Open Letter on Our Support for Michèle Flournoy to be the Next Secretary of Defense

November 25th, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden says America has no time to lose when it comes to our national security and foreign policy. We agree. As nuclear security experts with experience in and out of government, we are optimistic that President-elect Joe Biden’s distinguished record of leadership on nuclear weapons will improve American security.

We have been vocal in our concern about the growing global nuclear danger and about President Trump’s concerted effort to undermine effective forms of nuclear security, including alliance management, arms control and responsible defense and deterrence management. To reverse these dangerous trends, President-elect Biden needs a strong and experienced team ready to address these issues and put America back on course from day one.

We have known and worked with Michèle Flournoy, in some cases for decades. She has a deep understanding of nuclear weapons policy and budgets, and is highly qualified to lead the Department of Defense on the complex and critical issues of nuclear weapons procurement, deterrence policy, and nuclear risk and arms reduction. The agenda here is long and challenging, including working to reduce nuclear risks with Russia and China, curtailing the emerging arms race, reducing the risk of nuclear escalation and accidents, and making U.S. nuclear weapons modernization both sustainable and in line with our security needs and that of our allies. We agree with the 2020 Democratic Platform that “[t]he Trump Administration’s proposal to build new nuclear weapons is unnecessary, wasteful, and indefensible.” The growing nature of nuclear risks demands that the next Secretary understand them in depth and be ready to address them with experience from the first day in office. Michèle Flournoy does and will be.

Michèle Flournoy knows that a top priority of the Biden administration must be to restore U.S. leadership on a variety of issues, including on nuclear risk reduction. She has frequently expressed her strong support for extending the New START nuclear control agreement with Russia. She has raised important questions about the need for and affordability of the current nuclear modernization plans. And she has criticized the Trump administration for lowering the threshold for nuclear use.

Michèle Flournoy also has a strong record of engagement with the academic, NGO and policy community and we believe she will be open to voices and thinking from all areas of the American policy community. She understands the importance of ensuring policy discussions represent diverse views, is open to engagement and debate, does not shy away from new perspectives and points of view, and can help bring to the Department of Defense new and needed levels of transparency.

Critically, she is best poised to ensure the Department of Defense does not, through momentum and inertia, over-invest in unnecessary or dangerous legacy systems — including nuclear weapons systems — ill-suited to addressing the pressing dangers of today and tomorrow. We believe Michèle Flournoy is the best candidate for the job.


Alexandra Bell, Former Department of State

Emma Belcher, Ploughshares Fund

Rachel Bronson, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Matthew Bunn, Harvard University

Joseph Cirincione, Nuclear security expert

Tom Collina, Ploughshares Fund

Tom Countryman, Arms Control Association

Loren DeJonge Schulman, Center for New American Security (adjunct)

Michelle Dover, Ploughshares Fund

Steve Fetter, University of Maryland

Rebecca Gibbons, University of Southern Maine

Lauren Gillis, Former Department of State

Ilan Goldenberg, Center for New American Security

Rose Gottemoeller, Stanford University

Laura S. H. Holgate, Ambassador (ret.)

John Isaacs, Nuclear security expert

Daryl Kimball, Arms Control Association

Terri Lodge, former Department of State

Nicholas L. Miller, Dartmouth University

Richard Nephew, Columbia University

William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense

Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association

Joan Rohlfing, Nuclear Threat Initiative

Sharon Squassoni, George Washington University

Ariane Tabatabai, Columbia University

Alexander Vershbow, Atlantic Council

Andrew Weber, Former Department of Defense

Jon Wolfsthal, Global Zero

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, Truman Project

David Zikusoka, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

*Affiliations listed for information purposes only


Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store