26 March 2020

Disarmament Education: Youth at the Forefront of Disarmament 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, young activist Kehkashan Basu speaks to UNAI about the action that young people can take at different levels to contribute to disarmament.

UNAI: Why is disarmament education important to youth?

Ms. Basu: Young people are one of the largest stakeholders of civil society in developing nations. Most of us, especially youth from the Global South, suffer from a lack of resources in education and employment opportunities. Instead of investing in youth, governments are often wasting money and resources in stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. This really has to stop. The status quo will not change unless young people are made aware of disarmament through education. When armed with this knowledge, young people will be able to raise their voices against these misdirected policies and ensure that governments utilize their resources for growth and sustainable development. 

UNAI: What is young people’s role in disarmament?

Ms. Basu: Young people have always been agents of change because we are fearless, passionate and undaunted by challenges. It is up to us to raise our voices and be actively involved in all aspects of agenda setting and policy making that will force governments to move towards permanent disarmament. Youth can take action for disarmament at all levels - local, regional and international. This includes creating grassroot level campaigns in peace building, lobbying policy makers and parliamentarians to implement just and transparent laws that prevent governments from patronizing the powerful weapon manufacturing lobby and instead use the resources for health care, education and job creation. Young people must be at the forefront of the change-making dialogue because it is our future that is at stake. The first step is to build the awareness, then to enhance our representation and thereafter elect responsible people into office. 

UNAI: As an Ambassador of the World Future Council (WFC), tell us about the programmes launched by the organization to support youth action in disarmament?

Ms. Basu: We have the Future Policy Award that celebrates the solutions for sustainable disarmament. The aim of the award is to raise global awareness of these exemplary policies and speed up policy action towards just, sustainable and peaceful societies. It is the first award that celebrates policies rather than people on an international level.  

The World Future Council (WFC) champions the course of future generations by empowering them and building just and sustainable societies. Last year, WFC played an important role in supporting the “Count the Nuclear Weapon Money” campaign, which showed the true scale of investments that nine countries are planning for the modernization of their nuclear arsenals over the next decade. Volunteers in New York, New Mexico, Philadelphia, London and Wellington all gathered to manually count one trillion US dollars over seven days and seven nights. 

UNAI: What was your experience like speaking at the UN High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Weapons?

Ms. Basu: I was the youngest speaker at the High-Level Plenary Meeting that commemorated the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in 2018. I wanted to emphasize the fact that as a representative of future generations, we were extremely concerned at the escalating arms race and the billions of dollars being wasted on building nuclear stockpiles while children were dying of hunger. I was the only teenager among the group of adult speakers, and my presence and speech were meant to showcase and highlight that a lack of youth representation at this level of decision making was unfair. Policy makers should wake up and change the status quo if not for themselves then at least for their children. 

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