The most practical lesson I learned at Generation Prague was to never show up 25 minutes early to a State Department event, as doors typically open 25 minutes after they are scheduled to do so. My fellow compatriots and I endured 50 minutes of a coffee-less morning until finally, at 8:25, we were processed through security. Thankfully, the conference inside made the wait worth it.
The list of speakers included Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chief of the UN Joint Mission in Syria Sigrid Kaag, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs Andrew Weber, former Lieutenant General and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Director Frank Klotz, Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, and STRATCOM commander Admiral Cecil Haney.
Aside from a few technical difficulties (such as Lieutenant General Klotz’s microphone not functioning until midway through his speech), the conference went off without a hitch. It focused on innovation in national security, primarily via the application of technology and youth engagement using social media. Senator Murphy delivered a keynote address in which he emphasized the non-traditional nature of 21st century national security threats. He argued that nuclear weapons overall have become a liability, due to the rapidly diminishing value of nuclear deterrence. Cyber threats and small-scale crises neither require nor can be remedied by the blunt force a nuclear solution entails. Additionally, the traditional concepts of deterrence theory cannot be as readily applied due to the rise of non-state actors, and the increasingly blurred distinction between sovereign nations, proxy organizations, and terrorist groups (e.g. ISIS). Even when deterrence applies, such as with great powers like the Russian Federation, the cold war era approach to deterrence are no longer effective in areas like Eastern Europe, due to the shift away from traditional ground forces and greater reliance on quasi-covert operations. Nevertheless, stated Senator Murphy, the threat of United States use of military force must be seen as a credible.