The Critical Importance of Science to US Government Operations and Policy Making: Examples and Current Dangers

February 6, 2020

Karl Braithwaite, Ed Hildebrand, Arvid Lundy and Cheryl Rofer

While it’s true that scientific research has permeated much of what the federal government has done over the years, is it still important? If so, why?  In a recent New York Times article entitled “Science Under Attack: How Trump is Sidelining Scientists and Their Work,” reporters Brad Plumer and Coral Davenport outline the current state of science, scientists and scientific research being conducted at the federal level.  Plumer and Davenport present – at best – a mixed picture.  A few agencies or programs are being allowed to continue as in previous administrations but others are being gutted, severely restricted or redirected in what they can or can’t do and fund or not fund.  What does this mean for America’s scientific cutting edge and for effective policy development and conduct of government programs?

Karl Braithwaite is a specialist in the relationship between science and government; a former Director of Government Relations for Sandia and Senior Manager for Los Alamos National Laboratories having dealt with national security issues, environment and energy topics, and science and technology policy issues over the years retiring from public service after 49 years; and Dean of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. Currently a leader in the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, his PhD in political science is from the University of Wisconsin.

Ed Hildebrand has multidisciplinary experience in the biosciences and in national and international science and technology policy analysis. After earning a Ph.D. in biophysics from the Pennsylvania State University, he joined the Los Alamos National Laboratory where his research focused on the international human genome project. While at LANL he also served in postings to the Foreign Service as Science Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London and to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. More recently, Ed was a science and engineering analyst with a not for profit national and homeland security contractor. He is currently a member of the Santa Fe World Affairs Forum Board.

Arvid Lundy has extensive experience in nuclear export controls, nuclear proliferation intelligence, electronic instrumentation design, and clinical medical physics. Arvid spent thirty one years at Los Alamos National Laboratory as project engineer, group leader, and program manager. His career included over 100 foreign trips for the US government on nuclear issues, especially international nuclear export control. He is Vice President of the Santa Fe World Affairs Forum.

Cheryl Rofer was a chemistat the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 35 years. She now writes scientific and political commentary for the web publications Nuclear Diner and Balloon Juice. She regularly provides background information on nuclear topics to reporters and has been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Vox. Her work at Los Alamos included projects in fossil fuels, laser development, and the nuclear fuel cycle and has worked on environmental remediation at Los Alamos and in Estonia and Kazakhstan. She is past president of the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security and a founding member of SFWAF. She has published in scientific and political science journals and edited a book. She holds an A.B. from Ripon College and an M.S. from the University of California at Berkeley. She has spoken to SFWAF on several previous occasions, most recently on the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

The SFWAF Program will be in the:  The SFCC Board Room (#223) which is in the West Wing (Administration building) of the Santa Fe Community College.
The Critical Importance of Science to US Government Operations and Policy Making: Examples and Current Dangers2020-01-19T10:02:19-07:00

South Asia: The Next Nuclear Tinderbox?

November 7, 2019

Ankit Panda

India and Pakistan have fought four wars since their independence, including one after each broke out as a nuclear weapons power in 1998. A little more than 20 years ago, the two countries became the first nuclear-armed neighbors to fight a protracted conflict. In February 2019, after a terrorist attack in Indian-administered Kashmir, India became the first nuclear-armed country to use conventional airpower against its nuclear-armed neighbor. In August, the Indian government, after winning a historic electoral mandate in May, moved to abrogate the autonomy of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir remains at the center of broader disputes between India and Pakistan. Three of their four wars since 1947 were fought over that territory, which today remains highly militarized-a tinder box susceptible to be lit at any time.

In this context, what are the risks of a serious conflict in South Asia today between these two nuclear-armed neighbors? 21 years since their nuclear breakout, how have India and Pakistan operationalized their nuclear forces? Finally, amid Asia’s broader shifting geopolitics, how might the United States play a role in managing nuclear risks in the region?


Ankit Panda is an award-winning American writer, analyst, and researcher specializing in international security, defense, geopolitics, and economics. His work has appeared in a range of publications, including the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, the Diplomat, the Atlantic, the Daily Beast, Politico Magazine, and War on the Rocks. He is currently a senior editor at the Diplomat, where he writes daily on security, geopolitics, and economics in the Asia-Pacific region and hosts a popular podcast. He is also an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, where his work focuses on nuclear and conventional force developments in Asia, deterrence, and nuclear strategy.

Panda has additionally published scholarly research in journals including the Washington Quarterly, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and India Review. He is additionally a contributor to the International Institute on Strategic Studies’ Asia-Pacific Regional Security Assessment and Strategic Survey. Panda is also a consultant for a number of governments, international institutions, and corporations. He is a frequent participant in Track-2 and Track-1.5 dialogues in Asia, Europe, and North America. Panda is a graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He lives in New York City and tweets at @nktpnd.  His forthcoming book, Kim Jong Un and the Bomb: Survival and Deterrence in North Korea, published by Hurst Publisher will be available in 2020.

The SFWAF Program will be in the:  The SFCC Board Room (#223) which is in the West Wing (Administration building) of the Santa Fe Community College.
South Asia: The Next Nuclear Tinderbox?2019-10-04T19:51:33-07:00

Bureaucracy Does its Thing: US Performance in Afghanistan

Most Americans are relieved that the international intervention in Afghanistan is winding down more than a decade after 9/11. Can the absence of clear cut victory despite a considerable investment of blood and treasure be attributed to Afghanistan’s reputation as the “graveyard of empires?” Meanwhile, Afghans have suffered 34 years of instability and war. How do they feel about the departure of foreign troops?  Are they prepared to assume their own defense?    Despite differences in scale, are there clear parallels with the experience of the US in Vietnam nearly 50 years ago?  What lessons have we learned from the handling of these these conflicts?  Finally, will  historians judge the Afghan intervention to have been a success or failure? (more…)

Bureaucracy Does its Thing: US Performance in Afghanistan2019-05-01T14:20:28-07:00

India, Pakistan and Democracy: A Puzzle Solved?

India and Pakistan emerged at independence in 1947 with similar political systems: a British colonial state apparatus and elected assemblies as precursors to parliaments.  Since then, India has functioned democratically, while Pakistan has found itself under direct or indirect military rule for most of its existence.  Why did they take such different paths?  The factors are many, with religion not the most influential.  What’s more, Americans may be surprised to learn that Pakistan’s oft-renewed alliance with the U.S. has actually enhanced the power of the military vis-à-vis elected representatives.  In India, meanwhile, even under Indira Gandhi’s rather autocratic Emergency rule, politicians have always had the upper hand and democracy has progressively expanded its base. (more…)

India, Pakistan and Democracy: A Puzzle Solved?2019-05-01T14:20:30-07:00