80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin

#65 - Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins on 8 years pursuing WMD arms control, & diversity in diplomacy

80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin

"…it started when the Soviet Union fell apart and there was a real desire to ensure security of nuclear materials and pathogens, and that scientists with [WMD-related] knowledge could get paid so that they wouldn't go to countries and sell that knowledge."

Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins has had an incredible career in diplomacy and global security.

Today she’s a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and president of Global Connections Empowering Global Change, where she works on global health, infectious disease and defence innovation. In 2017 she founded her own nonprofit, the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS).

But in this interview we focus on her time as Ambassador at the U.S. Department of State under the Obama administration, where she worked for eight years as Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.

In that role, Bonnie coordinated the Department of State’s work to prevent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism with programmes funded by other U.S. departments and agencies, and as well as other countries.

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What was it like to be an ambassador focusing on an issue, rather than an ambassador of a country? Bonnie says the travel was exhausting. She could find herself in Africa one week, and Indonesia the next. She’d meet with folks going to New York for meetings at the UN one day, then hold her own meetings at the White House the next.

Each event would have a distinct purpose. For one, she’d travel to Germany as a US Representative, talking about why the two countries should extend their partnership. For another, she could visit the Food and Agriculture Organization to talk about why they need to think more about biosecurity issues. No day was like the previous one.

Bonnie was also a leading U.S. official in the launch and implementation of the Global Health Security Agenda discussed at length in episode 27.

Before returning to government in 2009, Bonnie served as program officer for U.S. Foreign and Security Policy at the Ford Foundation. She also served as counsel on the 9/11 Commission. Bonnie was the lead staff member conducting research, interviews, and preparing commission reports on counterterrorism policies in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on U.S. military plans targeting al-Qaeda before 9/11.

And as if that all weren't curious enough four years ago Bonnie decided to go vegan. We talk about her work so far as well as:

• How listeners can start a career like hers
• Mistakes made by Mr Obama and Mr Trump
• Networking, the value of attention, and being a vegan in DC
• And 2020 Presidential candidates.

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The 80,000 Hours Podcast is produced by Keiran Harris.

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