Public Service Announcement

One of the nice things about blogging over traditional media is that we can tap into the people behind the stories and interactively pick the brains of experts. In that regard, I’m pleased to pass on a public service announcement by Prof. Yousaf Butt at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute. Yousaf is a nuclear physicist and an expert on technical arms control. He’s one of the few folks active in both science and policy (and indeed, at their interface), and has served as an invaluable resource to the community by explaining complex technical matters in a straightforward jargon-free way. He’s also been instrumental in debunking a lot of misinformation/propaganda on Iran’s nuclear program propagated by the usual suspects. Anyway, he has kindly agreed to provide one-on-one guidance to any aspiring scientists (or other academics) thinking about navigating over to the policy world. Yousaf can provide you the inside scoop on the DC scene, as well as on what’s going down on the West Coast, e.g. at the Monterey Institute. If you’re contemplating studying or working on technical arms control issues, especially at Monterey or in DC, I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to pick Yousaf’s brain! As he mentions, there is great need for scientists (and science) in policy-making…the situation is so dire and the need for science in DC is so great that even institutes without any scientists have put “Science” in their titles!  So without further ado, I’ll let Yousaf explain his offer:


I’d like to thank Dan for hosting this Q&A on his excellent blog. I’m certain that some of the ideas being discussed on this blog day-to-day will determine the future trajectory of arms control. I’ve long thought we need some fresh thinking on arms control and non-proliferation: as any of the diplomats from Non-Aligned Movement will tell you, we are witnessing the death throes of the NPT. The bulk of the fault, in my view, lies with the multiple “band-aid” solutions and outright politicization of the nonproliferation institutions by some of the P5 states. In fact, a few months ago I proposed the broad outlines of what an NPT 2.0 could look like. That’s why I admire Dan’s intellectual honestly, and find his blog to be an enormous resource to the community.

As a small gesture of thanks, and as my own small contribution to helping train up the next cadre of arms control professionals, I’m happy to try to answer any questions any students or scientists/academics may have about transitioning over to the arms control NGO community. I can’t say I’ll have the answers but I’ll try my best! If there are general non-personal questions please post them in the comments section below, but if you need any personal advice you can email me at ybutt2002 –at- . (I’ll try my best to get back to you as soon as possible, depending on the traffic that’s generated.)

By way of background, my own transition to security studies started in Cambridge, MA while I was a staff scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Luckily, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) was just down the road near Café Algiers, and a CfA colleague had just gotten a job there. Through her, I found out about a research fellowship on Space Security and was launched on my way…out of outer space and pure science and into technical arms control and global security issues. In parallel, however, I continued my science work. When I heard about the fellowships at the National Academy of Sciences, I applied for those and moved to DC for a bit. DC is an all-you-can-eat buffet of seminars, lectures, roundtables on policy but it is  – for the most part – shockingly science-deprived! So it’s good there are outfits like the Federation of American Scientists, for whom I later consulted leading to a report with Ted Postol of MIT: “Upsetting the Reset – the Technical Basis of Russian Concern Over NATO Missile Defense.”  Of course, that report was not what the community wanted to hear at the time, but in the end we were proven correct and one of recommendations has just been adopted (dropping the Phase IV of the NATO missile defense system). My point is the science in invaluable in the policy world: from Climate change, to nuclear power,  to clean energies, to missile defense, to nuclear weapons etc. – there are few decisions that can be made without scientific or technical input. Yet DC remains, in my opinion, highly science deprived. So if you’re a scientist or science student looking to join the policy world there is plenty (plenty!) of need! But you may need to be somewhat entrepreneurial in finding the channels to make the transition. There are also unique challenges academics may face in the transition: for instance, as academics we take freedom of expression for granted, but things can be a little different in the NGO world where there may sometimes be subtle pressures to hew to the political opinions of the funding institutions or senior administrators.

In any case, if I can help, or if you’re thinking of working/studying in DC or Monterey and want to know what to expect, or how I’ve found the experiences, drop me a line at ybutt2002 –at- or post your comments below.


One Comment on “Public Service Announcement”

  1. Reginald Bartholomew III says:

    The reason China — and other nations — will eat our lunch is that many more leaders there have scientific and engineering training. In congress, I think maybe there are 5 people who know science and many are actively anti-science anti-evolution anti-climate-change nuts. I hope we get MANY MANY more scientists in positions of power and influence. Since they are trained to pursue truth, this can only help with policy-making too.

    Why aren’t there more NGOs that straddle science and policy?? Why are we shooting ourselves in the foot?

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