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Jon  Wolfsthal

Jon Wolfsthal

Arms Control & Nonproliferation Expert


During his time working with the government, Jon Wolfsthal had his hands in virtually every aspect of U.S. nuclear weaponry, arms control, nonproliferation, and security policy. His previous positions include former Special Assistant to the President of the United States for National Security Affairs, senior director at the National Security Council for arms control and nonproliferation, and Special Advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden, among others. He is currently senior Advisor to Global Zero where he directs the Nuclear Crisis Group. He is also a fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is also a columnist at ForeignPolicy.com. Read More >

While working with the Obama administration, Wolfsthal helped oversee or advise numerous policies regarding national security. He helped to secure the ratification of the New START arms reduction agreement with Russia in addition to supporting the development of nuclear policy through the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review. A committed public servant, he also held various positions in the 1990s at the U.S. Department of Energy, performing tasks such as an on-the-ground assignment in North Korea in 1995.

Earlier in his career, Wolfsthal was the Deputy Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies. He was also a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a deputy director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Wolfsthal is the author of dozens of articles and op-eds on the subjects of nuclear weapons policy, regional proliferation, arms control, and nuclear deterrence. A leading authority on the subjects, he also co-authored the book Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction with Joseph Cirincione.

Wolfsthal graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in 1988 with a degree in Political Science. He attended a graduate studies program at George Washington University from 1988 to 1993. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Does Trump's Nuclear Plan Increase the Chance of Conflict?

On Trump's High-Stakes Summit

Speech Topics

Understanding the North Korea Threat

North Korea has been a security challenge for America since the 1950s.  The reclusive country’s advancing nuclear and missile programs create a new dynamic that requires greater attention and understanding.  Everyone from governments to companies to financial firms to the general public have a stake in the security situation in East Asia, and the prospects for conflict on the Korean peninsula are more serious than since the end of the Korean War.  The speaker has 30 years of experience working on North Korea, including time in North Korea’s secret nuclear facilities, and has worked and consulted extensively in China, South Korea and Japan.  The speaker will explain the origins and motives for North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, how America and its allies are responding, how we can prevent war with the reclusive regime and what are the risks to American allies and business in the region.  Presentations can be tailored to specific audiences, and the speaker has can prepare risk assessments for corporate and public clients.

The Next Nuclear Age

The United States invented nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors during the Second World War.  Since then 10 countries have built nuclear weapons and dozens have nuclear power and research reactors.  This ultimate dual use technology that can be used for energy and medical good is also the only man-made thing that can threaten our instantaneous destruction.  What is the future of nuclear technology around the world?  Is nuclear power the answer to climate change?  Can the spread of nuclear weapons be stopped and reversed?  Is a world without nuclear weapons possible and even desirable?  The speaker’s role as the senior White House Advisor for President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on nuclear proliferation and arms control issue gives him insights across the nuclear landscape and provides a unique perspective to address the range of technical issues that may determine the fate of our planet.

American Leadership & Global Security

America is the guarantor of the global economic and security order. Our alliances and economic relationships are the backbone that has fueled our prosperity and an unprecedented age of advancement and stability.  The speaker is able to cover a global perspective and talk about how America’s role has helped create wealth and stability in the developed world and why it hold out hope for being the engine of development in the 21st Century, even in the face of competition from China and other states.  This speaker will trace the development of America’s role in the world since the end of WWII and explain why its continued leadership is critical to global stability and prosperity.  Being a participant at the highest levels of government in the United States enables the speaker to help audiences understand why America’s role is so important and where is can lead in the decades ahead.

Iran’s Nuclear Future

There is perhaps no more controversial diplomatic initiative in the past 20 years that the Iran nuclear agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. Considered a crowning achievement of the Obama administration, it was widely criticized in conservative circles and is now in the sights of the Trump Administration.  Having helped negotiate the agreement and served as a senior White House expert on nuclear matters, the speaker is also in a position to explain the agreement, why it is working, as well as to explain where things did not go as planned and where improvements might be possible.  Is there a way to improve the Iran agreement or is any attempt to tinker with its limits a recipe for disaster? How to America’s allies feel about Donald Trump’s criticism of the multilateral agreement, which they were instrumental in negotiating, what is the path forward for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and how will the unraveling of the agreement affect the geo-political and economic landscape of the Middle East?

Return to the Cold War: America’s Complicated Relationship with Russia

Russia and the United States have a long and complicated relationship. Each remains the only country in the world capable of destroying the other with its nuclear arsenal.  After 20 years of engagement and seeking the development of a constructive relationship, Russia under Vladimir Putin has pursued a policy of confrontation that includes challenging the very premise of the liberal international order in Europe. Of the United States and Russia are now investing hundreds of billions of dollars in their own nuclear arsenal’s and are preparing new battlefields  - including in space and cyber space - to challenge each other for global dominance.  Are we destined for a new cold war with Moscow?  How did America lose Russia and can we win it back?  Can the competition between Moscow and Washington be managed? This presentation will lay out the very real risks of the future tensions between the two states and explain how some of them can be avoided with the right balance of strength and engagement by the government, business and citizen communities.  Having helped negotiate and secure Senate approval of the New START arms control agreement with Russia, the speaker is able to explain in simple terms the nature of our nuclear relationship with Russia and why it is critical that it be managed cooperatively.