Guest article: Roles of key civil society actors in nuclear disarmament (part 1)

Epistemic communities in multi-track diplomacy fora

By Marzhan Nurzhan

Marzhan Nurzhan is a UNODA/OSCE Scholar for Peace and Security, and was Fellow at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Education and Research Center at the KAIST. She was also the Education/Outreach Coordinator for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s Youth Group in 2019-2020. In 2017, Nurzhan was chosen by the President of the UN General Assembly as the youth speaker for the United Nations High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament that was held that year. 

In her article, Nurzhan argues that civil society can contribute to the progress in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation beyond the realm of armchair activism, by serving in the role of experts and providing expertise both in policy and in practice-oriented actions. This is the first part of Nurzhan’s article.

The role of civil society is associated with social activism and street demonstrations demanding their voices to be heard while tackling global challenges such as climate change and nuclear weapons. However, this representation about civil society actors and non-governmental organisations is different in the context of nuclear disarmament negotiations and multi-track fora activities. This paper applies epistemic communities’ lens in order to demonstrate that civil society in the field of nuclear disarmament can serve in the role of experts and provide expertise not only in the policy related but also practice-oriented actions. The piece showcases some of the instances of track 2 diplomacy activities through citizen and science diplomacy interactions.

The first resolution of the United Nations General Assembly was adopted in 1946 and called for the abolition of nuclear arms and all other weapons of mass destruction by setting global nuclear disarmament on the international agenda. Furthermore, since the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1970, the States Parties adhere to a legal undertaking under article six “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.

According to the SIPRI Yearbook of 2021, there are currently 13,080 nuclear weapons in total possessed by nine nuclear-armed states: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). These weapons still represent a danger signifying a global challenge that humankind faces.

On January 2021, the Doomsday Clock was kept as 100 seconds to midnight indicating the closest ever point to the destruction of the planet by the outbreak of nuclear war and as a consequence of climate crisis. The first announcement of the Doomsday Clock dates back to 1947 when it was created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on the verge of a nuclear arms race between the USA and the USSR, along with the danger posed by nuclear weapons to the whole of humanity. The Bulletin`s inception was considered as an act of response and urgency to act in light of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the scientists. There was a need to inform the public about the bombings and at the same time to unite fellow scientists to tackle the threats to international security by contributing to national and international policy.

Guided by the principle of social responsibility to the dual nature of science, the roles and actions of the scientists to be a part of the discussions laid the foundation of the term “citizen scientist”. One of the most prominent examples of the actions of citizen scientists was the collaboration on a manifesto issued jointly by Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russel in 1955, which emphasized the dangers of nuclear arms and called for peaceful resolution of international conflict caused by the Cold War.

The manifesto was launched under the chairmanship of Joseph Rotblat, a nuclear physicist, who worked to develop the first atomic bomb in the framework of the Manhattan project. With a strong belief that science and research should purport peace, Rotblat assembled a group of scientists and others from the east and west blocks under the auspices of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, that he established to provide platform for dialogue on the issues of disarmament and global security. He was also recognized as a citizen scientist while being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize (1995) shared with the Pugwash movement for “their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms”.

In turn, this influenced and paved the way to the emergence of epistemic community performing science diplomacy. Science served as the point of connection between American and Soviet scientists, as well as policy experts, to shape together nuclear arms control politics to both sides and discuss the theme of nuclear security. These meetings became known as track two diplomacy: nongovernment-to-nongovernment dialogues that subsequently resulted in successful nuclear arms control and arms reduction developments. For example, some of the joint agreements were 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and 1978 Intermediate- Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

Although an American epistemic community pioneered the foundation of the internationally common knowledge and system of nuclear arms control, collaboration with the Soviets to avert nuclear war and retain strategic stability strengthened security regime between the opposing sides. Thanks to the establishment of an international negotiation agenda based on the epistemic community engagement, policy proposals were taken into consideration and implemented in various ways.

Track two diplomacy was practiced not only within scientific circles, but also encouraged citizen diplomats, among the ordinary public, to join the efforts to promote peace and preserve humankind from the catastrophe of nuclear conflict. One of the instances was connected with the American girl Samantha Smith, who wrote a letter to then Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, to convey her concern regarding the possible nuclear exchange between two superpowers in 1982. She was invited to visit the Soviet Union which displayed the peacebuilding initiative that resulted in the establishment of cultural exchange programs with the United States fostering further growth of citizen diplomacy.

Another example of the citizen diplomacy is the American-Soviet peace walks comprised of a five-week long trip from Leningrad to Moscow that took place in 1987 and brought together 230 Americans and 200 Soviets impacting the way of their interaction and creating better understanding between the people from two axis of powers.

Part 2 to follow

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