James M. Acton

Jessica T. Mathews Chair
Nuclear Policy Program
tel +1 202 939 2281
Acton holds the Jessica T. Mathews Chair and is co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


PhD, Theoretical Physics, Cambridge University




James Acton holds the Jessica T. Mathews Chair and is co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A physicist by training, Acton’s current research focuses on the escalation risks of advanced conventional weapons and the future of arms control. His work on escalation includes the Carnegie edited volume, Entanglement: Chinese and Russian Perspectives on Non-nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Risks, and the International Security article “Escalation through Entanglement.”

Acton’s publications span the field of nuclear policy. They include the Carnegie report, Wagging the Plutonium Dog, and two Adelphi books, Deterrence During Disarmament and Abolishing Nuclear Weapons (with George Perkovich). He co-wrote Why Fukushima Was Preventable, a groundbreaking study into the root causes of the accident. 

An expert on hypersonic conventional weapons and the author of the Carnegie report, Silver Bullet? Asking the Right Questions About Conventional Prompt Global Strike, Acton has testified on this subject to the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee and the congressionally chartered U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Acton is a member of the Nuclear Security Working Group and the International Advisory Council for the Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe. He has published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Dædalus, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Science & Global Security, and Survival. He has appeared on CNN’s State of the Union, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, and PBS NewsHour.


  • Reimagining Nuclear Arms Control: A Comprehensive Approach
    Report December 16, 2021
    Reimagining Nuclear Arms Control: A Comprehensive Approach

    To try to find common ground, this report presents nine detailed practical measures that—implemented individually or as part of a package—would help address each state’s specific security concerns and the shared dangers of arms racing and inadvertent escalation.

  • Op-Ed Foreign Affairs December 16, 2021
    Will More States Acquire Nuclear Weapons?

    A broad pool of experts offer their thoughts on the risk of expanding nuclear weapons capabilities.

  • Op-Ed Defense One December 15, 2021
    Nuclear Command-and-Control Satellites Should Be Off Limits

    But the greatest danger that this careless stunt highlighted is to a different potential target: high-altitude satellites used for nuclear command and control. Those critical satellites face the threat of being attacked by co-orbital anti-satellite weapons, that is, other spacecraft with offensive capabilities.

  • Op-Ed Washington Post June 30, 2021
    Don’t Panic About China’s New Nuclear Capabilities

    It is in the U.S. interest for China to be confident in the survivability of its nuclear deterrent to reduce any pressures on China to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict.

  • How Will U.S.-Russia Arms Control Affect the Geneva Summit?
    Carnegie.ru Commentary June 14, 2021
    How Will U.S.-Russia Arms Control Affect the Geneva Summit?

    The following is based on remarks that James Acton gave to journalists on June 10, 2021 ahead of the summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

  • US Air Force B-52H long range strategic bombers
    Testimony House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense March 23, 2021
    Future Defense Spending: Nuclear Modernization

    Almost every U.S. nuclear delivery system, missile, and warhead will require some kind of modernization over the next ten to twenty years. Key elements of the nuclear command-and-control system and nuclear warhead infrastructure will too.

  • Op-Ed Defense One January 29, 2021
    Trying To Box In Biden On Arms Control

    On Joe Biden’s first full day in the Oval Office, the White House announced its readiness to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, for five years.

  • Op-Ed Foreign Policy January 13, 2021
    With Iran, Biden Can’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good

    Advocates of holding out for a better nuclear deal with Iran deal argue that enhanced economic sanctions will drive Iran to make further concessions. The problem is that Tehran has a greater capacity than Washington to escalate the crisis.

  • A Nike missle in one of the "barns" from the Cold War
    Paper December 14, 2020 中文
    Revamping Nuclear Arms Control: Five Near-Term Proposals

    To quickly lower the risk of nuclear escalation, manage arms racing, and avoid a breakdown in future treaty negotiations, the United States, Russia, and China should consider five politically binding proposals to build transparency and confidence.

  • Op-Ed Defense News December 2, 2020
    Why The Pentagon Must Think Harder About Inadvertent Escalation

    The United States now bases its war plans around using its exquisite conventional forces to sever the connections between an adversary’s leadership and its military forces.

