Thursday, April 17, 2008

Zia Mian on "Think[ing] outside the Bomb"

I attended the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Think Outside the Bomb conference this past weekend in Washington, D.C. and had the chance to hear keynote speaker and panelist Zia Mian, Princeton physicist and director of the Project on Peace and Security in South Asia.

With Mian's not-so-subtle nudges for those in attendance to question the "bigger picture" (including the capitalist and nation-state systems themselves) and framework through which we view nuclear issues, I felt like I was thrown back into my undergraduate days with my own professors who did the same.

A few of Mian's - somewhat provocative (and all para-phrased) - comments I wanted to share:

  • Third world countries emerged from colonization into a world with nuclear weapons. It's hard for them and for the current generation of young adults (and those younger) to conceive of a world where these weapons do not exist.
  • The idea of the bomb is a "generational mindset" among youth today. Example: In many Pakistani books that teach children how read, the picture associated with the letter "A" is a mushroom cloud.
  • The "logic of the bomb" predates the use of the bomb itself. It was set in place by WWII through the emergence of strategic bombing, the deliberate use of technology for the mass destruction of cities and killing of civilians, with the involvement of governments and corporations.
  • We have a new trend of nuclear abolitionists (think Kissinger) in the United States. The hard part now may be in convincing the rest of the world that they should give up nuclear weapons just as many of them are beginning to acquire them. [In a world in which conventional warfare with the U.S. must be seen as asymmetrical warfare, given U.S. levels of military expenditures, nuclear weapons are a way for other countries to "compete."]
During the Q&A, Mian answered questions on the abolition movement:

It's a mistake to be an "anti-nuclear movement." He always thought it was silly to be a movement against a thing and ineffective to build those movements on fear. It's important for movements to present themselves first on the basis of the values they represent. He referenced the Kantian idea of peace defined by a quality of justice, not by the absence of war or violence.

If anti-nuclear peace movements focus solely on the idea of getting rid of nuclear bombs, the "logic of the bomb" still remains. These ideas need to be connected through a narrative that addresses what nuclear weapons mean to a nation beyond national security.

Whether you agree or disagree, some thoughts to ponder if you have some pondering time.


curtosis said...

Very thought provoking. Any idea if/when/where the keynote will be available to read or hear in full?

Katie Mounts said...

Absolutely. As far as I'm aware, a transcript of the keynote isn't available, but I checked CSPAN's website (CSPAN aired the conference's keynote and first panel on April 14), and video is available there.