For ten days in June, 2012, the Wilson Center’s Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP), in cooperation with the University of Roma Tre, hosted its second annual “Nuclear Boot Camp” at the former Allumiere NATO base outside of Rome, Italy. 

The Nuclear Boot Camp is an innovative and intensive immersion course on global nuclear history. It combines some of the ‘best and brightest’ Ph.D. students currently working on nuclear history (selected through a rigorous application process) with a world-class line-up of instructors. The curriculum features lectures and seminar-style discussions on the latest nuclear history research, alongside presentations by students on their own research, and explorations of ways  that history can inform current policy debates. 

One of the most important dimensions of the Nuclear Boot is its goal of connecting emerging nuclear historians from different parts of the world, and using these connections to build capacity in the field. “I was struck when I looked around the room and saw people from Brazil, India, China, Russia, Africa, the US and Europe all working together on nuclear issues,” said NPIHP Senior Advisor and Stanford University Professor David Holloway, commenting on the group discussions.  

These collaborative efforts are already producing results: Based upon a careful reading of the history of proliferation, for example, one student group concluded that the widespread fear of nuclear proliferation cascades is likely overwrought—nuclear dominoes have tended to fall slowly, if at all. Another group drew upon the history of extended deterrence to examine how the US might reassure South Korea in the face of increased North Korean belligerence. 

NPIHP works hard to perpetuate this sort of productive, and truly global collaboration. Alumni are able to engage with some of the most senior people in the field, to participate in conferences and workshops around the world, and to publish their work with project support. 2012 Nuclear Boot Camp participant Jayita Sarkar, for example, is already the author of an NPIHP Research Update. Similarly, NPIHP arranged for the members of the class of 2011 to contribute most of the articles in a special edition of Italy’s most respected journal of foreign affairs, Limes, called Some Like it Atomic (A qualcuno piace atomica).

As a next step, the Wilson Center will launch a series of NPIHP issue briefs—three- to five-page publications summarizing new research by Nuclear Boot Camp students, as well as others, highlighting the impact of this research on contemporary policy debates.