Nearly 30 years after the end of the Cold War, an international nuclear arms race is once again a topic of grave concern. Only this time, it’s not just superpowers that are engaged.
“There is not a week that goes by without a headline related to nuclear issues,” said Ellen Laipson, director of the Master’s in International Security program at the Schar School of Policy and Government at the outset of a day-long conference addressing the global challenges of nuclear weapons and technology. “Navigating the Nuclear Future,” the second annual Symposium on International Security hosted by the Schar School’s Center for Security Policy Studies, drew nearly 100 audience members on Friday, September 27, to hear 12 leading experts in the field describe the state of the world’s nuclear weapons, the nonproliferation regime, and how to manage nuclear technologies.
“There was this relief after the Cold War, but nuclear weapons still exist,” said panelist Lt. General (Ret.) Frank Klotz, former Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. “We have lost sight of nuclear arms control policies. It’s refreshing to see institutions like the Schar School putting on events like this and talking about these issues again.”
In a discussion entitled “The Great Powers and the Nuclear Agenda,” Brigadier General (Ret.) Peter Zwack, a senior research fellow at the Center for Strategic Research at the National Defense University, warned that “recently, the world has been tilting in some strange and difficult ways. We and our adversaries are modernizing our nuclear arsenals.” Zwack was most provocative when describing Putin’s promotion of Russia’s nuclear ambitions.
“The purpose of having nuclear weapons is to avoid costly arms races,” said Klotz during the panel discussion. He emphasized the need to re-sign the New START Treaty in 2021. “We need to get back to Russian and American officials having a dialogue,” he added.
China most likely wouldn’t participate in “a trilateral arms control agreement with the U.S. and Russia,” said Ketian Zhang, an assistant professor of international security at the Schar School. “Their arsenal is much smaller, and they see it as unfair to try and limit the size of their arms’ capabilities.” China’s emphasis, she said, is on cyber warfare “to gain advantage,” adding that it’s the U.S., not Russia—that is China’s main concern.”
In a discussion about proliferation, Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that the U.S. is performing “faux-diplomacy” in negotiations with Iran and North Korea. North Korea, she said, “has concluded that the U.S. will not attack a country that has nuclear weapons.” The 2015 Iran nuclear deal, she said, “was the strongest nuclear inspection program in history.” The Trump administration canceled it three years later.
The only way forward with North Korea and Iran, said Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, is “regular old plodding diplomacy…We’re not going to sanction our way out of these problems. The only way is by coming back to the negotiating table.” She added that an “incremental approach is best” for nuclear negotiations.
The discussion about North Korea was of particular interest to audience member Hanjong Yoo, a student in the Master’s in International Security program and a policeman in South Korea. “It’s important to listen and learn about modern nuclear facilities and weapons issues,” he said. “All of these issues tie into the hegemon issues on the Korean peninsula, which we face on the job back in Korea.”
The symposium proved to be a mind-expanding experience for Taylor Huson, a student in the Master’s in International Security program.
“My knowledge of nuclear technology was limited, and I wanted to learn more,” he said. “The Schar School gives us the opportunity to learn about a variety of topics, and I didn’t want to miss out.”