).[/ref] Missile defense aims to overcome such challenges in quality assurance by “layering” defensive systems (i.e. if one system fails to hit a missile, another one might make the kill). But unexpected interactions between missile defense layers could also cause failures. Indeed, some tests which produced “successful” interceptions by individual missile defense systems also revealed limitations in integrating different defensive systems.[ref]U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Missile Defense: Mixed Progress in Achieving Acquisition Goals and Improving Accountability,” April 2014, p 16-17.[/ref] Layered defenses, like most individual defensive systems, have yet to be proven reliable in real-world battle.


The Fallacy of “Proven” and “Adaptive” Defenses

As this brief review suggests, field testing takes place in a significantly different operational environment than that of combat, and the difference matters. Missile defenses that were “proven” in field testing have repeatedly failed when they were adapted to combat environments, either missing missiles completely, or shooting down friendly aircraft. Thus, talk of “proven” and “adaptable” defense furthers a dangerous fallacy—that defensive systems that are proven in one context remain proven as they are adapted to new threats.

Defensive deployments do not simply “plug-and-play” as they are deployed to new operational environments around the world because they must be carefully integrated with other weapons systems.  For example, to achieve “layered” defenses of the United States, computers must “fuse” data from geographically dispersed sensors and radars and provide commands in different regions with a seamless picture of the battle space. In the first U.S. missile defense test that attempted to integrate elements such as Aegis and THAAD, systems successfully intercepted targets, but also revealed failures in the interoperability of different computer and communications systems.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] In the European theater, these systems confront the additional challenge of being integrated with NATO’s separate Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD).[ref]The GAO has warned that the U.S. approach to European defenses, by developing these eclectic systems concurrently, is increasing the risks that the system “will not meet the warfighter’s needs, with significant potential cost and schedule growth consequences.” GAO, “Missile Defense: European Phased Adaptive Approach Acquisitions Face Synchronization, Transparency, and Accountability Challenges,”  (Washington, D.C.: GAO, 2010), 3. For more on the NATO Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD), and efforts to coordinate its command and control systems with those of individual member nations, see[/ref]

Similar challenges exist in the Asia-Pacific region, where U.S. allies have purchased systems such as Patriot and Aegis. It is not yet clear how such elements should interoperate with U.S. forces in the region. The United States and Japan have effectively formed a joint command relationship, with both nations feeding information from their sensors into a common control room. However, command relationships with other countries in the Asian Pacific region such as South Korea and Taiwan remain unclear.[ref]Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Trust, Not Tech, Big Problem Building Missile Defenses Vs. Iran, North Korea,”Ian E. Rinehart, Steven A. Hildreth, Susan V. Lawrence, Congressional Research Service Report, “Ballistic Missile Defense in the Asia-Pacific Region: Cooperation and Opposition,” June 24 2013.[/ref]

The challenge of systems integration was a recurring theme at the May 2014 Atlantic Council’s missile defense conference. Attendees noted that U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea mistrust one another, creating difficulties for integrating computerized command and control systems. They also pointed to U.S. export control laws that create difficulties by restricting the flow of computer and networking technologies to many parts of the world.[ref]Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Trust, Not Tech, Big Problem Building Missile Defenses Vs. Iran, North Korea,”, May 29, 2014,[/ref]Atlantic Council senior fellow Bilal Saab noted that the “problem with hardware is it doesn’t operate in a political vacuum.”[ref]Ibid.[/ref]

Neither does software. All of these constraints—export control laws, mistrust between nations, different computer systems—produce arbitrarily complex requirements for the software, which must integrate data from disparate missile defense elements into a unified picture of the battle space. Interoperability that is proven at one time does not remain proven as it is adapted to new technological and strategic environments.


