Conversation on Advancements in Science & Technology: Leveraging disarmament education towards greater diversity and inclusion

March 10th, 2023

In the latest edition of the Vienna Conversation Series, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) Vienna Office, in partnership with the Permanent Missions of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Korea, hosted a hybrid event entitled “Advancements in Science & Technology: Leveraging disarmament education towards greater diversity and inclusion” on Thursday, 2 March 2023.

The event was held to commemorate the first-ever International Day for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Awareness on March 5, in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/77/51, adopted on December 7, 2022. The dialogue was part of a series of events and activities organized by UNODA to mark the International Day.

From left to right: Ms. Kim Obergfaell (BASIC), Ms. Maria Chepurina (CTBTO), H.E. Mr. Sang-wook Ham (PR of the Republic of Korea), Ms. Rebecca Jovin (UNODA), H.E. Mr. Tolendy Makeyev (PR of the Kyrgyz Republic), Ms. Alexandra Ebert (MOSTLY AI), and Ms. Keon-hee Lee (KAERI). The distinguished speakers and panellists joined UNODA’s social media campaign in support of the International Day.

Ms. Maria Chepurina, External Relations Officer at the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), moderated the session and framed it by highlighting the significance of the multi-stakeholder approach to emerging technologies and disarmament issues, especially in the field of disarmament education. She underscored the role that youth engagement and empowerment play in this regard.

Following a brief opening by Ms. Rebecca Jovin, Chief of the UNODA Vienna Office, H.E. Mr. Tolendy Makeyev, Permanent Representative of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations (Vienna) and H.E. Mr. Sang-wook Ham, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations (Vienna), in their introductory remarks reaffirmed their States’ long-standing commitment to disarmament education, youth empowerment, and to advancing disarmament and non-proliferation goals in general. The Ambassadors emphasized that awareness-raising and education can and must be leveraged to meet the challenges of disarmament and non-proliferation, especially in today’s difficult and complex geopolitical and security context. 

Ms. Francesca Giovannini, Executive Director of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, in her keynote address highlighted several gaps to disarmament and non-proliferation awareness, including in societal awareness, imbalance between education on deterrence versus disarmament issues, silos in the types of information offered and access thereto, as well as the slower pace of disarmament education compared to technological and societal developments. Ms. Giovannini stressed that a qualitative shift in disarmament education and activism can be realized only through concurrent efforts that ensure disarmament education is shaped by a clear theory of change and renewed awareness of the role of international law and ethics; inclusion of more diverse and non-traditional voices; and stronger dialogue with practitioners, especially from non-nuclear-weapon states.

Ms. Francesca Giovannini (Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs), who delivered the keynote, and Mr. Waleed Helmy (UN Youth Champion for Disarmament) joined the discussion virtually.

Ms. Alexandra Ebert, Chief Trust Officer at MOSTLY AI, introduced the perspective of industry on emerging technologies in the field of international security. She brought two key issues into the limelight. First, developers of such emerging technologies, particularly AI (artificial intelligence), do not put enough thought into providing for the responsible use of such technologies in all fields. Second, the level of awareness of decision-makers and the general public is insufficient for the full and holistic understanding of all necessary steps to be taken on effective AI regulation and compliance in the security domain. Regarding the latter, she underscored the paramount importance of data democracy and diversity, as well as the role of media and governments in raising awareness and providing educational tools that contribute to facts-based discourse.

Ms. Keon-hee Lee, Senior Researcher at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), spotlighted the benefits of practical multi-stakeholder work on developing and regulating advanced nuclear reactors as a good example of various actors working together in the field of technological development. Standards and measures to enhance nuclear safety and security are developed through collaboration between regulators, technological experts, and industries. She further argued that industry can contribute to reducing the negative impacts potentially caused by new technologies and also to promoting global security by: (1) considering the impact and inherent risks at a very early stage of design and development of the technologies and adopting corresponding measures; (2) developing alternative or supporting technologies; and (3) adhering to export control norms and guidelines.

Bearing in mind the practical necessity of engaging various stakeholders on the issues of emerging technologies and disarmament, Mr. Waleed Helmy, UN Youth Champion for Disarmament, and Ms. Kim Obergfaell, Policy Fellow at the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), elaborated on the existing and potential tools to engage different groups, especially younger generations, in such issues. Mr. Helmy emphasized the necessity to establish partnerships between different stakeholders with the engagement of youth at the heart of these collaborations, and to equip youth with relevant professional knowledge and skills so that they can contribute effectively to policymaking. He further echoed the paramount importance of responsible innovation and consideration of security implications of technologies from the earliest development phases. For her part, Ms. Obergfaell stressed that disarmament education benefits from a multidisciplinary approach, and that youth voices and ideas should be given space in formal policy-making fora. She encouraged young people and the general public to join or support events, campaigns, courses and workshops, as well as networks in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation.

The “talk-show”-style event aimed at engaging the Vienna-based diplomatic community, international organizations, academics and civil society actors in the dialogue on exploring the implications of advances in science and technology for international peace and security through the lens of diversity and inclusion, as well as reflecting on how the power of disarmament education may leverage the multi-stakeholder approach to these issues.

Interventions by the panellists were followed by a dynamic Q&A discussion in which speakers addressed questions from audience members in the room and online, touching on a range of issues including data transparency and implementation challenges, public mobilization and youth engagement, strengthening disarmament theory and applying it more extensively in academic and educational materials, and potential avenues for strengthening and increasing disarmament activism.

A recording of the event is available here.