The U.S. Worldwide Threat Assessment Includes Warnings of Cyber Attacks, Nuclear Weapons, Climate Change, etc.

Last Thursday – just one day before the WannaCry ransomware attack would shut down 16 hospitals in the UK and ultimately hit hundreds of thousands of organizations and individuals in over 150 countries – the Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, released the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community.

Large-scale cyber attacks are among the first risks cited in the document, which warns that “cyber threats also pose an increasing risk to public health, safety, and prosperity as cyber technologies are integrated with critical infrastructure in key sectors.”

Perhaps the other most prescient, or at least well-timed, warning in the document relates to North Korea’s ambitions to create nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Coats writes:

“Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States; it has publicly displayed its road-mobile ICBMs on multiple occasions. We assess that North Korea has taken steps toward fielding an ICBM but has not flight-tested it.”

This past Sunday, North Korea performed a missile test launch, which many experts believe shows considerable progress toward the development of an ICBM. Though the report hints this may be less of an actual threat from North Korea and more for show. “We have long assessed that Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy,” says Coats in the report.

More Nuclear Threats

The Assessment also addresses the potential of nuclear threats from China and Pakistan. China “continues to modernize its nuclear missile force by adding more survivable road-mobile systems and enhancing its silo-based systems. This new generation of missiles is intended to ensure the viability of China’s strategic deterrent by providing a second-strike capability.” In addition, China is also working to develop “its first long-range, sea-based nuclear capability.”

Meanwhile, though Pakistan’s nuclear program doesn’t pose a direct threat to the U.S., advances in Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities could risk further destabilization along the India-Pakistan border.

The report warns: “Pakistan’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons potentially lowers the threshold for their use.” And of the ongoing conflicts between Pakistan and India, it says, “Increasing numbers of firefights along the Line of Control, including the use of artillery and mortars, might exacerbate the risk of unintended escalation between these nuclear-armed neighbors.”

This could be especially problematic because “early deployment during a crisis of smaller, more mobile nuclear weapons would increase the amount of time that systems would be outside the relative security of a storage site, increasing the risk that a coordinated attack by non-state actors might succeed in capturing a complete nuclear weapon.”

Even a small nuclear war between India and Pakistan could trigger a nuclear winter that could send the planet into a mini ice age and starve an estimated 1 billion people.

Artificial Intelligence

Nukes aren’t the only weapons the government is worried about. The report also expresses concern about the impact of artificial intelligence on weaponry: “Artificial Intelligence (Al) is advancing computational capabilities that benefit the economy, yet those advances also enable new military capabilities for our adversaries.”

Coats worries that AI could negatively impact other aspects of society, saying, “The implications of our adversaries’ abilities to use AI are potentially profound and broad. They include an increased vulnerability to cyber attack, difficulty in ascertaining attribution, facilitation of advances in foreign weapon and intelligence systems, the risk of accidents and related liability issues, and unemployment.”

Space Warfare

But threats of war are not expected to remain Earth-bound. The Assessment also addresses issues associated with space warfare, which could put satellites and military communication at risk.

For example, the report warns that “Russia and China perceive a need to offset any US military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems and are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine.”

The report also adds that “the global threat of electronic warfare (EW) attacks against space systems will expand in the coming years in both number and types of weapons.” Coats expects that EW attacks will “focus on jamming capabilities against dedicated military satellite communications” and against GPS, among others.

Environmental Risks & Climate Change

Plenty of global threats do remain Earth-bound though, and not all are directly related to military concerns. The government also sees environmental issues and climate change as potential threats to national security.

The report states, “The trend toward a warming climate is forecast to continue in 2017. … This warming is projected to fuel more intense and frequent extreme weather events that will be distributed unequally in time and geography. Countries with large populations in coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to tropical weather events and storm surges, especially in Asia and Africa.”

In addition to rising temperatures, “global air pollution is worsening as more countries experience rapid industrialization, urbanization, forest burning, and agricultural waste incineration, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). An estimated 92 percent of the world’s population live in areas where WHO air quality standards are not met.”

According to the Assessment, biodiversity loss will also continue to pose an increasing threat to humanity. The report suggests global biodiversity “will likely continue to decline due to habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, and invasive species, … disrupting ecosystems that support life, including humans.”

The Assessment goes on to raise concerns about the rate at which biodiversity loss is occurring. It says, “Since 1970, vertebrate populations have declined an estimated 60 percent … [and] populations in freshwater systems declined more than 80 percent. The rate of species loss worldwide is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than the natural background extinction rate.”

Other Threats

The examples above are just a sampling of the risks highlighted in the Assessment. A great deal of the report covers threats of terrorism, issues with Russia, China and other regional conflicts, organized crime, economics, and even illegal fishing. Overall, the report is relatively accessible and provides a quick summary of the greatest known risks that could threaten not only the U.S., but also other countries in 2017. You can read the report in its entirety here.

Forget the Cold War – Experts say Nuclear Weapons Are a Bigger Risk Today

Until recently, many Americans believed that nuclear weapons don’t represent the same threat as during the Cold War. However, recent events and aggressive posturing between nuclear nations —especially the U.S., Russia, and North Korea—has increased public awareness and concern. These fears were addressed at a recent MIT conference on nuclear weapons.

“The possibility of a nuclear bomb going off is greater today than 20 years ago,” said Ernest Moniz, former Secretary of Energy and a keynote speaker.

California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, another keynote speaker, recently returned from a trip to South Korea and Japan. Of the trip, she said, “We went to the DMZ, and I saw how close to nuclear war we really are.”

Lee suggested that if we want to eliminate nuclear weapons once and for all, this is the time to do it. At the very least, she argued for a common sense nuclear policy of “no first use,” that is, the U.S. won’t launch the first nuclear strike.

“We must prevent the president from launching nuclear weapons without a declaration from Congress,” Lee said.

Under current U.S. nuclear policy, the President is the only person who can launch a nuclear weapon, and no one else’s input is necessary. This policy was adapted, at least in part, to ensure the safety and usability of the land-based arm of the nuclear triad (the other two arms are air- and sea-based).

During the Cold War, the fear was that, if Russia were to attack the U.S., it would first target the land-based missiles in an attempt to limit their use during war. To protect these weapons, the U.S. developed an advanced-warning system that could notify military personnel of an incoming strike, giving the president just enough time to launch the land-based missiles in response.

Weapons launched from Russia would take about 30 minutes to reach the U.S. That means that, in 30 minutes, the warning system must pick up the signal of incoming missiles. Then, personnel must confirm that the warning is accurate, and not an error – which has happened many times. And by the time the information reaches the President, he’ll have around 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a retaliation.

Lisbeth Gronlund with the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out that not only does this time frame put us at greater risk of an accidental launch, but “cyber attacks are a new unknown.” As a result, she’s also concerned that the risk of a nuclear launch is greater today than during the Cold War.

“If we eliminate our land-based missiles and base our deterrence on nuclear submarines and bombers, which are safe from a Russian attack, then we eliminate the risk of nuclear war caused by false alarms and rushed decisions,” said MIT physics professor Max Tegmark.

But even with growing risks, people who are concerned about nuclear weapons still feel they must compete for public attention with groups who are worried about climate change and income inequality and women’s rights issues. Jonathan King, a molecular biologist at MIT who has worked to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, emphasized that the idea of competition is the wrong approach. Rather, the cost of and government focus on nuclear weapons actually prevents us from dealing with these other issues.

“The reason we don’t have these things is because tax dollars are going to things like nuclear weapons,” King explained, arguing that if we could free up money that’s currently allotted for nukes, we could finally address technological costs of solving climate problems or building better infrastructure.

The 2017 budget for the Unites States calls for an increase in military spending of $54 billion. However, as William Hartung, a nuclear weapons and military spending expert explained, the current U.S. budget is already larger than the next eight countries combined. And just the proposed increase in spending for 2017 exceeds the total military spending for almost all countries.

The United States nuclear arsenal, itself, requires tens of billions of dollars per year, and the U.S. currently plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to upgrade the nuclear arsenal to be better suited for a first strike. Burning $1 million per hour for the next 30 years would cost roughly a quarter of this budget, leading Hartung to suggest that “burning the money is a better investment.”

Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons summed up all of these concerns, saying, “[it] feels like we’re playing with matches outside an explosives factory.”

Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War 2017

Spring Conference at MIT, Saturday, May 6

The growing hostility between the US and Russia — and with North Korea and Iran — makes it more urgent than ever to reduce the risk of nuclear war, as well as to rethink plans to spend a trillion dollars replacing US nuclear weapons with new ones that will be more suited for launching a first-strike. Nuclear war can be triggered intentionally or through miscalculation — terror or error — and this conference aims to advocate and organize toward reducing and ultimately eliminating this danger.

This one-day event includes lunch as well as food for thought from a great speaker lineup, including Iran-deal broker Ernie Moniz (MIT, fmr Secretary of Energy), California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Lisbeth Gronlund (Union of Concerned Scientists), Joe Cirincione (Ploughshares), our former congressman John Tierney, MA state reps Denise Provost and Mike Connolly, and Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons. It is not an academic conference, but rather one that addresses the political and economic realities, and attempts to stimulate and inform the kinds of social movement needed to change national policy. The focus will be on concrete steps we can take to reduce the risks.


8:45 AM – Registration and coffee

9:15 AM – Welcome from City of Cambridge: Mayor Denise Simmons

9:30 AM – Program for the Day: Prof. Jonathan King (MIT, Peace Action)

9:45 AM – Session I. The Pressing Need for Nuclear Disarmament

– Costs and Profits from Nuclear Weapons Manufacture: William Hartung (Center for International Policy).

– Reasons to Reject the Trillion Dollar Nuclear Weapons Escalation: Joseph Cirincione (Ploughshares Fund).

– Nuclear Weapons Undermine Democracy: Prof. Elaine Scarry (Harvard University)

10:45 AM – Session II. Destabilizing Factors

Chair: Prof. Frank Von Hippel (Princeton University)

– Dangers of Hair Trigger Alert: Lisbeth Gronlund (Union of Concerned Scientists).

– Nuclear Modernization vs. National Security: Prof. Aron Bernstein (MIT, Council for a Livable World).

– Accidents and Unexpected Events: Prof. Max Tegmark (MIT, Future of Life Institute).

– International Tensions and Risks of further Nuclear Proliferation: TBA.

12:00 PM – Lunch Workshops (listed below)

2:00 PM – Session III. Economic and Social Consequences of Excessive Weapons Spending

Chair: Prof. Melissa Nobles (MIT):

– Build Housing Not Bombs: Rev. Paul Robeson Ford (Union Baptist Church).

– Education as a National Priority: Barbara Madeloni (Mass Teachers Association).

– Invest in Minds Not Missiles: Prof. Jonathan King (MIT, Mass Peace Action).

– Build Subways Not Submarines: Fred Salvucci (former Secretary of Transportation).

3:00 PM – Session IV. Current Prospects for Progress

Chair: John Tierney (former US Representative, Council for a Livable World)

– House Steps Toward Nuclear Disarmament: U. S. Representative Barbara Lee.

– Maintaining the Iran Nuclear Agreement: Ernie Moniz (MIT, former Secretary of Energy).

4:15 PM – Session V. Organizing to Reduce the Dangers

Chair: Jim Anderson (President, Peace Action New York State):

– Divesting from Nuclear Weapons Investments: Susi Snyder (Don’t Bank on the Bomb).

– Taxpayers Information and Transparency Acts: State Reps Denise Provost/Mike Connolly.

– Mobilizing the Scientific Community: Prof. Max Tegmark (MIT, Future of Life Institute).

– A National Nuclear Disarmament Organizing Network 2017 -2018: Program Committee.

5:00 PM – Adjourn

Conference Workshops:

a) Campus Organizing – Chair: Kate Alexander (Peace Action New York State); Caitlin Forbes (Mass Peace Action); Remy Pontes (Brandeis University); Haleigh Copley-Cunningham (Tufts U), Lucas Perry (Don’t Bank on the Bomb, Future of Life Institute); MIT Students (Nuclear Weapons Matter).

b) Bringing nuclear weapons into physics and history course curricula – Chair: Frank Davis (past President of TERC); Prof. Gary Goldstein (Tufts University); Prof. Aron Bernstein (MIT); Prof. Vincent Intondi (American University); Ray Matsumiya (Oleander Initiative, University of the Middle East Project).

c) Dangerous Conflicts – Chair, Erica Fein (Women’s Action for New Directions); Jim Walsh (MT Security Studies Program); John Tierney (former US Representative, Council for a Livable World); Subrata Ghoshroy (MIT); Arnie Alpert (New Hampshire AFSC).

d) Municipal and State Initiatives – Chair: Cole Harrison (Mass Peace Action); Rep. Denise Provost (Mass State Legislature); Councilor Dennis Carlone (Cambridge City Councillor and Architect/Urban Designer); Jared Hicks (Our Revolution); Prof. Ceasar McDowell (MIT Urban Studies); Nora Ranney (National Priorities Project).

e) Peace with Justice: People’s Budget and Related Campaigns to Shift Federal budget Priorities – Chair: Andrea Miller (People Demanding Action); Rep. Mike Connolly (Mass State Legislature); Paul Shannon (AFSC); Madelyn Hoffman (NJPA); Richard Krushnic (Mass Peoples Budget Campaign).

f) Reducing Nuclear Weapons through Treaties and Negotiation – Chair: Prof. Nazli Choucri (MIT), Kevin Martin (National Peace Action); Shelagh Foreman (Mass Peace Action); Joseph Gerson (AFSC); Michel DeGraff (MIT Haiti Project).

g) Strengthening the Connection between Averting Climate Change and Averting Nuclear War – Chair: Prof. Frank Von Hippel (Princeton University); Ed Aquilar (Pennsylvania Peace Action); Geoffrey Supran (Fossil Free MIT); Rosalie Anders (Mass Peace Action).

h) Working with Communities of Faith – Chair: Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas (MIT Radius); Rev. Herb Taylor (Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church); Pat Ferrone (Mass Pax Christi); Rev. Paul Robeson Ford (Union Baptist Church).


50 Vassar St. Building #34 Rm 101
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02139


By Red Line: Exit the Kendall Square Red Line Station and walk west (away from Boston) past Ames Street to Vassar Street. Turn left and walk halfway down Vassar to #50 MIT building 34 (broad stairs, set back entrance).

By #1 Bus: Exit in front of MIT Main Entrance. Walk 1/2 block back on Mass Ave to Vassar Street. Turn right and walk half block to #50 MIT Building 34 (broad stairs, set back entrance).

By car: Public Parking Structures are available nearby on Ames Street, between Main and Broadway. A smaller surface lot is on the corner of Mass Ave and Vassar St.


Kate Alexander

Kate Alexander – Alexander is a peace advocate and researcher with 10 years experience in community organizing. Her previous work experience includes war crimes research and assistance in a genocide trial in Bosnia and community peace-building work in Northern Uganda. She is a graduate of Brandeis University with a degree in International and Global Studies and a minor in Legal Studies. Kate is currently studying at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert – Alpert serves as AFSC’s New Hampshire co-director and co-coordinator of the Presidential Campaign Project, and has coordinated AFSC’s New Hampshire program since 1981. He is a leader in movements for economic justice and affordable housing, civil and worker rights, peace and disarmament, abolition of the death penalty, and an end to racism and homophobia.

Rosalie Anders

Rosalie Anders – Anders worked as an Associate Planner with the City of Cambridge’s Community Development Department, and is author of the city’s Pedestrian Plan, a set of guidelines intended to promote walking in the city. She has a Master’s degree in social work and worked as a family therapist for many years. She organizes around peace and environmental issues and is active with 350 Massachusetts. She chairs the Massachusetts Peace Action Education Fund board and co-founded our Climate and Peace Working Group in early 2016.

Ed Aquilar

Ed Aquilar – Ed Aguilar is director for the Coalition for Peace Action in the Greater Philadelphia region. After successful collaboration on the New START Treaty (2010), in 2012, he opened the Philadelphia CFPA office, and organized a Voting Rights campaign, to allow 50,000 college students to vote, who were being denied by the “PA Voter ID Law”, later reversed. Ed has worked on rallies and conferences at Friends Center; Temple, Philadelphia, and Drexel Universities; and the Philadelphia Ethical Society—on the climate crisis, drones, mass incarceration, nuclear disarmament, and diplomacy with Iran.


Aron Bernstein – Bernstein is a Professor of Physics Emeritus at MIT where he has been on the faculty since 1961. He has taught a broad range of physics courses from freshman to graduate level. His research program has been in nuclear and particle physics, with an emphasis on studying the basic symmetries of matter, and currently involves collaborations with University and government laboratories, and colleagues in many countries.

Dennis Carlone

Dennis Carlone – Carlone is currently serving his second term on the Cambridge City Council, where he has earned recognition as an advocate for social justice through his expertise in citywide planning, transit policy, and sustainability initiatives.


Nazli Choucri – Nazli Choucri is Professor of Political Science. Her work is in the area of international relations, most notably on sources and consequences of international conflict and violence. Professor Choucri is the architect and Director of the Global System for Sustainable Development (GSSD), a multi-lingual web-based knowledge networking system focusing on the multi-dimensionality of sustainability. As Principal Investigator of an MIT-Harvard multi-year project on Explorations in Cyber International Relations, she directed a multi-disciplinary and multi-method research initiative. She is Editor of the MIT Press Series on Global Environmental Accord and, formerly, General Editor of the International Political Science Review. She also previously served as the Associate Director of MIT’s Technology and Development Program.


Joseph Cirincione – Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He is the author of the new book Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats. He is a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s International Security Advisory Board and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mike Connolly

Mike Connolly – Connolly is an attorney and community organizer who proudly represents Cambridge and Somerville in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He is committed to social and economic justice and emphasizes the importance of broad investments in affordable housing, public transportation, early education, afterschool programs, and other critical services.