Risky Insurance

Although defenses cannot be simultaneously proven and adaptive, it may still make sense to deploy defenses. Missile defenses that have undergone robust field testing may provide some measure of insurance against attack. [ref][/ref]  Additionally, cooperative defenses may provide a means of reducing reliance on massive nuclear arsenals—although efforts to share NATO or U.S. missile defenses with Russia are currently stalled.[ref]James E Goodby and Sidney D Drell, “Rethinking Nuclear Deterrence” (paper presented at the conference Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, Stanford, CA, 2007).[/ref]

But whatever insurance missile defense offers, it also comes with new risks due to its reliance on tremendously complex software. Other analyses of missile defense have pointed to risks associated with strategic instability,and noted that defenses appear to be limiting rather than facilitating reductions of offensive nuclear arsenals.[ref]For a discussion of both issues, and references for further reading, see Rebecca Slayton, Arguments That Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012, Inside Technology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).[/ref]An appreciation for the difficulty of developing, integrating, and maintaining complex missile defense software calls attention to a slightly different set of risks.[ref]Historically, the complexity of missile defense software has also made it prone to schedule delays and cost overruns. For further analysis see Ibid.[/ref]

The risks of friendly fire are evident from experience with the Patriot. More fundamentally, the inability of complex software to fully anticipate target behavior limits its reliability in battle, as seen in the first Gulf War. The PAC-3 system appears to have performed better in the second Gulf War; according to the Army, the defenses incapacitated nine out of nine missiles headed towards a defended asset.[ref]Kadish testimony, Subcommittee on Defense, Committee on Appropriations, Department of Defense Appropriations, May 1 2003.[/ref] Thus, the PAC-3 system may be regarded as truly proven against a particular set of targets. But however well defenses perform against one set of targets, we cannot be assured that they will perform equally well against a new set of targets.

Additionally, defenses must be exceedingly reliable to defend against nuclear-armed missiles. In World War II, a 10 percent success rate was sufficient for air defenses to deter bombers, but the destructive power of nuclear weapons calls for a much higher success rate. If even one nuclear weapon gets by a defensive system, it can destroy a major city and its surroundings.

The greatest risk of all comes not with defenses themselves, but with overconfidence in their capabilities. In 2002, faith in military technology prompted then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to overrule seasoned military planners, insisting that high technology reduced the number of ground troops that were necessary in Iraq.[ref]Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Rumsfeld Orders War Plans Redone for Faster Action,” New York Times, 2002.[/ref]  As we now know, this confidence was tragically misplaced.

The decision to rely upon a missile defense deployment should thus weigh the risks of a missile attack against the risks of friendly fire and of unreliable defenses. While the fly-before-you-buy approach is an essential step towards trustworthy defenses, field testing does not yield truly proven, or trustworthy, defenses. However proven a defensive system becomes in one battle context, it does not remain proven when it is adapted to another. Ultimately, the notion of proven and adaptive defenses is a contradiction in terms.


Rebecca Slayton is an Assistant Professor in Science & Technology Studies at the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell University.  Her research examines how experts assess different kinds of risks in new technology, and how their arguments gain influence in distinctive organizational and political contexts. She is author of Arguments that Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012 (MIT Press: 2013), which compares how two different ways of framing complex technology—physics and computer science—lead to very different understandings of the risks associated with weapons systems. It also shows how computer scientists established a disciplinary repertoire—quantitative rules, codified knowledge, and other tools for assessment—that enabled them to construct authoritative arguments about complex software, and to make those analyses “stick” in the political process.

Slayton earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at Harvard University in 2002, and completed postdoctoral training in the Science, Technology, and Society Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has also held research fellowships from the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. She is currently studying efforts to manage the diverse risks—economic, environmental, and security—associated with a “smarter” electrical grid.

The Evolution of the Senate Arms Control Observer Group

In March 2013, the Senate voted down an amendment offered by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to cut $700,000 from their budget that was set-aside for the National Security Working Group (NSWG). What many did not realize at the time was that this relatively small and obscure proposed cut would have eliminated one of the last traces of the bipartisan Congressional approach to debating arms control.

The NSWG first began as the Arms Control Observer Group, which helped to build support for arms control in the Senate. In recent years, there have been calls from both Democrats and Republicans to revive the Observer Group, but very little analysis of the role it played. Its history illustrates the stark contrast in the Senate’s attitude and approach to arms control issues during the mid- to late 1980s compared with the divide that exists today between the two parties.


