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June 16, 2013

Zero Nuclear Weapons -- Maybe / Maybe Not in My Lifetime
Posted by David Shorr


Like many foreign policy mavens of a certain age (i.e. from That 70s Generation), I got into this business to oppose the nuclear arms race. Thirty years later, we find ourselves living in proverbial "interesting times." Ever since President Obama's famed Prague speech, the aim of US policy is the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons, as the above video from Global Zero so poignantly reminds us. The arsenals of the two Cold War-era superpowers have been reduced significantly. Yet we've also seen so-called horizontal proliferation -- to new nuclear-armed states -- headed in the wrong direction, with the addition of the world's 9th and potentially 10th nuclear powers.

So it isn't easy to envision how we get to zero, but nonetheless important to try. In Prague the president said the goal might not be reached in his lifetime. Assuming we make it to our early-80s, though, that gives us 30 more years -- a timeframe that does seem plausible. A lot can change in three decades, as we've seen. And that's really the point: that nuclear abolition will be achieved through a sequence of changes.  

These issues came to mind recently when writing a piece for the G8 Research Group and Newsdesk Media's issues guide for the upcoming G8 summit and also in side conversations with colleagues at the ASAN Plenum conference in Seoul. In my summit piece, I framed US-Russian reductions and the challenges of North Korean / Iran as representing alternative nuclear futures. They presage the futures that were on the minds of negotiators in the late-1960s as they drafted the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Depending on how things go, we'll either move toward the disarmed world stipulated by the NPT or the ever-growing nuclear club the treaty was intended to prevent.  

As I say, the path toward zero will be marked by changes along the way. Clearly the final steps will be especially tricky; nations surrendering their last nukes will want to be quite confident that everyone else is doing likewise. On the other hand, those last disarmament steps will only come after the ground has already been laid. By the time we're dealing with the practicalities of a nuclear weapons-free world, the world will already have travelled a great distance. Consider the following as a rough sequence of steps / contingencies.

Continue reading "Zero Nuclear Weapons -- Maybe / Maybe Not in My Lifetime" »

June 13, 2013

Breaking Down the Wonk/Pundit Stovepipes
Posted by David Shorr

Oilprice logo3Recently I did a media interview with a different kind of outlet than usual: a web-based energy market newsletter called Since it was this blog that led interviewer James Stafford to my doorstep, I thought I'd complete the circle by posting substantive points from our exchange as well as some broader reflections on what foreign policy wonks and traders -- or at least economic and foreign policy -- have to do with each other.

Our main topic was the multilateralism of climate change, particularly the question of whether the regime for carbon emission reductions post-Kyoto Protocol must take the form of a legally-binding treaty. As I say in the interview, a system of pledges and peer review may be more workable and appropriate:

We’ve seen that Beijing and New Delhi are more amenable to a system of peer review for GHG reductions than a fully elaborated and codified treaty. And here in our own country, senate Republicans’ waning interest in the issue (or outright hostility) makes US ratification of any treaty uncertain at best. 

Not that shifting to a looser “pledge and review” framework would settle all the difficult issues. China and India have also put up resistance when it comes to measurement, reporting, and verification of GHG levels.  Yet these kinds of steps to monitor progress are no less important for an informal climate regime. The whole point of a peer review system would be to get on with the work of cutting emissions instead of wrangling over every word of a draft treaty.

In certain areas like nuclear disarmament, I believe in traditional black-letter conventions as much as the next multilateralist. But as I've written on this blog before, that might not be the right approach for climate change. The reasons have to do with India and China. To start with, the Kyoto agreement's glaring gap was that it placed no obligation for emission cuts on the two rising powers (a flaw that climate-shirkers in the developed world have seized on). And because of China and India's economic development and growth imperatives, they'll only be willing to go so far. Also, one of the big questions about the impact of rising powers on the international system is the anticipated shift of their role from "rule-takers" to "rule-makers." This issue might be the harbinger of that shift. 

Not that I'm breaking new ground here. Bona fide experts on energy and climate change diplomacy like CFR's Michael Levi or Joshua Busby of the LBJ School have forgotten more than... But despite the intense fight in the UNFCCC over a legally-binding agreement, it hasn't really been subject to much debate in the wider policy community.

Which brings me to the topic of the lines that divide the major areas of discourse and policy in international affairs. We tend to think of stovepiping as an inter-agency process problem, with parts of the bureaucracy too focused on their patches of turf to see the big picture or produce smart policy. But lately I've wondered about the relationship between larger policy realms and professional specializations such as economic, foreign, social, or security policy. Is there another problem stemming from too much separation of the conversations among wonks contending with the different baskets of issues? 

In my own case, I'm a foreign policy specialist who often finds himself the odd man wonk out in a crowd of economic policy types. This could mean two things. Either I'm at the vanguard of a new convergence between economic and political affairs, or I've wandered off from my own herd and ended up in another. I'd like to think it's the former -- that the dividing lines have shifted, or blurred at any rate. So then, what's wrong with the standard ways of categorizing and deliberating the substance of international policy? 

Continue reading "Breaking Down the Wonk/Pundit Stovepipes" »

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