The New Nuclear Landscape and Its Implications for International Security

evening, everyone. My name is Darren Reisberg. I serve as the Vice
President and Deputy Provost here at the
University of Chicago. And I want to welcome you
all to the launch event for the University’s Nuclear
Reactions Commemoration, 1942– A Historic Breakthrough,
An Uncertain Future. 75 years ago, scientists at
the University of Chicago achieved the first controlled,
self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, ushering
in the atomic age. This momentous event took place
just blocks away from here at 57th and Ellis Avenue. The Henry Moore sculpture
called Nuclear Energy recognizes the site of
this historic achievement. The Nuclear Reactions
Commemoration video, which we’ll show
momentarily, tells of the events leading up to the
reaction on December 2nd, 1942. And the video helps
underscore what was at stake and the significant
collaboration required amongst the US government,
scientists, and new immigrants to the United States. Our conversation
today includes experts from government, academia,
policy, and civic arenas. And we’ll address the new
nuclear landscape we are facing and its implications for
international security. Before I introduce
tonight’s moderator, I turn your attention to
the screen for the premier of our Nuclear Reactions video. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] RACHEL BRONSON: So
in 1939, the world was in a desperate situation. The Nazis are on the move. They seem unstoppable. ROBERT ROSNER: The Germans
attacked Poland, Netherlands, Belgium, and the French. They were ruthless. They demonstrated
their ruthlessness. RACHEL BRONSON: They seemed
capable and willing to execute a war of total domination. And the United States is
watching very carefully what’s happening. ERIC D. ISAACS:
They understood what Hitler was capable of doing. RACHEL BRONSON: So
right about this time, you have the advancement of
nuclear science and physics. Everybody is on the cusp of
controlling nuclear energy. ERIC D. ISAACS: Several
German physicists actually first demonstrated the
ability to split the atom. People like Albert Einstein,
people like Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard realized right
away the potential of what that
discovery could mean. RACHEL BRONSON:
Suddenly Germany stops the export of Czechoslovakian
uranium, which makes scientists in the United
States and the rest of Europe very nervous about
what Germany is up to. The scientists
convinced Einstein to write the letter to FDR. ERIC D. ISAACS: Warning him
that, if the Germans were able to develop that
discovery, it could actually lead to building one of the
most powerful bombs ever built. FDR’s response to the letter
was remarkably prompt. RACHEL BRONSON:
Funding begins to be put into nuclear research. The world’s greatest
scientists are fleeing Europe, and they’re coming to the
United States for safety. And then, as the Manhattan
Project becomes established, they come to the
University of Chicago. And they begin to build
the pile under Stag Field. There was a squash court. It was a heady environment. You had the world’s
best physicists about to unleash nuclear power. They’re also thinking about
the implications of what it will mean, being used for
the destruction of humanity and not for peaceful purposes. The pace was fast. They were working
against the Germans. They literally believed it
was hour by hour, day by day. They might be behind. ROBERT ROSNER: They
didn’t work 40 hour weeks. They worked two 12
hour shifts every day. This was going on
24/7 for two weeks. ERIC D. ISAACS: They
understood what was at stake. They understood
that civilization in the Western
world was at stake. ROBERT ROSNER: The first step
was to acquire the materials. RACHEL BRONSON: Fermi
begins to understand that if they built a reactor
with very pure graphite, they will get the reaction
that they’re looking for. ROBERT ROSNER: The amount was
huge, 45,000 bricks, each brick weighing almost 20 pounds. RACHEL BRONSON: They’re
stacking these graphite blocks that are incredibly heavy. They’ve got day laborers who
are helping them with it. They were using uranium. ROBERT ROSNER: The uranium
came in two forms– one, metallic uranium,
the other, uranium oxide. RACHEL BRONSON: This
was the cutting edge, the bleeding edge of science
that was happening here. ROBERT ROSNER: But
what’s really quite amazing is the short duration
during which the pile was actually assembled. RACHEL BRONSON: It
was a matter of days where they built that reactor. ROBERT ROSNER: 15
days, specifically. ERIC D. ISAACS: The group felt
the weight of the country, if not the world,
on their shoulders. ROBERT ROSNER: The
politicians, FDR included, really did not understand
the nature of the beast that they were funding. RACHEL BRONSON: Those
in the room understood that they were on the cusp of a
revolutionary change in energy. ERIC D. ISAACS: They
had just finished building Chicago Pile-1
the day before, literally December 1st, 1942. And Enrico Fermi
declared next morning, they would start the
actual experiment. RACHEL BRONSON: On December
2nd, 1942, Fermi and his team were able to control and sustain
a nuclear chain reaction. ROBERT ROSNER: A monumental
physics achievement. ERIC D. ISAACS: It
would not be too much to say this was
almost as important as the discovery of fire. RACHEL BRONSON: It actually
wasn’t clear what it meant. They didn’t know if they’d
be able to weaponize it. And they didn’t know if
the Germans had already weaponized it. But the fact that they could
control the chain reaction meant it was possible. ERIC D. ISAACS: Arthur
Holly Compton really drove it as the lead scientist. He didn’t do it alone. He did it with dozens
and dozens of scientists. And they built, as
Einstein would say, on the shoulders of giants. It was really, in many ways,
the first time big science was done. RACHEL BRONSON: And
these big efforts are both exciting and dangerous. They have enormous implications
for good and for evil. And it’s really up
to us to figure out how to manage the risks so
that we can reap the benefits. [END PLAYBACK] DARREN REISBERG:
I would now like to introduce our moderator for
this evening’s conversation, Rachel Bronson,
who’s the Executive Director and Publisher
of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, where
she oversees the publishing programs, the management
of the Doomsday Clock, and a growing set of activities
around nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, climate change,
and emerging technologies. Rachel is also a member of
the Nuclear Reactions Planning Committee, which
has been working since February to produce this
autumn’s commemoration program. And I want to thank all the
members who are here tonight. So I invite Rachel
and the panelists now to come to the stage. Rachel will introduce
the panelists. And I thank you all for
joining us this evening. RACHEL BRONSON: Thank you
for coming out and joining us on a Sunday evening. I want to also thank Darren
Reisberg and his team at the University of
Chicago for what’s going to be a really
tremendous semester. And I hope many of
you in the audience will join us for many
