24 March 2020

Disarmament Education Series: Educating Youth through Art, Technology and Dialogue

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. In this interview Ms. Soo Hyun Kim, the Focal Point for Youth Engagement at the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), talks about the educational programs launched by UNODA targeting youth.

UNAI: Why is disarmament education particularly important to youth? 

Ms. Kim: It is important for youth to understand that this is the world they live in, and they will inherit it one day. Just like climate change, nuclear weapons are an existential threat of this century. When you look at how much money is being spent on military, youth empowerment and education become vital for raising their awareness about this reality. Knowledge is power, and understanding the importance of disarmament, which means pursuing simultaneously the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and the limitation and regulation of conventional arms, will bring peace and security into the world. 

UNAI: What can the UN do to get students more involved in disarmament activities? 

Ms. Kim: We need to understand what is important for the students. For a long time, we have been pushing out information on issues that are important for us. In 2019, we launched the Youth for Disarmament Initiative with artificial intelligence and its implications for international peace and security as our first topic. Artificial intelligence is something that today’s students and young people are very keen on, and we wanted to see it from their perspective how their daily use of AI can have implications for peace and security. Meanwhile, we wanted to provide them a context of why they should care about these issues – because disarmament serves humanity and saves lives. Disarmament is not just about weapons; it is also about people.

UNAI: What are the programs launched by UNODA on disarmament for youth?

Ms. Kim: Over the years, UNODA has launched various contests. The first one we launched in 2011 was “Poetry for Peace”. We asked the whole world, including young people, to listen to testimonies of Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors), and respond to their stories in forms of verse and poetry. In 2012, we launched the “Art for Peace” contest that invited children between the ages of 5 and 18 to review age-appropriate materials and create artworks based on the content. The third contest was in 2016, in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the first resolution of the United Nations General Assembly to create a commission to eliminate nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Our “Poster for Peace” contest called on the public to design posters on the above theme, and the winning posters are displayed at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Using art as the medium, we have been successful in drawing the attention of the general public and having them keep coming back to our website to learn more about disarmament issues.

In August 2019, we launched the Youth for Disarmament Initiative in commemoration of the International Youth Day. The initiative brings experts in the fields of disarmament and non-proliferation to engage in conversations with youth on these topics. We believe that one of the best educational tools is to sit down, talk and hear each other’s views, while educating, engaging and empowering young people.

UNAI: What were the results of these programs?

Ms. Kim: We are seeing dedicated groups of youth reaching out to us, providing us with feedback and recommendations, for instance ways to make the UNODA website more youth friendly. It is very encouraging to see that they are not just participating in the events that we organize, but also returning for our materials and resources. They have taken a closer look at what we created and came back to us with analysis and recommendations. This also shows that our events and programs have motivated them to dedicate their time and knowledge to disarmament issues. 

UNAI: What are the future goals and plans for the United Nations disarmament education? 

Ms. Kim: The Ambassador of Costa Rica said in the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 2015 that “democracy is coming to nuclear disarmament”. The talk about nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation has become more about human security. The humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and their catastrophic consequences have created real momentum in the international community to find ways to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The plan for UN disarmament education is to expand horizontally, to engage not only women’s groups, industries but also the youth who have not been UNODA partners in the traditional sense. Going forward, we want to work on making disarmament and non-proliferation a more inclusive field, so more people can be part of it.

The important and positive contribution that young people can make in sustaining peace and security was reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly through its unanimous support for a new resolution entitled, Youth, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control adopted on 12 December 2019 (A/RES/74/64). The resolution encourages participation of young people in discussions on disarmament and nonproliferation, calls upon countries and international organizations to consider developing relevant policies and programs for youth engagement, and stresses the importance of education and capacity-building of young people in the area.

Also, there is a place for the Sustainable Development Goals in disarmament and non-proliferation. Disarmament is not only for experts and political science professionals; it is an issue for everyone. Everybody should care about it because it is an existential threat for all of us – we as a civilization are not equipped to handle it if ever one of the approximately 14,000 nuclear warheads that exist in the world were to be used, whether accidental or intentional.

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