The Arms Control Observer Group

The Arms Control Observer Group was first formed in 1985. At the time, the United States was engaged in talks with the Soviet Union on the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. To generate support for ongoing negotiations, Majority Leader Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), and Minority Leader Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), with the endorsement of President Ronald Reagan, created the bipartisan Arms Control Observer Group. The Observer Group consisted of twelve senators, with four senators, two from each party, serving as co-chairs[ref]The first members of the Group were Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), Claiborne Pell (D-Rhode Island), Al Gore (D-Tennessee), Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), Pat Moynihan (D-New York), Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma), John Warner (R-Virginia), and Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyoming).[/ref] and created an official role for senators to join U.S. delegations as they negotiated arms control treaties. As observers, its members had two duties: to consult with and advise U.S. arms control negotiating teams, and “to monitor and report to the Senate on the progress and development of negotiations.”[ref]Foreword, Report of the Senate Arms Control Observer Group Delegation to the Opening of the Arms ControlNegotiations with the Soviet Union in Geneva, Switzerland, March 9-12, (III) 1985.[/ref]

During meetings with U.S. State Department negotiators, senators were able to present their views, ask questions, and even engage in candid and confidential exchanges of ideas and information. Senators were also allowed to meet with members of the Soviet delegations on an “informal” basis.[ref]Origin and Summary of Activities, Report of the Senate Arms Control Observer Group Delegation to the Opening of the Arms Control, Negotiations with the Soviet Union in Geneva, Switzerland, March 9-12, 1985.[/ref] The Observer Group believed that the “interplay of ideas” would assist negotiators and, if negotiations failed, the members would help their fellow senators explain the reasons why to the American public.[ref]Ibid.[/ref]

The Observer Group served a number of purposes. First, it was intended to supplement the activities of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Byrd argued that the process that existed up until that point—where the Foreign Relations Committee became experts on treaties and the full Senate only began to understand the issues after the negotiation—was not functioning properly. Its creators argued, “the full Senate has focused its attention in the past only sporadically on the vital aspects of arms control negotiations, usually developing a knowledge and understanding of the issues being negotiated after the fact…the result of this fitful process has been generally unsatisfactory in recent years.”[ref]Ibid.[/ref] During the previous decade, the Executive Branch had failed to garner enough Senate support for several arms control initiatives: the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty of 1976, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty of 1974, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) of 1979, none of which were ratified by the United States. Although there had been previous attempts to involve senators in arms control negotiations, the Observer group provided “more regular and systematic involvement” from the full Senate long before a vote took place. [ref]Ibid[/ref]

The formation of the Observer Group publicly demonstrated the important role of arms control in national security matters. The resolution that created the group states that senators have the “obligation to become as knowledgeable as possible concerning the salient issues, which are being addressed in the context of the negotiating process. Any accord with the Soviet Union to control or reduce our strategic weapons carries considerable weight for our nation.”[ref]Transcript of Press Conference of Observer Group in Geneva, March 12, 1985, Report of the Senate Arms Control Observer Group Delegation to the Opening of the Arms Control, Negotiations with the Soviet Union in Geneva, Switzerland, March 9-12, 1985.[/ref] According to Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), a founding member of the Observer Group, “the goal [was] to have the Senate fulfill both halves of its constitutional responsibilities, not only the consent half—that’s what we’ve been looking to primarily in the past—but also the advice half.”[ref]Ibid.[/ref]

Additionally, the Observer Group helped develop institutional knowledge and expertise on arms control within the Senate. The Group’s founding members stated that they believed it was necessary to become “completely conversant” in issues related to treaty negotiations and that such knowledge was “critical” to the Senate’s understanding of the issues involved.[ref]Origin and Summary of Activities, Report of the Senate Arms Control Observer Group Delegation to the Opening of the Arms Control, Negotiations with the Soviet Union in Geneva, Switzerland, March 9-12, 1985.[/ref] To achieve that goal, they held regular behind closed-door briefings on negotiations for senators and their staff and some staffers were able to review related classified materials.  Observer Group members were conversant in issues related to previous arms control treaties, missile defense, the connection between strategic offense and defense, and treaty compliance.

