A Paper by Kennette Benedict on Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
January 1, 2004 | Commentary | International Peace & Security

Originally published in the Bulletin of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation in January 2004, Director of the International Peace and Security program Kennette Benedict talks about nuclear non-proliferation. 

These are dismal times for those of us who are interested in reducing the dangers from weapons of mass destruction. The catalogue of conditions and trends contributing to increased risks is long: unsecured nuclear materials in Russia and in research facilities around the world; a U.S. nuclear posture that maintains weapons in a high state of launch readiness, that abjures a no-first-use policy, and that calls for the development of new and smaller nuclear weapons; continuing tensions in South Asia that could trigger the use of nuclear weapons; and concerns about additional states acquiring nuclear weapons capacity. Added to these are the emerging concerns about dangerous pathogens and their release from academic research labs, pharmaceutical firms, and government programs, whether by error or by terror. The world seems to be fairly bristling with weapons at a time of fluidity in international relations and of new forms of terrorist attacks that exacerbate a sense of uncertainty and danger.

In light of these conditions, this may be a good time to take stock of the range of organizations, projects, and funders that address the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. The purpose of this brief overview is to take note of recent successes, to identify the difficult challenges ahead in the face of fluctuating and scarce financial resources, and to suggest ways forward that address some of the perils at the intersection of global political violence and the use of weapons of mass destruction.


The most extraordinary success over the past fifteen years has been the peaceful ending of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It surely could have been otherwise. But as Avis Bohlen argues in The Rise and Fall of Arms Control,[1] the arms control agreements and negotiating processes put in place over the past forty years (and many the result of advice from non-governmental groups and advisors) provided stability for the reductions in nuclear weapons that have occurred since the fall of the Berlin wall. They were the framework in which the U.S. administration could take unilateral action in the face of Russia's collapse, and could reassure Russian leaders about U.S. intentions. Perhaps even more important for the developing relationship between the two countries, the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction Program put in place a new approach to international security that provides for joint activities to dismantle nuclear weapons, to account for fissile material, and to safeguard weapons and material in Russia. While by no means perfect, and chronically underfunded, this Program is as innovative at the end of the Cold War as the Marshall Plan was at the end of World War II.

Senator Richard Lugar and former Senator Sam Nunn rightly take credit for the introduction and passage of the legislation that brought the Program into being, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry and his team conducted the negotiations that put the Program in place in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. But the conceptual development, as well as the continued monitoring of the Program, is the work of policy researchers supported with private funding. Carnegie Corporation, Ploughshares Fund, MacArthur Foundation, and others have provided financial support to scholars and analysts from Brookings Institution, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and elsewhere to help mount this effort. The nearly US$8 billion government Program has dismantled over 6,000 nuclear warheads so far, secured about 20% of nuclear warheads and material in Russia, and provided support to nuclear scientists there to stabilize employment in the weapons complex. Not a bad return for about $2 million in philanthropic investment.

The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program is a tangible result of the efforts of arms control analysts and organizations. As important to the peaceful ending of the cold war, however, were the exchanges between West and East that created channels for communication during even the most hostile years of the cold war. Groups like the Pugwash Conferences on Science and International Affairs that brought together scientists from the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and European Nuclear Disarmament (END) that helped civil society leaders build contacts with counterparts throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are important examples. These and many other efforts were supported with private funding, from foundations and individuals.[2]

In the 1990s, organizations like Physicians for Social Responsibility, Council for a Livable World, and others, mobilized constituents to support a U.S. moratorium on nuclear weapons testing. While not as binding as a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has not come into force, the moratorium was a step toward reducing the likelihood of future weapons development. Likewise, the permanent renewal of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995 was a result, in part, of the efforts of such organizations as the Program for Promoting Nuclear Non-Proliferation and the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers. These accomplishments were pragmatic steps, whether unilateral or multilateral, that have helped to reduce nuclear dangers.


These policy victories have enhanced U.S. and international security, and have continued to reinforce international norms against the use of nuclear weapons. In the current policy environment, however, such accomplishments seem to pale in the face of terrorist attacks by non-state groups bent on political violence, the lingering legacy of nuclear weapons from the cold war, and the challenge of revised U.S. policies that seem to favor a greater role for military force in international relations, and even a greater role for nuclear weapons.

