APS News

International News

International Security & Arms Control Committee Celebrates 25th Anniversary During World Year of Physics

By Raymond Jeanloz
Chair, Committee on International Security and Arms Control; Professor of Earth and Planetary Science and Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley

Anne Harrington
Director, Committee on International Security and Arms Control; Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

The Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), an organization within the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), is celebrating its 25th anniversary during 2005, the World Year of Physics. For 25 years the committee has applied science and technology to problems of international security and arms control. Now its focus on the major nuclear arsenals that defined the Cold War is expanding to address contemporary security challenges of terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the threats posed by modern biology.

Changing Environments and New Approaches
In a post-9/11 environment, new questions must be asked. Will the spread of nuclear power, driven by global energy needs, induce the spread of nuclear weapons technology? Are there nuclear technologies that are less prone to proliferation than others? What nuclear safeguards are available, and how can they be enhanced? More generally, what is the researcher’s personal role in developing and applying scientific knowledge responsibly, and preventing the proliferation of threats presented by modern technology? How can our connections with other scientists around the world promote debate and develop options for addressing these issues?

Science and scientists can play a vital role in answering these questions. Scientists’ ability to interact with and contribute to security policy is at the core of CISAC’s mission. Scientist-to-scientist ties have played a central role in the committee’s activities, which include technical and policy studies and bilateral dialogues. In its most recent report, Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear-Explosive Materials: An Assessment of Methods and Capabilities, the committee applied what it had learned from dialogues with Russia, China and India. (See accompanying box for a list of CISAC reports.)

CISAC is responding to the post-9/11 challenges by pursuing several broad areas of activity that address the world’s security issues. These include:

  • Maintaining and Enriching Dialogues with security specialists from the scientific, military and policy communities in Russia, China and India
  • Developing Regional Networks in Europe, Japan and elsewhere
  • Broadening the Scope of activity to other countries, including South Asia/Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Iraq
  • Reducing the Threat of Nuclear and Biological Proliferation
  • Counter-terrorism

In order to carry out this agenda, CISAC is complemented by a Nonproliferation Panel and a Biological Threats Panel, and it is coordinating closely with all other parts of the National Academies in addressing the complex and urgent problems of international security.

Science and Security–an Evolving Partnership
In its early years, CISAC helped to keep discussions on nuclear arms control alive with its Soviet counterpart in the Soviet Academy of Sciences, during a period of high tension between the two countries. The CISAC dialogue and reports were not a substitute for government-to-government interactions, but by focusing on the scientific dimensions CISAC helped keep communication channels open to discuss critical issues of arms control.

Many of the challenges that CISAC faced 25 years ago persist in different forms in the 21st century. For example, the committee’s 1991 study, “The Future of the U.S.-Soviet Nuclear Relationship,” considered how the United States and the Soviet Union could significantly reduce their nuclear arsenals below the levels prescribed by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treat (START). Fifteen years later, strategic arms reductions and safeguards for nuclear warheads remain on CISAC’s agenda. Today, however, the threat of nuclear warheads or nuclear explosive materials getting into the hands of terrorists or countries aspiring to join the nuclear club occupies at least an equal place on the priority list, as reflected in CISAC’s recent study, “Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Explosive Materials:An Assessment of Methods and Capabilities.”

One of the main challenges in confrontational environments is how to build channels of communications, transparency and confidence that can be the foundations of constructive, non-adversarial post-confrontation relations. CISAC was established specifically to address this kind of challenge, engaging influential scientific, policy and military communities through dialogues, studies, symposia, workshops, and other activities aimed at developing common solutions to security and arms control problems. CISAC’s experience with the Soviet Union was unique to that environment, but the lessons learned from that and other experiences with counterparts around the world are being applied to the contemporary security environment.

For more information on CISAC, see: www.nas.edu/cisac.

Committee on International Security and Arms Control

Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear-Explosive Materials: An Assessment of Methods and Capabilities, 2005

Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, 2002

The Spent-Fuel Standard for Disposition of Excess Weapon Plutonium: Application to Current DOE Options, 2000

The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy, 1997

Controlling Dangerous Pathogens: A Blueprint for U.S.-Russian Cooperation, A Report to the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program of the U.S. Department of Defense, 1997

U.S.-German Cooperation in Elimination of Excess Weapons Plutonium, 1995 Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium—Reactor-Related Options, 1995

Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, 1994

The Future of the U.S.-Soviet Nuclear Relationship, 1991

Challenges for the 1990s for Arms Control and International Security, 1989

Reykjavik and Beyond: Deep Reductions in Strategic Nuclear Arsenals and the Future Direction of Arms Control, 1988

Crisis Management in the Nuclear Age, 1987 Nuclear Arms Control: Background and Issues, 1985

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff