The State Department is focused toward engaging youth (under 30 years of age) on nonproliferation issues as the youth of today will become tomorrow’s leaders. Given that the “Generation Prague” youth are far removed from the issues of the Cold War days and yet the threat of nuclear proliferation remains to be one of our biggest concerns, the Generation Prague conference offered an opportunity to bring together the younger generation and engage in a conversation about nonproliferation challenges and together think of practical solutions.
On the margins of the Generation Prague conference, June 4, 2012, Washington Post Columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Dead Hand, David E. Hoffman, and students from U.S. universities discuss their views on President Obama’s Prague agenda, what nuclear nonproliferation means to them and offer contemporary solutions to the proliferation-related challenges that Governments are grappling with on a daily basis.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: Here we have Casey Colczech. And he’s going to tell us what Prague means to him. Casey, please tell us what institution you’re with?
A: Well, I’m a student at the University of Puget Sound and I’m an intern at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. For me, I was born after the Cold War ended and so I think I’m part of the first generation that’s growing up just not worrying about a nuclear war, or at least the imminent threat of a nuclear war. So moving forward, I think it’s the responsibility of our generation to put together these new policies and ideas for maintaining peace throughout the world—at the nuclear level, at the non-nuclear level, but that’s becoming our generation’s responsibility because we are the first ones growing up in a non-Cold War environment.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: Thank you so much for coming to our Generation Prague Conference, and I believe you’re here all the way from Ohio. Tell us a little bit about yourself and also we would love to hear whether you think social media and new technologies could aid in arms control and nonproliferation efforts.
A: My name is Zeke Gonzales, I’m actually from Virginia but I go to Bowling Green State university of Ohio. I think one of the biggest challenges with nonproliferation and arms control is that people truly don’t understand the ramifications of what nuclear proliferation would mean for them personally. And I think one of the biggest useful things we can do for that is to use social media and outreach to teach people and to help them understand what proliferation would mean for them and for the world in general. That will help us gain traction in our own political processes to help reduce our arms and help the world reduce arms in general. That will lead to a more informed and a more peaceful world.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: That’s a fantastic answer. So would you believe the biggest challenge that is facing today’s generation is a lack of information about nuclear nonproliferation?
A: It’s not so much a lack of information, the information’s out there. What the problem is, is a lack of understanding of the present information because it’s not in terms that people normally understand. It tends to be in jargon that you only understand if you’re really within the field. So if you can bring down the discussion, and take the discussion home and make it understandable to the average person, the average man, then you could help further the discussion on a wider level.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: And what do you think is the best social media venue to do so?
A: It really depends on location. I know, for example, in America Facebook is a large social media base, however, that different from countries like Spain for example. I would say the most global would probably be Twitter. That’s evidenced in different things from an earthquake in China being heard about in San Francisco within minutes. So, you could use Twitter, and use links within Twitter to show people links that would help them understand issues that personally involve them.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: Hi Danica, thank you so much for coming all the way from California; we would love to hear more about what advice you have for future generations.
A: I’m Danica Nooly, I’m going to be a junior at the University of Southern California and I’m double majoring in international relations and psychology. When I heard that question I thought immediately about being more aware of our surroundings, because when we came here doing this program we’ve been interviewing people and we’ve been talking to different parts of the government, and I realized how much I didn’t know, even being an international relations scholar. I realized there’s a knowledge deficit between many governments and their people, and I think transparency is huge. We talked about that in many of the talks today at this conference. I realized that people need to be educated; education is the most crucial part of this and being aware of the issues that surround us, especially, we talked about how the Cold War is over, but people tend to hold on to the existing heuristics they’ve been using—policymakers and average citizens—and I think that it’s crucial for our generation to be aware that solutions we used to use don’t always apply to the problems we have today because there’s a whole new variety of threats out there.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: What are some of the threats that are of most concern to you?
A: In the last ten years there’s been the growing concern of nonstate actors and the possibility that they would acquire nuclear weapons or any kind of fissile material and use that in a negative way. The Cold War was about bipolarity and now it’s a very multipolar world and a lot of rising forces.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: Hi Rose, I'm Mahvash Siddiqui with the State Department. I wanted to ask you -- firstly introduce yourself, and let me know what you think of social media and new technologies, and whether they can aid in nonproliferation and arms control efforts.
A: I’m Rose Gauthier, I’m a student at the University of Southern California and I’m here on a class trip. I do absolutely think social media and new technologies will increase our nonproliferation efforts for a number of reasons. Mainly, I would like to focus on the idea that social media can help educate youth and the general public. We can never change things without having the consensus of the country, and the more people that are educated and know about the proliferation problems and nuclear weapons efforts and the nonproliferation treaty, the more people that know about these, the more of a chance we have at combating proliferation. So what I think we would like to see is if there’s more of a focus on the social media, then perhaps universities and professors like our own will target the youth through those efforts and with research and excitement among the youth.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: That is an excellent answer. So what is your favorite social media outlet to magnify the good work of President Obama’s Prague Agenda?
A: So far I think Twitter is extremely successful; they’ve been dropping Twitter hints and hash tags here today. It seems like it’s a good way to get a little blurb of information out there. Also, what’s helpful to me is Google Reader; it gives a nice kind of overview of different stories that allow you to click on them pretty quickly. So things like that allow you to start with a blurb and then delve deeper into the subject.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: I have the unique opportunity of interviewing Mr. David Hoffman of the Washington Post, Mr. Hoffman, what do you think is the most important lesson of the past for the Generation Prague youth?
A: Well, my research has shown in the book that I wrote that one of the big lessons of the past is to realize that in a confrontation like we had in the Cold War, both sides often times mistrust each other, and there are huge misperceptions. I think we have to guard against the idea that we know everything, or that the worst case is always true about our adversaries. We have to scrub the information about our adversaries, we have to make sure we have the best information about our adversaries, and that will help us to avoid making foolish decisions about dangerous things.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: If I may ask a follow-up question, how can you improve transparency between adversaries?
A: Well, it’s a difficult thing, because often times improving transparency means giving something to somebody, something that you have and possess, but you have to realize that if you make the information public or share it, that removes mistrust that can have a huge important effect in preventing a mistake. In some of the episodes of the Cold War we saw that decisions about weapons systems were made entirely blind. And you know, sure, it is a difficult process sometimes to open the window on something, but it also can have a much better long-term impact in avoiding an error.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: ...worked with me on the margins of the and he's flown in all the way from USC, University of Southern California. So Mike, tell us what do you think is the most important lesson of the past?
A: I’m majoring in history and economics so I’ll definitely take a historical view on this. The issue with proliferation issues, especially if you look at the past, is the nuclear arms race developed from a crisis, of course World War II, and mutual suspicion that followed. As we look to the future I’d say that, especially in post-Cold War terms, in the disarmament process we need to basically reassure all parties, not just the U.S. and Russia, which is traditionally the Cold War perspective, but we need to embark on multilateral talks between all nuclear powers. I feel that that is the new direction in the post-Cold War era, where bilateral becomes multilateral. That would probably be my biggest reflection from the past.
Mahvash Siddiqui [State Department]: Is that something that could apply to your generation well?
A: With regard to our generation, we’re very fortunate to have access and to live in this proliferation, per se, of social media and the internet. That’s very unique because anybody throughout the world who has access to the internet can basically be educated or can learn about these issues.