James A. Thomson

Photo of James Thomson
President Emeritus; Professor, Pardee RAND Graduate School
Santa Monica Office


Ph.D. and M.S. in physics, Purdue University; B.S. in physics, University of New Hampshire


Jim Thomson is president emeritus of the RAND Corporation and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

Thomson describes his career in four phases. In the first phase, he was an experimental nuclear physicist and published numerous scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. In the second, he was a government official dealing with defense and arms control matters, serving in the U.S. Defense Department and at the White House. In the third phase, he focused on policy research covering a range of strategic issues. In the fourth phase, while continuing his research, Thomson moved into research leadership positions at RAND. He served as RAND's fourth president from 1989 to 2011. Under his leadership, RAND grew by 60 percent, expanded its research agenda, increased its policy impact, and become an international organization with offices in North America, Europe, and the Middle East.

Thomson is a member of several for-profit and nonprofit boards.

Thomson holds a B.S. in physics from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from Purdue University. He has honorary doctorates from Purdue and Pepperdine universities, the University of New Hampshire, and the Pardee RAND Graduate School. He has working knowledge of German and Spanish.

Selected Publications

James A. Thomson, 2009 Year in Review, RAND Corporation (CP-401-2010-01), 2010

James A. Thomson, A House Divided: Polarization and Its Effect on RAND, RAND Corporation (OP-291), 2010

David Aaron ed., Three Years After: Next Steps in the War on Terror, RAND Corporation (CF-212), 2005

James A. Thomson, Must All Join? America, 1788; Europe, 2004, RAND Corporation (OP-136), 2004

Jared M. Diamond and James A. Thomson, Why Did Human History Unfold Differently on Different Continents for the Last 13,000 Years?RAND Corporation (P-8054), 2001



  • RAND Review: Vol. 35, No. 2, Summer 2011

    Stories discuss America after 9/11, Afghan-based solutions, Al Qaeda's narrative, air passenger security, victim compensation, military families, health insurance, entrepreneurship, unemployment, sex, Katrina families, Arab Spring, and a new RAND.

    Sep 1, 2011

  • RAND Review: Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring 2011

    Stories discuss gays in the military, police recruitment, home health care, breast cancer, health insurance exchanges, alternative fuels, refinery taxes, alcohol prices, outer space debris, mental illness, diplomatic trends, and health care costs.

    Apr 29, 2011

  • 2010 Year in Review

    In the context of the RAND Corporation's mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis, the Year in Review offers an assessment of RAND's achievements in 2010.

    Feb 16, 2011

  • RAND Review: Vol. 34, No. 3, Winter 2010

    Stories discuss Haitian recovery, transportation finance, teacher accountability, childhood psychological problems, aging Americans, military savings, U.S. space systems, Middle East peace, the Wallace Foundation, and Politics Aside 2010.

    Jan 6, 2011

  • RAND Review: Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer 2010

    Features discuss retirement patterns of baby boomers, marijuana legalization, drug enforcement in Europe, and No Child Left Behind; news items cover the Gulf coast, food allergies, the U.S. health reform law, police benefits, and Pakistani militants.

    Aug 14, 2010

  • RAND Review: Vol. 34, No. 1, Spring 2010

    Features discuss energy strategies for Israel, the economic recession, and Iran's leadership; other items discuss the KC-10 fleet, air pollution and hospital costs, no-fault insurance, silica litigation, poverty reduction, and political polarization.

    Apr 9, 2010

  • A House Divided: Polarization and Its Effect on RAND

    Discusses the increase in political polarization within the U.S. electorate and Congress since the 1970s, the effects of increased polarization on public policy decisionmaking, and the implications for RAND.

    Mar 17, 2010

  • 2009 Year in Review

    In the context of the RAND Corporation's mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis, the Year in Review offers an assessment of RAND's achievements in 2009.

    Jan 27, 2010

  • RAND Review: Vol. 33, No. 1, Spring 2009

    Feature stories discuss government cost controls, health information technology, and negotiations with Iran; other stories discuss climate change, soft power, charter schools, meth use, Hispanic enlistments, Mumbai terrorism, and Jeremy Azrael.

