Michael Krepon, campaigner to limit nuclear weapons, dies at 75

Shortly after another spike in tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India, arms control lawyer and author Michael Krepon traveled in 2002 to the disputed region of Kashmir between the two countries.

He came to speak with security officials and observe the tension and extremism at play in one of the world’s potential nuclear hotspots. This was Mr. Krepon in his element: trying to avoid armchair analyzes in Washington on geostrategy and conflict to see things for himself and learn from those caught in the middle. He even walked the alpine shores of Dal Lake and watched some boys playing cricket.

“When a crisis surprises,” he wrote in 2018 about the importance of first-hand research and dialogue, “someone important has fallen asleep at the switch.”

Mr. Krepon, who died July 16 at age 75 at his home in North Garden, Va., near Charlottesville, was a leading voice for nuclear nonproliferation, reaching Capitol Hill policymakers and activists and scholars around the world for decades. He was a prolific writer and speaker, co-founder of the Washington-based think tank Stimson Center and later as a “diplomat-scholar” at the University of Virginia.

His work – thousands of essays, speeches and more than 20 books as author or editor – has served as a lesson in how a mixture of arms control pacts, military deterrence and political incitement and economics might be the best hope of averting nuclear war. But Mr. Krepon (pronounced CRAY-pon) also noted the other side of the coin: how nuclear threats can evolve, recede or shift, but always hide somewhere.

He sometimes quoted a warning from the leader of the Russian Revolution Leon Trotsky: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

Why Krepon cared so much about India and Pakistan

During the ominous “mutually assured destruction” matrix of the Cold War, Mr. Krepon strongly supported US-Soviet moves to limit strategic ballistic missiles, known as the SALT talks. He sounded the alarm over the rise of Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program in North Korea. Mr Krepon applauded the 2015 agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program and criticized the Trump administration for pulling out in 2018.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Krepon wondered how far Russian President Vladimir Putin might be willing to go. Unlikely to use nuclear weapons, Mr. Krepon wrote in Forbes in March, but the real wild card is some sort of escalation between Russian and NATO forces.

Chez Stimson – co-founded in 1989 with a national security researcher Barry Blechman— Mr. Krepon had channels open to policymakers and negotiators to help shape historic agreements in the 1990s.

They included the Chemical Weapons Convention to limit the production of and access to chemical weapons, and the Open Skies Treaty which allows signatories to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights as intelligence confirmation measures to prevent possible misrepresentations. not to war. The Trump administration pulled out in November 2020 and Russia followed, and the two countries made no move to join.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact that Michael Krepon has had on an entire generation of nuclear scholars,” wrote Vipin Narang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who serves as Principal Deputy Undersecretary for the advocacy for space policy.

Mr. Krepon described himself in terms of realpolitik. There will always be a rivalry or a dispute to keep the world going. He devoted particular time to India and Pakistan, sometimes using his contacts among security officials and others to open informal talks on possible confidence-building measures.

“Progress in arms control is also hampered by Newton’s law,” he wrote in a 1987 essay. “For every action there is a reaction of equality and opposition.”

Michael Herbert Krepon was born in Boston on August 1, 1946. His father – who had previously changed his name from Kreponitsky – worked in sales and named Michael after a brother who died in Anzio, Italy during World War II. His mother was a shipping clerk.

Mr. Krepon has received scholarships from four community groups to help pay for his tuition at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – “where I discovered, like the Scarecrow in ‘The Wizard of ‘Oz, “that I had a brain,” Mr. Krepon later wrote.

After graduating in 1968, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies offered Mr. Krepon tuition-free graduate courses. He studied intensive Arabic and, after obtaining his master’s degree in 1970, studied at the American University in Cairo.

Back in the United States, Mr. Krepon began organizing marches and other protests against the Vietnam War, he wrote. The activism sparked interest in other means of influencing American policies. In the early 1970s, he was a defense legislative aide to Rep. Floyd Hicks (D-Wash.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Krepon wrote that one of his best moments on the Hill was helping persuade Hicks in 1974 to stop the military from spending funds on a new generation of nerve gas weapons.

Under the Carter administration, Mr. Krepon began working on nuclear arms control at the State Department’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He said he was expelled after Ronald Reagan’s presidential victory and wrote his first book, “Strategic Stalemate: Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control in American Politics” (1984), while on scholarship.

His latest book, “Winning and Losing the Nuclear Peace” (2021), chronicles the decades since World War II through stories of cutthroat diplomacy, 11-hour political deals and anti-nuclear activism. fiery.

“One way or another, one way or another – in fact through tremendous effort – we have gone through three quarters of a century without clouds of mushrooms on the battlefields”, has Mr. Krepon said at a virtual event in October 2021 hosted by the Washington bookstore Politics and Prose. “We have found a way to combine deterrence and arms control.”

Survivors include his wife of 47 years, the former Alessandra Savine, of North Garden; two children, Misha of Redwood City, California, and Joshua Krepon of New York; and four grandchildren.

In 2015, Mr. Krepon received the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Lifetime Achievement Award. He went on the wall of his “tool shed/desk” at home, with framed covers of his books, he wrote. He also added a reminder to stay humble: “A royalty check from one of my publishers for a nickel.”

On the Arms Control Wonk blog, where Mr. Krepon was a frequent contributor, he posted a personal message on June 26 describing his battles with cancer since 2007. He ended the post with a message for arms control efforts at the future.

“We are becoming safer by filing the sharpest edges of nuclear weapons while adding new means of reinsurance. This is the heart of the matter,” he wrote. “This is how we continue to avoid crimes against humanity and nature.”

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