IN MEMORIAM: Spurgeon M. Keeny Jr. (1924-2012)

By Bunn, Matthew | Arms Control Today, September 2012 | Go to article overview

IN MEMORIAM: Spurgeon M. Keeny Jr. (1924-2012)


Bunn, Matthew, Arms Control Today


With the passing of Spurgeon M. Keeny Jr. on August 10, the world lost a courageous leader in the struggle to control the horrifying dangers posed by nuclear weapons. In a career that spanned the nuclear age, Spurgeon was a determined and persistent warrior for a nuclear policy based on reason and restraint.

His first job, in 1948, was tracking the Soviet atomic bomb project for Air Force intelligence. He continued to focus on nuclear weapons and nuclear energy throughout his remarkable career. In the late 1950s, Spurgeon moved to the office of the president's science adviser, where he worked on the Eisenhowerera efforts to ban nuclear testing. He was a key staffer for the Gaither Committee, but disagreed with the hawkish call to arms of the 1957 final report.

Spurgeon served in the White House during the administrations of Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon and was often the most informed expert for all things nuclear, serving on the staffs of the National Security Council and the science adviser. In the early 1960s, he played a key role in the Gilpatric Committee, which first identified the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a major threat to U.S. national security and laid out a policy approach that led to the negotiation of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

In 1969, Spurgeon became assistant director for science and technology at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). He was a central player in all of the decisions that led to the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks agreement (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

During Nixon's second term, Spurgeon leftthe government and worked at the MITRE Corporation, where, among other activities, he directed the seminal study Nuclear Power Issues and Choices, which set the terms of the elite debate over nuclear energy at the time, and in particular made a prescient case for forgoing reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, given the broad availability of uranium and the proliferation hazards of separating plutonium.

Spurgeon then returned to government in the Carter administration, when Paul Warnke hired him as ACDA deputy director. There, Spurgeon took the lead in the Washington backstopping for SALT II and played a major part in the numerous nonproliferation struggles of the late 1970s.

When President Ronald Reagan came into office, with an agenda of overturning SALT II, confronting the Soviet Union, and building up the already vast U.S. nuclear arsenal, Spurgeon leftgovernment and became a resident scholar at the National Academy of Sciences. While there, he led the drafting of the invaluable book Nuclear Arms Control: Background and Issues, which made the case for the arms control enterprise Spurgeon had done so much to build and which was then under sharp attack.

During that time, he helped establish the academy's Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), which played an important role in keeping U.S.- Soviet dialogue going when government-level relations were virtually frozen. The committee also provided a back channel where many ideas that later found their way into negotiated agreements were first discussed.

Spurgeon served on CISAC for decades, as it produced a series of crucial studies on matters ranging from the future of nuclear weapons policy to disposition of excess weapons plutonium to monitoring of nuclear warheads and fissile materials and as the committee's agenda expanded to include dialogues with scientists and nuclear experts from Europe, China, and South Asia. A major non-nuclear item on the expanded agenda was a program on control of biological weapons.

In 1985, Spurgeon took over as president and executive director of the Arms Control Association (ACA). Working with Jack Mendelsohn, his deputy director; Gerard C. Smith, the SALT I negotiator who was then chairman of the board; and others, Spurgeon led the way in strengthening and expanding the ACA, increasing the size of the staff, turning Arms Control Today from a small newsletter to the journal of record in the field, launching a series of press conferences and media campaigns on key topics of the day, and greatly enlarging the organization's portfolio of publications. …

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