Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Projects
of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
The American Academy has been active on issues of nuclear arms control since 1960, convening scientists, academics, and policymakers to provide analysis and advice to both reduce the risk of nuclear war and enhance national security. For six decades, this combined expertise has produced regular Academy projects, events, and numerous high-quality research publications.
Click on the links below for an expanded overview of current and past Academy work on nuclear issues. You can also click through to learn more about projects and read publications.
This project approaches the current nuclear age through the simultaneous collapse of arms control agreements and the absence of any strategic dialogue among the three main nuclear players. Project work comprises three central activities: convening dialogues between nuclear experts and former officials from the United States, China, and Russia to identify critical goals in arms control; in parallel, engaging in an educational briefing series for Members and staffs of Congress to deepen knowledge on key issues and challenges facing the United States in arms control and international security; and producing high-impact publications on critical debates within nuclear arms control to inform policymaking and expert constituencies.
Learn more about the project leaders and activities, including these events:
- Read about the congressional seminar on Iran's nuclear program -- March 2023
- Read about the congressional seminar on North Korea's nuclear threats -- November 2022
- Read about the congressional seminars on the Russia-Ukraine conflict: the March 2022 event about Russia, Ukraine, and European security with insights about the invasion of Ukraine and its historical context and the September 2022 event about the war's Implications for the Global Nuclear Order and Arms Control
- Read about the priorities and participants of a congressional workshop about international nuclear arms control in Washington, D.C. -- June 2022
- Read about the congressional seminar on China's geopolitical balancing act -- April 2022
- Read about the international security issues and recommendations discussed at a meeting on Sino-U.S. Nuclear Strategic Relationship in Shanghai -- December 2019
- Missile Defense and the Strategic Relationship among the United States, Russia, and China, Academy Research Paper (April 2023)
- Nuclear Perils in a New Era: Bringing Perspective to the Nuclear Choices Facing Russia and the United States, Academy Research Paper (April 2021)
Phase One - now concluded - built upon the premise that the foundations and principles that came to define the nuclear order throughout the Cold War have eroded dramatically, bringing the world closer to a possible use of nuclear weapons in the near future. The awakening of an era of great power competition between the U.S., Russia and China as well as the development and deployment of new technologies are key challenges to the understanding and practice of strategic stability.
Learn more about the project leaders and activities
Key project findings
- On a bilateral or a multilateral basis, the United States, Russia, and China should pursue discussions intended to improve understanding of one another’s strategic concerns and views on which actions by an adversary would be especially concerning or dangerous. Until that happens, the widening gap in the outlook and actions of these three major actors will only make this new nuclear environment less manageable and more dangerous.
The United States, Russia, and China should also actively work to see whether and where common ground can be found concerning efforts to mitigate arms spirals and restrain the development, deployment, or use of destabilizing technologies. They should then pursue politically binding agreements to advance these goals, albeit with a clear eye to the limits of verification that would exist in this format.
Read more of the project findings
Read a summary of a seminar series with experts and former high-level policymakers, co-hosted with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
- Dædalus issue, “Meeting the Challenges of the New Nuclear Age” (Spring 2020)
- Contemplating Strategic Stability in a New Multipolar Nuclear World, Academy Workshop Report (August 2019)
- Nuclear Weapons in a Changing Global Order, Academy Research Paper (January 2019)
- Emerging Risks and Declining Norms in the Age of Technological Innovation and Changing Nuclear Doctrines, Academy Research Paper (April 2018)
- U.S. and Russian Nuclear Concepts, Past and Present Academy Research Paper (February 2018)
Phase Two focuses on the volatile mix of variables that characterize the new nuclear era. New and potential nuclear powers reside in highly hostile environments, have fewer resources and are often characterized by more domestic instability than the first generation of nuclear powers. New technologies, including social media and cybersecurity, are complicating communication, command, and control arrangements.
This phase produced a new volume - The Fragile Balance of Terror: Deterrence in the New Nuclear Age - edited by Vipin Narang and Scott D. Sagan, which brings together a diverse collection of rigorous and creative scholars to analyze how the nuclear landscape is changing for the worse. Scholars, pundits, and policymakers who think that the spread of nuclear weapons can create stable forms of nuclear deterrence in the future will be forced to think again.
Current nuclear projects fall under the Academy's Program on Global Security and International Affairs. The Committee on International Security Studies (CISS) was created in 1982 to formalize and expand the Academy's work on international security affairs.
Below are featured three past projects, and there is a summary of all previous Academy nuclear projects from 1960-2000.
The GNF Initiative is a comprehensive interdisciplinary, multi institutional, and multi-national project that seeks to identify paths that permit the peaceful use of nuclear power to meet the growing demand for energy, while minimizing the potential adverse consequences of the spread of inherently risky nuclear technology. Since 2008, by engaging with key constituencies, particularly in Southeast Asia and in the Middle East whose choices and behavior will have a significant impact on the character of the international nuclear order, project work has made significant progress in identifying and promoting policy recommendations and best practices to minimize the security and proliferation risks inherent in the global spread of nuclear energy.
Learn more about the project leaders and activities
- “Multinational Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel and Other High-Level Nuclear Waste: A Roadmap for Moving Forward," Academy Research Paper (May 2017)
- Insider Threats (Cornell University Press, January 2017)
- Dædalus, “On the Global Nuclear Future,” volumes 1 & 2 (2009/2010)
Beginning in 1983, this project attempted to deal constructively with the principal issues raised by the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The resulting report, initially published as a double-issue of Dædalus, does not reach conclusions about the desirability or feasibility of the SDI; rather, it presents favorable, opposing, and skeptical views about the relevant scientific, technological, strategic, and political issues involved.
- "Weapons in Space, Vol. 2", Dædalus (Summer 1985)
- "Weapons in Space, Vol. 1", Dædalus (Spring 1985)
The Academy convened a series of conferences and programs that led to the seminal 1960 special issue of Dædalus on arms control, which President John F. Kennedy subsequently called the “Bible” on the subject. Read extensively by scientists and government leaders, the Dædalus issue helped fashion an intellectual framework for the fledgling area of nuclear weapons arms control.
- "Arms Control", Dædalus (Fall 1960)