Above all, the Observer Group was intended to help build bipartisan support for President Reagan’s arms control initiatives. The group was seen as a mediating body.[ref]]Janne E. Nolan, “Preparing for the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review,” Arms Control Today, November 2000,[/ref] When it was formed, Senators Dole and Byrd co-authored a resolution stating that the Observer Group was part of “an ongoing process to reestablish a bipartisan spirit in this body’s consideration of vital national security and foreign policy issues.” Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), who was one of the original members of the Observer Group, agreed by affirming, “The observer group is tremendously important to forming a consensus on which ratification might occur.” The Group’s 1985 report to Congress endorsed “the broad bipartisan support of the Senate for the Administration’s arms control efforts…determination to be as patient as necessary to achieve a sound agreement…the seriousness with which the Senate, including the Observer group intends to fulfill its constitutionally-mandated role in the treaty-making process.” This opinion was also shared by the Reagan administration. In a letter to Senators Dole and Byrd, Secretary of State George Shultz stated that he thought the Observer Group would help facilitate unity on arms control.

It is difficult to demonstrate the extent of its influence as the years the Observer Group was most active were also the years in which arms control was seen by both parties as a vital part of U.S. policy.  The success of these initiatives was clearly not solely due to the Observer Group, but it did play a role. Every one of the original Group’s members voted in favor of the INF Treaty in 1988, which passed 93-5.  Similarly, all of the senators within the Group voted in favor of ratifying the 1992 START Treaty, which passed 93-6.


The National Security Working Group

Towards the end of the 1990s, the Senate’s attitude towards arms control changed. Negotiations between the United States and Russia on a legally binding nuclear reduction treaty had stalled. The Senate had voted down the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Reflecting this changing point of view, in 1999, Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), wanted to further diminish the Senate’s focus and expertise on arms control issues. He proposed an amendment that expanded the Observer Group’s purview to include observing talks related to missile defense and export controls and renamed it the National Security Working Group. For nearly a decade during the George W. Bush administration, which pursued relatively little in terms of legally binding arms control agreements, the NSWG was relatively dormant.

This changed in 2009 under the Obama administration when the Executive Branch started briefing senators about the ongoing New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) negotiations. From July 6, 2009, when President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement to reduce American and Russian nuclear arsenals, to April 10, 2010, when they signed the negotiated treaty, the NSWG was revived in order to give senators a role in observing the negotiation process. During this ten-month period, the NSWG began meeting again. The meetings were open to members of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees and were well attended, with roughly 50 percent attendance from those who were invited. Senators who participated in the Working Group knew it was a serious matter and paid attention to it. As a result of their attendance, they left meetings better informed on issues related to arms control.[ref]Congressional Staffer (April 4, 2013), personal interview.[/ref]

Throughout the course of Senate deliberation of New START, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) served as the Republican Party’s key interlocutor with Democrats.[ref]Kyl, Jon, Memo to National Security Working Group Republican Members: Report on the NSWG CODEL to Observe the Geneva Negotiations, November 23, 2009,[/ref] Unlike his predecessors in the Observer Group, Senator Kyl did not see the Working Group as a vehicle for bipartisan cooperation and consensus building. Senator Kyl used his position as the chief negotiator to disrupt the Obama administration’s legislative agenda on arms control.

Senator Kyl used issues peripheral to the treaty, such as missile defense and modernization of the nuclear stockpile, to “slow roll” the legislative process and prevent the administration from pursuing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which he ardently opposed.[ref]Congressional Staffer (February 14, 2014), personal interview.[/ref] According to one account, Senator Kyl “was not using the Working Group. It was just a tool to stop the policy. There wasn’t a getting to yes option. It wasn’t there to get to yes. If the members of the group aren’t inclined to get to yes, then the mechanism won’t get them there.”  Further, he “came prepared to ask tough questions, not just to listen and probe. He was there to look for chinks in the arms and attack in front of his colleagues. He wanted his colleagues to see it.”[ref]Congressional Staffer (April 4, 2013), personal interview.[/ref]

In an effort to prevent Senator Kyl from disrupting meetings, Senate staff made the NSWG open to all members of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees. They also made sure that senior Democratic leadership was present for all of the NSWG meetings. Either Senator John Kerry (D-MA) or Carl Levin (D-MI) served as Chair and were both prepared to answer all questions and concerns.

