Iran, arms control and a lesson from my mother

The World
US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty at the White House, on December 8 1987.

When I reached for my phone this morning and read news of the US-Iran deal, I couldn’t help feeling elated. There is of course reason for both praise and caution. But my visceral delight came from a deeper place.

I grew up in a household where diplomacy was valued and arms treaties were things to celebrate. My mother, Jane M. O. Sharp, trained as a pharmacist in her native England, but once she and my father arrived in the US in 1962, she quickly became interested in the politics of war and peace. The Cuban Missile Crisis erupted a month after they arrived. The Vietnam War was escalating. There’s nothing like raising small children during a time of war to turn you into a peace activist.

It made for a certain kind of childhood. I remember being shushed a lot so my mother could listen to the news. By the time I was 7 we were being looked after by a series of au pairs so she could work fulltime for the arms control organization Council for a Livable World. I remember the bright red “STOP ABM” button on my yellow rain jacket and trying to explain anti-ballistic missiles to my schoolmates. When I was 10 my mother went back to school to do graduate work in political science, studying US-Soviet arms negotiations. From there, her career took off, eventually taking her to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the Center for Defence Studies at Kings College, London. In the early days I remember her going off to conferences around the world and coming back with photographs where she was the lone female, surrounded by a sea of men. I took away a message of gravitas: trying to solve world problems was good; allowing unchecked arms races was bad. No wonder I liked the social studies teacher who made me write a Mideast peace plan in 7th grade.

So on days like this I think of my mother, now 78. I think of what she taught me about loving the world and working hard to make it a better place. And I think of the long hours she and others inside and out of government have spent trying to articulate ideas and proposals for making us all safer. It’s not glamorous work. Sure there are fancy dinners and momentous press conferences once in a while.

But what John Kerry and his colleagues and their Iranian counterparts have pulled off is the result of tedious, painstaking, patient and emotionally draining work. It’s hard not to want them to succeed. I know my mother does.

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