2020 Annual Report

Annual Report 2020 / Pathways Forward


SALLY LILIENTHAL WAS ON A QUEST TO CHANGE THE WORLD. It was 1981, and she had invited public service leader Lew Butler and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Owen Chamberlain down the wooden staircase to a living room balcony extending over a San Francisco cliff below.

Chamberlain, one of the world’s quietest people, spoke up: “There are lot of problems in the world. There’s one that’s so much bigger than all the others: nuclear weapons. If we can’t get rid of them, it will destroy civilization.”

“There was silence. Then there was a consensus,” recalls Butler. “We had a foundation.” Forty years later, Sally’s vision of service to humanity lives on through the vision and mission of Ploughshares Fund.

a bright design indicating 40 years

A Foundation of Leadership

Ploughshares Fund president, Emma Belcher

There’s an air of positivity and possibility at Ploughshares Fund. With the election of Joe Biden as next president, it’s time to return the United States to a position of leadership and adopt an even more aspirational approach to our work. This involves thinking big about the future we want; cultivating powerful ideas with a range of partners; and adopting a values-based approach to everything we do.

Under a new administration with a different worldview, we will be able to reallocate some of that brain power to longer term strategy, while still maintaining the pressure we need to get the progress we want now. In this way, we can unlock imagination and creativity that will be the key to truly transformational change.

Success in this respect will depend as much on who is involved as how is it done. We are connecting frontline communities with nuclear policymakers and finding common cause with leaders in other fields of national and global importance. What connects all of us is a desire for a healthy planet and thriving people. Nuclear weapons oppress us like disease, racism, and the bleak future of climate change. We deserve to live free of those oppressions – all of them. Working together, we can prioritize what truly keeps us safe and prosperous.

On October 24 — United Nations Day — Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. With this historic ratification, the treaty will enter into force in January of 2021. Nuclear weapons are now categorically prohibited, along with other weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons. This is a milestone for all of us. Ploughshares Fund grantees, including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, helped make this momentous occasion possible.

It seems fitting that in this time of renewed hope, Ploughshares Fund approaches its 40th anniversary. On the one hand, Ploughshares Fund has accomplished so much since 1981 in working to build a more safe and secure world where nuclear weapons will never be used again. This is worthy of a celebration. By the same token, it feels strange to celebrate something that should not have to exist. Yet, as we mark this year of achievement, the time feels right for a new effort to confront the existential threat and immorality of nuclear weapons at an aspirational level and do whatever it takes to achieve our mission.

Ploughshares Fund President

Snapshot: Chain Reaction: Securing Our Future

Chain Reaction

Watch Dr. Emma Belcher give her first public address, at Chain Reaction 2020, following the remarks of Michael Douglas and outgoing president Joe Cirincione. Starts at 21 minute mark.

Big Issue Nuclear The New Arms Race

Rethinking Our Priorities


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new nuclear arms race continues mostly unabated. New START, a landmark arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, is set to expire in February 2021. The Pentagon has awarded $13.3 billion toward the construction of new nuclear weapons, and the $2 trillion modernization of our nuclear arsenal is still underway.


A decade ago, we brought together 30 organizations in a campaign to win ratification of New START. Now we must once again organize to save the last remaining treaty that restricts the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world. As we prepare for an incoming Biden administration, our grantees and partners are leading the fight to preserve New START, implement a No First Use policy that would restrict the president’s unilateral authority to launch nuclear weapons, and stop the $2 trillion spending spree on new nuclear weapons.

The people are on our side. Nearly half of Americans support working toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, and COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of cooperating on a global scale to avoid a nuclear exchange. We must reverse our current trajectory. It is time to prioritize real threats and human needs over new weapons of mass destruction.

Snapshot: The New Arms Race

Transforming National Security

Watch Senator Elizabeth Warren's address at the Ploughshares Fund nuclear policy forum, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 via Zoom. She has long proposed three core nuclear policy principles: no new nuclear weapons; more international arms control, not less; and No First Use.

two women celebrating at a waterfront with a banner

ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn (left) and her colleague Celine Nahory take a moment on Lake Geneva to celebrate a milestone. Aude Catimel

Big Issue Nuclear Grantee Spotlight

Beatrice Fihn

Beatrice Fihn is executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) — the coalition that worked tirelessly to promote the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. ICAN won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work and Beatrice accepted the prize with Setsuko Thurlow and delivered the Nobel lecture in Oslo on behalf of the campaign.

