I have sat down several times to write the introduction to this collection of tributes to Michael’s work with South Asian Voices and the Visiting Fellows program. Each time I have sat down only to get back up, pace the hallway a few times, sit back down again, and repeat. In writing about someone who weighed words carefully and believed strongly in their power to convince, engage, and debate, it has been difficult to find the right ones to convey the depth of his impact. Reading through the reflections below two words have kept coming to mind. The first is scope. The tributes include reflections from fellows who have worked with Michael over the past three decades—ranging from early discussions on the role of Confidence Building Measures in the 1990s to fellows from the past few years who recall Michael commenting on their SAV articles and encouraging them to keep writing. Even still, these reflections cover just a slice of Michael’s long career dedicated to reducing nuclear risks and working with scholars at all stages of their career. Over the past weeks there has been an outpouring of “Michael stories,” memories of the way a comment, piece of advice, or the time he took to listen and engage offered encouragement at a pivotal moment or shaped someone’s way of thinking. The way Michael lived his life is testament to the cumulative power of small actions and the ripple effects of leading with generosity and kindness.
The second word is gratitude. The reflections below span nearly 30 years of memories of working with Michael and a deep gratitude for his contributions to the field and the type of person Michael was emerges time and time again. As an editor with South Asian Voices, I am deeply grateful for Michael’s belief in the power of words and commitment to engaging with emerging analysts that led to him starting the platform nearly a decade ago. And I am deeply grateful to those who have helped the platform grow into what it is today, and the contributors who have and continue to engage with Michael’s spirit of curiosity and commitment to discussion, respectful debate, and generating creative policy solutions. Thank you is hardly enough, but thank you all and thank you Michael.
Brigitta Schuchert, SAV Managing Editor
A legacy of work that continues to inspire
I have known the late Michael Krepon since the early 1990s when he asked me to join the newly set up South Asia program of the Stimson Center. I recall with pride that I was the first Pakistani who had been invited by Mike (as we affectionately called him) to join the Center as a Research Fellow. My experience of working with Mike was extremely cordial, professional, and very rewarding intellectually. I learned a great deal from him about the politics of arms control and the difficulties inherent in trying to create strategic stability in a world marked by dynamics of rivalry. Later when I joined the Pakistan Embassy in 1994 my interaction with Mike became more regular and I recall with great delight to be invited to ongoing activities of the Center. It was a great privilege to be considered a friend by Mike and given his deep knowledge of South Asian Affairs we all acknowledged him as our guru. Mike’s departure has left a huge void of sane and vocal voices for the cause of peace and security in South Asia and the world at large. He has left behind a great legacy of professional work and thinking that continues to inspire the younger generation. Thank you Mike for being so kind, so humane, and yet so solid in your professional work. The world is much poorer without you and you will be missed by so many. Rest in Peace (Amin).
Syed Rifaat Hussain
Visiting Fellow, 1993
A Human Being Par Excellence
I am really saddened to hear about the passing away of Professor. Michael Krepon (Mike, as we fondly called him). I was privileged to be a Visiting Fellow at Stimson for some time in 1997. It was such a wonderful academic delight to pursue my research, under Mike’s guidance and leadership. He was a genuine scholar and researcher. I really benefited from his scholarship, knowledge, analysis, and insights. In spite of the important position he held and the academic stature he enjoyed, he was a human being par excellence. A true ‘gem’ indeed. We will all truly miss him. Mike till we meet again, bye. May his soul rest in Peace.
Visiting Fellow, 1997
I will never forget his advice: “Don’t Lose Sight of the End Goal; Peace in South Asia.”
Michael’s vision of peace in South Asia can be noted as a classic case of idealism in International Relations. Some in Pakistan might imply the contrary given his writings on India-Pakistan nuclear deterrence. I would say that Michael was one of the very few people who had the intellect to balance thoughts: tactical efforts to balance power with strategic outlook (i.e., idealist ambitions) for a better world.
I remember my interaction with him when I was a Visiting Fellow discussing India-Pakistan relations. Michael encouraged me to be optimist when thinking about the conflict between both countries. During the discussion Michael admired my first article for South Asian Voices—Conflict Transformation: A Sustainable Solution for Indo-Pak Conflict. While those of us in South Asia tend to lose hope for better ties between the neighbors, Michael was amongst the few to adhere to optimism. He encouraged me to thinking strategically and continue writing similar pieces. I will never forget his advice “don’t lose sight of the end goal; peace in South Asia.” Michael might have left us but he continues to live in our thoughts, writings, and even strategic thinking.
