Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Avner Cohen

Professor of Nonproliferation Studies and Senior Fellow with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Dr. Cohen, widely known for his path-breaking history of the Israeli nuclear program, is an internationally recognized author and expert on nonproliferation issues, focusing on the Middle East. A consultant to a range of NGOs and governmental agencies, Dr. Cohen joins CNS after serving as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2009-10) and following a ten-year affiliation with the Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM) at the University of Maryland.

Dr. Cohen is a two-time winner of prestigious MacArthur Foundation research and writing awards, in 1990 and 2004, and in 1997-98 and 2007-08, was a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). In addition, Dr. Cohen was co-director of the Project on Nuclear Arms Control in the Middle East at the Security Studies Program at MIT from 1990 to 1995. He has been a visiting professor at a number of U.S. universities, and in 2005, was Forchheimer Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University.


Israeli nuclear program; nonproliferation issues in the Middle East; Nuclear age and nonproliferation history; the non-proliferation regime; nuclear weapons and democracy; morality, ethics, and norms in the nuclear age; the movies of the nuclear age; nuclear disarmament; nuclear weapons free zones

Dr. Cohen interviewed on UCBerkeley's Conversations with History

Interview with Dave Gahary


Dr. Cohen holds a B.A. in Philosophy and History from Tel Aviv University, an M.A. in Philosophy from York University, and a Ph.D. from the Committee on History of Culture of the University of Chicago (1981).


Dr. Cohen is the co-editor of Nuclear Weapons and the Future of Humanity (1986) and The Institution of Philosophy (1989), and the author of The Nuclear Age as Moral History (In Hebrew, 1989). His most acclaimed book, Israel and the Bomb, was published in 1998 in English and in 2000 in Hebrew. His latest work, The Worst Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb, was published in October 2010 by Columbia University Press. In addition, he published dozens of professional journals, book chapters, as well as op-eds.

His book THE WORST-KEPT SECRET has a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/The-Worst-Kept-Secret-Israels-Bargain-with-the-Bomb/163186743694317


Course List

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

NPTG 8504 - Global Politics      

Understanding the complex dynamics of global politics requires examination of a number of issues and characteristics of the international system. The key objective of this class is to provide students with the ability to approach different perspectives to any global political issue. These elements of the study of global politics include theoretical frameworks and historical trajectories, without which no global issue can be understood adequately. Other topics of discussion will include global governance, transnational global problems, and the international financial system.

The course reflects the evolving nature of international relations, a continuous process since recorded history, which included the rise of the Westphalian nation-state system. The continuous transformation now includes the rise of non-state actors as influential participants and protagonists (not necessarily always benign) in the global system; entities that include terrorist and insurgent groups, non-governmental organizations, multi-national corporations, for example.

Fall 2017 - MIIS

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NPTG 8527 - NucWeapons & Terrorism in Film      

The course explores classical films, features and documentary, which address fundamental issues involving both nuclear weapons and terrorism.

Spring 2017 - MIIS, Spring 2018 - MIIS

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NPTG 8558 - Israel and the Bomb      

This course is a comprehensive introduction to the study of Israel’s nuclear history and policy within the broader context of understanding the nuclear dimension of Middle East politics. The course focuses on the uniqueness and the exceptionality that constitutes Israel’s nuclear history and policy. By that uniqueness we mean the original policy which Israel devised to acquire and possess nuclear weapons that ultimately made Israel an exceptional case both vis-à-vis the United States non-proliferation policies and vis-a-vis the non-proliferation regime. That policy is known as Israel’s policy of “nuclear opacity” or “nuclear ambiguity,” under which Israel has never officially acknowledged to acquire or possess nuclear weapons, even though since 1970s Israel is universally presumed as a nuclear weapons state. The course ends with reflections about challenge that Israel’s nuclear uniqueness poses both to the United States nonproliferation policy and the non-proliferation regime as a whole.

Fall 2016 - MIIS, MIIS Second Half of Term, Fall 2017 - MIIS, MIIS Second Half of Term

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NPTG 8602 - MidEast Wars/Nuclear Dimension      

This course explores the nuclear dimension of three Middle East wars: 1967 (Six Day war), 1973 Yom Kippur War and 1991 (The First Gulf War). The course examines the role that nuclear weapons play in all three wars, and the implication on deterrence and regional stability and security.

