Impactful Grantees and the Right Political Conditions
February 1, 2021 | Perspectives | Nuclear Challenges

Valerie Chang, Managing Director of Programs, Theo Kalionzes and Angela Schlater, Senior Program Officers, Nuclear Challenges, reflect on the deep impact of grantees and the effects of the political landscape on strategic goals.


As we look ahead in this new year, we are cautiously hopeful, even amid continuing challenges and upcoming changes.

With a new U.S. President and Administration, we expect work to control the pandemic to be job number one. But we also expect to see a more supportive U.S. policy stance that will treat the issue of nuclear risk seriously, de-escalate tensions, especially with Russia and Iran, re-engage the United States in global diplomacy, and prioritize stronger international cooperation. While there are many nuclear challenges facing President Biden and his team, we anticipate a steady approach, which will be a marked—and welcome—departure from the past four years.

MacArthur grantees are having a deep and critical impact on the nuclear field, and success towards our goals is only possible with the right political conditions.

Along with changes in the external environment, our Nuclear Challenges grantmaking strategy is evolving. Over the past year, as many of our grantee partners and colleagues know, we have been engaged in a review of our strategy. As part of our institutional way of working, we strive for ongoing learning, including periodic strategy reviews where we examine our assumptions and activities; reflect on the context for our work and how that has evolved over time; and identify progress and contributions toward our desired strategic goals.

Through this process, and through the work of our independent evaluation and learning partner, ORS Impact, we have learned much about our work over the past five years, which we are eager to share with the nuclear community. Thanks to the reflections and insights from grantee partners and field experts, who participated in interviews, surveys, small-group discussions, and consultations, we have gathered and analyzed a tremendous amount of data and information. We also benefited from media, narrative, and legislative analyses, and we have heard directly from our many partners, colleagues, and co-funders about our collaborative and collective efforts, our shared aspirations for a more peaceful world, and the vexing challenges facing the nuclear field at this time.

This review had two key findings: that MacArthur grantees are having a deep and critical impact on the nuclear field, and success towards our goals is only possible with the right political conditions.

It is clear our grantees’ efforts have contributed to a reservoir of credible policy solutions regarding nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use within the United States and among a range of key countries.

It is clear our grantees’ efforts have contributed to a reservoir of credible policy solutions regarding nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use within the United States and among a range of key countries. These solutions have reached senior staff in Congress and the White House. Our grantees also have helped keep bilateral and multilateral communication and dialogue channels open; these have been especially important during a time of strain and challenges in the international security context. Our investments have helped civil society actors in the field build capacity and continue to have an important voice in policy-related processes.

The review also reaffirmed how much the progress of our strategy depends on the political context. The actions of the previous Administration, such as the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Treaty on Open Skies, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the refusal to renew New START, all signaled a disregard for the treaties, agreements, and norms that are aligned with and uphold the nuclear regime. These actions made it impossible to reduce nuclear risk in recent years. The election of President Biden bodes well for re-setting this context, but it is likely not enough to make substantial strides in the timeline for our Big Bet strategy.

The accomplishments of the Nuclear Challenges strategy over the last five years are meaningful, and we look forward to sharing more soon about how we will support and strengthen the nuclear field over the next few years, even as that looks different from what we have done in the past.

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