ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference

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Please stay tuned for our conference report as well as future plans to convene discussions and research about the Third Nuclear Age!

New Age, New Thinking: Challenges of a Third Nuclear Age

31 October-2 November 2022, in Berlin, Germany

Call for Presentations

On the occasion of the ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference: New Age, New Thinking: Challenges of a Third Nuclear Age, International Student/Young Pugwash (ISYP) and its partners invite students and young professionals from around the world to participate in an interdisciplinary conference on the national, regional, international and technological drivers and implications of the “Third Nuclear Age.” This conference will provide early-career individuals with a unique opportunity to assess the impact of developments in nuclear and conventional weapons technology on the international order. The conference will allow participants to explore these questions and engage in dialogue across national divides, in accordance with the goals of ISYP.1

Each participant will deliver a presentation during the ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference. After the conference, participants will submit papers to the organizers, integrating feedback received at the conference. ISYP will support participants in developing/revising papers and submitting them for publication in outlets including the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

ISYP exists to provide the younger generation a unique opportunity to reflect on and address the threat of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as other sources of conflict. The ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference seeks to provide a space for young professionals and scholars to engage in a dialogue and exchange ideas concerning national, regional, and global security. Through the conference, ISYP will gather participants from various disciplinary backgrounds that are developing and have acquired the expertise necessary to understand, analyze, and influence national, regional and global security.

1 Please note that applicants with backgrounds in international relations, political science, hard sciences, technical backgrounds, international law, journalism, nuclear policy (including nuclear weapons, delivery vehicles and energy etc.) are encouraged to apply. ISYP places a special emphasis on critical and interdisciplinary perspectives on a  broad range of topics.

Context and relevance

During the Cold War, or the “First Nuclear Age,” the confrontation between two nuclear superpowers shaped nuclear policy thinking and practice—including concepts of deterrence as well as systems for arms control and non-proliferation. Much of this thinking persisted after the Cold War, despite the transition from the First Nuclear Age to a “Second Nuclear Age,” which saw changing power dynamics and further nuclear proliferation.

Now, in the “Third Nuclear Age,” unfolding multipolarity combines with advances in “strategic non-nuclear weapons.” This broad term includes advanced delivery vehicles, high-precision strike weapons, and missile defense systems. In addition, new dual-use technologies are finding applications in the nuclear weapons field. In particular, automation, advanced sensors, radars, and space-based technologies improve weapons performance as well as intelligence and early warning capabilities. Growing digitalization of systems enables control and decision-making in real-time. Research and development of nuclear reactor technologies are also advancing, with fourth generation reactors under development, and small-modular reactors designed to be built in factories and shipped to site. The latter may bring new proliferation and diversion challenges.

These technological advancements provide strategic benefits but also harbor significant risks. They have the potential to fuel perceptions of vulnerability and facilitate escalation from a conventional to a nuclear conflict. Nuclear cooperation can help address energy needs, but it can also trigger dual-use and proliferation concerns. Convergence of technologies renders nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities intricately intertwined—a trend that pre-dated current events but is gaining traction in the Third Nuclear Age. It is important to both (a) assess risks posed by such developments from a technical perspective, and (b) gauge policy makers’ perceptions of those risks (merited or not).

The diplomatic structures that maintained stability in previous eras are struggling to adjust to the 21st century. The war in Ukraine and growing geopolitical tensions further cement this deadlock. While the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) remains, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) continues to face stern challenges. At the onset of this Third Nuclear Age, new thinking and approaches are needed to prevent conflict and increase stability.

Application process

ISYP and its partners invite students and young professionals under the age of 35 to submit applications for the ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference. We encourage applications that cover one of the four themes described below. To apply, please complete the online application form (https://forms.gle/iPv9ydsZ3Aip6xcJ6).

The application requires an abstract of a proposed presentation and a personal statement. The presentation abstract can be for a current work in progress, or a piece specifically developed in response to this call. The personal statement should outline your potential contribution to the conference, your professional or academic experience, and the benefits you expect to gain as a result of participation. Successful applicants will be invited to join the ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference in Berlin, Germany, and present at one of the sessions.2

Please note that conference participants will be asked to submit a completed paper of high academic standard following the conference, but need not do so beforehand. ISYP and its partners plan to select papers to be considered for publication in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. ISYP and the Bulletin will offer a writing workshop at the ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference that will include guidance for prospective Bulletin authors.

