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Richard L. Garwin knows nuclear weapons. He has known them for 50 years. It is not an exaggeration to say he understands the complex interactions among the scientific, operational, and policy aspects of nuclear weaponry as well as anyone in the country, if not better.
His knowledge dates back to the early 1950s. Then, as a newly graduated doctoral physicist from the University of Chicago, he was helping turn the fundamental concepts of mathematician Stanislaw Ulam and physicist Edward Teller for a thermonuclear explosion into an arsenal of incredibly destructive weapons.
Although Garwin’s primary day job has been inventing things for IBM, he has served under every administration since Eisenhower’s on innumerable panels, giving advice and counsel to the defense establishment and other government agencies, including the White House, on scientific and technological matters.
For decades, he has been a member of JASON, a group of distinguished nongovernment scientists that gather in retreat periodically to tackle highly technical national security problems brought to it by the Departments of Defense and of Energy. Among other duties, he is currently chairman of the Arms Control & Nonproliferation Advisory Board to the Secretary of State.
In 1996, he received from the U.S. intelligence community the prestigious R. V. Jones Award for Scientific Intelligence. Also in 1996, President Clinton and the Department of Energy presented him with the Enrico Fermi Award for his work on nuclear weapons.
Garwin is one of only eight scientists who are members of all three of the National Academies—the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. His mind is legendary for its independence, keenness, rigor, and—some say—stubbornness.
But with all his experience, technical expertise, and intellectual prowess, Garwin’s analyses of the hardware of nuclear war always boil down to answering a few practical, very commonsense questions. Will it work? Will it do anything useful? Will it enhance U.S. national security? Can it readily be countered? Will it increase or decrease global nuclear stability?