Why MacArthur Backs Stimson's Nonproliferation Pragmatism

The Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. is one winner of the MacArthur Foundation’s version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" (Also known as the MacArthur Foundation’s Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.)

The center didn’t — and couldn’t — apply for the $1 million general operating grant. As MacArthur explains, these one-time institutional gifts are awarded to "a few exceptional organizations that are key grantees and Foundation partners in our core areas of work." Organizations are nominated by the foundation's program that supports their activities. The foundation began making these grants in 1997 (and expanded to smaller organizations in 2006) with the goal of ensuring the long-term stability and health of organizations, not simply its programs. In the foundation’s words, the award is not simply meant as "support" — it’s an investment.  Awards range from $500,000 to $1.5 million depending on the size of the organization.

Nice money if you can get it. And big money for a small outfit like Stimson, which has an annual budget around $6 million.

According to Stimson's Board Chair, Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr., the award is “one of the largest gifts in Stimson’s 24-year history ... While the award focuses on our work on the environment and security, it’s really a recognition of Stimson’s many contributions and the important work of all our scholars.” 

Since this award is much more of a nod to the organization as a whole as opposed to one or two programs, what did MacArthur see in Stimson? Aggressive spell checking was not one of the criteria — the center’s press release spelled MacArthur “McArthur” on a couple of occasions. Ouch.

But seriously: The foundation has long been a big supporter of the Stimson Center, granting it $2.4 million in other money over the past few years. MacArthur seems drawn to the center's work on nuclear nonproliferation and climate change. Citing Stimson's work in the Mekong River Basin, the Middle East/South Asia, and India and Pakistan, the foundation asserts that the center "creates and advocates solutions that are cross-partisan, actionable, and effective." "Pragmatism" is the word that the center’s CEO latches on to — Stimson’s focus is on real-world solutions, not ideological ones. This may be true; this pragmatism seems to keep the center away from the usual controversies that hit more "ideological" organizations. At the same time, it’s a pretty good marketing strategy.

Oh, and one other thing: The Stimon Center's pragmatism just so happens to square perfectly with the worldview of MacArthur's president, Robert Galluci, a former government official who has worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents and is known as a problem solver, not an ideologue. (Galluci has since left MacArthur).

Of course, Stimson was not the only one to receive the MacArthur award this year. For more information on other recipients, click here.

Editor’s Note: The MacArthur Foundation is currently winding down several of its grantmaking programs. Although the foundation has not officially announced a plan to close its Peace and International Security program, it is “exploring the elements and feasibility of a big bet based on a new approach to reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons. We also think that a big bet could be a place, rather than an issue.” MacArthur is currently exploring Nigeria as a region of focus in its nuclear security related grantmaking. We’ll keep you posted as new information comes in.