The Ploughshares Fund was established in 1981 by the San Francisco-based philanthropist, artist and activist Sally Lilienthal (1919-2006), who had formerly served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California during the 1960s and 70s, and had co-founded the Northern California Committee of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in 1971. From its inception, the Ploughshares Fund's purpose was to support the nuclear-freeze movement, a Soviet-sponsored initiative that sought to further solidify the nuclear and military superiority which the USSR had gained during the post-Vietnam War era. Moreover, Ploughshares adamantly opposed NATO’s decision to place medium-range missiles in Europe, a decision that was made in response to an aggressive Soviet military buildup and to the USSR's then-recent deployment of SS-20 Missiles in Eastern Europe.
Also during the Cold War, Ploughshares claimed that U.S. militarism—particularly that of the Reagan administration—was far likelier to spark a nuclear holocaust than anything the Soviet Union might do. Identifying U.S. belligerence and aggression as the chief source of tensions between America and the USSR, Ploughshares pressured the United States but not the Soviets to initiate disarmament measures. To advance this agenda, Ploughshares pooled donations from a number of wealthy contributors and charitable foundations (including the Rockefeller and Stern Foundations) to bankroll and almost singlehandedly create a left-wing “peace” movement that denounced American defense policies and featured the progressive icon Edward Kennedy as one of its spokesmen.
Early in its history, Ploughshares awarded a grant to fund the efforts of scientists (who were affiliated with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Soviet Academy of Scientists) seeking to prove that it would be possible for the U.S. and the Soviet Union to both comply with the terms of a nuclear test ban treaty—and that therefore neither side should be reluctant to sign such a pact.
Ploughshares was an original and consistent funder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was formed in 1992.
Today Ploughshares describes itself as “a public grantmaking foundation that supports initiatives to prevent the spread and use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and other weapons of war, and to prevent conflicts that could lead to the use of weapons of mass destruction.” It also opposes America's development of a missile defense system.
A self-defined “venture funder,” Ploughshares specializes in “giving start-up funding to promising new endeavors, and then helping to leverage more substantial support from other sources.” The organization's grantmaking strategy is to “proactively select grantees and knit them together into a collaborative network” that strives to “build comprehensive campaigns aimed at winning key policy victories.” After such groundwork has been laid, the Ploughshares network “can unlock a more ambitious strategic agenda.” Specifically, Ploughshares gives grants that are designed to do three major things:
* Promote the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons: “Building a consensus among the world’s leaders creates a global norm against nuclear weapons and increases the momentum toward zero. Along the way, concrete steps to limit and reduce current arsenals must be realized as well.”
* Prevent the Emergence of New Nuclear States: “We focus on the two most significant threats to the global nonproliferation regime – Iran and North Korea. We believe that ... solutions are possible through effective diplomacy and engagement …”
* Build Regional Peace and Security: “South Asia represents perhaps the most dangerous region on earth given the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan and the fact that both nations possess substantial nuclear arsenals. Our investments support fact-finding missions, on-the-ground analysis, high-level dialogue, confidence-building measures, policy advocacy and media outreach to advance the transformation of conflicts in South and Southwest Asia.”
Professing to be “the largest grantmaking foundation in the U.S. focusing exclusively on peace and security issues,” Ploughshares from 1981 to 2011 awarded many hundreds of grants whose aggregate value exceeded $60 million.”
Ploughshares' worldview regarding military and nuclear issues is closely aligned with that of the Democratic Party. During the Iraq War, for instance, Ploughshares joined congressional Democrats in branding the American invasion a strategic blunder and an unjustified act of aggression.
In an effort to attract new supporters to its cause, Ploughshares in 2007 hired Fenton Communications to create and administer the “Peace Primary,” an online contest where Ploughshares grantees developed their own “peace platforms” on a wide range of topics such as the Iraq War and the genocide in Darfur. A special panel, chaired by actor Martin Sheen, selected 12 finalists. The public was then invited to vote online for the ultimate winner; participants donated money along with their votes for the organizations they deemed deserving of the $100,000 grand prize. All told, the Peace Primary raised more than $327,000, with TrueMajority taking first place.
When the Obama Administration in September 2009 canceled U.S. plans for the deployment of a missile defense shield in Central Europe—a decision that pleased Moscow but angered America's allies in Eastern Europe—Ploughshares boasted that its influence had “informed the decision” by the Administration.
