The Gift of Meaningful Work

in Program

On March 24th, the Carnegie Endowment gifted me with the Thérèse Delpech award. In thinking about what to say about this honor, I gravitated toward the twin themes of meaningful work and gift-giving, which is another, less taxing way to think about the hard slog of our daily pursuits. A video of my remarks can be found here. My prepared remarks follow.

This award means a great deal to me.

The Carnegie Endowment sets the bar very high in this field. How high? How long did it take you to get here? And look around you. Look at the company you keep.

Making a rare D.C. appearance today is my partner, my wife of forty years, the wisest member of the family – by far – and the mother of our two amazing kids who now have amazing kids of their own – Josh, who is here, and Misha, who is on the west coast with our grandson. I’d like to introduce you to Sandra Savine.

Many of you have not had the privilege of knowing Thérèse Delpeche. She was a strong woman with a fierce intellect. Her views had intercontinental range. Thérèse was the embodiment of meaningful work in our field.

We have been granted the gift of meaningful work. That’s the thread that connects every one of us. That’s what brings us together here.

I know, from first hand, that all work that helps to raise kids, that puts food on the table and that pays the bills is meaningful.

My father and mother did meaningful work. They didn’t have college educations.

Their hopes and dreams are embodied in my work, and the work of my sisters, Carol and Belleruth, who are here today.

Our meaningful work – the works that brings us to the Carnegie Endowment’s Nukefest — tries to make the world a less explosive place.

There are many explosions in this battered world of ours, but not the kinds that we worry most about.

Think of what has been accomplished by the meaningful work of those who preceded us. The work we carry on.

A world in which mushroom clouds have not appeared on battlefields for almost 70 years.

A world in which two ideological and geopolitical rivals managed to limit, reduce and eliminate a great many of their most powerful weapons and means of delivery.

A world in which there are surprisingly effective treaties against the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Yes, there are important outliers. Think of how many more there would be without these treaties.

A world in which there is a norm against testing nuclear weapons, thanks to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. A world in which the permanent members of UN Security Council have not tested nuclear weapons for about two decades, in some cases more.

A world in which the collapse of the Soviet Union, possessing 17,000 nuclear weapons and enough fissile material to produce three times as many, did not result in our worst nightmares.

A world in which meaningful constraints on Iran’s nuclear program is within reach.

None of these extraordinary accomplishments were assumed possible when first tackled.

From Day One, this work has been subject to harsh criticism, pessimism and bitter opposition.

From Day One, practitioners have been derided as naïve and misguided.

Well, look at what has been accomplished, despite the odds, despite the opposition.

Progress in our line of meaningful work is never linear.

We live in hard times.

All the more reason to remember this:

Our aims are true.

Our accomplishments fall short of our aims.

Even so, our accomplishments are significant. This meaningful work – our work – has made the world a safer place.

And we have a lot more work to do.

Thank you.

Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center. This piece originally ran in Arms Control Wonk on April 2, 2015.

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