Spring 2017 - MIIS, MIIS Second Half of Term

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NPTG 8625 - Sem:Morality& Contemp Security      

This seminar aims to examine moral dilemmas that have confronted us throughout the nuclear age as well as in the current war with terrorism. The seminar will start by exploring the basic concepts of moral thinking and the principles of the “just war tradition.” Then we explore how and to what extent the tools and concepts of “just war tradition” apply to the fundamentals of contemporary world—the nuclear age on the one hand, and the war on terrorism on the other. As such, we will examine historical cases and practices involving both nuclear weapons and terrorism: from the “decision” to drop the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the practice of nuclear deterrence, through the morality of interrogation methods, intelligence gathering, and targeted assassination as tools against terrorism.

Fall 2016 - MIIS, Fall 2017 - MIIS

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NPTG 8645 - Sem:Proliferation&Intellignce      

Throughout the nuclear age – from the Manhattan Project to our own challenge of assessing with Iran’s nuclear program – the history of nuclear proliferation intelligence has been largely an history of failures. No doubt, intelligence about nuclear proliferation is a tricky business. And yet policy makers do need intelligence to make decisions on proliferation matters.

The seminar is both a study of one generis problem, and also a story of a history of that problem. Understanding the complexity of the problem defines our historical survey, while history will be also an aid to appreciate better the problem. In a way, the seminar’s overall interest is to narrate and revisit the history of nuclear proliferation from the perspective of problem of intelligence.

The course examines the problem of nuclear intelligence by revisiting key cases in the history of nuclear proliferation: Germany in World War II, the Soviet Union in the mid-late 1940s, the early NIEs on proliferation, Israel in the late 50s and the 1960s, India in 1974, Pakistan in the 1980s, South Africa in the late 1970s and 1980s, Iraq (twice) in the 1980s, India (second time) in 1998, and Iran today.

Fall 2016 - MIIS

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NPTG 8651 - Sem: The President & the Bomb      

Spring 2018 - MIIS

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NPTG 8654 - SEM:Security & WMD in Mid East      

The idea of security is experienced or defined very differently in different quarters of the Middle East. If you are, say, in Mosul or Baghdad, in Damascus or Aleppo, in Gaza or Hebron, in Jerusalem or Kfar Etzion or Tel Aviv, in Amman or Beirut, in Cairo or El Arish, in Doha or Riyadh. Each of those places stimulates a different sense of security, in the personal or collective sense, and yet their overall security discourse is interconnected. The overall discourse on security in the Middle East is influenced, affected, interrupted, and shaped by what is going on in the region. They represent different facets of the larger issue and discourse of security in the Middle East.

The seminar will address the issue and the discourse of security in the Middle East, with stress on the two sides of the spectrum, from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to acts of terrorism. We will look at the issue of security from both the national and the regional levels.

The seminar’s fundamental starting point is that to understand the issue of security in the region one must examine the broader historical fundamentals of the region. Religion, ethnicity, ideology, identity and, of course, politics are all closely related to the broader issue of security. Those issues are at the core of all regional conflicts as well as global terrorism; those issues shape the making of the modern Middle East. For this reason the seminar begins with a broad introduction on the making of the modern Middle East. Among the basic themes to be discussed in that introduction are:

• the idea of the “Middle East” as a distinct geo-political region;

• the fundamentals of the region: the religious, ethnic, and linguistic composition of the Middle East;

• The split Sunni versus Shia

• Islam as the major religion of the Middle East;

• the collapse of the Ottoman Empire as the cradle of the modern Middle East;

• the formation of the state system in the Middle East;

• the rise of political Zionism,

• the birth of the Arab-Israeli conflict;

• the rise of modern Iran;

• the creation of Modern Saudi Arabia and the Gulf;

Then, and against this introductory background, the seminar will examine the issue of contemporary security in the Middle East from both national and regional perspectives. We will look at the issue of security in the cases of the major states in the Middle East: Egypt, Iraq, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Israel. As it turns out, those countries –each in its unique way -- struggle now with issues of national identity and ideology that shapes their sense of security or lack therein.

The final part of the seminar will deal with regional issues involve regional security, WMD and ISIS. We will review not only the formation of the nuclear order in the Middle East where is Israel maintains a “benign monopoly” but also the history of the efforts to constrain and control the spread of WMD in the region, and why those efforts turned out not to be successful. The seminar will end by discussing the history as well as the desirability and feasibility of the efforts to establish the Middle East as WMD free zone.

Spring 2017 - MIIS, Spring 2018 - MIIS

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