Young disarmament and arms control experts make their voices heard

مايو 28th, 2021

In the months before States across the world convene for a conference to advance the elimination and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, a number of next-generation experts delivered practical and actionable proposals to achieve a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons.

On 31 March, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and BASIC organized a webinarhighlighting the voices of young professionals in the field of disarmament and nonproliferation entitled “The Tenth NPT Review Conference: Empowering Emerging Voices.” More than 150 participants attended the online event, which was held in advance of the Tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

The webinar showcased the work of members of BASIC’s Emerging Voices Network (EVN), who had prepared policy papers on several critically important areas of nuclear policy. These papers were developed in close cooperation with groups of talented young professionals. Each policy paper offered pragmatic measures to make progress on their chosen topics. 

Ambassador Kevin Hamilton, the Director General of International Security Policy at Global Affairs Canada, stressed just how important youth engagement and leadership are. “The next generation”, he said in his opening remarks, “will inherit the nuclear threat, and they must lead the fight against it.” He added that the views of the younger generation must be heard to add to the diversity of opinions that are necessary to make progress on disarmament and arms control issues.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, echoed this conviction in her introductory remarks, saying that “the continued relevance of multilateralism and international cooperation actually depends on how we will be able to create space for youth and work with youth.”. Ms. Nakamitsu noted that UNODA has been actively  engaging, educating, and empowering the next generation through the #Youth4Disarmament initiative, which has hosted workshops on disarmament, nonproliferation, and arms control for young leaders, held a conversation series on disarmament issues, and started the flagship “UN Youth Champions for Disarmament” training programme.

The NPT Working Group, chaired by Noah Mayhew and Joseph Rogers, then opened the presentations by exploring recommendations for areas where progress could be made at the upcoming NPT Review Conference. Their proposals included tangible suggestions to States parties, including recognizing the mutually reinforcing bond between the NPT and arms control, committing to strengthened export controls and increased funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and stating a commitment to increasing access to disarmament education. The presenters suggested that countries look towards the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference for inspiration on how to make progress in political environments where consensus can be hard to achieve. 

The Disarmament Working Group, chaired by Maria Garzón Maceda and Marzhan Nurzhan, focused on establishing areas of complementarity between the NPT and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). They explored some of the  concerns by opponents of the TPNW, such as, for example, the Treaty’s  role as a  component of the non-proliferation regime, the ability to verify the elimination of nuclear weapons, as well as concerns in relation to nuclear deterrence, which some perceive as necessary for State security. In their policy paper, the youth leaders recommended that States not party to the TPNW engage in constructive dialogues with the Treaty’s supporters to address concerns about the slow pace of nuclear disarmament.

Next, Gustavo Pereira and Jana Wattenberg, the chairs of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, focused on ways to increase diversity in the disarmament field by bringing in people from different genders, demographics, and age groups. The group praised both the UN and the IAEA for their initiatives aimed at advancing this goal. The working group recommended that States work on increasing access to educational opportunities that focus on disarmament, creating mentorship opportunities for young professionals, and establishing spaces for young voices to make their opinions heard. 

The Peaceful Uses, Nuclear Safety and Security Working Group, chaired by Rafael Chesori, highlighted the use of isotopes to track water sources and aid in the management of groundwater at both the community and national level. This innovative technique, known as isotope hydrology, would assist in the pursuit of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and SDG 6 in particular, which sets out to  ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The working group recommended that the IAEA share multimedia resources on isotope hydrology on the its online learning platform and that the organisation create a communications strategy focused on increasing awareness of isotope hydrology in the Global South. 

Next, the Arms Control Working Group, represented by Carlos Rodriguez-Cruz y Celia and Zuzanna Gwadera, offered a strategy for arms control efforts up to the year 2050, detailing proposals for multilateral, cross-domain, and asymmetrical approaches to arms control. They recommended that immediate action should focus on managing regional dynamics and emerging technologies. The group described how risk reduction measures related to cybersecurity and outer space could lessen escalation risks stemming from attacks on nuclear command, control, and communications systems. The working group recommended that countries establish concrete reporting mechanisms for progress in arms control, that Russia and the United States pursue follow-on agreements to the New START Treaty, and they advocated swift action to hold debates on technological regulation to keep emerging technologies from becoming a legal “grey zone”.

The Disruptive Technologies Working Group, represented by Alexa Wehsener and Elizabeth Suh, presented 23 recommendations to manage the potentially destabilizing effects of disruptive technologies. The group advised to establish  high-level intergovernmental initiatives to address the nexus of disruptive technologies and nuclear risks, ensure the inclusion of both public and private sector stakeholders in dialogues about the implications of emerging technologies, and to  develop comprehensive workshops intended to educate governmental officials on issues of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

The Non-proliferation Working Group, chaired by Natalia Zhurina, Julia Masterton, and Jessica Budlong, discussed the similarities and differences between past agreements limiting the nuclear programs of Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, specifically the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Agreed Framework of 1994. The policy paper noted that the strength of such agreements dependents on whether the agreement includes clear, concrete guidelines and benchmarks for progress and the degree to which the input of regional security partners is taken into consideration. The working group stated that the NPT Review Conference should acknowledge the stabilizing role of the JCPOA. 

Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen, President-designate of the upcoming NPT Review Conference, concluded by expressed his pleasure at hearing innovative recommendations for concrete progress, which he said spoke to the quality of youth engagement today. Youth engagement, he stressed, would be vital for ensuring that lasting progress could be made on issues related to disarmament and nonproliferation in the future. 

Text by Collin McDowell

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