There are 1.9 billion young people today, and as the declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations (A/RES/75/1) states, “Youth is the missing piece for peace and development.” Young people around the world have a critical role to play in raising awareness and developing new ways to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms, including their proliferation.
The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has made a major push to engage and empower youth, insisting the next generation must have a say in how their future will be shaped. In his policy brief on the New Agenda for Peace, he noted that “youth are essential to identifying new solutions that will secure the breakthroughs that our world urgently needs.” The UN Youth Strategy notes that only by engaging and working with youth, creating the conditions which allow them to play an active role, will the international community be able to achieve peace, security and sustainable development for all.
The Youth, Peace and Security Agenda
The Youth, Peace and Security Agenda marks a significant shift in the understanding of who young people are and their role in maintaining peace and security. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 (2015) marked the first international policy framework to recognize the positive role young people play in preventing and resolving conflict, countering violent extremism and building peace.
The UN General Assembly reaffirmed the important and positive contribution that young people can make in sustaining peace and security through its unanimous support of the biennial resolution entitled “Youth, disarmament and non-proliferation“, adopted on 12 December 2019 (74/64) and 6 December in 2021 (76/45). Through its adoption, Member States, the United Nations, relevant specialized agencies, and regional and subregional organizations are encouraged to promote the meaningful and inclusive participation of young people in discussions in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation.
The Role of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs
Meaningful youth engagement remains a key priority for the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA). In 2019, the Office launched its flagship youth outreach initiative, Youth4Disarmament, to connect geographically diverse young people with experts to learn about international security challenges, the work of the UN and ways to participate.
Through tailored disarmament education efforts, UNODA strives to equip young people with the knowledge and leadership skills to advance disarmament and non-proliferation goals. Current initiatives include the Leaders to the Future Series and the Nuclear Weapons. Youth Leader Fund for a World Without Nuclear Weapons. The Office also provides activities, in which young people of diverse interests and backgrounds can participate in disarmament efforts through expressive mediums. This includes:
- The annual #StepUp4Disarmament Youth Campaign, intended to raise awareness of the International Day against Nuclear Tests on 29 August,
- #75Words4Disarmament Youth Challenge, in which young people expressed what disarmament means to them and their local communities in 75 words.
- “What if – Spesterra” Youth Video Challenge, a contest for young people to share their visions of a world where more money is spent on peace and less on arms,
- And Pitching Peace Youth Music Challenge, inviting youth to express their passion for peace through original musical entries.
The “#Youth4Disarmament” outreach initiative was recognized as the Best Coalition Building Project of 2020 by the Billion Acts of Peace Award, an activity of the Peace Jam Foundation. UNODA will continue to engage, educate and empower young people through its initiatives to ensure a strong and diverse future for the disarmament community.