Past Event

The History and Future of Planetary Threats: Nuclear Security Today

November 17, 2020
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
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Amid increasingly tense relations with Russia, the increased number of countries with nuclear weapons and nuclear fuel cycle technology, weakening of the arms control regime, the advance of new technologies like cyber and artificial intelligence, and the persistent threat of terrorism, the world faces the highest risk of use of a nuclear weapon since the Cuban Missile Crisis.  There is heightened concern about this coming about because of blunder or miscalculation.  Former Secretary of Energy and Co-Chair and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative Ernest J. Moniz will discuss today’s nuclear challenges—and the urgent need to return to diplomacy, diligence, and both technological and policy innovation to reduce these threats. 

Wilmot James, Ph.D. and Prof. Alex Halliday, Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, will moderate the conversation with Sec. Moniz.  

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About the Speakers:

Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz is chief executive officer and co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a global security organization working to reduce nuclear and biological threats.

As the thirteenth U.S. Secretary of Energy, he advanced energy technology innovation, nuclear security, cutting-edge scientific research, and environmental stewardship (2013-2017).  Moniz previously served in government as DOE Under Secretary (1997-2001) and Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (1995-1997).

He also served on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty (1973-2013) and is Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems emeritus and Special Advisor to the MIT President. He also is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Harvard Belfer Center and president and CEO of Energy Futures Initiative.

Moniz received a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in physics from Boston College and a doctorate in theoretical physics from Stanford University.


Robert Jervis is the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Affairs at Columbia University. Specializing in international politics in general and security policy, decision making, and theories of conflict and cooperation in particular, his Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War was published by Cornell University Press in April 2010. Among his earlier books are American Foreign Policy in a New Era (Routledge, 2005), System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life (Princeton, 1997); The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Cornell, 1989); Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, 1976); and The Logic of Images in International Relations (Columbia, 1989). Jervis also is a coeditor of the Security Studies Series published by Cornell University Press. He serves on the board of nine scholarly journals, and has authored over 100 publications.

Keren Yarhi-Milo is the Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of War and Peace Studies in the Political Science Department and the School of International and Public Affairs. She is also the Director of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. Her research and teaching focus on international relations and foreign policy, with a particular specialization in international security, including foreign policy decision-making, interstate communication and crisis bargaining, psychology, intelligence, and US foreign policy in the Middle East.

David Brenner directs the Center for Radiological Research (CRR) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, and is the Higgins Professor of Radiation Biophysics (in Radiation Oncology) and of Environmental Health Sciences and Director of the Radiological Research Accelerator Facility (RARAF). Dr. Brenner has numerous distinctions within his field, such as the Oxford University Weldon Prize and the Radiation Research Society Failla Gold Medal Award. Founded by a student of Marie Curie more than a century ago, the Columbia Center for Radiological Research is committed to exploiting all forms of radiation to improve human health and medical care.


Moderated by:

Wilmot G. James is a Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP), College of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University. An academic by background with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he was previously a Member of Parliament (South Africa) and opposition spokesperson on health. Wilmot is the author and/or editor of 17 books that include the policy-oriented Vital Signs: Health Security in South Africa (2020), a set of essays on the public understanding of science titled Nature’s Gifts: Why we are the way we are (2010), a coedited book Biotechnology and Health: South Africa’s aspirations in health-related biotechnology (2007) and a co-edited collection of Nelson Mandela’s presidential speeches Nelson Mandela In His Own Words (2003), the latter having the distinction of containing forwards by Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan and given to the late Nelson Mandela on his 85th birthday.

Alex N. Halliday is the Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. He joined the Earth Institute in April 2018, after spending more than a decade at the University of Oxford, during which time he was dean of science and engineering. With about 400 published research papers, Halliday has been a pioneer in developing mass spectrometry to measure small isotopic variations in everything from meteorites to seawater to living organisms, helping to shed light on the birth and early development of our solar system, the interior workings of the Earth, and the processes that affect Earth’s surface environment.

ISERP Series: The History and Future of Planetary Threats

In this series, ISERP convenes meetings to examine the history of and conteporary catastrophic risks and hazards, whether natural, accident or deliberate, in the following domains: geological, biological, epidemic infectious disease, environmental, chemical, extreme weather, radiological and nuclear, or combinations of these. By catastrophic we understand to mean classes of events that could lead to sudden, extraordinary, widespread disaster beyond the collective capacity of national and international organizations and the private sector to control, causing severe disruptions in normal social functioning, heavy tolls in terms of morbidity and mortality, and major economic losses; in sum, events that may well cause a change the direction of history. Nuclear falls into a class of its own, because it can result in the annihilation of life on planet earth and the end of history as we know it.

This event is co-sponsored by ISERP, The Earth Institute and the Programs in Global Health at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons,  Columbia University, and the Academy of Political Science.