This first challenge — of a heightened sense of threat and rapid change in U.S. government policy — has stimulated rethinking in the arms control community and among private donors in the field. For example, several projects initiated by U.S. foundations have brought the leaders of policy institutes, advocacy organizations, and citizens groups together to talk about strategy and the messages to be used to meet a second challenge ‑ to inform policymakers and educate citizens about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and the possible consequences if they were to be used by non-state groups bent on political violence.[3] These efforts have acknowledged the need to develop clearer messages about the risks of dangerous weapons and of increased reliance on military force in U.S. relations with others, and about the need for all countries to abide by international law. They also make the link between security and the safety of individuals from attack by terrorists, and talk about the financial costs of the current war on terror.

In general, the focus on strengthening public education has been based on a well-founded view that the underlying policy research — the analysis of proposals for new weapons systems and the monitoring of existing obligations — is excellent. The goal is to get the results of the policy analysis, and the policy proposals that issue from it, out to a broader public. One way to meet the challenge is to foster greater communication and coordination among existing peace and security organizations and groups, so that the collection of organizations addressing peace and security issues works in synchrony to produce a larger effect than they each would separately.

Third, in addition to the challenges of world events and changing U.S. government policy, and the recognized need for greater coordination among policy analysts, advocates, and activists, philanthropic funding for peace and security organizations has been fluctuating over the past three years. Some of the fluctuation can be attributed to the vagaries of the stock market, and some of it to the departure from the funding field of one or two crucial foundations. These fluctuations coupled with standard practices in grantmaking have resulted in perceptions of scarcity and have contributed even further to a sense of disarray in the policy field.

First, the most recent change in the field was the departure in 2000 of the W. Alton Jones Foundation as a major funder of peace and security organizations; the Foundations annual giving contributed about $10 to $12 million to an estimated total of about $40 million annually for the whole field. At about the same time, the Merck Fund shifted its priorities away from peace and security. In the mid-1990s other changes included the loss of about $1 million per year from the Rockefeller Foundation, and an increase in Ford Foundation funding for grass-roots advocacy and policy analysis in peace and security in the U.S.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative had made substantial financial commitments to reducing the dangers from nuclear weapons, with initial funding at about $50 million per year beginning in 2001 and by 2003 at about $25 million per year. While this was a welcome commitment, the grants were often used for projects that directly reduced the supply of nuclear weapons material, such as the operation to move highly-enriched uranium from research laboratories in the former Yugoslavia. Fewer grants than originally anticipated found their way to non-governmental organizations in the U.S. that had been working on policy change. With the plunge in stock prices, especially after September 11, 2001, private foundations remaining in the field have not been able to increase their grantmaking budgets, and certainly have not been in a position to make up for the shortfall from W. Alton Jones departure.

Second, the standard operating modes of foundations may have contributed, as well, to a perception of scarcity. Recently foundations have been pressing more vigorously for demonstrable results. More often than in the past they have also been providing grants for projects rather than for general operating support. These trends lead organizations to spend more time telling their stories to donors and listing results, and more time writing proposals for each one- to three-year project grant. But the yield for this increased effort may be less than in the past, and certainly less for the organization as a whole. For organizations that are dependent on foundation support, project-based funding can result in a hollowed out organization with diminishing capacity to generate income in the future.

Furthermore, donor emphasis on measuring results may lead to greater competition among organizations in a field, and an emphasis on identifying and achieving goals that distinguish each organization from its competitors for funding. The press for distinctiveness may further lead organizations to develop goals and ways of operating that are self-consciously different from their peers; in turn, this dynamic may lead organizations, even very small ones, to resist merging with others, even in the face of an overall reduction in funding and an overwhelming policy challenge. This dispersion of resources and effort can lead to a creative pluralism, but lack of resource concentration can also result in scattered efforts that do not effectively move policy analysis into policymaking processes.

As a solution to these problems I am not suggesting that organizations should no longer be accountable to grantmakers and to a broader public. On the contrary, we would all agree that as public trusts, grantmaking and grant receiving organizations have an obligation to ensure that funds are well-spent. We need to be transparent in our operations and should develop measures of success and accountability. But given the perverse incentives that these pressures create, it may be useful to address the issues of public accountability together, finding ways to measure effectiveness that provide confidence, that strengthen funded organizations, and that spur action to further achievements.

A final challenge has been to develop new leadership in the peace and security field. There is a perception that the waning of the Cold War has been accompanied by a waning of interest in issues of peace and security, or at least in the more traditional issues of arms control and disarmament. The energetic leadership that some see in the environmental, peacebuilding, or human rights fields appears to be lacking in arms control and security areas. Whatever the reasons may have been, until September 11, 2001, it was difficult to get the public's attention about national security and international security policies. Now we have their attention, but the leadership to provide alternative interpretations of events and new ideas for policy seems thin.

