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‘A big blow’: Washington’s arms controllers brace for loss of their biggest backer

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19.07.2021

For the Washington think tanks and foundations that work to control the spread of nuclear weapons, the Doomsday Clock is inching closer to midnight.

That’s because a leading financial backer of their efforts to reduce nuclear proliferation is ending its support, sending shockwaves through arms control institutions that are already struggling to remain influential.

For more than 40 years, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the United States, has been a primary benefactor of a host of non-profit research centers, academic programs and grassroots organizations dedicated to reversing the spread of nuclear weapons and training a generation of arms control experts.

Since 2015 alone, MacArthur directed 231 grants totaling more than $100 million to “nuclear challenges” — in some cases providing more than half the annual funding for individual institutions or programs.

But its recent conclusion that it wasn't achieving its goals and decision to pull out of the arena could be detrimental without alternative sources of funding, according to multiple veterans of the nuclear policy community.

"It's a big blow for the field," said Joan Rohlfing, president and COO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that has been one of the largest recipients of MacArthur’s grants. “It is moving in the opposite direction of the needs of the community right now.”

Indeed, while she said the MacArthur grants make up only a small share of NTI’s budget, the move couldn't come at a worse time for the wider community of nuclear policy practitioners.

“The threat of nuclear use is growing,” she said. “This is one of the most dangerous periods in our history since the bomb was created.”

Rohlfing cited a litany of worrying trends: “the complexity of nine nuclear weapons states; the tension between nuclear weapons states; things like cyber vulnerabilities to nuclear systems; rising and continuing threat of nuclear terrorism.”

They “all contribute to an extremely dangerous threat environment,” she added. "Now is the time to be really investing more resources in innovation for problem solving within this space."

Other leaders in reducing global nuclear threats are similarly concerned. “We are at a crossroads right now,” added Emma Belcher, president of the Ploughshares Fund, another leading philanthropy focused on........

© Politico


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