Sharp changes are afoot throughout the globe. Demographics are shifting, technology is advancing at unprecedented rates, and these changes are being felt everywhere. How should we develop strategies to deal with this emerging new world? We can begin by understanding it. First, there is the changing composition of the world population, which will have a profound impact on societies. Developed countries are experiencing falling fertility rates and increasing life expectancy. As working-age populations shrink and pensions and care costs for the elderly rise, it becomes harder for governments to afford other productive investments.
The challenges posed by nuclear weapons and the potential for further nuclear proliferation cut across many of the issues we address in our project. Mixing nuclear weapons with the complex landscape of advanced conventional systems, space, and cyber explored in earlier sessions raises the possibility of escalation, perhaps by miscalculation, to nuclear use. In our roundtable discussion at Hoover on the changing risks and opportunities of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, participants lamented the lack of personal memory—in both political leadership and the general public—of the unique danger posed by nuclear weapons.
The dual nature of nuclear fission—both risk and opportunity—was recognized almost immediately after the seminal physics discoveries of the late 1930s and was articulated as a matter of policy in Eisenhower’s consequential Atoms for Peace speech in 1953. The following years and decades saw both the continued build-up of nuclear weapons arsenals, eventually reaching tens of thousands of weapons, and Western assistance to Iran, India, Pakistan, Israel, and others in starting nuclear reactor programs, often with the supply of high-enriched uranium (HEU) for fuel. The irony of having U.S.-supplied weapons-useable material in HEU fuel sitting in Tehran even today is not lost on many participants in the non-proliferation dialogue.
I find it distasteful when people quote themselves, so let me quote three other people. And those people would be George Shultz, Bill Perry, and Henry Kissinger. These were the words they used 12 years ago, in the Wall Street Journal, “Unless urgent new actions are taken, the United States soon will be compelled to enter into a new nuclear era, that will be more precarious, psychologically disorientating, and economically more costly than was the Cold War deterrence.”
The competitive and often antagonistic relationships between China and India and between India and Pakistan have deep historical roots that predate their possession of nuclear weaponry. The Indo-Pakistani rivalry dates back to 1947 when both emerged as newly independent states from the erstwhile British Raj in the Indian subcontinent.[i]