Some of the energetic leadership on issues of national security and foreign policy is emerging in presidential election politics in the U.S. Several candidates are focusing on these issues, and are providing a channel for citizen expression and an organization for mobilizing discontent with current U.S. policy. Whatever the outcome of the election, this organizational capacity may provide the base for citizen involvement and leadership development in the future.

Private philanthropy has no role in this kind of partisan leadership development; we are prohibited from supporting candidates or campaigns, so this is an area where we cannot be helpful. There may be other ways, however, that foundations can contribute to the reorientation of national and international security policy whatever the outcome of the presidential elections.

Future Prospects

As we look beyond the next U.S. election, foundations will be useful in four areas: 1) strengthening existing institutions and organizations; 2) supporting new citizens organizations that may emerge after 2004; 3) providing incentives to bring new and younger academics and professionals into the peace and security field; and 4) identifying and funding promising new perspectives on international peace and security.

To strengthen organizations will likely require more continuous and longer-term funding from foundations, but will also require increased communication and more systematic coordination among existing organizations. We are all looking for ways to consolidate efforts to make them more effective, especially in the face of relatively scarce financial resources.

New citizens organizations, and new leadership may be spawned in the process of the U.S. presidential contest. Interest in national and international security issues has increased with the war in Iraq; some of the presidential candidates are speaking to these issues, and the networks they leave behind after the election may be the ones that could take shape as nonpartisan citizens groups on peace and security issues. How to support this interest and to continue citizen education on these issues will be a task that many will want to take up. It may be a time to draw new donors into the field, and to take advantage of the momentum generated during an election year.

Although most foundations in the field of international peace and security, at one time or another, have sought to bring new scholars, scientists, and professionals into the field, Ford and MacArthur have played the most significant roles over the past thirty years. Recently, the MacArthur Foundation announced a new Initiative in Science, Technology and Security that will encourage scientists, engineers, and other technical specialists to apply their knowledge to international peace and security. Funding for major university-based centers in the U.S., China, Russia, Europe, and elsewhere, will be used to establish tenure-track positions that provide careers for scientists who wish to address security policy issues in their research, teaching, and public education. In addition, MacArthur is seeking ways to bring that expertise more directly into the policy process — by supporting senior scientists as advisors to the U.S. State Department, and by creating a new center in Washington on Science, Technology and Security Policy. MacArthur also believes that interaction and exchange among science and security specialists in different countries is essential to sound policymaking. Peace and security are by their nature international issues, ones that all countries and peoples have a stake in. So we seek to increase research links and professional relationships among science, technology, and security specialists in key countries around the world.

The analysis conducted by U.S. policy institutes and non-governmental organizations is sophisticated and enjoys a high reputation for accuracy and credibility. Yet these demanding times in international relations may require radical thinking and experimentation with new orientations to the issues. While it is not possible to predict which new approaches will be most effective, questions can be posed that might provoke a recasting of existing arguments and a search for new knowledge. For example:

  • How can the U.S. use its primacy to enhance its security?
  • What are the security needs and conditions that require the legitimate use of force? 
  • Is there a duty to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; is it related to the responsibility to protect societies from massive violations of human rights and genocide?
  • Who decides when these responsibilities and duties should be acted upon? What are the requirements and perils, and what may be the unintended consequences of such action?
  • What are the connections among homeland security, national security, and international security?
  • What are the costs and benefits of unilateral action? And how do these compare to the costs and benefits of multilateral action?

There are many more questions that need answering, and many perspectives that can be brought to bear to meet the challenges of this new era in international relations; these are merely suggestions of issues that may need attention.

Finally, in addressing these questions, researchers, activists, advocates, and funders will seek answers in collaboration with their colleagues and counterparts in many other countries. It is tempting to believe that, in this era, when the U.S. enjoys relative primacy based on its military, economic, political, and social power, U.S. activists and researchers will also be the ones to have the answers to these questions. In fact, we in the U.S. need others even more than ever to open our eyes to ourselves, to understand the effects that U.S. policies and the projection of our values may be having on other societies. And we need our international collaborators to help fashion new habits of thought.

[1] Avis Bohlen, The Rise and Fall of Arms Control, Survival Vol 45 No. 3, Autumn 2003, pp. 7-34.

[2] Matthew Evangelista in Unarmed Forces. The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War (2000) describes some of these activities, as does John Tirman inHow We Ended the Cold War in The Nation, November 1, 1999.

[3] Ford Foundation, Ploughshares Fund, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Proteus Fund have convened a number of meetings over the past year in structured conversations of new strategies in peace and security. These are still in progress, so final reports are not yet available.

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