Committee on International Security Studies - History

Created in 1982 to formalize and expand the Academy’s work on international security affairs, the Committee on International Security Studies (CISS) can trace its origins within the Academy to the 1960 publication of a special Daedalus issue on Arms Control and to Academy sponsorship of the US Pugwash Committee since the early 1960s.

CISS History

In 1959, a group of Academy Fellows including Donald Brennan, Edward Teller, Henry Kissinger, and Thomas Schelling established an Arms Control Committee to study possible pathways to de-escalate the nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Specifically, the group urged the US administration (and, indirectly, the Soviet leadership) to engage in ‘arms control agreements’ to de-escalate global tensions and establish strategic stability between the two superpowers.

In 1963, the Academy and several of its Fellows, including Eugene Rabinowitch at the University of Illinois and Leo Szilard at the University of Chicago, played a critical role in the creation of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, with the goal of averting the dangers resulting from the global deployment of thermonuclear weapons. The Academy has played an active role in the work of Pugwash, with Steven E. Miller now serving as cochair of its executive committee as well as chair of the Academy’s Promoting Dialogue on Arms Control and Disarmament project and cochair of the Academy’s Global Nuclear Future Initiative.

In 1982, the Academy established its Committee on International Security Studies, which remains active to this day. One of the Committee’s first activities was to convene the Nuclear Weapons Freeze and Arms Control Conference, with the goal of bridging the gap between the arms control community and the pro-WMD free zone supporters. The following year, in direct response to the speech by President Reagan that launched the Strategic Defense Initiative, CISS opened a project to explore the implication of placing weapons in space.

In the late 1980s, another Academy study explored the interface between the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and nuclear deterrence. In the 90s, the Committee expanded its work beyond nuclear issues by examining and debating issues related to failed states, ethnic civil wars, and environmental scarcity-driven conflicts.

In the 2000s, the committee commissioned a study on the strategic consequences of the invasion of Iraq. The publication produced estimates of costs and casualties which proved to be significantly accurate.

Since the launch of the Global Nuclear Future Initiative in 2008, CISS re-engaged with the nuclear debate by exploring the complex interface between nuclear energy diffusion and the risks of proliferation. In 2015, CISS launched a second nuclear initiative – Meeting the Challenges of the New Nuclear Age – which explores the rising instability among nuclear weapons states. As this project engages more directly with questions related to the erosion of strategic stability and the deterioration of the arms control architecture in a multipolar nuclear world, CISS has come back to its very origins.