Haleigh Copley-Cunningham

Frank Davis

Michel DeGraff

Michel DeGraff – DeGraff is the Director of the MIT-Haiti Initiative, a Founding Member of Akademi Kreyol Ayisyen, and a Professor of Linguistics at MIT. His research interests include syntax, morphology, and language change and is the author of over 40 publications.

Erica Fein – Fein is WAND’s Nuclear Weapons Policy Director. In this capacity, she works with Congress, the executive branch, and the peace and security community on arms control, nonproliferation, and Pentagon and nuclear weapons budget reduction efforts. Previously, Erica served as a legislative assistant to Congressman John D. Dingell where she advised on national security, defense, foreign policy, small business, and veterans’ issues. Erica’s commentary has been published in the New York Times, Defense One, Defense News, The Hill, and the Huffington Post. She has also appeared on WMNF 88.5 in Tampa. Erica holds a M.A in International Security from the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies and a B.A. in International Studies from University of Wisconsin – Madison. She is a political partner at the Truman National Security Project. Erica can be found on Twitter @enfein.


Charles Ferguson – Ferguson has been the president of the Federation of American Scientists since January 1, 2010. From February 1998 to August 2000, Dr. Ferguson worked for FAS on nuclear proliferation and arms control issues as a senior research analyst. Previously, from 2002 to 2004, Dr. Ferguson had been with the Monterey Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) as its scientist-in-residence. At CNS, he co-authored the book The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism and was also lead author of the award-winning report “Commercial Radioactive Sources: Surveying the Security Risks,” which was published in January 2003 and was one of the first post-9/11 reports to assess the radiological dispersal device, or “dirty bomb,” threat. This report won the 2003 Robert S. Landauer Lecture Award from the Health Physics Society. From June 2011 to October 2013, he served as Co-Chairman of the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group, organized by the Mansfield Foundation, FAS, and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. In May 2011, his book Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know was published by Oxford University Press. In 2013, he was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his work in educating the public and policy makers about nuclear issues. Dr. Ferguson received his undergraduate degree in physics from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, also in physics, from Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Pat Ferrone – Pat has been involved in peace and justice issues from a gospel nonviolent perspective for the past 40+ years. Currently, she acts as Co-coordinator of Pax Christi MA, a regional group of Pax Christi USA, the Catholic peace organization associated with Pax Christi International. Pax Christi, “grounded in the gospel and Catholic social teaching…rejects war, preparation for war, every form of violence and domination, and personal and systemic racism..we seek to model the Peace of Christi in our witness to the mandate of the nonviolence of the Cross.” She also chairs the St. Susanna Parish Pax Christi Committee, which recently sponsored two programs on the nuclear issue.


Caitlin Forbes – Forbes is the Student Outreach Coordinator for Massachusetts Peace Action, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to develop peaceful US policies. Before beginning her work with MAPA, Caitlin gained a strong background with students through her work as an instructor of first year literature at the University of Connecticut and as the assistant alpine ski coach for Brown University. Caitlin has received both her B.A. and her M.A. in Literature and focused her work on the intersection between US-Middle Eastern foreign policy and contemporary American literature.

Rev. Paul Robeson Ford

Rev. Paul Robeson Ford – The Rev. Paul Robeson Ford is the Senior Pastor of the Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Shortly after his third year at Union, he assumed leadership as Executive Director of the Boston Workers Alliance, a Roxbury-based grassroots organization dedicated to creating economic opportunity and winning criminal justice reform in Massachusetts; he served there until June 2016.
He received a Bachelor of Arts from Grinnell College and a Master of Divinity Degree from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago.

Shelagh Foreman

Shelagh Foreman – Shelagh is the program director of Massachusetts Peace Action. She was a founding member in the early 1980s of Mass Freeze, the statewide nuclear freeze organization, which merged with SANE to form Massachusetts Peace Action. She has worked consistently on nuclear disarmament and on bringing Peace Action’s message to our elected officials. She studied art at The Cooper Union and Columbia University, taught art and art history, and is a painter and printmaker. She represents MAPA on the Political Committee of Mass Alliance and is a core group member of 20/20 Action. She serves on the boards of Mass. Peace Action and Mass. Peace Action Ed Fund and on MAPA’s executive committee and is chair of MAPA’s Middle East Task Force. She has 5 children and 7 grandchildren and with her husband Ed Furshpan lives in Cambridge and also spends time in Falmouth.


Joseph Gerson – Gerson has served the American Friends Service committee since 1976 and is currently Director of Programs and Director of the Peace and Economic Security Program for the AFSC in New England. His program work focuses on challenging and overcoming U.S. global hegemony, its preparations for and threats to initiate nuclear war, and its military domination of the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

Subrata Ghoshroy – Ghoshroy is a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society. Before that, he was for many years a senior engineer in the field of high-energy lasers. He was also a professional staff member of the House National Security Committee and later a senior analyst with the Government Accountability Office.


Prof. Gary R. Goldstein is a theoretical physicist, specializing in high energy particle physics and nuclear physics. As a researcher, teacher and a long time member of Tufts Physics and Astronomy Department, he taught all levels of Physics course along with courses for non-scientists including Physics for Humanists, The Nuclear Age: History and Physics (with Prof. M. Sherwin – History), Physics of Music and Color. He is a political activist on nuclear issues, social equity, anti-war, and environmentalism. He spent several years working in the Program for Science, Technology and International Security and at University of Oxford Department of Theoretical Physics. He was also a Science Education researcher affiliated with the Tufts Education department and TERC, Cambridge, working with K-12 students and teachers in public schools. He is a member of the board of the Mass Peace Action fund for education. Over many years he has been giving talks for a general audience about the dangers of nuclear weapons and war.


Lisbeth Gronlund – Gronlund focuses on technical and policy issues related to nuclear weapons, ballistic missile defenses, and space weapons. She has authored numerous articles and reports, lectured on nuclear arms control and missile defense policy issues before lay and expert audiences, and testified before Congress. A long list of news organizations, including the New York Times and NPR, have cited Gronlund since she joined UCS in 1992.


Cole Harrison – Cole is Executive Director of Massachusetts Peace Action. He was on the coordinating committee of the 2012 Budget for All Massachusetts campaign, co-coordinates the People’s Budget Campaign, and leads Peace Action’s national Move the Money Working Group. He is a member of the planning committee of United for Justice with Peace (UJP) and coordinated the Afghanistan Working Group of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) from 2010 to 2012. Born in Delhi, India, he has a B.A. from Harvard in applied mathematics and a M.S. from Northeastern in computer science. He worked for the Symphony Tenants Organizing Project and the Fenway News in the 1970?s, participated in the Jamaica Plain Committee on Central America (JP COCA) in the 1980s, and worked as a software developer and manager at CompuServe Data Technologies, Praxis Inc., and before joining Peace Action in 2010. He lives in Roslindale, Massachusetts.

William Hartung

William Hartung – He is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books, 2011) and the co-editor, with Miriam Pemberton, of Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding the Next War (Paradigm Press, 2008). His previous books include And Weapons for All (HarperCollins, 1995), a critique of U.S. arms sales policies from the Nixon through Clinton administrations. From July 2007 through March 2011, Mr. Hartung was the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. Prior to that, he served as the director of the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute.

Madelyn Hoffman

Jared Hicks

Jared Hicks

Prof. Vincent Intondi

Thea Keith-Lucas

Thea Keith-Lucas – Keith-Lucas was raised on the campus of the University of the South in a family of scientists and engineers. She served as Curate to Trinity Church in Randolph, one of the most ethnically diverse parishes of the Diocese of Massachusetts, and then in 2007 was called as Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Danvers, where she initiated creative outreach efforts and facilitated a merger. Thea joined the staff of Radius in January 2013.


Jonathan A. King – King is professor of molecular biology at MIT, the author of over 250 scientific papers, and a specialist in protein folding. Prof. King is a former President of the Biophysical Society, former Guggenheim Fellow, and a recipient of MIT’s MLKJr Faculty Leadership Award. He was a leader in the mobilization of biomedical scientists to renounce the military use of biotechnology and strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention. He was a founder of a Jobs with Peace campaign in the 1980s and now chairs Massachusetts Peace Action’s Nuclear Weapons Abolition working group. He is also an officer of the Cambridge Residents Alliance and of Citizens for Public Schools.

Richard Krushnic

Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee – Lee is the U.S. Representative for California’s 13th congressional district, serving East Bay voters from 1998 to 2013 during a time when the region was designated California’s 9th congressional district. She is a member of the Democratic Party. She was the first woman to represent the 9th district and is also the first woman to represent the 13th district. Lee was the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and was the Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Lee is notable as the only member of either house of Congress to vote against the authorization of use of force following the September 11, 2001 attacks.[1] This made her a hero among many in the anti-war movement.[2] Lee has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and supports legislation creating a Department of Peace.

Kevin Martin – Martin, President of Peace Action and the Peace Action Education Fund, joined the staff on Sept 4, 2001. Kevin previously served as Director of Project Abolition, a national organizing effort for nuclear disarmament, from August 1999 through August 2001. Kevin came to Project Abolition after ten years in Chicago as Executive Director of Illinois Peace Action. Prior to his decade-long stint in Chicago, Kevin directed the community outreach canvass for Peace Action (then called Sane/Freeze) in Washington, D.C., where he originally started as a door-to-door canvasser with the organization in 1985. Kevin has traveled abroad representing Peace Action and the U.S. peace movement on delegations and at conferences in Russia, Japan, China, Mexico and Britain. He is married, with two children, and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Barbara Madeloni

Barbara Madeloni – Madeloni is president of the 110,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association and a staunch advocate for students and educators in the public schools and public higher education system in Massachusetts. She believes that strong unions led by rank-and-file members produce stronger public schools and communities. She is committed to racial and economic justice – and to building alliances with parents, students and communities – to secure a more just world.

Ray Matsumiya

Ray Matsumiya

Ceasar McDowell

Ceasar McDowell – McDowell is Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT. He holds an Ed.D. (88) and M.Ed. (84) from Harvard. McDowell’’s current work is on the development of community knowledge systems and civic engagement. He is also expanding his critical moments reflection methodology to identify, share and maintaining grassroots knowledge. His research and teaching interests also include the use of mass media and technology in promoting democracy and community-building, the education of urban students, the development and use of empathy in community work, civil rights history, peacemaking and conflict resolution. He is Director of the global civic engagement organization dropping knowledge international Dropping Knowledge International, MIT’s former Center for Reflective Community Practice (renamed Co-Lab) and co-founder of The Civil Rights Forum on Telecommunications Policy and founding Board member of The Algebra Project Algebra.

Andrea Miller

Ernie Moniz

Ernie Moniz – Moniz is an American nuclear physicist and the former United States Secretary of Energy, serving under U.S. President Barack Obama from May 2013 to January 2017. He served as the Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President of the United States from 1995 to 1997 and was Under Secretary of Energy from 1997 to 2001 during the Clinton Administration. Moniz is one of the founding members of The Cyprus Institute and has served at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, as the Director of the Energy Initiative, and as the Director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.

Melissa Nobles

Melissa Nobles – Nobles is Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her current research is focused on constructing a database of racial murders in the American South, 1930–1954. Working closely as a faculty collaborator and advisory board member of Northeastern Law School’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice law clinic, Nobles has conducted extensive archival research, unearthing understudied and more often, unknown racial murders and contributing to several legal investigations. She is the author of two books, Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics (Stanford University Press, 2000), The Politics of Official Apologies, (Cambridge University Press, 2008), and co-editor with Jun-Hyeok Kwak of Inherited Responsibility and Historical Reconciliation in East Asia (Routledge Press, 2013).

Remy Pontes


Lucas Perry – Perry is passionate about the role that science and technology will play in the evolution of all sentient life. He has studied at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal and while there he engaged in meditative retreats and practices. He is now working to challenge and erode our sense of self and our subject-object frame of reference. His current project explores how mereological nihilism and the illusion of self may contribute to forming a radically post-human consequentialist ethics. His other work seeks to resolve the conflicts between bio-conservatism and transhumanism.

Denise Provost

Denise Provost

John Ratliff – Ratliff was political director of an SEIU local union in Miami, Florida, and relocated to Cambridge after his retirement in 2012. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School. A Vietnam veteran and member of Veterans for Peace, he is a member of the coordinating committee of Massachusetts Senior Action’s Cambridge branch, and chair of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice’s Global Justice Task Force. As Mass. Peace Action’s economic justice coordinator he leads our coalition work with Raise Up Massachusetts for an increased minimum wage and sick time benefits, and against the Trans Pacific Partnership. He is the father of high school senior Daniel Bausher-Belton, who was an intern at Mass. Peace Action in summer 2013.

Fred Salvucci

Fred Salvucci – Salvucci, senior lecturer and senior research associate, is a civil engineer with interest in infrastructure, urban transportation and public transportation. He has over 30 years of contextual transportation experience, most of it in the public sector as former Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1983-1990) and transportation advisor to Boston Mayor Kevin White (1975-1978). Some of his notable achievements include shifting public focus from highway spending towards rail transit investment and spearheading the depression of the Central Artery in Boston. He has participated in the expansion of the transit system, the development of the financial and political support for the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, and the design of implementation strategies to comply with the Clean Air Act consistent with economic growth. Other efforts include formulation of noise rules to reverse the increase in aircraft noise at Logan Airport and development of strategies to achieve high-speed rail service between Boston and New York.


Elaine Scarry – Scarry is an American essayist and professor of English and American Literature and Language. She is the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University. Her books include The Body in Pain, Thermonuclear Monarchy, and On Beauty and Being Just.

Paul Shannon – Shannon is program staff for the Peace and Economic Security program of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Cambridge, hosts regular educational forums at the Cambridge Public Library for the AFSC and has coordinated the National AFSC Film Lending Library for the past 26 years. For over 3 decades he has been active in various peace, union, prison reform, solidarity, economic justice and human rights movements particularly the Vietnam anti-war movement, the 1970’s United Farm Workers movement, the South Africa anti-apartheid movement, the 1980’s Central America and Cambodia solidarity movements, the Haiti Solidarity movement of the early 90’s and the Afghanistan and Iraq anti-war movement. Paul has been teaching social science courses at colleges in the greater Boston area for the past 27 years. Since 1982 he has been teaching a course on the history of the Vietnam War at Middlesex Community College and occasionally teaches professional development courses on the Vietnam war for high school teachers at Northeastern University and Merrimack Educational Center. He is past editor of the Indochina Newsletter and has written numerous articles for peace movement publications. He is on the Board of Directors of the community/fan organization, Save Fenway Park. He currently represents the American Friends Service Committee on the Coordinating Committee of the United for Justice with Peace Coalition.


Denise Simmons – As Mayor of the City of Cambridge, Denise Simmons won praise for her open-door policy, for her excellent constituent services, and for her down-to-earth approach to her duties. She continues to bring these qualities to her work on the Cambridge City Council. She was sworn in to her second term as mayor on January 4, 2016.

Susie Snyder Mrs. Susi Snyder is the Nuclear Disarmament Programme Manager for Pax in the Netherlands. Mrs. Snyder is a primary author of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb: Global Report on the Financing of Nuclear Weapons Producers (2013, 2014, 2015) and has published numerous reports and articles, including the 2015 Dealing with a Ban & Escalating Tensions, the 2014 The Rotterdam Blast: The immediate humanitarian consequences of a 12 kiloton nuclear explosion; and the 2011 Withdrawal Issues: What NATO countries say about the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. She is an International Steering Group member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Previously, Mrs. Snyder served as the International Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, where she monitored various issues under the aegis of the United Nations, including sustainable development, human rights, and disarmament.

Geoffrey Supran – Longstanding interest in optoelectronics. Opportunities to overcome scientific and economic hurdles in solar cell design and significantly impact world energy markets are alluring. Hybrid devices combining the flexibility, large area and tunable absorption of low cost solution processable nanocrystals (or polymers) with the high carrier mobility of, for example, III-V semiconductors, appear promising. In particular, enhancement of photocurrent by nonradiative energy transfer and carrier multiplication is of interest. Additionally, the importance of a nanoscale test-bed for fundamental studies of photo-induced energy/charge transport motivates my curiosity for the investigation of stand-alone photovoltaic single nanowire heterostructures. I am also interested in the development of photoelectrochemical storage catalysts and the pursuit of coupled photovoltaic-electrolysis systems.

Herb Taylor

Herb Taylor – Taylor became Senior Pastor at Harvard-Epworth UMC in August, 2014. Before coming to the church, he served as President and CEO of Deaconess Abundant Life Communities, a not-for-profit aging services provider. Founded in 1889, the Deaconess has over 400 employees and serves over a thousand older adults through skilled nursing, assisted living and independent living apartments in multiple locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.


Max Tegmark – Known as “Mad Max” for his unorthodox ideas and passion for adventure, his scientific interests range from precision cosmology to the ultimate nature of reality, all explored in his new popular book “Our Mathematical Universe”. He is an MIT physics professor with more than two hundred technical papers and has featured in dozens of science documentaries. His work with the SDSS collaboration on galaxy clustering shared the first prize in Science magazine’s “Breakthrough of the Year: 2003.” He is founder (with Anthony Aguirre) of the Foundational Questions Institute.

John Tierney

John Tierney – Tierney is an American politician who served as a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts from January 3, 1997, to January 3, 2015. In February 2016, he was appointed the executive director of the Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the council’s affiliated education and research organization. He is a Democrat who represented the state’s 6th district, which includes the state’s North Shore and Cape Ann. Born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts, Tierney graduated from Salem State College and Suffolk University Law School. He worked in private law and served on the Salem Chamber of Commerce (1976–97). Tierney was sworn in as a U.S. representative in 1997.

