United Nations Calls for Education on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

by Kate Dewes

The urgent need for education and training about disarmament and non-proliferation has been recognized by the UN with the adoption by consensus, in November 2002, of a resolution (57/60) introducing the UN Secretary General’s report “United Nations study on disarmament and non-proliferation education” (A57/124). It was prepared over 2 years by a group of ten government experts from Egypt, Hungary, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Senegal and Sweden, who were joined by representatives of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters and other UN international organizations and agencies such as the IAEA, OPCW, UNIDIR, UNESCO, UNICEF, CTBTO, UNIFEM and the UNU. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary, and well-known disarmament expert and advocate, Dr Miguel Marin Bosch chaired it.

In the Study’s foreword Kofi Annan reiterated the importance of understanding ‘how the excessive manufacture, trade, procurement and stockpiling of weapons can exacerbate war and make it more lethal and dangerous, or how this affects health, destroys the environment or hinders development. Indeed, the more that is known about conflict the better’. 1 The Study also contains 34 far-reaching recommendations for Member States, the UN and other international organizations, civil society, NGOs and the media. Of particular interest to INESAP readers is one which encourages

Member states, in cooperation with the United Nations and relevant international organizations … to sponsor training, fellowships, and awareness programmes, on wide a geographical basis as possible, for researchers, engineers, scientists and other academics in areas of particular relevance, but not limited to treaties and agreements on weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. 2

Earlier UN initiatives aimed at educating the public about the UN and disarmament included the 1982 World Disarmament Campaign and the UN Disarmament Information Programme. The UN declared 1986 as the International Year of Peace and 1999 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace. This was extended in 2000 to an International Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, and 2001 was the UN Year of Dialogue among Civilizations.

The UN Study acknowledges that ‘a primary tool for fostering a culture of peace is the promotion of educational curricula on peaceful conflict-resolution, dialogue, consensus-building and active non-violence’. It therefore complements the peace studies and conflict resolution programmes that became widespread in the 1980s and 1990s following the UNESCO World Congress on Disarmament Education in 1980.3

The Study defines Disarmament Education as broadly focused on the need to reduce armaments with a view to their complete elimination as a means of reducing both the likelihood and severity of armed conflict. Non-Proliferation Education is a significant subset of disarmament education and is oriented towards the prevention of the further proliferation of all weapons, in particular Weapons of Mass Destruction.4

Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (DNP) education and training is described as ‘a life-long and multifaceted process, in which the family, schools, universities, media, community, NGOs, governments, parliaments, and international organisations all participate. It is a building block, a base of theoretical and practical knowledge that allows individuals to choose for themselves values that reject violence, resolve conflicts peacefully and sustain a culture of peace.’5 It draws upon, contributes to and mutually reinforces education for: conflict resolution, communication, cross-cultural understanding, tolerance of diversity and non violence, economic justice, gender equity, environmental preservation, demilitarisation, development, human rights and international humanitarian law.

The Study calls for ‘numerous groups to be targeted, including, but not limited to, children and youth, school and university students, educators and trainers; researchers, scientists, engineers, physicians; private and corporate donors; religious, indigenous peoples, community and municipal representatives; policy makers such as parliamentarians and government officials; trade unions and the business community; and professionals implementing laws and policies such as the military, law enforcement agents, licensing and customs officers.’6 Because they are on the ground and directly involved in communities, civil society organizations are key players in developing and delivering formal and informal disarmament education and encouraging governments and UN agencies to implement the recommendations.

The Expert Group initiated, and benefited from, unprecedented collaboration with civil society groups and individuals, ranging from secondary school teachers to peer educators, from community activists to visual artists, academics and practitioners alike.7 The wide range of presentations included representatives of very poor countries and post-conflict situations. They reminded the experts that different groups require a range of pedagogic approaches and methods. ‘What a school-age child in a refugee camp needs to know about disarmament is not the same for a border guard, let alone for a political official or a high school teacher’. 8

Therefore, a myriad of teaching methods, including participatory learning approaches, should be adopted as mechanisms for both formal and informal education. Those preparing educational material need to be sensitive to various audiences, cultures, customs and situations and should find ways to present it in the language of the recipients. In addition to computer-based learning, model United Nations programmes, other role-playing and simulation games, videos, electronic games, film, dance, song, theatre, puppetry, poetry, photography, origami, graphic art and creative writing are all useful methods. 9

An integral part of the Study was to assess the current state of DNP education. The results of a qualitative survey presented in the Annexes were compiled by the staff of the Program on Global Security and Disarmament at the US University of Maryland, in close cooperation with Educators for Social Responsibility and the UN’s Department of Disarmament Affairs in New York. The Global Guide to Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education10 summarises and updates disarmament education activities carried out by participating UN agencies, governments, universities and educational institutions, NGOs, museums and individuals. The guide is being used to create a list-serve of organisations interested in sharing regular information on DNP education and future events. It is hoped that this may develop into an international consortium of scholars and representatives of civil society, to work in parallel with, and as a complement to, international DNP education efforts.

A growing number of international NGOs, such as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the International Peace Bureau, and the Hague Appeal for Peace, are preparing disarmament education resources which are accessible on the internet to a wide range of groups and in a number of languages. Many NGOs already monitor UN disarmament meetings closely and send regular reports to groups around the world. As a contribution to implementing the recommendations of the Study, a coalition of groups, including scientists and engineers, is preparing a multi-media project comprising a CD ROM and a paperback textbook on disarmament education.

Here are further examples of how the UN, NGOs and governments are implementing some of the other recommendations:

7. The International Association of University Presidents’ UN Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace has actively contacted all IAUP universities around the world to sponsor a “Day of Dialogue for World Peace” as a way of raising awareness about the Study.

Member States to designate a focal point for disarmament and non-proliferation education and to inform the Department of Disarmament Affairs on steps taken to implement the report’s recommendations

It is now up to us all to rise to the Secretary-General’s challenge ‘to use disarmament education to inform and empower citizens to work with their governments for positive change. Governments, the United Nations family, other international organizations, disarmament-related organizations, non- governmental organizations and others in a position to contribute will do their part to sustain the process of consultation and cooperation started by the Group of Experts, so that disarmament and non-proliferation education becomes an integral – and natural – part of the education of the next generation’.13

Let us use this Report to train interns, establish educational courses at every level, ensure NGO representation on UN delegations to the NPT Review Conference, and increase dialogue with our governments to ‘educate, educate, educate’ for peace and disarmament everywhere.

1Report of the Secretary-General, United Nations study on disarmament and non-proliferation education, UN document A/57/124, p4 (http://www.un.org/disarmament/education).

2 Ibid, pp 17-18, No 13.

3 Ibid. p.12, Para 15.

4 Ibid. p 10, paras 8 and 9.

5 Ibid. p 12, para 20; Foreword by the Secretary-General, P.4.

6 Ibid. p 12. para 21.

7 Ibid. p.12, para 17.

8 Ibid. p 1. Summary.

9 Ibid. p 13, Recommendation 27 and p. 19, Recommendation 23.

10 See www.bsos.umd.edu/pgsd/Global_Guide.htm

11 Ibid. p. 16, Recommendation 1.

12 Ibid. p. 17, Recommendation 10.

13 UN Study, p.4, Foreword by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.