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Ms Ashley Müller: Welcome to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy Podcast. I’m Ashley Muller. This week’s episode explores some of the latest global issues affecting peace, security, and international cooperation.
Ms Ashley Müller: As the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the first three atomic bomb detonations, we speak with Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He discusses the future of humanity and how to build back better.
Ms Ashley Müller: And just after the United Nations marks International Day Against Nuclear Tests, we speak with Mr Marc Finaud, Head of the Arms Proliferation topic at the GCSP and former French diplomat. He reflects on Dr ElBaradei’s insights and answers burning questions on the topic of nuclear weapons.
Ms Ashley Müller: Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, welcome to the GCSP and thank you for joining us for this interview. You were the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and [were] the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. My first question to you is: what are your thoughts on international peace and security issues today?
Dr Mohamed ElBaradei: Well, I think we are in a very critical time in our history, because we have the old system, which is the creation of after the Second World War, is pretty much gone. And we do not have yet a new system in its place. So, we are going through a transition. We haven't yet agreed on even the outline of the new system. And that's a dangerous situation. It’s a situation full of confusion, full of angst, full of uncertainty and that the sooner we get to agree on how the new system that fits the new reality, a globalized world, the different role of technology in our world, the sooner we get into a new system of governance, at the national level and at the international level, the better for all of us. Right now, we have to cross our fingers that something doesn't go wrong in this period of confusion.
Ms Ashley Müller: As [former] Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, what are you thoughts on nuclear weapons?
Dr Mohamed ElBaradei: I think this is a real danger that we are facing: the nuclear threat. We continue to live in a world marred or tainted by the existence of nuclear weapons. We have 2000 nuclear weapons on alert, which means that they are ready to be promptly launched, as they call it, which means that the US president or the Russian president will have seven to eight minutes to respond to a reported nuclear attack, which could be miscalculation, which could be a computer error. So, we live in a very precarious situation when a nuclear weapon could be launched, and if we have nuclear weapons launch, but how the impact of this, how the other party would react, we'd go into a nuclear war. We understand, of course, the impact of nuclear war: it is self-destruction, basically, of the whole world or at least a good chunk of our world. We have to move beyond this system of nuclear deterrence, which was a brainchild of the Second World War of the 40s. We're now the 21st century and we need to figure out a better system of security that is more inclusive, that is equitable, that does not depend on nuclear weapons. Depending on nuclear weapons is a doctrine that is not sustainable. That is dangerous. That is not immune from human fallibility. And, of course, terrorist extremists, how long would it take them before they get their hand on a nuclear weapon? And if they do, they will simply use it? I mean, they have no return address. They don't have a deterrence in their mind. Everybody agrees that this is not what we should have. Everybody who was at the heart of Cold War is experienced, and yet we are not yet able to move. I was saying here at this Centre that the work is cut for you: really we talk, we complain, but we need creative ideas. What is the alternative in our security system? A security system that does not depend on nuclear weapons. How do we get out of poverty? Why do we have two million people living under the poverty level today, which is unconscionable and unacceptable because we have enough resources to feed everybody. How can we use the technology, the new technology to get us together, the togetherness rather than keep us apart right now? We live like in a tribal system. If you're not from my tribe, I don't really care very much about whether you die in the Mediterranean drowning or you get shot in Afghanistan. What we need to understand in this kind of world new reality. We are all going to succeed together, or we are all going to fail one after the other. The idea that some of us will succeed and the others will fail is not is not at all true: it is not a zero-sum game. So, we change our mindset. And your centre here is uniquely qualified to come with new ideas, creativity, because the most important to me is to get people to change their mindset to understand that we are one human race, we need to support each other. We need to work with each other, we need to help each other irrespective of all the superficial differences of religion, colour, language, these are all superficial differences that at the end of the day, at the core, don't really make any difference. We all share one thing, humanity and I hope this is our salvation. To my mind, to feel human and to share that sense of humanity with every individual on the face of the earth.
Ms Ashley Müller: As a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, what is your advice to future generations?
