I woke up at 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday so that I could get to Quantico on time. I was invited to a conference on the club of nuclear powers, specifically concerning which members were willing to either prevent or aid in the proliferation of weapons of mass detruction. The conference, which took place at U.S. Marine Corps Base Quantico and was hosted by Marine Corps University, was opened by Maj. Gen Thomas Murray, president of MCU. The keynote speaker who followed was Gen. Susan Desjardins, director of strategic planning of the Air Mobility Command within the U.S. Air Force.

After her captivating speech, I was left with only one question: what are the future implications of a changing nuclear climate in relation to her policies of deterrence? As the youngest person in attendance, I wanted to make sure I thought out my question and spoke clearly. Before I asked, I confirmed that she was, in fact, the head authority on the subject. I proceeded to pass along a question which I’ve been asked by many skeptics before but worded it in a slightly more appropriate, contextual manner: “Because the United States has committed to pursuance of a world free of nuclear weapons — not only as according to President Obama’s signing of the second START treaty, but also according to presidents Carter, Reagan and Kennedy­ — what does the U.S. Strategic Command have in mind to replace nuclear weapons as the standard power used in deterrence? What happens after zero?” The room went silent as I clicked off my microphone, handed it back to the moderator and watched as Desjardins looked back and forth, once to me, once to her notes and back to me once more. She pursed her lips a bit and then said, “I…don’t know….” With her conventional ideas disrupted, she continued, “I can honestly say I’ve never been asked that, and I’ve never thought about it.” At this point people were turning around to see what I looked liked, and now I was positive I’d be hanged or maybe drawn and quartered. As she looked down and shook her head, she concluded, “Wow. I’ll write that one down. When I get back to base I’ll have to ask around.” That was the last question she took, and I was the first person she spoke to once she stepped off stage. She came down the aisle, held out her hand for me to shake and whispered, “So what do you think?” There were four or five Department of State and Department of Defense employees standing by my side who’d approached me to hear the discourse between a nervous 19 year old and the general in charge of strategically protecting our country from nuclear war. I quickly said, “Uhhhh … sanctions? Soft power? Threats of embargo?”

The simple fact is that not only can I not predict the future of deterrence after global zero, but neither can the woman in charge of it. And if you ask for my opinion, I’ll probably just tell you this story again. But after I took some time to think about it and spoke with some professors and WMD experts during the break, it dawned on me that the international climate will not be the same in the future, and though Gen. Desjardins insisted that she can make deterrence work in a world where anyone can have nuclear weapons, I’m not so positive that she was sure of that — even more evidently after she was stumped by a hypothetical question that was naively asked.

The point of this anecdote is to get people thinking. We have to remember that we’re the future of domestic and international policy. We will be the ones who need to figure out a way to adapt defense to a more multi-polar world because power, in my opinion, is certainly going to become less concentrated in the hands of the United States within the next 30 to 40 years. So let me ask you what she asked me: What do you think?

Desjardins’ insightful keynote speech was followed by talks on South Africa and Libya, both of which relinquished their nuclear weapons programs. These lectures were delivered by Frank Pabian of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer of Norwegian Defence University College. Pabian explained the similarities between South Africa’s former nuclear program and Israel’s, while Braut-Hegghammer spoke about the implications of the lessons we can learn concerning nuclear proliferation in relation to Libya’s nuclear disarmament.

After a short break we heard from an acquaintance of mine and a fellow activist with Global Zero, George Perkovich, who is the director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He spoke about Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities and how they must be handled in the realm of international politics. Many others, including Olli Heinonen of the Harvard Belfer Center, widely considered to be the go-to expert on Iran’s developing nuclear program, and Norman Cigar, director of Middle Eastern studies at MCU, ended the conference by talking about countries which have the potential to become nuclear — obviously Iran but, surprisingly Saudi Arabia as well.

If you aren’t familiar with Iran’s nuclear program, it’s important to know that they are, in fact, capable of reaching the nuclear mark, especially when aided by the use of ambiguous, drawn-out negotiations and the torture and maltreatment of detainees which demoralizes opposition. Saudi Arabia also holds distinct potential, especially as one of the better endowed countries in the region. And if Iran were to acquire nuclear capability, Saudi Arabia’s political view will be that it is only fair for them to follow suit because of national pride, which, simple though it sounds, will certainly be a driving factor behind both countries’ policies.

If you’d like a log of the minutes or dialogue of this conference, message me on Facebook: facebook.com/WilliamCharlesRose.

And if you’re fed up with domestic politics, just remember that even Rick Santorum couldn’t ruin our country as quickly as WMD in the wrong hands could, and that your voice is probably even more powerful than your vote. So know where you stand on this stuff.