We have a new website! Our previous website has now been archived, it is accessible here

Global Youth Forum: Nuclear Disarmament

December 21, 2018

By Marcus Coll. M.A. Student (International Relations & Diplomacy), University of Canterbury.

From December 5-7, 2018, I was fortunate enough to attend the Global Youth Forum on Nuclear Disarmament in Auckland. The forum was held in tandem with the Pacific Conference which saw the meeting of diplomats from across the Pacific as well as Brazil, South Africa, Austria, and Ireland to discuss the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

A number of these diplomats came to speak to us at the Youth Forum about their respective country’s stance on the TPNW, the role they see it playing, and the processes to ratification. We also heard from many disarmament experts including Princeton University’s Dr Zia Mian who specialises in nuclear weapons verification, our very own Treasa Dunworth from Auckland University’s law department, and New Zealand’s former Disarmament Ambassador and current non-resident Senior Fellow at UNIDIR in Geneva, Tim Caughley. The keynote speaker of the conference was Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Beatrice Fihn, who spent a lot of her time with us at the Youth Forum over the three days. It was very interesting for me to see the power and influence civil society movements can have in the nuclear disarmament field.  

The Youth delegation consisted of about 30 people, mostly students, from across the pacific and further afield. I was one of only four New Zealand students to attend so I felt very lucky and also a sense of responsibility to encourage more kiwis, like me, to get involved in disarmament issues.

What struck me most about the conference was the TPNW’s focus on the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons giving it far-reaching potential. It’s the stoic voices of survivors of nuclear attacks and tests that has brought the humanitarian aspect to the forefront of TPNW discussions. The Pacific is particularly important in this dialogue as a region with a history of significant nuclear testing with ongoing effects. New Zealand is vital to the promotion of the TPNW as was evident in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade hosting the Pacific Conference. Below I have attached a few photos and comments from the three-day Global Youth Forum. I hope you find it as interesting as I did! Happy to hear your comments and questions.

Updates from Day 1 of the Global Youth Forum on Nuclear Disarmament in Auckland! The opening address was from Mayor Phil Goff. He spoke of his experiences as Disarmament Minister and Defence Minister. A good speaker to kick start the day!
Day 1: A call from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for young people to continue NZ’s long standing legacy of nuclear disarmament and further the cause globally. You can watch the full video address here.
Day 1: New Zealand Disarmament Ambassador Dell Higgie quoting from the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). A more experienced and knowledgeable diplomat on disarmament issues would be hard to find!
The final speaker of Day 1 was disarmament law professor Treasa Dunworth from Auckland University. A great way to sum up the day. She spoke of the counter argument to the enforceability of the PTNW treaty. In a nut shell, law is a framework from which to create new norms. Once the norms become internalized, it creates an inner morality. This then has a normative impact on states which are not party to the treaty. An example she gave was the fact that despite the US refusing to sign the land mines treaty, the norm the treaty created saw a large reduction in land mine deployment.
Day 1: We ended the day with a reception hosted by Disarmament and Arms Control Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. To sum up the day:- the TPNW is not the perfect treaty but is a huge move in the right direction for nuclear disarmament and the stigmatization of nuclear weapons.- recognition, compensation and medical treatment for hibakusha and testing victims in the Pacific by France, the UK, and the US should not be overlooked. Other youth members from the Marshall Islands 🇲🇭 challenged New Zealand to push further the cause of victim assistance and environmental remediation (Article 6)- Quote of the day from South African Disarmament Minister Johann Kellerman: “if you educate yourself about nuclear disarmament, you’ll have a job for life....unfortunately.” A bittersweet but encouraging call to action! More to come on Day 2 ❌☢️❌
Updates from Day 2 of the Global Youth Forum on Nuclear Disarmament! Today started off with a great session from Tamara Patton and Dr Zia Mian of Princeton University. Dr Mian runs the Program of Science and a global security which produces great research content on nuclear verification and monitoring including a virtual reality simulation to be released next year. Some good info can be found on the webpage verification.nu 👍
Day 2: Session on civil society and youth involvement in nuclear disarmament and how to deal within criticism. Some conclusions - it’s normal to sometimes question yourself, it’s normal to not know all of the answers, but stating the humanitarian damages of nuclear weapons will help to convince people of the benefits and potential of the TPNW.
Indulge my ego for a second! Beatrice and the Nobel Peace Prize...and me 😅 Very interesting and hopeful to see how an international citizens’ movement can positively effect nuclear disarmament. Quote of the day from Beatrice Fihn: “It’s all about language. If you present too much fear, people will turn off. If you’re too idealistic, people will turn off. It’s about striking the right balance so that people feel the threat but have the hope of change.” More updates tomorrow from the final day 3!
Updates from the third and final day of the Nuclear Disarmament conference: Dr Rebecca Dudley, International Humanitarian Law Advisor to the New Zealand Red Cross, came to speak to us about the response capabilities of the Red Cross and the Red Cresent in the event of an atomic war. The short answer - they could provide little to no relief to survivors. This was the same case in Hiroshima, 1945. 80% of the hospitals were destroyed and the same amount of doctors and nurses perished. It's no wonder the Red Cross has been a long-standing advocate for nuclear disarmament! Citing humanitarian reasons for nuclear disarmament is the best way to get people from all different perspectives on board.
Day 3: Tim Caughley, former deputy director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), and current non-resident Senior Fellow, came to speak to us. He talked of his experience as New Zealand's Disarmament Ambassador,  the importance of face-to-face interactions in our current digital age, and internship opportunities at UNIDIR. Knowing what you can bring to a role, and being persistent is important for any students looking for internships. There's also a pilot scheme started this year for NZ students to intern at UNIDIR on an annual basis!
Day 3: We had some very moving performances from Young Solwara. They are a group of young people from across the Pacific who highlight the history of nuclear testing through art, poetry, and dance. A good medium to remind people of the ongoing effects of nuclear testing in the Pacific. In the Marshall Islands, for example, contaminated areas will remain radioactive for at least 20,000 years. Hope for victim assistance and environmental remediation from States Parties to the TPNW will only be provided if the Marshall Islands ratifies the treaty too, and only then will this support be available after 50 states ratify. Not an easy position to be in as the country is in free association with the United States, a strong opponent of the TPNW.
Day 3: The final comments from the diplomats on the Pacific Conference. All in all, a very productive and constructive event. All members agreed to 'The Auckland Statement', a 24 paragraph summary of the conference and the work going forward. My favourite is paragraph 19: 'Emphasis was given to the obligation in Article 12 (of the TPNW) to promote the universal adherence of all states to the Treaty'. A very hopeful way to end an intensive 3 days of talks. There are many challenges but after this conference, I was left with a sense of pragmatic optimism! It was a fantastic opportunity and has given me a lot of motivation to continue being involved in nuclear disarmament issues in the future. I hope you enjoyed the ride with me! Ngā mihi nui!

Back to News