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Professors organize Finnish conference

Megan Hemler | Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Notre Dame students might be unfamiliar with Finland’s geography and its ties to their school, but its capital Helsinki served as the site for a major conference on nuclear disarmament last week, an event in which the University of Notre Dame played a significant role.

Organized by the Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies as well as the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, public policy and security experts gathered from Oct. 22 to 24 in order to discuss ideas to make the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) more effective. 

According to the Kroc Center Web site, this treaty is one of the most basic and crucial agreements within international efforts to monitor, control and destroy nuclear weapons. The treaty is expected to receive its next five-year review by the United Nations in May of 2010.

“All the nuclear states sent representatives [to the conference],” David Cortright, co-organizer of the conference and director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute said. “Our conference [aimed] to try and feed ideas into the big conference at the UN … and I think we were very successful.”

“We identified important issues that need to be addressed at the UN, from big ideas to more technical ones,” Cortright said. “For example, we established that there need to be more resources for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the main body that’s responsible for inspecting nuclear facilities, does not have adequate research and design capabilities. We should not be shortchanging on resources or technical staff here.”

Cortright said there was serious discussion of “a new treaty to be negotiated between the U.S. and Russia … [because] together the US and Russia hold 80 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.”

Robert Johansen, a professor and fellow at the Kroc Institute, is optimistic about the United States’ role in the nuclear arms discussion.

“The Obama administration’s interest in nuclear weapons arms control offers the first opportunity to move in this direction in many years, ” Johansen said. 

“Speakers from every part of the world talked about how Obama’s leadership was making huge changes … and Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton’s speeches came up often as well,” Cortright said. 

Finland, he said, was one of the first nations to sign the NPT and the current director of the Finnish Institute is the former head of the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame.

“Fr. Hesburgh himself has been an important voice in the nuclear weapons debate,” Cortright said. “It’s in our DNA to be concerned about nuclear weapons issues.”