Passing the Torch to a New Generation

In honor of National Women’s History Month, each week Ploughshares Fund will be honoring the women who have been instrumental in advocating for nuclear nonproliferation and recognizing future leaders in the field. This week we look at how one woman is continuing the work her grandmother started 30 years ago. Rachel Pike, granddaughter of our founder Sally Lilienthal and current Ploughshares Fund Board Member, was gracious enough to answer our questions.


Ploughshares Fund: What led to your interest in nuclear security? Why did you decide to join the Ploughshares Fund Board of Directors?

Rachel Pike: I grew up hearing about Ploughshares Fund and its grantees.  When I was very young I’m not sure if I fully realized the scope of the issue and its transformation over time.  I remember very clearly in my senior year of high school discussing the tense situation between India and Pakistan related to Kashmir.  My teacher explained that one of the avenues for “resolving” the dispute is the potential use of nuclear weapons.  I think that was the first time I understood nuclear security to be important to my generation.  Ploughshares Fund is working to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again.  I’m delighted to support their work by serving on the board.

PF: How has your grandmother – Sally Lilienthal – influenced you? Why do you think it is important to carry on her legacy?

RP: My grandmother was a force!  She fought for things that mattered to her (including having cream puffs for dessert on Christmas Eve).  I miss her very, very much.  Working with Ploughshares Fund is the best thing I can imagine doing to carry on her legacy and her fight against nuclear proliferation.  For her, nuclear security was the most complicated and pressing issue of the 1980’s and 1990’s.  It is no different today.  In fact, I would argue that nuclear security serves as a crucial template for fights against other global threats that require cooperation and advocacy across geopolitical borders.

PF: Which women have inspired you over the years, whether from nonproliferation or outside that issue area?

RP: My grandmother, of course! 

PF: What, if anything, do you see is currently lacking in the nuclear security arena and efforts to reduce nuclear threats. What steps need to be taken to fill the need?

RP: My biggest concern with nuclear nonproliferation is that the message may not speak to my generation.  We attached the idea of nuclear weapons to the Cold War.  We need to figure out how to effectively communicate that this is a global issue that extends to many of the major conflict zones in the world and that reducing the number and spread of weapons is critical to achieving peace in those areas. 

On a lighter note, I think “End of World”, a very silly viral video, was one of the funnier ways of addressing how destructive nuclear weapons can be.  I still quote it!

PF: You have a PhD in atmospheric chemistry computer modeling. Do you think your scientific background informs your thinking on nuclear weapons? How?

RP: I’m certainly not a nuclear physicist!  In terms of thinking about the issue, however, I do tend to approach problems like a scientist.  For Ploughshares Fund, that means reducing the variables (obstacles) in creating meaningful change, and measuring the results along the way.

PF: What progress do you think we can see on global nuclear weapons policy in your lifetime?

RP: I think we should work towards a world completely free of nuclear weapons.

Many thanks to Ploughshares Fund Board Member Rachel Pike for answering our questions.

Photo by: Peter Fedewa