Dr Mohamed ElBaradei: To move out of the current system, the younger generation as a whole, frankly, is the future. I have a lot of hope in the younger generation: they think differently, they have different cultures, their music is different, their way of interacting is different. They don't see these horrible barriers between us, colour, language, race, what have you. I have a lot of faith when I see my children or even better my grandchildren. They are colour-blind, they are race blind, they are religion blind. They know each other as friends, as people, they speak in a different way, they don't think of ever going killing each other. They believe that there is nothing I should kill for, I fight for values, but I would never go out of my way to kill somebody. So, the concept of wars, the concept of violence is not in their mind. But they feel they are being marginalized. They feel that they're not being listened to. And I think the time for them now is to organize and tell the older generation: “Thank you and goodbye”. We haven't really done very much to them. Maybe we have done as much as we can. But we need a different way of thinking, we need a different culture. We need a different human interaction. And I think that is the younger generation to me, I always tell the story of my seven-year old granddaughter, whom I took to the park and when she asked me a question, I gave her an evasive answer, because I didn't really know the answer and she stopped in the middle of the park, she looked at me in the eyes with full confidence, and she said: “I want that answer right now”. And at that moment, I realized it's time for them to take over.
Ms Ashley Müller: Thank you Dr ElBaradei.
Ms Ashley Müller: Welcome Marc Finaud, Head of Arms Proliferation at the GCSP. Thank you for joining us here today. After listening to Dr Elbaradei’s insights, I am curious to hear your thoughts. My first question to you is, is the risk of nuclear war real?
Mr Marc Finaud: Yes, and I'm not the only one saying this. This has been a recurrent assessment that has been made in the past decade or so. It's based on a series of facts or factors: the new type of world that we live in, a globalised world with many more actors than there used to be during the Cold War. And some of these actors of course, now have nuclear weapons. The second factor is the change of doctrine or concept of nuclear deterrence, which was applied during the Cold War with a sort of balance of terror. Despite the huge numbers of nuclear weapons, there was this concern that a nuclear war should never be started because it could never be won, and therefore, everything was done to prevent this from happening. And now we are in a situation where you see changes in doctrines with acceptance of nuclear war at a lower threshold. In the United States, for instance, that's the Trump doctrine or in countries like Pakistan, which consider that nuclear weapons are in a sense weapons like any others and therefore they can be used in any form of conflict or battle at a very early stage, and there is even confusion about the actual meaning of these doctrines. So, the Americans think that the Russians want to escalate to de-escalate. And the Russians, of course, deny that this is the case. So, there are a number of misconceptions about the cases in which nuclear weapons could be used. And third factor is also a major evolution in technology, in the types of weapons. In the past we had mostly bombers that could be easily intercepted or missiles which were not very accurate and were very slow. Now, there's more and more reliance on a sort of panoply of nuclear weapons which are more usable like cruise missiles, which are more difficult to detect, or hypersonic missiles, which are impossible to detect because they are so fast and manoeuverable, more precise. And then you have, of course, the whole complex of other factors such as reliance on artificial intelligence, new technologies or cyberattacks, which also could make the use of nuclear weapons happen even if it’s not intended, accidental or unauthorized or even hijacked by terrorist groups or criminal groups. So, all these factors have increased the risk and lowered the threshold of use of nuclear weapons. And of course, the last factor is the conflict situations, when you see countries like India and Pakistan, which are in a permanent state of war and threaten each other with the use of nuclear weapons in a sort of trivial way, again, making this a likelihood that was never even thought of during the Cold War. So, all these factors contribute to this conviction by many people, including experts or high-level officials or former leaders, ministers, presidents, that have been part of the system during the Cold War that now say the risk of nuclear war is higher now than it has ever been.
Ms Ashley Müller: The world recently marked 75 years since the first atomic detonations, you recently wrote an article on the GCSP website discussing this. How is this different from 75 years ago?
