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Living at the Nuclear Brink: Yesterday and Today

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 to Thursday, December 15, 2016


Living at the Nuclear Brink: An Introduction by Dr. William J. Perry

I have been living at the nuclear brink for all of my adult life, and throughout my career in academia, private industry, and the U.S. government, I have dealt first-hand with the evolving nuclear threat. Nuclear weapons may seem like 20th century history, but the choices we make about these weapons in the 21st century will decide your future in truly fundamental ways. Because most people do not understand just how serious these dangers are today, their governments are not taking adequate preventive actions: actions that are readily achievable. And so, we are drifting towards a nuclear catastrophe. This is why I have dedicated the balance of my life to educate the public about these dangers, and this is the reason I have created this course. I have been joined in this effort by an outstanding and uniquely qualified group of educators and public servants who share my concerns about nuclear weapons.

The key goals of this course are to warn you of the dangers you face and to give you some insight on what could be done to avoid those dangers. My challenge in this course is to make vivid to you that the dangers of nuclear weapons, far from being historical curiosities, are existential dangers today. You will have the opportunity to engage in discussions about these topics with both world experts and peers from around the globe.

You can take this course any way you wish. To earn a Statement of Accomplishment, you will view all of the lectures, participate in weekly forums, and complete quizzes on the course content. We have organized the course segments in a logical order, both chronologically and thematically. However, each segment stands alone and can be viewed independently, and still be a useful experience, even if you do not seek a Statement of Accomplishment.

The course differs from many others in a fundamental way: our goal is not just to provide facts for your education, but to inspire you to take action. You have the power to make a difference, and I believe that this course will give you the knowledge and motivation to do so. You can read more about this subject, and find ways to become involved, by visiting the website of the William J Perry Project:


There are no prerequisites for this course except for curiosity in the subject and a passion for learning.


Week 1: Introduction; What Are Nuclear Weapons and Why Were They Developed?

Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Joseph Martz; Dr. Siegfried Hecker

Week 2: Nuclear Proliferation in the United States and Around the World

Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Joseph Martz; Dr. Siegfried Hecker

Week 3: Under a Nuclear Cloud: Early Cold War

Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. David Holloway

Week 4: Fear and Loathing and Relief: Later Cold War

Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. David Holloway

Week 5: A Lack of Intelligence

Dr. William J. Perry; Philip Taubman

Week 6: Dilemmas of Nuclear Policy

Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Scott Sagan; Dr. David Holloway; Dr. Andre Kokoshin

Week 7: New Nuclear Dangers: Nuclear Terrorism

Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Martha Crenshaw; Dr. Siegfried Hecker

Week 8: New Nuclear Dangers: South Asia and Proliferation

Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Scott Sagan; Dr. Martha Crenshaw; Dr. Siegfried Hecker; Dr. Andre Kokoshin

Week 9: What Has Been Done, and Can Be Done, about Nuclear Dangers

Dr. William J. Perry; Amb. James Goodby; Secretary George Shultz

Week 10: What Next?

Dr. William J. Perry; Joseph Cirincione


William J. Perry

William J. Perry was the 19th Secretary of Defense for the United States, serving from February 1994 to January 1997. He previously served as Deputy Secretary of Defense (1993-1994) and as Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (1977-1981). Perry is the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor (emeritus) at Stanford University. He is a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute and the Hoover Institution, and he serves as Director of the Preventive Defense Project. In 2013, Perry founded the William J. Perry Project ( to engage and educate the public on the dangers of nuclear weapons in the 21st century.

Joseph Cirincione

Joseph Cirincione is the president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He is the author Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and is the author or editor of five other books on nuclear weapons and national security policy. He has also published hundreds of articles on these topics and is widely cited in the media. Mr. Cirincione serves on the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He worked for nine years in the U.S. House of Representatives on the professional staff of the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Government Operations.

Martha Crenshaw

Martha Crenshaw is a world-recognized expert on political terrorism and is a Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) and a Professor of Political Science by courtesy at Stanford. In 2011, Routledge published Explaining Terrorism, a collection of her previously published writings.

James Goodby

James Goodby has had a long and distinguished career in the United States Foreign Service. He has received five presidential appointments at ambassadorial rank, and notably, he has been intimately involved as a negotiator and policy adviser in the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the negotiation of the limited nuclear test ban treaty, START, the Conference on Disarmament in Europe, and the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.

Siegfried Hecker

Siegfried Hecker is one of the world’s experts on the Russian nuclear program, working with Russian nuclear laboratories to secure and safeguard the vast stockpile of ex-Soviet fissile materials. Dr. Hecker is a professor (research) in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford, a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute, former Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory and former co-director of Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation.

David Holloway

David Holloway is perhaps the world’s expert on the development of the Soviet nuclear program and has published widely on this subject; his book Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956 (Yale University Press, 1994) was chosen by the New York Times Book Review as one of the 11 best books of 1994. Dr. Holloway is the Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History, a Professor of Political Science, and an Freeman Spogli Institute Senior Fellow.

Andre Kokoshin

Andre Kokoshin has held many positions in the Russian government, including Deputy Minister of Defense from 1992 to 1997, when he played a key role in the implementation of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. He is currently a member of the Russian Duma; he holds a Ph.D. in History and is an associate member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Joseph Martz

Joseph Martz is a physicist and employee Los Alamos National Laboratory with a 25+ year career focused on issues surrounding nuclear security, nuclear weapons, and stockpile stewardship. In addition to his research at Los Alamos, he has led national project teams including the recent reliable-replacement warhead design competition and several complex nuclear material experiments.

Scott D. Sagan

Scott D. Sagan is widely-recognized expert on nuclear security issues; his books in this area include The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton University Press, 1993), and with co-author Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate (W.W. Norton, 2012). Dr. Sagan is the Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science, the Mimi and Peter Haas University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University.

George Shultz

George Shultz has had a highly distinguished career in government, academia, and the world of business: he has held four different federal cabinet posts; he has taught at three of this country’s great universities; and for eight years he was President of Bechtel, a major engineering and construction company. He is current Professor of International Economics at the Graduate School of Business and a Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

Philip Taubman

Philip Taubman was a reporter and editor at the New York Times for nearly 30 years, specializing in national security issues; he published Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage in 2004, and The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb in 2012. He is currently a Consulting Professor at CISAC, and also serves as Stanford Associate Vice President for University Affairs, working on special projects for Stanford's president, John Hennessy.


The course already started! Is it too late to join?

No worries! You can start whenever you join the course. However, we will be having a number of interactive sessions throughout the course, so it is worthwhile to “catch up” so that you can participate knowledgeably in these sessions.

How do a earn a Statement of Accomplishment?

If you are interested in receiving a Statement of Accomplishment from Stanford University at the end of this course, please note that you must complete the following:

Reflective Writing: Each week, you will answer a "thought question" about what you are learning and how it applies to your own beliefs about nuclear weapons.

Short Quizzes: After each unit, there will be quiz question to help you gauge your learning. You will have two attempts to answer the question correctly and unlimited time.

Gaining a score of at least 75% allows you to receive the Statement of Accomplishment.

Please note that a Statement of Accomplishment is optional. We welcome all participants to this course, whether you seek a Statement of Accomplishment or not.

Is there a textbook for the class?

No, but there will be suggested readings for each unit.