Frank Von Hippel

Frank Von Hippel – Hippel’s areas of policy research include nuclear arms control and nonproliferation, energy, and checks and balances in policy making for technology. Prior to coming to Princeton, he worked for ten years in the field of elementary-particle theoretical physics. He has written extensively on the technical basis for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament initiatives, the future of nuclear energy, and improved automobile fuel economy. He won a 1993 MacArthur fellowship in recognition of his outstanding contributions to his fields of research. During 1993–1994, he served as assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Jim Walsh

Jim Walsh – Walsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program (SSP).Walsh’s research and writings focus on international security, and in particular, topics involving nuclear weapons, the Middle East, and East Asia. Walsh has testified before the United States Senate and House of Representatives on issues of nuclear terrorism, Iran, and North Korea. He is one of a handful of Americans who has traveled to both Iran and North Korea for talks with officials about nuclear issues. His recent publications include “Stopping North Korea, Inc.: Sanctions Effectiveness and Unintended Consequences” and “Rivals, Adversaries, and Partners: Iran and Iraq in the Middle East” in Iran and Its Neighbors. He is the international security contributor to the NPR program “Here and Now,” and his comments and analysis have appeared in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and numerous other national and international media outlets. Before coming to MIT, Dr. Walsh was Executive Director of the Managing the Atom project at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a visiting scholar at the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He has taught at both Harvard University and MIT. Dr. Walsh received his Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


We would like to extend a special thank you to our Program Committee and sponsors for all their help creating and organizing this event.

Prof. Aron Bernstein (MIT, Council for a Livable), Joseph Gerson (AFSC), Subrata Ghoshroy (MIT), Prof. Gary Goldstein (Tufts University), Cole Harrison (Mass Peace Action), Jonathan King (MIT and Mass Peace Action), State Rep. Denise Provost; John Ratliff (Mass Peace Action, Mass Senior Action), Prof. Elaine Scarry (Harvard University), Prof.Max Tegmark (MIT, Future of Life Institute), Patricia Weinmann (MIT Radius).

Sponsored by MIT Radius (the former Technology and Culture Forum), Massachusetts Peace Action, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Future of Life Institute.


Survivors Speak Out As UN Negotiates Nuke Ban

To imagine innocence is to picture children playing. As such, most people and governments are horrified by the idea of children and other helpless civilians suffering and dying, even during war. Finding a way to prevent the unnecessary slaughter of innocents has brought over 115 countries to the United Nations in New York this week to begin negotiations of a historic treaty that would, once and for all, ban nuclear weapons.

The countries are united by concerns that tens or even hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children – mothers, sons, fathers, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors – could be killed, quite literally, in a flash.

In a statement to the opening of negotiations, Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, said, “The prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons is a humanitarian imperative.”

Responding to a Humanitarian Imperative

A ban on nuclear weapons is certainly historic, but it’s not without precedence. Prohibiting and eliminating other weapons because of their horrific humanitarian consequences has happened before. In fact, most of the world’s deadliest weapons are currently banned.

At a press conference, Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, said, “The treaty will finally ban weapons designed to indiscriminately kill civilians, completing the prohibitions on weapons of mass destruction.”

For example, when adults around the world learned of the tens of thousands of children killed by landmines while simply pursuing childhood activities, such as playing in open fields, a global cry arose to bring an end to the indiscriminate weapons. In 1997, 133 countries signed the Mine Ban Treaty, and as of today 162 have signed. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, “only 35 states remain outside the treaty, but most of them do not actually use or produce antipersonnel mines.”

A similar rallying cry heralded the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Cluster munitions often landed without exploding and remained unstable. Their toy-like appearance attracted thousands of children, who were killed and maimed by the weapons. The treaty was adopted in 2008 and is described by as an “international treaty of more than 100 States that addresses the humanitarian consequences and unacceptable harm caused to civilians by cluster munitions.”

Today, most countries abide by these treaties, and even countries like the United States, which has not signed either treaty, is either mostly in compliance or is showing signs of improvement.

A Nuclear Rallying Cry

Not surprisingly, the horror of the effect nuclear bombs have on children provides some of the most compelling arguments for a ban treaty.

Fujimori Toshiki, a Hibakusha (survivor of the bombs dropped on Japan), described his personal experience to the General Assembly at the very start of the negotiations. He was a baby at the time, and he and his mother were just far enough away from the blast that a two-story home protected them somewhat.

“I had my entire body covered with bandages,” said Toshiki, “with only eyes, nose, and mouth uncovered. Everybody thought I would die over time. Yet, I survived. It is a miracle. I am here at the U.N., asking for an abolition of nuclear weapons. I am convinced that this is a mission I am given as a survivor of the atomic bomb.”

His 13-year-old sister was not so lucky. She was one of 6,300 teenagers to die near the blast site because their schools had sent them there to help “create firesafe [sic] areas against air raids.”

Toshiki added, “Every year, on Aug. 6, my mother would gather all of us children and would talk to us about her experience in tears. I once asked my mother why she would speak about it if recalling the experience makes her suffer. ‘I can’t make you go through the same experience.’ That was her answer. Her tears were her heartfelt appeal. She called, as a mother, for a world with no more hell on earth.”

Setsuko Thurlow, another Hibakusha, was also 13 when the bombs fell. She described witnessing the slow death of her 4-year-old nephew Eiji. He was “transformed into a charred, blackened and swollen child who kept asking in a faint voice for water until he died in agony.”

Thurlow continued, “Regardless of the passage of time, he remains in my memory as a 4-year-old child who came to represent all the innocent children of the world. And it is this death of innocents that has been the driving force for me to continue my struggle against the ultimate evil of nuclear weapons.”

However, unlike the stories of landmines and cluster munitions, which told of present-day children suffering and dying, these stories are over 70 years old. It can be difficult to relate to events that happened so long ago and that most people believe has not ― and cannot ― be repeated.

But Sue Coleman-Haseldine told the assembly of stories and concerns that were more recent. Coleman-Haseldine is an Aboriginal who lived near the atomic weapons testing sites in Australia. She was two when the testing first began in the 1950s.

“Our district is full of cancer now,” she said.

She continued, “I grew up hearing about the bombs, but I didn’t know about how the sickness went through the generations. When mining companies started eyeing off areas of my country I started to look more into it and I went to an Australian Nuclear Free Alliance meeting to learn more about fighting mining companies but also radiation fallout. What I learnt devastated me. To find out that our bush foods were possibly contaminated was a real blow to me.”

“I am a mother, grandmother and great grandmother,” she added. “My third great grandson was born just recently. And now I am here, speaking about the past [and] present day problems and what we want for the future. I’m fighting for all my grandchildren and all the children of the world.”

Relegating Nukes to History

A common concern about these negotiations is the notable absence of the nuclear states. However, history, as seen with the landmine and cluster munitions treaties, gives those supporting the negotiations reason to hope.

In his statement for the ICRC, Maurer added, “Of course, adopting a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons will not make them immediately disappear. But it will reinforce the stigma against their use, support commitments to nuclear risk reduction, and be a disincentive for proliferation. … As with chemical and biological weapons, a clear and unambiguous prohibition is the cornerstone of their elimination.”

Susi Snyder, the nuclear disarmament program manager for PAX in the Netherlands, explained, “This is the start of a negotiation. The impact of the negotiation cannot be guessed or measured until the treaty is done. Even then, as with all treaties and growing norms, the impact will grow over time.”

Fihn added that a treaty would “make it clear that the world has moved beyond these morally unacceptable weapons of the past.”

Testimony by Sue Coleman-Haseldine, Nuclear Bomb Testing Survivor

The following statement was provided by Sue Coleman-Haseldine, a survivor of nuclear bomb tests near her home in Australia. She also present testimony at the UN negotiations on Tuesday, March 28.

My name is Sue Coleman-Haseldine I am Kokatha elder. I was born on Koonibba Aboriginal Mission in 1951 which is about 40 km west of Ceduna in South Australia. I now live just out of Ceduna with my husband. For those that don’t know we are on the edge of the Nullabor where the desert meets the sea. Our country takes in one of the last stunted mallee regions that is still in pristine condition. We still carry on looking after our country as our people did even though we don’t live out there now. I remember the good life of hunting for wild game and collecting bush fruits. Life was healthy.  We still do all this today. I teach the young ones coming up about the land and all the life it gives.

I am a mother, grandmother and great grandmother. My third great grandson was born just recently. And now I am here, speaking about the past, present day problems and what we want for the future. I’m fighting for all my grandchildren and all the children of the world. To keep the dream alive of a clean, safe future where there is no nuclear fear hanging over our heads. And like I tell the children, I’m fighting for the animals too. We are all connected. A world without animals wouldn’t be a world at all.

I was two years old when the first Atomic Bomb tests began in the desert areas north west of my mallee country in 1953.

A full scale atomic bomb went off on October 15 at Emu Fields. This first one was Totem 1 and it caused a death cloud known by many as the ‘Black mist’. It killed people, blinded others and made people very sick. Its effects are still being felt today. I wasn’t on ground zero but the black mist went all over. And who knows where the radiation went from the many the tests that followed. I remember older people talking about Nullabor dust storms. It was the fallout from the Maralinga tests. The dust didn’t stay in one place.

Our district is full of cancer now. My 86 year old Aunty once told me “that minga – that cancer sickness was never here before those bombs”.

Cancer is the big one but it is also common for people to suffer from thyroid conditions or stomach and bowel problems. This is the case for myself and some of my grandchildren. Fertility problems, still births, birth defects became more common at the time of the testing. Woomera cemetery is full of babies who started dying around this time. We still wonder and worry that women have trouble because of the ongoing radiation in the area or genetic changes passed down through generations.

Like all people, the giving of life and raising children is so important to us and it’s our human rights to be able to continue raising our family and sharing our culture forever. There are lots of Aboriginal groups in Australia. We are all different. But for all of us our land is the basis of our culture – it’s our church, our grocery shop, our schools, our chemist. But living a life and practising culture out in the desert wasn’t recognised as worthy by governments back then or still today. In fact we still have to work hard to have all the life, all the plants, all the animals, the underground water out in the desert recognised and protected.

This is one reason why Emu Fields and then Maralinga were picked for testing. The English and Australian governments didn’t think that land was valuable – they called it a wasteland. But Aboriginal people were still looking after and living their culture on the land that supported them. Aboriginal people were still present in the testing area when the bombs went off. The government was no good at ensuring everyone was safe. They had one patrol officer and some signs in English that people couldn’t read.

Australia was even more racist then. People have to remember this was before Aboriginal people had the right to vote. I believe the government really didn’t care what happened to Aboriginal people or their land. The bomb tests continued for many years right until 1967. Big atomic tests that the British and Australian governments were proud of and then a whole lot of secret tests that the British did with plutonium. These tests contaminated a huge area and everything in it but people 100 km away were also impacted. This includes my family and the broader community where I live.

It is good more people are learning about the bombs in Australia. And I want more people to think about ongoing impacts. Especially in my region because it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white or mixed everyone has a sad story about premature sickness and death in their families.

I grew up hearing about the bombs but I didn’t know about how the sickness went through the generations. When mining companies started eyeing off areas of my country I started to look more into it and I went to an Australian Nuclear Free Alliance meeting to learn more about fighting mining companies but also radiation fallout. What I learnt devastated me. To find out that our bush foods were possibly contaminated was a real blow to me.

It was at these meetings I also learnt about other nuclear bombs. About other places where tests happened and also more about Japan during the war. I also learnt that uranium mined in Australia was used in these weapons of destruction.

To know that uranium from our country was devastating other countries and people broke my heart. I decided to fight any kind of mining then. There are too many illnesses and cancer deaths in our Country. What’s changed to cause this? I believe it is caused from radiation contamination, but I can’t prove it. I think any kind of mining in our area would be digging up contaminated earth and sending it back to us on the north-north-west winds.

The bomb tests destroyed a beautiful part of Australia and despite several attempts it will never be safe or clean. There are many Aboriginal people who cannot go back to their ancestral lands and their children and their children’s children and so on will never know the special religious places it contains.

Having whole displaced communities has also created confusion and conflict for other Aboriginal groups. These are ongoing issues which cause stress and heartbreak.

We have been poisoned and we don’t need the threat of being poisoned again by a nuclear waste dump — whether it’s Australia’s waste or waste from around the world. We don’t need this stress hanging over our heads. It’s not our right to condemn our children to the risk of leakages or damage or terrorist attacks for ever. This is condemning them to a life of fear. It’s about time people see the desert and arid regions as places full of life instead of wastelands for dangerous activities. Aboriginal people have worked really hard to have their culture and their land understood. We don’t need governments telling us we don’t understand or are too emotional about these things. We do understand the risks and we don’t want them.

But more than that people all over the world don’t want all these problems. The uranium should stay in the ground. We need to stop making waste. And it’s not just the physical impacts of the nuclear industry I worry about. To have a nuclear waste dump back on the cards has already caused a lot of anxiety in our region. Aboriginal people in particular have a lot of issues to deal with. There is still a lot of poverty issues with education and job opportunities, self-medicating through drugs and alcohol.  We are still being made refugees in our own country because if the government of the mining companies want something they take it which also causes a lot of anxiety and mental problems.  I worry there is no security for the future.  It’s a different kind of black mist hanging over us now.  The original blast brought a black mist and nobody knew what it was.  Now people are a lot wiser but we still can’t see through to the future.  There is no guarantee that any nuclear facility – whether a mine a reactor or a waste dump will be properly looked after.

It’s been good to talk to you today and I appreciate your attention. And I want you to know I don’t want people today to shoulder the blame of the past and to feel responsible for all the wrongs that have happened. I am talking to you now because I think we need to join forces and make a better future for future generations, all over the world.

I want to thank Bill Williams for everything he taught me over the years; lessons never to be forgotten.  The fight goes on.

Lastly I just want to thank the organisers.  I am standing out front here today but lots of people are behind the scenes. And I thank them with all my heart.

Remember: the future forever belongs to the next generation.

Testimony by Fujimori Toshiki, Hiroshima Survivor

The following post is the statement presented by Hiroshima survivor Fujimori Toshiki to the United Nations on the first day of negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination

New York, 27 March 2017

Testimony by Fujimori Toshiki, Assistant Secretary General of Nihon Hidankyo (Japan Confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers Organizations)

President Ambassador Whyte, Distinguished Delegates,

I would like to thank the President for giving me the opportunity to speak.

My name is Fujimori Toshiki, and I am the Assistant Secretary General of Nihon Hidankyo, Japan Confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers Organizations. I am one of the people who was exposed to the atomic bomb the U.S. forces dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Hibakusha established Nihon Hidankyo eleven years after the bombing. Since then, we have called for “No More Hibakusha” within Japan and abroad. The treaty you will be negotiating today must reflect this call of Hibakusha in express terms so that the world makes remarkable progress towards nuclear weapons abolition.

I was 1 year and 4 months-old when the bomb was dropped. We were a big family of twelve, consisting of my grandfather, father, mother, six elder sisters, two elder brothers, and myself. Two of my elder sisters and my two elder brothers had evacuated out of the city of Hiroshima to avoid air raids. The eight of us who stayed in Hiroshima were exposed to the bomb.

My fourth-eldest sister was 13 years old and was in her first year of an all-girls junior high school. She was around 400m from the hypocenter when the bomb was dropped. Together with her teachers and other students, my sister was there to demolish houses to create firesafe areas against air raids. All of 676 of them including my sister were killed instantly through direct exposure to radiation, the heat, and the blast from the bomb. It is said that all together in the city of Hiroshima, 8400 students in the first and second year of junior high schools were being mobilized for similar purposes that day. The lives of 6300 of them were lost.

I was sick that day, so my mother was heading to the hospital with me on her back when the bomb was dropped. We were 2.3 km from the hypocentre. Fortunately, a two-story house between the hypocentre and us prevented us from directly being exposed to the heat. Yet, we were thrown all the way to the edge of the river bank. My mother, with me in her arms, managed to get to the nearby mountain called Ushitayama. Our family members were in different locations at the time of the bombing, but everyone escaped to the same mountain of Ushitayama, except for my fourth-elder sister. For many days that followed, my parents and my sisters kept going back to the area near the hypocentre to look for my fourth-eldest sister, who was missing. We never found her. We never found her body either. In the meantime, I had my entire body covered with bandages, with only eyes, nose, and mouth uncovered. Everybody thought I would die over time. Yet, I survived. It is a miracle. I am here at the UN, asking for an abolition of nuclear weapons. I am convinced that this is a mission I am given as a survivor of the atomic-bomb.

Two hundred and ten thousand people died by the end of 1945 due to the atomic bombs the U.S. forces dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hibakusha experienced hell on earth beneath the mushroom clouds. In fact, Hibakusha have continued to suffer for the twenty six thousand one hundred sixty six days until today, March 27th , 2017.

Nobody, in any country, deserves seeing the same hell on earth again.

Every year, on August 6th, my mother would gather all of us children and would talk to us about her experience in tears. I once asked my mother why she would speak about it if recalling the experience makes her suffer.

“I can’t make you go through the same experience.” That was her answer.

Her tears were her heartfelt appeal. She called, as a mother, for a world with no more hell on earth.

Three International Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons hosted by Norway, Mexico, and Austria, as well as the Joint Statements on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons at the Preparatory Committee meetings for the NPT Review Conference and the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, repeatedly and strongly reaffirmed the following conclusions:

That whether intended or not intended, the effects of a nuclear weapon detonation are not constrained by national borders;

That no state or international body could address its immediate humanitarian emergency or long-term consequences;

That in the interest of the very survival of humanity nuclear weapons must never be used again; and

That the only assurance against the risk of a nuclear weapon detonation is the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Many Hibakusha received these messages with thousands of thoughts about the long journey that they had come.

Nuclear weapon states and their allied nuclear-dependent states are against concluding a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons. Despite being the only country in the world that experienced the wartime use of nuclear weapons, the Japanese government voted against the UN resolution 71/258, which established this negotiating conference.

As a Hibakusha, and as a Japanese, I am here today heartbroken.

Yet, I am not discouraged.