of the activities that we have planned. I thought what we would do
is very quickly kick off. And we’ll do that by– I’ll introduce the
panelists to you. We are so fortunate to have
this amazing group with us. And set the scene a little bit
of where we are today compared to where the video left off. And then begin our conversation. So let me start with Mike
Morell here to my left. Mike has twice been Acting
Director of the CIA, and he served as the
Deputy Director for the CIA for some time. Mike’s one of the foremost
thinkers on national security. He’s won just about
every award and medal that you can win,
both from the CIA and for his
Distinguished Service in helping us catch bin Laden. He’s the only person who was
both with President Bush when the two towers went
down on September 11th as well as when bin Laden
was captured and is credited with the intelligence
portion of that. So we’re really
thankful to have him. He serves now on many boards. And I know him, and many
of you might know him, as serving on the Advisory
Board of the CPOST here at the
University of Chicago, the Chicago Project On
Security and Terrorism. Congressman Foster,
thank you for joining us. Bill Foster is a Democrat
from the 11th District. He’s the only scientist and
PhD, I believe, in Congress. Bill has served very
reputably at Fermi Lab, where he and his team discovered the
heaviest matter in existence– BILL FOSTER: The top quark. RACHEL BRONSON: –the top quark. And in his role in Congress,
really represents us all quite well in the
scientific implications of some of the things we’ll
talk about, particularly the Iran deal. And some of you
might remember when he came out for the Iran deal. Secretary of Energy Moniz
was standing behind him when he did that. And many on the Hill looked to
him as a real thought leader, because he could understand
the scientific implications of the deal in a way that,
perhaps, they couldn’t. Bob Rosner, I’m
delighted to say, is a partner in arms with
me, or a partner in crime. I don’t know which one
is worse or better. But he serves as the Co-chair of
the Science and Security Board at The Bulletin of
the Atomic Scientists. He’s also the William
E. Wrather Professor of Astronomy,
Astrophysics, and Physics as well as Fermi Lab and the
Harris School of Public Policy. And he’s the Founder-Director
of Epic, the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago. He’s one of the leading thinkers
on the scientific implications around the next generation
of our energy landscape. So today, we have in
front of us, really, three people who can
help us understand what this new
nuclear landscape is and what the implications
are for the future. So what I thought
I would do is just very quickly set the landscape. Because it’s very easy to
think about nuclear politics as something that’s relegated
to the dustbin of history. The news, the
headlines these days actually help bring us
up to present and realize just how terrifying it is. But just to lay the landscape. There’s fewer, indisputably
fewer, nuclear warheads now than there were during
the height of the Cold War. So in many ways that’s a
really good news story. We’ve gone from about
70,000 nuclear warheads to less than 10,000. So real work has been
done over the last 20, 25 years since the
end of the Cold War to make sure that we don’t have
to deal with as many warheads. So that’s the good news. The list of bad news is
pretty long and lengthy. I’ll try to keep it short. But no longer is it just
the US and the Soviet Union or the no
nuclear states, right? We’ve had the US, Soviet
Union, now Russia, France, Britain, China. We know Israel has
its nuclear program. But now, of course, we
have India and Pakistan, and of course, North Korea. So more countries have it. We also know that
non-state actors want it. So there is a
concerted effort to try to secure nuclear materials
from non-state actors or terrorist groups. We also know that the
arms control architecture is deteriorating. It’s not keeping up with
the challenges that we face and that’s something that I
hope we’ll get into tonight. So trying to lay
that landscape out, let me turn this to
our panelists now and a question, really,
for each of you, Mike, let me start with you. I just kind of laid a landscape
out that’s pretty grim. And it’s pretty demanding of
the intelligence community, both to know what’s happening
and to kind of think about what the response is. You’ve mentioned that
you think that today is as dangerous in
certain areas as the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis,
which is pretty terrifying. So as an effort to bring
us from then up into now, can you talk about
what you mean by that, and how you think about
this changing landscape as we know it. MICHAEL MORELL:
Sure, and let me just say it’s great to be
here and be part of this. So thank you very much
for the invitation. When I said that,
I was specifically talking about North
Korea and the situation that we find ourselves in
with regard to North Korea. And the fundamental
problem, as you all know is that North Korea is within a
few months, 6 to 12 months of, from most people’s
calculations, of being able to demonstrate putting a US
city at risk of nuclear attack. And we have the President
of the United States saying that he will not
allow that to happen. Hence the crisis we’re in. And in a lot of ways, it’s very
similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis. A very good friend of mine,
Graham Allison at Harvard, who is the expert on the
Cuban Missile Crisis, the history of it, and the
policy making around it, has called this a slow
moving Cuban Missile Crisis. So that’s what I
was referring to. You know, that’s
the bad news story. I think there is a good
news story, and that’s Iran, and our ability to put Iran in
a box for at least the next 10 to 15 years. So there are ways to
successfully manage these. We haven’t succeeded
with North Korea, but that’s what I
was referring to. RACHEL BRONSON: And Bob, that’s
a perfect segue into you. You’re just back from South
Korea within the last few days. And you were talking to them
pretty extensively about it. What does the current
situation look like, if you’re sitting in Seoul? ROBERT ROSNER: So I
came back on Wednesday. And maybe one way of
describing the situation there, how people view
it, is to describe the front page of The
Korea Times on Wednesday. So it had three stories. The lead above the fold had to
do with the possible conflict, on conflict, between the
United States and North Korea, a story about
reducing fine dust. And then below the fold was
an article about the fact that the US is sending a nuclear
carrier, the Ronald Reagan, at the end of this
month, offshore Korea. And when you talk
to people, it’s clear what’s uppermost
on their mind. They’re very nervous. And unusual, compared
to the past– they’re nervous about us. I think that’s a
distinct difference from what I experienced in
previous trips to South Korea. They’re really worried about us. RACHEL BRONSON: And
before we get to Bill, it might be interesting
for the audience to know why you went to Korea. Because you were
going there to talk about civilian nuclear energy. ROBERT ROSNER: Right.
