Bomb School

How one little-noticed outcome of Obama's Nuclear Security Summit -- a new commitment to nuclear education and training -- could change the world.

During his luncheon remarks at U.S. President Barack Obama's Nuclear Security Summit last week, Yukiya Amano, the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is said to have emphasized the important educational dimension of his agency's work. This emphasis might be expected given his past service as Japan's leading Foreign Ministry expert on disarmament and nonproliferation education.

More surprising was the degree to which the summit communiqué (and work plan for its implementation) also highlighted the role of education, training, and capacity-building as tools to forestall nuclear terrorism and foster a nuclear security culture. Although this issue is not a headline-grabber (it was ignored by the media and largely overlooked by summit critics and supporters alike), it represents the most novel and potentially significant long-term product of last week's meeting. As the summit leaders appear to recognize, absent greater attention to the "human factor," more guards, guns, and gates will have little effect in securing and safeguarding the enormous stocks of fissile material scattered around the world.

One reason why education has remained an underutilized tool for promoting nuclear security and nonproliferation is that national governments and international organizations have tended to fixate on quick solutions to immediate crises rather than invest in longer-term educational programs. Consequently, one is hard-pressed to find high schools in the United States or elsewhere that provide any courses (or even components of courses) on nuclear security and nonproliferation topics. Regrettably, the situation is not much better at the undergraduate or graduate university level, and remarkably few colleges and universities offer courses that enable students to study the subject about which Obama, America's professor in chief, lectured his fellow heads of state last week.

In short, at a time when the leaders of the world appear to recognize the need for new thinking about nuclear dangers, there are few venues for training the next generation of specialists or even introducing our future leaders to the subject. The Nuclear Security Summit provided a much-needed clarion call to action, but was imprecise about what needs to be done.

Using education and training as a tool to promote nuclear security entails a combination of traditional and innovative teaching techniques to convey information and enhance analytical thinking. So-called active learning pedagogical approaches, such as simulations and role-playing exercises, have proved themselves as particularly effective means to encourage "thinking with the eyes of others" and to convey and hone practical skills to future nuclear analysts and policymakers. In fact, current U.S. national security officials also would profit from the opportunity periodically to switch roles in a simulation context and, at least for a short time, view the problems of international peace and security from the vantage point of an adversary or reluctant ally. Given the lack of current activity at the long-stalled Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, ostensibly the principal negotiating forum for multilateral arms-control negotiations, it might be an ideal venue for such a simulation.

A very important educational supplement to formal classroom training is on-the-job training, which may be undertaken at research centers, national nuclear laboratories, government agencies, international organizations, and NGOs with responsibilities and expertise in the nuclear sector. Such training, under the mentorship of experienced professionals, will vary widely depending on the organization in question and might include such tasks as research, data collection and analysis, development of course materials, reporting on conferences and interagency meetings, and performance of routine office work. What all meaningful on-the-job training programs have in common is provision of opportunities for trainees to apply their classroom knowledge to practical problems they are apt to encounter in their subsequent careers.

Today, there is a tremendous opportunity to exploit new information and communication technologies for nuclear security and nonproliferation training. These technologies facilitate the development and dissemination globally of interactive and multilingual courses and resource materials, and make it possible to bring experts anywhere in the world into the classroom in real time or be viewed by students on their laptops at their convenience.

However, a great gap currently separates national and international statements about the dangers of nuclear terrorism and the paucity of funds allocated to train the next generation of specialists on nonproliferation, including nuclear security. One useful step that could be taken to remedy this situation in the United States would be enactment of legislation that creates a National Nuclear Security and Nonproliferation Education Act. A one-time appropriation of around $50 million would provide up to 50 fellowships per year to graduate students to pursue advanced multidisciplinary training in nuclear security and nonproliferation at universities of their choice. Legislation of this sort would have the dual positive effect of attracting bright young talent to the field and encouraging more universities to offer courses on nonproliferation in order to secure tuition-paying students.

Development of a global nuclear security culture such as that envisaged by last week's summit cannot be accomplished easily or quickly. Nor will an influx of money alone solve the problem. What is required is a sustained educational effort as part of a broader strategy to build a global community of informed and dedicated specialists. This strategy has governmental, international organizational, academic, and nongovernmental components and requires for its success a partnership among representatives from each of these communities.