Visiting Fellow, 2021
Scholarship and Friendship
I am deeply grieved at the news of Michael Krepon’s passing away. I cannot help bringing back a cherished memory of our acquaintance years ago. Impressed by his outstanding contributions and the programs involved, I wrote to Michael seeking a Visiting Fellowship at Stimson and got his encouraging feedback soon. The initial exchange eventually enabled me to stay with the prestigious institute for a half-year visit between 2011 and 2012. During that period, we kept in touch in person regularly and this experience has benefited me so much in terms of both scholarship and friendship. His superb work on nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, and broader security-related subjects have renewed my approaches to strategic and policy-oriented developments across South Asia and beyond. He attentively arranged for me a series of interviews and discussions with established fellow experts that made my duration in D.C. extraordinarily fruitful. We also shared some concern about the increasingly problematic Sino-U.S. ties, as well as a cautious optimism over the days to come. And like an empathetic friend, more than once, he told me how he enjoyed keeping writing as a daily routine that, indeed, has lastingly affected my following career even to this day. Early this year, I was happy to get his invite to contribute a piece to South Asian Voices, proving one rare chance to learn from him again through his insightful comments. Yet I never expected he would unfortunately pass away just a few months later. Hearing the sad news now, I am just writing some words here to express my heartfelt condolences in respectful memory of Michael.
Visiting Fellow, 2011
Be Rigorous, but Always Kind
While many will remember Michael for his contributions to nuclear disarmament, I will remember him for how he disarmed a room with a pithy question and willingness to lean into the personal.
These were powerful tools in a room full of academically minded young people, prepared to interrogate the biases of distant political actors but not necessarily our own. Within seconds of meeting me, then in my first full-time job, Michael wanted to know the story of my own cross-cultural upbringing, how my childhood influenced my drive to tell international stories (whether the medium was history, fiction, or foreign policy analysis). At Michael’s probing, our whole room of junior researchers offered bits of their personal histories, revealing mutual interests and experiences kept (otherwise) beneath-the-surface in our office setting. Michael challenged each of us to ask him incisive questions. The best questions, he believed, were those that struck succinctly at the core of an issue, no matter how complicated it might seem. It was a telling paradox. With as simple a question as “who are you?”—and an unwillingness to accept the standard resume rehashing that proceeded—Michael got a room of people to share how very different, layered personal stories brought them all to the same place. Simplicity permitted nuance and complexity.
I suspect these beliefs in the value of the personal and the power of simplicity guided Michael in founding South Asian Voices. Providing a shared platform for (at first) Indian and Pakistani authors was a simple (yet somehow, before SAV, non-existent, in a subcontinent of tangled bureaucracies) channel for confronting biases, engaging with alternative perspectives, and embracing common history. Michael believed that young analysts had much to offer in influencing policy decisions. Even as the platform grew from a blog to more robust analytical publication encompassing all of South Asia, Michael’s semi-regular contributions reminded readers in crisp prose of the value of understanding South Asian geopolitics multi-nationally. Even in retirement, he always took time to comment on new pieces, encourage new authors, and guide Visiting Fellows with their policy memos.
I will always take his words and mentorship, of myself and of countless others, as a guide: to be more incisive; to reveal my own biases before asking others to do the same; to be rigorous, but always kind.
A Patient Listener and an Observer
I got the chance to meet Michael as a South Asian Voices Visiting Fellow (2019-20). He invited SAV Fellows to his beautiful house for lunch. Although I was meeting him for the first time, it felt like we had met before. Michael was very welcoming and gave us a detailed tour of his garden where he was growing ferns and moss. During his first interaction with the SAV Fellows, he noticed my usual silence and called me the “Silent One.” Later, in my personal interactions with him at his Stimson office, he gave me another name: the Interpreter. Funnily, I have been using those names as my aliases on different platforms. Ha! Michael was a patient listener and an observer. During our limited interactions, I figured that he was both worried and optimistic about certain political and security—especially nuclear—concerns, in the Indian subcontinent. He motivated us to find solutions and showed great faith in the future generation of IR scholars. In addition to his academic contributions, I will remember Michael for showing confidence in young researchers from the subcontinent. I thank him, as a former fellow, for laying the foundations of the SAV platform, and subsequently the Visiting Fellowship program. It provided an excellent opportunity to young researchers from South Asia to share their views and learn from fellow scholars and government policymakers. Despite his serious health issues, Michael was very welcoming and excited to meet us. I respect him for that. May his soul Rest in Peace!
