Discussions worth having, 2013

By John Mecklin | January 1, 2014

Among its many goals, the Bulletin’s Development and Disarmament Roundtable aims to bring expert voices from the developing world to the fore, so they can make their way into the international policy-making process. Our roundtables are also, of course, chosen in hopes they will be intellectually interesting in and of themselves, exploring policy problems and solutions that might not be prominently featured in the mainstream press. Bulletin senior editor Lucien Crowder directs the roundtables, which involve several exchanges among experts and are presented in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese. Here are his suggestions for three roundtables from 2013 that are worth revisiting.  

  • Nuclear deterrence and terrorism: Implications for global securityThe 2010 US Nuclear Posture Review listed reducing nuclear weapons' role in national security strategy among the key objectives of nuclear weapons policy. It also restricted the circumstances under which the United States would contemplate using nuclear weapons. But the report also renewed a commitment "to hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction… ." This commitment—which seems to leave open the possibility of a nuclear attack against states that provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists—seeks to address the difficulty of deterring groups like Al Qaeda. But the commitment raises difficult questions about attributing responsibility for a terrorist group's acquisition of a nuclear capability, and about the policy's compatibility with reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles and eventually achieving disarmament. In this roundtable, Evgeny Buzhinsky of Russia, Sadia Tasleem of Pakistan, and Manpreet Sethi of India address the question: How do US efforts to deter terrorist attacks through its nuclear policy affect international security as well as nonproliferation and disarmament efforts?
  • Climate, food, and biomass energyMany experts have concluded that, if greenhouse gas concentrations are to be limited while the world's energy demands are nonetheless met, biomass energy will be an indispensable resource. At the same time, climate change is expected to affect agricultural productivity adversely—and 15 percent of people in developing countries, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, already suffer from extreme food insecurity. N.H. Ravindranath of India, Roberto Bissio of Uruguay, and José R. Moreira of Brazil consider this question: How can the potential climate mitigation benefits of devoting arable land to the production of biomass energy be achieved without further undermining food security in the developing world.
  • Expanding energy access, improving women's livesLack of access to modern energy services represents a pressing problem in the developing world, not least for women. According to a series of reports sponsored by the UN Development Programme, 1 billion people around the world are served by health facilities without electricity, and 99 percent of all deaths in childbirth occur in developing countries with poor health facilities. Many poor women spend much of their time on menial work that could be performed much more easily if energy were available, and safety concerns often prevent women from going out at night where there are no streetlights. Children suffer too—more than 50 percent of the developing world's children attend primary schools that lack electricity, and this can lead to markedly worse educational outcomes. Access to modern energy services might be improved through, among other approaches, establishing small-scale hydroelectric projects, facilitating the use of home solar systems, or providing grid electricity (which itself might be produced either with conventional fuels or through renewable means). Dipak Gyawali of Nepal, Kalpana Sharma of India, and Tri Mumpuni of Indonesia address this question: What methods of expanding energy access show most promise for improving the lives of the developing world's poor women and children?

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