Photo: Group picture of high school students from Russia, Japan and USA who participated in the Critical Issues Forum conference at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Credit: CNS - Photo: 2019

High School Students’ Conference Stimulates Youth Engagement in Nuclear Disarmament

By Masako Toki*

MONTEREY, CA, USA (IDN) – The global nuclear situation appears to be more dangerous than ever, and calls for innovative solutions and involvement of the young people. Much against the widespread belief that high school students are too young to be engaged in resolving issues related to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, the 2019 Critical Issues Forum (CIF) conference evidenced that tomorrow’s leaders are ready to contribute their share to global peace and security.

On March 29-30, 2019 high school students from Russia, Japan, and from around the United States joined local students of Monterey County at the Critical Issues Forum spring student conference to discuss nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

Coordinated by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), the annual Critical Forum aims to promote nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation education to high school students.

The focus of this year’s  Forum, ‘Nuclear Risk Reduction: Crisis Prevention in a Time of International Turbulence’, situated nuclear-weapon policy within the current tumultuous international security environment. CIF high school students learned the current challenges and the crisis surrounding nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, nuclear risks threatening global and regional peace and security, and explored pathways to confront nuclear challenges.

Several local high schools in Monterey County, including all public high schools in the Salinas Union High School District joined the CIF program for the first time. It was encouraging to have such a diverse mixture of global and local components in this education program.

The conference offered students from five Japanese high schools, three Russian high schools in closed nuclear cities, and twelve U.S. high schools from four different states the opportunity to present the conclusions of their research. Each participating school presented their findings in a creative and innovative way.

For example, a school from Zelenogorsk, Russia, focused their research on U.S.-Russian cooperation in nuclear risk reduction, highlighting the importance of the two countries’ cooperation at a time when the relationship between these two countries is at a post-Cold War low.

Hiroshima Jogakuin Senior High School that has been actively promoting nuclear disarmament on a daily basis, presented their solution to accomplish a world free of nuclear weapons. The students from Hiroshima proposed to develop the Global Fund for Nuclear Free World to create incentives for nuclear abolition, while empowering young generations to take initiative.

First-time participants, schools from the Salinas Union High School District, offered a unique presentation titled ‘Building Empathy through Cultural Education’. Students from Salinas were all Japanese language learners, and they developed their deeper understanding of Japanese culture through language studies that led them to increase their interest in nuclear disarmament. With their presentation’s underlining theme.

“The apathy that we had when learning about historical battles and events is instead replaced by empathy,” the students from Salinas proposed to create a Global Studies Class and a Global Citizenship Class where students can learn cross cultural understandings, peace, and disarmament. One of conference observers expressed that he is more energized, optimistic, and hopeful after seeing these bright young minds at work.

Students also heard from keynote speaker Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, an internationally recognized expert on North Korea’s nuclear program and director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at CNS, highlighting his recent book, The 2020 Commission Report on the north Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States that has received enthusiastic reviews from many critics.

CIF conference also welcomed Consul-General of Japan in San Francisco, Tomochika Uyama, to read a message from Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono. This year again, CIF students were designated as a Youth Communicator for a World without Nuclear Weapons by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, which further enhanced students’ motivation to continue studying the issues related to nuclear disarmament.

As Dr. William Potter, the founding director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, rightly pointed out in his article for the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in 2001, “Education is the most underutilized tool” to solve global challenges, including disarmament, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and peace building.

This article significantly contributed to the adoption of the United Nations Study on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education (A/57/124) by the UN General Assembly in 2002 which is marked as one of the most important achievements in the history of disarmament and nonproliferation education efforts.

While more disarmament education efforts can be seen among civil society community, and educational institutes, it is fair to say that disarmament and nonproliferation education has not expanded enough to be widely recognized for its importance by national leaders in many countries.

In this turbulent time, disarmament and nonproliferation education for young people around the world has become increasingly important, and must receive greater attention.

In May 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched an ambitious disarmament agenda, “Securing our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament,” with the purpose to reinvigorate the disarmament process. He emphasized the importance of education: “More education and training opportunities should be established, in order to empower young people to be a force for change and disarmament.” The Critical Issues Forum project is contributing its share to the attainment of this goal.

In her recorded video message, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations Izumi Nakamitsu encouraged the students quoting UN Secretary General “Your generation is the ultimate force for change. You are the leader for tomorrow.” The high school students who gathered at the CIF conference took these words to heart.

For more detailed information about the Critical Issues Forum and students’ presentations and videos, please visit the CIF project website at

*Masako Toki manages is Education Project Manager at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Her responsibilities include managing the Critical Issues Forum (CIF), nonproliferation education program for high school students and teachers in the United States and Russia. She is also a member of the Japan Association of Disarmament Studies and the U.S.-Japan Leadership Program (US-Japan Foundation). [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 April 2019]

Photo: Group picture of high school students from Russia, Japan and USA who participated in the Critical Issues Forum conference at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Credit: CNS

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