Visiting Fellow, 2019
Helpful and Humble
Michael was a personality that is to be remembered for times to come among the analyst community, especially in South Asia. I first met Michael in 2003 when I came to the Stimson Center for the Visiting Fellowship. I found Michael extremely helpful and humble. As a supervisor, he allowed me complete freedom. Additionally, he assisted me in planning my research and arranged a number of meetings with experts relevant to my research topic.
He was also instrumental in getting research work published on Stimson’s website and at a few other places. Whenever he visited Islamabad, he would make it a point to meet Visiting Fellows from Islamabad. Indeed, the passing away of Michael is not only a loss of an expert on South Asia but an elderly friend too.
Zawar Haider Abidi
Visiting Fellow, 2003
An Early Proponent of Confidence Building
Krepon made a meaningful contribution to the strategic discourse in India. He was an early proponent of the Confidence Building idea and helped the phrase to become part of the Indian strategic lexicon. As one of the early Visiting Fellows to Simson in 1995, I gained immensely from Michael Krepon’s wide experience and strategic insights.
Lt. Gen. (retd.) V.R. Raghavan
Visiting Fellow, 1995
I got to know Michael Krepon when I was a South Asia Visiting Scholar at Stimson in the mid-1990s. The subject of how India and Pakistan were managing the nuclear situation in the subcontinent was close to his heart. It led to many discussions, on occasion in after-office hour-long sessions over pizza and beer! We were unable, alas, to satisfactorily to resolve our differences not little because of his strength of conviction that nuclear weapons are an abomination India and Pakistan would be better off without, but because their nuclear arsenals are already here and cannot be wished away, that the two countries should find practical ways of blunting their nuclear policies and postures. Michael’s characteristic earnestness and transparent goodwill, his slow and deliberate way of speaking, will stay with me. I met him last in 2018 at a seminar he attended at the Atlantic Council to discuss my latest book—Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition. I was time constrained then and regret not seeking a personal meeting with him on that trip. Now it is too late. Farewell, friend.
Visiting Fellow, 1995
Above all, a deeply kind person
Working for Michael taught me invaluable lessons: to take risks, the value of a concise yet insightful question, and to work incredibly hard—but always make time for the personal side of your life.
Michael encouraged and enabled young analysts to ask questions, identify problems, and develop their own solutions. He created leadership opportunities for his RAs. We launched and co-led projects: South Asian Voices, the SAV Visiting Fellowship, and Stimson’s open online courses, to name a few. A prolific writer, Michael insisted that early-career analysts also publish—more than once he pitched an op-ed I wrote to newspaper editors.
Michael was a mentor and advocate. Above all, he was a deeply kind person. He is sorely missed.
Julia Thompson Torrence
A champion of the notion of nuclear arms control and the voices of South Asian youth
My heart goes out to Michael Krepon’s family, friends, and the entire policy community which will remain indebted to his legacy. While being an extremely humble and friendly person, Michael has been a champion of the notion of nuclear arms control and the voices of South Asian youth. It’s a great way to pay a tribute to him. He personally commented on and appreciated my very first article in SAV and the idea of my policy memo, which encouraged me to contribute more pieces and complete my memo. It is a matter of great pleasure to be part of an organization established by Michael.
Visiting Fellow 2021
“Always Write Down your Ideas”
It is hard to overstate the influence that a towering figure like Micheal Krepon can have on the young minds of new and fresh scholars—especially those like myself who were working on the sensitive and emerging area of Confidence Building Measures and conflict resolution in South Asia, in the early 1990s.
I had the privilege of meeting Michael Krepon for the first time when he came as a USIS Guest Speaker to India, when I was working at the USIS North India office based in New Delhi and coordinating the very sensitive India-Pakistan Track II Neemrana Dialogues. Later, he offered me the Visiting Fellowship at the Stimson Center—and the opportunity to pursue research on India-Pakistan Trade CBMs. During the two months at the Stimson Center, we were deeply influenced by the fluid mindset, flexible approach, and open thinking that Michael Krepon brought to the table when we were able to participate in the official seminars and discussion roundtables. He always had time to stop by our room, as a gracious mentor, and spend valuable moments asking about our research work and answering questions that seemed to baffle our minds that had at that point had little exposure to regional CBMs and the politics that governed this.
