“The future is yours. With the participation of the youth, we will be able to make a better world free of the arms race. I encourage all of you to continue to study this important issue. And also, to change your future, call your politicians.” This is what I said at the United Nations’ “75 Words for Disarmament Youth Challenge” event, asking young people to stay engaged and maintain their participation in this important issue.
Disarmament and non-proliferation have been at the very center of the UN since its inception, to achieve the common goal of collective security. Many efforts to create multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation regime, including landmark treaties such as the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), have contributed to building a more peaceful and secure world.
This year, celebrating the 30th anniversary the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) membership in the UN, the Korean government is reinvigorating efforts in this important sphere, to tackle the potentially existential challenges that the threat of the arms race and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) pose to the world. These efforts are particularly significant to the ROK, as we are located in a region that warrants a higher level of non-proliferation vigilance than most.
However, many of these disarmament regimes are facing challenges in fulfilling their intended role in the post-Cold War era. In the U.N. secretary-general’s disarmament agenda, he argues that “Cold War tensions have returned, but in a much more complex and dangerous environment.”
Nevertheless, the spirit of multilateralism has not waned even amid these challenging times. Addressing the various challenges on the road toward the ultimate dream of a world without weapons of mass destruction should remain one of the top priorities in multilateral diplomacy. To do so, enhanced youth engagement and action is essential to further strengthen and sustain our efforts.
Young people have a tremendous potential to bring about change in the world. They can stimulate stagnated discussions by providing their fresh views, insights and ideas. In addition, ongoing efforts on disarmament and non-proliferation have a direct impact on the young people of both today and tomorrow.
Therefore, it is essential to provide youth with opportunities so that they can take part in key disarmament discussions not only as beneficiaries, but as important stakeholders. Today’s youth, in particular, are more connected, more interactive, and more globally-minded, thanks to advancements in technology. Their participation will surely help to spur diversity in ongoing disarmament and non-proliferation discussions, as well as help ensure their sustainability.
Against this backdrop, the Korean government has been proudly supporting various youth outreach and empowerment initiatives in the field of disarmament. Championing Action 38 of the UN secretary-general’s disarmament agenda, which calls for the empowerment of the young generation by establishing a platform for youth engagement, Korea has been helping to provide ample venues where youth can speak out and take leadership positions.
In 2019, for the first time in history, Korea tabled a new resolution dedicated to youth engagement and empowerment in the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), which was adopted by consensus, with wide support from member states, including 84 co-sponsors.
This landmark resolution recognizes youth as the “key agents for social change, economic development and technological innovation.” In addition, at the upcoming session of the UNGA, the Korean government will table the resolution on youth and disarmament for the second time since 2019.
The 2020 Youth Model NPT Conference held last July represents another tangible example of Korea’s initiative in this sphere. This youth-led model conference established a timely outcome document that recommends various innovative measures to further nuclear disarmament efforts. These inspiring youth voices were not left unheard.
At the 19th ROK-UN Conference on Disarmament and Non-proliferation, youth representatives from diverse backgrounds had the chance to communicate their opinions and recommendations, as well as lead the discussion during the special youth session of the 19th conference.
In 2021, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ROK’s UN membership, the Korean government and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, will co-host the Youth Forum on Disarmament and Non-proliferation in June. Through open and interactive discussions, the younger generations are expected to have an opportunity to develop, discuss, and present their innovative ideas on the role of youth in disarmament and non-proliferation issues.
Youth are the agents for imparting the values we need ― of diversity and sustainability ― in the disarmament dialogue. For its part, Korea will renew its diplomatic endeavors in championing the youth and disarmament agenda, as well as continue proudly to support the more inclusive participation of young people on key discussions. I look forward to actively engaging with the youth, as the future leaders and driving force of innovation, sustainable development, peace and security.
Ambassador Cho Hyun is Korea’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
This article was first published in The Korea Times on 2 June 2021 and is part of dedicated, regular column with analysis by APLN members on global issues. You can find the original post here.