The Magazine

First Lady of Intelligence

Roberta Wohlstetter, 1912-2007.

Jan 22, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 18 • By ROBERT ZARATE
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In the mid-1970s, the Wohlstetters and their colleagues completed Moving Towards Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd?, a 400-page study for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency that drew attention to the growing "Damoclean overhang" of virtual nuclear-weapon states that the international spread of fissile material and nuclear fuel-making would encourage. In response, this study (later published as Swords from Plowshares) called for concerted efforts by the U.S. government to assure the security of America's nonnuclear-armed allies, to strengthen nuclear export controls at home and abroad, and to promote a clearer and more sustainable interpretation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and related agreements in which "close approach to the manufacture of [nuclear] weapons" by nonnuclear-weapon NPT states would be counted unambiguously as "a violation." On this last point, the intransigent cases of Iran and nuclear-armed North Korea--both of which, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), refused to comply with their NPT and IAEA safeguards obligations--come to mind.

For much of the 20th century, national security strategy was a male-dominated field. Roberta Wohlstetter proved to be a glaring--and brilliant--exception. Her published and unpublished writings continue to speak directly to many key challenges facing the United States in this age of increasing disorder. It's high time we rediscovered their wisdom.

Robert Zarate, a research fellow at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, D.C., is writing a book on Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter.