Michael KreponMentoring: From South Asia to Washington, DC

One way to try to have an influence on South Asia’s nuclear future is to mentor rising talent. Thanks to the Stimson Center’s funders — the Carnegie Corporation, the MacArthur Foundation and the NNSA — we do workshops with this cohort, we’re planning our first open, online course on regional nuclear issues, and my colleague, Julia Thompson, has been overseeing a website, South Asian Voices, to foster civil discourse between Indian and Pakistani bloggers. They own the content; Stimson controls the server and filters out noise pollution. We also offer fellowships for outstanding bloggers so that they can work alongside each other as they get acquainted with Washington. Why should they only be familiar with dysfunction back home?

[Oh, snap! -Ed.]

I recently came across an old email trying to explain why Stimson has chosen this strategy to a colleague at Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division at Joint Staff Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The SPD used to send Visiting Fellows to Stimson, but have stopped, for reasons that are unclear to me. I am reproducing my email below, verbatim.

Let me explain my teaching methods, and then I’ll circle back again to why Stimson is focusing on younger analysts for our programming initiatives.

I taught for ten years at the University of Virginia, which is close to where I live in Central Virginia. The student body of this school is rather privileged and conservative-leaning. I would occasionally find in my seminars the children of very high-ranking officials who were undermining or dismantling the treaties I had worked to construct. This was a challenge to my teaching philosophy. But I held to my philosophy, which is: do not teach people WHAT to think. Teach them HOW to think analytically. Learning doesn’t happen when you tell people what to think — memorization happens.

I have followed this philosophy with Visiting Fellows, as well. I challenge assumptions, I ask provocative questions, I ask for pros and cons, I ask for a rank ordering of pros and cons, etc. This is what I do as a teacher and a mentor. I tried to do this with you when you were at Stimson. This is how one grows intellectually, and how one’s students grow intellectually. You have the opportunity to help your students grow in this way, too.

Now, I wear an additional hat as co-founder of Stimson. I’ve worked on South Asia and traveled to the region for twenty years, and people ask me for my views. They expect me to have views. Foundations who give Stimson funding expect recommendations along with analysis. I wear this hat when giving talks outside the classroom, when writing op-eds, and in meetings with senior officials and military officers. But even while wearing this hat, I try my best not to lecture and not to be didactic. I try to make my case in ways that encourage a fresh look. I also try to listen more than I talk. I advise each new crop of Stimson interns, just as I used to advise my students, that you can’t learn while talking.

There are very few Visiting Fellowship opportunities in the US for Pakistanis. This is regrettable, but the truth of the matter is that there are precious few positions in our field for American citizens, as well. When given the choice between someone from Pakistan who has already had this opportunity and someone who hasn’t, to me, the choice is clear. My responsibility as a mentor is to widen the circle.

Now, I expect that many of the new people who are given this opportunity from Pakistan will think more like you than like me. As I’ve said, it’s not my job as a mentor to tell them what to think. It’s Stimson’s job to give every one of them a memorable educational experience, to challenge their assumptions, to have opportunities to learn and to meet with people that are unavailable to them in Pakistan, and to prod them to think analytically.

You seem to have survived this experience. They will, too.

Best wishes,


  1. nukeman (History)

    I have tried for years to get the powers that be in the nonproliferation world to use all of the scientific and engineering material I have collected on the Middle East and South Asia.

    The response has been an overwhelming silence. You have trained “experts” who know and understand about the science of proliferation. Many articles in the field illustrate this problem and the material has become unreadable in many cases.

    This is a sad way for what once an important field for the US and international community. I am still waiting to hear back from the many arms control groups I have contacted over the years.

    Maybe this email will catch people’s attention but I seriously doubt that.

    • Uban (History)

      Why don’t you just put it up on the internet?

      If it is sorted and searchable, people will be more than happy to use it.

    • krepon (History)

      If you mean South Asian Voices, it’s here:



    • Uban (History)

      Sorry I was referring to nukeman’s archive of bits and bobs.

  2. Bradley Laing (History)


    Last year, the Air Force estimated the cost of the top secret Long-Range Strike Bomber at $33.1 billion from fiscal 2015 through 2025. This year, it reported the fiscal 2016-2026 cost as $58.4 billion.

    Asked to explain the change from one estimate to the other, the Air Force responded that both numbers were wrong — and the correct ones were $41.7 billion for each period. The 10-year cost is the first installment in what could be a 30-year program.

  3. Uban (History)

    I think having the two groups in one place talking to each other is a good idea.

    I feel whatever contact is arranged between the Indians and the Pakistanis, it should clear up any misconception that India’s conventional options vis-a-vis Pakistan are necessarily reduced by Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

    For example, in Pakistani writings, one comes across the sentiment that India did not launch conventional strikes against Pakistan after the Bombay attacks on 26th November 2008 because of Pakistan’s “nuclear arsenal”.

    This is a misreading of the situation. It is correct that India did not launch nuclear strikes against Pakistan because of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal but it is incorrect to say that India did not launch conventional air-strikes against Pakistan because of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

    India has no intention of launching a conventional conflict with Pakistan. There was no military preparation for such action. Even the terror strike caught India’s security services unawares. The Indians barely managed to get a hostage rescue effort in place. So the Pakistani nuclear arsenal had less to do with deterring India’s conventional strike than India’s own lack of preparation.

    Briefly India did put the option of conventional airstrikes against the LeT camps on the table. However the Pakistani offer of locking up the LeT leadership was ten times more cost effective than the IAF air-strikes – so India had less reason to push ahead with even limited conventional options.

  4. Bradley Laing (History)

    Despite government claims of safety, officials admit that one way nuclear material could be spread into the atmosphere is if a nuclear facility was hit by a fire. Now a report says that a federal nuclear agency has failed to upgrade aging fire suppression systems in its buildings.

    The agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), claims it doesn’t have enough funding to replace aging water pipes and other infrastructure intended to prevent or fight fires at nuclear weapons facilities. The NNSA has a budget of $27 billion, but insists it has “a constrained budget” when it comes to fire suppression.