Carmen Wunderlich: The biggest problem is the mutual lack of understanding
An interview with Carmen Wunderlich, who works as a Research Associate at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF). She studied Political Science Philosophy and German Language and Literature Studies at the University of Frankfurt. She also carried out a research stay at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non–Proliferation in 2012.
What is your main point of interest?
My interest consists of norms pertaining to the control of weapons of mass destruction, including nonproliferation and disarmament. PRIF has many different research areas. The one in which I work deals with international security and world order. I focus on countries which are labeled as rogue states, such as Iran, and last but not least, I also have some expertise on Sweden. At first glance it may seem incomprehensible. Why should I focus on Sweden and Iran? I chose Sweden as a country that is usually analysed as a prime example of a disarmament advocate, for in the theoretical part of my PhD thesis I work with the concept of norm entrepreneurship, that is, countries that work for the evolution and strengthening of norms. In my thesis I ask a counterintuitive question: whether rogue states might also act as norm entrepreneurs and, if so, to what extent their norm advocacy differs from that of prototypical norm entrepreneurs. Thus, for my empirical analysis I chose Iran and its interpretation and advocacy of norms in the realm of multilateral arms control. I would like to mention that at the PRIF we have many Country Specialists and also even some experts who focus on special types of weapons. Due to their expertise, some of them have acted as advisers to the German delegations to various treaty conferences, such as the NPT Review Conferences.
Do you think it's hard to keep the peace today, when we have so many international organizations and democratic states?
Good question. Personally, I think it should be easier nowadays because we have more democracy, and more international organizations, and therefore I think it would be easier for the states to cooperate, to sit at one table and act collectively. A few years ago it was much more difficult because there weren´t so many channels through which the states could communicate, so we must also emphasize the impact of technical progress. Also the media has had some impact. People tend to be more informed and have the opportunity to act quickly. A good example is the chemical weapons attack in Syria in August 2013, when the pictures of the victims came through the media so quickly that people had a chance to demand, "It's time to do something. Now our government must respond." Therefore, I think it is still not an easy task to keep the peace, but at least today there are multiple ways of doing it.
Do you believe that the existence of international organizations is effective? For example, the existence of the OSCE?
I think the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) is currently facing a phase of transition, and it must think about how to respond to the challenges of our time, such as the events in Ukraine. I believe that a lot will happen in the upcoming years but it is speculative, and I'm not an expert on the OECD. As for the UN, I think it has a very important role. It is the organization charged with maintaining peace and international security for all. But there is much to be done to ensure that the Member States´ dissatisfaction is minimized and resolved – for example, their dissatisfaction pertaining to unjust decision-making procedures and unfair burden sharing. It is high time for a reform of the Security Council, as many states, particularly those from Asia and Africa, claim not to be included properly. If the reform will not solve these issues, dissatisfaction and injustice will continue to grow. Considering the previous years, we can say that the UN is not perfect, but it is indispensable. Without the UN the world would be a worse place. The UN is only as good as its members make it to be. It needs much more political will to make the UN a more inclusive, transparent, and efficient institution.
What do you think is the biggest problem in the world today?
I think the biggest problem is basically an ongoing and ever increasing lack of mutual understanding between states. Research has long pointed towards the importance of understanding that different countries have different perceptions as to how they interpret and act towards current problems. I do not know if you noticed, but yesterday at the conference, someone spoke about the role of emotions. Usually, we tend to see states as rational actors only, so states sit at one table and rationally bargain about their interests, about politics, and about security, but in the end it´s more about emotion than rationality. For example, take Iran and the USA. For 35 years the two states did not come together; they did not even talk to each other because of a history full of misunderstandings and past grievances. Events in the past have resulted in a vicious circle of mutual hatred and fear, and this drives their policies towards each other. It is not at all rational; it is emotions. Usually, when dealing with others, we should take into account that the other party has its own needs and its own perception of the situation; we should try to find some middle way and be careful not to insist on the position that our interpretation is the only one and the correct one.
What do you think about Iran's nuclear program? Is it really as peaceful as they say?
Well, to keep a complicated issue short, up to 2003 Iran secretly worked on a nuclear weapons option. Thanks to the revelation of some weapons-related activitists, this project was interrupted. While Tehran has been able to acquire the technical capabilities and knowledge necessary to build nuclear weapons, there is quite some ambiguity regarding Iran’s intentions to actually build a bomb. Personally, I think that Iran aims towards a nuclear weapon capability, that is, the ability to build a bomb in a rather short time frame if need be. The reasons for Iran’s nuclear policy are manifold and security-related, but it is also driven by the strife for prestige and status. Iran also wants to be technically able to partake in nuclear weapons research (for peaceful purposes) on an equal footing with other nuclear energy holders and to demonstrate its status as a technologically modern state.
For example, countries such as Brazil, Germany, Japan, etc. are trusthworthy non-nuclear weapon states and are allowed to have enrichment capacities, as nobody believes that they have intentions to clandestinely work on a bomb. So in order to solve the crisis with Iran and ensure that the program is for peaceful purposes only, I think it is necessary that Iran comes clean with its past weapons-related activities and accepts comprehensive transparency measures. Simultaneously, the international community will have to accept a limited enrichment programe in Iran and the fact that Iran is involved in nuclear research like other countries. We have to be able to distinguish this.
At present, the relations between Russia and Ukraine as well as those between Russia and the USA are very tense. Do you think the nuclear-free zone will somehow develop further?
I believe so, yes. I think it does not depend on the strained relations between Russia and the USA, because this nuclear-free zone is in the interests of both of the countries.
Can we expect any change?
I’m afraid we can not expect a change in the tense relations too soon. But as far as a nuclear-weapon-free zone is concerned I hope that by the end of this year or early next year a conference will be held in Helsinki to explore the issue further. Ultimately, everything hinges on whether Israel agrees to participate. If it does, chances are good for a change.
Now there will be a few questions as to the Agenda. Was it useful and beneficial for you and your work?
Yes, it was a great benefit to me; I got a lot of new information, even about subjects to which I do not pay so much attention - for example, the relationship between the US and Russia. It's the perfect opportunity to meet old colleagues and get to know new ones, and to do some networking, and I must say that the most important conversations are always held during the coffee break or lunch time. I'd say it was one of the best conferences I attended in the last few years.
What does the Prague Agenda 2014 mean to you?
I perceive the agenda as very important in its content, and personally I hope that someday we will have a world without nuclear weapons. I find it great that so many different countries and actors are involved and that we are discussing the so-called two-track diplomacy because when states with nuclear weapons will only act among each other, it will never solve anything, so we still need the influence of smaller states, which are very important - the Czech Republic, Germany, northern states, etc. - and, of course, civil-society actors and experts alike are also impoortant in this respect. It was also great that the organizers gathered together various types of actors - people from ministries, institutes of the EU, the EAS, etc., though it was not easy during the workshop because it was evident that there were a lot of different positions. There are plenty of positions that can not be solved easily, but it is important to talk about them together and to try to find a common language.
How can the Prague Agenda affect global nuclear disarmament?
As I said, it's all about communication, about creating new models of information exchange. I learned a lot of things here because different people know different pieces of information, have different experiences and gain other kinds of information, so when we meet together and have discussions, together we can develop new ideas.
Interview by: Marcela Cimflová
About the author
Marcela Cimflová is a student of International Relations and European Studies at Metropolitan University Prague. She spent one year in Germany in order to better understand its culture and improve her language skills. Her German experience is one of the reasons why Marcela chose to interview Carmen Wunderlich from the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt and tried to see the issue of nuclear weapons from her point of view.