RACHEL BRONSON: Was that right? And some changes there. Maybe you could just talk
a little bit about that so we can start filling in
some of the contours of– ROBERT ROSNER: So
South Korea has been one of the major suppliers
on the international market of nuclear reactors,
light water reactors. For example, they are currently
building four light water reactors in Abu Dhabi,
one of the Emirates. So historically
speaking, they have been proponents of nuclear power. The governments that have
supported it typically have been on the
conservative side. And the last
conservative premier left under a bit of a cloud,
I’d say, President Park, just a year ago. And her replacement
is someone who is from the so-called
Democratic Party, which is left-leaning, left
center I would say, and quite anti-nuclear. So the workshop I attended was
an international conference on the nuclear fuel cycle. And the conference
was originally organized before this
turnover in parties, in governing parties. And I think it was
originally intended to be a bit of a celebration of
South Korean prowess and things nuclear. And instead, what
it’s turned out to be is a bit of a
dirge for nuclear power. Because this government,
the current government has said that they want
to get out of nuclear. They’re not going to build
any more nuclear power plants in South Korea. And they will not
allow life extensions of the existing plants. So basically, it really means
it’s the end of the story. And whether or not that will
stick is a good question. Another election,
another party comes in. So you never really know. But certainly the
mood on things nuclear has really dramatically
changed South Korea. RACHEL BRONSON:
Congressman Foster, I know that you have been very
concerned or very focused on the need to try to get
research reactors to convert from highly enriched uranium
into low enriched uranium. And I’m wondering if you
can talk about what’s happening in that context in
a larger context of terrorism, that fear of terrorism can
often drive those concerns. And so maybe through that you– BILL FOSTER: Sure. RACHEL BRONSON:
–help lay it out. BILL FOSTER: Well, I guess I
should start by just saying that there’s– not all enriched uranium
is created equal. The degree of
enrichment is crucial. Once you go above about
20%, it’s a soft number. But at roughly 20%, you can
make a nuclear weapon out of it. Less than that, it gets
exponentially more difficult. And so, for that
reason, if you have a reactor based on low
enriched uranium, 20% or below, it’s almost useless
to terrorists. You can grab the
uranium out of that, and you have to
further enrich it, which means you have to get
centrifuges, everything. It means you pretty much
have to be a nation state to do it and not
a terrorist group. And so there’s just a
qualitative difference. At the end of the
Cold War, there were just several
dozens of countries that had small research reactors
with high enriched uranium, up to 90%. And that, it turns
out, is very easy to turn into a nuclear weapon. [? They ?] [? used ?] just
a simple gun type device. I remember hearing a lecture on
this from a gentleman sitting in the row there. Hi, Henry– who’s got
some family genetics on that– the whole business. So this is a really
important thing. And it’s actually
one of the triumphs since the Cold War is that
we’ve reduced by, I think, 30 different– 30 countries who used
to stock some device with high enriched
uranium, no longer has. It’s been replaced, and there’s
a very, very aggressive program to refurbish the reactors
with low enriched uranium. Now this became a big issue in
the Iran nuclear negotiations, where at some point Iran
agreed that, OK, we will never make a nuclear weapon. And then according to Ernie
Moniz, my source on this, they said, OK, why don’t
you agree then never to enrich past 20%? At which point,
their answer was no. We have the right under
the nonproliferation treaty to enrich arbitrarily
high, and we intend to use that for
our nuclear submarines just like you do. Which, by the letter of the
nonproliferation treaty, they have the right to do. And so then the question
arises, why does anyone? Not everyone does. The French, for example, have a
very successful nuclear program that does not rely on
high enriched uranium. And so one of the things I’ve
been working on in Congress is to see if the United States
can make a transition to using only low enriched uranium on its
carriers and nuclear submarines as well, which is
technically non-trivial. There will be compromises
in the design. But it’s one of the things
where even if there’s a small compromise
in the performance, it makes the world
such a safer place. Then you can think about
going forward and coming up with a new version of the
nonproliferation treaty, that says– that people who
claim they’re never going to make a nuclear
device, a nuclear bomb, will also agree never
to enrich past 20%. Which it turns
out is technically a relatively easy
thing to enforce or to detect a violation of. Could be is if you find
even a microscopic amount of high enriched uranium
in a country that claims they’re never
enriching past 20%, you know they’re cheating. RACHEL BRONSON:
Mike, before we move to some of the US responses
to what we’re seeing, I thought it might be useful
for you to talk through– are some of these challenges
more difficult than they were during the Cold
War, less difficult? How do you try to
kind of organize intelligence gathering to
begin to deal with this changed environment? MICHAEL MORELL: So
there’s two issues, right? One is getting inside
of a nation state that you want to know
what they’re doing. It’s not trivial at all. It’s particularly
not trivial when you’re talking about a
country like North Korea that is sealed hermetically. You know, we don’t have
diplomatic presence. There aren’t US businesses
going in and out, US businesses been
going in and out. So it is very difficult
to get your hands on, to get your arms around. And then the second
is non-state actors. So you mentioned
that terrorists would like to get their hands
on a nuclear weapon. Absolutely, they’ve
said so publicly. We know that they’ve
actually pursued that. And then there’s the
supply side, right? There’s the loose nuclear
material, possibly in Russia, possibly in other places that
you have to keep track of, right? So the state is a
problem because it’s difficult to get at. And the non-state is a problem
because you don’t even know where they are half the time. So it’s quite a challenge. It’s not easy. But the president should
have an expectation that his or her intelligence
community should be able to do those things. And the fact that it’s
hard should be no excuse. RACHEL BRONSON: So
the US finds itself at this moment where we have
some big choices to make. And Bob, maybe
this will go to you to start us talking about
the US modernization program that’s under way. The US is about to– on
the cusp of investing– the numbers are about a
trillion dollars over 30 years. Maybe you could talk a
little bit about this, and maybe address your
concerns about new tests that we might have to undertake
and why that would be important if we move forward with the
plans that we’re seeing. ROBERT ROSNER: So the
modernization program really has its roots
in two separate issues. One has to do with the
fact that, while the United States participated
in the negotiations for the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty, the Senate never ratified it. So the question is,
how did we behave? And the way we behaved is
as if we had ratified it. And this has been true for
both Democratic and Republican administrations. We simply stop testing. So when you do that, the
obvious question comes up? The president says
at some point, which we all hope never, will
never happen, push the button. The button gets pushed,
and the weapons don’t work. So the way that issue was
traditionally addressed is the Department of
Energy would withdraw from the stockpile, the existing
stockpile, weapons at random, would bring them to
the Nevada test site, would bury them, and blow them
up in a monitored performance. And as of the period
when the Compact– we started to behave as if
we had ratified the Treaty, we could no longer do that. So the obvious
question is, how do you know that these things work? So one of the consequences
of answering that question. is the so-called Stockpile
Stewardship Program. It’s a science-based
stockpile stewardship program, and the essence of that was
to use simulations in order to validate statements
that were made about the performance
of these weapons. Now it turns out
there’s another reason for doing this sort of thing. And that has to do
with the fact that it was well-known in the
Department of Energy as well as the Air Force
