The third day of the “Forum of Knowledge” took place at the presidential library in Saint Petersburg on 24 September 2020. The last day of the Forum hosted two panels that discussed the evolution of the threat of nuclear war and future prospects of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) respectively.
Evolution of the Threat of Nuclear War in the Context of Growing Multipolarity
The session started with the opening speech of the panel moderator – Dr. Anastasia Malygina, associate professor at SPBU. The first speaker on the floor was Ambassador Sergey Batsanov, Retired Ambassador, Member of the Pugwash Council of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.
Ambassador Batsanov's opening remarks focused on the threat of nuclear war as he gave a short history of its evolution from the moment of the emergence of nuclear weapons until our current day. Ambassador Batsanov highlighted that the risk of a nuclear war still remains real and the fact that the doomsday clock has been moved recently, leaving only 100 seconds until the midnight supports his words.
He added that over the past 30 years the global economic and political systems have experienced dramatic acceleration, which to some extent has made some of the existing international regulatory mechanisms obsolete. Therefore, the involvement civil society in raising awareness of the problem is the crucial for the future resolution of the problem. He concluded this event is ‘a groundbreaking event.
After that, Dr. Peter Buijs (MD, Chairman of NVMP Physicians for peace, Member of IPPNW International Board) put forward the question: ‘What can the civil society do to bring the issue of nuclear weapons to the public agenda?’
His presentation reflected the position of the Dutch medical workers on the issue and their concerns about a possible nuclear war, stating that none of the medical services could ensure sufficient medical help in the case of a nuclear war, and that such a war would lead to a ‘nuclear famine’ eventually causing the deaths of around 2 billion people all over the world due to the massive crop failures. In his presentation, Dr. Buijs reflected the results of his organization’s attempts to create a strong civil society coalition and influence the Dutch government to support the UN call to eliminate the nuclear weapons. He underlined the main paradox represented by the willingness to avoid the nuclear explosions on the one hand, but to have the credible deterrence on the other. Hence, the primary goal for the future was defined as finding a way to deter rivals without the use of nuclear weapons. In his conclusion, Dr. Buijs stressed the idea that the civil society has already had a great impact on the decision-makers before, giving an example from his own experience when NVMP pushed U.S. president Ronald Raegan and the Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev to negotiate on nuclear arsenals reduction, so the aforementioned examples should become a source of inspiration for future activists at a time when civil society is stronger than ever before.
On the other hand, Dmitry Stefanovich, (researcher, Institute of World Economy & International Relations) focused on the estimate of the current state of affairs in the domain of nuclear arms control. After defining and shortly presenting the concept of multipolarity in the field, he pointed out the deterioration of global security and the lack of trust between the key actors of the international arena which prevents them from hearing one another. Stefanovich noted that what we need today is “a shift in attitude,” and only when this shift is realized we will be able to find arms control solutions.
“I must emphasize that arms control is not the end in itself, it is basically a tool of national security […] and by enhancing national security effectively you can reach greater international security,” he added. Furthermore, he stressed the idea that arms control is not only about hard measures, like treaties which were signed during and after the Cold War with thorough verification, but it is also about soft measures, like unilateral measures and unilateral or joint statements etc. Whether actors resort to hard and soft measures, emphasis will always be on the role of the universal disarmament, and according to him, one of the most crucial steps in the field can be creation of the universal regime on notifications about test launches and arsenals, giving a ground for practical cooperation. Stefanovich also tackled the issue of the role of the emerging technologies, creating the large tangled system, which is extremely hard to control, and the efficient way to do it is to increase transparency of intentions.
Petr Topychkanov (Senior Researcher, SIPRI Nuclear Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme), focused on the avoidance of nuclear risks, his comments contributed to the discussion of the civil society role and raised questions of how to reduce the aforementioned risks, how to ensure deterrence by conventional weapons and what institutes can be considered as the most efficient in terms of disarmament.
Andrey Baklitskiy (Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Security at the Insitute for International Studies of the MGIMO University, Consultant at PIR Center) stressed the idea that rebuilding confidence and trust was necessary, but that it is not an easy task on the short term. The distrust that exists between Moscow and Washington is not the same among other nuclear states, said Baklitskiy.
However, he said that full trust was not necessary actually; the bigger problem currently is the lack of interest on the part of the political elite towards nuclear arms control, or if they happen to have any interest it would be completely transnational. So, before we have this 'political interest', the focus should be on preventing the start of a nuclear war; this can be sone by maintaining transparency, communication, and dialogue.
Nadezhda Kulibaba (PhD student, Saint Petersburg State University) talked about the multi-layered dialogue played a role in the success of the discussion about nuclear threat, and the role of epistemic communities in it and the possibility to extrapolate it to the current Russian-American relations in the nuclear arms control domain.
©«New Defence Order. Strategy»
About the Library:
Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library is a unique project that combines the capabilities of a digital library and a multifunctional information centre. The Library has about 1000 remote access centres in all 85 regions of Russia and 39 centres in 30 foreign countries including Germany, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain. Furthermore, it contains digital copies of archival documents, scientific materials, periodicals, as well as audio, photo and video documents reflecting the formation and evolution of Russian statehood and the Russian language.
About the Forum
The Forum of Knowledge is an all-Russian academic and educational project annually held by the Presidential Library. This forum consists of a series of events held over several days in September each year at the central site of the Presidential Library in St. Petersburg. The event is broadcast on the library's portal and social media platforms. Video recordings of all panels are available in the digital archive of the library as well. The Forum of knowledge was organized by joint efforts of the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library and Saint Petersburg State University (SPbU) and accompanied by informational support of the New Defence Order. Strategy journal.