International Order & Conflict

Preventing the Next Great Catastrophe: How Congressional Leadership Can Reduce WMD Threats

The Stimson Center’s Security for a New Century (SNC) brought together a panel of experts to discuss Preventing the Next Great Catastrophe: How Congressional Leadership Can Reduce WMD Threats. The webinar was a closed-door, invitation-only program for congressional staffers. The panelists offered a combination of senior-level US government experience and analytical expertise of contemporary policy issues surrounding nuclear, chemical, and biological security.

The current COVID-19 crisis demonstrates that the United States must remain vigilant against low-probability, high-consequence threats. Every president for nearly three decades has recognized the disastrous consequences that would result if dangerous nuclear, biological, and chemical materials fell into the wrong hands. As a result, Republicans and Democrats alike have supported major nuclear, chemical, and bio-security initiatives to reduce those threats. Yet, congressional attention to preventing nuclear terrorism, preventing pandemics or chemical attack has been waning in recent years. This year’s National Defense Authorization Bill, however, seeks to strengthen the United States’ approach to both.

The panel explored how the US can learn from international safety regimes within the nuclear, chemical, and biological fields to improve its approach to risk reduction and information sharing, including through existing mechanisms within the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The discussion also focused on how language in this year’s NDAA bill affects WMD policy and how Congress can play a stronger role in reducing threats. A key takeaway from the discussion was that these types of threats require international cooperation and US leadership within international organizations. The panelists emphasized the need for Congress to continue to educate itself and the public on issues of nuclear, chemical, and biosecurity, and to request the Trump Administration to conduct needs-based studies and to develop a comprehensive plan for effective and sustainable WMD security worldwide.


  • Richard T. Cupitt (Moderator), Senior Fellow and Director of the Partnerships in Proliferation Prevention program at the Stimson Center
  • Elisa D. Harris, Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center and former Director for Nonproliferation and Export Controls on the White House National Security Council staff
  • Nickolas Roth, Senior Fellow and Director of the Stimson Center’s Nuclear Security Program
  • Mallory Stewart, Nonresident Fellow at the Stimson Center and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Emerging Security Challenges and Defense Policy in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance
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