IOP Panel Discusses Nuclear Weapons

Bunn, Plame Wilson, and Mowatt-Larssen discuss threat of nuclear offensive

Countdown to Zero
Parul Agarwal

Matt Bunn, Valerie Plame, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, and Graham Allison discuss the new film Future of Nuclear Weapons: "Countdown to Zero" in the JFK Jr. Forum Wednesday night.

A group of professors and former CIA agents used the new film “Countdown to Zero” as a jumping off point to discuss the need for total elimination of nuclear weapons at a Kennedy School Forum at the Institute of Politics last night.

Matthew Bunn, associate professor of public policy, Valerie Plame Wilson and Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, former CIA agents, and Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, also discussed citizen engagement with this issue and the necessity of preparation for an imminent attack.

Although they all agreed a nuclear offensive was a real threat and that the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was an important step towards reducing this possibility, the panelists proposed different ways of dealing with and addressing nuclear weapons.

Bunn acknowledged the commonly held misconception about the skill level required to produce a nuclear bomb.

“Many people think it takes a Manhattan Project to make a bomb,” Bunn said, adding that it would be plausible for a terrorist group with the requisite materials to make a crude bomb.

Mowatt-Larssen added that nuclear weapons are appealing to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda because they have significant “implications on our way of life and our values.”

Despite this sobering message, Bunn said, “It is an amazing fact that we’ve had no nuclear weapons used since 1945,” adding that the number of states with nuclear capabilities has stayed constant at nine.

There is little room for error in addressing nuclear issues, according to Mowatt-Larssen, but it is equally important to confront the challenge.

“Fear is not productive,” he said.

“We have to learn to live with the prospect, accept the possibility, so if and when it does happen, we can deal with it more maturely,” he added.

Bunn, along with the other panelists, referred to the new START treaty—the bilateral nuclear arms reduction treaty that is currently being debated in the Senate—throughout the evening as a critical step towards combatting possibly destructive nuclear activity.

He also highlighted the importance of individuals in catalyzing change, recommending that people call their senators and donate to causes involved in nuclear non-proliferation.

“Citizens who sit down and think about a problem and make some noise can make a difference,” Bunn said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Wilson cited total elimination of nuclear weapons as the solution. “We cannot do this unilaterally,” she said, “It’s going to take a really long time but we have to start somewhere.”

—Staff writer Monika L.S. Robbins can be reached at

—Staff writer Monika L.S. Robbins can be reached at


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