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Nuclear Diplomacy: Past, Present and Future

From 9th to11th of November 2018, a Nuclear Diplomacies workshop, supported by UNESCO and InsSciDE, was held in Sokendai, Japan. Maria Rentezi, a professor at the National Technical University of Greece, and leader of InsSciDE’s Work Package 6, was the co-organiser of the workshop along with Kenji Ito, professor at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies, Japan. Casimiro Vizzini, from the Division of Science Policy and Capacity Building at UNESCO, and Work Package 9 leader, attended, with several other members of the InsSciDE Project.

During the workshop, a number of speakers presented their work and were engaged in discussions surrounding the importance, benefits, and challenges of nuclear diplomacy today, in the post-Cold War world. Diplomats and scientists reminded attendees how international relations play even more significant roles in shaping science and technology more than ever before, highlighting the role of diplomacy in resolving political conflicts among nations with an emphasis on those dealing with nuclear energy and military programmes.

Professor Maria Rentetzi presented on the history of nuclear diplomacy, the ways nuclear science and diplomacy have been co-constructed over time and the importance of nuclear diplomacy for the future. Based on the notion of nuclear security, discussants explored the profound transformation of nuclear diplomacy. Since World War 2, events such as the Chernobyl incident have played a role in EU discourses and practices that have transformed nuclear diplomacy from a tool that achieves peace and prosperity to one that accomplishes nuclear security.

Rentezi argued that it is too simplistic to assume that nuclear science and technology are tools used in bilateral agreements and are controlled by super powers, in order to restrain nations and maintain the Cold War geopolitical order. Rather, as Rentetzi highlighted, the shaping of nuclear science and the fashioning of certain nuclear technologies should be conceived as responses to, and guiding forces of the kind of multinational, multilateral diplomatic negotiations that took place within the IAEA.

In conclusion, arguing for the key role of international organizations such as the IAEA in shaping nuclear diplomacy, Rentetzi suggested that what is currently lacking is a systematic examination of the historical development of the UN system of international organisations and related agencies, of their impact on international affairs, and of the ways they have embraced science diplomacy throughout the second half of the 29th century. Nuclear diplomacy demands profound transformations of our historiographies in many axes - we are only just starting to take up the challenge of exploring the power of nuclear diplomacy in our nuclear histories and beyond.

Casimiro Vizzini demonstrated UNESCO’s role in Science Diplomacy in general, and nuclear diplomacy more specifically. UNESCO’s policy on Science Diplomacy is built upon three comparative advantages: Legitimacy, Credibility, and Universality. Since its inception in 1945, UNESCO through its mandate in education, the sciences, culture, and communication has aimed to forge a culture of peace by fostering the generation and exchange of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, through international cooperation, capacity building and technical assistance to its Member States. UNESCO works to create the conditions for genuine dialogue between civilizations, cultures and peoples based upon mutual respect and respect for shared values.

The attendees of the Nuclear Diplomacy workshop addressed a central question ‘what are the characteristics that make nuclearities so specific and special in science diplomacy?’ Most of the attention was put on the benefits and risks of nuclear energy, on the peculiarities of nuclear waste. Participants equally acknowledged and questioned the vast development and contributions nuclear discoveries have offered to humanity, especially concerning nuclear energy. For example, attendees recognised in the invention of fission, the potential of nuclearities to provide an answer to many of the world’s greatest environmental issues. However, nuclear developments have also the potential to pose catastrophic risks to humanity.

Vizzini, for example, pointed out that history dictates how nuclear particularities are at the heart of society in the most profound way, by recognising that nuclear proliferation characterised the world during the Cold War period and continues to dominate international politics today. The use of nuclear advancements in a military context continue to dominate at large international negotiations, as in the case of the Iranian Nuclear Deal, and North Korean proliferation threats. Events such as the Hiroshima bombing and the Chernobyl disaster further justify the pressing need to adopt international controllability measures to prevent such catastrophic incidents from reoccurring. The history of nuclear particularities therefore proves the central role nuclear diplomacy plays in science diplomacy.

In this sense, nuclear particularities present both large rewards, and large risks. As the stakes continue to grow, workshop participants reminded us how deeply political nuclearities are, and how nuclear diplomacy is more crucial than ever. They recognised how the settings of negotiation determine the future of issues such as nuclear waste, radiation, distributive extractives, and fission. While these nuclear particularities can reap large rewards, they also bear large risks; therefore, sites of negotiation become essential to ensure a conceit of controllability and representation.

Professor Clara Florensa, from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, demonstrated just how big a role politics play in nuclearities, by presenting a case study of the 1996 Palomares H-Bomb incident. After four U.S nuclear bombs fell on the small Spanish coastal town of Palomares, following the collision of two US Air Force planes, the town was deemed by many scientists as highly radioactive. However, due to the strategic political relationship between the U.S and Spain under the Franco dictatorship, Spanish Ministers and U.S ambassadors to Spain worked together on a public communication campaign. To prove that the seawater did not contain harmful radiation gas, the U.S ambassador to Spain famously bathed in the water off the beach of Palomares. The message was clear: as the images made visible, there was no risk for the inhabitants of Palomares related to radioactive contamination.

Florensa discussed how the case of Palomares is an example of how the politics surrounding nuclear particularities can influence the ways the public perceives an issue. While several scientists were making visible the nuclear risk among their elitist forums and limited circulation, the thread of nuclear radiation was invisible to the general public. Therefore, while it is important to recognise the central role science diplomacy plays, it is equally important to recognise how threats can be manipulated by those in power, to further their own political agendas. Therefore, the need for greater cross-sectoral communication and influence, through a transparent engagement between diplomats and scientists, should be the aim for the future.

During the workshop, participants explored also the profound progress that made in creating deep-rooted relationships between states through nuclear diplomacy and international cooperation. Anna Åberg, associate professor at Chalmers Technical University, Gothenburg, and InsSciDE project member, introduced the large international cooperation around a nuclear fusion reactor called ITER, which involved the EU and Japan. Åberg pointed out that ITER, is one of the largest scientific cooperation’s in the world today, which involves over 35 countries. Diplomacy and negotiation are at the heart of this process on all levels, from top politicians signing agreements, to the work site where German welders welder parts under Indian supervisor following French nuclear safety protocols.

Dr. Matthew Adamson, from the McDaniel College, Budapest, also highlighted the centrality of negotiation and diplomacy inherent in nuclear developments, using the case of the Moroccan TRIGA Mk I research reactor. Drawing on the role of international organisations, Adamson considered how the IAEA-supervised nuclear safeguards are instrumentalised not only by major powers aiming to neutralize national nuclear trajectories before they lead to weapons programmes and proliferation, but also by developing countries with regional ambitions aiming to present evidence of their alignment with those major powers. Similarly, Associate Professor Barbara Curli, from the University of Turin, highlighted how science diplomacy practices of cooperation/competition played a key role between the US, the UK and the Soviet Union on the topic of nuclear fission. Fission was used as a foreign policy tool across the iron curtain, given the undisputed Soviet leadership in the field.