This week we mourn the loss of Bruce Blair, an internationally renowned scholar with a long association with Carnegie Corporation of New York whose public service and advocacy helped reduce the risk of nuclear war. Blair died suddenly on July 19 from a stroke at the age of 72.
Blair started his career as a launch-control officer in the U.S. Air Force where his long shifts underground confronted him with the risk of accidental nuclear war. He earned his doctorate in operations research at Yale University where his thesis work eventually became the seminal book Strategic Command and Control: Redefining the Nuclear Threat (1985), positioning him as a leading expert in nuclear command and control. He worked for several years at the U.S. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment to identify vulnerabilities in command and control systems before heading to the Brookings Institution where he did groundbreaking work alongside John Steinbruner and Janne Nolan, giants in the field whose losses we recently mourned.
Blair was admired for his rigorous scholarship and writing, including his books The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War (1993) and Global Zero Alert for Nuclear Forces (1995), as well as for his remarkable ability to diagnose complex problems and find solutions. As the Washington Post noted in its obituary, he was “respected in Washington and in Moscow, in the military and intelligence communities, as well as among activists.”
Blair went on to create and lead Global Zero, an international organization of some 300 former high-level national security officials from dozens of countries dedicated to identifying practical steps toward nuclear disarmament. General James E. Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, became a close partner to Blair in these efforts. “Bruce understood the existential threat of nuclear weapons," Cartwright commented. "His loss will be felt throughout the national security community."
Blair leaves behind a remarkable legacy of scholarship, institution building, and mentorship. Alexander Glaser, his colleague at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, reflects that “One would be hard pressed to find anyone else in our community who has had a greater impact on reducing the risks from nuclear weapons.” All of us at Carnegie Corporation of New York extend our condolences to his friends, to his colleagues, and to the Blair family.
Carl Robichaud, program officer in International Peace and Security at Carnegie Corporation of New York, manages a portfolio of grants to strengthen nuclear security.
(Photo: Matt Stanley, mattstanleyphoto.com)