Our Own Worst Enemy?

From Belfer Center Studies in International Security

Our Own Worst Enemy?

Institutional Interests and the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Expertise

By Sharon K. Weiner

An examination of the effectiveness of knowledge nonproliferation programs implemented by the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union.





An examination of the effectiveness of knowledge nonproliferation programs implemented by the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union.

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.


$54.00 X ISBN: 9780262015653 384 pp. | 6.125 in x 9.25 in


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262515887 384 pp. | 6.125 in x 9.25 in


  • 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 K. Weiner's book should provoke the United States and Russia to do better at one of the greatest proliferation challenges of the era—preventing the spread of knowledge about weapons of mass destruction and cleaning up the legacy of the Cold War.

    David Hoffman

    former Moscow bureau chief for the Washington Post, and author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy


  • Winner, 2012 Louis Brownlow award, awarded by the National Academy of Public Administration.