In 2010 Ploughshares led a successful campaign by more than fifty non-governmental organizations to persuade the Senate to approve the New START Treaty (a nuclear arms reduction pact) between the United States and Russia.
Ploughshares advocates a policy of containment regarding Iran's nuclear program, and seeks to discredit the notion that using American military power to derail that program would be either prudent or practical. Toward that end, the organization in 2010 gave $150,000 to National Public Radio to fund “increased coverage of U.S. nuclear policy issues and the proliferation risks from North Korea and Iran.” Coinciding with that grant was the publication of numerous NPR articles and reports that largely echoed Ploughshares’ policy recommendations. One NPR piece, written by Stephen Walt, asserted that the United States was “too secure,” and praised the New START Treaty (which required the U.S., but not Russia, to cut its nuclear forces to levels that were within the treaty limits). In November 2010, just days after the Walt piece had been published, NPR correspondent Peter Kenyon delivered an on-air report calling for the U.S. to negotiate with Iran and asserting that “[m]any analysts believe there’s more time for diplomacy than had previously been thought.” In February 2011, Ploughshares gave NPR an additional $150,000 to cover “Iran, U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and nonproliferation issues.”
Of a piece with Ploughshares' Iran policy is the organization's support for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the Iranian regime’s principal lobbyist in the United States. A few facts about NIAC:
NIAC was established in 2002 by Trita Parsi and Siamak Namazi (a member of the Iranian regime’s inner circle and a major figure in that country's oil industry), to act as a counter-balance to the Jewish lobby AIPAC.
NIAC has a strong relationship with the Barack Obama administration, as indicated by Andrew C. McCarthy's report in National Review: "[NIAC's] top official, Trita Parsi, visits the White House, consults with Valerie Jarrett, briefs Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton, lectures the CIA, and so on."
Utilizing the services of public-relations specialist David Fenton and his firm, Fenton Communications, NIAC seeks to convince the American public that U.S. sanctions punishing Iran for its suspected nuclear ambitions would be “counterproductive,” and that the use of military action against Tehran would be a grave mistake.
In November 2011, Ploughshares gave NIAC $125,000 “to shape the debate among policymakers and in the media on credible, non-military approaches to resolving the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program.”
Similarly, in 2011 Ploughshares gave the Center for American Progress (CAP) at least $150,000 “to hire two researchers for an expanded initiative on Iran aimed at countering support for military action.” In October 2011, CAP policy analyst Matthew Duss produced a report that praised the Obama Administration for pursuing a diplomatic approach to Iran’s nuclear program. Moreover, CAP's blog, Think Progress, regularly condemned what it characterized as neoconservative war mongering against Iran.
In November 2011, Ploughshares gave $25,000 to J Street “to support congressional advocacy and education against the use of a military resolution to the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program.” Two months later, J Street released a web video and policy campaign that counseled against the use of military force against Iran.
To view a list of additional noteworthy supporters of the Ploughshares Fund, click here.
Since 2008, the president of the Ploughshares Fund has been Joseph Cirincione, author of the 2007 book Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and a former senior vice president at the Center for American Progress. A vocal opponent of the Iraq War, Cirincione in 2004 co-authored a paper that not only dismissed the Bush Administration’s case for war as “dubious,” but also asserted that the United States had violated international law by attacking Iraq. In 2007 Cirincione charged, falsely, that Bush Administration officials had “repeatedly misled the press” and manipulated intelligence reports in order to justify the U.S. invasion—an allegation that was echoed by Democratic politicians. That same year, Cirincione angrily rejected news reports claiming that Syria was building a nuclear reactor with assistance from North Korea. By Cirincione's reckoning, such stories were nothing more than propaganda disseminated by the U.S. and Israel. (Intelligence officials later produced video evidence definitively establishing the Syrian-North Korean collaboration.) In 2008 Cirincione served as an advisor on nuclear policy to presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The executive director of the Ploughshares Fund is Naila Bolus, who also serves as co-chair of the Peace and Security Funders Group. Bolus is a former co-director of the environmentalist and anti-war group 20/20 Vision, and she co-founded the Women Legislators' Lobby, whose goal is to “persuade Congress to redirect excessive military spending toward unmet human and environmental needs.”