Rick Berger

Washington, DC

Policy, Other






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Contributor Since 18 September 2019

Mentor Background

What is your area of expertise?

  • Policy
  • Other
  • 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 think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me." But seriously, when you work on the defense budget, while you might not be interested in nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons are interested in you. Specifically, I got sucked in during the policy debate over the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund, a bureaucratic power play by the Navy that I thought didn't make sense unless the Pentagon decided to extend a defense-wide nuclear modernization fund to the entire effort by including the Air Force. 

    What was your career path to get here?

    After grad school at GW Elliott, I fortuitously stumbled into a research assistant job at the American Enterprise Institute working for the incomparable Mackenzie Eaglen--free tip, find a good mentor early on in your career. After that, I joined the Senate Budget Committee as a professional staff member covering defense, international affairs, and vets' issues, a fantastic introduction to Congress and a pushed-into-the-deep-end learning experience. I returned to AEI as a research fellow for a while before rejoining the Senate, proving that I am incapable of holding a steady job. 

    Why should the public care?

    Every once in a while, when I'm not crying myself to sleep or passing out on the couch, I am awaked from peaceful slumber by the nagging thought that my apartment in Dupont Circle could be obliterated by Russian ICBMs at any moment. Through the inescapable logic of deterrence, we've created a bizarre, yet thus far effective state of affairs. Do we want a nuclear weapons-free world? How would we get there? Should we keep a minimal number of nukes for their dampening effect on great-power conventional conflict? These are huge questions at the center of great-power competition between the United States, China, and Russia--with incredibly significant secondary effects on the deterrence chains in South Asia and the Middle East. 

    What is a current issue or trend that concerns you?

    My biggest worry right now is the funding stability and sequencing of nuclear modernization. Our acquisition and maintenance enterprise did a bang-up job extending the current triad (particularly Ohio-class and Minuteman III) far beyond their expected service lives. If the United States is to maintain a triad, now's the time to modernize to keep that triad cost-effective and reliable over the long term. But this nuclear modernization spending spike arrives at the same time as the military faces several other spending spikes as a result of Reagan-era equipment aging out and the need for new advanced capabilities. Managing these complementary and necessary imperatives will be incredibly difficult, as evidenced by the last time we did so in the 1980s. 

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