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will enter into force in January 2021, and categorically prohibit nuclear weapons, along with other weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons.

GIVE US A SENSE OF WHY YOU FOCUSED ON NON-NUCLEAR STATES AND THE UNIQUE ROLE THEY PLAY AND WHY YOU ARE APPROACHING THEM. We’re so used to talking about the nuclear armed states, you know, the nine countries with and endorsing nuclear weapons. And we forget that there is a whole group of countries around them protecting and upholding nuclear weapons.

They might not have them themselves, but they are part of the exercises being prepared to request these weapons to be used. And they play an extremely important role in legitimizing nuclear weapons and encouraging the nuclear armed states to have nuclear weapons.

THE TREATY ITSELF WOULD PROHIBIT NUCLEAR HOSTING, BUT IT WOULD NOT PROHIBIT US NUCLEAR SECURITY GUARANTEES, IS THAT CORRECT? It prohibits assistance and encouragement with the use, development and threat to use nuclear weapons. So, it would be prohibited to actively engage in the use of nuclear weapons, uphold their development or use, and threaten the use of them.

The way that we interpreted that, a country that joins this treaty does not have to leave NATO. It can be an ally to the United States. You can participate in military operations but should not be involved in using nuclear weapons. It should not be involved in threatening to use nuclear weapons, and it should not request nuclear weapons to be used on its behalf. This is the conversation we’ve had with leaders in these countries is that we would require these countries to say that – they don’t have to say that the US should get rid of its nuclear weapons, but they need to say that we will not request nuclear weapons to be used on our behalf. We will not be involved in it.

COULD A COUNTRY LIKE GERMANY, SIGN THE TREATY, STAY IN NATO, AND RENOUNCE OR REFUSE TO HOST NUCLEAR WEAPONS, EVEN THOUGH THE NATO ALLIANCE IS A NUCLEAR ALLIANCE? Yes. If Germany on the national level does not involve itself and its military in nuclear weapons related operations. And of course, this is a treaty. And the treaty is quite explicit in these terms of assistance, encouragement. It has meaning under the chemical weapons convention, biological weapons convention, these are sort of legal terms. So, you have definitions of that, but it still would be implemented on a national level. It’s also up to the government to look at these terms, how they’ve been related, how they’ve been used in treaties and look at its own activities and, define which activities are okay, and which are not okay.

Snapshot: The New Arms Race

Biden's Nuclear Priorities on Press the Button

Hear Jon Wolfsthal of Global Zero and Alexandra Bell of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation discuss what to expect from President-elect Joe Biden on nuclear policy issues, including New START, and what work needs to be done to reduce current nuclear threats.

Big Issue Nuclear North Korea

Ending the Forgotten War

Since the first summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un, the United States has failed to capitalize on various opportunities to begin the necessary work toward the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Trump administration refused to make any concessions toward a potential agreement, and they consistently undermined South Korea’s efforts to facilitate a coherent diplomatic process.

ENGAGEMENT IS GOOD, BUT WE MUST CHANGE TACTICS. We are dedicated to promoting a solution to the North Korea nuclear crisis that is rooted in smart, credible diplomacy and cooperation with our allies in the region. Our grantees and partners have been working tirelessly to prevent military conflict in the region as negotiations continue to stall. These efforts resulted in the House of Representatives passing an amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act calling for a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

As Joe Biden prepares to take office, we remain undeterred in pushing for an end to the Korean War and advocating for the necessary steps to begin formal negotiations in earnest. Engagement is the only way to solve the North Korea nuclear crisis.

Big Issue Nuclear Grantee Spotlight

Jessica Lee

a smiling woman

Jessica Lee is a Senior Research Fellow in the East Asia Program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington, DC think tank laying the foundation for a new US foreign policy centered on diplomatic engagement and military restraint.

