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August 20, 2001

Our Man at State

Calvin professor James Bradley spent the last 18 months at the State Department as a William C. Foster fellow, a prestigious national fellowship program. This fall he plans to put the lessons he learned there to good use in the Calvin classroom even as he continues as a paid consultant to the State Department.

While in Washington, Bradley worked in a branch of the State Department responsible for negotiating all of the U.S. arms control treaties and for verifying other countries' compliance.

His work there was high-level stuff, complete with top secret classification clearance. He worked on missile defense, understanding Russian thinking about militarization and verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, among other projects.

He says he learned a lot about arms control, especially missile defense. "My initial attitude (toward missile defense) was negative," he says. "In fact, I thought it was a really bad idea. But I changed my mind."

Why? Well, says Bradley, the proliferation worldwide of available missile technology convinced him that a U.S. missile defense system is necessary.

"In 10 to 15 years," he says, "(ICBM) missiles will be available to any nation that wants them. Right now missiles are a a status symbol for some countries. And for others they're a threat that they hold out. But with a missile defense system the threat goes away. Why would Libya buy an ICBM if they knew we could prevent them from using it successfully?"

Bradley's role in much of his work at the State Department was on the various missile and defense scenarios and the probabilities behind those scenarios. These assignments flowed from his expertise in probability theory and game theory, topics he already was exploring as an undergrad at MIT and then as a grad student at the University of Rochester.

He admits that no missile defense system will be perfect. "If they reach 90 percent (successful defense)," he says, "that would be great." He notes that the actual percentage goal for success is classified, but adds that 100 percent success isn't necessary.

"The defense," he says, "complicates the calculation for an aggressor. Also, most countries have an enormous respect for American technology. If we build a missile defense system they'll assume that it will work, and work well."

Bradley says Calvin students will be in for some "great war stories" this coming school year. But more importantly his real-life experiences will help him as he counsels math majors, and prospective math majors, on their career paths.

"It (the fellowship) enables me to go to a math major and tell him that this isn't just academic. It's not just pie in the sky. There are implications here for major policy decisions, issues that are in the papers and part of the national and international dialogue every day."

Bradley says the entire world strategic framework today is based on the concept of deterrence, which has its origin in game theory, a branch of mathematics. The new missile defense system changes that concept and that's why it's so controversial.

"Regardless of how unpleasant some of the Cold War tensions were," says Bradley, "the relationship between the U.S. and Russia was certainly stable. The prospect of making major changes to that relationship has much of the world, but especially Europe, very worried."

Bradley was in Washington during the transition between administrations and saw a lot of change.

"What (Donald) Rumsfeld is doing at Defense," he says, "is trying to change the entire world strategic order. If they succeed, the ramifications will be felt far beyond our lifetimes."



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Contact Phil de Haan
616-957-6475 (v)
616-957-7069 (f)