Did You Catch the Madam Secretary Season Finale? How About the Reddit AMA with Ernie Moniz? Riveting, both.

One of the most challenging aspects of NTI’s work—indeed, the work of all organizations in the nonproliferation and arms control community—is communicating the profound dangers posed by nuclear weapons. Last month, the CBS hit show Madam Secretary succeeded in doing just that in an edge-of-your-seat season finale. 

The episode followed the events of a major national security crisis, as top U.S. military and political officials are alerted to a massive Russian nuclear attack and have to decide whether or not to retaliate. The scenario that unfolds was entirely realistic; in fact, similar situations have already occurred. No spoilers here about how things turned out. If you missed the show, you can watch it on CBS.com to find out. 

Madam Secretary

So how did the show’s writers develop such a realistic scenario? They consulted with a number of top experts, including NTI Co-Chair and CEO Ernie Moniz, the former U.S. Secretary of Energy. Following the premiere, Moniz and David Grae, an executive producer and writer for the show, held an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit.

 Here are a few highlights of the conversation:

Question from DocDavis120

To Ernest - How realistic was the show last night? It terrified me!

To David - How much research and prep goes into making one episode like this? 

Reply from Moniz: Regrettably, the show was quite realistic in showing how the president can be provided wrong information and yet have almost no time to respond. We had the opportunity to discuss these kinds of scenarios with David and his team. In fact, the scenario is not terribly different from historical reality. It would be wonderful if the program also proves correct in finding a fast path to an agreement to reduce this risk. You can check out close calls here: www.nti.org/closecalls EJM 

Reply from Grae: We researched last night's episode to within an inch of its life. We not only consulted with Secty Moniz, but also Bruce Blair, a former ICBM launch officer and leading expert on this very issue, among other experts, including those on both sides of the issue. Beyond that, our production team worked with experts to make sure we got the physical details of the episode right—or  as right as you can get top secret materials and areas, like the contents of the nuclear football and the inside of an ICBM launch center as well as US Strategic Command and the Pentagon War Room. Like most aspects of television, it was a big team effort. --David Grae

 Question from Maximum cats

What do you think are the most promising paths for people with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees to get started in policy careers in the US, especially when it comes to energy/nuclear issues? In terms of having the greatest impact, should one focus on NGOs or on the US federal government? If the latter, the executive branch or Congress? 

Reply from Moniz: First, let me say that the policy world would benefit from more participants with strong STEM backgrounds, and indeed, we are seeing a number of universities advancing technology and policy programs. To start off in this field, you should first dig into a policy issue that is of great interest to you and that has strong scientific and technical dimensions. Whether a future might lie in with the executive or legislative branches or with non-governmental orgs or universities depends on opportunities that pop up. Success in one area will create more opportunities. EJM

 Question from Codercafe

Do you feel MAD (mutual assured destruction) is still as applicable as it was back during the Cold War? Or has that changed? 

Reply from Moniz: Deterrence remains a key to our national security policy with the goal being that no nuclear weapon is used. However, we do need to face some new realities, such as cyber threats, nuclear terrorism and the current low level of communication between the US and Russia. These factors can lead to failed deterrence. Madam Secretary caught this in a very gripping way by showing how misinformation could lead a president to a very hurried decision based on wrong data. This alerting issue has got to be folded into a modern deterrence posture. EJM 

There is so much more! You can read the full AMA here.

May 31, 2018
Carter B. Bates
Carter B. Bates

Director of Digital Communications

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