Following the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, a global forum on 10–11 August 2012 explored the role of education in realizing a world free from nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, and in countering the threat of conventional weapons.
The event, jointly organized by UNU, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) and Nagasaki City, brought together educators, diplomats, researchers, students and representatives of non-governmental organizations to discuss and advance disarmament and non-proliferation education (DNPE) as a means of empowering individuals to contribute towards these urgent goals.
In a message delivered by Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his support for the forum as “a catalyst for bringing disarmament and non-proliferation education to every school around the world”.
Keynote speeches by Kane and Tibor Toth, Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO), emphasized the urgent need for DNPE as a way of developing future generations of disarmament and non-proliferation specialists. Prof. Avner Cohen, Director of the Education Program at the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies, suggested that, given the failure of politics and law to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, education is essential to cultivate moral responsibility among younger generations.
In a panel exploring the challenges of implementing DNPE, leading educators exchanged perspectives and practical insights. They discussed different approaches to DNPE (with some panelists suggesting that it should prioritize advocacy, rather than knowledge and understanding) as well as the target audience (some promoting the engagement of students, and others of society as a whole). There was a shared recognition that the broad range of actors involved in DNPE are working towards common goals of fostering awareness and understanding of the inhumane nature of weapons of mass destruction, and of encouraging people to engage in actions in support of disarmament and non-proliferation.
The forum was enriched by the voices of local hibakusha (atomic bombing survivors). Sakue Shimohira, who described her experience as a 10-year-old child in the Nagasaki atomic bombing, eloquently explained the horror of nuclear weapons, demonstrating how understanding and sharing the experiences of hibakusha can be a powerful tool for DNPE.
Students were also active participants in the forum. Several High School Peace Ambassadors explained their activities and their belief in the importance of abolishing nuclear weapons. In presentation sessions, students from junior high schools, high schools and universities introduced their activities towards non-proliferation and disarmament, and performed a moving “song for peace”.
The forum was successful in engaging diverse stakeholders to exchange views and experiences of DNPE, compile best practices and develop partnerships for further collaboration. The ongoing commitment of the participants to further promoting and advancing DNPE was affirmed with the issuance of an official declaration, presented in the closing session. The forum’s messages also were shared with a wider global audience through social media, including an official Twitter feed and Facebook page.
The forum built upon UNU’s previous collaboration with MOFA to promote and develop DNPE — including an official working paper to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May 2010, which proposed ways to increase awareness and understanding of the dangers of nuclear proliferation, and to enhance civil society engagement to strengthen NPT norms.
Through its own research, UNU is directly contributing to scientific knowledge and understanding of the destructive power of nuclear and other weapons, and the dangers of their proliferation. Recent projects by the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP) resulted in the books The United Nations and Nuclear Orders and Sexed Pistols: The Gendered Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons.
UNU-ISP teaching and training activities also build capacities to address the challenges of disarmament and non-proliferation, including the Master of Science in Sustainability, Development, and Peace programme through courses on “International Peace and Security” and “Contemporary Security Issues”.