Government representatives who are present at this conference, international organizations, and representatives of civil society organizations are making efforts to conclude a legally binding instrument to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.

In April of last year, Hibakusha initiated the International Signature Campaign, which calls on all state governments to conclude a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons. We reached out to countries across the world, and last October, we delivered our first batch of five hundred sixty thousand signatures to the Chair of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly. Today, we have over one million seven hundred twenty thousand signatures. We will continue the campaign until 2020, and we aim to collect hundreds of millions of signatures.

Let us work together to achieve the nuclear ban treaty.

Thank you very much for listening.














13歳で女学校 1年だった4番目の姉は、爆心地から400mあたりで建物疎開 に動員されていました。ここでは、放射線、熱線、爆風の直撃をうけ、私の姉を含む教師、生徒676人全員が命を落としました。広島市全体では中学1、2年に当たる学徒8400人が建物疎開に動員され、うち6300人が亡くなったとされています。





















Hawking, Higgs and Over 3,000 Other Scientists Support UN Nuclear Ban Negotiations

Delegates from most UN member states are gathering in New York to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban, where they will also receive a letter of support that has been signed by thousands of scientists from around over 80 countries – including 28 Nobel Laureates and a former US Secretary of Defense. “Scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought”, the letter explains.

The letter was delivered at a ceremony at 1pm on Monday March 27 in the UN General Assembly Hall to Her Excellency Ms. Elayne Whyte Gómez from Costa Rica, who is presiding over the negotiations.

Despite all the attention to nuclear terrorism and nuclear rogue states, one of the greatest threats from nuclear weapons has always been mishaps and accidents among the established nuclear nations. With political tensions and instability increasing, this threat is growing to alarming levels: “The probability of a nuclear calamity is higher today, I believe, that it was during the cold war,” according to former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, who signed the letter.

“Nuclear weapons represent one of the biggest threats to our civilization. With the unpredictability of the current world situation, it is more important than ever to get negotiations about a ban on nuclear weapons on track, and to make these negotiations a truly global effort,” says neuroscience professor Edvard Moser from Norway, 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine.

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle from MIT, 2001 Nobel Laureate in Physics, agrees: “I see nuclear weapons as a real threat to the human race and we need an international consensus to reduce this threat.”

Currently, the US and Russia have about 14,000 nuclear weapons combined, many on hair-trigger alert and ready to be launched on minutes notice, even though a Pentagon report argued that a few hundred would suffice for rock-solid deterrence. Yet rather than trim their excess arsenals, the superpowers plan massive investments to replace their nuclear weapons by new destabilizing ones that are more lethal for a first strike attack.

“Unlike many of the world’s leaders I care deeply about the future of my grandchildren. Even the remote possibility of a nuclear war presents an unconscionable threat to their welfare. We must find a way to eliminate nuclear weapons,” says Sir Richard J. Roberts, 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine.

“Most governments are frustrated that a small group of countries with a small fraction of the world’s population insist on retaining the right to ruin life on Earth for everyone else with nuclear weapons, ignoring their disarmament promises in the non-proliferation treaty”, says physics professor Max Tegmark from MIT, who helped organize the letter. “In South Africa, the minority in control of the unethical Apartheid system didn’t give it up spontaneously on their own initiative, but because they were pressured into doing so by the majority. Similarly, the minority in control of unethical nuclear weapons won’t give them up spontaneously on their own initiative, but only if they’re pressured into doing so by the majority of the world’s nations and citizens.”

The idea behind the proposed ban is to provide such pressure by stigmatizing nuclear weapons.

Beatrice Fihn, who helped launch the ban movement as Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, explains that such stigmatization made the landmine and cluster munitions bans succeed and can succeed again: “The market for landmines is pretty much extinct—nobody wants to produce them anymore because countries have banned and stigmatized them.  Just a few years ago, the United States—who never signed the landmines treaty—announced that it’s basically complying with the treaty. If the world comes together in support of a nuclear ban, then nuclear weapons countries will likely follow suit, even if it doesn’t happen right away.

Susi Snyder from from the Dutch “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” project explains:

If you prohibit the production, possession, and use of these weapons and the assistance with doing those things, we’re setting a stage to also prohibit the financing of the weapons. And that’s one way that I believe the ban treaty is going to have a direct and concrete impact on the ongoing upgrades of existing nuclear arsenals, which are largely being carried out by private contractors.”

Nuclear arms are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited by an international convention, even though they are the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created”, the letter states, motivating a ban.

“The horror that happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki should never be repeated.  Nuclear weapons should be banned,” says Columbia University professor Martin Chalfie, 2008 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.

Norwegian neuroscience professor May-Britt Moser, a 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine, says, “In a world with increased aggression and decreasing diplomacy – the availability nuclear weapons is more dangerous than ever. Politicians are urged to ban nuclear weapons. The world today and future generations depend on that decision.”

The open letter:

Why Freezing North Korea’s Weapons Programs Would Make Us Safer

Last week, China proposed a way to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula: Pyongyang would freeze its missile and nuclear programs in exchange for Washington and Seoul halting their current round of military exercises. China also sees this as a way of starting talks between the United States and North Korea, which it believes is necessary to resolve hostilities on the peninsula.

In comments in South Korea on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “We do not believe the conditions are right to engage in any talks at this time. … [C]onditions must change before there is any scope for talks to resume, whether they be five-party or six-party.” Whether the last phrase means the United States is consciously rejecting the idea of one-on-one talks with the North is not clear.

Tillerson also said he believes it is “premature” to talk about a freeze since a freeze would leave North Korea with significant military capabilities. His choice of words appears to leave the possibility of a freeze on the table.

A North Korean freeze on nuclear tests and missile flight tests would be highly beneficial—and readily verifiable. It would prevent Pyongyang from developing a long-range missile capable of hitting the United States.

It is important, of course, to work to eliminate the capabilities North Korea currently has, but a sensible first step is to keep it from increasing its capabilities.


Freezing North Korean Development Would Be Valuable

Over the last two decades, Pyongyang has developed technologies beyond what many thought it was capable of doing. It has developed nuclear weapons, an array of short- and medium-range missiles that could pose a significant threat to its neighbors, and a large satellite launcher that has placed two objects in orbit (although neither appears to have been operational once in orbit).

These weapon systems are not particularly sophisticated and in some cases are highly unreliable but, as Secretary Tillerson noted, they represent significant military capabilities.

And if these development programs continue, things will get considerably worse. The past shows North Korea’s ability to make slow but steady progress, and that will continue. After all, it is developing weapons systems that the United States, Soviet Union, and others developed 50 years ago.

What could a freeze do?


A Freeze on Nuclear Tests

North Korea has now conducted five nuclear tests, the last of which indicated it has developed a nuclear device that can produce a yield similar to that of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

Getting a nuclear device to explode under test conditions, however, is not the same as having a usable nuclear warhead. A deliverable warhead needs to be small enough, both in terms of physical size and mass, to be carried by North Korea’s ballistic missiles. It needs to work in a realistic environment, rather than just in a static test environment.  In particular, it must withstand the considerable forces of missile delivery, including acceleration, vibrations, and buffeting during launch and reentry.

If the North does not yet have a weapon that is small and rugged enough for delivery by ballistic missile, stopping additional nuclear tests could keep it from developing one. Even if it does have such a weapon, stopping testing would limit its ability to improve its design.

A testing freeze could be verified by the global network of seismic and other types of sensors that make up the International Monitoring System. This network is sensitive enough to have detected North Korea’s previous tests—including the 2006 test with an estimated yield of only about one kiloton.


A Freeze on Missile Tests

A freeze on missile flight testing would limit North Korea’s ability to build more capable and longer range missiles, and to determine the reliability of existing missiles or gain operational practice in firing them.

Today, North Korea’s longest range operational missile is the Nodong, with a range of about 1,300 km (800 miles)—much shorter than the roughly 9,000 km (5,600 miles) to the US West Coast. It does not currently have a ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to long distances.

However, it is developing a number of the components it needs to produce such a missile.

For example:

  • North Korea appears to have had one successful flight test, with five or more failures, of its Musudan (Hwasong-10) missile, which uses a more advanced fuel than the North’s previous missiles. Developing a working missile would require additional tests. Besides giving Pyongyang a considerably longer range missile than it currently has, successfully developing this missile would open the way to modifying it for use as an upper stage of longer range missiles.
  • In the last year, Pyongyang has conducted ground tests of several new engines (April 2016, September 2016, and March 2017). Some of these appear to use advanced fuels and have higher thrust than its current missile engines.
  • The North has paraded a prototype of a two-stage missile on a mobile launcher that could have a long range if it used the technology being tested in the Musudan missile. One of the engine ground tests mentioned above may be of an engine intended for the first stage of this missile.
  • Pyongyang is in early stages of testing a solid-fueled missile that could be launched from a mobile launcher on the ground or from a submarine. While the range appears to be similar to the Nodong, it would have a much shorter launch-preparation time if fired from mobile launchers on the ground, and could reach more distant targets if fired from a submarine at sea.
  • North Korea has not yet flight tested a reentry heat shield for a long-range missile, which is critical for successfully delivering a nuclear warhead. Over-designing the heat shield adds weight to the reentry vehicle, which reduces the range of the missile; Under-designing it can cause overheating of the warhead that can damage it. Moreover, North Korea is likely to design a blunt reentry vehicle that reenters slowly to reduce the intensity of heating, and this can lead to very large inaccuracies—tens of kilometers or more.

Transforming these pieces into working missiles would require a series of flight tests. A freeze on missile testing would keep it from developing that capability.

A flight test ban would be completely verifiable. The United States has a satellite network of infrared sensors that can detect launches essentially anywhere in the world. This system, for example, even detected the short-range Scud missiles launched at Israel during the first Gulf War. And the United States is currently deploying a new generation of even more capable satellites for this job.


Would North Korea Be Willing to Freeze?

No one knows.

It is worth remembering that North Korea observed a flight test moratorium from September 1999 through July 2006, which it began when its talks with the Clinton administration about missile and nuclear issues seemed to be moving ahead. It announced it was no longer bound by the moratorium in March 2005, in response to the Bush administration’s lack of diplomatic engagement on missile issues, and resumed testing the next year.

Things are different now, of course, and it’s not at all clear that Pyongyang would agree to a freeze. Kim Jong Un may be unwilling to stop until he has developed a credible long-range threat.

However, Kim clearly sees the US-South Korean military exercises as threatening, and offering to scale back those exercises may give the United States significant leverage. Agreeing to talks once a freeze is in place could add leverage.

But whether or not North Korea would ultimately agree to a freeze, the United States should not be the one to take this option off the table. A freeze would be an effective, meaningful step in limiting further development of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs—and the administration should be doing what it can to put a freeze in place.

Podcast: UN Nuclear Weapons Ban with Beatrice Fihn and Susi Snyder

Last October, the United Nations passed a historic resolution to begin negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Previous nuclear treaties have included the Test Ban Treaty, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But in the 70 plus years of the United Nations, the countries have yet to agree on a treaty to completely ban nuclear weapons. The negotiations will begin this March. To discuss the importance of this event, I interviewed Beatrice Fihn and Susi Snyder. Beatrice is the Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, also known as ICAN, where she is leading a global campaign consisting of about 450 NGOs working together to prohibit nuclear weapons. Susi is the Nuclear Disarmament Program Manager for PAX in the Netherlands, and the principal author of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb series. She is an International Steering Group member of ICAN.

The following interview has been heavily edited for brevity, but you can listen to it in its entirety above or read the full transcript here.

ARIEL: First, Beatrice, you spearheaded much, if not all, of this effort. Can you explain: What is the ban? What will it cover? What’s going to be prohibited? And Susi, can you weigh in as well?

BEATRICE: So, it sounds counterintuitive, but nuclear weapons are really the only weapons of mass destruction that are not prohibited by an international treaty. We prohibited chemical weapons and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions—but nuclear weapons are still legal for some.

We’re hoping that this treaty will be a very clear-cut prohibition; that nuclear weapons are illegal because of the humanitarian consequences that they cause if used. And it should include things like using nuclear weapons, possessing nuclear weapons, transferring nuclear weapons, assisting with those kind of things. Basically, a very straightforward treaty that makes it clear that, under international law, nuclear weapons are unacceptable.

SUSI: This whole system where some people think that nuclear weapons are legal for them, but they’re illegal for others—that’s a problem. Negotiations are going to start to make nuclear weapons illegal for everybody.

The thing is, nobody can deal with the consequences of using nuclear weapons. What better cure than to prevent it? And the way to prevent it is to ban the weapons.

ARIEL: The UN has been trying to prohibit nuclear weapons since 1945. Why has it taken this long?

BEATRICE: There is no prohibition on nuclear weapons, but there are many treaties and many regulations governing nuclear weapons. Almost all governments in the world agree that nuclear weapons are really bad and they should be eliminated. It’s a strange situation where governments, including the two—Russia and the United States—with the most nuclear weapons, agree ‘these are really horrible weapons, we don’t think they should be used. But we don’t want to prohibit them, because it still kind of suits us that we have them.’

For a very long time, I think the whole world just accepted that nuclear weapons are around. They’re this kind of mythical weapons almost. Much more than just a weapon—they’re magic. They keep peace and stability, they ended World War II, they made sure that there was no big war in Europe during the Cold War. [But] nuclear weapons can’t fight the kind of threats that we face today: climate change, organized crime, terrorism. It’s not an appropriate weapon for this millennium.

SUSI: The thing is, also, now people are talking again. And when you start talking about what it is that nuclear weapons do, you get into the issue of the fact that what they do isn’t contained by a national border. A nuclear weapon detonation, even a small one, would have catastrophic effects and would resonate around the world.

There’s been a long-time focus of making these somehow acceptable; making it somehow okay to risk global annihilation, okay to risk catastrophe. And now it has become apparent to an overwhelming majority of governments that this is not okay.

ARIEL: The majority of countries don’t have nuclear weapons. There’s only a handful of countries that actually have nuclear weapons, and the U.S. and Russia have most of those. And it doesn’t look like the U.S. and Russia are going to agree to the ban. So, if it passes, what happens then? How does it get enforced?

SUSI: If you prohibit the making, having, using these weapons and the assistance with doing those things, we’re setting a stage to also prohibit the financing of the weapons. That’s one way I believe the ban treaty is going to have a direct and concrete impact on existing nuclear arsenals. Because all the nuclear weapon possessors are modernizing their arsenals, and most of them are using private contractors to do so. By stopping the financing that goes into these private contractors, we’re going to change the game.

One of the things we found in talking to financial institutions, is they are waiting and aching for a clear prohibition because right now the rules are fuzzy. It doesn’t matter if the U.S. and Russia sign on to have that kind of impact, because financial institutions operate with their headquarters in lots of other places. We’ve seen with other weapons systems that as soon as they’re prohibited, financial institutions back off, and producers know they’re losing the money because of the stigma associated with the weapon.

BEATRICE: I think that sometimes we forget that it’s more than nine states that are involved in nuclear weapons. Sure, there’s nine states: U.S., U.K., Russia, France, China India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.

But there are also five European states that have American nuclear weapons on their soil: Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, and Turkey. And in addition to that, all of the NATO states and a couple of others—such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea—are a part of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

We’ve exposed these NATO states and nuclear umbrella states, for being a bit hypocritical. They like to think that they are promoters of disarmament, but they are ready to have nuclear weapons being used on others on their behalf. So, even countries like Norway, for example, who are a part of a nuclear weapons alliance and say that, you know, ‘the U.S. could use nuclear weapons to protect us.’ On what? Maybe cities, civilians in Russia or in China or something like that. And if we argue that people in Norway need to be protected by nuclear weapons—one of the safest countries in the world, richest countries in the world—why do we say that people in Iran can’t be protected by similar things? Or people in Lebanon, or anywhere else in the world?

This treaty makes it really clear who is okay with nuclear weapons and who isn’t. And that will create a lot of pressure on those states that enjoy the protection of nuclear weapons today, but are not really comfortable admitting it.

ARIEL: If you look at a map of the countries that opposed the resolution vs. the countries that either supported it or abstained, there is a Northern Hemisphere vs. Southern Hemisphere thing, where the majority of countries in North America, and Europe and Russia all oppose a ban, and the rest of the countries would like to see a ban. It seems that if a war were to break out between nuclear weapon countries, it would impact these northern countries more than the southern countries. I was wondering, is that the case?

BEATRICE: I think countries that have nuclear weapons somehow imagine that they are safer with them. But it makes them targets of nuclear weapons as well. It’s unlikely that anyone would use nuclear weapons to attack Senegal, for example. So I think that people in nuclear-armed states often forget that they are also the targets of nuclear weapons.

I find it very interesting as well. In some ways, we see this as a big fight for equality. A certain type of country—the richest countries in the world, the most militarily powerful with or without the nuclear weapons—have somehow taken power over the ability to destroy the entire earth. And now we’re seeing that other countries are demanding that that ends. And we see a lot of similarities to other power struggles—civil rights movements, women’s right to vote, the anti-Apartheid movement—where a powerful minority oppresses the rest of the world. And when there’s a big mobilization to change that, there’s obviously a lot of resistance. The powerful will never give up that absolute power that they have, voluntarily. I think that’s really what this treaty is about at this point.

SUSI: A lot of it is tied to money, to wealth and to an unequal distribution of wealth, or unequal perception of wealth and the power that is assumed with that unequal distribution. It costs a lot of money to make nuclear weapons, develop nuclear weapons, and it also requires an intensive extraction of resources. And some of those resources have come from some of these states that are now standing up and strongly supporting the negotiations towards the prohibition.

ARIEL: Is there anything you recommend the general public can do?

BEATRICE: We have a website that is aimed to the public, to find out a little bit more about this. We can send an email to your Foreign Minister and tweet your Foreign Minister and things like that, it’s called We’ll also make sure that the negotiations, when they’re webcast, that we’ll share that link on that website.