Despite this impediment, senators still appear to have found the Working Group useful. Senator Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the NSWG provided an opportunity to bring senators in at the beginning of the negotiation process, and “through the group” there were “many opportunities to learn of the progress and details of negotiations and to provide our advice and views to the administration throughout the process.” He praised the NSWG’s work, arguing that it was a “key” part of the treaty ratification process because it allowed senators to begin meeting with the administration “early in the process of negotiation” before New START was finalized. He said that during the New START process, “members of the National Security Working Group asked a great number of questions, received answers at a number of meetings, stayed abreast of the negotiation details, and provided advice to the administration.” Finally, he added that, through the NSWG, the administration had the opportunity to respond to senators’ questions and concerns, which helped to avoid problems during the Senate’s consideration of the treaty.[ref]Senator Carl Levin (MI), “Authorizing Expenditures by Committees,” Congressional Record (March 5, 2013), p. S1103.[/ref]

The Senate was less supportive of arms control this time around. Even with senators actively involved in the NSWG, only 13 Republicans ended up supporting the treaty. Of those 13, only four Republicans were members of the Working Group (Senators Lugar, Corker, Voinovich, and Cochran). Among those four, only Senator Lugar was a particularly strong advocate for the treaty.

At best, the Working Group had a mixed track record and certainly did not have the same kind of success as the Observer Group. Only two senators traveled to observe New START negotiations. There was no spirit of cooperation or strong bipartisan support for the treaty. The Working Group essentially became a courtroom where New START could be prosecuted.


The Future of the NSWG

Since the vote on New START, the NSWG has not been any more successful in helping to foster bipartisanship. At the beginning of the 113th session of Congress, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) were appointed co-chairs.  Senator Rubio, like Senator Kyl, has attempted to impede the Obama Administration’s work on arms control.[ref]Kristine Bergstrom, “Rubio vs Gottemoeller: The New Partisan Politics of Senate Nuclear Confirmations,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 7, 2014,[/ref]

While the cooperative atmosphere that surrounded the Arms Control Observer Group seems like an anachronism in today’s political climate, this is not meant to argue that senators within the Working Group need to agree on everything. There were major disagreements over nuclear policy during the Reagan administration and at times, heated discussions within the Observer Group. The difference was that the Observer Group was effective because the senators who were in it believed that arms control could advance U.S. national interests and wanted the group to succeed.

Today, the NSWG suffers from three broader trends within the United States that inhibit this attitude. The first is that the partisanship that exists in the Working Group is a reflection of the divisions in Congress. Given this dynamic, if there is any chance for the NSWG to serve as a valuable forum, individuals looking for the spotlight cannot be given the opportunity to hijack it. Secondly, since the end of the Cold War, detailed, negotiated arms control agreements are decreasingly seen as important to advancing U.S. national interests. There is diminishing prestige or interest in being a member of the NSWG or in supporting arms control. Thirdly, the Republican Party is far more skeptical about any legally binding international commitments than it once was.

These trends are unfortunate. The fact is that arms control still has a role to play in advancing U.S. interests and promoting international peace and stability. There are numerous issues that the United States and Russia will still need to address together. They continue to cooperate on issues related to Iran and reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism. They will likely still continue to communicate about issues related to U.S. missile defense deployment. Some think that current problems between the United States and Russia are evidence that this is not the case, but it was this kind of tension that led both countries to arms control in the first place. For this reason, diplomacy will remain an important policy tool for preventing catastrophic war between the two countries.

With diminishing nuclear policy expertise in a divided Senate, there is a need for a group of engaged, knowledgeable senators invested in arms control. For this reason, the NSWG will continue to have the opportunity to play a constructive role in informing the Senate on these issues and allowing senators into the diplomatic process.

Nickolas Roth is a research associate at the Project on Managing the Atom in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. Nickolas Roth previously worked as a policy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, where he wrote extensively about the industrial infrastructure responsible for maintaining the nuclear weapons stockpile. Mr. Roth has a B.A. in History from American University and a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Maryland, where he is currently a research fellow. Mr. Roth’s written work has appeared or been cited in dozens of media outlets around the world, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Asahi Shimbun, Boston Globe, and Newsweek.  