that these weapons age. Components age. There are certain parts that
age more rapidly than others. They have to be replaced. So there is, in fact, an
ongoing inspection program of all weapons. They are opened up,
taken a look at. Things that are not
working are fixed. Sometimes the things
that are fixed are different from the
original construction. And therefore,
again, the question comes up when you replace
parts with different parts. They’re made
differently, for example. How do you know it will work? So that’s another justification
for this science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program. So what has happened– the first thing that
happened is that there has been an ongoing
refurbishment program of the existing
stockpile that probably dates back to, I’m guessing, the end
of the Clinton administration. It certainly was done during
the two terms of the Bush administration, and it’s
still ongoing today. The second issue has to do with
do we modernize our production facilities? That is, I think, what
you’re actually asking about. So depending on how you view
the size of our stockpile, if the stockpile eventually
will go down to sizes of say, some folks have argued
that 500 warheads– that are on duty,
that are deployed– would be enough for
[? say, ?] the United States, then you could afford to have
production facilities that are nowhere near the
capability of the start up for the production
facilities that we used to have. But others are worried that
maybe that’s not enough. The bottom line
is that, actually, starting in the
Bush administration, we have actually started
to modernize the production facilities as well. So for example, the
Y-12 plant in Tennessee, Oak Ridge has been
completely rebuilt. The Kansas City plant
is being rebuilt, and so on and so forth. So we’re in the process
of basically rebuilding the entire production complex. And that’s largely,
I think, done. The next step is, are we going
to renew the delivery vehicles? You know, you can basically go
through the entire inventory of what exists in the
nuclear system and ask, are we going to
rebuild everything? And the proposal under
the Obama administration was basically to do that. And that’s the trillion dollars
that you’re talking about. I think many people are guessing
that it’s not a trillion. That, maybe, it’s
just a bit more. RACHEL BRONSON: So let
me let me turn that over to Congressman
Foster on this. First of all, do
you think there’s an appetite for supporting
that kind of investment? And what’s the discussion on
the Hill for going forward with a modernization that
seems beyond refurbishment, has the potential to create
a new nuclear arsenal, as some people worry about? BILL FOSTER: Well, do
you mean new capabilities or just replicating
our existing– RACHEL BRONSON:
New capabilities. BILL FOSTER: Well,
it’s unfortunately become a very partisan issue. It’s one of the
tragedies in this. In that both, you know,
nuclear weapons generally and particularly,
ballistic missile defense– are just– there’s this
whole legend out there about Ronald Reagan defeated
the Soviet Union with Star Wars. And this has embedded itself
very strongly in one of the two political parties in our
country as something, a myth that cannot
be questioned. And this is– it makes it
very hard for many members of Congress to
vote against this. You know, it also has the
usual pork aspects of it. A lot of this money
is spent and provides thousands of jobs in certain
congressional districts, certain states. And they’re very
dedicated to this, irrespective of its merits. So you have to swim
against that tide. During the floor debate on
this a couple of years ago now, I asked my colleague on
the other side of the aisle if he could name, we’re
talking about the need to have a capability to
manufacture an enormous number, back to Cold War levels
if we ever had to. And so I asked them,
without getting a response, if they could
give me a list of nations that are insufficiently
intimidated by our existing number of weapons, and that
may be more intimidated and they couldn’t come up
with a very extensive list. And this is a– But it’s a real problem, this
sort of mythology that’s gone– You know, I also frankly
feel kind of lonely. When I entered Congress, I
was the third PhD physicist in the US Congress. There was a bipartisan group
that included Vern Ehlers, who passed away recently. A very, very thoughtful–
he was a nuclear physicist who had somehow
come out of Berkeley in the 1960s as a Republican. But he was a very,
very thoughtful guy. And he demanded a
science-based approach to things like missile defense,
of which he was not a fan, and spent a lot of
time trying to convince his Republican colleagues. But you know, Rush
Holt was the other one, a plasma physicist
from Princeton. And you know, one by one,
the other two retired. And so it’s tough, because
during the Iran nuclear deal there was a page of the
Iran nuclear agreement that was a set of reactor
core specifications for what the changes that had
to be made in the heavy water reactor so it could
not be used to make large amounts of
weapons grade plutonium. And members, Democrats
and Republicans, would come up to me and say,
what the heck does this mean? And I explained it
as best I could, but realized there weren’t
enough of me there to really– you need this
aggregate knowledge that sort of has dissipated
since the Cold War. And it’s a big problem. You have the staff whose
size has also been reduced. When Newt Gingrich
came in, he reduced a lot of the sizes of staff. And so there’s a
lot of knowledge that’s been lost there as well. The Office of
Technology Assessment, another key element of
scientific expertise, was vaporized in the
Gingrich revolution. And it’s one of the
only things, decisions, that has not been reversed. And so you know,
there’s a problem there. Because these are
deeply technical concepts, and there just isn’t
enough aggregate expertise in Congress. RACHEL BRONSON: But
staying on, and I think, that just to wrap it back
up to nuclear reactions, I know one of the goals
of this initiative is to really kind of
think through what is science’s and scientists’
responsibility in kind of engaging with the public. And what’s all of
our responsibility in engaging with the public? The video got it,
just by, I think, it speaks to the
need for all of us, with bringing different talents
to serve in a public role as you’re doing. I do want, before
we go to Mike, I do want to stay a little bit
on ballistic missile defense. Because I know it’s something
you’re thinking about a lot now. And you’re kind of concerned
with how we’re talking about, in terms of our response
to the current situation in North Korea. Because clearly, I
think we’d all feel, it seems like we should
all feel a lot safer if we are able to shoot
these things down. And what’s your take on that? BILL FOSTER: Well, you know,
during the Star Wars time, during the Reagan administration
and after, it became obvious, I think, really, to
everyone that we didn’t have a chance of making
a missile defense system against a full scale
attack from the Soviet Union. That you could just dwarf– you know, that you’d
launch so many missiles, that you’d have to have such a
reliable system that it was not feasible, even if
you could make it work against a single
incoming missile. At this point, the
proponents of the system said, oh, well, it
was not designed to take out a whole
enormous number of incoming Soviet missiles. But how about one or two
missiles from rogue states? And that for the last, what,
20 years, has been the ransom. Now we have one rogue
state with arguably one or a small handful of missiles. And so it had better work
now after all this money. And the difficulty
is that that’s pretty much what they told us. In a pretty much classified
briefing, they said, you know, we have a
significant– they showed us in all of their tests, they
finally got one that worked. And they showed us all
of the video read out of that one test that worked. OK, but if you look
at the fraction of tests that have worked– so that’s problem number one. You know, that it’s
well less than 50% if you just look at
the measured number. But the other problem
is that if you look at all of the
countermeasures that have been talked about publicly,
of which there are probably a couple dozen, this has been
tested against, essentially, none of them. RACHEL BRONSON: This has
been tested against what? BILL FOSTER: Essentially
none of them, without getting
into the numbers. But there are a large number of
fairly obvious countermeasures that a relatively
low tech country could deploy that we have not
tested our system against. And this is– the danger,
the real danger here, is that they will tell
President Trump, not known as a technical
