How Young People Are Trying to Stop Nuclear Weapons Testing


In this op-ed published in Teen Vogue, Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, British High Commissioner to Canada, and Sarah Bidgood, Senior Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, explain how young people are getting involved with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization to stop nuclear testing.

The atomic age dawned more than 70 years ago, but there is no sense in which the nuclear weapons debate is yesterday’s news. From North Korea’s nuclear program to the ground-breaking Iran Deal, the nuclear arms issue is at the heart of the biggest threats facing the planet and the ways in which governments respond. Anyone under 26 was born after the end of the Cold War, but our youth has inherited the 15,000 nuclear warheads which are its most concrete legacy. And unlike the 70s and 80s, when nuclear policy drove one of the biggest protest movements of the time, it might seem that the opportunities to exert influence today are limited.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) provides a way for the next generation to make their voices heard. The group is the guardian of a 1996 agreement of the same name that bans all nuclear testing. Because of the role that testing plays in the development and improvement of nuclear weapons, the treaty is crucial to limiting their spread. It has not yet entered into force because it has not been ratified by eight countries, including the United States. This means that even though the treaty is already supported by a global monitoring system of more than 300 facilities that can detect nuclear explosions anywhere in the world, the door remains open for countries that have not ratified it to test without legal consequences (as we have seen in North Korea).

In 2016, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo launched an initiative to raise awareness about the treaty among the next generation and support for its entry into force
. Today, the CTBTO Youth Group is open to all students and recent graduates with an interest in peace and security. From just nine members, the group has grown to more than 300, an international cohort from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levels. Its members are involved in an impressive spread of activities from research and analysis to grassroots advocacy, projects they carry out themselves with support from the CTBTO. Because of the diversity of the group, the projects vary based on members’s interests and the audiences they hope to reach. For graduate students specializing in nonproliferation at the Middelbury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, the youth group is a platform for their research on the treaty. Their projects have included analyzing the test ban treaty’s importance to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and presenting their findings at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria. For others, like teachers and students at Dr. Olga Mohan High School in Los Angeles, California, youth group activities are part of a larger effort to achieve a nuclear weapons free world. They joined the group after learning about Treaty at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ Critical Issues Forum, and they recently hosted a full-day Youth Disarmament Conference that highlighted the test ban treaty’s contributions to this goal.

Because social media is already a big part of their personal and professional lives, youth group members use it extensively. Their tweets, blogs and posts bring attention to the treaty and the need for ratification. Through hundreds of online interventions, they have introduced their networks to the treaty and explained why it should enter into force. They use these same tools to engage with an ever-younger political class to drive support for ratification. The extraordinary reach the of the youth group through social media demonstrates how much the treaty resonates with their generation once its benefits are understood. This groundswell of support has brought new energy to the debate on the test ban treaty, including for long-time experts who have not seen much progress on the treaty in years.

In many ways, however, it is personal — not virtual — relationships that are at the core of the youth group’s success
. Members from India and Pakistan, nuclear rivals that have yet to ratify the treaty, work closely to understand arguments for and against the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in their two countries. The same holds true for members from Israel, Egypt, and Iran, countries whose security interests place them in frequent conflict

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. The CTBTO provides a forum for these interactions by giving youth group members the chance to attend international events related to the treaty. These face-to-face meetings help build the trust, understanding and friendships at the heart of successful multilateral diplomacy.

Nearly two years after Dr. Zerbo’s big idea, the CTBTO Youth Group has firmly established itself at the heart of the renewed debate on nuclear issues. It allows a new generation of activists to challenge the status quo by asking tough questions that move the nuclear debate forward. At a time when the risk of a nuclear exchange seems greater than ever, teens and young adults must have a say in the future of these weapons. Activities like the youth group make them a constituency that is more and more difficult to ignore.

If you or someone you know would be interested in joining the CTBTO Youth Group, click here.

Read the original article in Teen Vogue here.