The 2016 James Timbie Forum on Arms Control and Nonproliferation was the seventh annual meeting of a State Department program created in 2010 with the goal of engaging young professionals and students working in the fields of nonproliferation and arms control.
From 2010-2015, the annual conference was called “Generation Prague.” This year, the State Department moved to rename the forum in honor of nuclear physicist, diplomat, and 40-year veteran of the State Department James Timbie. Timbie, recently retired, was instrumental in brokering several arms control deals and negotiated with both the Russians and the Iranians during his lengthy career as a public servant. Throughout the day’s speeches, his hard work and personality were noted by speaker after speaker as he was celebrated for his nearly half a century as one of the most influential figures in the arms control community.
These State Department conferences were launched following President Barack Obama’s April 5, 2009 speech in Prague outlining the administration’s nuclear policy. In those remarks, Obama made a commitment to pursuing the “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
This year, the event featured several giants of arms control—including former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller, and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove. Secretary of State John Kerry also gave remarks to attendees via a video statement.
In his remarks, Kerry encouraged young professionals and students in attendance to continue their hard work in pursuit of disarmament, saying that “Today, the vision of a world without nuclear weapons is just that – it’s a vision,” and adding that there remains “much, much work left to do.”
Kerry finished by directly addressing the next generation of the field, saying, “In the days immediately ahead, and in the months, years, and decades that follow, you are the ones who will create the concepts, forge the agreements, and conceive the ideas that will help us travel even further toward the peace and security of a world without weapons of mass destruction.”
Former Secretary Perry emphasized the urgency and importance of nuclear nonproliferation work. He warned that “we are on the threshold of a new Cold War” and he highlighted the “very serious threat” of nuclear terrorism. Perry made clear the need for hard work and diplomacy in the coming years and noted that the young professionals of today would be the decision makers of tomorrow.
Congress, the military, academia, and numerous advocacy organizations were represented in the two days of presentations and discussion. Former Marine Corps officer and U.S. Representative Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) provided a congressional perspective on the issues behind arms control policies. Moulton discussed a range of topics, including the funding for the new air-launched cruise missile, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, while highlighting the importance of constituents reaching out to their members of Congress. He also noted his approval of the conference’s high turnout, highlighting the presence of those “from my generation who are interested in this incredibly important issue.”
The Arms Control Association’s Director for Nonproliferation Policy Kelsey Davenport also participated in a panel discussion titled “Perceptions of WMD in the Media” and gave insight on the role of different media outlets and the internet in drawing attention to nuclear weapons issues. Finally, the first day was punctuated by an insightful keynote address from Gen. Breedlove discussing security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic region and the transparency benefits of arms control.
The second and final day, which was not-for-attribution, began with a lunch and career fair at the George Washington University Elliott School for International Affairs. Representatives from over a dozen non-government organizations, government institutions, and advanced degree programs set up booths and engaged with conference attendees. This part of the conference was unique in directly supplying career, fellowship, and educational opportunities to the aspiring arms control experts in attendance. The Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellowship and Arms Control Association internships were two of the opportunities promoted at the career fair.
The rest of the afternoon featured lively panel discussions and presentations on topics ranging from nonproliferation policy to deterrence to NATO-Russian dynamics. Following closing remarks from Jon Wolfsthal, senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council, this year’s incarnation of the Timbie Forum came to a close.
Though several notable conference participants spoke of somber and urgent concerns on issues ranging from North Korea to relations with Russia to nuclear terrorism, the day closed out on a hopeful note. By bringing together newcomers to arms control, current and past government officials, and experts from a plethora of organizations, the Timbie Forum engaged and excited the young professionals in attendance and passed along indispensable information and encouragement to the next generation of arms control experts.
Andrey Burin is the Summer Communications and Marketing Intern at the Arms Control Association and is a rising junior at Tulane University.