Six years ago, President Obama stood in Hradcany Square in Prague, Czech Republic and announced “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” The President outlined a broad and bold strategy that focused on stopping rogue nuclear states, securing nuclear materials, and lowering weapon stockpiles.
In response to this sweeping agenda, the Department of State developed Generation Prague, an annual conference targeting millennials interested in nuclear weapons policy. This year, the conference was held from July 15 to July 17, and brought forth a range of speakers who hailed from the military, the Department of State, and the world of academia.
Generation Prague 2015 opened with a bang—so to speak. The lineup included such national security luminaries as Admiral William Gortney, Commander of the US Northern Command, Colin Kahl, the National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden, and a surprise appearance by Wendy Sherman, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, who arrived back in Washington DC just hours before, after having spent 27 consecutive days negotiating the Iran deal in Vienna.
Colin Kahl’s keynote address highlighted the importance of the Iran agreement for U.S. national security, and its indication of America’s ability to lead the world. Kahl predicted that arguments against the agreement would focus on issues “outside the four edges” of the agreement. He explained that the opposition would most likely make non-nuclear arguments for the disapproval of the deal. For those in attendance, it was an amazing opportunity to get a firsthand look at the historic deal from someone inside the Administration, just one day after it was inked.
Kahl’s keynote address was only surpassed by the surprise appearance of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who led the US delegation in its multiple rounds of negotiations with Iran, spanning several years and continents.
A standing ovation left Sherman choked up at the podium, making for an emotional entrance and start to her remarks. Despite not having prepared anything to say, the Undersecretary gave a firsthand account of the negotiations and told of a touching moment at the close of the talks in Vienna among Secretary of State John Kerry and the negotiating partners. “I went to war, and it became clear to me that I never wanted to go to war again,” the Secretary explained, “That’s what this was all about.”
The remainder of the Conference did not disappoint. The last two days included lively discussions about the role of religion in nuclear disarmament, the importance of merging academic research with real-world policy needs, and explanations on the history of nuclear weapons. Generation Prague successfully brought together students, Capitol Hill staffers, think tanks, and many others, to discuss the dangers of nuclear weapons and to open up dialogue among young people about how the United States can lead the world in reducing the threat of nuclear attack.
When the Cold War ended nearly 25 years ago, many around the world became less concerned about nuclear proliferation. Generation Prague reminds us that nuclear weapons still pose a tremendous risk. And while a world without nuclear weapons may be in the distant future, achieving the worthy goal of elimination requires continued focus from new and talented thinkers.