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Foster, John Jr.



  • Foster Panel: Chairman

  • Committee on the Present Danger: Former Member

  • Team B Strategic Objectives Panel: Member

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John Foster, Jr. is a nuclear physicist who has worked in the U.S. weapons complex since the early atomic era.

As the director of the Livermore National Laboratory in the 1950s and 1960s, Foster led a team of researchers on nuclear weapons development during a period in which the United States was rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal. He remained at Livermore until 1965, when he took a high-ranking post at the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara, a position he held through most of the Vietnam War. After leaving government in 1973, Foster pursued a career as a researcher, executive, and consultant for numerous military contractors, including Northrop Grumman and its predecessor TRW. Over the years he has signed on to numerous hawkish advocacy campaigns and has advised a number of government panels.[1]

A longtime national security hawk, Foster was a member of several hardline anticommunist groups in the 1970s, including the Committee on the Present Danger and the American Security Council. He also participated in the so-called "Team B" exercise, a government-sanctioned initiative charged with re-interpreting CIA assessments that was partially inspired by foreign policy hawks affiliated with Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, who aimed to revive aggressive anti-Soviet policies and roll back détente. According to Anne Cahn—author of a history of Team B titled Killing Détente: The Right Attacks the CIA—Foster was the "chief instigator" of Team B as a member of President Gerald Ford's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. It was Foster, according to Cahn, who recommended "the anti-Soviet hardliner [Richard Pipes] to chair Team B's Strategic Objectives Panel.” Other panel members and advisers included Foy Kohler, Paul Nitze, William Van Cleave, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Nitze, and Seymour Weiss.[2]

Foster continued to advise government bodies well into the George W. Bush administration. In 2001, for example, he joined the EMP Commission, a congressionally created panel to assess the threat of an "electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack" on the United States from a nuclear adversary.[3] (A writer for Foreign Policy magazine described the EMP threat as “a wild claim” peddled by a “crowd of cranks and threat inflators.”[4])

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Foster reprised his role in Team B as the head of the Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the United States Nuclear Stockpile—the so-called "Foster Panel." The panel was created in 1998 by Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, a staunch proliferation hawk, to assess the impacts of a possible permanent extension of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans nuclear tests. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the panel recommended "spending $4 billion to $6 billion over the next decade to 'restore needed production capabilities … to meet both current and future workloads'; to construct a small-scale plutonium pit production facility at Los Alamos; to continue design work on new warheads; and to shorten the time needed to prepare for tests at the Nevada Test Site from 24 to 36 months to just three to four months.”[5]

In May 2006, Foster joined a panel convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to assess the Bush administration's plans to build a so-called "Reliable Replacement Warhead" (RWW), a nuclear warhead program intended to be simple and inexpensive to maintain. Although the panel cautioned that "an RRW program could undercut international efforts to stem the spread of nuclear weapons" and urged the administration to articulate a new nuclear weapons strategy before undertaking new weapons development, Foster himself issued a separate statement disassociating himself with many of the report's recommendations. In his addendum, Foster complained that the panel "held [RRW] hostage to the resolution of domestic and international political nuclear weapons issues, which are real, while all other nuclear powers have already initiated programs similar to RRW."[6]

Foster has remained an apologist for continued U.S. strategic reliance on nuclear deterrence. "Nuclear weapons may be critical for the deterrence of war and the dissuasion of military competition," he wrote in 2007, "and they are critical to the assurance of allies who have indicated that they will consider moving toward their own nuclear capabilities if they conclude that the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent is no longer reliable." Deterrence, he concluded, "provides incentives for self-discipline in the behavior of states that otherwise can not be trusted to behave peaceably. … Ronald Reagan was a proponent of a non-nuclear vision; he also repeated the motto 'trust but verify' and understood that concomitant conditions such as the realization of highly effective active defenses had to precede the vision."[7]


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[1] Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States of an Electromagnetic Pulse Attack," John Foster, Jr. bio, http://www.empcommission.org/bios/foster.php.

[2] Anne Cahn, Killing Détente: The Right Attacks the CIA, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.

[3] Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States of an Electromagnetic Pulse Attack," John Foster, Jr. bio, http://www.empcommission.org/bios/foster.php.

[4] Jeffrey Lewis, “The EMPire Strikes Back,” Foreign Policy, May 23, 2013, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/05/23/the_empire_strikes_back_emp?page=full.

[5] Stephen Schwartz, "The New-Nuke Chorus Tunes Up," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2001.

[6] American Association for the Advancement of Science, The United States Nuclear Weapons Program: The Role of the Reliable Replacement Warhead, April 2007, http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2007/media/rrw_report_2007.pdf.

[7] John Foster, Jr. and Keith Payne, "What Are Nuclear Weapons For?" Forum on Physics and Society of the American Physical Society, October 2007, Vol. 36, No. 4, http://www.aps.org/units/fps/newsletters/2007/october/foster-payne.html

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Foster, John Jr. Résumé


  • Nuclear Weapons Complex Assessment Committee: Former Member

  • American Defense Preparedness Association: Former Member

  • American Security Council: Former Member, National Advisory Board

  • National Security Industrial Association: Member

  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: Member

  • California Council on Science and Technology: Member, Board of Directors; Fellow

  • Committee on the Present Danger: Former Member


  • Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the U.S. Nuclear Stockpile ("Foster Panel"): Chair (1999-2002)

  • Defense Science Board: Chairman (1990-1993)

  • President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board: Member (1973-1990)

  • Department of Defense: Director of Defense Research and Engineering (1965-1973)

  • Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA): Member of the Ballistic Missile Defense Advisory Committee (1965)

  • President's Science Advisory Committee: Panel Consultant until 1965

  • Army Scientific Advisory Panel: Member until 1958

  • Air Force Scientific Advisory Board: Member until 1956

  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: Director (1961-1965)

  • California's Public Interest Energy Research Program: Chair of the Review Panel (1998-2001)


  • GKN Aerospace Transparency Systems: Former chairman

  • Northrop Grumman Space Technology: Consultant

  • Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.: Consultant

  • Defense Group Inc.: Consultant

  • JAYCOR: Board Member

  • Areté Associates: Board Member

  • Wackenhut Services, Inc.:Consultant

  • TRW, Inc.:Member, Board of Directors (1988-1994); Former Vice President, Science & Technology

  • Technology Strategy and Alliances: Former Partner, Board Chairman

  • Nine Sigma: Former Member, Strategic Advisory Board


  • McGill University, Montreal: B.S.

  • University of California, Berkeley: Ph.D. in Physics


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