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A Virtual Exploration: The Future of Nuclear Security

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

Written by Sharon Zheng

We launched the first iteration of our online Q & A sessions last week and it was met with resounding success! On May 14th, the UNA-YP invited Ambassador Alexander Kmentt (Director of the Department for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation at the Austrian Ministry or Foreign Affairs) to impart his knowledge and perspective on "The Future of Nuclear Security"; a stimulating topic that conjoins the past, the present, and the future.


Ambassador Kmentt, an Austrian diplomat by profession, explained his primary work around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, as well as the diplomatic processes involved in arms control. He prefaced the discussion by establishing a clear distinction between the different types of security threats, such as by illustrating how nuclear weapons are ineffective in battling a pandemic due to their divergence in focus. More specifically, he alluded to a study from Oxford University that identified the three main global, existential risks as climate change, pandemics, and nuclear war, and further emphasised the need to independently and critically choose the best means to address each of them. Using COVID-19 (and PPE) as an example, Ambassador Kmentt underscored the importance of resource allocation in effectively confronting threats. We, the human species, are interconnected in a myriad of ways and cooperation is therefore essential. Ambassador Kmentt echoed this sentiment by bringing into conversation the discrepancy between the security approach of particularist states and of the more internationalist ones, and how the gap must be bridged closed.


One of our participants raised an insightful question about how one can break the deadlock between countries with nuclear weapons and countries without. Ambassador Kmentt urged the audience to analyse the wider implications (not just the immediate consequences) of nuclear weapons, as well as the associated political conclusions and risks. He explained the need to establish a threshold (as in a stage at which calculations of nuclear deterrence no longer hold substance), yet raised the concern that nuclear weapons may often be unable to make that contextual switch. Correlating this discussion to the security value of nuclear weapons, Ambassador Kmentt suggested that the only way to overcome the clash of national and international nuclear security issues is to enact a critical assessment on the sustainability of nuclear deterrence, especially given that countries in possession of weapons continue to view them as a national security concern. Given that the world has transitioned from the dichotomy of two major superpowers to a broader mix of countries deterring one another, this security concept has grown increasingly precarious and thus, it is crucial to approach it openly and multilaterally. Ambassador Kmentt further points out the negative externalities imposed on the rest of the world; the innocent bystanders subjected to the rippling consequences of potential local nuclear wars. Contrasting the views of countries who own nuclear weapons, such an audience would rather have the topic of nuclear weapons to be entertained on a global, collective scale, similar to the vein of climate change, human rights, and COVID-19.


Continuing on, Ambassador Kmentt discussed the mutually reinforcing nature of threat perceptions, as states often rely on each other to justify their individual stances. He furthermore connects the implementation of broader discussion, to a reform in the Security Council (or rather, dialogue), as it removes discourse from small expert circles and instead, brings it to the wider public. According to Ambassador Kmentt, the restructuring of the dialogue surrounding nuclear weapons is ultimately how one can cultivate real change.

For all aspiring diplomats, Ambassador Kmentt has suggested some invaluable advice. Some recommended points of entry into the diplomatic field include working at NGOs and enrolling in specialized postgraduate courses. With experience from the above, one is better primed to break into the realm of think tanks and academia. He further recommends the “UN track”, which could involve interning at the International Atomic Energy Agency or partaking in junior professional programmes - where one is able to work alongside experts, albeit on limited contracts. While the field of nuclear security is generally limited in terms of employment, there are definitely several avenues to explore and to make your mark in the industry.

If you’d like to hear more about our discussion with Ambassador Kmentt, the Q&A is available for you to watch and learn about further topics, such as the influence of political leaders, Ambassador Kmentt’s career trajectory, and more.


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Stay tuned!

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