As America braces for a possible war in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction have become a major topic in the media and in international affairs. Now, a recent study shows that Yalies may be the nation’s most well-informed students on the topic.

Of 78 top American colleges and universities, Yale offers the highest number of undergraduate courses relating to the implications of weapons of mass destruction, according to an article in the winter 2002 issue of Nonproliferation Review. The Center for Nonproliferation Studies, a part of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, publishes the journal.

Though some universities, including Yale, offer both general and specialized courses on weapons of mass destruction, the survey found that many other universities do not. For example, the University of California at Berkeley — the top-ranked public university in the 2001 U.S. News & World Report rankings — and the top eight liberal arts colleges do not offer specialized courses on the topic. The survey distinguished between “specialized” courses, in which weapons of mass destruction form 75 percent of the subject material, and “general” courses, which deal with the subject for at least a week.

The survey included the top 25 national universities, the top 25 liberal arts colleges and the top 25 public universities as reported in the 2001 college rankings in U.S. News & World Report magazine. The nation’s four military academies were also included in the survey.

The study investigated the number and content of courses that deal, in part, with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. A key impetus for the article was the looming threat of conflict with Iraq over the possibility of hidden stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

“Are [universities] adapting their curricula to a world that may be as fraught with perils to this country as those it confronted during the Cold War?” the study’s authors wrote. “Are they training the next generation of scholars, diplomats and leaders who will be needed to meet the trials that lie ahead, from nuclear-armed rogue states to WMD-wielding terrorists?”

Yale’s specialized courses on weapons of mass destruction include “Nuclear America,” a seminar which history professor Daniel Kevles teaches. Kevles said the issue of weapons of mass destruction deserves close analysis.

“There certainly should be courses that investigate the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction, especially now,” Kevles said. “Exposure of the interests, politics and research of weapons of mass destruction helps us better understand the dynamics of foreign policy.”

Though the article acknowledges that the events of Sept. 11 fueled demand for courses on the subject, history professor John Gaddis said he did not notice a strong movement to expand Yale’s offerings on the topic. Gaddis teaches a class on the Cold War that deals in part with nuclear weapons.

“The decision to offer new courses depends on who we have available to teach, what their capabilities are, and on the funding,” Gaddis said. “We can’t easily change overnight.”

While Kevles praised the breadth of the University’s offerings on weapons of mass destruction, he said future courses should incorporate more extensive coverage of non-nuclear subjects.

“Work is needed with regards to courses on chemical and biological weapons,” Kevles said. “It is much better to know more than to know less.”

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