Book - MIT Press

Our Own Worst Enemy? Institutional Interests and the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Expertise

  • Sharon Weiner
| October 2011


When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many observers feared that terrorists and rogue states would obtain weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or knowledge about how to build them from the vast Soviet nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons complex. The United States launched a major effort to prevent former Soviet WMD experts, suddenly without salaries, from peddling their secrets. In Our Own Worst Enemy, Sharon Weiner chronicles the design, implementation, and evolution of four U.S. programs that were central to this nonproliferation policy and assesses their successes and failures.

Weiner examines the parlous state of the former Soviet nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons complex, the contentious domestic political debate within the United States, and most critically, the institutional interests and dynamics of the Defense, State, and Energy departments, which were charged with preventing the spread of WMD expertise. She explains why—despite unprecedented cooperation between the former Cold War adversaries—U.S. nonproliferation programs did not succeed at redirecting or converting to civilian uses significant parts of the former Soviet weapons complex. She shows how each of the U.S. government bureaucracies responsible for managing vital nonproliferation policies let its own organizational interests trump U.S. national security needs. Our Own Worst Enemy? raises important and troubling questions for anyone interested in understanding and improving policymaking and implementation processes in the area of nonproliferation and in U.S. national security policy more generally.

Praise for Our Own Worst Enemy?

"This sobering account is essential reading for all those interested in more effective programs to reduce proliferation threats around the world, and for those interested in the nitty-gritty of how national security agencies manage or fail to manage new and unfamiliar challenges."
– Matthew Bunn, Associate Professor of Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, author of Securing the Bomb

"Weiner provides an important snapshot of the Soviet WMD complex at the end of the Cold War and after. She then uses her thorough and detailed analysis of the U.S. government’s effort to stem proliferation of WMD expertise from the former Soviet Union to demonstrate how and why U.S. institutions succeeded and failed in their missions to stop proliferation from that complex, and how they shaped the national security agenda in the process. The book is a significant contribution to the study of the role of institutional politics in national security, non-proliferation, and U.S.-Russian relations."
– Pavel Podvig, research associate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and editor of Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces

"Our Own Worst Enemy? is a must-read for scholars, policymakers, and other readers with an interest in how government decisions get made and why it has been so hard to control the spread of knowledge about nuclear weapons."
– Cindy Williams, principal research scientist, Security Studies Program at MIT, and co-author with Gordon Adams of Buying National Security: How America Plans and Pays for Its Global Role and Safety at Home

“Sharon Weiner has written an important book. . . one that. . . rewards a careful read and will be of much value to scholars and policymakers. . . . As an account of bureaucratic political travails, Our Own Worst Enemy is indeed an interesting and important contribution to the literature.”

– Christopher Ford, Contemporary Security Policy, April 2013

Winner of the 2012 Louis Brownlow Book Award

Since 1968, the National Academy of Public Administration has recognized outstanding contributions to the literature of public administration through presentation of the Louis Brownlow Book Award. The Award recognizes outstanding contributions on topics of wide contemporary interest to practitioners and scholars in the field of public administration. Generally, it is made to an author who provides new insights, fresh analysis, and original ideas that contribute to the understanding of the role of governmental institutions and how they can most effectively serve the public.


About the Author

Sharon K. Weiner is Associate Professor in the School of International Service at American University.

About This Book

Our Own Worst Enemy? Institutional Interests and the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Expertise

Our Own Worst Enemy? Institutional Interests and the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Expertise
Sharon Weiner
For more information on this publication: Please contact International Security
For Academic Citation: Weiner, Sharon K.. Our Own Worst Enemy? Institutional Interests and the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Expertise. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, October 2011.

The Author