expert, that, oh, yes, we have a solid– don’t
worry about their missile. We have a solid ballistic
missile defense. That is the single
most dangerous thing that could happen. And based on what they
told us in Congress, you know, I’m not convinced that
they’re not telling him that. That’s a huge, huge danger. MIKE MORELL: Can I
add a point here? RACHEL BRONSON: Absolutely. MIKE MORELL: I agree
100% with that. And I would add that we’re not
just dealing with North Korea firing one missile. They’re capable of firing more
than one missile at a time. You remember a couple of months
ago, they fired four at a time. That was a message to us
about missile defense. BILL FOSTER: Yeah, right. And one of the tough things
about missile defense or the economics of
it, it is much cheaper to just swamp something. Also we have to come up
with a missile defense system that works in defense
of South Korea and Japan. And they have nuclear
capable short range missiles and have for some
period of time. And you don’t have to
solve the re-entry problem and stuff like that for certain
kinds of short range missiles. So there’s a danger there that
we’re sort of looking only at ballistic missile
defense, without even mentioning the whole problem
of smuggled nuclear weapons. Robert Oppenheimer
sort of famously said, under questioning from
a member of Congress, said, well, you know,
isn’t it possible for the Russians to sneak a
nuclear weapon into New York? And they go, yeah,
they can do that. Pretty much anyone
who has one can. Well, how do we detect that? And he said, well,
with a screwdriver, meaning that you pry
open every suitcase. And you unscrew every
container coming in. And you know the
truth of the matter is it is not hard to
shield things that make it very hard to detect. RACHEL BRONSON: And former
Secretary of Defense Bill Perry has created
this whole video where that’s what
keeps him up at night, that notion of smuggling
and of a weapon that could be
detonated in a city. Mike, I want to come to you
with your thoughts about that, about how we begin
to prepare ourselves, and how we’ve been doing at how
we’ve been preparing ourselves over the last number of years. Before I do, I was
remiss at the beginning. There will be University of
Chicago students and staff walking around. I think you got question cards. If you have questions,
I see a few on the side. You can lift up their cards,
and we’ll get those just in a few minutes. So Mike, that’s kind of a
segue into this breakdown between domestic
and international that has been occurring and
how we think about security. Can you talk a little bit
about that, of how we’ve been– have we been doing a good job
in trying to respond to that? MIKE MORELL: I think post-911,
the concerns about terrorists being able to come
to the United States and conduct an attack,
along with what we knew was Al Qaeda’s interest in
nuclear weapons, there was, post-911, an intense focus on
not only monitoring what they were doing, but also preparing
here at home to both detect and respond. So there was an
awful lot of work that the Executive
Branch did post-911 that I think was good work. And the technology for detection
has advanced significantly over the last 15 years. And that’s a good thing. But there shouldn’t
be anybody who thinks that the risk has
been fully mitigated. This is still a
very serious issue. And I think it actually
probably deserves a little bit more attention
than it’s getting today. I think some of the
attention has dwindled away, as Al Qaeda was undermined
in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and as it became increasingly
clear that Al Qaeda was having a difficult time sending
people here to conduct attacks. We made that so
much more difficult. And I think there’s less
attention today than there was in 2003, 2004, 2005. And I think probably
some of that attention needs to come back, given
the risks that we now face to that from nation states. RACHEL BRONSON: Mm hm. I’m mindful of time,
and I want to make sure we have enough
time to spend on the Iran deal, which has
been a huge issue domestically. And we have the president
saying that he’s made a decision to certify whether Iran is
in compliance in the next two weeks. And he just hasn’t told
us what those answers are. So this is really an
important topic for us. Mike, maybe I can
start with you, then, just given where
we finished off. What are you hearing from
Iranians and our allies about their views
of how the Iran deal is going, whether
or not Iran is compliant? And how do they want to
see us manage our response? MIKE MORELL: Yeah, let me just
step back a little bit further and say, with regard to Iran,
there’s 2 buckets of issues. The first bucket is the Iranian
nuclear weapons program. Which as I said earlier,
as a result of the Iran nuclear deal, as a result of
the JCPOA, that is in the box. It’s in the box
both from what they can do at their
declared facilities, but it’s also in the box from
what they can do covertly. That’s this great
strength of this deal. And they’re in the box for
the next 10 to 15 years. There’ll be some
aspects of the deal that expire in 10 years,
12 years, 15 years, but some of the aspects of
the deal will never expire. Will we need to
think about extending some of those restrictions
at some point? Yes, we will. But right now,
they’re in the box. And I would think, and
this is my own view now, I would think that the last
thing we want to do right now is reopen that issue. Do we want a nuclear crisis
with Iran at the very same time that we’re dealing with a
nuclear crisis with North Korea? So that’s bucket one. Bucket two is all the bad things
that Iran does around the world and in the region. Their own terrorism,
support to terrorism, support to insurgents, their
desire that the state of Israel be wiped off the
face of the planet. There’s a whole bunch
of stuff, right, that the Iranians do
that we don’t like. And what do we do about that? And then, across the
top of the whole thing, are the most interesting
politics in Iran that we’ve seen in a very,
very, very long time. And that is a real
struggle inside of Iran for the future direction
of that country between whether or not it’s going to
remain a revolutionary state or become a normal state. And as we manage
the nuclear issue, and as we manage that
regional misbehavior issue, we have to make sure that
we don’t, in the process of managing those two things,
strengthen the hardliners and weaken the moderates. The one thing that we would
guarantee do if we walked away from the nuclear deal is
strengthen the hardliners and weaken the moderates. And to get to your point,
we would separate ourselves from our allies. Nobody would be with us. We would be all by ourselves. So that’s kind of
my view on this. I think it would be a strategic
mistake of historic proportion to walk away from this deal. And last point is, the Iranians
are largely in compliance with the deal. They are fully in compliance
with the large pieces and most important
pieces of the deal. They are lagging in compliance
on some minor things. But on the most important
things, they are in compliance. RACHEL BRONSON: So a
Congressman sitting on the hill, you’re clearly hearing
some different things from your colleagues. But what we are seeing
from news reports is that there is growing
bipartisan interest, and I don’t know how
significant that is, in trying to get the
president to certify that Iran is in compliance. This is going to
occupy, I assume, the next couple of
weeks of your attention. Is there anything
you can tell us from the Hill about
where this is going, and maybe the
implications of it? BILL FOSTER: Well,
the biggest problem is that there’s a lot of desire
particularly on the other side of the aisle to somehow merge
the two buckets of issues together. And the asymmetry that
makes that not feasible is that the reason the
Iran nuclear deal worked is that you had a
unanimity of super powers that we should stop
this from happening. You know, that’s why you had
China and Russia, as well as the EU, in on the
sanctions against them. But there is not that
unanimity against all of the other terrorism
support and stuff like that. For example, Russia is
perfectly OK with what Iran is doing in Syria, for example. And so there is
not the possibility of having sanctions,
you know, those kind of inclusive sanctions that we
had for the nuclear only deal. And that’s something that
opponents of the deal never have honestly faced up
to, that real life symmetry. RACHEL BRONSON: And are you
seeing a bipartisan group emerging or what is it
still pretty fractured, and everyone’s waiting to see? BILL FOSTER: Everyone is sort
of crossing their fingers and hoping that the president
finds some reason to– because if it gets
thrown back in, it’s just become so
