In February 2012, four students from political science professor John Williams’s class on Russian politics attended an invitation-only breakfast and talk at Washington University’s Murray Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy. Though this was their first time meeting the speaker, Dr. Thomas Remington of Emory University, the students were already familiar with his “voice” because he’s the author of one of their textbooks, Politics of Russia.
One of America’s top experts on Russian politics, Remington spoke on the upcoming Russian presidential election to a mixed group of scholars and lay Russia-watchers. The Principia students were the only undergraduates at this insider briefing.
A frequent visitor to Russia, Remington shared his on-the-ground perspective about these final weeks leading up to the March 4, 2012, election. The title of his talk, “Internet Hamsters, Office Plankton, and the Fight for the Middle Class: Russian Presidential Election Preview,” aptly captured the back-and-forth flavor of the political climate there. The phrase “Internet hamsters,” for example, is one that Vladimir Putin, the current prime minister, coined to describe those protesting his bid for a third term as president. Instead of spurning the term, however, protesters have made it their own, describing their move from the Internet to the streets as proof that they’re now out of their “cages.”
In 2010, at the invitation of the Political Science Department, Meggen Watt (US’86, C’90) spoke at the College about her decades-long efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, including her work, until recently, as U.S. Coordinator of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. In her talk, titled “Our Nuclear World: India, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Terrorism,” Watt provided an overview of the history, evolution, and current status of nuclear non-proliferation around the world. Noting the progress that has been made, she pointed out that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—whose three major components are non-proliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear technology—has 189 countries party to it, making it almost universal.
Since completing her master’s in International Policy Studies and Nuclear Non-Proliferation at Monterey Institute, Watt has worked for the State Department, the Department of Energy, and its laboratories. She has travelled to over 50 countries and lived, for a time, in Vienna while working for the International Atomic Energy Agency. Many of Watt’s 17 years in the field, however, have been spent working with the Russians on a swords-into-plowshares type of program. Then, recently, her focus turned to preventing nuclear terrorism by fostering cooperation that strengthens not only accurate accounting and strict control of radiological materials but also the highest levels of security at civilian nuclear facilities.
During her talk, Watt shared an experience she had long ago that taught her the power of prayer in handling terrorism or any threat of violence. She was in Central America when a heavily armed man came into a Christian Science church service and demanded money. With the love and prayers of those present, the situation came to a peaceful resolution, and the man left with Christian Science literature instead of money. Watt also reminded the audience that the recent attempt to blow up a U.S. plane on Christmas Day wasn’t thwarted by a government, but by alert, unselfish individuals. She concluded by encouraging everyone to consider the role that people of good conscience can play in holding crime in check.