American Scientists and Nuclear Weapons Policy

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” warned British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke more than 200 years ago. Having recently delved into reading about the history of the first group of American atomic scientists and their efforts to deal with the nuclear arms race, I have realized that Burke was right. More so, I would underscore that the ideas of these intellectual path-breakers are still very much alive today, and that even when we are fully cognizant of this history we are bound to repeat it. By studying these scientists’ ideas, Robert Gilpin in his 1962 book, American Scientists and Nuclear Weapons Policy, identifies three schools of thought: (1) control, (2) finite containment, and (3) infinite containment.

The control school had its origins in the Franck Report, which had James Franck, an atomic scientist at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago serve as the lead drafter of the report which argued that “any international agreement on prevention of nuclear armaments must be backed by actual and efficient controls.” Seventy Manhattan Project scientists signed this report in June 1945, which was then sent to Secretary of War Henry Stimson. They suggested that instead of detonating atomic bombs on Japan, the United States might demonstrate the new weapon on “a barren island” and thus say to the world, “You see what sort of a weapon we had but did not use. We are ready to renounce its use in the future if other nations join us in this renunciation and agree to the establishment of an efficient control.” As we all know, the United States government did not take this advice during the Second World War.

But in 1946, the United States put forward in the Acheson-Lilienthal Report (in which J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, served as the lead drafter) ideas for international control of atomic energy. In the form of the Baruch Plan, this proposal before the fledging United Nations faced opposition from the Soviet Union, which wanted to arm itself with nuclear weapons before accepting a U.S. plan that could leave the United States wielding a monopoly on nuclear arms. However, the control school has been kept alive in part, through the founding in 1957 of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has the dual mission to promote peaceful nuclear power and safeguard these programs. Periodically, concepts are still put forward to create multilateral means to exert some control over uranium enrichment and reprocessing of plutonium, the methods to make fissile material for nuclear reactors or bombs. Many of the founders and leading scientists of FAS such as Philip Morrison and Linus Pauling belonged to the control school.

Starting in the late 1940s, disillusionment about the feasibility of international control was setting in among several atomic scientists active in FAS and advisory roles for the government. They began to see the necessity for making nuclear weapons to contain the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, there were those who believed that international controls should continue to be pursued in parallel with production of atomic bombs. Thus, a sharp division did not exist between the control and finite containment schools of thought. Oppenheimer exemplified this view in a speech on September 17, 1947, to the National War College where he extolled the “soundness” of the control proposals but lamented that “the very bases for international control between the United States and the Soviet Union were being eradicated by a revelation of their deep conflicts of interest, the deep and apparently mutual repugnance of their ways of life, and the apparent conviction on the part of the Soviet Union of the inevitably of conflict—and not in ideas alone, but in force.”

Reading this, I think of the dilemma the United States faces with Iran over efforts to control the Iranian nuclear program while confronting decades of mistrust. One big difference between Iran and the Soviet Union is that Iran, as a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is legally obligated to not make or acquire nuclear explosives whereas the Soviet Union never had such legal restrictions. Thus, Iran has already agreed to accept controls through safeguards on its nuclear program. The question is what additional controls Iran will agree to accept in order to provide needed assurances that it does not have a nuclear weapons program and will not develop such in the future. In parallel, the United States is strengthening containment mostly via a military presence in the Persian Gulf region and providing weapons and defense systems to U.S. allies in the Middle East. Scientists play vital roles both in improving methods of control via monitoring, safeguarding, and verifying Iran’s nuclear activities and in designing new military weapon systems for containment through the threat of force.

How much military force is enough to contain or deter? The scientists who believed in finite containment were generally reluctant, and even some were opposed, to advocating for more and more powerful weapons. As Gilpin examines in his book, the first major schism among the scientists was during the internal government debate in 1949 and 1950 about whether to develop the hydrogen bomb. In particular, the finite containment scientists on the General Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission assessed that “an American decision not to construct the hydrogen bomb would again symbolize the sincerity of America’s desire to end the atomic arms race.”

