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Congress, the administration, and the nonprofit sector all recognize they need to do more to bring the voices of women and people of color into foreign policy decision-making.

Yet the field of nuclear security policy has remained largely closed to people of different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.

The field of nuclear security policy has remained largely closed to people of different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.

It’s not at all unusual to see hearings like the one held in late April by the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which featured four white men unwilling to recommend a single reform to U.S. nuclear policies.

Changing who sits at the policy table is important. Democracy cannot function properly when people are excluded from the decision-making process because of their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other factors.

Outcomes are less successful when leaders fail to consider a wide variety of views and perspectives. Yet at every stage of the process, the current system manages to dismiss, disrespect, disempower, and dehumanize women and people of color.

It starts with the patriarchal and white supremacist myths that pervade American society, that some lives are more valuable than others. That we live in a world of scarcity and greed, where competition is essential and one’s gain is another’s loss. That violence and war may be undesirable, but necessary and effective at protecting “us” from “them.” That our nation is not only fundamentally good, but better than all the others and, therefore, exempt from the rules we expect them to follow.

At every stage of the process, the current system manages to dismiss, disrespect, disempower, and dehumanize women and people of color.

This is the kind of logic that justifies buying “national security” with weapons and war rather than asking how women; gender minorities; and Black, Indigenous, and people of color experience insecurity. It tells Americans that nuclear weapons make them safe, and ignores how nuclear waste, testing, and accidents continue to harm Indigenous and Native American communities in particular.

It allows Pentagon planners to develop games that envision fighting and “winning” a nuclear war without contemplating human and planetary devastation. It allows our government to invest in one person, who has thus far always been a man, the power and authority to decide whether to end life on Earth as we know it.

Although this ideological framework is often hidden and unacknowledged, it is one that many women and people of color instinctively reject from the start. Before they embark on their careers, they are already turned off by these issues that seem so irrelevant to their own lives and so foreign to their way of thinking.

Making the nuclear field more representative of the whole of America is an essential part of making our society more equitable and humane.

Others are intimidated by the dense and technical language of nuke-speak, which wards off newcomers with a seemingly impenetrable barrier to admission. Those who choose to enter the nuclear community find themselves blocked and buffeted by systemic racism and sexism.

Professors and administrators could do much more to recognize and nurture talent in young people who are Black or Latinx or female or gender nonconforming. Professional societies and coalitions and workplaces must take proactive steps to prevent and respond to offensive acts and speech.

Gatekeepers—the people who decide whose articles get published, which experts get invited, whose work gets promoted—need to stop turning automatically to the people they already know and the ways of thinking that feel most comfortable to them.

Bringing more women and underrepresented groups into this field is no guarantee that U.S. nuclear policy will change. But failing to do so ensures it won’t. More importantly, making the nuclear field more representative of the whole of America is an essential part of making our society more equitable and humane.

All of us can help make this change happen. At FCNL, we are working with Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation to elevate the voices of Black, Indigenous, and women of color and to diversify the field.

As a Gender Champion in Nuclear Policy, Diane Randall has pledged to promote gender equality through FCNL public events and hiring practices. You can make a difference, too.

Share the work of a Black or Latina expert with your contacts or follow her on social media. Invite not only speakers with traditional academic qualifications, but also those with relevant life experience.

Ask your members of Congress where they get their information to make decisions on nuclear policy and suggest alternative sources. Each of these small steps can create a butterfly effect, setting in motion the fundamental transformation that is required.

Diana Ohlbaum, Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum

Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy
Diana Ohlbaum directs FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current U.S. foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.

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