ARIEL: Just looking at the nuclear weapons countries, I thought it was very interesting that China, India, and Pakistan abstained from voting, and North Korea actually supported a ban. Did that come as a surprise? What does it mean?

BEATRICE: There’s a lot of dynamics going on in this, which means also that the positions are not fixed. I think countries like Pakistan, India, and China have traditionally been very supportive of the UN as a venue to negotiate disarmament. They are states that perhaps think that Russia and the U.S.—which have much more nuclear weapons—that they are the real problem. They sort of sit on the sides with their smaller arsenals, and perhaps don’t feel as much pressure in the same way that the U.S. and Russia feel to negotiate things.

And also, of course, they have very strong connections with the Southern Hemisphere countries, developing countries. Their decisions on nuclear weapons are very connected to other political issues in international relations. And when it comes to North Korea, I don’t know. It’s very unpredictable. We weren’t expecting them to vote yes, I don’t know if they will come. It’s quite difficult to predict.

ARIEL: What do you say to people who do think we still need nuclear weapons?

SUSI: I ask them why. Why do they think we need nuclear weapons? Under what circumstance is it legitimate to use a weapon that will level a city? One bomb that destroys a city, and that will cause harm not just to the people who are involved in combat. What justifies that kind of horrible use of a weapon? And what are the circumstances that you’re willing to use them? I mean, what are the circumstances where people feel it’s okay to cause this kind of destruction?

BEATRICE: Nuclear weapons are meant to destroy entire cities—that’s their inherent quality. They mass murder entire communities indiscriminately very, very fast. That’s what they are good at. The weapon itself is meant to kill civilians, and that is unacceptable.

And most people that defend nuclear weapons, they admit that they don’t want to use them. They are never supposed to be used, you are just supposed to threaten with them. And then you get into this sort of illogical debate, about how, in order for the threat to be real—and for others to perceive the threat—you have to be serious about using them. It’s very naive to think that we will get away as a civilization without them being used if we keep them around forever.

SUSI: There’s a reason that nuclear weapons have not been used in war in over 70 years: the horror they unleash is too great. Even military leaders, once they retire and are free to speak their minds, say very clearly that these are not a good weapon for military objectives.

ARIEL: I’m still going back to this— Why now? Why are we having success now?

BEATRICE: It’s very important to remember that we’ve had successes before, and very big ones as well. In 1970, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force. And that is the treaty that prevents proliferation of nuclear weapons — the treaty that said, ‘okay, we have these five states, and they’ve already developed weapons, they’re not ready to get rid of them, but at least we’ll cap it there, and no one else is allowed.’ And that really worked quite well. Only four more countries developed nuclear weapons after that. But the rest of the world understood that it was a bad idea. And the big bargain in that treaty was that the five countries that got to keep their nuclear weapons only got to keep them for a while—they committed, that one day they would disarm, but there was no timeline in the treaty. So I think that was a huge success.

In the ‘80s, we saw these huge, huge public mobilization movements and millions of people demonstrating on the street trying to stop the nuclear arms race. And they were very successful as well. They didn’t get total nuclear disarmament, but the nuclear freeze movement achieved a huge victory.

We were very, very close to disarmament at the Reykjavik summit with Gorbachev and Reagan. And that was also a huge success. Governments negotiated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which prevents countries from testing nuclear weapons. And that hasn’t entered into force yet, but almost all states have signed it. It has not been ratified by some key players, like the United States, but the norm is still there, and it’s been quite an effective treaty despite that it’s not yet entered into force. Only one state has continued testing, and that’s North Korea, since the treaty was signed.

But somewhere along the way we got very focused on non-proliferation and trying to stop the testing, stop them producing fissile material, and we forgot to work on the fundamental delegitimization of nuclear weapons. We forgot to say that nuclear weapons are unacceptable. That is what we’re trying to do right now.

SUSI: The world is different in a lot of ways than it was in 1945. The UN is different in a lot of ways. Remember, one of the purposes of the UN at the outset was to help countries decolonize and to restore them to their own people, and that process took some time. In a lot of those countries, those former colonized societies are coming back and saying, ‘well, we have a voice of global security as well, and this is part of ensuring our security.’

This is the moment where this perfect storm has come; we’re prohibiting illegitimate weapons. It’s going to be fun!

BEATRICE: I think that we’ve been very inspired in ICAN by the campaigns to ban landmines and the campaigns to ban cluster munitions, because they were a different type of treaty. Obviously chemical weapons were prohibited, biological weapons were prohibited, but the landmine and cluster munition processes of prohibition that were developed on those weapons were about stigmatizing the weapon, and they didn’t need all states to be on board with it. And we saw that it worked. Just a few years ago, the United States—who never signed the landmines treaty—announced that it’s basically complying with the treaty. They have one exception at the border of South Korea. That means that they can’t sign it, but otherwise they are complying with it. The market for landmines is pretty much extinct—nobody wants to produce them anymore because countries have banned and stigmatized them.

And with cluster munitions we see a similar trend. We’ve seen those two treaties work, and I think that’s also why we feel confident that we can move ahead this time, even without the nuclear-armed states onboard. It will have an impact anyway.

To learn more about the ban and how you can help encourage your country to support the ban, visit and

This podcast was edited by Tucker Davey.

Why 2016 Was Actually a Year of Hope

Just about everyone found something to dislike about 2016, from wars to politics and celebrity deaths. But hidden within this year’s news feeds were some really exciting news stories. And some of them can even give us hope for the future.

Artificial Intelligence

Though concerns about the future of AI still loom, 2016 was a great reminder that, when harnessed for good, AI can help humanity thrive.

AI and Health

Some of the most promising and hopefully more immediate breakthroughs and announcements were related to health. Google’s DeepMind announced a new division that would focus on helping doctors improve patient care. Harvard Business Review considered what an AI-enabled hospital might look like, which would improve the hospital experience for the patient, the doctor, and even the patient’s visitors and loved ones. A breakthrough from MIT researchers could see AI used to more quickly and effectively design new drug compounds that could be applied to a range of health needs.

More specifically, Microsoft wants to cure cancer, and the company has been working with research labs and doctors around the country to use AI to improve cancer research and treatment. But Microsoft isn’t the only company that hopes to cure cancer. DeepMind Health also partnered with University College London’s hospitals to apply machine learning to diagnose and treat head and neck cancers.

AI and Society

Other researchers are turning to AI to help solve social issues. While AI has what is known as the “white guy problem” and examples of bias cropped up in many news articles, Fei Fei Li has been working with STEM girls at Stanford to bridge the gender gap. Stanford researchers also published research that suggests  artificial intelligence could help us use satellite data to combat global poverty.

It was also a big year for research on how to keep artificial intelligence safe as it continues to develop. Google and the Future of Humanity Institute made big headlines with their work to design a “kill switch” for AI. Google Brain also published a research agenda on various problems AI researchers should be studying now to help ensure safe AI for the future.

Even the White House got involved in AI this year, hosting four symposia on AI and releasing reports in October and December about the potential impact of AI and the necessary areas of research. The White House reports are especially focused on the possible impact of automation on the economy, but they also look at how the government can contribute to AI safety, especially in the near future.

AI in Action

And of course there was AlphaGo. In January, Google’s DeepMind published a paper, which announced that the company had created a program, AlphaGo, that could beat one of Europe’s top Go players. Then, in March, in front of a live audience, AlphaGo beat the reigning world champion of Go in four out of five games. These results took the AI community by surprise and indicate that artificial intelligence may be progressing more rapidly than many in the field realized.

And AI went beyond research labs this year to be applied practically and beneficially in the real world. Perhaps most hopeful was some of the news that came out about the ways AI has been used to address issues connected with pollution and climate change. For example, IBM has had increasing success with a program that can forecast pollution in China, giving residents advanced warning about days of especially bad air. Meanwhile, Google was able to reduce its power usage by using DeepMind’s AI to manipulate things like its cooling systems.

And speaking of addressing climate change…

Climate Change

With recent news from climate scientists indicating that climate change may be coming on faster and stronger than previously anticipated and with limited political action on the issue, 2016 may not have made climate activists happy. But even here, there was some hopeful news.

Among the biggest news was the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement. But more generally, countries, communities and businesses came together on various issues of global warming, and Voices of America offers five examples of how this was a year of incredible, global progress.

But there was also news of technological advancements that could soon help us address climate issues more effectively. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have discovered a way to convert CO2 into ethanol. A researcher from UC Berkeley has developed a method for artificial photosynthesis, which could help us more effectively harness the energy of the sun. And a multi-disciplinary team has genetically engineered bacteria that could be used to help combat global warming.


Biotechnology — with fears of designer babies and manmade pandemics – is easily one of most feared technologies. But rather than causing harm, the latest biotech advances could help to save millions of people.


In the course of about two years, CRISPR-cas9 went from a new development to what could become one of the world’s greatest advances in biology. Results of studies early in the year were promising, but as the year progressed, the news just got better. CRISPR was used to successfully remove HIV from human immune cells. A team in China used CRISPR on a patient for the first time in an attempt to treat lung cancer (treatments are still ongoing), and researchers in the US have also received approval to test CRISPR cancer treatment in patients. And CRISPR was also used to partially restore sight to blind animals.

Gene Drive

Where CRISPR could have the most dramatic, life-saving effect is in gene drives. By using CRISPR to modify the genes of an invasive species, we could potentially eliminate the unwelcome plant or animal, reviving the local ecology and saving native species that may be on the brink of extinction. But perhaps most impressive is the hope that gene drive technology could be used to end mosquito- and tick-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue, Lyme, etc. Eliminating these diseases could easily save over a million lives every year.

Other Biotech News

The year saw other biotech advances as well. Researchers at MIT addressed a major problem in synthetic biology in which engineered genetic circuits interfere with each other. Another team at MIT engineered an antimicrobial peptide that can eliminate many types of bacteria, including some of the antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” And various groups are also using CRISPR to create new ways to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Nuclear Weapons

If ever there was a topic that does little to inspire hope, it’s nuclear weapons. Yet even here we saw some positive signs this year. The Cambridge City Council voted to divest their $1 billion pension fund from any companies connected with nuclear weapons, which earned them an official commendation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In fact, divestment may prove a useful tool for the general public to express their displeasure with nuclear policy, which will be good, since one cause for hope is that the growing awareness of the nuclear weapons situation will help stigmatize the new nuclear arms race.

In February, Londoners held the largest anti-nuclear rally Britain had seen in decades, and the following month MinutePhysics posted a video about nuclear weapons that’s been seen by nearly 1.3 million people. In May, scientific and religious leaders came together to call for steps to reduce nuclear risks. And all of that pales in comparison to the attention the U.S. elections brought to the risks of nuclear weapons.

As awareness of nuclear risks grows, so do our chances of instigating the change necessary to reduce those risks.

The United Nations Takes on Weapons

But if awareness alone isn’t enough, then recent actions by the United Nations may instead be a source of hope. As October came to a close, the United Nations voted to begin negotiations on a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons. While this might not have an immediate impact on nuclear weapons arsenals, the stigmatization caused by such a ban could increase pressure on countries and companies driving the new nuclear arms race.

The U.N. also announced recently that it would officially begin looking into the possibility of a ban on lethal autonomous weapons, a cause that’s been championed by Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, Stephen Hawking and thousands of AI researchers and roboticists in an open letter.

Looking Ahead

And why limit our hope and ambition to merely one planet? This year, a group of influential scientists led by Yuri Milner announced an Alpha-Centauri starshot, in which they would send a rocket of space probes to our nearest star system. Elon Musk later announced his plans to colonize Mars. And an MIT scientist wants to make all of these trips possible for humans by using CRISPR to reengineer our own genes to keep us safe in space.

Yet for all of these exciting events and breakthroughs, perhaps what’s most inspiring and hopeful is that this represents only a tiny sampling of all of the amazing stories that made the news this year. If trends like these keep up, there’s plenty to look forward to in 2017.

Podcast: FLI 2016 – A Year In Review

For FLI, 2016 was a great year, full of our own success, but also great achievements from so many of the organizations we work with. Max, Meia, Anthony, Victoria, Richard, Lucas, David, and Ariel discuss what they were most excited to see in 2016 and what they’re looking forward to in 2017.

AGUIRRE: I’m Anthony Aguirre. I am a professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz, and I’m one of the founders of the Future of Life Institute.

STANLEY: I’m David Stanley, and I’m currently working with FLI as a Project Coordinator/Volunteer Coordinator.

PERRY: My name is Lucas Perry, and I’m a Project Coordinator with the Future of Life Institute.

TEGMARK: I’m Max Tegmark, and I have the fortune to be the President of the Future of Life Institute.

CHITA-TEGMARK: I’m Meia Chita-Tegmark, and I am a co-founder of the Future of Life Institute.

MALLAH: Hi, I’m Richard Mallah. I’m the Director of AI Projects at the Future of Life Institute.

KRAKOVNA: Hi everyone, I am Victoria Krakovna, and I am one of the co-founders of FLI. I’ve recently taken up a position at Google DeepMind working on AI safety.

CONN: And I’m Ariel Conn, the Director of Media and Communications for FLI. 2016 has certainly had its ups and downs, and so at FLI, we count ourselves especially lucky to have had such a successful year. We’ve continued to progress with the field of AI safety research, we’ve made incredible headway with our nuclear weapons efforts, and we’ve worked closely with many amazing groups and individuals. On that last note, much of what we’ve been most excited about throughout 2016 is the great work these other groups in our fields have also accomplished.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve sat down with our founders and core team to rehash their highlights from 2016 and also to learn what they’re all most looking forward to as we move into 2017.

To start things off, Max gave a summary of the work that FLI does and why 2016 was such a success.

TEGMARK: What I was most excited by in 2016 was the overall sense that people are taking seriously this idea – that we really need to win this race between the growing power of our technology and the wisdom with which we manage it. Every single way in which 2016 is better than the Stone Age is because of technology, and I’m optimistic that we can create a fantastic future with tech as long as we win this race. But in the past, the way we’ve kept one step ahead is always by learning from mistakes. We invented fire, messed up a bunch of times, and then invented the fire extinguisher. We at the Future of Life Institute feel that that strategy of learning from mistakes is a terrible idea for more powerful tech, like nuclear weapons, artificial intelligence, and things that can really alter the climate of our globe.

Now, in 2016 we saw multiple examples of people trying to plan ahead and to avoid problems with technology instead of just stumbling into them. In April, we had world leaders getting together and signing the Paris Climate Accords. In November, the United Nations General Assembly voted to start negotiations about nuclear weapons next year. The question is whether they should actually ultimately be phased out; whether the nations that don’t have nukes should work towards stigmatizing building more of them – with the idea that 14,000 is way more than anyone needs for deterrence. And – just the other day – the United Nations also decided to start negotiations on the possibility of banning lethal autonomous weapons, which is another arms race that could be very, very destabilizing. And if we keep this positive momentum, I think there’s really good hope that all of these technologies will end up having mainly beneficial uses.

Today, we think of our biologist friends as mainly responsible for the fact that we live longer and healthier lives, and not as those guys who make the bioweapons. We think of chemists as providing us with better materials and new ways of making medicines, not as the people who built chemical weapons and are all responsible for global warming. We think of AI scientists as – I hope, when we look back on them in the future – as people who helped make the world better, rather than the ones who just brought on the AI arms race. And it’s very encouraging to me that as much as people in general – but also the scientists in all these fields – are really stepping up and saying, “Hey, we’re not just going to invent this technology, and then let it be misused. We’re going to take responsibility for making sure that the technology is used beneficially.”

CONN: And beneficial AI is what FLI is primarily known for. So what did the other members have to say about AI safety in 2016? We’ll hear from Anthony first.

AGUIRRE: I would say that what has been great to see over the last year or so is the AI safety and beneficiality research field really growing into an actual research field. When we ran our first conference a couple of years ago, they were these tiny communities who had been thinking about the impact of artificial intelligence in the future and in the long-term future. They weren’t really talking to each other; they weren’t really doing much actual research – there wasn’t funding for it. So, to see in the last few years that transform into something where it takes a massive effort to keep track of all the stuff that’s being done in this space now. All the papers that are coming out, the research groups – you sort of used to be able to just find them all, easily identified. Now, there’s this huge worldwide effort and long lists, and it’s difficult to keep track of. And that’s an awesome problem to have.

As someone who’s not in the field, but sort of watching the dynamics of the research community, that’s what’s been so great to see. A research community that wasn’t there before really has started, and I think in the past year we’re seeing the actual results of that research start to come in. You know, it’s still early days. But it’s starting to come in, and we’re starting to see papers that have been basically created using these research talents and the funding that’s come through the Future of Life Institute. It’s been super gratifying. And seeing that it’s a fairly large amount of money – but fairly small compared to the total amount of research funding in artificial intelligence or other fields – but because it was so funding-starved and talent-starved before, it’s just made an enormous impact. And that’s been nice to see.

CONN: Not surprisingly, Richard was equally excited to see AI safety becoming a field of ever-increasing interest for many AI groups.

MALLAH: I’m most excited by the continued mainstreaming of AI safety research. There are more and more publications coming out by places like DeepMind and Google Brain that have really lent additional credibility to the space, as well as a continued uptake of more and more professors, and postdocs, and grad students from a wide variety of universities entering this space. And, of course, OpenAI has come out with a number of useful papers and resources.

I’m also excited that governments have really realized that this is an important issue. So, while the White House reports have come out recently focusing more on near-term AI safety research, they did note that longer-term concerns like superintelligence are not necessarily unreasonable for later this century. And that they do support – right now – funding safety work that can scale toward the future, which is really exciting. We really need more funding coming into the community for that type of research. Likewise, other governments – like the U.K. and Japan, Germany – have all made very positive statements about AI safety in one form or another. And other governments around the world.

CONN: In addition to seeing so many other groups get involved in AI safety, Victoria was also pleased to see FLI taking part in so many large AI conferences.