    Apr 27, 2009

  • RAND Review: Vol. 32, No. 3, Fall 2008

    The cover story offers 12 suggestions for the new U.S. president; other pieces discuss education and health in China and India, health policy models, the U.S. Postal Service mailbox monopoly, a green U.S. Army, and political reform in the Arab world.

    Dec 14, 2008

  • RAND Review: Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer 2008

    The cover story contains 11 essays that forecast 11 ''issues over the horizon''; other articles discuss the invisible wounds of war, visions of the future, colleges in prisons, and nuclear deterrence for the modern age.

    Aug 1, 2008

  • RAND Review: Vol. 32, No. 1, Spring 2008

    The cover story compares neonatal services across the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Sweden; other features discuss water resources management, U.S. policies in Asia, and political polarization.

    Apr 19, 2008

  • 2007 Year in Review

    In the context of the RAND Corporation's mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis, the Year in Review offers an assessment of RAND's achievements in 2007.

    Mar 11, 2008

  • RAND Review: Vol. 31, No. 3, Fall 2007

    The cover story issues a midterm report card for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Other features discuss prescription drug benefit plans for the elderly and different types of ungoverned territories around the world.

    Dec 2, 2007

  • RAND Review: Vol. 31, No. 2, Summer 2007

    Feature stories discuss the precarious posture taken by the world toward Afghanistan, lessons for the U.S. National Guard from Hurricane Katrina, and competing claims stoked by the RAND Health Insurance Experiment.

    Aug 28, 2007

  • 2006 Year in Review

    In the context of the RAND Corporation's mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis, the Year in Review offers an assessment of RAND's achievements in 2006.

    Jun 27, 2007

  • RAND Review: Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring 2007

    Three stories highlight the advantages of policies that have been downplayed in recent years -- in defense, education, and health. Additional articles address antisocial behavior in Britain and problems within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    Apr 2, 2007

  • RAND Review: Vol. 30, No. 3, Fall 2006

    The cover story reports on how the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina can give rise to a better morning. Other articles discuss the all-volunteer force, better ways to improve health in developing countries, and lessons from counterinsurgency research.

    Dec 4, 2006

  • 2005 Year in Review

    In the context of the RAND Corporation's mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis, the Year in Review offers an assessment of RAND's achievements in 2005.

    Mar 27, 2006

  • RAND Review: Vol. 30, No. 1, Spring 2006

    Addresses a set of shortfalls in U.S. performance in Iraq and identifies options for improvement, particularly with respect to sustaining army forces, promoting reenlistments, and rebuilding Iraqi security.

    Dec 31, 2005

  • RAND Review: Vol. 30, No. 2, Summer 2006

    The cover story warns that Americans have succumbed too much to fear, forsaking the things for which they are fighting; related essays discuss suicide attacks, lessons from Algeria, protection for emergency responders, and public health preparedness.

    Dec 31, 2005

  • Colorado ACLU Speech

    RAND Corporation President and CEO James Thomson spoke to the ACLU in 2005 on the value of fact-based analysis, offering several examples of how a tension between effective policy and fairness or equity pervades the world of policy analysis.

    Nov 16, 2005

  • Three Years After: Next Steps in the War on Terror

    Three years after 9/11, the RAND Corporation held a conference to share results from recent terrorism studies with government officials, military officers, congressional staff, foundations and NGOs, foreign embassy representatives, and the public.

    Jun 13, 2005

  • Must All Join? America, 1788; Europe, 2004

    Describes parallels between constitutional ratification in the European Union and the United States and suggests that U.S. history may provide a relevant lesson for the EU.

    Dec 20, 2004

  • The Haskins Lectureship in Science Policy, November 15, 2002: Bioterrorism: A Clear and Present Danger

    Dr. Tony Fauci speaks about bioterrorism at the 2002 Haskins Lectureship on Science Policy held on November 15, 2002.

    Dec 31, 2002

  • RAND Review: Vol. 26, No. 2, Summer 2002

    Surveys RAND research conducted since Sept. 11, 2001, that examines the dimensions of the terrorist threat and potential responses to it, and issues such as global priorities, oversees deployments, homeland security, and state and local initiatives.

