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.