SGIS panelists: Next steps in nonproliferation will be challenging

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Although presidential hopefuls may debate nonproliferation concerns in terms of ideals, the next president will be forced to forge a path within the constraints of America’s historical strategies, experts said at an Indiana University conference. Past nuclear nonproliferation strategies may not dictate future plans but they do construct the environment around modern nonproliferation talks, they said.

The School of Global and International Studies conference, “America’s Role in the World: Issues Facing the Next President,” closed its first day with a panel that considered what the history of nonproliferation’s trials and triumphs can offer as lessons for the next president.

Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar comments on nonproliferation.

Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar comments on nonproliferation.

Panelists included Siegfried Hecker, professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University; Richard Lugar, former U.S. senator from Indiana; George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and William Potter, professor of nonproliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Dina Spechler, associate professor of political science at IU Bloomington, moderated.

Despite the fear nuclear rhetoric inspires, cooperation colors much of the international legacy of nuclear proliferation relations. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. and the USSR remained allies in preventing proliferation.

After the Cold War, Russia made significant improvements to its nuclear weapon facilities and the security of these facilities, making U.S. involvement in the Russian nuclear program increasingly unnecessary, Hecker and Lugar said.

“To some extent, this is good news,” Hecker said. “The bad news is that when you talk about nuclear safety, you’re never done. When you become complacent and think you’re done is when you have problems.”

Although the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was hotly debated, the limited American education on nonproliferation stunts the debate, Potter said.

“Two of the major challenges we face today are ignorance and complacency,” he said. “We have to invest far more than we have in nonproliferation education.”

Perkovich and Hecker agreed that this lack of education inhibits the ability of U.S. policymakers to have an “adult conversation” with international allies regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapon program.

Perkovich suggested shifting the conversation away from the threats of a nuclear North Korea and toward pragmatic positions.

“The talk about the threat doesn’t motivate me very much because we’ve known about them for so long,” Perkovich said. “The issue is what we are going to do about it.”

Hecker suggested a strategy for North Korean nuclear relations that includes “no more bombs, no better bombs and no exports of bombs.” In exchange for North Korea’s cooperation on the nuclear nonproliferation, the U.S. must be prepared to offer security measures and economic and energy assistance, Hecker said.

Domestic political divisions and hyperpartisanship do not make global nonproliferation policy easy, the panelists said.

“It was miraculous that the 2012 nonproliferation treaty got across the finish line,” Lugar said, recounting the Republican Congress’ stalwart opposition.

Panelists said the next American president will face unprecedented challenges as the nature of nonproliferation shifts the spotlight away from players like Iran toward emerging and unknown non-state actors.

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