Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Setting the record straight on the International Security Advisory Board report

A recent headline — "State Dept. Advisers: Let’s Cut Nukes Some More" — left a deeply misleading impression about the work of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board, on which we serve. The Board is chartered to provide "independent insight and advice on all aspects of arms control, disarmament, international security, and related aspects ...

Joe Lambe/AFP/Getty Images
Joe Lambe/AFP/Getty Images
Joe Lambe/AFP/Getty Images

A recent headline -- "State Dept. Advisers: Let's Cut Nukes Some More" -- left a deeply misleading impression about the work of the State Department's International Security Advisory Board, on which we serve. The Board is chartered to provide "independent insight and advice on all aspects of arms control, disarmament, international security, and related aspects of public diplomacy." The opinions expressed in this article are our own and represent neither the views of the State Department nor those of other Board members.

Contrary to the recent headline, the Board has not recommended further cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Some Board members would likely now favor such reductions; others would not, but the Board as a whole has made no such recommendation.

What is the source of the misunderstanding? The Board responded to a tasking from that State Department to "undertake a study of how the United States could manage a transition to a world of mutual assured stability." The tasking was a given. The logic of the Board's response was to outline the necessary prerequisites for the end state identified in the tasking. The report identified six essential, but not sufficient, preconditions for such a world, first in the context of U.S.-Russian relations, but also noting that other states would need to be involved. 

A recent headline — "State Dept. Advisers: Let’s Cut Nukes Some More" — left a deeply misleading impression about the work of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board, on which we serve. The Board is chartered to provide "independent insight and advice on all aspects of arms control, disarmament, international security, and related aspects of public diplomacy." The opinions expressed in this article are our own and represent neither the views of the State Department nor those of other Board members.

Contrary to the recent headline, the Board has not recommended further cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Some Board members would likely now favor such reductions; others would not, but the Board as a whole has made no such recommendation.

What is the source of the misunderstanding? The Board responded to a tasking from that State Department to "undertake a study of how the United States could manage a transition to a world of mutual assured stability." The tasking was a given. The logic of the Board’s response was to outline the necessary prerequisites for the end state identified in the tasking. The report identified six essential, but not sufficient, preconditions for such a world, first in the context of U.S.-Russian relations, but also noting that other states would need to be involved. 

As the report states, the six essential components require real achievements on cooperative security, transparency of capabilities and intentions, and mutually beneficial interdependence. In short, a transition to "mutual assured stability" would require profound changes in the world we inhabit today.  Imagining a more secure and stable world is a worthy endeavor, but it is also necessary to be clear about what is necessary to achieve it.

The report leaves open the possibility that the conditions it identifies may not be achievable, and states that they will require many years and fundamental changes in U.S.-Russian relations if they are to occur. Those who find the preconditions identified by the report to be unrealistic will not find the end state described in the tasking given to the Board to be plausible. Those who believe seeking a world of mutual assured stability is feasible, will at least understand the significant preconditions that their policy goals will require. Either way, the Board’s report has added clarity. What it has not done, is advocate further cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  

William Tobey is a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs was most recently deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.