Michael’s mentorship and continuing encouragement gave me the platform to do further policy work on SAFTA at the SAARC Chamber, and then get a Visiting Fellowship at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, to work on ‘Testing Economic Diplomacy in South Asia’ under the Women in Security Studies Program. He was one of the first pioneering leaders to encourage work on trade and economic diplomacy as an effective CBM, when there were hardly any takers for this sensible approach.
I will always remember his advice: to “always write down your ideas”, and my book, Leadership by Proxy (Bloomsbury 2015) is owed in some part to this mentoring from Michael Krepon. His mentorship style has also deeply influenced my own mentoring through for the Women in Leadership through the Forum that I founded in 2007.
Visiting Fellow, 1995
He will always be remembered for his help, assistance, and cooperation
I have known Michael Krepon for the last 29 years, since he encouraged me to continue my work on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Our relationship strengthened when I published a chapter with Dr. Arun Elhance on “Non-military CBMs in South Asia” in Stimson Center’s book way back in 1994. We met in summer school on arms control in Nathiagali, Pakistan, in May 1994, and our contact continued. He invited me for two months as a Visiting Fellow under the Stimson Center’s South Asia program in June-July, 1997. It was a great honor for us when he delivered a pathbreaking lecture on CBMs in the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, way back in 2001, and arranged my lecture in his Center during my visit to Washington D.C. in September, 2007. Since then, we haven’t met but continued our contact. I found him to be a true friend of South Asia with a deep insight on American foreign policy, South Asia, and Confidence Building Measures. His loss is indeed a great loss for South Asia, and he will always be remembered for his help, assistance, and cooperation by all of us. May his soul rest in eternal peace, Ameen.
Visiting Fellow, 1997
Unwavering Commitment to a Peaceful World
Michael Krepon is one of those unique scholars who has impacted several generations of younger scholars, media practitioners, and policy analysts, with his erudition, passion, and unwavering commitment to a peaceful world that is free of fear, and free of weapons of mass destruction. It was this conscience, intense within him, that drove him long and hard in the task of building knowledge and avenues of praxis for how this ideal could be achieved
He worked tirelessly, traveled extensively, and with apostolic zeal pursued this quest until he passed away. His passionate zest, fervent appeal, and erudite talk and written analysis amply were the evidence.
I had the wonderful privilege of having known him since April 2001, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center between May and August, 2001. It was my privilege to work with him on Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia and on Nuclear Doctrine of India in the larger project, “The Impact of Ballistic Missile Defenses in South Asia,” that was later published as a book. We continued to converse and work on issues of arms control and disarmament in the years that followed.
What was unique about the endeavor was that Michael Krepon spurned rigor in analysis, consistency in factual assessments, and commitment to the cause. He would be long remembered for his zeal and passion in this project. I have been quite influenced by his consistency in the cause and the rigor of writing that he had profoundly inspired in me.
Farewell Michael. May your memory be blessed indeed.
W. Lawrence Prabakhar
Visiting Fellow, 2001
Keeping in Mind the “Big Picture”
Shortly after I came to Stimson in 2017, Michael Krepon stepped down as the Director of the South Asia program for health reasons. Even so, he told the research assistants and interns of the South Asia Program to seek his guidance on research and writing. The first time I sent him something I had written, he struck out whole paragraphs, favoring simplicity over complexity at the sentence level. He looked at multiple drafts of each article I sent him and improved both the ideas in my article and the way I articulated them. It was through his mentorship I learned that improving the readability of written work would inherently sharpen the ideas within it.
Yet the most important lesson he taught me was how hard it is to translate analysis into policy. When I wrote in a draft of one of my first articles that political reconciliation between India and Pakistan was necessary, he wrote (in his usual all-caps): “POLITICAL RECONCILIATION IS THE HARD PART.” This comment was part of Michael’s philosophy that big picture ideas are only useful if they take into account the long, winding staircase of policy implementation. As someone who worked in government, Michael knew how infrequently political environments favored peace over conflict. He knew how rarely big, all-or-nothing, no-turning-back moments occurred in international politics. For this reason he often emphasized the necessity of pointing out “low-hanging fruit” in my writing—small, achievable actions that could be taken when the time was right for it.
