by Karen Brune Mathis
About 700 people, including students and members of the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville, packed the University of North Florida University Center Tuesday night for the topic “The Second Nuclear Age.”
“We’re in exciting times,” said David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times and author.
“If you ever look out at a world order that you think is stable, it never is,” he said.
Sanger, a 25-year newspaper veteran, focuses on foreign policy and international and national issues. He joined World Affairs Council members for a reception before his presentation.
As a reporter, he said, “when you wake up, you really never know what it is you’re going to be dealing with that day.”
Sanger recently authored the New York Times best-seller, “The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power.”
Sanger began his remarks talking about the uprising in Egypt against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek and said it began with the fall of the regime in Tunisia just days before.
He said that revolt began, in part, when “ordinary Tunisians read and saw that their government was corrupt and the whole world knew about it.”
Sanger was referring to the Wiki-Leaks documents that exposed secret field reports from the battlegrounds in Iraq, which were published in part by The New York Times.
The independent WikiLeaks group obtained the documents and made them available to several news organizations.
“Egyptians asked, why are we putting up with the same conditions?” said Sanger.
The uprising in Egypt was “the first big surprise” of the Obama administration, he said.
Sanger detailed the administration’s actions and responses during the two weeks between the uprising and Sanger’s visit to Jacksonville.
How, he asked, do you call Mubarek and say, “it really is time for him to go off and spend more time with his family?”
Sanger said Obama had to find a way to call Mubarek “to say the reforms had to begin now and begin without him.”
“Mubarek hung up,” said Sanger.
He said Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman has taken charge of negotiating reforms and it is Vice President Joe Biden’s “job to call and remind” him.
The catch, said Sanger, is that the United States ”is trying to push it along, but keep from pushing it over a cliff.”
Sanger also talked about his headlined topic, comparing the second nuclear age with the first.
The Cold War is the post-World War II rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union, “who could blow each other to smithereens,” leading to deterr-ence.
The second nuclear age is much different, he said. “Small powers have access to pretty primitive weapons, very small weapons, that could move around the world,” he said.
The small nuclear weapons, he said, could move by cargo ship or cart-and-donkey, and often can’t be traced to the source that sent it.
“This raises a vast new set of problems,” he said.
Sanger talked about the U.S.’s attempts to follow and disrupt the development of nuclear weapons, such as designing a complicated computer virus, called the Stuxnet virus, to target the centrifuge used in nuclear fusion in Iran.
”The U.S. won’t discuss anything about this program,” said Sanger, calling it “one of the most sophisticated attacks we’ve seen.”
Sanger said it might have slowed the Iranian development of nuclear weapons, but has not stopped it. “It bought some time,” he said.