Fletcher Features

Nuclear Threat Reduction for the National Nuclear Security Administration: Jeff Chamberlin (F03)

Jeff Chamberlain, The Fletcher School, MALD 03

There have been many moments in Jeff Chamberlin’s work at the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) when he’s found himself negotiating over an important element aimed at reducing the danger of nuclear proliferation. 

And what has flashed into his mind? 

The negotiation class he took with Professor Eileen Babbitt at Fletcher a decade ago, when he learned about the concept of the “Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement,” or BATNA.

“I’d be sitting with the Russians and I’d be thinking ‘Hmm, I wonder what their BATNA is’ and I’d immediately go back to my Fletcher negotiating class,” he says. “It’s one of those educational acronyms that has helped me frame negotiations and positions with foreign counterparts.” 

Chamberlin (MALD ’03) is deputy director of the Office of European and African Threat Reduction, with the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative. The program is charged with helping secure and reduce vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials at civilian sites worldwide. He says unequivocally, it’s a job that Fletcher trained him for.

“I’ve developed a general comfort level from being at Fletcher and associating with people from all over the world,” he says. “We need people who manage the program here in D.C. to be comfortable working in all sorts of different environments. Fletcher prepares you for that probably better than any other place in the world.” 

Chamberlin, a Massachusetts native, studied political science as an undergraduate at Boston College. After graduating, he spent two years in Poland teaching English in an Oder River town and working as a paralegal in Warsaw. He then spent two years at a Boston-area IT company before coming to Fletcher in 2001.

His entering class had the dubious honor of beginning the year just after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But he says Fletcher was the perfect place to be to try to understand the attacks and their aftermath. 

“The way the School and leadership brought everyone together during that time was really impressive,” he says. “It was so good to have other perspectives and other voices to help process the whole event. Rather than being in an American bubble somewhere, I had that international community at Fletcher.” 

In addition to Professor Babbitt, Associate Professor of International Security Studies William Martel also left a lasting impression, he says, advising him on his thesis, which examined the weapons inspections regime in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion.

After Fletcher, Chamberlin became a Presidential Management Fellow, working at the Congressional Research Service and then the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). 

“In 2007, I had been at the 35,000-foot level of government at OMB for a few years. I felt the need at that point to go down into the weeds of government and get that experience and understand first-hand the challenges of running a program,” he said.

He moved over to the NNSA, part of the Department of Energy, and he’s had a tremendous experience there ever since, he says. 

Being in such a diverse, international environment like Fletcher also helped prepare him for essential non-academic skills, like networking and building relationships. 

“All those wine and cheese evenings in the Hall of Flags—in addition to being just good fun--they were important for connecting and building relationships with foreign counterparts. A lot of people laugh at that, but it’s actually a serious comment,” he says.

“The work I do is very nuts and bolts implementation stuff; you need to build trust with people over a little bit of wine or food or vodka, talking about your families or whatever you do,” he says. “Fletcher was great at bringing people together to do that.” 

Without a doubt, Chamberlin says, Fletcher laid the groundwork for his career path, though the trajectory wasn’t always perfectly clear. You have to be patient and confident and listen to your intuition, he says.

“What’s worked for me and what’s made me happy is when I’ve followed that little voice inside that knows what you really want to be doing, even if it may not be entirely logical or it may not seem immediately attainable,” he advises. “Work toward that, because ultimately, in my experience, it has taken me to the right places, even if it doesn’t always make sense in the moment.” 

“Fletcher is a remarkable, unique place and it’s something that is impossible to replicate once you get into the world,” he says. “I encourage current students to soak it up because it’s done before you know it ” he says, “and then you really realize fully what a special place it was.”

 --Mike Eckel (F13)