23 March 2020

Disarmament Education: Building a Safer World for All through Education

Since its founding, the United Nations has given the highest priority to reducing and eventually eliminating weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, as well as controlling small arms and light weapons. With the rapid development of information and communications technology, the emergence of new concepts of security and threat, and the largest generation of young people in history, the need for education in disarmament and non-proliferation has never been greater.

In our latest series, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) talks to experts and youth about disarmament and peace education resources created by the United Nations and educators for students, and how such tools motivate and inspire young people to take concrete action in support of disarmament. The first article of the series provides an overview of the disarmament efforts of the United Nations and explores why disarmament education should become an integral part of education for the next generation.

Take a minute to count from 1 to 60. By the end of your count, the world has spent $3.1 million on military purposes and has lost 25 to 30 children due to wars and conflicts.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan brought an end to WWII, but they also ushered in the beginning of the nuclear age and an arms race to stockpile weapons of mass destruction.  Despite a reduction in the number of nuclear weapons over the last 30 years, the total worldwide stockpile of these weapons was approximately 15,200 nuclear warheads in 2017, with a combined destructive capability of 150,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. The possession of nuclear weapons and the race to develop them leads to regional tensions, international animosity, suffering of civilians, and a threat to governments and civilian populations from terrorist groups and violent extremists were these weapons to fall into their hands.

Even though disarmament is often linked to weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear warheads and chemical and biological weapons, it goes beyond that. Most violent conflicts today are fought within States, primarily with small and light weapons that can be wielded by an individual or a group of two or three people. Up to 8 million small arms are produced every year, and their use accounts for 60 to 90 per cent of conflict-related deaths.

Armed violence does not just happen in areas of conflict. It takes many forms, from political to criminal to interpersonal, in a wide range of contexts, and imposes a tremendous emotional and economic burden on individuals, families and communities worldwide. It also undermines development and constitutes an impediment to the implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

For the last 75 years, disarmament has been central to the UN’s efforts to maintain international peace and security. The General Assembly has two subsidiary bodies dealing with disarmament and international security issues: The First Committee, which meets during the General Assembly’s regular session and deals with all disarmament issues on its agenda; and the Disarmament Commission, a specialized deliberative body that meets for three weeks every year.

In addition, the Conference on Disarmament is the single multilateral disarmament negotiation forum of the international community; the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA) supports multilateral efforts aimed at achieving the ultimate goal of general and complete disarmament, and addresses the humanitarian impact of major conventional weapons and emerging weapon technologies; the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) undertakes independent research on disarmament and international security matters; and the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters advises the Secretary-General on matters related to disarmament and serves as the Board of Trustees of UNIDIR.

Over the decades, important international disarmament and arms regulation agreements have been achieved through multilateral negotiations, which include the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968), the Biological Weapons Convention (1972), the Chemical Weapons Convention (1992), Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (1996), the Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention (1997) and the Arms Trade Treaty (2013).

Despite these international agreements, the rapid development of science and technology has made warfare more deadly to a larger number of people.  With increasingly sophisticated means of production, delivery and dissemination of armaments, it is not only soldiers on the battlefield who are casualties, but an increasing number of civilians. Changing concepts of security and threat have demanded new thinking, and there is an urgent need to raise awareness of new challenges to international security such as terrorism, organized crime, poverty, human rights abuses and environmental concerns, and the process of disarmament.

Even with these challenges, there is cause for hope.  The world today is home to 1.8 billion young people, the largest generation of youth in history, and there has never been a greater demand for education in the areas of disarmament and non-proliferation. Education as a lifelong and multifaceted process empowers individuals to choose for themselves values that reject violence, resolve conflicts peacefully and promote a culture of peace. Investments in disarmament and non-proliferation education can transform youth into agents of positive change and open the door to an unparalleled multiplier effect that offers long-term solutions to the peace and security challenges the world is facing.

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