Selim Sazak, MIA ’15, writes on nuclear nonproliferation

Selim Can Sazak

Everyone at the Office of Admissions wanted to wish our PA, Selim Can Sazak, MIA ’15, a big congratulations on co-authoring an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists! His article asks, “Will there be a next generation in the fight for nuclear nonproliferation?” SIPA News sat down with him to discuss the article and the question it poses for the future of nuclear disarmament. 

Tell us a bit more about this article.
Basically, the article draws on my background from being in the trenches of the nonproliferation cause. Since the end of the Cold War, nonproliferation has become a secondary cause. In particular, we are facing an alarming deficit when it comes to organizing and mobilizing for tomorrow. There are only a few youth programs, mostly run by small staffs and on very limited budgets. When the going gets tough, these programs are the first to get cut. One of the co-authors on the paper actually left her job in such an operation that was scaled back. So we started thinking about how this problem can be fixed. There is a big problem now, many leaders of the nonproliferation community are aging; most are in their 60s or 70s. This is the final time window for a new block to come in. We are falling behind.

What are some of the reasons you think the younger generation is not as involved in nonproliferation?
This is a question that has sparked some fierce debates and in my opinion, there is no single answer. I believe that an important reason is that the end of the Cold War changed the way the nuclear threat is perceived. Until very recently, nonproliferation was not only a strong movement but it was also a ‘cool’ cause; working to keep global peace and avert a global nuclear war appealed to young people in a way it does not anymore. Now, development is trendy, social enterprise is trendy. That’s where the resources are. In a way, young people are drawn to causes where their efforts are more tangibly rewarded. Not surprisingly, security is given a backseat. It’s harder to come by younger people in security jobs, especially outside the public sector.

So what does the article propose?
Quite simply, we are trying to point that the battle against nuclear proliferation will take more than a few decades to win, and that if no one is left to carry on the fight, it won’t be won at all. We discuss some of the challenges the nonproliferation community has been facing in reaching out to the younger generation. In this context, we see a unique role for the United Nations to start such a conversation. We believe that it is time for all stakeholders in the nonproliferation cause—governments and international organizations, think-tanks and nonprofits, activists and advocates, the young and the old—to engage in a forward-looking conversation on how to cultivate the next generation. We are already talking with senior leaders, major donors, and we’ve been in touch with the UN to see how can push this idea forward — we need a structured dialogue to identify our problems and devise a common strategy towards solving them. The future of nuclear weapons is a global issue. Ensuring that the public and our leaders is fully educated in this issue and would be capable of navigating this future safely is an interest shared by everyone, regardless of whether they are seeing a valid role for nuclear weapons in the future of international security or not. We think that this is a common denominator that can bring us together in a conversation and it is our hope that our article would contribute to moving us forward in that direction.

You’ll graduate in May. How does this piece fit into your future goals?
My main interest is in solving problems, exploring new ideas, testing them in real-life situations. Some of my classmates here are the smartest people I know, and putting their smarts into innovative policies can make a difference. I’m graduating in May and that’s what I’m walking away with: Using SIPA, and the many things I have learned here, to bring change where it’s possible.


Read the Q&A in its entirety here.