Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalism 2023 Fellows discuss global disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation with Office of Disarmament Affairs staff

October 31st, 2023

From 13 to 29 August selected participants from the 2021 and 2022   cohorts travelled to the United Nations Headquarters for the 2023 Fellowship, having returned to be in-person after being held virtually during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A component of the programme was a briefing by the representatives of the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) on 28 September. Representatives included Suzanne Oosterwijk, Regional Disarmament Information and Outreach Branch, Erika Kawahara, Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch, Beyza Unal, Science and Technology Unit, Laurie Mincieli of the Conventional Arms Branch and Henrik Dale of the Office’s initiative.

ODA staff briefed the reporters about the disarmament machinery with regards to their respective fields, the challenges therein and the role of UNODA in supporting Member States to deliver on their disarmament goals and obligations.

The 2023 Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellows with UNODA staff

Ms. Oosterwijk explained that disarmament has always been at the heart of the work of the United Nations, adding that the Office for Disarmament Affairs works with Member States, United Nations system entities and other partners towards the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and the strict control of conventional weapons. To that end, the Office promotes norm-setting and multilateral agreements in the areas of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation; facilitates dialogue among diverse stakeholders; and advocates for concrete and effective solutions to support sustainable peace and development. She also briefly introduced the Secretary-General’s    which aims to address an interlocking set of global threats and deliver on the promises of the Charter of the United Nations around the world. Disarmament is an essential and integral part of the New Agenda for Peace, with concrete  multi-pronged approaches and recommendations to eliminate nuclear weapons and address strategic risks, reduce the human costs of weapons, and prevent the weaponization of emerging domains, such as cyber space and outer space, promote responsible innovation, for example in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and ensuring that the disarmament machinery is fit for purpose.

Ms. Laurie Mincieli explaining the disarmament machinery with regards to Conventional Weapons

Ms. Kawahara provided an overview of the treaties and agreements related to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and provided the Fellows with additional context about how the current strained geostrategic environment is impacting multilateral discussions about nuclear weapons. She noted that the risk of the use of nuclear weapons, whether intentionally, by accident or through miscalculation, is at its highest since the days of the cold war. She stressed that confidence building measures designed to increase transparency and accountability between Member States is key to reducing nuclear risks. She also stressed the need to counter the false narratives that nuclear weapons provide the ultimate form of protection, and that nuclear disarmament is a utopian dream that can never be realized. With regards to conventional weapons, Ms. Mincieli explained the United Nations role in this sphere is anchored in Article 26 of the Charter which calls for the least diversion of the world’s human and economic resources to armaments. She noted that while global military expenditure continues to soar, successful efforts have been undertaken to address the humanitarian harm caused by certain types of conventional arms, such as landmines or cluster munitions, and to counter the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons. ODA, including its regional centers in Peru, Togo and Nepal, play a key role in supporting States in upholding their agreements and treaty obligations and provide hands-on and practical support, including through training courses, guidelines, and reporting tools.

Ms. Beyza Unal explaining the emerging risks posed by advances in technology

Ms. Unal of the Science and Technology Unit then steered the discussion toward threats emanating from emerging technologies and the challenges of policy makers with keeping pace with technological developments, particularly with regards to Artificial Intelligence and dual use technologies. Whilst threats from emerging technologies may seem minimal relative to conventional weapons in the context of armed conflict, she stressed that such technologies are still integrated into conventional weapon systems; and, thus have an indirect impact on the functioning of a weapon system. Ms. Unal indicated that Member States must work effectively and collectively to regulate the design, development, deployment and use of such technologies. In wrapping up the session, Mr. Dale spoke of UNODA’s work to strengthen youth participation and engagement in the disarmament field. With the current youth generation being the largest in history and who are set to inherit the policies being made today, he reiterated that young people play an important role in fostering sustainable peace and security, including through proposing innovative solutions and providing new perspectives on difficult challenges. He spoke of UNODA’s #Youth4Disarmament initiative, which aims to engage, educate and empower youth through activities such as the annual. He closed by highlighting the Office’s newly launched flagship programme.

The session closed with a short question and answer round.