AUGUST 29, 2012
In a rather bizarre move, the U.S. State Department is offering the general public cash to come up with ideas that can help crack down on violators of arms control agreements, especially those involving weapons of mass destruction.
Among the key goals is to find ways to keep “loose nukes from falling into the hands of terrorists,” according to the State Department. Announced this week, the contest is called the “Innovation in Arms Control Challenge” and the agency asks a simple question: “How can the crowd support arms control transparency efforts?” Officials plan to collect new ideas that can affect the implementation of arms control, verification and nonproliferation policy.
That the world’s most powerful nation enlists help from the general public for such a serious matter may seem downright scary, though also somewhat comical. It might lead some to wonder if the State Department, the executive agency responsible for the country’s international relations, is having difficulty in this area. The winner of the contest will get $10,000 from the government and, though legal U.S. residency is necessary to cash in, all ideas are welcome.
The State Department claims to be looking for creative projects that use commonly available technologies, such as smart phones and tablet applications, to support arms control policy efforts. The agency explains that these are treaties or international arrangements addressing weapons, nonproliferation and confidence building measures. The treaties support mutual security and stability, but sometimes parties violate the provisions. “This is commonly understood as cheating,” the agency explains.
So, it seems that Uncle Sam needs help from the public to catch cheaters that may be trafficking in weapons of mass destruction. This probably means that the “diplomatic tools” that governments—especially the Obama Administration—use to keep each other in check aren’t working so well. Otherwise, the administration wouldn’t need to offer civilians money to come up with a more effective tool.
The public is challenged with the following question: “Can apps be created to aid on-site inspectors in verifying and monitoring armaments and sensitive material?” It’s not that the State Department can’t figure it out on its own, the contest is in the spirit of “harnessing the ingenuity of the American people,” while the agency reshapes its diplomatic agenda. At least that’s what it claims in its announcement.
“By creating this platform for public participation, collaboration, and openness, we aim to deepen our understanding and bring to bear the networks, technologies, and human potential of our increasingly inter-dependent and interconnected world,” the State Department further writes in its contest ad.
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