The second day of the Walsh Exchange began in Healy Hall with two separate panels. The Democracy and Human Rights panel featured presentations by Avanti Narayanan of Georgetown on urban middle class activism in India and its effects on democracy, and Narintohn Luangrath of Boston College on direct provision housing, child asylum seekers, and violations of the rights of the child. The panel was moderated by Dr. Eusebio Mujal-Leon, a professor of government at Georgetown and co-director of the masters program in democracy and governance and of the masters program in development management.
The Nuclear Proliferation panel began with a presentation from Dougal Robinson from the University of Sydney, who explored how Israel has benefited from Iran’s nuclear program. While the Israeli and Western narrative argues that Iran’s nuclear program is a negative for Israel, Robinson argued that Israel has benefited from Iran’s activities. He pointed to the actions of the international community, which have isolated Iran and reduced the revenues it has available for its nuclear program, and the degree of cooperation that has arisen between Israel and Sunni Arab states as a result of Iran’s actions. He concluded that it was important to look past what Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu is saying, and realize that while the world considers Iran to be building a nuclear weapon, Israel will continue to accrue collateral gains from their nuclear program.
Next, Alexandra Van Dine of Georgetown explored the question of why some choose to proliferate nuclear weapons while others don’t by focusing on two scientists that were both leaders in Iran’s nuclear weapons program: Munir Khan, head of the Pakistani Atomic Energy Commission, and A.Q. Khan, who headed Khan Research Laboratories. A.Q. Khan went on to sell nuclear knowledge and expertise to Libya, Iran, and North Korea. Through a process-tracing case study, she examined the differences in their backgrounds that led them to take divergent paths and found that two factors were critical: first, a scientist’s involvement in international institutions would lead them to refrain to protect their professional reputation. Second, a scientist with less egomania would be less likely to proliferate because they would not feel the need to prove themselves through acts of glory.
After the two presentations concluded, Professor Visner then engaged the student researchers into an interactive dialogue with the audience, probing deeper into the issues brought forth in the presentations. He pointed out that while Robinson’s paper examined the consequences of a nuclear program, Van Dine’s paper looked at the motivations, and asked each researcher to consider their own case from the perspective of the other researcher, sparking discussion about the strategic rationale for Iran’s nuclear program and the consequences of proliferation in Pakistan. Professor Visner also explored possible further directions for their research, asking Van Dine if she saw any possibilities to expand her research through the consideration of analogous situations, such as Edward Teller and the American nuclear program, a case that she had not thought of before.
Overall, the session was an intriguing exploration of nuclear proliferation that challenged some existing ideas about international relations, such as the efficacy of international institutions or the lack of benefits from a nuclear program. Van Dine reiterated a comment made by Professor Charles King in his keynote address – countries are not black boxes, and we need to open them up and look deeper. Robinson and Van Dine showed us the interesting conclusions that can result when a deeper, more insightful layer of analysis is applied to our existing understanding of international issues.
Thank you to Professor Visner and Dr. Eusebio Mujal-Leon for moderating the panels and to the presenters for taking the time to share your research with us. To our visitors, thank you for attending and please join us for more presentations and engaging conversations at our afternoon panels!