Peace Education for Nuclear Disarmament

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePrint this page
Bill Yotive

Project Manager, Global Teaching and Learning Project
Department of Public Information, UN Headquarters in New York

(Welcome letter: Issue #65 – July 2009)  

wmdDuring the third Preparatory Committee meeting in May for the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference at UN Headquarters, a series of UN Radio interviews were set up with several Hibakusha – survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – who were in New York at the time.   The stories they shared about their experiences provide the best explanations for why these weapons of mass destruction should never be used again. Each time I listen to their stories I learn something new. Personally, I had thought little about this issue until the very first interview that was organized with a few Hibakusha several years ago. It brought me to tears and the absolute horror that was recounted gave me a renewed sense of purpose to increase my efforts to raise awareness and increase support for nuclear disarmament.

During the interviews, each Hibakusha talked about their desire to get rid of nuclear weapons. One of the survivors, Takehisa Yamamoto, who was very young when his hometown, Hiroshima, was bombed on August 6, 1945, said something very interesting about how to engage youth on this issue. He felt that “you won’t inspire the youth by just saying ‘Let’s abolish nuclear weapons’…it starts from the smaller problems that concern them, like environmental issues or that they may not have work or they are poor or other problems.”

This statement caused me to pause and reflect on what was said. In my work at the UN, I try to create educational materials that will hopefully motivate young people to get involved in the many social issues on the UN agenda. I came to the conclusion that what Mr. Yamamoto was telling us is that the roots of activism first begin to develop in relation to personal concerns embedded in our daily lives. Many researchers have examined the relationship between an individual’s sense of efficacy and their political participation and it has been generally accepted that a sense of efficacy leads to activism.  The argument goes something like this: If I feel successful in bringing about change in things that matter to me in my daily life, then I may be more willing to eventually take on larger issues. However, in reality it is much more complex than that.

First, our sense of efficacy is not a constant.  It waxes and wanes over the course of our lives. There is some evidence, for example, that a sense of efficacy grows significantly during preadolescence but that it drops considerably during adolescence. What causes this dramatic shift? What can we do as peace educators to address this? Second, we know that a lack of trust in our political systems or the perception that they are not responsive to our wants and needs can actually be a motivation for political engagement.

What emerges from studying people who become activists is their sense of moral integrity. The common thread in these individuals is a strong identification with moral values such as honesty, justice, charity and harmony. They become involved when confronted with situations that violate their moral values. Most importantly, activists emphasize that these values should be applied universally to all human beings. Moral behaviour is rooted in the sense of ourselves as being connected to others and the world we live in. The moral outrage that most of us we feel when confronted with the fact that there are more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in existence is driven by an awareness of the horrific destruction that just one of these bombs can unleash – including the long-term effects of radiation that get passed on from generation to generation. This violates our most fundamental belief in the sanctity of life.

Nuclear weapons remain one of the greatest threats to civilization. To address this issue, two important conferences will be held at the UN over the next several months. In September 2009, the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) will take place in New York. The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions anywhere on the planet. Although it has been ratified by 148 States to date, in order for the CTBT to enter into force, it has to be ratified by the following nine States: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States. The DPRK’s recent underground nuclear test underscores the urgency of ensuring that the CTBT enters into force. And, in April 2010, there will be the Conference to Review the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.

Both conferences will take place at a time when new momentum is building in support of disarmament and non-proliferation.  The Conference on Disarmament – the only multilateral forum for disarmament – recently adopted a Programme of Work that ended a 12-year stalemate and agreed to work to resolve key issues. And just a few days ago, the United States and Russia signed a Joint Understanding that commits both countries to significantly reduce their nuclear arsenals. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon responded by saying that “this agreement will make a significant contribution to the process of nuclear disarmament, as well as nuclear non-proliferation, during the lead-up to the 2010 NPT Conference and eventually to achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” 

Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is one of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s top priorities.  On 13 June he launched a campaign to mark the 100-day countdown to the International Day of Peace which is observed every year on 21 September as a time to reflect on the horror and cost of war and the benefits of peacefully resolving our disputes. This year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is using this opportunity to ask governments and civil society to focus on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  In support of this 100-day campaign, called WMD – We Must Disarm, the UN is using Twitter, Facebook and My Space to raise awareness of the costs and dangers of nuclear weapons.  Every day a different reason to disarm is posted on Twitter and pages have been created on Facebook and My Space where people can find out more information about the campaign.

In addition, we will be distributing a new publication on the International Day of Peace called the Student Action Toolkit for Disarmament that will contain ideas and suggestions of things students can do to raise awareness about disarmament and non-proliferation issues in their school and community. For other educational materials on this topic visit www.cyberschoolbus.un.org/dnp where you will find classroom resources on weapons of mass destruction, small arms, landmines and child soldiers. Finally, as part of the 100-day campaign, the 62nd annual DPI/NGO conference will take place in Mexico City from 9-11 September, 2009 under the banner “For Peace and Development: Disarm Now!” Participants from around the world will gather to discuss how they can contribute to reducing arms while advancing peace.

We invite you follow us on Twitter, join the WMD-We Must Disarm campaign on Facebook or MySpace, and sign a Declaration in support of the UN Secretary-General’s message marking the 100-day countdown. Sometime in July we will be launching our International Day of Peace website where you will be able to send us your reasons why we should disarm. We hope to display some of these messages at the UN when world leaders gather for the opening of the 64th session of the General Assembly.

One of the reasons to disarm that we recently posted on Twitter stated that “We Must Disarm because nukes are more dangerous than any problem they seek to solve.” Peace education, in its essence, strives to develop and nurture our moral selves by focusing our attention on acknowledging others’ needs, recognizing that another person can be helped and feeling competent in providing what is needed. This caring attitude is essential for resolving disputes peacefully.

The UN Department of Public Information had the good fortune of hosting the 25th anniversary of the IIPE. I was privileged to meet many of the educators who attend this Institute and learn about the great work you are engaged in. I can’t think of a better organization than the Global Campaign for Peace Education to help galvanize support for the WMD- We Must Disarm campaign. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts on this important issue. Send any comments or questions you may have to me at: [email protected].

Bill Yotive
Project Manager, Global Teaching and Learning Project
Department of Public Information, UN Headquarters in New York

CONTENT DISCLAIMER: please read the Global Campaign for Peace Education's content disclaimer / policy regarding the posting and sharing of content.