Global Zero conference discusses nuclear disarmament

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Photo by Harry Simperingham.

Over the weekend, Yale played host to an international summit of students, activists and experts who gathered to discuss nuclear disarmament.

The Global Zero Summit, called “Reaching Zero: Student Summit at Yale 2012,” held a two-day discussion about the elimination of nuclear weapons, which included panels featuring prominent speakers, film screenings on Old Campus and discussions among the participants. In organizing this weekend’s events, Harrison Monsky ’13 and Matt Shafer ’13 collaborated with Global Zero, an nonprofit anti-nuclear weapons advocacy organization that includes 300 world leaders and more than 450,000 citizens worldwide. While many attendees said the conference bolstered their optimism that a nuclear weapon-free future is feasible, some said they thought the conference overlooked some critical elements of nuclear disarmament.

“The summit was a huge success,” Monsky said. “In all, we hosted 300 students — three times the number of attendees than we originally expected. We were also happy to see a strong showing from members of the New Haven community outside of Yale.”

Matt Brown LAW ’01, who founded Global Zero with Bruce Blair SOM ’84, highlighted the significance of ongoing changes in the geopolitical landscape. He said various factors — such as fiscal crises and upcoming elections in major nuclear powers — will converge to create the best opportunity since the end of Cold War to get world leaders together to address disarmament.

Hans Blix, former Swedish foreign minister and one of the summit’s most high-profile speakers, emphasized the crucial role of universities in proposing approaches to eliminating nuclear weapons. He called universities the ultimate think tanks because they are centers of critical thinking and dynamic examinations of international politics.

The current state of nuclear proliferation is a manifestation of politicians’ “collective incompetence to manage the world,” Blix said, adding that the strategy of mutual deterrence is obsolete.

Blix said he is optimistic, however, about the eventual success of Global Zero’s mission.

“Is there any sunshine in this scene? Yes,” Blix said. “But we do need some injection of new dynamism.”

Other speakers at the conference included Seyed Mousavian, an Iranian policymaker who has served on Iran’s nuclear diplomacy team, Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller and ex-CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

University President Richard Levin, who delivered the conference’s opening remarks, told the News Thursday night that he would continue his support for the Global Zero movement.

“This is an organization that was started by Yale graduates, and it appears to be gaining considerable momentum,” Levin said. “Yale is very pleased and proud to be able to host the very impressive list of speakers, and we’ll do our best to help them along.”

Ten summit attendees said they felt optimistic about the chances of eliminating nuclear weapons after attending the conference’s events.

Paul Mouginot, a graduate student from Paris, said he was inspired by the message that grassroots activism can bring about change.

“You don’t have to create companies to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “Likewise, you don’t have to be an ambassador to create a meaningful impact.”

Anthony White, a junior at Brown University, said that the summit inspired him to strengthen the Global Zero chapter at Brown.

For Beenish Pervaiz, a college sophomore from Lahore, Pakistan, the summit was a source of motivation and inspiration especially because, she said, many Pakistanis consider nuclear power an element of national pride.

“Coming from Pakistan which has 90 percent approval rating for nuclear weapons, I appreciate all this positive energy for this cause,” Pervaiz said.

But other attendees concluded that the conference lacked specific suggestions for future disarmament and focused too specifially on the United States. Johnny Bowman, a former president of the Harvard Undergraduate Council who graduated in 2011, said the conference did not adequately address the fundamental question of “what to do next.”

Owen Cabon, a graduate student from Paris, said he found the summit to be too focused on America. It is important to involve European nuclear powers such as France and the United Kingdom in the movement to bring about a nuclear weapon-free world, he said.

Global Zero was launched in Paris in December 2008.

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