The NSquare Innovators Network hosted a pre-launch party for Radioactive RoadTrippin’ (R&R) on April 26. I was thrilled to be interviewed by renowned international news commentator and my friend, Danielle McLaughlin and to have support from Erika Gregory, Lisa DeYoung and others at NSquare. It was a fun interview, and you can listen in above if you’re interested.
We covered a lot of ground in the interview–the origin story for the show, why I left my career in DC behind to transition into TV and film, and why I decided to produce a travelogue show on the U.S. nuclear weapons complex as my first production project. However, I’d like to highlight a few interesting points that come to mind.
I left my former dream career in DC at least in part because I was disillusioned with our collective lack of impact as a nuclear risk reduction community on the threat of nuclear war. When I started my career back in 2000, there seemed to be a strong bipartisan consensus that we should work hard to reduce the risk of nuclear war and cut down the numbers and dangerous types of nuclear weapons. We made some good progress toward these goals, but in the past several years, efforts to reduce the numbers and risks of nuclear weapons have not only come to a standstill, they have started to reverse course in some instances. Whilst the risk of nuclear war remains an ever present danger, the technological complexity around nuclear decision-making (deciding whether or not to use nuclear weapons) has increased exponentially, raising the chances that nuclear war may become our reality in coming decades. The threat continues to be very real because the weapons still exist. About ~13,500 nuclear weapons continue to exist around the world, the majority in the U.S. and Russia. Thousands of nuclear weapons remained targeted at locations within America.
The work is far from done, and I’ve not yet finished my part in working toward reducing the risk of nuclear war. But I realized for myself personally in 2019 that there was nothing left that I wanted to do to advance those goals from a job in DC–primarily because I’d grown weary with the strategies used by the nuclear risk reduction community to affect change. Things have changed a bit for me since I took on a full-time position at the Council on Strategic Risks in December of 2020 as the Director of the Converging Risks Lab, but my thinking on the matter have not–that I have taken on a real job again is a positive reflection on the forward-thinking and innovative views of the CEO, Christine Parthemore and other senior leaders at CSR.
The nuclear risk reduction community seems to be stuck. After a year working with fellow nuclear experts at NSquare, I know it’s not their fault–so much creativity abounds to achieve impact. The problem is that only certain types of activities tend to get funded by foundations and philanthropists engaged on the issue of nuclear weapons–if you listen to the interview, you’ll hear me rail against the continuous production of reports as the main project outcomes at think tanks in DC. I’m not saying that analytical work and research are not important. However, in this day and age, do our target audiences actually ready 30+ page reports anymore? If the answer is no to that question, then we’ve identified part of the problem.
For several years now, I have wondered if the levers of influence for making progress may have shifted away from policymakers and U.S. Congress in DC. I have often theorized that the American people have become more important to nuclear risk reduction today than they have been over the past three decades since the end of the Cold War. Given the risk that they pose to daily life in the U.S., Americans do not think enough about nuclear weapons; many do not even know they still exist. There’s a complete lack of awareness across this country even as policymakers in DC and U.S. Congress are making moves to spend $1.3 trillion over the next thirty years to build new intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers, and ballistic missile submarines–delivery systems that ensure nuclear weapons remain vital to U.S. nuclear security for decades to come. But is this the future we want for our children?
I am still an intellectual at heart. Knowledge is major incentive for me to produce the show. I want to answer some questions that keep swirling around in my head. I’ve hinted at both in the above. First, is the American public more important today for nuclear risk reduction that it was in the past three decades? Second, can we reach them through digital channels from our desks in DC? I think you can infer from the above that my theorized answers to these questions are yes to the first, and no to the second.
If you’re interested in following my journey, you can subscribe to this blog or get exclusive behind-the-scenes content at patreon.com/natashabajema.