Madison Estes

Washington, DC

Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear disarmament, Nuclear non-proliferation, Policy






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Contributor Since 18 September 2019

Mentor Background

What is your area of expertise?

  • Nuclear Weapons
  • Nuclear disarmament
  • Nuclear non-proliferation
  • Policy
  • Are you interested in mentoring high school or college students, or both?

  • High School Students
  • College Students
  • How did you become interested in this area?

    I became interested in nuclear weapons issues while I was completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Texas. My interest was sparked in an International Security course where we learned about IR theory and modeling like the Prisoner's Dilemma, strategic stability, deterrence, preventive vs. preemptive doctrine, etc. I loved that I could draw from the abstract and apply it to real world events. I started finding myself identifying connections between things going on in the nuclear space of the day and what I was learning in the classroom.

    What was your career path to get here?

    My career path to get here was a bit long and twisty. I knew I was interested in nuclear weapons issues when I finished up my undergraduate program, but I wasn't really sure how to go about pursuing it. While I was an undergraduate student I learned there were a few Master's programs that focused on WMD issues, but I wasn't sure if I was ready to dive all the way in just yet to go get a specialized degree in the subject. At the time I lacked resources and role models that could offer me more information about what opportunities would be available to me if I did make that move (which is one reason I am very enthusiastic about this initiative!) so I wasn't sure if it would be a wise commitment to make. But upon my graduation from UT, I knew I was at minimum interested in working in foreign policy issues so I tried to pursue a generalist path both in and outside of government at first. After about three years of not really getting where I wanted to be despite my best professional efforts, I decided it was time to try to pivot into the nuclear field since I was still keenly interested in the subject matter, which led me to attend King's College London for my Master's in Nonproliferation and International Security. That ended up being the stepping stone I needed that ultimately opened the doors to where I am now.

    Why should the public care?

    This is tough to answer, there are many reasons that come to mind. I would say the simplest and most basic response I have is that for most liberal democracies that possess nuclear weapons, it is your tax dollars that help maintain our arsenals so for that basic reason alone you should take an active interest in where your money goes and hold your government accountable. But, more broadly, I believe a lot of our geopolitics and the way the international system is structured has arisen from and is shaped by these nuclear dynamics and being aware of these dynamics is useful for understanding the wider world. 

    What is a current issue or trend that concerns you?

    I am concerned that we (as in the broader nuclear community) have a lot of emerging technologies coming on to the horizon that will impact nuclear deterrence relationships around the globe and we have not done enough homework to figure out how we may be able to adapt our strategic and arms control toolkits to the modern world, and that includes acknowledging and accepting that nuclear arms reductions (which have been standard practice for several decades now) may not be the answer for the time being. In this vein, I think there's a tendency for some parties in the nuclear community to ignore and reject good analysis and research that supports this view in favor of their own personal bias. Both camps are going to need to come together to figure out a way forward.  

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