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THIS WORK? I first became interested in think tanks when I was a policy advisor in the House of Representatives. I saw firsthand the myriad competing priorities facing policymakers and the importance of deep analyses in breaking down complex issues. I also felt that Washington was quite insular and in need of more outside-the-Beltway perspectives. As Susan Rice described, Washington is dominated by folks who are “pale, male, and Yale.” So when I heard that a transpartisan think tank was forming to democratize US foreign policy and move away from expansionist policies of the past, I was intrigued. I see the need for honest, real conversations about the state of US foreign policy and where it is headed. Quincy Institute’s pursuit of a less militarized, more peaceful foreign policy seems particularly relevant now given the domestic challenges facing our nation. I feel privileged to be able to provide my perspectives at this pivotal moment.

WHAT DO YOU APPRECIATE MOST ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF YOUR WORK? The biggest challenge in my work is finding common ground between conservatives and liberals who may not agree on a lot of issues but can see that endless wars harm US interests and prefer a more modest foreign policy that emphasizes cooperation over zero-sum competition. I do think there is a desire among most American policymakers to get things done, rather than be paralyzed by partisanship and brinkmanship. For example, I’ve worked with conservatives who advocate for the restoration of war powers authority to Congress and anti-interventionist progressives who agree that the US should formally end the Korean War as part of a broader strategy on North Korea. The question is how to channel these perspectives toward tangible policy change. That requires a combination of rigorous analysis, grassroots support, and policymakers who are willing to take a stance that transcends party politics.

HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE MAKING A DIFFERENCE? It’s hard to know when I am making a difference since my work is tied to a long-term vision that will take years, if not decades, to fulfill. That said, I’ve heard from various people in and outside of Washington who have encouraged me to continue the work. I have also made a point to speak to as many people outside the Beltway and get their feedback on my analysis. People seem to appreciate such exchange, and the sense that we don’t know everything in Washington. The more our work is grounded in the lived experience of American people, the easier they will be to pitch to elected representatives.

REGARDING THE US-NORTH KOREA ISSUE, WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN THE NEXT FOUR YEARS? I would like to see the next US president declare the 70-year long Korean War over and pursue a peace treaty as part of a comprehensive peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Doing so will provide a clearer window into the North’s motives and its threat calculus, which will advance US interests in the Asia-Pacific region far more effectively than pursuing military deterrence alone.

Snapshot: North Korea

Christine Ahn on Press the Button

Christine Ahn, founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, joins Press the Button to discuss prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula 70 years after the start of the Korean War, and why a policy rooted in smart, credible diplomacy with North Korea is critical in efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear war at 14 min. mark.

Big Issue Nuclear Iran

Back to Diplomacy

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear agreement, is one of the strongest arms control agreements ever negotiated. When Donald Trump took office, he made it a priority to sabotage and scuttle the agreement.


The Trump administration’s policy toward Iran has made the world less safe and increased the likelihood of Iran eventually obtaining a nuclear weapon. This year saw the assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani, which nearly brought the United States to a direct military confrontation with Iran on a major scale. Thanks to relentless pressure from our grantees and partners, the Trump administration received a loud and clear message:


Poll after poll has shown that Americans do not want war with Iran, and an overwhelming majority prefer the United States take a diplomatic approach toward preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon. We are proud to have supported the campaign to secure it during the Obama administration, and we will continue to advocate for a recommitment to diplomacy with Iran under a Biden presidency and beyond.

Big Issue Nuclear Grantee Spotlight

Jamal Abdi

a well-dressed man

Jamal Abdi is the president of National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 2002 to give voice to the Iranian American community.

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THIS WORK? I came to NIAC from Capitol Hill in late 2009 at a time of great hope but also high stakes for US policy on Iran. Obama had launched the first direct talks with Iran aimed at resolving the nuclear issue, while inside Iran an organized democracy movement was ascendant. It felt like we were on the precipice of history after decades of US-Iran enmity that, for many Iranian Americans like myself, imposed a physical and psychological wall between our country and our heritage. I decided I wanted to focus what I had learned working on political campaigns and on foreign policy in Congress to help set the US and Iran down a new path and realize the hope of the new US administration and the people of Iran struggling for their rights.

WHAT DO YOU APPRECIATE MOST ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF YOUR WORK? I love being the underdog, building something that hasn’t been done before — and finding the creative strategies to win on behalf of justice, empathy and democracy. I love being able to sit at the cross section of politics, policy, advocacy and community building to build real political power for my community — one of many communities that have been politically marginalized and which can make America and the world a more just place by securing our seat at the table and breaking the imbalance of power that has allowed the few to make decisions on behalf of the rest of us.

HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE MAKING A DIFFERENCE? NIAC worked relentlessly to push for diplomacy between the US and Iran. For years we took the abuse of a political system that didn’t want to let our voices be part of it but didn’t give up. We finally realized that goal in 2013 when serious talks began and then worked with an amazing coalition to secure a historic diplomatic agreement even as we were collectively vastly outspent by those clinging to the status quo. I know we’re making a difference because now, after four years of Donald Trump and pretty much the worst stress test imaginable for our policy achievements and worldview, we are poised to return to the Iran nuclear agreement despite massive efforts to kill it. When I first came to DC in 2007, I don’t think this would have been imaginable and this is a testament to our and our partners’ work. Through this process, our Iranian American community has become more politically involved than ever, and we have Iranian Americans running for office, working in government, civic life and taking agency of their political worlds. This is lasting, measurable change.

Snapshot: Saving the Iran Deal

Jeremy Ben-Ami on Press the Button

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, joins Press the Button for an in-depth look at the failure of the Trump administration's Iran policy, and how progressives can organize to implement a new national security strategy, starting at 13 min. mark

Big Nuclear Issue

Women's Initiative

“IT’S EXTRAORDINARY how many enormously informed women there are on nuclear issues…” said Sally Lilienthal in 1987. “We must ensure more women are well represented in the field of security and arms control.”

While the problem is far from solved, much progress has been made. The Ploughshares Fund Women’s Initiative has been a driving force in creating responsible disruption in the field. The program has awarded more than half a million dollars to two dozen projects focused on the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion in the nuclear field.

In less than three years, Ploughshares Fund has exceeded gender parity across all of its grantmaking. This past fiscal year we awarded 42 grants (55%) totaling $2,645,729 (55%) to women-led projects and/or organizations, including those specifically focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Ploughshares Fund also co-founded Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy, which has brought together heads of more than 50 organizations committed to breaking down gender barriers in the nuclear policy field through public commitments to concrete and measurable pledges.

In a post-2020 world, we will continue to evolve by highlighting the intersectionality of nuclear weapons, diversity, equity and inclusion and other social justice issues. As chair emeritus Mary Lloyd Estrin so eloquently stated about new ideas, “they may come from places we don’t expect, so we must be willing to take risks, and we must act right now.”

Big Issue Nuclear Grantee Spotlight

Sunny Dooley

a smiling woman

In August of 2020, Ploughshares Fund awarded Sunny Dooley, a renowned Navajo storyteller, the inaugural Estrin Award Fund. This special grant was named in honor of the late Ploughshares Fund Chair Emeritus Mary Lloyd Estrin.

Through her knowledge and expertise as a storyteller, Dooley offers creative seminars for women across Navajo Nation to help learn about the roots and trauma associated with the impact and legacy of nuclear weapons. The unique project, “Restorative Navajo Traditional Practice to Address Nuclear History,” combines teaching traditional customs with storytelling centered on nuclear history and craft-making as a way to process the knowledge they exchange with one another During a global pandemic when water is essential for sustenance and hygiene, the lack of access to clean water due to radiation contamination in local waterways is evermore present, costly and lethal. The purpose uranium served was never explicitly defined, leaving many questions unanswered for the Navajo community.

“The echoes of that amount of destruction are still being heard to this very day — 75 years later in all the places where uranium mining is taking place,” said Dooley during a Press the Button podcast discussing the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. “The legacy of destruction of earth and water and air and subsequently all the people, birds, animals, reptiles, insects, shrubbery that exists, grows and lives in those places still carry that legacy.”

Speaking of the bombs that dropped in 1945, Dooley said she could not even begin to imagine the trauma people experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She also points out that the trauma continues for the generations that follow who have to learn how to live with it.

“Because here on Navajo land, where there are over 500 abandoned uranium mines, we are still living with it,” said Dooley. “Our state of New Mexico is funded by this industry that causes trauma. And this is just one area on Earth where we can visibly see the destruction. The echoes of nuclear waste and the associated trauma are most certainly still here — and very apparent in New Mexico.”

With support from Ploughshares Fund, Dooley says she is proud to carry a tradition of storytelling to speak truth to power to what happened in 1945 and what continues in 2020 and beyond.

