Academy Article
January 2023

The Fragile Balance of Terror and The Doomsday Clock: Congressional Briefings


On January 25, 2023, the Academy conducted a day of special briefings for Congressional staff on issues related to nuclear arms control. These briefings, which were part of the Academy’s “Promoting Dialogue on Arms Control and Disarmament” project, aimed to educate Congressional representatives and their staffers on current nuclear issues and relevant policy-related areas.  

The briefings coincided with the launch of The Fragile Balance of Terror: Deterrence in the Nuclear Age, an open-access volume edited by Vipin Narang and Scott Sagan and published by Cornell University Press. The volume delves into the current global nuclear landscape, including analyses of potential new nuclear states, the information and disinformation surrounding nuclear arsenals, and the relevance of decades-old deterrence strategies.   

The first briefing of the day was attended by over fifty congressional staffers. Sponsored by Senator Ed Markey and organized in partnership with The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and Council for a Livable World, the briefing included remarks from Scott Sagan (Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University), Siegfried Hecker (Professor in Management Science and Engineering, Senior Fellow Emeritus, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University), and Sharon Squassoni (Professor of International Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University), all members of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board.

The briefing, titled “The Doomsday Clock and Today’s Nuclear Landscape,” educated staffers on the facets of today’s nuclear landscape that inspired the Bulletin to set its nuclear Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight in January 2023. The largest contributing factor to the clock’s new time—the closest it has ever been to midnight—is Russia’s ability and potential intention to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.   

Following this briefing, Sagan and Ankit Panda (Stanton Senior Fellow, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) provided briefings for individual congressional offices, including the offices of Senator Ed Markey, Senator Jeff Merkley, Representative Ted Lieu, Senator Jon Ossoff, Representative Michael McCaul, and Representative Chuck Fleischmann. Panda co-authored the fifth chapter of The Fragile Balance of Terror, which examines the reliability and sufficiency of modern-day nuclear deterrence strategies and theories surrounding preventative war and first strike capacities.

During the briefings, Sagan and Panda shared the findings from the volume and answered staffers’ and representatives’ questions regarding the feasibility of deterrence and non-proliferation strategies in an increasingly complicated nuclear world.




Promoting Dialogue on Arms Control and Disarmament

Steven E. Miller