Scientific, technical and policy research, analysis and outreach to advance national and international policies for a safer and more peaceful world

Our History

Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security (SGS), based in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, conducts scientific, technical and policy research, analysis and outreach to advance national and international policies for a safer and more peaceful world.

The Program was founded in 1974 by physicists in Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science as part of Center for Energy and Environmental Studies and moved to the Woodrow Wilson School in 2001. Harold Feiveson and Frank von Hippel founded and co-directed the Program from 1974 to 2006. From 2006 to 2016, the Program was directed by Christopher Chyba. Since 2016, SGS has been directed by Alexander Glaser and Zia Mian.

Throughout its history, SGS has worked on nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons and nuclear power. It is one of the oldest and most highly regarded academic programs focused on technical and policy studies on nuclear issues in the world. In the past decade it also has advanced policy on biosecurity issues. SGS engages effectively and creatively with these long-standing policy issues that remain to resolved and tracks emerging challenges from disruptive technologies with the potential to transform global security. These include new biotechnologies, information and communications technologies, autonomous weapons, artificial intelligence, and space-based systems.

SGS is home to Science & Global Security, the leading academic peer-reviewed journal for technical arms-control analysis. The journal covers nuclear, biological, chemical, space, and cyber technologies and programs and related security issues. Its goals are to help develop the technical basis for new policy initiatives to reduce the risks from these technologies to international peace and security and to provide a resource for further scholarship and policy analysis. The journal has helped define the field of arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament science.

SGS also manages a weekly seminar that hosts scholars from universities around the world, NGO analysts, including from philanthropic foundations, nuclear industry experts, staff from nuclear laboratories, and current and retired government officials.

The Program provides training opportunities for post-doctoral and senior scientists interested in science and security policy. It has helped train technical nuclear arms control and nonproliferation researchers from around the world. The resulting network over the years has allowed the Program to contribute to the nuclear policy debates in a number of countries.

SGS provides research and administrative support to the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), a group of independent nuclear experts from 17 nuclear-weapon and non-weapon states. The Panel’s mission is to develop the technical basis for practical and achievable policy initiatives to end production and reduce military and civilian stocks stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. These fissile materials are the key ingredients in nuclear weapons, and their control is critical to nuclear weapons disarmament, to halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to ensuring that terrorists do not acquire nuclear weapons.

Faculty and researchers of SGS teach science and security courses and policy workshops for Princeton undergraduate and graduate students. Students with undergraduate or master’s degrees in science or engineering can pursue policy PhDs with SGS by applying to the Woodrow Wilson School’s International Security or Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) clusters. Students seeking a technical PhD with SGS can apply to the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.


Research Areas

nuclear

Nuclear Weapons

SGS works to understand and reduce the risks from nuclear weapons and the strategies, postures, forces and policies of the nine nuclear armed states with a special focus on the United States and Russia, which possess most of the nuclear warheads worldwide. This includes developing technical and policy options for preventing arms racing, restraining deployment of ballistic missile defenses, reducing the numbers, types and degree of reliance on nuclear weapons, ending risks from command and control systems, taking nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert, and advancing nuclear arms control between the United States and Russia and expanding it to include China and other nuclear-armed states. SGS also does research to support the 2017 United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the goal of the verified and irreversible elimination of all nuclear weapons and weapon programs.

regions

Regions

SGS works to develop confidence-building measures to reduce the risks of crisis, arms racing and nuclear weapons use in the U.S.-NATO-Russian region, South Asia, the Middle East, East Asia and the Pacific. The SGS Project on Peace and Security in South Asia was set up in 1997 to provide independent technical and policy analysis to inform the South Asian nuclear debate and develop policy proposals that could contribute to easing and ending the nuclear confrontation in the subcontinent. Since the early 2000s, SGS also has been engaged in efforts to reduce the proliferation risks from Iran’s nuclear program and has worked to develop ideas to make progress towards a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, increase regional security and stability. SGS also carries out technical research to support a diplomatic process leading to the verified denuclearization of North Korea.

fissile

Fissile Materials

The control and elimination of fissile materials (the key ingredients for nuclear weapons) is major part of the SGS agenda. This includes supporting the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) and efforts to achieve an international Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. SGS also is developing the technical basis for policy initiatives to end plutonium and HEU production; convert naval reactors and civilian reactors fueled with HEU-fuel; and to reduce the proliferation risks from uranium enrichment plants, including through ending national control of uranium enrichment.

space

Space

SGS maintains an interest in space policy and space security. These include measures to lower the risk to people and property in outer space from space debris, and reducing the chances of a costly and destabilizing arms race among space powers, including anti-satellite weapons and the deployment of offensive and defensive weapon systems in space. SGS members have also been involved in questions of NASA policy, including directions for human space flight and solar system exploration.

verification

Verification

Verification is seen as a central challenge for effective arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament agreements. SGS works to develop novel approaches, instruments and methods that can permit minimally intrusive and adaptive verification as part of possible inspections in nuclear weapon states. SGS also develops approaches and techniques for nuclear archaeology, the emerging field of using measurements and sampling at production and storage sites to characterize past fissile material production activities. SGS is working to develop new platforms and systems that can help foster collaborative development of new approaches to nuclear arms control treaty verification, including virtual reality, interactive mapping, and the use of robots and artificial intelligence.

biosecurity

Biosecurity

SGS research aims to strengthen biological security with respect to antimicrobial resistance, natural disease, and dual-use biotechnology. This includes pioneering the idea of “One-Health” based on the insight that many infectious human diseases originate in other species. These diseases of animals that infect humans include anthrax, plague, and tularemia, are also potential bioterrorist agents. SGS also plays a role in developing ideas to prevent the misuse of new biotechnology by states and by non-state actors.

cyber & ai

Cyber & AI

SGS aims to inform the policy debates about offensive cyberwarfare capabilities and artificial intelligence (AI) and their impact on international peace and security. This work includes understanding how cyberwarfare capabilities could impact nuclear weapons command and control and delivery systems, the extent to which these cyber-capabilities could enable states to reduce the size and role of nuclear arsenals, and the implication of these capabilities for states without nuclear weapons. The program's work also involves examining the risks of AI, autonomous weapon and control systems, as well the possible role of AI in supporting treaty verification.