Steve Pifer

Washington, DC

Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear disarmament, Policy, Other






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Contributor Since 17 September 2019

Mentor Background

What is your area of expertise?

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

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

    I became interested in nuclear weapons as a result of courses on the Soviet Union, international relations and arms control that I took during my junior and senior years at Stanford. 

    What was your career path to get here?

    Stanford got me interested in arms control as well as in a career that involved living/working overseas (six months at the Stanford-in-Germany program).  That plus a desire to do public service led me to join the Foreign Service.  I spent most of the 1980s working on nuclear arms control on the NATO desk at the State Department, on the US delegation to the negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear forces, as special assistant to Ambassador Paul Nitze (special advisor to the President and Secretary of State for arms reduction negotiations), and at the US Embassy in Moscow, where I had the arms control portfolio, and on the Soviet desk -- when there still was a Soviet desk -- at the State Department.  I came back to nuclear arms control, including working on the removal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine, during later assignments at the State Department, National Security Council and US Embassy in Kyiv.

    Following retirement from US government service, I spent nine years at the Brookings Institution.  Among other things, I directed the Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative from 2009 to 2017 and did considerable research and writing on nuclear arms control.  I continue to write about nuclear weapons and arms control in my current position as a William Perry fellow at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation.

    Why should the public care?

    There is one existential threat to the United States right now (climate change is a looming threat): the threat today is a nuclear conflict, particularly with Russia, that could inflict enormous damage on America.  Arms control offers a tool to reduce and constraint that threat.

    What is a current issue or trend that concerns you?

    The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty has just collapsed, and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty appears on course to expire in 2021.  That would leave no agreements regulating US and Russian nuclear forces.  This comes at a time when countries are bringing new nuclear weapons into their arsenals and adopting doctrines that could lower the nuclear threshold.

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