If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were your teenage son, he’d surely be grounded for the rest of the year for his, “Make me!” taunt this morning in response to the demands of the U.S. and allies that Iran cease and desist developing nuclear weapons capacity. Responding to the stern warning from President Obama & Co. by throwing stuff around the room — in this case, by launching short-range ground-to-ground missiles in an ostensible “test” — is a provocation that dares the allies to respond even more aggressively. Iranian President Ahmadinejad seems to be a disciple of his older comrade-in-rogue-misconduct Kim Jong Il of North Korea who has used similar tactics to taunt the leaders of the civilized world. Whether these threats are more than incorrigible behavior is a question for the intelligence communities of the allies to answer. Thus far, neither Iran nor North Korea have the actual capacity to build nuclear weapons or launch long-range missiles; the goal of nuclear non-proliferation efforts is to prevent these states and others from ever doing so.
Iran’s escalation of threats of aggression comes on the heels of this weekend’s revelation that Iran is building a facility that will be capable of producing weapons-grade nuclear material very soon. Throughout last week, as world leaders gathered at the United Nations to pass new resolutions on nuclear non-proliferation, the conduct of the Iranian leader and other disreputable tyrants (Libya’s Qaddafi, e.g.) reminded the world that peace is a fragile concept when dictators with evil intentions are at the table. While the main focus of the nonproliferation efforts continues to be reducing nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russia and other nations that have nuclear weapons, preventing other nations from developing nuclear arms is an equally vital objective.
Former Soviet Union President Mikail Gorbachev had an interesting column in the Friday New York Times (September 24, 2009) on the U.S.-Russia nuclear relationship and the impact of various strategic decisions (e.g., deciding not to employ a missile defense shield in Central Europe) on the balance of nuclear powers. There may well be no issue that more clearly illustrates the complex multi-lateral relationships among leaders of the world than the decades-old effort to reduce the threat of “mutually assured destruction” through nuclear weapons.
Trinity Alumna Susan Flood Burk, Class of 1976, is in the thick of this vitally important and delicate ongoing negotiation among world powers. She is President Obama’s Special Representative for Nuclear Non-Proliferation, and she is directly involved in negotiations and planning for the next global conference on nonproliferation next year at the United Nations. Ambassador Burk is part of the team with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other presidential advisors formulating the next phase of U.S. policy and global leadership on nuclear issues.
I spoke about Ambassador Burk’s leadership at the Cap & Gown Convocation on Saturday, September 26. Her leadership sets a terrific example for all Trinity students and alumnae. Her professional commitment to work for peace through nuclear nonproliferation is a remarkable manifestation of the values inherent in Trinity’s mission.