In contrast, the infinite containment school that included Edward Teller (who was instrumental in designing the hydrogen bomb), and Ernest Lawrence (who was a scientific leader during the Manhattan Project and was based at the University of California, Berkeley), “argued that control over nuclear weapons would only be possible in a completely open world such as that envisioned in the Baruch Plan. Under the conditions of modern science, the arms race would therefore be unavoidable until the political differences underlying that arms race were settled” in the words of Gilpin. Many of the infinite containment scientists were the strongest advocates for declassifying nuclear secrets as long as there were firm assurances that nations had joined together to prevent the use of nuclear energy for military purposes or that “peace-loving nations had a sufficient arsenal of atomic weapons [to] destroy the will of aggressive nations to wage war.” In effect, they were arguing for world government or for a coalition of allied nations to enforce world peace.

Readers will be reminded of many instances in which history has repeated itself as mirrored by the control, finite containment, and infinite containment ways of thought arising from the atomic scientists’ movement of the 1940s and 1950s. Despite the disagreements among these “schools,” a common belief is that the scientists “knew that technical breakthroughs rarely come unless one is looking for them and that if the best minds of the country were brought in to concentrate on the problem, someone would find a solution … if there were one to be found,” according to Gilpin. Gilpin also astutely recommended that “wisdom flourishes best and error is avoided most effectively in an atmosphere of intellectual give and take where scientists of opposed political persuasions are pitted against one another.” Finally, he uncovered a most effective technique for “bring[ing] about the integration of the technical and policy aspects of policy” through “the contracted study project … wherein experts from both inside and outside of the government meet together over a period of months to fashion policy suggestions in a broad area of national concern.”

This, in effect, is the new operational model for much of FAS’s work. We are forming study groups and task forces that include diverse groups of technical and policy experts from both inside and outside the government. Stay tuned to reports from FAS as these groups tackle urgent and important science-based national security problems.


Charles D. Ferguson, Ph.D.

President, Federation of American Scientists

Misconceptions and the Spread of Infectious Disease

New and improved medical treatments for infectious diseases are vital to improving global health security; however, public education is equally important. Myths and misperceptions regarding infectious diseases have detrimental effects on global health when a disease outbreak occurs. While it may seem that this problem is isolated to remote regions of the developing world, neither infectious diseases nor misconceptions regarding them are explicitly confined to certain areas.

Outbreaks can be highly disruptive to the movement of people and goods, often leading to increased regulations and restrictions on travel and trade to reduce the potential for further spread of disease.[ref]Eco Health  Alliance. “7 Common Myths About Pandemics and New Diseases.” Last modified June 27, 2013. Accessed on March 19, 2014.[/ref] The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003[ref]U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).” Last Modified Jan. 28, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2014.[/ref] was but one of the numerous examples in which international travel was disrupted. The disease quickly infected thousands of people around the world and disrupted national economies.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] Due to the rapid transmissibility of SARS, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a travel advisory in effort to reduce the international public threat.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] In 2001, the United Kingdom experienced a detrimental hit to the agricultural sector as foot-and-mouth disease spread throughout livestock.[ref]BBC. “Foot-and-Mouth Crisis Remembered.” Last modified February 17, 2011. Accessed on May 13, 2014.[/ref] Because of the highly transmissible nature of the disease (which affected cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats), the government banned all exports of live animals, meat, and dairy products in an effort to mitigate the spread of the disease and on February 24, mass slaughtering of pigs and cattle began.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] Later that same year, the tourist industry estimated that businesses lost nearly £250 million ($421 million U.S. dollars).[ref]Ibid.[/ref]

In the developing world, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS[ref]UNICEF. “Immunization: Why Children Are Dying.” Accessed on March 19, 2014.[/ref] are some of the primary causes of death, especially among children. This is in part attributable to socioeconomic factors that prevent people from having access to routine health services and immunizations. Poor nutrition and unsanitary living conditions also place people at-risk. In Africa, the death rate among children from measles, a viral respiratory disease, has reached an average rate of one per minute.[ref]Ibid.[/ref]  Measles weakens the child’s immune system, rendering them susceptible to further fatal complications such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] Yet, in the developed regions of the world, measles is commonly treated through immunizations.