Applications must be submitted no later than September 10, 2022, midnight CET. Successful applicants will be contacted in September 2022 and their travel arranged subsequently.

ISYP particularly welcomes applications from individuals with hard science backgrounds and from marginalized groups to apply. 

The organizers will cover the costs for travel and accommodation for the duration of the conference. The working language for the event will be English. For selected participants that require a visa to travel to Berlin, Germany, ISYP and the local organizers will provide an invitation letter for your visa application. Further information will be provided to accepted applicants.

If you have any questions, please contact the ISYP leadership team via email at office@isyp.org.

2 ISYP will do its utmost to host the event in-person. However, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ISYP may be forced to postpone the event or shift to a hybrid format.

Conference themes

This conference call invites participants to submit presentation abstracts on the advent of the Third Nuclear Age. In particular, we encourage abstracts along the following themes:

1. Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament

Nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts (New START, the NPT, several intergovernmental initiatives and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons) appear brittle and fragmented. Still, technological progress provides opportunities for verification and ensuring compliance. Presentations can discuss the legacy and current state of play of diplomatic efforts, identifying political and technical approaches to strengthening existing regimes, and pathways towards new nuclear arms control and disarmament measures. This theme also includes interim measures, such as confidence-building initiatives while also looking forward to how progress can be made through national, regional or international efforts. International relations, foreign policy, and civil society oriented presentations are equally encouraged.

2. Nuclear Technologies and Nonproliferation

Governments around the globe are turning to nuclear power to help achieve their aims—from decreasing reliance on fossil fuels to powering military vehicles. Novel reactor designs may support those aims, but they also raise new questions regarding safety, waste and non-proliferation. Additionally, non-proliferation regimes have suffered several setbacks in recent years, with the advancement of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, and the collapse of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) with Iran. We invite presentations on developments in nuclear power technologies and their implications as well as regional and global security implications of current state of play of global non-proliferation efforts; considering challenges and opportunities for nuclear security, safeguards, nonproliferation and the international order.

3. Delivery Vehicles and Launch Technologies

The range and sophistication of delivery vehicles and launch technologies for nuclear warheads is increasing, as is the number of states who possess them. This includes dual-capable aircraft, ground- and sea-launch systems, and missile technologies for defensive and offensive purposes. We invite presentations on the proliferation of these weapons systems, their technical features, deployments, and perceptions of opportunities and risks. We also encourage non-technical presentations on the implications for regional and international security. Presentations may also consider the legacy of export control regimes and other arrangements for regulation, as well as multipolarity, and changing international norms around the deployment and use of said technologies.

4. Other Relevant Technologies

A number of emerging technologies can have strategic effects when integrated into military operations and systems. This includes, but is not limited to, advanced communication technologies, artificial intelligence (including machine learning), and quantum computing and sensing. Presentations may discuss characteristics of these technologies and their effect on (in-)stability. We encourage participants to discuss whether/when certain technologies are destabilizing—for technical or psychological reasons. We also invite participants to identify avenues to mitigate the risk of nuclear conflict.

Conference outputs

The ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference will produce two material outputs: papers written by the attendees and a conference summary by ISYP.

Participants are asked to write and submit papers following the completion of the conference, based on their conference talks. ISYP and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will support participants in writing/revising those papers. The Bulletin will lead a writing workshop for conference participants in Berlin – accepted applicants will receive detailed information in due time. The Bulletin will publish participants’ papers that meet their editorial standard either within the Voices of Tomorrow section or as “regular” articles. Depending on the number of papers, the Bulletin may publish them as a collection.

The ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference will convene under Chatham House Rule. ISYP will compile a brief summary of topics discussed, which will be published on the ISYP website.

Organizers and Partners

Organizers and partners of the ISYP Third Nuclear Age Conference include International Students/Young Pugwash (ISYP), Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, the Third Nuclear Age Project, the German Foundation for Peace Research (DSF), the University of Duisburg-Essen, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and one more partner in Berlin, Germany.