A podcast about humanity’s most terrible weapon, and the stories of those who have shaped its history.
We created a weapon that could end humanity — but can we control it?
Scattered around the world, under the control of opposing nations, exists some fifteen thousand nuclear weapons. The most powerful destructive force ever created, these weapons have the capacity to devastate the entire planet several times over. When former Secretary of Defense William Perry declared he believed that the danger of a nuclear catastrophe was greater today than any time in history, his granddaughter, Lisa Perry, set out to discover why. Featuring the personal stories of presidents, cabinet members, congressmen, nuclear physicists, atomic bomb survivors, military officials, and activists, At The Brink is a primer for every world citizen to learn how we can step back from the brink.
Host: Lisa Perry @LisaAtTheBrink
Featuring: Dr. William J. Perry, 19th U.S. Secretary of Defense @SecDef19
Seek Immediate Shelter: Nuclear False Alarms
Cynthia Lazaroff tells the tale of her 40 minutes of terror during the Hawaii nuclear missile false alarm in 2018. Then Bill Perry talks about the infinitely more dangerous nuclear false alarm he experienced while in the Pentagon in 1979, and historian Taylor Downing tells the story of an equally dangerous one in the Soviet Union in 1983. Learn why we are still at risk for such false alarms that could potentially trigger World War III by mistake, and what we might do to lower the danger.
The Biscuit and the Football: Sole Presidential Authority and Nuclear First Use
That briefcase you sometimes see being carried by a presidential assistant is called the football; this is what the President would use to order a nuclear attack. Only the President can order such an attack, and absolutely no one needs to be consulted or has the authority to stop it. We ask President Bill Clinton his thoughts on this awesome power, while our other guests discuss the dangerous Cold War hangovers of sole presidential authority and the failure of the United States to commit to no first use of nuclear weapons.
Loose Nukes: A Nuclear Success Story
Most Americans cheered when the Soviet Union broke apart into 15 independent countries in 1991, but a few had a sobering concern: the break-up created three new nuclear states overnight: Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. They had no resources or infrastructure to deal with their inherited nuclear weapons and fissile material, and security was woefully inadequate. Listen to the remarkable story of how a group of dedicated individuals conceived and implemented the Nunn-Lugar program, which removed over 4,000 so-called “loose nukes” from these former Soviet states, securing the remaining weapons in Russia.
Modernizing Doomsday: The True Cost of Our Nuclear Arsenal
In January 2020, the Doomsday Clock was set at 100 seconds to midnight, telling us that the world is the closest to catastrophe it has ever been during the nuclear age. A big reason is that both the U.S. and Russia are embarking upon an unprecedented expansion of nuclear arsenals, which will cost American taxpayers upwards of two trillion dollars, under the misleading heading of “modernization.” What if this plan is actually decreasing our security, not enhancing it? Nuclear scholars and national security experts weigh in on the top-secret projects that led us here and why we are still letting outdated principles drive decisions of global importance.
Project Sapphire: A Secret Mission to Thwart Nuclear Terrorism
In 1994, Andy Weber was serving at the U.S. embassy in Kazakhstan when his auto mechanic asked if he wanted to buy some uranium. This was the beginning of a story straight out of spy novels, as the U.S. executed a complicated plan to smuggle out over 600 kg of bomb-grade uranium, to avoid its seizure by terrorists bent on creating their own nuclear weapon. We learn how devastating such a result would have been, and how Andy and the team at the Pentagon implemented this daring scheme to prevent such an outcome.
The Iran Deal: Blocking a Persian Bomb
Was the Iran nuclear deal really “the worst deal ever negotiated”, as Donald Trump claimed? We’ll hear from Ambassador Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator, former Obama advisor Ben Rhodes, Iranian diplomat Seyed Mousavian, and others in U.S. politics and diplomacy who supported the deal, explain what the deal actually did, why Trump was wrong, and what might happen now that the United States has walked away from it.
Fire and Fury in the Hermit Kingdom: North Korea’s Nuclear Program
The history of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions has see-sawed between crisis and hope. Bill Perry tells how close we came to war in 1994, and he and Philip Yun tell their story of negotiating directly with North Korea in the 1999 crisis. But their hopes were dashed as the deal they crafted was rejected by the new Bush administration. Dr. Siegfried Hecker describes his historic trips during the early 2000s to view the North Korean nuclear program up close, and Dr. Jeffrey Lewis describes what we know about today’s North Korean arsenal and ballistic missile program. Our guests offer their analysis of where we’re at now, and what is possible to accomplish going forward in dealing with a nuclear “Hermit Kingdom.”
Hibakusha: Survivors of the Bomb
In this episode, we hear the wrenching stories of two survivors of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. These two women, known as “Hibakusha” or “explosion affected persons”, both suffered injury and radiation sickness, but unlike the more than 200,000 who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, survived to bear witness to the horrors of nuclear weapons. One, Setsuko Thurlow, culminated a life-long effort at nuclear awareness and activism, when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for ICAN, along with ICAN CEO Beatrice Fihn.
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Lisa Perry believes her generation would become as active in this issue as in global warming or other social justice issues if they're merely made aware that a nuclear threat is not hypothetical, but real. "It should be something we talk about, that we get to decide on because it affects all of us," she says.
Dr. William J. Perry
In a remarkable career that has spanned academia, industry, entrepreneurship, government, and diplomacy, Bill Perry has dealt firsthand with the changing nuclear threat, most notably as Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton. His 2015 memoir, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, is a personal account of his lifelong effort to reduce nuclear dangers. He founded the William J. Perry Project to educate the public on these dangers. In 2020 Perry co-authored along with Tom Collina THE BUTTON: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump. He is the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor (emeritus) at Stanford University. He is a husband, father of five, grandfather of eight, and a great-grandfather of four (soon to be five!). He continues to travel the world in pursuit of his goal to eliminate the danger of nuclear weapons.