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In the complex world of the United States government, it’s rare for a lone White House official to oversee a real change in direction on a major policy issue.
Gary Samore not only helped reshape U.S. policy on one issue; he did so with two immense national security challenges during his four years as President Obama’s Coordinator for Weapons of Mass Destruction Counter-Terrorism and Arms Control.
First, Samore worked with the President and his administration to make nuclear terrorism a central policy concern at the leadership level—to the extent that Obama convened a global summit of nearly 50 world leaders on the issue in Washington, D.C. in April 2010, the only single issue summit during the president’s first term. A follow-up summit took place in 2012 in Seoul, South Korea, with another planned for 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands.
Then Samore played a key role in negotiating a rigorous new nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, cutting deployed strategic nuclear warheads by a third and—perhaps even more important, in Samore’s view—creating an ambitious new weapons inspection system through the New START Arms Control Treaty.
Those were signal achievements in a term that saw intense focus on nuclear security issues and WMD threats, not least combating Iran’s nuclear ambitions and confronting North Korea’s weapons program.
In February, Samore left the administration to become executive director for research in the Belfer Center. That brings the Brookline, Mass., native full circle in several respects. He returns to the Belfer Center, where he was an International Security Program fellow in 1980–81; and he returns to Harvard, where he earned his master’s degree in 1978 and his PhD in 1984.
It also marks a return for Samore to the halls of academia and research. Between earlier stints in the State Department and National Security Council, Samore held senior positions at the Council on Foreign Relations, the MacArthur Foundation, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
Whether in government or at a think tank, Samore has spent his entire career working to make the world safer from nuclear harm by combating nuclear proliferation. And from early on, he looked beyond the threat of the U.S.-Soviet showdown of the Cold War, even if still quite hot while he was a Belfer Center fellow. His earliest days in research whetted his appetite for that high-stakes nuclear policy work. After earning his doctoral degree at Harvard (with a dissertation on Saudi Arabia’s royal family politics), Samore plunged into highly classified work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Berkeley, working with nuclear scientists to assess nuclear programs in the Middle East and South Asia.