Suggestions for Increasing Your Effectiveness


Don't argue
If other people are uninterested or believe that society's approach to nuclear weapons is fine as is, it's usually best to drop the subject. Our goal is not to argue with those who are comfortable with the nuclear status quo. Rather, we are looking for those willing to question conventional wisdom. Since our first goal is to involve just 5% of Stanford's students, initially most people will be uninterested, perhaps even adversarial. Instead of wasting time arguing with someone, seek out others more open to the idea. And remember that no effort is wasted. Some will respond the first time they hear the idea, but most will have to hear it from several different people before they take it seriously. Treating those who disagree with us with respect will maximize the chance they will respond the next time someone else discusses the issue with them.

Emphasize the goal of reducing the risk
Recent research has shown that the most effective approach to get new people interested in this issue is to emphasize our goal of reducing the risk posed by nuclear weapons. With thousands of nuclear weapons to keep track of, it should come as no surprise that in 2007, six of our nuclear warheads were mistaken for dummy warheads and transported with improper security precautions. With such bloated arsenals in both the US and Russia, there is a greatly increased risk that terrorists will manage to obtain one. My own research independently reached a similar conclusion and quantified the level of risk. As explained there, our reliance on nuclear weapons is as risky as living in a town surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants.

Keep it apolitical
Much of the current momentum for re-examining our nuclear weapons strategies can be traced to a 2007 Opinion Editorial by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn. This support from four senior statesmen, with two being Democrats and two being Republicans, emphasizes the non-partisan nature of the issue. While President Obama joined that effort with his April 2009 Prague speech, it is more effective to tie our effort to the bipartisan effort.

Emphasize support from experienced military leaders
People tend to fear that those in favor of changing our nuclear weapons policies are naive, and guided primarily by moral arguments that are inapplicable in a dangerous world. Emphasizing that hard-headed military types are in the forefront of this effort, and are convinced it will enhance our national security, helps overcome those concerns. Bill Perry was Secretary of Defense under President Clinton, Sam Nunn was head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Henry Kissinger was Nixon's National Security Advisor, and George Shultz was Secretary of State under President Reagan.

You Don't Need to Have All the Answers
Our goal is not to advance a particular solution, such as nuclear disarmament or world peace. Rather our goal is to get society to recognize the unacceptable risk it faces from relying on nuclear weapons so that it will then be motivated to discover how best to reduce the risk. Solving this problem will require a number of steps, with the later steps only becoming possible in the changed environment produced by the earlier ones. So, even if you had a crystal ball and could tell someone how the solution will occur, it would sound unbelievable from our current vantage point.

Emphasize our ability to change
Increase receptivity by emphasizing the achievement of past "impossible" goals such as ending slavery and the enfranchisement of women. Many people have told me "You can't change human nature." But human nature is defined by adaptability as seen by our transformation from a tropical species to one which inhabits all regions of the earth, and even portions of space.

There is also a precedent here at Stanford, closely connected to this project. My interest in this issue grew out of interactions with one of Stanford's most beloved professors of the past, Prof. Harry Rathbun. Sandra Day O'Connor used the following words to describe Rathbun's impact on her life: "[He] was the first person ever to speak in my presence of how an individual could make a difference, even in our huge world. How a single caring person can effectively help determine the course of events. I had not heard that before, really, and he put it forward in such a persuasive way that I think most of us came to believe it might be true, and to take seriously the notion that we could make a difference." Follow in Justice O'Connor's footsteps by daring to entertain that you too might make a difference.

Emphasize the positive
If we talk only about nuclear catastrophe, we will depress people, whereas we need to energize them. Emphasize the positive changes required for the nuclear threat to become but a nightmare of the past. For example, the current high level of violence in the world will have to be dramatically reduced.

Maximize Your Connectivity
Everett Rogers, who pioneered research on the diffusion of new ideas, found that the rate of adoption accelerates rapidly after awareness reaches roughly 20-30 percent of the population [Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 3rd Edition, page 235]. For 5% to constitute critical mass at Stanford, each of us will have to share our concern with at least five other people. Email, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking techniques are a great way to do this because, by including a link ( to this web site, you can limit your message to a few key points.

Emphasize the long-term process
At the end of the Cold War, hard-won public support for changing our nuclear weapons posture evaporated almost overnight in the mistaken belief that the problem had been solved. To avoid a similar loss of momentum this time, we must keep the long-term nature of the goal firmly in mind. My research indicates that the risk we face from nuclear weapons must be reduced by at least a factor of 1,000, so the solution will occur in a multi-step, long-term process, not in one fell swoop.

Become convinced - and therefore convincing
To be effective, you need to become secure in your conviction that a reexamination of our nuclear weapons strategy is urgently needed. A good place to start is with a simple analogy that I call The Man in the TNT Vest. The talks that we schedule will help you become more knowledgable, as will reading the material this web site. Early in your involvement, it may help to refer friends to this web site for answers to their questions.

Be of goodwill
Ill will, judgment and blame play a major role in perpetuating the nuclear threat. If we judge those who disagree with us, we mirror the problem, not the solution. If we have goodwill toward those who disagree with us, we will be much more effective advocates for change. When someone says something that sounds outlandish to me, I try to remember how outlandishly I once saw this issue.

Act as if your life depends on it
It does.

Home  |  Build Awareness  |  Blog  |   FAQ  |  Resources  |  Risk  |  Take Action