Youth and the NPT Virtual Event

On 16th July 2020, the 75th anniversary of the Trinity Test, BASIC and UNODA co-hosted a virtual event called ‘Youth and the NPT’.

BASIC’s Co-Director, Sebastian Brixey-Williams, served as moderator to a panel comprising four esteemed individuals, who were speaking in their personal capacities:

  • Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
  • H.E. Gustavo Zlauvinen, President-Designate, Tenth NPT Review Conference
  • H.E. Cho Hyun, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations
  • Ms. Bianca Carpinelli, Coordinator, Latin America NPT Next Gen Network
  • We had hoped to have Ms. Sarah Bidgood from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, with us to speak about her work educating the next generation of non-proliferation and disarmament experts, but due to unforeseen circumstances she was no longer able to join us for this event.

The idea for this event grew out of a conversation between BASIC and UNODA earlier this year which makes this event a meeting between two mutually reinforcing programmes of work–the UNODA’s #Youth4Disarmament programme and BASIC’s Gender, Youth and Diversity programme.

Panelists agreed that this was an apposite moment to host this event, because 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons’ (NPT) and the 25th anniversary of its indefinite extension. 16 July 2020 also marks the anniversary of the advent of the Atomic Age, because 75 years ago the US conducted the Trinity Test: the first nuclear test.

Yet there are ongoing concerns about the health of the NPT treaty regime, with progress on disarmament slowing, the bilateral arms control architecture eroding and a widespread perception that nuclear risks are growing. The future health and vitality of the NPT regime over the next quarter century will depend upon inspiring and securing the commitment of the next generation of ethically motivated young professionals: policy analysts, researchers, entrepreneurs, politicians, civil society representatives, artists, and governmental officials. 

Izumi Nakamitsu, United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

Izumi Nakamitsu offered her opening remarks, highlighting that this event lies at the intersection of two of her office’s priorities: youth and disarmament. She evoked the UN Secretary General António Guterres’ statement that youth can act as a tremendous force of social change, which begets the establishment of a platform for meaningful and inclusive youth engagement. This renewed focus on youth in disarmament is supported by UN states, specifically as it relates to capacity building. 

Ms. Nakamitsu praised the work of the UNODA, who are working hard to increase youth participation and facilitating progress towards disarmament, under the banner of #Youth4Disarmament. She also called attention to the Champions for Disarmament programme, wherein ten selected youth receive training and general principles of disarmament through online courses. The Champions for Disarmament delegates will also participate in a two-week in-person study tour in Geneva, Vienna, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

In Ms. Nakamitsu’s perspective, there is little doubt that the NPT review process could benefit from new perspectives in order to overcome the current challenges to the regime. The 2015 Review Conference (RevCon) was unable to reach consensus on an outcome document and the rescheduled 2020 RevCon will be an important occasion, with many unprecedented challenges. In this context, it will be crucial to listen to young people.

H.E. Gustavo Zlauvinen, President-Designate, Tenth NPT Review Conference

H.E. Zlauvinen begins by underscoring the importance of the moment that we find ourselves in. 

The NPT has evolved into much more than it was initially envisioned to be; today, it is a cornerstone of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation framework. There appear to be three core reasons for its enduring relevance:

  1. Legally binding commitments to pursue disarmament, including for the five nuclear weapons states recognised by the treaty;
  2. The imposition of non-proliferation measures, which are overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); and
  3. The treaty is near-universal in its membership.

These features combine to establish the NPT as one of the most successful treaties in history, and an example from which other treaties have taken impetus.

In the opinion of H.E. Zlauvinen, if the Tenth NPT RevCon is to be a success, it will require participation from all. Notably, this includes the full and equitable participation of women and young people.

H.E. Cho Hyun, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations

H.E. Cho Hyun again emphasises the timeliness of this event and notes that it is a reaffirmation of the NPT as a cornerstone of the global disarmament movement. 

Nuclear weapons continue to pose the greatest threat to humanity and our planet. As a result, H.E. Hyun notes that investments in these weapons do not strengthen security. If anything, risks related to their usage abound. For this reason, we must reinvigorate our common efforts in this important sphere. The role of youth in disarmament and non-proliferation will contribute to securing security and envisioning a better world without nuclear weapons.

In the Republic of Korea (ROK), the role of youth has been centre-stage, not just in the nuclear sphere, but also in many other existential threats (e.g. climate change). This prompted the ROK to table a resolution on youth in the UN First Committee for the first time ever. This prioritisation is also evident in the recent NPT Youth Conference that was held in Seoul. This was the first large-scale in-person meeting since the COVID-19 outbreak, and the delegates were able to adopt the final document by consensus.

Ms. Bianca Carpinelli, Coordinator, Latin America NPT Next Gen Network

Ms. Bianca Carpinelli makes a case for the urgency of youth involvement in addressing the challenges to the NPT regime. She implores: we cannot and must not fail in addressing these issues in the near future; rather, young professionals and students must get immersed in these matters now, in order to not waste time when it comes time for us to become the decision makers. In summary, engaging youth professionals and students early is key for sustainability.

Exactly one year ago, the Next Generation Network idea was launched in Latin America. Ms. Carpinelli and her associates identified a gap in the discourse and asked themselves how they could foster dialogue on nuclear issues between young professionals and students. They discussed how they could build a cohort of “next generation” individuals and eventually settled on twelve representatives.

Between 2019 and 2020, these twelve representatives participated in virtual workshops where they would discuss the next 50 years of the NPT. Ms. Carpinelli prioritised engaging young professionals and students from different backgrounds (e.g. industry, research & development, academia, policy, etc.) because integrating different sectors would allow them to glean a more complete picture of this field. Looking forward, she is planning to institutionalize this network in a more solid and organised fashion. 

Closing remarks

Sebastian Brixey-Williams closes the event by thanking the four panelists, UNODA (Soo Hyun Kim, Rene Holbach and Christopher King), BASIC (Marion Messmer and Marina Favaro), and almost 200 participants for tuning into the event and for their questions. 

Please get in touch with BASIC if you would like to hear more and have ideas for how we can build this work.

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