partisan that this is seen with a lens that’s
not too different than let’s destroy President Obama’s
legacy by a significant bloc of members of Congress. And it’s sad, but ignoring
that reality is not wise. So I think the stakes
are extremely high. RACHEL BRONSON: Bob,
one of the things that I found so interesting
during the Iran deal itself was the role of the labs. And I remember a story
that David Sanger had, and it was the front page
below the fold, about that the role that the nuclear labs
were playing in terms of either pushing back to say
these restrictions aren’t tight enough and
actually testing out, and recreated a simulation
of the Iranian labs. What role did the labs play, as
you’re very close to the labs. So what roles, that you can
talk about, have they played? And what roles can
they continue to play in terms of some of
this verification, in terms of compliance? ROBERT ROSNER: So the last
question that you asked, the verification issue,
is exactly where the labs have played a major role. One of the provisions
in the agreement is that the Iranians
get a warning period that inspectors will show up. So inspectors can’t just
show up unannounced. And so the question,
the obvious question is, is it possible
for the Iranians to basically scrub
their facilities? They have a program. It was a program, they scrub
it, and could they hide it? And this is clearly
a major issue. And one of the things that
the labs helped really clarify is that, basically you
can’t scrub enough. They can’t really hide it. You have something like
20 days, and in 20 days, you cannot clean it up enough. So if there is illicit
activity, it will be found. And the labs have been
a mainstay in developing the technology for detection. This has been a major issue. And one of the really
interesting questions for the future is could you
do detection standoff, where you don’t have to go
and visit the sites? Could you do it from afar? So this is something that,
if it can be done reliably, would be a huge, huge advantage. BILL FOSTER: And the labs
were just spectacular. During, I think, during the
run up to the vote in Congress, I think I had more than a
dozen classified briefings, many of them
individual briefings with the lab scientists that
supported the negotiations. And for example, one of
the major representations the administration made about it
was the one year breakout time. That if Iran at some
point said forget it, kick out the
inspectors, we’re just going to go and make
weapons as fast as we can, that we had one year
between the time they kicked out the
inspectors and the time that they had their hands on
the first nuclear weapon’s worth of material. And so to evaluate that one
year breakout time, which is a question I got asked a lot
by other members of Congress, did I believe that one
year breakout time? You know, you have to look
down every possible path to a nuclear weapon, of
which, unfortunately, there are very many. Both plutonium– they have
a conventional light water reactor that, at certain
times in the fuel cycle, has a tremendous amount of
weapons usable plutonium in it. And there’s various documents
out there in cyberspace on ways that have been
contemplated to very rapidly reprocess stuff. And so that’s one of
many examples of paths you have to evaluate. And I was really impressed
when I went to the labs. And they said, OK, well,
first off the answer is no, and here’s why. And secondly,
here’s a white paper that we can get you at
some subsequent briefing if you want to know the details. And just the level
to which Ernie Moniz had engaged the labs. You know, when you see
government really working well, you should give them
a pat on the back, so that’s what this is. MIKE MORELL: Yes. Can I just give Ernie
Moniz a pat on the back? BILL FOSTER: Yes. MIKE MORELL: I think
this deal ended up being as strong as it is because
Ernie was at the negotiating table– BILL FOSTER: Yes. MIKE MORELL: –both as
the Secretary of Energy and the institutional
knowledge that brought. But as the person Ernie Moniz. I think it was huge. BILL FOSTER: Yep. RACHEL BRONSON: So I
think we’re about to turn for some questions coming up. Maybe as they come
up, since we’ve got a room full of
students, is there anything that you would like to tell
those students in terms of these big questions of,
well, what do we do, right? What do we do about
some of the things we’ve been talking about? We have scientists,
a Congressman, and intel analyst here. What advice would you have
for the audience here in terms of areas that, if
they pursued now, could actually be very helpful
to some of the discussions that we’ve had? BILL FOSTER: Number
one, get a PhD. And number two, run
for the US Congress. [LAUGHTER] MIKE MORELL: I was going to say
get a PhD and come to the CIA. ROBERT ROSNER: I would
say just get informed. RACHEL BRONSON: So
the first– that answers our first question. Because the first question is
with many present and growing problems with nuclear
threats, what, if anything, can average citizens do to
encourage positive change? How about– let’s see. Give me a second here. So this is, Congressman
Foster, for you. Given the lack of
physicists in Congress, how can we get more
experts into Congress? Are there things that
you would recommend? Any changes we need to make? Or experts just need to raise
their hand and run for office? BILL FOSTER: Well, it’s
a tough meat grinder that you have to put yourself
through to run for office. You know, they often
mention the highest hurdle of having to raise a
large amount of money for your campaigns is a real– it’s a real problem. I spend a fair amount
of my time trying to recruit other scientists
to run for office. And very often you get all
the way through the discussion where they say, OK, I’ve had
the discussion with my spouse. And I can take a
one year sabbatical. Because you have to at
least have enough money to take a year off without
getting a paycheck. But then when they look
at the reality of what you have to do with your
time to raise money, it’s very hard to get a
really competent person willing to spend a large
amount of their life that way. So it’s one of the worst things
about our system right now. It makes it much less of a
meritocracy than it could be. Because we have this
filter that says only people willing to do that
really have a realistic chance. And that’s tough. On the other hand,
there’s this question that everyone has
to ask themselves of what fraction of
your life will you spend in service to your fellow man? And it turns out science
is no help at all with answering that question. But in the end, it’s something
everyone has to answer. And you know, public
service and elected office is one of the
highest leverage uses of your time with whatever
fraction of your life you decide to spend in
service to your fellow man. RACHEL BRONSON: So
here, this is a question that tries to pull together
things that we’ve talked about. Maybe it gives
you an opportunity to think of summary takeaways. If we’re in a
mini-Cold War situation with North Korea and others,
what can the Cold War teach us today? So what are some of
the lessons learned from then that are actually
applicable to the situation we find ourselves in now? That’s probably to each
of you to think through. MIKE MORELL: So I’ll start
and say deterrence works. That’s one of the
lessons of the Cold War. And one of the things
we’ve got to think about is, if we’re not able to
convince Kim Jong Un not to go down this road,
the next question becomes how do we deter? And I believe that the Cold
War teaches answers to that. I think the other
thing the Cold War teaches you is that you have
to talk to the other side. And you have to understand the
reasons they’re doing this. And if you can’t talk to
them, you can’t get anywhere. So I think that’s
critically important. Those are the two lessons
I would apply here. ROBERT ROSNER: Now I
would say that there is a lesson, which is a
kind of an anti-lesson that the Cold War taught us. Which is that, because
deterrence works, the question is would deterrence
ever work for non-state actors? And the answer is probably no. That’s the scary part. Because we’ve talked
earlier this evening about non-state actors. And we know that there
are non-state actors that, for example, would be
willing to die to get access to what would usually,
traditionally, has been thought of material too hot to handle,
literally to hot to handle. There are folks that probably
are willing to do that. So that’s the scary part. BILL FOSTER: I draw lessons
not so much from the Cold War, but if you look at cyber
security and computer viruses, almost everything bad that can
be done with computer viruses has been done. And so when you think about
bioterror, for example, for which– you can
