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Science Salon Archives

In the tradition of the Enlightenment salons that helped drive the Age of Reason, Science Salon is a series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, scholars, and thinkers, about the most important issues of our time. Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, and TuneIn, or using the audio or video players below.

SCIENCE SALON # 127

William Perry and Tom Collina — The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump

From authors William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and Tom Z. Collina, the Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC, The Button recounts the terrifying history of nuclear launch authority, from the faulty 46-cent microchip that nearly caused World War III to President Trump’s tweet about his “much bigger & more powerful” button. Perry and Collina share their firsthand experience on the front lines of the nation’s nuclear history and provide illuminating interviews with former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Congressman Adam Smith, Nobel Peace Prize winner Beatrice Fihn, senior Obama administration officials, and many others. Shermer, Perry and Collina also discuss:

  • even if Trump loses the 2020 election and we have President Biden, real risks of nuclear catastrophe exist because of the system, not the person,
  • why the Iran deal was a good one to keep that country from developing nukes,
  • how to deal with North Korea and Perry’s experience with the Kim dynasty,
  • why the Russians are rational actors who do not want nuclear war,
  • terrorists and the possibility of them getting a nuke,
  • why we must eliminate Launch on Warning and First Strike policies,
  • what is in “the football” seen held by men constantly trailing the President?
  • Stanislav Petrov: the man who saved the world, and what this story tells us about the precariousness of our current system,
  • game theory, the logic of deterrence, and how to get around it,
  • why nuclear weapons were not inevitable, and
  • changing the taboo from not using nuclear weapons to not owning them.

William J. Perry served as Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and then as Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, and has advised presidents all through the Obama administration. He oversaw the development of major nuclear weapons systems, such as the MX missile, the Trident submarine and the Stealth Bomber. His new “offset strategy” ushered in the age of stealth, smart weapons, GPS, and technologies that changed the face of modern warfare. His vision now, as founder of the William J. Perry Project, is a world free from nuclear weapons.

Tom Z. Collina is the Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC. He has 30 years of nuclear weapons policy experience and has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was closely involved with successful efforts to end U.S. nuclear testing in 1992, extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995, ratify the New START Treaty in 2010, and enact the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Collina has published hundreds of articles, op-eds, and reports and appears frequently in major media.

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