This partnership received a much-needed boost during the Nuclear Security Summit and the parallel meeting of representatives from the NGO and academic community, and the White House is to be congratulated for encouraging meaningful input from the nongovernmental sector. The real test, however, lies ahead. The next security summit is planned for 2012 in Seoul and will provide a benchmark against which to judge how well the Class of 2010 performed its assignments. We know Obama is an inspirational teacher. Let's hope he is also a tough grader.

Alex Wong/Getty Images


Cleggmania Rising

Britain is lucky to have a real alternative in the race for prime minister.

Here at the Nation, we like to think that all our interns go on to accomplish great things. But all the same, it's not every day that one gets compared to Winston Churchill, Barack Obama, Princess Diana, Tony Blair, and even Jesus. But with two weeks to go before Britain's general election, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (Nation intern class of 1990) is Britain's new political superstar. (Clegg, wisely and humbly, has said that any grand historical analogies are "daft.")

After stealing the show from Labour's Gordon Brown and the Conservative Party's David Cameron in Britain's first-ever televised debate on April 15, Clegg and his party have surged in the polls and media attention, creating, as one British reporter described it, "the hysterical condition known as Cleggmania." But in this case, the mania is backed up by hard facts. According to a YouGov poll for the Sun, the party is leading with, as the newspaper put it, "a staggering 33 per cent." This is the first time the Lib Dem party has been in the lead in a general-election race in 104 years.

We'd certainly love to claim that it was Clegg's internship that launched him into the political stratosphere. After all, since the Nation's internship program started in 1978, it has produced an extraordinary cohort of writers, reporters, editors, activists, and a few politicians. Labour's Ed Miliband, who was elected a member of the British Parliament in 2005 and is now secretary of state for energy and climate change, interned just a year before Clegg.

What marks Clegg as a former Nation intern is not only his dabbling in journalism, but how buoyantly he has axed the political establishment and the status quo. His strong populist message and clear articulation of people's discontent with politics as usual -- the corruption revealed by the MPs' expenses scandal and the Tories' dependence on tax-exempt billionaires; the sclerotic political system; and broken promises -- has made Clegg a feisty contender.

What gets less attention than Clegg's telegenic savvy is how the Lib Dems' surging prominence is healthy for British politics. The inclusion of a credible third-party candidate in national televised debates has shifted the campaign's dynamic and pushed Brown and Cameron to be more "radical" -- a term that has positive connotations in hidebound Britain right now. Perhaps even more importantly, by proposing alternative ideas often excluded from campaigns and debates, Clegg and party have made not-ready-for-prime-time ideas quite appealing! And because many Lib Dem policies are to the left of Labour's, it has moved the Labour Party to do some smart and left repositioning.

Clegg and his party -- which opposed the Iraq war -- are campaigning on a platform that would scrap Britain's Trident nuclear submarines, ensure the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, restore and protect civil liberties with a Freedom Bill, and make radical changes in the electoral system. (To be fair, on certain issues such as trade policy and deficit reduction, the Lib Dems are more "centrist" than Labour.)

Indeed, Clegg and his party sometimes seem to be channeling Nation editorials -- and laying out a model political platform for the left: whether it's calling for breaking up banks, chastising executives for obscene bonuses, exhorting the wealthy to pay their fair share, supporting a financial transactions tax and the closing of loopholes for the rich and polluters, or calling for investment in a sustainable and green economy.

On Tuesday, as British regulators opened a formal investigation into Goldman Sachs's London operations, Clegg called for the investment bank to be banned from doing business with the British government, pending the investigation's outcome. "They are a reminder of the recklessness and greed that have disfigured the banking industry as a whole," he stated.

The Cleggmania may yet blow over. As the Nation's British correspondent Maria Margaronis (intern class of 1983) rightly observes in the magazine's current issue, "Britain's superannuated winner-takes-all electoral system, and decades of gerrymandering favoring the two main parties, make it unlikely that the Lib Dems can win enough seats to take 10 Downing Street, even with a majority of the popular vote." (As for the United States' own superannuated electoral system, I'd humbly ask you to read my July 2008 essay, "Just Democracy," which lays out reforms Americans must make before they can achieve a viable multiparty system.)

Whatever the outcome, in these last few days we've witnessed an alternative and affirmative channeling of the anti-politics wave that is such a powerful force in Britain right now -- and in the United States. And though Clegg's personal appeal is clearly a major factor in his astonishingly fast political rise, he and the Lib Dems are playing a valuable role by bringing laser-like attention to issues that the two bigfoot parties have ignored for too long.

Some other political cultures I can think of should be so lucky.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images