Analysis & Opinions - The Hill

Bring Back the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency

| Oct. 03, 2019

After 9/11, the U.S. government reorganized existing federal organizations and created new ones to address the threat of global terrorism. These new institutions reflected a renewed prioritization on the mission of homeland security because of the real possibility of additional terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Just a few years before, in the late 1990s, the United States disbanded an organization because its mission no longer was deemed as high a priority — the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). With the end of the Cold War ushering in significant nuclear arms reductions and the permanent extension of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1995, the goals of ACDA no longer appeared urgent. ACDA lost its independent status in 1997 and the State Department absorbed it two years later. 

Looking back, this decision to eliminate ACDA was short-sighted.

The idea for a U.S. government office devoted to arms control and disarmament was suggested by several individuals in the late 1950s and early 1960s. According to historian Jonathan Hunt, President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, Christian Herter, “bemoaned the lack of a dedicated office in charge of moderating conflict rather than steeling for it.” In 1960, Herter announced the creation of the United States Disarmament Administration within the State Department. During the 1960 presidential election, both Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Nelson Rockefeller called for a government agency devoted to arms control and disarmament activities. 

In his first month as president in 1960, John F. Kennedy appointed John McCloy, Washington insider and one of the “Wise Men,” as special adviser on disarmament and arms control. Later that year, McCloy presented a bill creating an Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, which Congress passed in September 1961. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Gibbons, Rebecca Davis.“Bring Back the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.” The Hill, October 3, 2019.

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