Opinion: In the new cold war, young activists are fixing diplomacy

By Vanda Proskova, #Leader4Tomorrow

Editor’s note: As well as supporting journalists working in the news industry, Atomic Reporters also fosters citizen journalism, encouraging young people engaged in nuclear proliferation related issues to pick up the pen and report points of view that otherwise may not be shared. The following are reports from  UNODA’s #Leader4Tomorrow, Vanda Proskova and Michaela Higgins Sorensen, who took part in the first meeting of the committee preparing the ground for the regular 2025 review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

After 10 days of meetings in Vienna the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee concluded on 11 August 2023, without agreement.

While state delegations were sparring in lengthy plenary sessions, diplomatic accord was being achieved in the corridors, coffee corners, and side events of the UN Vienna headquarters where the PrepCom was being held.

Surprising, perhaps to some, it was young people, the representatives of civil society attending the meeting on its periphery, who were establishing rapprochement.

They had come to the meeting with little grounds for hope and reason to have faith in the Prepcom process. Except for two hours given to NGOs to make presentations, civil society participants were excluded from the business of the working group that took up the first week of the meeting. The lack of trust was underlined not only by h the lack of transparency, but also the elephant in the room: the proliferation threat from Russia deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Operating on the basis that personal connections matter the most, Youth Fusion organized a side event to introduce its own version of the famous ‘nuclear hotline’ established between the then USSR and the United States.

“With this project, we seek to propose a novel interpretation of the famous hotline that in the 21st century goes beyond the cooperation between the two superpowers and requires all hands on deck,” says Ivan Siluianov from Russia, the project’s leader and a program assistant at Youth Fusion.

The Hotline, an online platform open to young people from all over the world, especially  from Russia and the United States, bridged the trust deficit by providing a place for direct informal dialogue about nuclear disarmament. It established a number of groups, whose members included at least one Russian and one American, to address important topics – from human security to the Russia Ukraine war and the global north-south divide.

“However connected the world may seem, we cannot but notice a frightening trend – the erosion of trust and disappearance of common spaces for the Russian and American disarmament advocates, especially among the young people,” said Siluianov.

As well as Youth Fusion there were also young leaders from #Youth4TPNW, Reverse the Trend and the UN Department of Disarmament Affairs Leaders to the Future – a cohort of around 40 young disarmament activists from around the world providing recommendations on the UN Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace, gender parity, outer space, diversity, multilateralism, emerging technologies, and more relevant topics to disarmament and the UN functioning.

“Indeed, young people are able to take a step back and critically examine the NPT process, therefore pinpointing existing challenges, assessing potential entry points, and elaborating on needed solutions. In other words, they can bring fresh and new perspectives into the process,” says Christelle Barakat, a Youth Hotline, as well as UNODA Leader to the Future, participant.

With determination and imagination young peace advocates put the NPT process to use opening up meaningful and productive dialogue, simply and safely, among a global community of young people. In a very dark time, they managed to come together to prove that east-west, north-south, and multipolar conversation generally is indeed possible – and what is more – can be fruitful.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author.

Image: Map of nuclear-armed states of the world, source Wikipedia

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