Celebrating ISKRAN's 50th Anniversary

Dec 18, 2017 | Nancy Gallagher

Congratulations to the Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies (ISKRAN) on half a century of helping your government try to understand and interact constructively with the United States – a sometimes difficult, if not impossible task!

When I first got interested in arms control as a terrified college student living in Europe during the early 1980s, I knew little about what ISKRAN Director Georgy Arbatov and other experts were doing to keep Soviet leaders from over-reacting to President Reagan’s bellicose rhetoric. As a graduate student during the late 1980s, I admired from afar how ISKRAN specialists helped give Mikhail Gorbachev the courage to make bold arms control initiatives long before Reagan could see that Gorbachev was serious about mutually beneficial cooperation. In June 2000, while working on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for the Clinton administration, I applauded the ISKRAN leaders and other Russian arms control advisers who convinced their government to ratify the treaty shortly after the U.S. senate had shocked the world by withholding its support.

Given ISKRAN’s history as a source of arms control expertise and a voice for cooperation even when unilateralists had the upper hand in U.S. security policy debates, I was delighted when John Steinbruner, CISSM’s director in 2001, told me that Sergey Rogov, ISKRAN’s director by that time, wanted to partner with us on a project to given the next generation of Russian experts the full range of knowledge and skills needed to work collaboratively with their American counterparts on nuclear risk reduction and other shared security problems.

A start-up grant from the Nuclear Threat Initiative helped underwrite the establishment of the School for International Security and World Politics and brought the first group of Russian students to do a joint policy exercise with students at the Maryland School of Public Policy in 2002. Generous support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York has sustained the program since 2005, including bringing together each year some of the best students from both programs to make recommendations on critical policy problems that cannot be effectively addressed unless the United States and Russia find ways to cooperate more extensively.

We are already preparing for the next group of ISKRAN students to arrive in April 2018.  CISSM will be celebrating its 30th anniversary then, timed to feature a cooperative security partnership that has been a central part of CISSM’s identity for more than half of its lifetime.

Our students will be working on recommendations to reduce nuclear risks from North Korea – one of the few issue areas where even those American and Russian policymakers currently most skeptical about the other side’s intentions understand that cooperation is essential for diplomatic progress. We’ll be looking at that issue in the context of larger concerns about proliferation, coercive diplomacy, and deterrence stability, knowing that the United States and Russia cannot persuade other countries to exercise greater nuclear restraint unless they do likewise.

Each current challenge in the US-Russia relationship is an opportunity for wise counsel and new thinking.  If the faculty and students at ISKRAN and CISSM continue doing what they do best – trying to understand complex security problems from both countries’ perspectives and proposing mutually beneficial arms control options even when the prospects seem dim – then Russian and American students wondering how they can help keep Cold War 2.0 from turning hot will become experts who can work together to prevent nuclear disaster for another fifty years.