    Dec 31, 2001

  • RAND Review: Vol. 25, No. 3, Fall 2001

    Presents eight commentaries outlining complementary strategies for the long-term war against terrorism; also discusses how American arts organizations can adapt to shifting audiences and how improvements in depression care pay for themselves.

    Dec 31, 2000

  • RAND Review: Vol. 24, No. 1, Summer 2000

    Special presidential election issue offers recommendations regarding several domestic and foreign policy issues that will play a crucial role in this year's presidential election.

    Dec 31, 1999

  • RAND Review: Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring 1999

    Argues that to be successful, the European-American partnership can no longer depend on a lopsided military relationship, and that Europe must shoulder more of the burden and America must share leadership; also discusses U.S. defense planning.

    Dec 31, 1998

  • RAND Review: Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall 1998

    Special commemorative issue celebrates 50 years of cutting-edge RAND research, how RAND diversified into social welfare research, and identifies important ways in which RAND research will continue to serve the crucial needs of the future.

    Dec 31, 1997

  • RAND Graduate School Commencement Exercises

    On July 15, 1995, the RAND Graduate School held its ninth commencement exercises in Santa Monica, California.

    Dec 31, 1995

  • RAND Graduate School Commencement Exercises: July 10, 1993

    On July 10, 1993, the RAND Graduate School held its eighth Commencement exercises in Santa Monica, California.

    Dec 31, 1992

  • RAND Graduate School Commencement Exercises, July 17, 1991

    This paper contains the July 17, 1991, RAND Graduate School commencement address given by Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, chairman, Kissinger Associates, Inc., and former U.S. National Security Adviser and Secretary of State.

    Dec 31, 1991

  • Implications of the Gorbachev Force Cuts

    Discusses the military and political implications of the unilateral force reductions recently announced by the Soviet Union and East European countries, including the implications of the force cuts for the conventional balance.

    Dec 31, 1988

  • An Unfavorable Situation: NATO and the Conventional Balance

    This Note describes the essential features of the balance of conventional forces in Central Europe and presents the author's view of the consequences of an analysis of these features.

    Dec 31, 1987

  • Conventional Arms Control Revisited: Objectives in the New Phase

    This Note examines the relationship between conventional defense and arms control planning and assesses the conditions under which arms control can help NATO meet its conventional defense requirements.

    Dec 31, 1986

  • The Arms Control Challenge to the Alliance

    This paper was originally presented as an address to the North Atlantic Assembly in Plenary Session, The Storting, Oslo, Norway, on September 25, 1987.

    Dec 31, 1986

  • The Promise of Passive Defenses

    This paper reviews the capabilities of Soviet tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) and considers passive defense measures such as hardening, redundancy, dispersal, and mobility, that NATO might use against them.

    Dec 31, 1986

  • NATO's Strategic Choices: Defense Planning and Conventional Force Modernization

    This paper reviews NATO's present strategy; examines broad strategic alternatives, and concludes that NATO's recourse is to seek modest improvements in conventional capabilities.

    Dec 31, 1985

  • Strategic Defense and Deterrence

    The author addresses technology options, the issues of offense vs. defense in an arms race, crisis stability, and extended deterrence.

    Dec 31, 1983

  • The Military Significance of Restrictions on Strategic Nuclear Force Operations

    This Note examines some problems associated with the application of the concept of confidence building to strategic nuclear force operations.

    Dec 31, 1983

  • NATO: Agenda for the Next Four Years

    This report documents the proceedings of a Ford Foundation-sponsored workshop on NATO held in RAND's Washington office, June 10-11, 1981.

    Dec 31, 1981

  • Planning for NATO's Nuclear Deterrent in the 1980s and 1990s

    NATO's defense planners face critical issues about the future of NATO's nuclear deterrent, but the intense political controversy over the impending deployment of new Long-Range Theater Nuclear Forces in Europe has submerged these issues.

    Dec 31, 1981

  • The Future of Nuclear Arms Control

    The postwar security framework that has kept the peace for 35 years depends on nuclear weapons.

    Dec 31, 1981