If the wheels of political reconciliation turn slowly, then it is necessary that the next generation of scholars continue the work of making sure they turn at all. This was the philosophy behind South Asian Voices, which was his brainchild, and the reason for his generosity towards anyone who showed an interest in working on the peace and security of South Asia. When I published my first article, he sent me a short email I will never forget: “Emily, you have a future in this work.” His unexpected praise both stunned me and lifted my spirits. But more often Michael would inspire the younger generation of scholars less explicitly. It was tradition that he would invite each cohort of fellows to his home in Charlottesville, VA for an afternoon, during which he would ask each individual fellow about their views on the politics of South Asia and listen carefully to their answers. Until his health began failing, he would comment on every article written on South Asian Voices, carefully engaging with each author’s arguments. I believe it was an unspoken faith—the belief that motivating scholars to keep working in this difficult and often unrewarding field would make the world a safer place after he was gone—that drove his generosity.
This insistence on keeping in mind the “big picture” despite the sluggish and non-linear pace of political change has left a mark on a generation of scholars, myself included. I only hope we live up to his aspirations. RIP Michael.
A Shining Example of how Perseverance and Commitment to a Cause can Influence Policy
Michael Krepon was a shining example of how perseverance and commitment to a cause can influence policy making. He devoted his life to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament while keeping an eye on the realities on ground at the global and regional levels. One can disagree with some of his perspectives on South Asia, however, that does not diminish respect for his work.
Visiting Fellow, 2018
We have lost an institution
I am deeply saddened by the passing away of Dr. Michael Krepon, A terrible loss to humanism and humanity. I feel overwhelmed by the most cherished memories of having met him on several occasions, especially during my affiliation with Stimson Center as a Visiting Fellow in the year 2000. We have lost an institution, a profound thinker, a prolific writer, a passionate activist, a humanitarian, and much more. But the legacies he has left behind are immortal in their spirit and universally relevant.
Visiting Fellow, 2000
Continuing to Inspire
Michael’s contribution to build a generation of competent yet humane scholars in South Asia and beyond is a legacy worth celebrating. His spoken and written words will continue to inspire many after years to come.
Visiting Fellow, 2017
The Inscription on the Book Read: “Don’t Try this at Home”
My first three articles for the South Asian Voices received a flurry of long comments from Michael Krepon. Those remarks were insightful and encouraging, to say the least. However, what was noticeable and reflective through those was Michael’s deep understanding of, and concern about, South Asia’s nuclear dynamics. Seeing my interests in reading classics on nuclear strategy, he gifted me Morton Halperin’s Limited War in the Nuclear Age. The inscription on the book read : “Don’t try this at home.” In another meeting, he discussed with us all the importance of asking good questions. That, I must stress, was an enriching session. Last but not least, what will stick with me is his telling me this: “We are not here to tell you what to think; we are just here to help you think.” May God bless his departed soul.
Syed Ali Zia Jaffery
Visiting Fellow, 2019
As Michael Would say, Onwards and Upwards
Michael Krepon was a force of nature, a fierce advocate for peace, and a gentle giant in the field of nonproliferation. But even more importantly, he was the kindest and most giving mentor one could ask for. He started South Asian Voices specifically with the aim to provide a platform to and highlight the perspectives of emerging scholars from the subcontinent, which he considered a hugely consequential region. In his words, he wanted to “connect with the future” and to ensure that the next generation has more of a say in U.S. policy towards the region. And he worked tirelessly every day to make that happen.
He read and commented on every single piece published on SAV, he responded (often within hours) to cold emails from young scholars asking him to review their manuscripts, he built bridges through the SAV Visiting Fellowship and by creating cross-border networks and connections that will benefit generations of analysts who may not even know his contribution. I can say from personal experience how impactful it is to hear encouraging comments like “sound analysis” or “keep it up” from a venerated practitioner and thinker when you are finding your feet in a new country and community. Michael did that for me and countless others.
Michael was an unabashed and unwavering optimist, an almost impossible task for someone who worked on India-Pakistan relations and arms control. But he injected that enthusiasm and sense of resoluteness in all those he worked with and mentored, pushing us to probe and investigate space for shared interests, shared progress, shared humanity.
But there is more work to be done. As Michael would say, onwards and upwards.
Editor’s Note: If you would be interested in contributing a reflection or personal remembrance on Michael’s work with South Asian Voices you can reach out to [email protected], you may also submit a remembrance on the Stimson Center website here.