Over the past months, members of UNA Youth and Generation United Nations, UNA-UK’s new programme for 13-18-year-olds, have been actively supporting the Towards Zero initiative on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
On 23 February, some 200 school and university students from across the UK took part in a one-day conference in north London to explore ‘New Nuclear Realities’ with an array of high-profile experts and policymakers.
John Duncan, former UK Ambassador for Multilateral Arms Control and Disarmament, kicked off the day with a wide-ranging presentation on the past and current contexts of nuclear weapons policy. His speech was followed by a discussion with panellists Mark Fitzpatrick (International Institute for Strategic Studies), Rebecca Johnson (ACRONYM) and Patricia Lewis (Chatham House). Chaired by Paul Ingram of the British American Security Information Council, the panel addressed a number of key issues, including: tactical nuclear weapons in Europe; the prospects for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East; broadening support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; and the likelihood of further reductions in Russian and US nuclear arsenals.
After a networking lunch, participants chose between two breakout sessions. One explored the morning’s themes in a more intimate setting with young professionals working in the field. The other offered students guidance on international job prospects, with speakers from government and the communications and NGO sectors at different stages of their own careers.
The day was rounded off by a fascinating keynote speech by Lord Hannay of Chiswick, former UK ambassador to the UN. Focussed on the run-up to the 2015 Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference, Lord Hannay also touched on nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, and the UK’s own nuclear weapons.
Commenting on the event, Stephen Vanson, UNA Youth President, said: “it's rare that regular students are surrounded by some of the UK's most influential voices on these issues. UNA Youth members seized this opportunity by asking insightful and interesting questions."
This event complemented two previous UNA-UK initiatives. In November 2012, myself and Stephen Vanson spent a week at the European Parliament with Global Zero (see box for my report), and in December last year, Generation UN competition winner Ethan McLaughlin took part in a meeting with former UK Defence Secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton. At the meeting, Lord Browne addressed members of UNA-UK’s young nuclear professionals group and engaged in a lively Q&A session on issues ranging from nuclear weapons and humanitarian law, to the question of what, if anything, UK unilateral nuclear disarmament would bring to global political efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.