Putting lessons learned into practice: My Experience with the Youth Leader Fund for a World without Nuclear Weapons

July 1st, 2024

By Johannes Nordin (Sweden), participant of the Youth Leader Fund for a World without Nuclear Weapons (YLF)

I have greatly enjoyed partaking in the remote component of the Youth Leader Fund for a World without Nuclear Weapons (YLF) these past six months. Aware of the challenges in adapting an educational programme to such a large, truly global cohort of participants – with varying degrees of availability, educational and professional backgrounds – I have been very satisfied with the overall balance of content, networking opportunities, as well as space for self-reflection.

To add context, I am a researcher and geopolitical analyst based in Stockholm, Sweden. Though I participated in a private capacity, I work full-time as a Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Security and Development Policy (ISDP), with an Associate Fellowship at the International Development Research Network (IDRN). I first ventured into nuclear security and denuclearization issues in 2019-2020 while writing my MSc thesis on EU involvement in denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Ever since, nuclear security has been a constant in my steadily broadening repertoire of foreign and security policy interests.

In terms of key lessons and personal takeaways from YLF, there are three areas I would like to highlight:

First, I appreciated the programme’s direct insights into the UN disarmament machinery, its institutional functions, underlying processes, and critical challenges. Though I already knew well the contours of broader nuclear security dynamics and multilateral negotiation processes, the discussions of the UN system’s inner workings and personal reflections by senior officials greatly added to my understanding of international disarmament efforts.

Second, arguably even more so than the educational component itself, I especially valued the networking aspects. These exchanges were illuminating in showing not only the different ways the wider international relations and disarmament space can be restrictive – with visa access barriers and exclusionary discoursal practices toward marginalized perspectives – but also elucidating the great range of ways one can have an impact. Hearing about different personal theories of change and exchanging views with a diverse group of early career peers is always valuable, but particularly so in fields so skewed in terms of seniority and gender balance.

Third, the YLF programme offered ample opportunities for self-reflection and learning about leadership, synthesising the educational and networking aspects.  Drawing on the views of both senior and junior practitioners in the field, UN diplomats and policy officials, hibakusha and activists, these instances helped me reflect on the various ways that one can make a change. This is something I especially treasured as a security policy analyst. As much as international relations practitioners often work within the confines of a less-than-ideal status quo, one should be careful not to let their imagination of a better world grow too rigid or cynical.

I have already begun to put some of these lessons to practice in past months parallel to the participation in YLF.

For instance, I have contributed insights to the latest De-Siloing Existential Threats Phase Policy Cycle at BASIC’s Emerging Voices Network (EVN) – a digital, global network of early career researchers on nuclear weapons and nuclear policy issues – with the final report due to be launched in mid-July. YLF’s lessons on proliferation threats and barriers to participation in the nuclear field have been especially useful in the efforts to map and de-silo challenges and propose alleviating policy prescriptions.

In the weeks ahead, I will deepen my engagement with nuclear security issues further. This summer I will participate in the Third Study Programme: The Atomic Legacy, organized by Konrad Adenauer Foundation Vienna and Atomic Reporters, and learn also more in-depth about nuclear hybrid energy systems at the TANDEM Summer School of the Politecnico di Milano. Additionally, I have recently joined the Younger Generation Leaders Network on Euro-Atlantic Security (YGLN), a network aimed at bridging divides and offering a much-needed platform for understanding and dialogue. I have already recognized some familiar faces, including from YLF, in these upcoming events and networks.

I am very grateful to have had this opportunity!

Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are of the writer’s alone. The text is not an official publication of the United Nations, and does not imply an endorsement of the views expressed nor that the material is accurate or without bias.