Tetanus, an infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani (which is ubiquitous in the soil),[ref]Medical News Today. “What is Tetanus? What Causes Tetanus?” Last modified Sept. 4, 2009. Accessed on March 19, 2014. [/ref] is common in developing areas that continue to practice unsanitary medical techniques during procedures such as child birth, circumcision, and use of contaminated medical bandages during such procedures.[ref]UNICEF. “Immunization: Why Children Are Dying.” Accessed on March 19, 2014.[/ref] [ref] Medical News Today. “What is Tetanus? What Causes Tetanus?” Last modified Sept. 4, 2009. Accessed on March 19, 2014.[/ref] While proper sanitary resources are scarce in these regions, it is evident that the lack of supplies is not the only cause of disease transmission as proper sanitation techniques could have mitigated transmission. Due to the lack of education and misinformation regarding public health, sanitation, and the mechanisms of disease transmission, the spread of infectious diseases like tetanus continues.

Developed countries are also susceptible to infectious disease outbreaks despite modern medical advances and technology. Disease outbreaks in developed regions have been due in part to the misconceptions of vaccines and anti-bacterial drugs that have been used to deter the spread of infectious diseases. While some individuals have the perception that antibiotics are a “cure-all” drug, their effectiveness is only on infections caused by bacteria, not viruses. When improperly used (for example- taking when they are not needed, ingesting the wrong type of antibiotic or one that is not of the proper dose), the bacterial cells that survive can result in reinfection or the emergence of an antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacteria.[ref]Mayo Clinic. “Antibiotics: Misuse Puts You and Others at Greater Risk.” Last  Modified 2014. Accessed March 20, 2014.[/ref] [ref]Koo, Ingrid., “The Truth About Antibiotics.” 6 Nov. 2008. 6 Apr. 2014.[/ref] This was evident in the recent reemergence of pertussis, also known as “Whooping Cough,” in the mid-1970s when Great Britain, Sweden and Japan reduced their usage of the pertussis vaccine as there was a common fear of vaccinations. The effect was immediate and drastic- there were over 100,000 cases and 36 deaths in Great Britain, 13,000 cases and 41 deaths in Japan, and 3,200 cases in Sweden.[ref]Center for Disease Control. “Some Common Misconceptions About Vaccination and How to Respond to Them.” Last modified Feb. 18, 2011. Accessed on March 19, 2014.[/ref] The United States witnessed a similar outbreak in the northwest region of the country in 2012, when over 17,000 cases emerged shortly after an increased rate of vaccine refusals for pertussis.[ref]Forbes. “Anti-Vaccine Movement Causes The Worst Whooping Cough Epidemic in 70 Years.” Last Modified July 23, 2012. Accessed on March 19, 2014.[/ref] While no vaccine is 100% effective, it is evident that popular misconceptions regarding infectious diseases and their spread can have detrimental repercussions on the populace and need to be addressed head-on.

Education, early detection, and access to are all essential in containing and preventing the spread of disease in a globalized society. Myths and misconceptions have hindered the effectiveness of vaccinations, as individuals have become skeptical of their effectiveness. However, vaccinations can drastically reduce the chances of contracting many diseases.[ref]Mayo Clinic. “Infectious Diseases.” Last modified    Jan. 23, 2013. Accessed on May 23, 2014.[/ref] Additionally, developing and utilizing programs that educate the public regarding the implications of infectious diseases and treatments pertaining to them, the spread of disease is likely to be significantly reduced.

Infectious disease outbreaks are a significant threat to global health security and thus have the potential to impact nearly every facet of daily life. Even in an era of medical advancements, increased sanitary practices, and knowledge of microbes, infectious diseases are still prevalent throughout the world. While having better medical practices and medicines available is beneficial in combating the transmission of infectious diseases, there is no substitute for better public health education.


Brittany Linkous is a graduate of King University with a double major in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Political Science and History, and a minor in Security and Intelligence Studies. While at King, she served as Executive Officer of the King Security and Intelligence Studies Group and Executive Editor of the Security and Intelligence Studies Journal. She also interned in Washington, DC, at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University, and the Federation of American Scientists. In the fall of 2014, Brittany will be entering the Biodefense Program at George Mason University.