Mr Marc Finaud: When the United States tested its first nuclear weapon in 1945, before using it against Japan, well, obviously it had a monopoly. And then, when the Cold War started, this arms race started: the Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons and then the United Kingdom and China and France and then later Israel, North Korea, India, Pakistan. We even had countries, when the Soviet Union broke up, like Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, that inherited the Soviet weapons and had to negotiate their transfers or their elimination. And we had the case of South Africa, which is the only case when a country had acquired nuclear weapons and then decided to give them up and relinquish them unilaterally. So overall, we had a doubling of the numbers of so-called nuclear-weapon states recognized by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, from five to 10, which shows the limits of success of this treaty. It could have been worse but again it shows that he has not completely succeeded. So that's a major change in the number of actors, including some, I would say not necessarily rational actors or actors that could be led in a conflict situation to desperate solutions, the desperate use of nuclear weapons. So that increases this idea of instability and risk.
Ms Ashley Müller: You mentioned a list of countries who were prominent 75 years ago, but who are the main actors at play today?
Mr Marc Finaud: Well, of course, we have seen what are called proliferation crises or attempts by some states to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. Israel has done it quietly and still doesn't admit that it has nuclear weapons, but it's taken for granted that it has. So it's part of a sort of opacity for deterrence. And then you had the case of Iran, which again, was tempted to start making nuclear weapons in response, not so much to Israel, but to Iraq, which, under Saddam Hussein, had an advanced nuclear weapons programme. When that programme was dismantled by the United Nations after the end of the first Gulf War, obviously Iran changed its mind and gave up this decision because he didn't have any real motive. And that was enshrined into a multilateral agreement, the “Iran Nuclear Deal” or JCPOA, that was negotiated with the international community, the Permanent Members of the Security Council plus Germany and the European Union. So, it was a multilateral approach to the regional proliferation crisis. This was attempted with North Korea, but it failed. And the unilateral or bilateral approach by the Trump administration also failed. But it seems that, again, based on the Iran example, that this would be the best solution: a multilateral approach with several stakeholders and possible compensations or guarantees. Because the only solution, when you deal with such a crisis, is not sanctions, isolation, maximum pressure, it's a win-win agreement, which is an incentive for the state that has developed nuclear weapons to give them up in exchange for some security guarantees, or at least creating more confidence that it will not be attacked, and therefore it will not need any nuclear weapons to defend itself.
Ms Ashley Müller: My final question to you is: does the threat of nuclear weapons ensure our security?
Mr Marc Finaud: Well, this is a belief that states that possess nuclear weapons have. Also, this belief is shared by some of the countries which are under what is called a nuclear umbrella or extended deterrence. And it's a belief, it's a bet that it will work. And it's quite dangerous, I would say risky, to believe and to affirm that your own security is based on the idea that the potential opponent will be so scared of your retaliation in case of attack or aggression, that this enemy will not conduct this aggression. Because it is all based on rational calculation, assessment of cost and risk. And, again, we're not sure; we don't have any guarantee that this will work. You know that the main argument of the proponents of nuclear deterrence is that it has worked; it has prevented any World War III or major confrontation between the nuclear-armed states. Well, this is impossible to prove, obviously, you cannot prove the negative. There may be many other reasons why no major war has occurred. And, in fact, nuclear weapons have not prevented all types of wars, as we can see, including indirect wars, proxy wars between nuclear powers, attacks by non-nuclear countries against nuclear powers, against Israel, against the UK by Argentina, even between Russia and China, or India and Pakistan. So, again, there's no guarantee that this will work. If you add this uncertainty to the risk that these weapons can be used, even unintentionally, accidentally, or by any misperception, misconception, misunderstanding, escalation from conventional conflict, there is this expression “to blunder into nuclear war”. This has been used by some of the so-called realists that now oppose nuclear weapons like Kissinger, Schultz, William Perry, Gorbachev, etc. So, that's the main reason why a large majority of countries in the world and populations within nuclear-weapon states now consider that the only solution is to abolish these weapons before they eliminate us.
Ms Ashley Müller: That's all we have now for today's episode. Thank you to Mr Marc Finaud along with Dr Mohamed ElBaradei. Listen to us again next week to hear all the latest insights on international peace and security and don’t forget to subscribe to us on Apple iTunes, follow us on Spotify and SoundCloud. Bye for now.
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