Zia Mian

Is the Nuclear Order Worth Saving?

a provocative interview with Princeton Physicist Zia Mian


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"Who decides how human society and human civilization conducts its affairs: nine countries with nuclear weapons or everybody else?" Zia Mian asked Ploughshares Fund’s Michelle Dover. 

Mian says the world is shifting away from the superpower model of nuclear diplomacy. "During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union said, 'We will decide. We are superpowers. We will negotiate between each other and you will have to wait until we have summit diplomacy and resolve things. And you will be grateful for what you get, because you can’t make us do anything that we don’t want.'" 

"People have said, 'Look, we have a say, too. It’s our world and we’re going to decide.'"

Dover interviewed Mian for the newest episode of the national security podcast Press the Button, in Ploughshares Fund’s Washington, DC office. The episode went live on November 5, and is available online.

These calls for a more democratized policy are coming at a time of great strain for the global nuclear order. Instead of moving towards disarmament as they are obligated to do under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the nuclear-armed states, including the United States, Russia, and China, are actively upgrading their nuclear arsenals.

Meanwhile, countries outside of the order - like India and Pakistan - are testing the boundaries of nuclear war. The back-and-forth airstrikes in February of this year are a clear example of this dangerous trend. "It was a very, very intense but very significant shift in the level of violence both countries feel that they can carry out against each other," said Mian. "It’s not often that we see nuclear-armed states shooting down each other’s airplanes."

Mian also underlined the responsibility of physicists to move the world towards a safer future. "Physicists have a had a long history with nuclear weapons," he explained. "We are responsible for nuclear weapons, for the very idea of nuclear weapons."

It is this legacy which motivates Mian to make a difference. "Look, this is a debt that we owe to humankind because we did this," he said. "And so we have to get back into the game in a very specific and particular way, which is to educate ourselves and fellow citizens to engage with policymaking processes to advance nuclear disarmament."

Zia Mian is a physicist and co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Mian on this page or subscribe and download wherever you get your podcasts.

About Press the Button: in addition to "The Interview" in which Joe Cirincione sits down with prominent thinkers, legislators, activists, and grantees working on nuclear weapons issues for a short, illuminating conversation, episodes have two other segments: "Early Warning" — a round-up of the most pressing nuclear news in 7 minutes, roughly the same amount of time the US president has to authorize a nuclear weapons launch in the event of an incoming attack on the United States; and "In the Silo" — a monthly, close-up look at key nuclear issues and events around the world, utilizing field recordings, media clips, interviews, and extensive narration.



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