detect a nuclear– the facility to build a nuclear
bomb can be seen by satellites. That’s not true of
a bioterror lab. And the threshold
for that is dropping and dropping and dropping. And so this is one of the things
that keeps me up at night. That all this stuff is
out there on the internet. The biohacking thing
is not that different. And we just– every generation
has to engage on this. I think there is– our democracy, and I think
people generally don’t do well at dealing with tail risk. Barney Frank, with whom I
served on the Financial Services Committee, said it’s
almost impossible to get credit in politics
for disasters averted. And I think that is fundamental. If you just increase
bank capital requirements so that we don’t have
a crisis, everyone yells at you for slowing
down economic growth. And that’s, I guess,
the nature of things. But you have to recognize it
and lean against that tendency. RACHEL BRONSON:
So this picks up, this question picks up on that. And Mike, it’s directed to you. What certainty do we have that
weapons grade materials are not already in the
hands of terrorists? MIKE MORELL: Well,
we don’t know, right? I mean, we don’t know for sure. There’s not many things
that I know with certainty, and that’s certainly
one of them. You know, we do have pretty
good intelligence access to terrorist groups. It’s been worked
very, very hard, as you can imagine, since 9/11. So that gives me
some confidence. Also, I could not agree more
that if they got their hands on it, they would use it. No doubt in my mind. So I’d say I’m 95% certain that
a terrorist organization does not have their hands on
fissile material at the moment. RACHEL BRONSON: So this goes
back up to state actors, that we haven’t talked
about China very much. And so what is the
role and impact of China on the current
nuclear landscape? I might look at
Bob, because he’s coming back from South Korea. So clearly some of
your conversation must have included China. ROBERT ROSNER: It did. RACHEL BRONSON: Then Michael. ROBERT ROSNER: So in the
South Korean context, there are two different issues. One of them is that China
has been positioning itself to become a reactor exporter. They don’t really yet do that. But they’re
certainly positioning themselves to do it. And if the Koreans really do
get out of the nuclear business, basically there will
be two countries in the world that will
be actively selling nuclear reactors. And it’s interesting
that those two countries will be China and Russia,
not a single Western country. Going back to the missile
defense issue, of course, the Chinese, you can
imagine, don’t particularly appreciate us putting
theater anti-missile defenses in South Korea, which
is what we’re doing. RACHEL BRONSON: What worries
you about China’s export of nuclear technology. They don’t have an interest
in spreading this around. So they’re trying
to figure out how to export civilian nuclear
power technologies. They have no interest in
recreating another North Korea. Why are you worried about it? ROBERT ROSNER: I
think they see it as– they’re quite rational
about these things. I mean, if anything, they
think for the long haul. And my sense is that they have
decided that they will get out of the coal business
this century, and it will be replaced by
some combination of nuclear and renewables of some sort. And since they will be
able to take advantage of the advantage of scale– because they’re going to be
building lots of reactors, they’re building 20
reactors right now– they’ll be world
beating in terms of price on the export market. Of course, the unknown
is whether or not in 20, 30, 40 years anyone
will want nuclear reactors. That’s not– we don’t know that. But they’re certainly betting
that the answer is yes. RACHEL BRONSON: Mike, what’s
your answer to that question of China’s role? And I’d love to
get your thoughts. Would you worry
about China being a exporter of nuclear technology
for civilian energies? MIKE MORELL: No,
I wouldn’t at all. I mean, they’re not
going to proliferate the kind of technologies
that should worry us. On North Korea, they have very
large strategic interests here. Strategic interest number one
is that they understand, better than anybody, what the downsides
are for them of North Korea having nuclear weapons and
the ability to deliver them. They understand that
that will likely lead the South Koreans to go
down the nuclear weapons route. They understand that all of
that will get the Japanese to at least think about it. They understand what it
means for missile defense, in not only South Korea,
but Japan and Guam. They understand
all of that, right? They understand the amount
of American force structure there’s going to
be put in East Asia to protect ourselves
from North Korea. They get all of that. They also understand
the military risks that this creates, and that’s
not in their interests. On the other hand,
right, they worry deeply that them using their
leverage to squeeze Kim Jong Un around the neck to try to
get him to change his behavior risks a collapse of the regime. And in that risk of a
collapse of the regime, they fear three things. They fear– the one
you hear the most, but it’s actually
the least important– is the hundreds of
thousands of refugees coming across their border
from North Korea into China. They also fear, in a collapse
scenario, loose nuclear weapons in North Korea. Nobody in charge. Nobody with control over
the nuclear weapons. And then the thing they fear
absolutely the most, and they will simply never
allow it to happen, is a united Korea allied
with the United States on their border. And so they’re pulled in two
different directions here. It would seem to me that
it would be extraordinarily wise to be having
behind the scenes, not public, conversations
with the Chinese that are based on mutual
respect about how should we together, the United
States and China together, deal with this problem
of North Korea? And that we shouldn’t be
subtly threatening China with conducting military
operations against North Korea. Part of what we’re
doing is trying to intimidate the Chinese into
action, which is not the way to get the Chinese to play. Or to subtly threaten
them with, if you don’t play on North
Korea, we’re going to come after you on trade. That is not the way to
deal with the Chinese. The way to deal
with them is to go sit down with them
in Beijing and have a conversation about our joint
strategic interests here, and how do we work together. It’s not only an opportunity
to deal successfully with North Korea, but
it’s an opportunity to set the stage for a
future US-China relationship where we actually work
together on these issues, rather than apart. RACHEL BRONSON: Bill? BILL FOSTER: I think there is– and I was disappointed to
learn, at least to my ability to learn things, that the
Chinese have basically refused to engage on any
discussion of what happens the day after a military event. You know, I am
confident the US would be willing to agree to
all kinds of limitations to where US forces end up
inside whatever form of Korea survives that. But the reason that we have
to be talking about it, the Chinese, I understand,
refuse to discuss it, because they think
that increases the probability that the US
might try something militarily. On the other hand, my biggest
fear in this whole situation we’re in, is that there’s
going to be an assassination attempt, successful or not,
that will be interpreted as a decapitating strike. And that there will be in
place teams of fanatics who’s under orders to go pull the
trigger if their leader dies for any artificial reason. And you know, the
odds are not zero that that could happen any time. And the fact that we do not
have contingency planning with the Chinese is
really scary to me. MIKE MORELL: Can I just say
one more thing about China? So when the rhetoric was at
its hottest between Kim Jong Un and President Trump a month
ago, although it’s getting there again, the Chinese
came out publicly, and they said two things. First thing they said was, if
the United States preemptively attacks North Korea. We will fight on
behalf of North Korea. And then the second
thing they said was, if North Korea starts
something militarily, they’re on their own. So this is China trying
to deter both of us. This was, in my view, China
being the adult in the room. This was a role the United
States of America used to play. Here the Chinese are playing it. RACHEL BRONSON: What’s
the panel’s view in terms of strategic stability? How much do we need
nuclear weapons to deter others from
using it against us? And can we continue to
reduce our nuclear arsenals given that we might need them? Who want to take that one? Who wants to talk about
mutually assured destruction? [LAUGHTER] ROBERT ROSNER: I’m going
to take a shot at it. So there certainly has
