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State Department Awards Cash Prizes in ‘Arms Control Challenge’

12:29 PM, Mar 7, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
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The world continues to experience much turmoil and angst over the possible proliferation of nuclear arms, particularly relative to North Korea, Iran, and even Russia.  Just today comes word that North Korea made its most provocative statement yet, threatening a preemptive nuclear strike on the United States. Less than a month ago, North Korea conducted another underground nuclear test, drawing near universal condemnation.  Secretary of State John Kerry said in a recent interview with ABC News, "This is a very challenging moment with great risks and stakes for everybody because the region will be far less stable and far more threatened if Iran were to have a nuclear weapon." And it has not been quite a year since President Obama made his now infamous "after my election I have more flexibility" open-mic comment to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a global nuclear security summit in South Korea.

Yet on the heels of confirmation hearings for John Kerry (State) and Chuck Hagel (Defense), who will both play significant roles in arms policies and negotiations, the State Department is exploring less conventional approaches to this deadly serious business. As the sequestration was just beginning to take effect, the State Department announced cash prizes in the first ever Innovation in Arms Control Challenge:

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance is pleased to announce the winners of the first Innovation in Arms Control Challenge. This Challenge, which received interest from more than 500 potential solvers, sought creative ideas from the general public to use commonly available technologies to support arms control policy efforts. 

Ms. Lovely Umayam, a graduate student from the Monterey Institute of International Studies at Middlebury College, located in Monterey, California, has been awarded the first prize of $5000. Ms. Umayam developed “Bombshelltoe,” an online education platform that examines the intersection of culture and nuclear issues in order to facilitate better public understanding of basic nuclear and arms control-related issues.

Runners-up included a "mobile application that provides a platform for users to connect and interact, as well as a rewards program for sharing information on various arms agreement regimes" and a "unique geographically based online social game for verifying treaty compliance."

These ideas seem to mark a trend in government to emphasize new media and technology to raise awareness on a variety of issues, as well as attract the interest of the public, especially young people.  In another example, the Centers for Disease Control recently released an iPad app called "Solve the Outbreak," an interactive game that allows a user to be a "disease detective."  The U.S. Mint has a whole page dedicated to various games and activities (to raise kids' awareness of ... money?). The American people will have to decide if this trend is valuable outside-the-box thinking for government in the 21st century, or if the Obama administration is just playing games courtesy of the taxpayer.

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