“The risk that a nuclear weapon is used is higher than at any point since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Ernest J. Moniz, a keynote speaker at Hamilton Lugar’s “America’s Role in the World” conference last Friday, did not mince words, and when he delivered his address to his eager audience last week, a definite chill swept the room.
Moniz has led an interesting career indeed. He’s spent a good amount of his career at MIT, and even served as the director of IU’s old cyclotron, which until its decommission in 2010 was one of the major nuclear research facilities in the United States. Most notably, however, was his service as Secretary of Energy during Obama’s second term, where, among other things, he oversaw one of the world’s most powerful forces: America’s nukes.
The world we live in, while very different than it was during the intense height of the Cold War, is beginning to show frightening signs of relapse. Recent headlines have been dominated by Russia’s continuous “war games” with Ukraine and NATO, and their increased military deployments abroad threatens the United States’ international power; the fresh Russian troops in Venezuela are the most recent example. Revived talks of Russian collusion and sabotage in the 2016 election is the stuff of a Cold War KGB novel, and the list goes on…
The difference between then and now, Moniz says, is the lack of will and space between the United States and Russia to resolve their problems diplomatically.
“Working groups that, frankly, roll up their sleeves and work hard at solving problems the way we used to during the Cold War…they just don’t exist.” He said. “There is no political space for anyone who wants to have constructive dialogue with Russia to do so.”
With tensions ever growing between the two global powers, this lack of cohesion is a deep cause for concern. Why don’t the two most powerful militaries in the world have more basic levels of communication? Or, if not at the military or executive levels, why not at the diplomatic one? As Moniz pointed out, the foundations of peace between our two countries are showing cracks, and as the United States continues to use sanctions against Russia to avoid addressing our issues head-on, the foundation may all but crumble – a very troubling thought as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is set to expire in 2021.
So, how does he propose we change course?
To start, he firmly addressed the importance of reviving bipartisan senate control over our nuclear arsenal. Additionally, he recommends working more closely with Russia to dismantle the strategic nuclear weapons in the former Soviet republics across Central Asia. This would minimize terror threats and serve as a stepping-stone to reduce the number of nuclear weapons globally. Finally, Moniz made an urgent plea to stop using sanctions “willy-nilly” to respond to Russian policy we don’t agree with. Doing this, he suggests, will not only make dealing with Russia more difficult in the future, but it may also have negative effects on our economic relationships abroad.
“We are playing with the basic pillars of our geopolitical strength,” he said.
While I don’t think you need to start running “duck-and-cover” drills anytime soon, Moniz’s warnings about our political situation’s trajectory are concerning. With new and more daunting threats facing our planet each day, the last thing we need is a diplomatic breakdown between two of the world’s most powerful countries and heightened risk of nuclear conflict.