March 17, 2016
Guest blog by Alexandra Van Dine
As leaders around the world prepare for the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit, there is one big question on everyone’s mind: What comes next?
Most nuclear security experts are focused on the next couple of years, asking how to sustain international attention on the need to prevent catastrophic nuclear or radiological terrorism in the absence of biennial head-of-state meetings.
What I wonder is what happens not in two years but in 10 or 20—or 24,000, which is the half-life of Pu-239—weapon-grade plutonium. The stubborn permanence of these materials is cause for worry, especially where our security and our environment are concerned. Like it or not, the problem of managing, reducing, and eliminating the nearly 2,000 metric tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium around the world will fall to my generation.
That’s why young people must be involved in this conversation, and we have to make ourselves heard now, at this Summit. It will be up to us to do what we can to eliminate or secure these 2,000 metric tons of fissile materials. This will require developing creative technical solutions, engaging in innovative diplomacy, and working together across borders to formulate a global solution to this very global problem. After all, a lapse resulting in the theft of nuclear material or sabotage of nuclear facilities in one country would have consequences—both for the environment and global security—that would reverberate around the world.
The Summit process has involved the younger generation before, with delegations from the Young Diplomats of Canada and the Young European Leaders attending the Nuclear Knowledge Summit in 2014, where they met with government officials and discussed pressing nuclear security concerns with other young leaders. In the United States, the Obama administration has spotlighted the importance of youth involvement in this issue with the annual Generation Prague conference hosted by the U.S. State Department.
Given the 2016 Summit’s particular focus on sustainability and the urgent need to lock down vulnerable materials, our voice is more important now than ever.
In a speech to young people at the United Nations, NTI Vice Chairman Des Browne underscored the importance of youth involvement in nuclear issues. He said, “[Y]our generation will shoulder the burden and the responsibility for making progress on some of the most intractable problems the world has ever faced.”
Many of the problems up for discussion at the Nuclear Security Summit—such as creating a common set of international standards and best practices for nuclear security, developing a mechanism for holding states with lax security accountable, and setting up a comprehensive global system that covers all (not just civilian) nuclear materials—certainly seem intractable. Solving these problems will require the best and the brightest from the technical and diplomatic communities, now and in the future, to step up and get involved.
Lord Browne expressed optimism that the “dedication of young people to this work” will motivate more—and faster—progress. I share his optimism about the talent and passion of our generation—but the fact remains that we need more leaders like him to create the conditions now that we will need to succeed in this mission in the future. Let’s tell leaders that we are watching—that we understand that decisions made at this Summit directly impact our ability to affect change in the future. This is the perfect time to begin a dialogue between current and future leaders so that our generation is prepared for the work ahead of us.
How can we do this? Blog. Tweet. Write. Speak. You don’t even need to know the answers (yet), just ask questions. Use #NSS2016 so the leaders of the Summit can hear your voice and see that you care about the legacy of these materials. Ultimately, our generation will be responsible for developing solutions to these “intractable” problems. It’s time to speak up.
Alexandra Van Dine is a 2014 graduate of Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a program associate with NTI’s Scientific and Technical Affairs team. She is a former Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @allie_vandine