On February 1st, 2019 President Trump and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that the U.S. would begin pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. In an effort to understand what this means, the College of Liberal Arts and the School of History, Philosophy and Religion organized a flash panel. The panel was held on February 21st at 4pm, in Bexell Hall at Oregon State University. The Panel was moderated by Dr. Linda Marie Richards, an instructor of History of Science. The panel began with distinguished Oregon State professors and students who spoke about nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation from the lens of their discipline. This was followed by an audience led discussion.
Associate Professor of History, Dr. Christopher McKnight Nichols, began the talk by giving a brief historical overview of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Nichols discussed the origins of the INF treaty, which was signed in 1987 between the Soviet Union and the United States, but which really began nearly 10 years earlier, during a decidedly different political climate. Using the INF treaty as an example and its political history, throughout Nichols’ talk, he emphasized the importance diplomacy has played in nuclear discussions and how they continue to frame and shape nuclear policy today.
Associate Professor in Nuclear Science and Engineering, Dr. Camille J. Palmer, spoke next. Palmer discussed the inherent difficulties of three aspects of the INF Treaty, the peaceful use of nuclear technology, the nonproliferation aspects of nuclear technology, and the disarmament aspects of nuclear technology. Parker emphasized that while the goals of the INF Treaty were admirable, these three aspects have had some difficulties that should be addressed, such as modernizing certain nuclear technologies and increasing the capacity and agency of nuclear inspectors. Throughout Parker’s discussion, she made clear that she understands and appreciates the “everyday” uses of nuclear technology (such as in nuclear medicine), but finds much of the technology within the nuclear industry problematic and in need of retooling.
Associate Professor of Political Science, Dr. David Bernell, was the third speaker. While he acknowledged going through personal stages of grief over the news of the United States pulling out of the INF Treat, Bernell maintained that he is a perpetual optimist. For him, despite the most recent news, the INF Treaty has been an overall success. Bernell pointed out that more countries are a part of the INF Treaty than any other treaty. And, politically speaking, the treaty changed the ethos of nuclear weapons technology. It made making nuclear weapons abnormal, and it made it fundamentally okay for signatories to admonish nuclear weapons producers.
The last speaker was undergraduate student, Mahal Miles. Miles was a student in Dr. Richards’ class, Why War, where she conducted research on the health effects of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. In stark detail, Miles discussed the immediate and long-lasting health effects of nuclear weapons on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the formal talks concluded, Richards opened up the discussion to audience members. Members of the community, faculty, and students were present and spoke during the discussion. Fred Schafer, an Atomic Soldier and Vice Commander of the National Association of Atomic Veterans, spoke about his time in the United States Armed Forces who participated in nuclear weapons tests. Others discussed their personal connection to those affected by nuclear radiation poisoning in places like Palau. Audience members discussed a variety of topics including questions of nuclear “safety” in a peace context and how the current events will shape nuclear policy moving forward.
Overall, the Flash Panel was a great way for students, faculty, staff, and community members to learn about nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation from a variety of perspectives and to discuss opinions and views in a safe and inclusive manner.