Experts discuss global nuclear security

Rod Searcey SIIS Panel

From left: Lynn Eden, a senior research scholar at the Stanford Institute for International Studies (SIIS); Hans Blix, chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission; political science Professor Scott Sagan; and geological and environmental sciences Associate Professor Chris Chyba, a senior fellows at SIIS, participated on the plenary panel titled “Looking Ahead: A New Nuclear Arms Race?” during the SIIS International Day conference on May 6.

Hans Blix, chairman of the International Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction, told hundreds of diplomats, policymakers, faculty and students gathered on May 6 that he does not think the world faces a new nuclear arms race.

"I am more worried about the risks of global warming in the next century than I am about arms races in this century," he said at the inaugural "International Day" conference organized by the Stanford Institute for International Studies (SIIS).

Blix's speech attracted a strong response from political science Professor Scott Sagan, co-director of SIIS's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), who participated in the same plenary panel titled "Looking Ahead: A New Nuclear Arms Race?" "I think there already is a new and very different kind of nuclear arms race going on," Sagan said. "It is a race between terrorists trying to develop a nuclear weapon and national and international efforts to stop that." As North Korea "race[s] ahead with its own persistent and provocative nuclear program," Sagan said the likelihood that the impoverished country will want to test its weapons or sell them to the highest bidder will increase. "I think Dr. Blix's paper greatly underestimates the threat of nuclear terrorism today," he said.

The daylong conference, titled "Challenges in a New Era," featured keynote addresses by Philip Zelikow, counselor of the U.S. Department of State, who spoke about "The United States and the World," and Samuel R. Berger, former national security adviser to President Clinton, who discussed "U.S. Foreign Policy: The Road Ahead." Discussion sessions headed by Stanford scholars including President Emeritus Donald Kennedy, SIIS Senior Fellow Stephen Stedman and international law Professor Allen Weiner focused on climate change, the United Nations and the future of international security, and international criminal justice and security, respectively. Coit D. Blacker, director of SIIS, said the annual event will become part of the university's newly launched International Initiative that promotes interdisciplinary research and teaching. He also said the institute will be renamed the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University on Sept. 1 in recognition of alumni Bradford Freeman, a member of the university's Board of Trustees, and Ronald Spogli, a member of the SIIS board of visitors, who together donated a lead gift of $50 million to help launch the initiative last month.

During his speech, Blix stated that "the world is not milling with would-be proliferators," and he questioned how long the United States would be able "to pursue a lonely arms race for a war against terrorism." Since the alleged weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq has proved to be an "empty threat," Blix questioned whether the public will in the United States can be sustained in the long term to pay "huge arms bills, unless threats evoked materialize into significant actions."

"If the states in the world move sensibly to better address some current issues of political conflict by diplomacy and pay more attention to development and social justice, there is good hope that this—combined with international cooperation between police, intelligence and financial institutions—will lead to less terrorism," Blix said.

CISAC Co-Director Chris Chyba, who also participated on the panel, said an arms race with Russia or China is unlikely but stressed that nuclear proliferation remains a global threat. "The possibility that more and more countries could build more nuclear weapons in response to others' nuclear weapons acquisitions could have a catalytic effect," he said. In the case of North Korea, "It's hard to predict the effect a test could have on Japan or the Republic of Korea or other counties," he said. "But, obviously, the preference would be not to find out." On May 6, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials were closely monitoring satellite photographs of North Korea that appeared to show extensive preparations for a nuclear weapons test. The country has never tested such a weapon. On May 10, a North Korean newspaper commentary did not deny that the country might conduct a nuclear test, although it stated reports of an impending launch were "U.S. strategic opinions."

Chyba stressed the importance of continuing efforts to shape the world's nuclear future rather than merely cope with it. "My fear is that we are slowly entering a world in the nuclear realm in which supply-side steps are going to be less capable of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons technology," he said. "We need to use the time we have to reduce the demand for nuclear weapons."