A role for the public in nonproliferation?

Oct 17, 2018 | Olesia Gretskaia

Is the pursuit of nuclear nonproliferation exclusively a government prerogative or can average citizens engage it as well? This was the question posed at an October 4th, CISSM Global Forum featuring Sara Kutchesfahani, senior policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and a research associate at the CISSM. 

Kutchesfahani‘s presentation sparked a particularly lively discussion among the forum participants, as there was wide disagreement about the best methods of containing nuclear weapons.
On the one hand, nuclear nonproliferation is not an issue that policy makers and elected officials typically discuss with the public, Kutchesfahani noted. So it should come as no surprise that the public is less educated about nonproliferation policy than it is about human rights or environmental issues. The potentially broad impact of nuclear proliferation is another argument for keeping it as the preoccupation of government officials. 

On the other hand, “dehumanizing” nuclear issues and insulating the public from them may impede progress in controlling and reducing nuclear weapons. To the degree that public opinion directly affects international politics, and it does, it should also be part of the equation.

Then there’s the question of how the public will choose to engage these issues if given the space to do so. It is hard to predict whether an active public involvement in these matters will have precisely the expected effect. “Humanizing” the nuclear issue would make the problem more real and understandable, but an active public might easily be as motivated by fear as it would be by the need for global security.

At the very least, public participation in the nuclear issue could encourage policy makers to act in a manner that would make the world a better and a safer place to live. Kutchesfahani suggested four steps the public could take to foster this change: keep informed about nuclear weapons, keep talking and keep asking about them, be courageous to promote further nuclear nonproliferation.