been a growing movement for going to zero. And of course, President Obama’s
really famous and wonderful Prague talk was all about that. But in the final
analysis, the issue has always been coming up with
a plan of how you get there. And this has bedeviled all
attempts at disarmament from the beginning
of discussions in 1950s, which is
to figure out a route to get to zero that deals with
the problem of misbehavior, of cheating. And one of the
issues, of course, is that when we talk about the
reduction of nuclear weapons, the strategic weapons,
we’re really only talking about the ones
that, if you like, are on duty, the ones
that are deployed. So those nominally
1,500 on our side, 1,500 on the Russian side. But now we can ask, well,
how many are there actually, not deployed? Well, in order of magnitude,
a little more than that. They’re in storage somewhere. And the obvious
question is, how do you ensure that these
things really disappear? And I think no one really has a
good answer for that question. That’s the real
conundrum in my mind. That coming up with
a plan that really guards against misbehavior
is very, very challenging. Nobody’s figured it out. BILL FOSTER: And if you imagine
a scenario where somehow, magically, everyone gradually
reduces their arsenals, there is a point that you get
to where the numbers are small, and where they’re no longer
existence threatening. I find it, for example,
hard to imagine a future Israel
that will give up its last few nuclear weapons. Just because of real
dangers they face, I think that’s
probably the reality. It would be hard
for us to give up our last few nuclear weapons. But still, if you
can get to a point where at least worst
case scenario does not obliterate all mankind, you’ve
made a heck of an improvement in the outlook for humanity. ROBERT ROSNER: I agree. BILL FOSTER: I think
that should be what we should focus on more than zero. Because the last– yeah. ROBERT ROSNER: Not gonna happen. MIKE MORELL: I don’t know
why I thought of this, but I’ll say this. If you were to make a list
of the national security interests of the United States. At the top of the list would be
the preservation of the nation. And as I think about the
risks, the existential risks to the nation, right,
I only see three. I see nuclear war between
the United States and Russia. I see a naturally
occurring or man made biological agent that
kills millions and millions and millions of Americans. And I see climate change. And– BILL FOSTER: You need– you need to have a
briefing on the [? AI– ?] MIKE MORELL: Yeah,
and maybe I need to think about adding
that to the list. But there’s a tremendous amount
of work, right, on the first, for decades. There’s very little
work being done on two. And there’s very little
work being done on three. RACHEL BRONSON: And little
work being done on your fourth, perhaps. BILL FOSTER: Well,
that is a tough one. MIKE MORELL: It’s
a tough one, yeah. BILL FOSTER: It’s one of these
things like bioterror, where the footprint is so small
for cyberattacks attacks or bioterror. RACHEL BRONSON: So
the last question raises us up and probably gets
us to the kind of conversation that the University organizers
would like us to finish on, which is– and it’s addressed
to all three of you– which is, what other issues
facing the US today would benefit from a Manhattan
Project-like big science approach? ROBERT ROSNER: I would
love to start that one off. It’s one of the issues
that we just mentioned, which is climate change. Both from the point of view
of thinking through how to replace the existing energy
infrastructure, the one that is basically fossil-based,
to improve the efficiency with which we deliver power. And then finally– since my
own fear is that we’ve passed the point in terms of carbon
loading of the atmosphere where we’re not going to
see serious effects, I think we’re well
past that point– thinking through how we
actually deal with the response to climate change, adaptation. And those are all issues that
will require a lot of money on the research end, and then
finally on the deployment end. None of these things
will be cheap. I think that’s a great example. But it requires the body
politic to finally accept the fact that there is
human-caused climate change, and we’re not there yet. RACHEL BRONSON: I’m
pleased to say that we had a cover story of that in 1970. [LAUGHTER] RACHEL BRONSON:
And so is unanimity around climate
change, or is there other things we
should also be talking about that could benefit
from kind of this big science approach? BILL FOSTER: Well,
I think our economy is about to be
transformed by AI, robots building robots, which
are an exponential technology. And we’re going to have to
completely rethink our economy. You know, everyone’s kind of
familiar with the old science fiction story about
one person who owns the robot factory and
no one can compete in any job with the robots built by
the robots in this factory. And we’re within spitting
distance of that. And you can see
our economy already straining under the
effects of that. If you just look at
the stress of retail under the stress
due to Amazon, which is basically the robots in the
Amazon distribution centers and the websites
replacing retail jobs. That this is really, I think,
the economic and political challenge of our generation. I think it’s already distorting
US politics, and world politics, for that matter. And it’s a big deal, and we
have to rethink, fundamentally, our economy, both
internationally and inside our country. RACHEL BRONSON: And
is your primary focus on that the unemployment
or the underemployment that’s going to come from
artificial intelligence, or are you worried about, on a
military sense, how these wars are going to be fought? BILL FOSTER: Well,
that’s another one. You know, if you Google lethal
autonomous weapons systems, you are led to a very
interesting video by Stuart Russell, who’s the
guy that wrote the book on AI that essentially everyone uses. And so watch that
video, and then think about what you do
about small drones programmed with facial recognition to go
land on your head and go boom. This is– and you’ve
been having some of this in the [INAUDIBLE]. Because this is– the
Pentagon is on to this. And we’re seeing that ISIS
is using a very low tech application of drones. And when you add
artificial intelligence, facial recognition,
all that into the mix, and the tremendously low
cost of this technology. It’s going to be transformative. MIKE MORELL: This is
not a physical sciences answer to the questions. It’s a social science answer. So people always ask me in
fora like this, you know, what’s your number one concern? What keeps you up at
night, blah, blah, blah. And when I was the
Deputy Director of CIA, I would always answer that with
an intelligence answer, right? I would say terrorists
with nuclear weapons. And that does, continue
to scare me to death. But what really
keeps me up at night is the failure of our
politics to come together as Democrats and Republicans
to compromise and solve all of the problems that
we have as a society, these two included, right? And to make the
decisions that are necessary to push our economy
and our society forward. Because at the end of the day,
the most important determinant of a country’s national
security is the health of its economy and its society. Everything else pales
in comparison long term. And you know, there’s a lot of
reasons why our politics are the way they are. I’m sure the Congressman can
speak eloquently about this for quite some time, and you
know, from the 24 hour news cycle to Citizens United
to all sorts of things. But if we don’t get
our arms around that, we don’t get our
arms around anything. RACHEL BRONSON: So I think
one of the concluding thoughts from this, too, and tying
it back to the video that we saw in the
beginning is when we’re able to marry research
and government funding towards an end,
there’s almost nothing that we can’t do. But when we can’t do this,
because we can’t politically define our priorities and
come together to achieve them, we’re really straitjacketed. So the charge for all
of us is to continue to work on how to figure
out how we as voters can make our politics better. And the answers aren’t
clear or out there. But we certainly have
to figure that out. So with that, I want to thank
the University of Chicago again for kicking off
this Nuclear Reaction. Darren, I think I’ll
turn it back over to you. DARREN REISBERG: Let me
just extend my thanks back to Rachel Bronson, Michael
Morell, Congressman Foster, and Professor Rosner for
what was an enlightening launch to the Nuclear
Reactions commemoration. And I just would ask you to give
them all a round of applause. [APPLAUSE]

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