KRAKOVNA: I think I’ve been pretty excited to see us involved in these AI safety workshops at major conferences. So on the one hand, our conference in Puerto Rico that we organized ourselves was very influential and helped to kick-start making AI safety more mainstream in the AI community. On the other hand, it felt really good in 2016 to complement that with having events that are actually part of major conferences that were co-organized by a lot of mainstream AI researchers. I think that really was an integral part of the mainstreaming of the field. For example, I was really excited about the Reliable Machine Learning workshop at ICML that we helped to make happen. I think that was something that was quite positively received at the conference, and there was a lot of good AI safety material there.

CONN: And of course, Victoria was also pretty excited about some of the papers that were published this year connected to AI safety, many of which received at least partial funding from FLI.

KRAKOVNA: There were several excellent papers in AI safety this year, addressing core problems in safety for machine learning systems. For example, there was a paper from Stuart Russell’s lab published at NIPS, on cooperative IRL. This is about teaching AI what humans want – how to train an RL algorithm to learn the right reward function that reflects what humans want it to do. DeepMind and FHI published a paper at UAI on safely interruptible agents, that formalizes what it means for an RL agent not to have incentives to avoid shutdown. MIRI made an impressive breakthrough with their paper on logical inductors. I’m super excited about all these great papers coming out, and that our grant program contributed to these results.

CONN: For Meia, the excitement about AI safety went beyond just the technical aspects of artificial intelligence.

CHITA-TEGMARK: I am very excited about the dialogue that FLI has catalyzed – and also engaged in – throughout 2016, and especially regarding the impact of technology on society. My training is in psychology; I’m a psychologist. So I’m very interested in the human aspect of technology development. I’m very excited about questions like, how are new technologies changing us? How ready are we to embrace new technologies? Or how our psychological biases may be clouding our judgement about what we’re creating and the technologies that we’re putting out there. Are these technologies beneficial for our psychological well-being, or are they not?

So it has been extremely interesting for me to see that these questions are being asked more and more, especially by artificial intelligence developers and also researchers. I think it’s so exciting to be creating technologies that really force us to grapple with some of the most fundamental aspects, I would say, of our own psychological makeup. For example, our ethical values, our sense of purpose, our well-being, maybe our biases and shortsightedness and shortcomings as biological human beings. So I’m definitely very excited about how the conversation regarding technology – and especially artificial intelligence – has evolved over the last year. I like the way it has expanded to capture this human element, which I find so important. But I’m also so happy to feel that FLI has been an important contributor to this conversation.

CONN: Meanwhile, as Max described earlier, FLI has also gotten much more involved in decreasing the risk of nuclear weapons, and Lucas helped spearhead one of our greatest accomplishments of the year.

PERRY: One of the things that I was most excited about was our success with our divestment campaign. After a few months, we had great success in our own local Boston area with helping the City of Cambridge to divest its $1 billion portfolio from nuclear weapon producing companies. And we see this as a really big and important victory within our campaign to help institutions, persons, and universities to divest from nuclear weapons producing companies.

CONN: And in order to truly be effective we need to reach an international audience, which is something Dave has been happy to see grow this year.

STANLEY: I’m mainly excited about – at least, in my work – the increasing involvement and response we’ve had from the international community in terms of reaching out about these issues. I think it’s pretty important that we engage the international community more, and not just academics. Because these issues – things like nuclear weapons and the increasing capabilities of artificial intelligence – really will affect everybody. And they seem to be really underrepresented in mainstream media coverage as well.

So far, we’ve had pretty good responses just in terms of volunteers from many different countries around the world being interested in getting involved to help raise awareness in their respective communities, either through helping develop apps for us, or translation, or promoting just through social media these ideas in their little communities.

CONN: Many FLI members also participated in both local and global events and projects, like the following we’re about  to hear from Victoria, Richard, Lucas and Meia.

KRAKOVNA: The EAGX Oxford Conference was a fairly large conference. It was very well organized, and we had a panel there with Demis Hassabis, Nate Soares from MIRI, Murray Shanahan from Imperial, Toby Ord from FHI, and myself. I feel like overall, that conference did a good job of, for example, connecting the local EA community with the people at DeepMind, who are really thinking about AI safety concerns like Demis and also Sean Legassick, who also gave a talk about the ethics and impacts side of things. So I feel like that conference overall did a good job of connecting people who are thinking about these sorts of issues, which I think is always a great thing.  

MALLAH: I was involved in this endeavor with IEEE regarding autonomy and ethics in autonomous systems, sort of representing FLI’s positions on things like autonomous weapons and long-term AI safety. One thing that came out this year – just a few days ago, actually, due to this work from IEEE – is that the UN actually took the report pretty seriously, and it may have influenced their decision to take up the issue of autonomous weapons formally next year. That’s kind of heartening.

PERRY: A few different things that I really enjoyed doing were giving a few different talks at Duke and Boston College, and a local effective altruism conference. I’m also really excited about all the progress we’re making on our nuclear divestment application. So this is an application that will allow anyone to search their mutual fund and see whether or not their mutual funds have direct or indirect holdings in nuclear weapons-producing companies.

CHITA-TEGMARK:  So, a wonderful moment for me was at the conference organized by Yann LeCun in New York at NYU, when Daniel Kahneman, one of my thinker-heroes, asked a very important question that really left the whole audience in silence. He asked, “Does this make you happy? Would AI make you happy? Would the development of a human-level artificial intelligence make you happy?” I think that was one of the defining moments, and I was very happy to participate in this conference.

Later on, David Chalmers, another one of my thinker-heroes – this time, not the psychologist but the philosopher – organized another conference, again at NYU, trying to bring philosophers into this very important conversation about the development of artificial intelligence. And again, I felt there too, that FLI was able to contribute and bring in this perspective of the social sciences on this issue.

CONN: Now, with 2016 coming to an end, it’s time to turn our sites to 2017, and FLI is excited for this new year to be even more productive and beneficial.

TEGMARK: We at the Future of Life Institute are planning to focus primarily on artificial intelligence, and on reducing the risk of accidental nuclear war in various ways. We’re kicking off by having an international conference on artificial intelligence, and then we want to continue throughout the year providing really high-quality and easily accessible information on all these key topics, to help inform on what happens with climate change, with nuclear weapons, with lethal autonomous weapons, and so on.

And looking ahead here, I think it’s important right now – especially since a lot of people are very stressed out about the political situation in the world, about terrorism, and so on – to not ignore the positive trends and the glimmers of hope we can see as well.

CONN: As optimistic as FLI members are about 2017, we’re all also especially hopeful and curious to see what will happen with continued AI safety research.

AGUIRRE: I would say I’m looking forward to seeing in the next year more of the research that comes out, and really sort of delving into it myself, and understanding how the field of artificial intelligence and artificial intelligence safety is developing. And I’m very interested in this from the forecast and prediction standpoint.

I’m interested in trying to draw some of the AI community into really understanding how artificial intelligence is unfolding – in the short term and the medium term – as a way to understand, how long do we have? Is it, you know, if it’s really infinity, then let’s not worry about that so much, and spend a little bit more on nuclear weapons and global warming and biotech, because those are definitely happening. If human-level AI were 8 years away… honestly, I think we should be freaking out right now. And most people don’t believe that, I think most people are in the middle it seems, of thirty years or fifty years or something, which feels kind of comfortable. Although it’s not that long, really, on the big scheme of things. But I think it’s quite important to know now, which is it? How fast are these things, how long do we really have to think about all of the issues that FLI has been thinking about in AI? How long do we have before most jobs in industry and manufacturing are replaceable by a robot being slotted in for a human? That may be 5 years, it may be fifteen… It’s probably not fifty years at all. And having a good forecast on those good short-term questions I think also tells us what sort of things we have to be thinking about now.

And I’m interested in seeing how this massive AI safety community that’s started develops. It’s amazing to see centers kind of popping up like mushrooms after a rain all over and thinking about artificial intelligence safety. This partnership on AI between Google and Facebook and a number of other large companies getting started. So to see how those different individual centers will develop and how they interact with each other. Is there an overall consensus on where things should go? Or is it a bunch of different organizations doing their own thing? Where will governments come in on all of this? I think it will be interesting times. So I look forward to seeing what happens, and I will reserve judgement in terms of my optimism.

KRAKOVNA: I’m really looking forward to AI safety becoming even more mainstream, and even more of the really good researchers in AI giving it serious thought. Something that happened in the past year that I was really excited about, that I think is also pointing in this direction, is the research agenda that came out of Google Brain called “Concrete Problems in AI Safety.” And I think I’m looking forward to more things like that happening, where AI safety becomes sufficiently mainstream that people who are working in AI just feel inspired to do things like that and just think from their own perspectives: what are the important problems to solve in AI safety? And work on them.

I’m a believer in the portfolio approach with regards to AI safety research, where I think we need a lot of different research teams approaching the problems from different angles and making different assumptions, and hopefully some of them will make the right assumption. I think we are really moving in the direction in terms of more people working on these problems, and coming up with different ideas. And I look forward to seeing more of that in 2017. I think FLI can also help continue to make this happen.

MALLAH: So, we’re in the process of fostering additional collaboration among people in the AI safety space. And we will have more announcements about this early next year. We’re also working on resources to help people better visualize and better understand the space of AI safety work, and the opportunities there and the work that has been done. Because it’s actually quite a lot.

I’m also pretty excited about fostering continued theoretical work and practical work in making AI more robust and beneficial. The work in value alignment, for instance, is not something we see supported in mainstream AI research. And this is something that is pretty crucial to the way that advanced AIs will need to function. It won’t be very explicit instructions to them; they’ll have to be making decision based on what they think is right. And what is right? It’s something that… or even structuring the way to think about what is right requires some more research.

STANLEY: We’ve had pretty good success at FLI in the past few years helping to legitimize the field of AI safety. And I think it’s going to be important because AI is playing a large role in industry and there’s a lot of companies working on this, and not just in the US. So I think increasing international awareness about AI safety is going to be really important.

CHITA-TEGMARK: I believe that the AI community has raised some very important questions in 2016 regarding the impact of AI on society. I feel like 2017 should be the year to make progress on these questions, and actually research them and have some answers to them. For this, I think we need more social scientists – among people from other disciplines – to join this effort of really systematically investigating what would be the optimal impact of AI on people. I hope that in 2017 we will have more research initiatives, that we will attempt to systematically study other burning questions regarding the impact of AI on society. Some examples are: how can we ensure the psychological well-being for people while AI creates lots of displacement on the job market as many people predict. How do we optimize engagement with technology, and withdrawal from it also? Will some people be left behind, like the elderly or the economically disadvantaged? How will this affect them, and how will this affect society at large?

What about withdrawal from technology? What about satisfying our need for privacy? Will we be able to do that, or is the price of having more and more customized technologies and more and more personalization of the technologies we engage with… will that mean that we will have no privacy anymore, or that our expectations of privacy will be very seriously violated? I think these are some very important questions that I would love to get some answers to. And my wish, and also my resolution, for 2017 is to see more progress on these questions, and to hopefully also be part of this work and answering them.

PERRY: In 2017 I’m very interested in pursuing the landscape of different policy and principle recommendations from different groups regarding artificial intelligence. I’m also looking forward to expanding out nuclear divestment campaign by trying to introduce divestment to new universities, institutions, communities, and cities.

CONN: In fact, some experts believe nuclear weapons pose a greater threat now than at any time during our history.

TEGMARK: I personally feel that the greatest threat to the world in 2017 is one that the newspapers almost never write about. It’s not terrorist attacks, for example. It’s the small but horrible risk that the U.S. and Russia for some stupid reason get into an accidental nuclear war against each other. We have 14,000 nuclear weapons, and this war has almost happened many, many times. So, actually what’s quite remarkable and really gives a glimmer of hope is that – however people may feel about Putin and Trump – the fact is they are both signaling strongly that they are eager to get along better. And if that actually pans out and they manage to make some serious progress in nuclear arms reduction, that would make 2017 the best year for nuclear weapons we’ve had in a long, long time, reversing this trend of ever greater risks with ever more lethal weapons.

CONN: Some FLI members are also looking beyond nuclear weapons and artificial intelligence, as I learned when I asked Dave about other goals he hopes to accomplish with FLI this year.

STANLEY: Definitely having the volunteer team – particularly the international volunteers – continue to grow, and then scale things up. Right now, we have a fairly committed core of people who are helping out, and we think that they can start recruiting more people to help out in their little communities, and really making this stuff accessible. Not just to academics, but to everybody. And that’s also reflected in the types of people we have working for us as volunteers. They’re not just academics. We have programmers, linguists, people having just high school degrees all the way up to Ph.D.’s, so I think it’s pretty good that this varied group of people can get involved and contribute, and also reach out to other people they can relate to.

CONN: In addition to getting more people involved, Meia also pointed out that one of the best ways we can help ensure a positive future is to continue to offer people more informative content.

CHITA-TEGMARK: Another thing that I’m very excited about regarding our work here at the Future of Life Institute is this mission of empowering people to information. I think information is very powerful and can change the way people approach things: they can change their beliefs, their attitudes, and their behaviors as well. And by creating ways in which information can be readily distributed to the people, and with which they can engage very easily, I hope that we can create changes. For example, we’ve had a series of different apps regarding nuclear weapons that I think have contributed a lot to peoples knowledge and has brought this issue to the forefront of their thinking.

CONN: Yet as important as it is to highlight the existential risks we must address to keep humanity safe, perhaps it’s equally important to draw attention to the incredible hope we have for the future if we can solve these problems. Which is something both Richard and Lucas brought up for 2017.

MALLAH: I’m excited about trying to foster more positive visions of the future, so focusing on existential hope aspects of the future. Which are kind of the flip side of existential risks. So we’re looking at various ways of getting people to be creative about understanding some of the possibilities, and how to differentiate the paths between the risks and the benefits.

PERRY: Yeah, I’m also interested in creating and generating a lot more content that has to do with existential hope. Given the current global political climate, it’s all the more important to focus on how we can make the world better.

CONN: And on that note, I want to mention one of the most amazing things I discovered this past year. It had nothing to do with technology, and everything to do with people. Since starting at FLI, I’ve met countless individuals who are dedicating their lives to trying to make the world a better place. We may have a lot of problems to solve, but with so many groups focusing solely on solving them, I’m far more hopeful for the future. There are truly too many individuals that I’ve met this year to name them all, so instead, I’d like to provide a rather long list of groups and organizations I’ve had the pleasure to work with this year. A link to each group can be found at, and I encourage you to visit them all to learn more about the wonderful work they’re doing. In no particular order, they are:

Machine Intelligence Research Institute

Future of Humanity Institute

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Center for the Study of Existential Risk

Ploughshares Fund

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Open Philanthropy Project

Union of Concerned Scientists

The William Perry Project

ReThink Media

Don’t Bank on the Bomb

Federation of American Scientists

Massachusetts Peace Action

IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers)

Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence

Center for Effective Altruism

Center for Applied Rationality

Foresight Institute

Leverhulme Center for the Future of Intelligence

Global Priorities Project

Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence

International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence

Partnership on AI

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

The Future Society at Harvard Kennedy School


I couldn’t be more excited to see what 2017 holds in store for us, and all of us at FLI look forward to doing all we can to help create a safe and beneficial future for everyone. But to end on an even more optimistic note, I turn back to Max.

TEGMARK: Finally, I’d like – because I spend a lot of my time thinking about our universe – to remind everybody that we shouldn’t just be focused on the next election cycle. We have not decades, but billions of years of potentially awesome future for life, on Earth and far beyond. And it’s so important to not let ourselves get so distracted by our everyday little frustrations that we lose sight of these incredible opportunities that we all stand to gain from if we can get along, and focus, and collaborate, and use technology for good.

Nuclear Winter with Alan Robock and Brian Toon

The UN voted last week to begin negotiations on a global nuclear weapons ban, but for now, nuclear weapons still jeopardize the existence of almost all people on earth.

I recently sat down with Meteorologist Alan Robock from Rutgers University and physicist Brian Toon from the University of Colorado to discuss what is potentially the most devastating consequence of nuclear war: nuclear winter.

Toon and Robock have studied and modeled nuclear winter off and on for over 30 years, and they joined forces ten years ago to use newer climate models to look at the climate effects of a small nuclear war.

The following interview has been heavily edited, but you can listen to it in its entirety here or read the complete transcript here.

Ariel: How is it that you two started working together?

Toon: This was initiated by a reporter. At the time, Pakistan and India were having a conflict over Kashmir and threatening each other with nuclear weapons. A reporter wanted to know what effect this might have on the rest of the planet. I calculated the amount of smoke and found, “Wow that was a lot of smoke!”

Alan had a great volcano model, so at the American Geophysical Union meeting that year, I tried to convince him to work on this problem. Alan was pretty skeptical.

Robock: I don’t remember being skeptical. I remember being very interested. I said, “How much smoke would there be?” Brian told me 5,000,000 tons of smoke, and I said, “That sounds like a lot!”

We put it into a NASA climate model and found it would be the largest climate change in recorded human history. The basic physics is very simple. If you block out the Sun, it gets cold and dark at the Earth’s surface.

We hypothesized that if each country used half of their nuclear arsenal, that would be 50 weapons on each side. We assumed the simplest bomb, which is the size dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — a 15 kiloton bomb.

The answer is the global average temperature would go down by about 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the middle of continents, temperature drops would be larger and last for a decade or more.

We took models that calculate agricultural productivity and calculated how wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice production would change. In the 5 years after this war, using less than 1% of the global arsenal on the other side of the world, global food production would go down by 20-40 percent for 5 years, and for the next 5 years, 10-20 percent.

Ariel: Could you address criticisms of whether or not the smoke would loft that high or spread globally?