  • International Institute for Strategic Studies March 14, 2011
    Deterrence During Disarmament: Deep Nuclear Reductions and International Security

    Although Russia, the United States, and American allies have been loath to downsize their nuclear arsenals, deep reductions would not undermine a nation’s security since arsenal size has little bearing on effectiveness of deterrence.

  • Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: A Debate
    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace February 13, 2009
    Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: A Debate

    A distinguished group of experts from thirteen countries explore how to overcome obstacles to nuclear disarmament and pose questions that require further official and nongovernmental deliberation.

  • Adelphi Paper September 16, 2008
    Abolishing Nuclear Weapons

    In this new Adelphi Paper published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), George Perkovich and James M. Acton examine the challenges that exist to abolishing nuclear weapons completely, and suggest what can be done now to start overcoming them.

  • Is There a Future for Nuclear Arms Control?
    December 16, 2021 Live Online
    Is There a Future for Nuclear Arms Control?

    Tensions between the great powers are rising. A three-way arms race between China, Russia, and the United States is underway. Should a conventional conflict with either Russia or China occur, it could escalate into a nuclear war. Beijing, Moscow, and Washington all say they want to mitigate these dangers through arms control—but is there a practical way forward?

  • Engaging China on Nuclear Arms Control
    January 26, 2021 Live Online
    Engaging China on Nuclear Arms Control

    Are there opportunities for the incoming Biden administration to resolve the current standoff and prevent a new arms race? Join us for a conversation between James Acton, Nobumasa Akiyama, Nicola Leveringhaus, and Tong Zhao as they discuss concepts for engaging China. Fiona Cunningham will moderate.

  • Reducing the Nuclear Threat: A 5-Point Plan
    December 14, 2020 Live Online
    Reducing the Nuclear Threat: A 5-Point Plan

    A global nuclear arms race is underway, and the threat of nuclear war is growing. Drivers of escalation—ballistic missile defense, nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and China’s nuclear modernization—cannot be easily managed through treaties, so what can be done to mitigate the real risks of the nuclear contest?

  • A ReSTART for U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control: Enhancing Security Through Cooperation
    October 14, 2020 Live Online
    Conversation on a ReSTART for U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control

    Please join us for a conversation with Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program James Acton and Pranay Vaddi, as they share insights from their new report: “A ReSTART for U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control: Enhancing Security Through Cooperation.” They will be joined by Alexei Arbatov, and Rose Gottemoeller as moderator.

  • July 9, 2019 Washington, DC
    Hypersonic Missiles: Assessing the Benefits and Risks

    What are the potential benefits for the United States of hypersonic missiles? Specifically, will they help offset equivalent Chinese and Russian capabilities? And what are the risks of their acquisition and potential employment, including of escalation to a nuclear war?

  • June 24, 2019 Washington, DC
    Closing the Gender Gap in Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament

    Carnegie hosted a presentation of UNIDIR's new report and an interactive discussion on how to close the gender gap in arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament.

  • China’s Ballistic Missile Submarines and Strategic Stability
    October 24, 2018 Washington, DC 中文
    China’s Ballistic Missile Submarines and Strategic Stability

    China’s nuclear ballistic missile submarine program is making rapid progress and is on the verge of providing Beijing with a credible sea-based deterrent. Its implications could be far reaching.

  • September 12, 2018 Washington, DC 中文
    Escalation Through Entanglement

    Drawing on his recent article in the journal International Security, James Acton will explain why the risk of escalation is becoming more serious and outline potential ways to mitigate it.

  • May 14, 2018 Washington, DC 中文
    The Future of Nuclear Power in China

    An analysis of the challenges facing Chinese decisionmakers in developing and deploying nuclear power technology.

  • March 28, 2018 Washington, DC
    Preventing Escalation in the Baltics: A NATO Playbook

    In a conflict between Russia and NATO in the Baltic, the risks of escalation leading to nuclear use—deliberately, inadvertently, or accidentally—would be dangerously high. NATO must enhance deterrence against Russia while simultaneously pursuing resilience and risk-reduction measures.

Source: http://carnegieendowment.org/experts/index.cfm?fa=expert_view&expert_id=434
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