Conference explores nexus of development, global warming, nuclear proliferation

Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor

A fundamental conflict exists between global efforts to keep nuclear bombs out of the hands of terrorists and a need to reduce carbon emissions, former U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry said at the opening of the third annual conference held by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

"The global movement under way to make major increases in nuclear power could lead to significant increases in terrorists' ability to get fissile material," Perry warned. "The solution to this problem must lie in establishing international protocols for how nuclear power plants are operated and nuclear fuel supplies are controlled. There are many alternative ideas for how to do this, but no political will to enact any of these proposals."

Perry, the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor and a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford, said expert analysis presented at the daylong conference "can teach us what to do. What is needed is the political will to do it."

About 350 faculty, students, donors and policymakers gathered at the Arrillaga Alumni Center to attend the Nov. 15 conference, titled "Power and Prosperity: New Dynamics, New Dilemmas." During the morning plenary session, titled "Asia's Triple Rise: How China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Future," three former U.S. ambassadors—J. Stapleton Roy, Robert D. Blackwill and Michael H. Armacost—discussed, respectively, China, India and Japan. An afternoon plenary titled "Critical Connections—Faces of Security in the 21st Century" featured Stanford scholars Lynn Eden, Larry Diamond, Scott Sagan and Rosamond L. Naylor. Smaller breakout sessions also focused on new initiatives related to global healthcare, the changing face of Europe, China's growing pains and the challenge of expanding nuclear power without nuclear proliferation.

Shashi Tharoor, a historian and former undersecretary-general of the United Nations, delivered an eloquent lunchtime address on how economic growth is remaking parts of India, yet how its size, diversity and inherent contradictions will defy any attempts to categorize change.

"In India, we seem to manage on all centuries at once, and yet India is more than the sum of all its contradictions," he said. "What is the clue to understanding the future of a country that is still rife with despair and disrepair, but yet which moved a mughal emperor to declaim, 'If on Earth there be a paradise of bliss, it is this, it is this, it is this'?"

Tharoor argued that India's soft power—its flourishing culture, democracy and pluralism—ultimately might wield greater global influence than its economic transformation. "To counter the terrorist threat, there can be no substitute for hard power," he said. "But there can be a complement to it. Where soft power works is in attracting enough goodwill from ordinary people to reduce the sources of support and succor that terrorists enjoy and without which they cannot function."

In framing the challenges presented by the conference, Perry noted that although the world no longer lives under the Cold War threat of a nuclear holocaust, dangerous times persist. There is no real way to prevent nuclear fissile material from being moved into an American city, and no real way to defend against or deter such an attack.

"Our only hope is to prevent the terrorists from getting a nuclear bomb in the first place," he said. But that challenge is complicated as nations, particularly developing countries in Asia with soaring energy demands, tackle global warming by turning to alternative power—wind, solar and, most critically, nuclear.

"Even if many Americans do not agree, it is clear that most other nations do and are already pursuing major construction plans of new nuclear plants," Perry said. "Resistance from the United States would not be successful." China and India are likely to turn to nuclear power to meet their soaring energy needs because, he explained, the alternative is to build carbon-emitting coal-fired generators, which would doom any attempt to reduce greenhouse emissions.

The challenge for leaders is to create the political will necessary to establish international protocols that can help secure the safe expansion of nuclear power, Perry said, while working concurrently to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.

"'Peace is not God's gift to his children,'" he said, quoting Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. "'Peace is our gift to each other.' That is, if we want peace, we should not be waiting for divine intervention. We ourselves must take the necessary actions."