Toon: The only people that have been critical are Alan and I. The Departments of Energy and Defense, which should be investigating this problem, have done absolutely nothing. No one has done studies of fire propagation in big cities — no fire department is going to go put out a nuclear fire.

As far as the rising smoke, we’ve had people investigate that and they all find the same things: it goes into the upper atmosphere and then self-lofts. But, these should be investigated by a range of scientists with a range of experiences.

Robock: What are the properties of the smoke? We assume it would be small, single, black particles. That needs to be investigated. What would happen to the particles as they sit in the stratosphere? Would they react with other particles? Would they degrade? Would they grow? There are additional questions and unknowns.

Toon: Alan made lists of the important issues. And we have gone to every agency that we can think of, and said, “Don’t you think someone should study this?” Basically, everyone we tried so far has said, “Well, that’s not my job.”

Ariel: Do you think there’s a chance then that as we acquired more information that even smaller nuclear wars could pose similar risks? Or is 100 nuclear weapons the minimum?

Robock: First, it’s hard to imagine how once a nuclear war starts, it could be limited. Communications are destroyed, people panic — how would people even be able to rationally have a nuclear war and stop?

Second, we don’t know. When you get down to small numbers, it depends on what city, what time of year, the weather that day. And we don’t want to emphasize India and Pakistan – any two nuclear countries could do this.

Toon: The most common thing that happens when we give a talk is someone will stand up and say, “Oh, but a war would only involve one nuclear weapon.” But the only nuclear war we’ve had, the nuclear power, the United States, used every weapon that it had on civilian targets.

If you have 1000 weapons and you’re afraid your adversary is going to attack you with their 1000 weapons, you’re not likely to just bomb them with one weapon.

Robock: Let me make one other point. If the United States attacked Russia on a first strike and Russia did nothing, the climate change resulting from that could kill almost everybody in the United States. We’d all starve to death because of the climate response. People used to think of this as mutually assured destruction, but really it’s being a suicide bomber: it’s self-assured destruction.
Ariel: What scares you most regarding nuclear weapons?

Toon: Politicians’ ignorance of the implications of using nuclear weapons. Russia sees our advances to keep Eastern European countries free — they see that as an attempt to move military forces near Russia where [NATO] could quickly attack them. There’s a lack of communication, a lack of understanding of [the] threat and how people see different things in different ways. So Russians feel threatened when we don’t even mean to threaten them.

Robock: What scares me is an accident. There have been a number of cases where we came very close to having nuclear war. Crazy people or mistakes could result in a nuclear war. Some teenaged hacker could get into the systems. We’ve been lucky to have gone 71 years without a second nuclear war. The only way to prevent it is to get rid of the nuclear weapons.

Toon: We have all these countries with 100 weapons. All those countries can attack anybody on the Earth and destroy most of the country. This is ridiculous, to develop a world where everybody can destroy anybody else on the planet. That’s what we’re moving toward.

Ariel: Is there anything else you think the public needs to understand about nuclear weapons or nuclear winter?

Robock: I would think about all of the countries that don’t have nuclear weapons. How did they make that decision? What can we learn from them?

The world agreed to a ban on chemical weapons, biological weapons, cluster munitions, land mines — but there’s no ban on the worst weapon of mass destruction, nuclear weapons. The UN General Assembly voted next year to negotiate a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which will be a first step towards reducing the arsenals and disarmament. But people have to get involved and demand it.

Toon: We’re not paying enough attention to nuclear weapons. The United States has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in building better nuclear weapons that we’re never going to use. Why don’t we invest that in schools or in public health or in infrastructure? Why invest it in worthless things we can’t use?

The Historic UN Vote On Banning Nuclear Weapons

By Joe Cirincione

History was made at the United Nations today. For the first time in its 71 years, the global body voted to begin negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

Eight nations with nuclear arms (the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, and Israel) opposed or abstained from the resolution, while North Korea voted yes. However, with a vote of 123 for, 38 against and 16 abstaining, the First Assembly decided “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

The resolution effort, led by Mexico, Austria, Brazil Ireland, Nigeria and South Africa, was joined by scores of others.

“There comes a time when choices have to be made and this is one of those times,” said Helena Nolan, Ireland’s director of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, “Given the clear risks associated with the continued existence of nuclear weapons, this is now a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility. Governance requires accountability and governance requires leadership.”

The Obama Administration was in fierce opposition. It lobbied all nations, particularly its allies, to vote no. “How can a state that relies on nuclear weapons for its security possibly join a negotiation meant to stigmatize and eliminate them?” argued Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. special representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, “The ban treaty runs the risk of undermining regional security.”

The U.S. opposition is a profound mistake. Ambassador Wood is a career foreign service officer and a good man who has worked hard for our country. But this position is indefensible.

Every president since Harry Truman has sought the elimination of nuclear weapons. Ronald Reagan famously said in his 1984 State of the Union:

“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”

In case there was any doubt as to his intentions, he affirmed in his second inaugural address that, “We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.”

President Barack Obama himself stigmatized these weapons, most recently in his speech in Hiroshima this May:

“The memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change,” he said, “We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”

The idea of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons is inspired by similar, successful treaties to ban biological weapons, chemical weapons, and landmines. All started with grave doubts. Many in the United States opposed these treaties. But when President Richard Nixon began the process to ban biological weapons and President George H.W. Bush began talks to ban chemical weapons, other nations rallied to their leadership. These agreements have not yet entirely eliminated these deadly arsenals (indeed, the United States is still not a party to the landmine treaty) but they stigmatized them, hugely increased the taboo against their use or possession, and convinced the majority of countries to destroy their stockpiles.I am engaged in real, honest debates among nuclear security experts on the pros and cons of this ban treaty. Does it really matter if a hundred-plus countries sign a treaty to ban nuclear weapons but none of the countries with nuclear weapons join? Will this be a serious distraction from the hard work of stopping new, dangerous weapons systems, cutting nuclear budgets, or ratifying the nuclear test ban treaty?

The ban treaty idea did not originate in the United States, nor was it championed by many U.S. groups, nor is within U.S. power to control the process. Indeed, this last seems to be one of the major reasons the administration opposes the talks.

But this movement is gaining strength. Two years ago, I covered the last of the three conferences held on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons for Defense One. Whatever experts and officials thought about the goals of the effort, I said, “the Vienna conference signals the maturing of a new, significant current in the nuclear policy debate. Government policy makers would be wise to take this new factor into account.”

What began as sincere concerns about the horrendous humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons has now become a diplomatic process driving towards a new global accord. It is fueled less by ideology than by fear.

The movement reflects widespread fears that the world is moving closer to a nuclear catastrophe — and that the nuclear-armed powers are not serious about reducing these risks or their arsenals. If anything, these states are increasing the danger by pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into new Cold War nuclear weapons programs.

The fears in the United States that, if elected, Donald Trump would have unfettered control of thousands of nuclear weapons has rippled out from the domestic political debate to exacerbate these fears. Rising US-Russian tensions, new NATO military deployments on the Russian border, a Russian aircraft carrier cruising through the Straits of Gibraltar, the shock at the Trump candidacy and the realization — exposed by Trump’s loose talk of using nuclear weapons – that any US leader can unleash a nuclear war with one command, without debate, deliberation or restraint, have combined to convince many nations that dramatic action is needed before it is too late.

As journalist Bill Press said as we discussed these developments on his show, “He scared the hell out of them.”

There is still time for the United States to shift gears. We should not squander the opportunity to join a process already in motion and to help guide it to a productive outcome. It is a Washington trope that you cannot defeat something with nothing. Right now, the US has nothing positive to offer. The disarmament process is dead and this lack of progress undermines global support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty and broader efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

The new presidential administration must make a determined effort to mount new initiatives that reduce these weapons, reduce these risks. It should also support the ban treaty process as a powerful way to build global support for a long-standing American national security goal. We must, as President John F. Kennedy said, eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us.

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Note from FLI: Among our objectives is to inspire discussion and a sharing of ideas. As such, we post op-eds that we believe will help spur discussion within our community. Op-eds do not necessarily represent FLI’s opinions or views.

Obama’s Nuclear Legacy

The following article and infographic were originally posted on Futurism.

The most destructive device that humanity ever created is the nuclear bomb. It’s a technology that is capable of unparalleled devastation; it’s a technology that The United Nations classifies as “the most dangerous weapon on Earth.”

One bomb can destroy a whole city in seconds, and in so doing, end the lives of millions of people (depending on where it is dropped). If that’s not enough, it can throw the natural environment into chaos. We know this because we’ve used them before.

The first device of this kind was unleashed at approximately 8:15 am on August 6th, 1945. At this time, a US B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It killed around 80,000 people instantly. Over the coming years, many more would succumb to radiation sickness. All-in-all, it is estimated that over 200,000 people died as a result of the nuclear blasts in Japan.

How far have we come since then? How many bombs do we have at our disposal? Here’s a look at our legacy.

Trillion Dollar Nukes

Trillion Dollar Nukes

Would you spend $1 trillion tax dollars on nuclear weapons?

How much are nuclear weapons really worth? Is upgrading the US nuclear arsenal worth $1 trillion – in the hopes of never using it – when that money could be used to improve lives, create jobs, decrease taxes, or pay off debts? How far can $1 trillion go if it’s not all spent on nukes?

The application below helps answer those questions. Click on the icons on the left to ‘shop’ for items to add to your cart. See something you want to add? Just click on the title, and it will automatically be placed in your cart. To view your items or make changes, click on the shopping cart. From there, you can increase or decrease the amount of money allotted to each. If you want to maintain deterrence, but don’t support the whole upgrade, then just don’t spend all of the money – whatever is left over can be what you think nuclear upgrades are worth. When you’re done, click on the shopping cart, and share on social media to let your voice be heard!

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Former Defense Secretary William Perry Launches MOOC on Nuclear Risks

Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.” – William J. Perry, 2015

The following description of Dr. Perry’s new MOOC is courtesy of the William J. Perry Project.

Nuclear weapons, far from being historical curiosities, are existential dangers today. But what can you do about this? The first step is to educate yourself on the subject. Now it’s easy to do that in the first free, online course devoted to educating the public about the history and dangers of nuclear weapons. This 10-week course, created by former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and 10 other highly distinguished educators and public servants is hosted by Stanford University and starts October 4, 2016; sign up now here.

This course has a broad range, from physics to history to politics and diplomacy. You will have the opportunity to obtain a Statement of Accomplishment by passing the appropriate quizzes, but there are no prerequisites other than curiosity and a passion for learning.  Our faculty is an unprecedented group of internationally recognized academic experts, scientists, journalists, political activists, former ambassadors, and former cabinet members from the United States and Russia. Throughout the course you will have opportunities to engage with these faculty members, as well as guest experts and your fellow students from around the world, in weekly online discussions and forums.

In Weeks 1 and 2 you will learn about the creation of the first atomic bomb and the nuclear physics behind these weapons, taught by Dr. Joseph Martz, a physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratories, and Dr. Siegfried Hecker, former Los Alamos director and a Stanford professor. Drs. Perry, Martz and Hecker describe the early years of the Atomic Age starting from the first nuclear explosion in New Mexico and the atomic bombing of Japan, followed by proliferation of these weapons to the Soviet Union and the beginning of the terrifying nuclear arms race underpinning the Cold War. You also will learn about ICBMs, deterrence and the nuclear triad, nuclear testing, nuclear safety (and the lack of it), the extent and dangers of nuclear proliferation, the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and the continuing fears about “loose nukes” and unsecured fissile material.

In Weeks 3 and 4 of Living at the Nuclear Brink, Dr. Perry outlines the enormous challenges the United States and its allies faced during the early frightening years of what came to be known as the Cold War. Then Dr. David Holloway, an international expert on the development of the Soviet nuclear program, will lead you on a tour of the Cold War, from its beginnings with Soviet nuclear tests and the Berlin Crisis, the Korean War, the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, probably the closest the world has come to nuclear war. Dr. Holloway will then cover the dangerous years of the late 1970s and early 1980s when détente between the Soviet Union and the West broke down; both sides amassed huge arsenals of nuclear weapons with increasingly sophisticated delivery methods including multiple warheads, and trust was strained with the introduction of short-range ballistic missiles in Europe. Finally, Dr. Holloway and Dr. Perry will describe the fascinating story of how this spiraling international tension was quelled, in part by the new thinking of Gorbachev, and how the Cold War ended with surprising speed and with minimal bloodshed.

In Week 5, you will hear from acclaimed national security journalist Philip Taubman about the remarkable efforts of scientists and engineers in the United States to develop technical methods for filling the gap of knowledge about the nuclear capabilities of the Soviet Union, including spy planes like the U-2 and satellite systems like Corona. In Week 6, you will hear from a recognized expert on nuclear policy, Dr. Scott Sagan of Stanford. Dr. Sagan will explore the theories behind nuclear deterrence and stability; you will learn how this theoretical stability is threatened by proclivities for preventive wars, commitment traps and accidents. You will hear hair-raising stories of accidents, miscalculations and bad intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis that that brought the world much closer to a nuclear catastrophe than most people realized.

Weeks 7 and 8 are devoted to exploring the nuclear dangers of today. Dr. Martha Crenshaw, an internationally recognized expert on terrorism, will discuss this topic, and examine the terrifying possibility of the nuclear terrorism. You will see a novel graphic-art video from the William J Perry Project depicting Dr. Perry’s nightmare scenario of a nuclear bomb exploded in Washington, D.C. Week 8 is devoted to current problems of nuclear proliferation. Dr. Hecker gives a first-hand account of the nuclear program in the dangerously unpredictable regime of North Korea, and goes over the fluid situation in Iran. The most dangerous region may be South Asia, where bitter enemies Pakistan and India face off with nuclear weapons. The challenges and possibilities in this confrontation are explored in depth by Dr. Sagan, Dr. Crenshaw, Dr. Hecker, and Dr. Perry; Dr. Andrei Kokoshin, former Russian Deputy Minister of Defense in the 1990s, offers a Russian perspective.

In the final two weeks of Living at the Nuclear Brink, we will explore ways to address the urgent problems of nuclear weapons. Dr. Perry describes the struggles by U.S. administrations to contain these dangers, and highlights some of the success stories, notably the Nunn-Lugar program that led to the dismantling of thousands of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union and the United States. James Goodby had a decades long career in the U.S. foreign service; he covers the long and often frustrating history of attempts to limit and control nuclear weapons through treaties and international agreements. Former Secretary of State George Shultz describes the momentous Reykjavik Summit between Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev, in which he participated, and gives his take on the prospects for global security. Finally, you will hear an impassioned plea for active engagement on the nuclear issue by Joseph Cirincione, author and President of the Ploughshares Fund.

Please join us in this exciting and novel online course; we welcome your participation!

For more, watch Gov. Jerry Brown discuss the importance of learning about nuclear weapons, and watch former Secretary of Defense William Perry introduce this MOOC.

Podcast: What Is Our Current Nuclear Risk?

A conversation with Lucas Perry about nuclear risk


  • Ariel Conn— Ariel oversees communications and digital media at FLI, and as such, she works closely with members of the nuclear community to help present information about the costs and risks of nuclear weapons.
  • Lucas Perry—Lucas has been actively working with the Mayor and City Council of Cambridge, MA to help them divest from nuclear weapons companies, and he works closely with groups like Don’t Bank on the Bomb to bring more nuclear divestment options to the U.S.


In this podcast interview, Lucas and Ariel discuss the concepts of nuclear deterrence, hair trigger alert, the potential consequences of nuclear war, and how individuals can do their part to lower the risks of nuclear catastrophe. (You can find more links to information about these issues at the bottom of the page.)


Ariel:  I’m Ariel Conn with the Future of Life Institute, and I’m here with Lucas Perry, also a member of FLI, to talk about the increasing risks of nuclear weapons, and what we can do to decrease those risks.

With the end of the Cold War, and the development of the two new START treaties, we’ve dramatically decreased the number of nuclear weapons around the world. Yet even though there are fewer weapons, they still represent a real and growing threat. In the last few months, FLI has gotten increasingly involved in efforts to decrease the risks of nuclear weapons.

One of the first things people worry about when it comes to decreasing the number of nuclear weapons or altering our nuclear posture is whether or not we can still maintain effective deterrence.

Lucas, can you explain how deterrence works?

Lucas: Sure, deterrence is the idea that to protect ourselves from other nuclear states who might want to harm us through nuclear strikes, if we have our own nuclear weapons primed and ready to be fired, it would deter another nuclear state from firing on us, knowing that we would retaliate with similar, or even more, nuclear force.

Ariel:  OK, and along the same lines, can you explain what hair trigger alert is?

Lucas: Hair trigger alert is a Cold War-era strategy that has nuclear weapons armed and ready for launch within minutes. It ensures mutual and total annihilation, and thus acts as a means of deterrence. But the problem here is that it also increases the likelihood of accidental nuclear war.

Ariel:  Can you explain how an accidental nuclear war could happen? And, also, has it almost happened before?

Lucas: Having a large fraction of our nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert creates the potential for accidental nuclear war through the fallibility of the persons and instruments involved with the launching of nuclear weapons, in junction with the very small amount of time actually needed to fire the nuclear missiles.

Us humans are known to be prone to making mistakes on a daily basis, and we even make the same mistakes multiple times. Computers, radars, and all of the other instruments and technology that go into the launching and detecting of nuclear strikes are intrinsically fallible, as well, as they are prone to breaking and committing error.

So there is the potential for us to fire missiles when an instrument gives us false alarm or a person—say, the President—under the pressure of needing to make a decision within only a few minutes, decides to fire missiles due to some misinterpretation of a situation. This susceptibility to error is actually so great that groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists have been able to identify at least 21 nuclear close calls where nuclear war was almost started by mistake.

Ariel:  How long does the President actually have to decide whether or not to launch a retaliatory attack?

