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Public Policy and Nuclear Threats Enters Its Third Decade

June 21, 2024
Paddy Ryan


From July 7-17, IGCC will convene the 20th Public Policy and Nuclear Threats (PPNT) Boot Camp in La Jolla, California. This annual summer workshop, taking place on the campus of UC San Diego, equips the next generation of nuclear policy leaders with the expertise to reduce the risks associated with weapons of mass destruction.

As PPNT embarks on its third decade of preparing students and young professionals to take on the mantle of U.S. nuclear policymaking, IGCC reflects on the program’s past, present, and future amid a world of increasing nuclear uncertainty.

IGCC’s Forty Years on the Forefront of Peace

The PPNT Boot Camp forms a critical component of IGCC’s mission to galvanize policy-relevant research to create a more peaceful world. IGCC has a long history of leadership in nuclear policy, dating back to the Institute’s creation in 1983 under founding director Herb York, a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project.

At the core of IGCC’s origin story was the conviction by then-California governor Jerry Brown and UC president David Saxon that—in its management of the weapons-design national laboratories of Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore—the UC must also provide leadership in understanding how to prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used again.

Today, IGCC utilizes a world-class network of researchers across the University of California and three national labs—including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—to attract and train a new generation to uphold this tradition of thought leadership for peace.

The PPNT Boot Camp brings together leading experts in nuclear science, security, and policy with a diverse group of young scholars and professionals to provide intellectual exchange and build professional and mentorship networks. The program bridges the physical and social sciences by facilitating cross-disciplinary discussions aimed at addressing technical and international policy challenges related to nuclear weapons.

A Short History of PPNT

PPNT began in 2003, convened with the help of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The opening edition of the summer Boot Camp featured Herb York among a distinguished cohort of speakers. It was followed by an important student-led winter workshop and trip to a National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) facility.

The inaugural class drew on emerging leaders from across the University of California system, including UC Berkely’s Matthew Kroenig—now at Georgetown University and the Atlantic Council—and UCLA’s Lawrence Rubin, now at the Georgia Institute of Technology and International Institute of Strategic Studies.

Recounting PNNT’s influence on his career, Dr. Kroenig remarked that, when he was a student in the early 2000s, nuclear weapons were dismissed as “a Cold War problem”—without PPNT, “there’s a pretty good chance I wouldn’t be working on nuclear issues today.” Dr. Rubin credits PPNT for having “whet our appetite for policy engagement” by getting “people from totally different disciplines to talk together.” Today, the PPNT Class of 2003 forms a powerful network of policy professionals leading U.S. nuclear policy.

In 2007, the PPNT program was opened to participants from outside the UC campuses, taking in a diverse group of junior policy professionals and academics from other universities, as well as staff from the Los Alamos and Livermore labs. The PPNT program continues to include the summer Boot Camp, a winter workshop, and a field immersion at a U.S. Department of Energy or NNSA site. The program also funnels alumni into internships and careers at the Department of Energy, NNSA, and international organizations focused on nuclear security. Over two decades of convening PPNT, 460 nuclear policy professionals have graduated from the program.

As the years pass, the program leverages the unrivalled expertise of its growing alumni network to chair discussions, share their knowledge, and even lead the program itself. Robert Brown of the Class of 2003 returned to lead PPNT from 2009-2011 and was succeeded by 2007 alumnus Neil Narang from 2012-13, who continues to serve as the faculty principal investigator for the overall PPNT program. Bethany Goldblum, a 2004 alumna, took the reins in moderating the summer Boot Camp sessions beginning in 2014 and will lead the sessions for a final time this summer.

Looking Ahead to the Class of 2024

The 2024 PPNT Boot Camp builds on two decades of history while exploring new ways to ensure peace in a world grappling with major technological and geopolitical change.

The 2024 Boot Camp’s interdisciplinary course of lectures, debates, and simulations will help participants make sense of a fast-evolving nuclear landscape marked by China’s emergence as a third nuclear peer, rising tensions among nuclear-armed nations, and a faltering arms-control regime.

The curriculum covers a broad array of topics ranging from the legacy of the Cold War nonproliferation regime, U.S. extended deterrence, and strategic stability theory to the intersection of nuclear weapons with artificial intelligence, space, and terrorism.

Following the 2024 Boot Camp, IGCC will formally pilot a new summer internship program which will place Boot Camp graduates in eight-to-ten-week internships across the NNSA complex—including the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. IGCC has informally engaged in this practice for decades as part of the overall PPNT program.

IGCC is proud to partner with the NNSA and the Stanton Foundation to present the 2024 PPNT program. We look forward to training new generations of nuclear policy leaders and growing the PPNT alumni network in the decades ahead.

Paddy Ryan is senior writer/editor at the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC)

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