Snapshot: Women's Initiative

Responsible Disruption

This conversation, held via Zoom, Tuesday, October 20, included Amb. Laura Holgate, Mareena Robinson Snowden and Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, moderated by president, Emma Belcher. We explored how responsible disruption leads to changing the world for the better – and how to do so in a way that is fair, responsible, safe and trustworthy.

Big Issue Nuclear Regional Conflict

Regional Conflict in the COVID-19 Era


Tensions remain between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed countries currently engaged in active conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted Pakistan’s struggling economy and both countries’ structural inequalities, as well as provided extremist groups with opportunities to circumvent peace agreements and build trust with vulnerable populations to bolster recruitment.

Our strategy focuses on moving the peace process forward and creating the long-term regional security conditions necessary for Pakistan and India to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Our grantees and partners perform the necessary work of promoting cooperation, peace and countering extremism in the region.

Even as the pandemic rages on, we are committed to transforming political and policy conversations in the region toward equity, inclusivity and democracy.


Even as the Unites States prepares for a new president, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to prolong conflict in the Middle East and stymie communication channels, progress on negotiations and peacebuilding activities. However, this also provides an opportunity to refocus dialogues toward collective action and regional approaches. Our strategy focuses on fostering relationships between experts and former officials in the Middle East in order to directly address the fundamental security problems driving many of the ongoing conflicts in the region. The conflict portfolio is supported by the Cowles Fund, a separately endowed fund that promotes a better understanding of root causes of conflict in unstable regions of the world where nuclear weapons exist. Its investments are currently focused on South Asia and the Middle East.

Donor Spotlight


Ploughshares Fund’s 30-plus year investment in conflict prevention and peacebuilding is made possible by three generations of the extended Cowles family.

Mary “Mickie” LeCron Foster and her husband, George Foster, were career anthropologists. So, when Mickie joined the Ploughshares Fund Board of Directors in 1985, she was devoted to understanding the underlying causes of conflict and to bring fellow scholars into the search for ways to prevent it. Mickie established the Cowles Fund, named for her mother’s family. Ploughshares Fund has since awarded $6.5 million in grants through the Cowles Fund.


Jeremy (Mickie’s son) and Angela Foster began supporting the Cowles Fund in 1986. In 1991, Angela joined the Board of Directors of Ploughshares Fund, serving for 21 years. When Mickie passed away, Angela represented the family on the Cowles Committee, preserving the family’s legacy of strategic direction for Cowles Fund grantmaking. When Angela stepped down from the Board, her daughter, Zoë Gadgil, joined the Cowles Committee. Zoë represents the third generation of the Cowles family to volunteer in support of this cause.

Angela and Jeremy and Zoë and her husband, Aneal Gadgil, support the growth of the Cowles Fund to honor the family legacy and to further Mickie’s goal to better understand why people feel the need to develop nuclear weapons.

“It’s so exciting to see people trying to understand the roots of conflict, knowing that until we understand the cause we can never fix the issue,” says Angela, who appreciates grants that research conflict from an anthropological perspective. Before the Cowles Fund, the connection between human nature and existing nuclear states was sparse, as she recalls.

Zoë shares her mother’s perspective on the importance of better understanding relationships as a method for reducing the nuclear threat. She is dedicated to raising awareness about nuclear weapons issues, sharing what she’s learned from her parents and grandparents with her generation. “If more people understood the risks there would be more action,” she believes.

The Fosters and Gadgils reside in Washington State, where nearby Puget Sound is home to the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US – an often-overlooked fact. Angela and Zoë see education as key to success for a nuclear weapons-free future. Zoë’s young children will inherit the nuclear threat. She knows there’s a better chance of solving the world’s biggest problem if the next generation understands the circumstances under which these dangerous weapons were created and the underlying conflict that makes having them seem advantageous.

We are grateful to have the support of the Cowles/Foster/Gadgil families. For decades the Cowles Fund has valued the humanitarian aspects of our issue, supported peacebuilding and conflict resolution to counter the threat of nuclear war, and has helped focus our efforts to place people at the core of our work.

The Cowles Fund is a separately endowed fund that promotes a better understanding of root causes of conflict in unstable regions of the world where nuclear weapons exist. Its investments are currently focused on South Asia and the Middle East.

three generations of people

Photos (L-R): Mickie LeCron Foster (left); Jeremy and Angela Foster; and Zoë and Aneal Gadgil.