Lucas: The President actually only has about 12 minutes to decide whether or not to fire our missiles in retaliation. After our radars have detected the incoming missiles, and after this information has been conveyed to the President, there has already been some non-negligible amount of time—perhaps 5 to 15 minutes—where nuclear missiles might already be inbound. So he only has another few minutes—say, about 10 or 12 minutes—to decide whether or not to fire ours in retaliation. But this is also highly contingent upon where the missiles are coming from and how early we detected their launch.

Ariel:  OK, and then do you have any examples off the top of your head of times where we’ve had close calls that almost led to an unnecessary nuclear war?

Lucas: Out of the twenty-or-so nuclear close calls that have been identified by the Union of Concerned Scientists, among other organizations, a few that stand out to me are—for example, in 1980, the Soviet Union launched four submarine-based missiles from near the Kuril Islands as part of a training exercise, which led to a triggering of American early-warning sensors.

And even in 1995, Russian early-warning radar detected a missile launch off the coast of Norway with flight characteristics very similar to that of US submarine missiles. This led to all Russian nuclear forces going into full alert, and even the President at the time got his nuclear football ready and was prepared for full nuclear retaliation. But they ended up realizing that this was just a Norwegian scientific rocket.

These examples really help to illustrate how hair trigger alert is so dangerous. Persons and instruments are inevitably going to make mistakes, and this is only made worse when nuclear weapons are primed and ready to be launched within only minutes.

Ariel:  Going back to deterrence: Do we actually need our nuclear weapons to be on hair trigger alert in order to have effective deterrence?

Lucas: Not necessarily. The current idea is that we keep our intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which are located in silos, on hair trigger alert so that these nuclear weapons can be launched before the silos are destroyed by an enemy strike. But warheads can be deployed without being on hair trigger alert, on nuclear submarines and bombers, without jeopardizing national security. If nuclear weapons were to be fired at the United States with the intention of destroying our nuclear missile silos, then we could authorize the launch of our submarine- and bomber-based missiles over the time span of hours and even days. These missiles wouldn’t be able to be intercepted, and would thus offer a means of retaliation, and thus deterrence, without the added danger of being on hair trigger alert.

Ariel:  How many nuclear weapons does the Department of Defense suggest we need to maintain effective deterrence?

Lucas: Studies have shown that only about 300 to 1,000 nuclear weapons are necessary for deterrence. An example of this would be, about 450 of these bombs could be located on submarines and bombers spread out throughout the world, with about another 450 at home on reserve and in silos.

Ariel:  So how many nuclear weapons are there in the US and around the world?

Lucas: There are currently about 15,700 nuclear weapons on this planet. Russia and the US are the main holders of these, with Russia having about 7,500 and the US having about 7,200. Other important nuclear states to note are China, Israel, the UK, North Korea, France, India, and Pakistan.

Ariel:  OK, so basically we have a lot more nuclear weapons than we actually need.

Lucas: Right. If only about 300 to 1,000 are needed for deterrence, then the amount of nuclear weapons on this planet could be exponentially less than it is currently. And the amount that we have right now is actually just blatant overkill. It’s a waste of resources and it increases the risk of accidental nuclear war, making both the countries that have them and the countries that don’t have them, more at risk.

Ariel:  I want to consider this idea of the countries that don’t have them being more at risk. I’m assuming you’re talking about nuclear winter. Can you explain what nuclear winter is?

Lucas: Nuclear winter is an indirect effect of nuclear war. When nuclear weapons go off they create large firestorms from all of the infrastructure, debris, and trees that are set on fire surrounding the point of detonation. These massive firestorms release enormous amounts of soot and smoke into the air that goes into the atmosphere and can block out the sun for months and even years at a time. This drastically reduces the amount of sunlight that is able to get to the Earth, and it thus causes a significant decrease in average global temperatures.

Ariel:  How many nuclear weapons would actually have to go off in order for us to see a significant drop in temperature?

Lucas: About 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons would decrease average global temperatures by about 1.25 degrees Celsius. When these 100 bombs go off, they would release about 5 million tons of smoke lofted high into the stratosphere. And now, this change of 1.25 degrees Celsius of average global temperatures might seem very tiny, but studies actually show that this will lead to a shortening of growing seasons by up to 30 days and a 10% reduction in average global precipitation. Twenty million people would die directly from the effects of this, but then hundreds of millions of people would die in the following months from a lack of food due to the decrease in average global temperatures and a lack of precipitation.

Ariel:  And that’s hundreds of millions of people around the world, right? Not just in the regions where the war took place?

Lucas: Certainly. The soot and smoke from the firestorms would spread out across the entire planet and be affecting the amount of precipitation and sunlight that everyone receives. It’s not simply that the effects of nuclear war are contained to the countries involved with the nuclear strikes, but rather, potentially the very worst effects of nuclear war create global changes that would affect us all.

Ariel:  OK, so that was for a war between India and Pakistan, which would be small, and it would be using smaller nuclear weapons than what the US and Russia have. So if just an accident were to happen that triggered both the US and Russia to launch their nuclear weapons that are on hair trigger alert, what would the impacts of that be?

Lucas: Well, the United States has about a thousand weapons on hair trigger alert. I’m not exactly sure as to how many there are in Russia, but we can assume that it’s probably a similar amount. So if a nuclear war of about 2,000 weapons were to be exchanged between the United States and Russia, it would cause 510 million tons of smoke to rise into the stratosphere, which would lead to a 4 degrees Celsius change in average global temperatures. And compared to an India-Pakistan conflict, this would lead to catastrophically more casualties from a lack of food and from the direct effects of these nuclear bombs.

Ariel:  And over what sort of time scale is that expected to happen?

Lucas: The effects of nuclear winter, and perhaps even what might one day be nuclear summer, would be lasting over the time span of not just months, but years, even decades.

Ariel:  What’s nuclear summer?

Lucas: So nuclear summer is a more theoretical effect of nuclear war. With nuclear winter you have tons of soot and ash and smoke in the sky blotting out the sun, but additionally, there has actually been an enormous amount of CO2 released from the burning all of the infrastructure and forests and grounds due to the nuclear blasts. After decades, once all of this soot and ash and smoke begin to settle back down onto the Earth’s surface, there will still be this enormous remaining amount of CO2.

So nuclear summer is a hypothetical indirect effect of nuclear war, after nuclear winter, after the soot has fallen down, where there would be a huge spike in average global temperatures due to the enormous amount of CO2 left over from the firestorms.

Ariel: And so how likely is all of this to happen? Is there actually a chance that these types of wars could occur? Or is this mostly something that people are worrying about unnecessarily?

Lucas: The risk of a nuclear war is non-zero. It’s very difficult to quantify exactly what the risks are, but we can say that we have seen at least 21 nuclear close calls where nuclear war was almost started by mistake. And these 21 close calls are actually just the ones that we know about. How many more nuclear close calls have there been that we simply don’t know about, or that governments have been able to keep a secret? We can reflect that as tensions rise between the United States and Russia, and as the risk of terrorism and cyber attack continues to rise, and the conflict between India and Pakistan is continually exacerbated, the threat of nuclear war is actually increasing. It’s not going down.

Ariel:  So there is a risk, and we know that we have more nuclear weapons than we actually need for deterrence. Even if we want to keep enough weapons for deterrence, we don’t need as many as we have. I’m guessing that the government is not going to do anything about this, so what can people do to try to have an impact themselves?

Lucas: A method of engaging with this nuclear issue that has a potentially high efficacy is divesting. We have power as voters, consumers, and producers, but perhaps even more importantly, we have power over what we invest in. We have the power to choose to invest in companies that are socially responsible or ones which are not. So through divestment, we can take money away from nuclear weapons producers. But not only that, we can also work to stigmatize nuclear weapons production and our current nuclear situation through our divestment efforts.

Ariel:  But my understanding is that most of our nuclear weapons are funded by the government, so how would a divestment campaign actually be impactful, given that the money for nuclear weapons wouldn’t necessarily disappear?

Lucas: The most important part of divestment in this area of nuclear weapons is actually the stigmatization. When you see massive amounts of people divesting from something, it creates a lot of light and heat on the subject. It influences the public consciousness and helps to bring back to light this issue of nuclear weapons. And once you have stigmatized something to a critical point, it effectively renders its target politically and socially untenable. Divestment also stimulates new education and research on the topic, while also getting persons invested in the issue.

Ariel:  And so have there been effective campaigns that used divestment in the past?

Lucas: There have been a lot of different campaigns in the past that have used divestment as an effective means of creating important change in the world. A few examples of these are divestment from tobacco, South African apartheid, child labor, and fossil fuels. In all of these instances, persons were divesting from institutions involved in these socially irresponsible acts. Through doing so, they created much stigmatization of these issues, they created capital flight from them, and also created a lot of negative media attention that helped to bring light to these issues and show people the truth of what was going on.

Ariel:  I know FLI was initially inspired by a lot of the work that Don’t Bank on the Bomb has done. Can you talk a bit about some of the work they’ve done and what their success has been?

Lucas: The Don’t Bank on the Bomb campaign has been able to identify direct and indirect investments in nuclear weapons producers, made by large institutions in both Europe and America. Through this they have worked to engage with many banks in Europe to help them to not include these direct or indirect investments in their portfolios and mutual funds, thus helping them to construct socially responsible funds. A few examples of these successes are A&S Bank, ASR, and the Cooperative Bank.

Ariel:  So you’ve been very active with FLI in trying to launch a divestment campaign in the US. I was hoping you could talk a little about the work you’ve done so far and the success you’ve had.

Lucas: Inspired by a lot of the work that’s been done through the Don’t Bank on the Bomb campaign, in junction with resources provided by them, we were able to engage with the city of Cambridge and work with them and help them to divest $1 billion from nuclear weapons-producing companies. As we continue our divestment campaign, we’re really passionate about making the information needed for divestment transparent and open. Currently we’re working on a web app that will allow you to search your mutual fund and see whether not it has direct or indirect investments in nuclear weapons producers. Through doing so, we hope to not only be helping cities and municipalities and institutions divest, but also individuals like you and me.

Ariel:  Lucas, this has been great. Thank you so much for sharing information about the work you’ve been doing so far. If anyone has any questions about how they can divest from nuclear weapons, please email Lucas at You can also check out our new web app at

[end of recorded material]

Learn more about nuclear weapons in the 21st Century:

What is hair-trigger alert?

How many nuclear weapons are there and who has them?

What are the consequences of nuclear war?

What would the world look like after a U.S and Russia nuclear war?

How many nukes would it take to make the Earth uninhabitable?

What are the specific effects of nuclear winter?

What can I do to mitigate the risk of nuclear war?

Do we really need so many nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert?

What sort of new nuclear policy could we adopt?

How can we restructure strategic U.S nuclear forces?

Nuclear Weapons and the Myth of the “Re-Alerting Race”

The following article was originally posted on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ blog, The Equation.

One of the frustrations of trying to change policy is that frequently repeated myths can short-circuit careful thinking about current policies and keep policy makers from recognizing better alternatives.

That is particularly frustrating—and dangerous—when the topic is nuclear weapons.

Under current policies, accidental or mistaken nuclear war is more likely than it should be. Given the consequences, that’s a big deal.

We’ve posted previously about the dangers of the US policy of keeping nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert so that they can be launched quickly in response to warning of attack. There is a surprisingly long list of past incidents in which human and technical errors have led to false warning of attack in both the both US and Soviet Union/Russia—increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear war.

(Source: Dept. of Defense)

Missile launch officers. (Source: Dept. of Defense)

This risk is particularly high in times of tension—and especially during a crisis—since in that case the people in charge are much more likely to interpret false or ambiguous warning as being real.

The main problem here is silo-based missiles (ICBMs), since they are at known locations an adversary could target. The argument goes that launch-on-warning allows the ICBMs to be launched before an incoming attack could destroy them, and that this deters an attack from occurring in the first place.

But deterring an attack does not depend on our land-based missiles. Most of the US nuclear force is at sea, hidden under the ocean in submarines, invulnerable to attack. And since the sub-based missiles can’t be attacked, they are not under the same pressure to launch quickly.

It’s for this reason that the sensible thing to do is to take ICBMs off hair-trigger alert and eliminate options for launching on warning of attack, which would eliminate the possibility of mistaken launches due to false or ambiguous warning. Security experts and high-level military officials agree.

(It’s worth noting that the US does not have a launch-on-warning doctrine, meaning that there is no requirement to launch on warning. But it continues to maintain launch-on-warning as an option, and to do that it needs to keep its ICBMs on hair-trigger alert.)

The myth of the “re-alerting race”

The main reason administration officials give for keeping missiles on alert is the “re-alerting race” and crisis instability. The argument is that if the United States takes its missiles off hair-trigger alert and a crisis starts to brew, it would want to put them back on alert so they would not be vulnerable to an attack. And the act of putting them back on alert—“re-alerting”—could exacerbate the crisis and lead Russia to assume the United States was readying to launch an attack. If Russia had de-alerted its missiles, it would then re-alert them, further exacerbating the crisis. Both countries could have an incentive to act quickly, leading to instability.

This argument gets repeated so often that people assume it’s simply true.

However, the fallacy of this argument is that there is no good reason for the US to re-alert its ICBMs in a crisis. They are not needed for deterrence since, as noted above, deterrence is provided by the submarine force. Moreover, historical incidents have shown that having missiles on alert during a crisis increases the risk of a mistaken launch due to false or ambiguous warning. So having ICBMs on alert in a crisis increases the risk without providing a benefit.

The administration should not just take ICBMs off hair trigger alert. It should also eliminate the option for launching nuclear weapons on warning.

Eliminating launch-on-warning options would mean you do not re-alert the ICBMs in a crisis. With no re-alerting, there is no re-alerting race.

President Obama should act

Obama in Prague, 2009 (Source: Dept of State)

Obama in Prague, 2009 (Source: Dept of State)

Maybe administration officials have not thought about this as carefully as they should—although, hopefully, a key policy change that would reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war is not being rejected because of sloppy thinking.

Maybe the real reason is simply inertia in the system. The president’s 2009 speech in Prague showed he is willing to think outside the box on these issues to reduce the risk of nuclear catastrophe. So maybe it’s his advisors who are not willing to take such a step.

In that case, he should listen to the words of Gen. Eugene Habiger, former Commander in Chief of U.S. Strategic Command—the man in charge of US nuclear weapons. Earlier this year, he said:

We need to bring the alert status down of our ICBMs. And we’ve been dealing with that for many, many decades. … It’s one of those things where the services are not gonna do anything until the Big Kahuna says, “Take your missiles off alert,” and then by golly within hours the missiles and subs will be off alert.

The Big Kahuna is president until January 20, 2017. Hopefully he will get beyond the myth that has frozen sensible action on this issue, and take the sensible step of ending launch-on-warning.

Success for Cluster Munitions Divestment

“Great news!” said Don’t Bank on the Bomb’s Susi Snyder in a recent blog post, “American company Textron has announced it will end its involvement with cluster munitions.”

This decision marks a major success for those who have pushed for a cluster munition divestment in an effort to stigmatize the weapons and the companies that create them. As Snyder explained later in her article:

“PAX and campaigners active in the Stop Explosive Investments campaign have engaged tirelessly with many investors over the years to urge them to cease their financial support of Textron. This article’s analysis suggests that  pressure from the financial sector has had an effect:

‘A Couple of Hidden Positives: On the surface, yesterday’s announcement seems like a non-event, but we come away with two observations that we think investors shouldn’t overlook. First off, we note that SFW served as a product that limited the “ownability” of TXT shares among foreign investment funds, due largely to interpretations of where TXT stood vis-a-vis international weapons treaties. Arguably, the discontinuation of this product line could expand the addressable investor base for TXT shares by a material amount (i.e. most of Europe), in an industrial vertical (A&D) where investable choices are slim but performance has been strong over the years.’”

Stop Explosive Investments wrote a more detailed post about Textron’s announcement:

“US company Textron announced it will end its involvement with cluster munitions. It produced the Sensor Fuzed Weapon (SFW), which is banned under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). This good news comes a few days before the Sixth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Geneva next week.

“Over the years, CMC-member PAX has identified Textron as a cluster munition producer in the  “Worldwide Investments in Cluster Munitions; a shared responsibility” report. The 2016 update revealed that worldwide, 49 financial institutions had  financial ties to Textron, with a total of US$12370,83 million invested.

“‘Campaigners active in the Stop Explosive Investments campaign have engaged tirelessly with many investors over the years to urge them to cease their financial support of Textron’,  says Megan Burke, director of the Cluster Munition Coalition. ‘The company’s decision to end their cluster munition production is a great success for all of us working for a world free of cluster munitions.’

“Research by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International showed that Textron’s Sensor Fuzed Weapons were used in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. On 27 May 2016, the United States government blocked the transfer of these Sensor Fuzed Weapons to Saudi Arabia because of concern at the use of cluster munitions in or near civilian areas. Now, Textron decided to end the production of these weapons all together. The company cites a decline in orders and ‘the current political climate’ as motivation, an indication that the CCM is the global norm and that the stigma associated with cluster bombs is ever-growing.

“Pressure from the financial sector has likely also impacted this decision. As a financial analyst explains in this article: ‘[…] interpretations of where Textron stood vis-a-vis international weapons treaties’ meant many (European) investors had excluded the company from their investment universe. Suzanne Oosterwijk from PAX: ‘Such exclusions send a clear message to companies that they are not acceptable business partners as long as they are involved in the production of cluster munitions.’

“Since the launch of the Stop Explosive Investments campaign dozens of financial institutions have installed policies to disinvest from cluster munition producers, and 10 states have legislation to prohibit such investments.

“On Tuesday 6 September during the Sixth Meeting of States Parties, the CMC and PAX will hold a side event on disinvestment form cluster munitions and will urge more countries to ban investments in cluster munitions producers.”

The success seen from cluster munitions divestment provides further evidence that divestment is an effective means of impacting company decisions. This an encouraging announcement for those hoping to decrease the world’s nuclear weapons via divestment.