On January 18th, the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, in partnership with the Truman Center for National Policy, presented “Out of the Silo: Nuclear Security in Context,” a diverse panel of experts gathered to discuss the increasing relevance of nuclear security to everyday Americans. Rachel Bronson, President and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, moderated the panel, which included Mari Faines, Partner for Mobilization at Global Zero; Lily Wojtowicz, Janne E. Nolan Nuclear Security Fellow at the Truman Center; and Kevin Bustamante, a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame.
Bronson started the discussion with a short summary of the history of nuclear security policy, which remained relatively stagnant for several decades. Until recently, assumptions and parameters that were true during the Cold War remained in effect, though they had outlived their utility. Today, however, we are living in a “Wild West of national security,” as increasingly turbulent international relationships threaten the previously stable status quo. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has dramatically heightened tensions: Russia’s actions violated norms of international diplomacy, increased the relevance of NATO, and precipitated the use of advanced weaponry on the battlefield.
Wojtowicz explained that recent events have inspired new conversations about nuclear security and questions about how to deter nuclear powers like Russia from invading sovereign states. Although Ukraine is not a part of NATO, Russia’s invasion still creates uncertainty about the United States’ capacity to defend its European and Asian allies. Younger generations have limited experience with these sorts of military conflicts, she said, and in the face of other, existential issues like climate change, can feel powerless to make a difference.
Bustamante explained that situations such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine involve many parties and are far more than a dialogue between two powers, the US and Russia. While the Cold War was largely framed as a two-sided conflict, nuclear weapons are now in the hands of multiple actors, making nuclear security an issue of global importance. Countries such as Pakistan, India, and China, which were previously sidelined in conversations about disarmament and proliferation, now have sizable nuclear arsenals of their own and must be incorporated into any dialogue on nuclear security.
Faines, whose mobilization and activist work at Global Zero aims for complete disarmament, made the case that nuclear weapons are deeply interlinked with other issues of global importance, like climate change and racial equity. The detonation of a nuclear bomb or an uninhibited arms race can significantly affect the environment and public welfare and would disproportionately impact disenfranchised individuals, who lack the resources to voice their opinions on nuclear policy. This makes it crucial to bring many diverse perspectives to discussions about nuclear security, so that the field is not captured by elites. The human aspect to weapons–the possible effect nuclear bombs could have on people–is too often erased from the conversation.
All panelists agreed that the field of nuclear security can improve by incorporating a more diverse array of voices. Far too many people are impacted by nuclear weapons to continue the same closed-off conversations that have dictated nuclear security policy for much of its history. Having conversations such as this panel, Faines noted, is important to making the topic not feel untouchable to people not previously involved. By respecting both the lived experiences of people and the expertise of policy specialists, Americans can help craft more effective solutions for a safer tomorrow.