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Making Security and Advocacy More Accessible

Sophy Macartney June 28th, 2023

In a millisecond after a nuclear bomb explodes, a fireball hotter than the sun forms more than 2 kilometers across. Within this space, everything is vaporized. Thirteen kilometers in every direction, everything even slightly flammable catches on fire. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of all of the immediate and aftermath effects. This is comparable to every natural disaster happening all at once.

The fragility of normalcy is a disturbing thought and often taken for granted. The realization of the amount of destruction that can be done in a fraction of a second from a nuclear bomb is sobering to say the least, and wishfully the unthinkable to say the most. And today, a nuclear bomb is just the tip of the iceberg of existential threats facing our normalcy. Today, we face threats from radiological, chemical, biological, emerging technologies, and climate change, just to name a few. Realizing the weight of these threats brings the necessary attention to these problems. But the next battle is ensuring that it is understood that something can be done to fight these threats if enough people are willing to advocate, educate, and act.

Sophy worked at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for eight months, first as an intern then transitioned into the NRC’s student co-op program.

As a first generation college graduate, I come from a single-parent, immigrant household and I call Martinez, Georgia home. My mom and older sister worked tirelessly to make sure I got all the opportunities they did not have and my hometown typically does not produce many peace and security advocates that go on to move beyond the South. Needless to say, I grew up far removed from the world of international peace and security. But once that world crossed paths with mine, it began gnawing at me and urging me to find my place in that world. I was sixteen when I took AP European History in high school and was introduced to modern political dynamics and its impact on peace and security issues. It was an intense revelation to realize that I wanted to learn more about the world from a security and political perspective, but I was not quite sure how to begin this pursuit. I wanted to learn why intrastate conflict happens, why detonating a nuclear bomb is even a remote possibility, why people become terrorists, all of it.

Frankly, I was distraught to realize how shielded I was from this world. How could I have been in the dark for so long? I originally chose to major in journalism for my first two years of college at the University of Georgia. After spending time on the journalism pathway and writing for the UGA student newspaper, the thirst for involvement in international peace and security was not satisfied. I realized I wanted to be in a position to make decisions about the policies for peace and security I was sometimes reporting on and be more active in amplifying my voice on issues like political instability, terrorism, and nuclear weapons. The mere exposure by writing about the world was not enough. Although I am grateful for the experience in journalism, I made the switch to the international affairs and sociology programs and it all clicked. It began the start of my future.

Sophy presents her independent research from the Security Leadership Program at the University of Georgia’s Undergraduate Research Colloquium and is supported by her mom and sister.

After finding my field and before making my way to Scoville, I held various internships at a supply chain risk company, a small government contracting company, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I was also selected to be a fellow of the Richard B. Russell Security Leadership Program, housed in the Center for International Trade and Security at UGA. It was through these experiences and my incredible mentors at UGA, especially Dr. Maryann Gallagher, that gave me the knowledge, courage, and mindset to pursue what I want.

I admire that the Scoville Fellowship recognizes merit above the “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” standard. If it really was who I knew above my passion and drive, I do not know how likely it would be that I live in DC and work at a highly esteemed non-proliferation thinktank today. Although networking relationship-building through mentorship through the fellowship is definitely a highlight, I appreciate that Scoville actively works to give opportunities to young scholars like myself that wouldn’t otherwise have a leg up in the peace and security advocacy world of DC. The fellowship actively works to ensure that more young scholars do not continue to live in the shielded bubble that I realized I had been in, which was a huge attraction to the program for me. I knew more about the Master’s Golf Tournament, played at a course near my hometown, than climate change. I do not want future young scholars to feel as ignorant as I did, and I hope to be an advocate and mentor for underrepresented voices and be the person I wish I had.

My host organization, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, has a uniquely close relationship with Congress. Growing up, I was told that the way you can get involved with politics is by sending a letter to your state representative. While that is still an important communication tool, Scoville and my host organization has given me a front row seat to see the tangible specifics of the inner-workings mechanics of how issues are brought forward with Congress and how issues can gain traction. Throughout my fellowship, I have been given the opportunity to develop the Center’s export control and sanctions fact sheet portfolio in addition to publishing analytical articles on the Center’s Nukes of Hazard blog. The Center is proactive in covering export controls, sanctions, and emerging technologies in addition to traditional nuclear security, and has provided me a platform to research, learn, and advocate on these policies.

Sophy and her colleagues at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation host a congressional briefing on the state of nuclear threats in Ukraine in February 2023.

Education of the public to make peace and security (and nuclear) issues a public interest topic and education of congress through congressional briefing and public outreach are important. But what is equally as important as the interaction itself is learning how to educate in a way that is digestible, shows the problem, but also demonstrates tangible solutions to show that it is not doom and gloom. Bringing attention to a problem is half the race, the next leg is bringing attention to a tangible solution to make action more doable. The Center’s sister organization, the Council for a Livable World, leads a Nuclear Advocacy coalition made up of other non-proliferation advocacy groups and works to engage with congress to push for arms control and non-proliferation to be priorities in policies. The power of a coalition of people and organizations that have the determination and heart for this work has been incredible to witness. If Congress is approached by 20 separate organizations with differently nuanced proposals versus a coalition of groups with a narrowed down objective, it is much more likely that the coalition will gain more traction. Being a part of this community shows that change doesn’t happen in a vacuum or by some untouchable entity. I finally have front-row access to the seemingly distant security issues and have a space for my voice to be heard.

Connecting nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological, and emerging technology threats to the humanitarian impact can be difficult because of how intangible and incomprehensible some of these threats are. But ensuring that research and publications on these are presented in an accessible way and not closed off only for elite groups to engage with is key. As mentioned, presenting the problem and solutions gain traction, and presenting these as accessible to all will get more concerned advocates behind the issue because it is no longer presented as an exclusive world.

“Wins” in this world can be slow. New START is not going to be revived overnight, Iran is not going to arbitrarily stop uranium enrichment, and Congress won’t magically stop allocating money for weapons development at the Department of Defense. But always having movements and people who care about these issues ensures that when the the stars align at just the right moment, the research, the advocates, the hard work, the data, the blood sweat and tears are all there and ready for the opportunity to make the change we work for.

Sophy Macartney is a Spring 2023 Scoville Fellow with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.