By Rodney Reynolds
For over 70 years since the disastrous bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, peace activists have continued their relentless global campaign for a world without nuclear weapons.
The United Nations, which has remained engaged in a longstanding debate, continues to adopt scores of resolutions every year on nuclear disarmament.
And in December, not surprisingly, the 193-member General Assembly wrapped up its 2015 sessions adopting 57 draft resolutions on arms control and disarmament – 23 of which were on nuclear weapons.
Still the goal of a nuclear-free world is a distance political mirage – at least for the present generation.
A new study released last week by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), a Washington-based think tank, has attempted to reframe the narrative on nuclear weapons.
How is nuclear disarmament being viewed by the next generation of policy makers who will inherit thousands of nuclear weapons – particularly when the policy on nuclear weapons is all-too-often constrained by the legacy of past generations?
The study, which sums up the findings from a 14-month long project, is expected “to serve as a point of departure in developing innovative ideas and engaging more people within the next generation of policy shapers in the interests of furthering nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.”
“Innovative thinking is needed to overcome deeply entrenched attitudes and slow progress in the shared responsibility to strengthen nuclear non-proliferation measures and achieve global security through nuclear disarmament,” the Report argues.
The project explored three questions: First, what are the biggest influences in the cycle of nuclear weapons decision-making and where might we be able to shift the conversation?
Second, where and how might the nuclear debate be more closely integrated with other policy issues and movements that attract attention?
Third, how and why might nuclear weapons issues resonate more strongly with emerging policy makers, the public and media?
The study was the result of a series of workshops in the U.S. and UK with next generation participants aimed at mapping the challenges, mechanisms for engagement, potential new dimensions in the debate and its relationship to other issues, including the relationships between nuclear weapons and climate change.
When the issue comes out in the public, it rarely involves considered arguments, but rather features as a shallow, symbolic proxy to label particular positions as naïve or hawkish.
The study calls for new voices into the discussion, and test out the means to inspire the next generation of policy makers.
Tariq Rauf, Director, Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IDN the BASIC Report highlights how thinking and discourse on nuclear weapons have morphed into the mundane over the years, and has fallen off the list of principal dangers to the world.
Driven by the need to go beyond the deeply entrenched attitudes and stasis in achieving global security through nuclear disarmament, the Report was motivated by trying to make future nuclear weapons policy more relevant to the security and concerns of the next generation that will inherit thousands of nuclear weapons and thousands of tonnes of nuclear weapon-usable materials, he noted.
Rauf said one significant finding of the Report is that the younger people in the UK and the U.S. are not overly concerned by the nuclear weapons of their respective countries, but are worried about further nuclear proliferation and to terrorist groups.
“This new generation is blissfully unaware and thus unconcerned about nuclear weapon arsenals – as nuclear weapons have no relevance to their make-believe worlds of Twitter or Facebook – but they will be in for a rude awakening, should unfortunately, a nuclear detonation occur whether by accident or by non-Sate actor actions,” said Rauf, a former Senior Adviser to the chair of the 2014 Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
He also pointed out that whatever little discourse there is on nuclear weapons in the mainstream media, is driven by fear mongering about adversaries but ignores the nuclear weapons, policies and spending at home.
An important recommendation of the Report is to bring education and information about nuclear weapons early in the education of youngsters, starting in school, he added.
In this regard, said Rauf, it is useful to pay attention to the views of those with firsthand experience with nuclear weapons policy, such as William J. Perry, former US Defence Secretary, as recounted in his recent memoir, “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink”, and movies such as “Dr Strangelove”, “Fail Safe” and “The Man Who Saved the World”.
“The BASIC Report is an important contribution to finding ways to engage the new generation on issues of nuclear weapons and existential global security,” said Rauf, a former head (2002-2011) of the Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
The methods used in the BASIC project included the participation of focus groups; roundtable events and expert dialogues; polling of European youth aged 14-30 about their attitudes towards nuclear weapons; digital engagement; and face-to-face networking with members of the next generation.
Some of the important findings of the study include: nuclear weapons are not seen as strongly relevant to the (U.S./UK) next generation – except in terms of an uncertain future caused by the leakage of nuclear weapons to revisionist states and non-state actors.
“Not only are they out of sight and mind, divorced from human interest stories, difficult to relate to every-day experience but also they are not seen as particularly influential even in the political and military spheres.”
When previous generations would have attached great utility and fear to these weapons — establishing elaborate deterrence relationships based on fear — the next generation sees them as largely irrelevant to outcomes, the study concludes.