The year 2020 kicks off a new decade. What will the next 10 years bring in the areas of health, technology, climate, the economy, politics and more? In a new recurring series, UKNow explores the next decade by asking University of Kentucky experts to discuss and predict upcoming trends in their areas.
We spoke with former peace mediator and retired U.S. Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh, a Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce professor of diplomacy and conflict resolution, and asked him to look ahead at how international relations and diplomacy will shape 2020 and beyond.
UKNow: What are you watching for or predicting in the coming decade that you think will be of interest or importance in your field of expertise?
Cavanaugh: As we enter a new decade, three trends I am most concerned about are the increased danger posed by nuclear weapons, the mounting need to address global climate change and — needless to say — the challenge of effectively handling international public health crises.
We enter 2020 with key pillars of the arms control regime established over the past 50 years collapsing. Efforts to deal with the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and growing ballistic missile capability are dead in the water. Furthermore, the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has brought the U.S. and Iran to the edge of conflict and is regrettably moving Tehran closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Equally troubling has been the breakdown of the landmark 1987 treaty brokered by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that eliminated short and intermediate range nuclear weapons (INF). This has led both Moscow and Washington to accelerate programs to develop and deploy new weapons. Indeed, the key treaty remaining that limits strategic nuclear weapons — New START — is set to expire in 2021, with little prospect of renewal. The likelihood of a major nuclear arms race and greater nuclear proliferation is increasing.
As regards to climate, international cooperation remains stalled, despite historic temperature swings and extreme weather events becoming an accepted new normal. Water has become a particular problem with either too much (widespread flooding and coastal storm surges) or too little (severe drought, which can create food shortages and lead to ferocious wildfires as we saw last year in California and Australia).
We already see evidence of climate change spawning significant population flows between countries and increasing the prospects for conflict over water resources. There is a dire need for worldwide diplomatic approaches to mitigate the effects of climate change, as well as to improve disaster preparedness and the coordination of relief efforts.
Added to the above mix is the unprecedented threat of COVID-19, which emerged last December in China, was deemed an international public health emergency in January, and declared a pandemic in March. It has already spread to more than 185 countries and territories, infecting over 3 million people and causing over 200,000 deaths.
International collaboration was effective earlier in dealing with Ebola and SARS outbreaks, but COVID-19 has dramatically underscored the need for greater cooperation and strengthened international institutions to track and investigate emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases and to respond swiftly and effectively to contain their spread. This was deemed by Dr. Anthony Fauci 15 years ago as “the perpetual challenge.”
UKNow: How can UK contribute to this conversation?
Cavanaugh: Training, research, and outreach are already being done across UK to help tackle these challenges. At the Patterson School of Diplomacy, we are preparing our students for positions in government, the private sector, and the NGO community that deal directly with these issues.
Our program encompasses not only classroom instruction, but co-curricular trips to sites like the Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to observe firsthand efforts to stem nuclear nonproliferation or visits to BP’s Fowler Ridge Windfarm in Indiana (one of the largest in the U.S.), and Owens Corning’s and First Solar’s operations in Ohio, to understand better what might be done to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.
Before UK switched to remote learning, our students had been set to travel over Spring Break to Atlanta for meetings at the Centers for Disease Control, The Task Force for Global Health, and Delta Airlines to learn what they were doing to deal with COVID-19, and the Carter Center to explore the nexus between conflict resolution and disease eradication.
Our graduates emerge task-ready and can be found today pursuing careers at the Department of State, Department of Defense, National Nuclear Security Administration, in the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill, as well as with development and humanitarian organizations across the globe.
UK is not only contributing to the conversation about these trends, but it is making a direct contribution — via these graduates — across the globe to tackling these vital issues.
UKNow: Are you optimistic that these concerns will be addressed?
Cavanaugh: As we enter this new decade, it’s a bit hard to be optimistic. In late January the hands on the Doomsday Clock were reset to just 100 seconds to midnight, suggesting that humanity is closer today to global catastrophe than at any time since the onset of the Atomic Age. This action took into account the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, but at that point the novel coronavirus remained a blip on the horizon.
UKNow: What will be the impact of these trends on Kentucky? The country? The world?
Cavanaugh: These trends pose significant risks to our state, our country and the planet. I believe that resolving each of them demands more diplomacy and collaborative international political action and far less nationalism, let alone — in the case of nuclear weapons — aggressive posturing.
Republican and Democratic administrations have shown in the past that we can successfully negotiate with partners and adversaries to achieve agreements that address such paramount global challenges. Indeed, the U.S. has frequently been the impetus for such action and has provided much-needed global leadership.
I am optimistic that we have the potential to do so again.
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