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Re-Imagining the Global Nuclear Order Workshop

On September 21, 2015, Jonathan Fanton welcomed participants at a conference held at the University of Oxford on the relation between the international system and the global nuclear order. The conference was co-convened by the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

It is rare these days to be able to attend conferences that aspire to more than finding solutions to immediate policy problems. The approach that this conference takes is refreshing, as it seeks to advance intellectual inquiries on a subject whose complexity poses daunting analytical challenges.

I hope this conversation will not only help us to make sense of the complex interface between the global nuclear order and the international system, but also help us identify potential policy pathways to strengthen the nuclear order in the future.

I want to use my opening remarks to tell you more about what the Academy does and to explain how this conference reflects and responds to our core mission.

The American Academy was founded in 1780 to honor excellence in a broad range of disciplines and professions and to develop rigorous scholarship to inform policy-making and advance the common good. Our ability to draw on experts from around the world and from every discipline and profession is our biggest asset in providing thoughtful, independent advice.

While our research program is currently organized around four broad areas, for the last 60 years, global security has been our most enduring interest.

In 1959, a group of Academy members, including Donald Brennan, Edward Teller, Henry Kissinger, and Thomas Schelling, established an Arms Control Committee to study possible pathways to de-escalate the nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was this committee that coined the term “strategic stability,” which then became the central principle underpinning the nuclear postures of both superpowers. The byproduct of this committee’s work—a volume of the Academy’s journal Dædalus—was later described by President John F Kennedy as the “bible of arms control.”

In 1963, the Academy and several of its members, including Eugene Rabinowitch at the University of Illinois and Leo Szilard at the University of Chicago, played a critical role in the creation of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, with the goal of averting the dangers resulting from the global deployment of thermonuclear weapons. Academy members have played an active role in the work of Pugwash, including Steve Miller at Harvard, who is now serving as co-chair of its executive committee as well as co-chair of the Academy’s Global Nuclear Future Initiative.

In 1982, the Academy established its Committee on International Security Studies (CISS), which remains active to this day. One of the committee’s first activities was to convene the Nuclear Weapons Freeze and Arms Control Conference, with the goal of bridging the gap between the arms control community and the pro-WMD free zone supporters. The following year, in direct response to the speech by President Reagan that launched the Strategic Defense Initiative, CISS initiated a project to explore the implications of placing weapons in space.

In the late 1980s, another Academy study explored the interface between the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and nuclear deterrence. The Academy released the study with a foreword by Senator Sam Nunn, who is today an advisor to the Academy’s Global Nuclear Future Initiative.

Since 2008, the Global Nuclear Future Initiative, led by Scott Sagan and Steven Miller, has drawn on these previous five decades of scholarship to better understand the implications of the expansion of nuclear energy around the world and to design concrete policy recommendations that could advance global nuclear governance. The initiative’s work includes efforts to address and tame the problem of threats from insiders as well as to improve the way nuclear aspirant and nuclear-fuel legacy countries manage the nuclear fuel cycle and the resulting high-level nuclear waste.

For over a half-century, the Academy has facilitated conversations and studies on arms control and nuclear non-proliferation in a quest for a more stable and secure world. But much work remains to be done. This conference offers us another opportunity to think collectively about the global nuclear order.

I am glad you are exploring the issues and challenges of the new nuclear age in a comprehensive way and in both historical and comparative perspectives. Historical inquiry is indispensable to fully appreciate the contours of contemporary issues and to understand how current trends and crises in the global nuclear order have arisen.

But the international context is also fundamental. At times, Americans have a tendency to speak among ourselves, assuming that the rest of the world agrees with our viewpoint. But this can lead to misguided policies and dangerous misunderstandings. In many of the meetings I attend at the Academy, I see a genuine commitment among many American scholars to engage more with the world, to listen and learn more from scholars of other countries. This conference is premised on the assumption that the global nuclear order looks very different depending on where you sit. And these different perceptions and misperceptions ultimately impact the international system in many underexplored ways.

Drawing on this premise, we hope this conference will allow us to take a fresh look at the relationship between the international system and the global nuclear order, as it facilitates a dialogue between historians and political scientists and offers a venue for understanding nuclear challenges in both an international perspective and through historical lenses.

Jerome Wiesner, in the foreword to the 1960 Dædalus issue on arms control, acknowledged that, in studying the nuclear order:

there are many real gaps in our understanding of the military, technical and political problems involved. But a start must be made and continuing studies must be initiated. And the nations must be willing to try out the results of these carefully thought-out studies without insisting on a blueprint to completion. We must accept an understanding of the desirable objectives and of the multitude of technical details involved, so as to gain the confidence to set off on the road to peace.

I wish you all a successful and productive conference.

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