UNODA celebrates its first-ever Disarmament Education Strategy with global event

April 11th, 2023

On 30 March 2023, representatives of Member States, the United Nations family, international and regional organizations, academia, civil society, media, and youth gathered in a virtual event to celebrate the global launch of the Disarmament Education Strategy by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA). The Strategy represents a consolidated effort to strengthen the sustainability and impact of the Office’s work, and responds to the pressing need for authoritative, far-reaching, and inclusive disarmament education amidst an increasingly challenging disarmament and international security landscape. It also underscores UNODA’s comparative advantages in the field of disarmament education due to its unique expertise and impartiality, as well as convening and connecting power.

UNODA published its Disarmament Education Strategy online in December 2022 accompanied by a soft launch in Vienna for members of the local diplomatic community, as well as representatives of civil society organizations and United Nations agencies. 

The event opened with welcoming remarks by Master of Ceremonies Ms. Rebecca Jovin, Chief of the UNODA Vienna Office, who introduced a short video which presented the different tracks of UNODA’s disarmament education efforts and offered a glimpse into future activities. Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, then delivered opening remarks in which she stressed that the strain on multilateral disarmament efforts and the challenging security environment have been a wake-up call for UNODA to adopt a more strategic approach to disarmament education. 

In opening remarks, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs highlighted the need for “a multi-stakeholder, inter-disciplinary approach which leverages diversity and inclusion.”

The opening segment was followed by a panel discussion, in which four distinguished experts and representatives of key stakeholder groups, including government, the media, academia, and former participants of UNODA’s flagship educational and youth initiatives, engaged in an interactive discussion on the importance of disarmament education and ways to strengthen collective efforts. 

Ms. María Antonieta Socorro Jáquez Huacuja, Director for Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, moderated the discussion, which she framed as an exchange of opinions on partnerships in disarmament education, covering the successes and challenges for disarmament education initiatives and avenues to facilitate more inclusive processes. She noted that even though the recommendations enshrined in the 2002 United Nations study on disarmament and non-proliferation education remain relevant, disarmament education is not considered as prominently as it should be. She expressed hope that UNODA’s new Strategy would help Member States recognize the key role of disarmament education.   

Mr. Zia Mian, Co-director of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, called disarmament education an “incredible success story” for promoting a better understanding of the need for disarmament, and inspiring the adoption of a multitude of legal instruments related to various types of weapons. He also highlighted the potential positive impact of granting agency to individuals in advocating for disarmament and thinking of how education can be taken out of the classroom to encourage action for disarmament at different levels. He recalled that the idea of disarmament education was initially raised in 1946, when Albert Einstein, along with a group of other scientists, noted education as a meaningful tool to effectively address the threat of nuclear weapons. 

Mr. Fernando Pedro Marques, Alternate Permanent Representative of the Republic of Angola to the United Nations (Vienna), recalled his own participation in the United Nations Programme of Fellowships on Disarmament, which he believed was a valuable opportunity to gain substantive knowledge on the topic, as well as engage and exchange diverse perspectives with young diplomats from other Member States. Mr. Marques also highlighted that the programme showcased the positive impact of disarmament on society, which he now applies in his everyday work serving his country. 

Mr. Anthony Deutsch, Chief of Reuters Amsterdam Bureau, brought into the discussion the perspective of media on disarmament education. He noted the need to use accessible language and storytelling to connect wider audiences with issues related to peace and security. He also encouraged the United Nations and other organizations to build sustainable relationships with the media and to engage proactively to ensure journalists are equipped to deliver relevant and accurate information to the public. 

Ms. Lia Holla, former participant in UNODA’s #Leaders4Tomorrow project, accounted that this programme filled a gap in disarmament by becoming the “first space for young people from inter-sectional backgrounds and different regions to discuss disarmament.” She added that creating opportunities to establish connections and partnerships are critical elements for fostering “a global mindset,” noting that education is not only a means to provide knowledge but also to build bridges, encourage critical thinking, and embrace a diversity of ideas.  

Panellists of the global launch event, Ms. Lia Holla (top left), Mr.  Zia Mian (middle left), Mr. Fernando Pedro Marques (middle right) and Mr. Anthony Deutsch (bottom left) with moderator Ms. María Antonieta (Tonie) Socorro Jáquez Huacuja (top right) and Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (bottom right). 

In the concluding segment, all the speakers reflected on how they envision collective disarmament education efforts in the next decade and what practical steps are required to strengthen partnerships for disarmament. Ms. Nakamitsu reiterated that partnerships form an indispensable pillar in advancing disarmament efforts, as UNODA’s Disarmament Education Strategy clearly posits. She highlighted the need to think holistically and reach out to a broad range of stakeholders, including those beyond the direct disarmament sphere, with the aim of tailoring disarmament education activities to the needs of different audiences in different contexts. Finally, Mr. Mian noted that sustaining diverse partnerships is just as important as building them for the continuous development of disarmament education. A recording of the event is available on the event page.