The Importance of Disarmament Education

Last week I spoke on a panel at the 2015 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference on “Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education”, organized by the Mexican and Japanese Missions to the UN. Here is a brief write-up of the event, reprinted from NPT News in Review:

Action 22 of the 2010 Action Plan of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) encouraged all states to implement “disarmament and non-proliferation education … in support of achieving a world without nuclear weapons.” At this lunchtime side event sponsored by Japan and Mexico, on 12 May, educators, UN officials, and diplomats shared their experiences promoting disarmament and non-proliferation education in a variety of contexts.

Ambassador Toshio Sano of Japan chaired the event, welcoming the “growing recognition of the importance of disarmament education”—evidenced by the joint statement of 73 states in Main Committee I. But he called on states to embrace a “culture of reporting” so that they can “learn from each other, create synergies and opportunities.” Only 10 states submitted relevant information to the UN for the 2014 Secretary-General report.

Tonie Jaquez, Mexico’s Deputy Director General for Disarmament and the UN General Assembly agreed, saying “education and promotion of values are crucial for attaining a nuclear free world.” Education is central, Jaquez said, to cultivating an understanding that “a peace sustained by weapons is not a sustainable peace.”

The Nayarit Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons was for Mexico an expression of its commitment to disarmament education, said Jaquez. She also outlined a variety of initiatives of the Mexican government, such as the inclusion of disarmament education in the training of diplomats and military attaches, a short course for Latin American diplomats posted to the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL).

Virginia Gamba, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for UN Disarmament Affairs said that UNODA is “committed to promoting” disarmament and non-proliferation education as “an essential” but “often overlooked” element in the implementation of the NPT. She celebrated the contributions of “ardent young activists” in their efforts to “strip nuclear weapons of their prestige and power” and she called on states to “educate the younger generation” on the “catastrophic” impact of nuclear weapons.

UNODA’s John Ennis, Chief of the Information and Outreach Branch, provided an overview of its communication through internet and print media, conferences, public events, and briefings to teachers and students. He highlighted UNODA’s art and poetry contests, saying “art and literature form a meaningful way for a wide variety of people in the public” to engage with disarmament issues. He invited everyone to visit UNODA’s new disarmament education portal (www.un.org/ disarmament/education).

Ennis also called attention to the UNODA’s partnership with Japan in the preservation and translation of the hibakusha’s personal stories. “These testimonies provide a window to empathy,” he said, by putting “the human dimension at the center of our efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.”

The other three speakers were all university educators. Professor William Potter of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) outlined a variety of best practices for disarmament education. Rather than telling students “what to think,”he said educators should instead emphasize the development of critical thinking skills and empathy, using participatory and active learning methods (such as simulation) and new information technology.

Professor Nobumasa Akiyama of Hitosubashi University spoke about the importance of raising the awareness of the general student population at a university, beyond classes which reach only a self-selecting group of students already interested in disarmament and nonproliferation. He recounted his efforts to deepen students’ understanding of the stories of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through public events.

Dr. Matthew Bolton described the emerging role of Pace University in New York City as a hub for disarmament education, including convening the annual Humanitarian Disarmament Campaigns Forum and teaching undergraduates in classes offered by the Peace and Justice Studies, Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies program. He shared his experience teaching an undergraduate “Global Politics of Disarmament and Arms Control” class and called on disarmament organizations to provide volunteer and internship opportunities to young people.

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~ by Matthew Bolton on 21 May 2015.

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