Early in 2008 I was appointed by the UN Secretary-General to his Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, as the first Australasian in 25 years.  This has been an amazing experience – giving me the opportunity to feed ideas from ordinary citizen groups into the Secretary General, and to debate with Ambassadors of the 5 nuclear weapon states and nine others on this prestigious Board. 

The issues we have discussed so far have included pathways to nuclear abolition and nuclear deterrence; nuclear energy security; weapons in outer space; the 2010 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference; cyber warfare and nanoweapons.

This month we will look at how to revitalise the Conference on Disarmament in order to implement some of the Secretary General’s Five Point Plan for nuclear disarmament launched during Disarmament Week in October 2008. 
Ban Ki-Moon’s Points included the following: 

  • All parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, especially the nuclear-weapon States, should fulfill its requirement to enter into negotiations on nuclear disarmament, which could focus on either a convention or framework of agreements banning nuclear-weapons.

  • The nuclear-weapon States could assure non-nuclear-weapon States that they will not be the subject of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.  

  • Existing nuclear arrangements and agreements (e.g. a ban on testing, nuclear-weapon-free zones, and strengthened safeguards) need to be accepted by States and brought into force.

  • The nuclear Powers could also expand the amount of information they publish about the size of their arsenals, stocks of fissile material, and specific disarmament achievements.  

  • Complementary measures are needed such as the elimination of other types of WMD; new efforts against WMD terrorism; limits on conventional arms; and new weapons bans, including of missiles and space weapons.

We are fortunate to have a UN Secretary General (UNSG) who is strongly advocating nuclear and general disarmament and has openly criticised nuclear deterrence. His 5 Point Plan has become a great rallying point for citizen groups, diplomats, politicians and Mayors who have come in behind him in his courageous urgently pleas for nuclear abolition.  It has therefore become an important vehicle for nuclear disarmament education.

Ban Ki-Moon believes that “A world free of nuclear weapons is a global public good of the highest order” and that “…the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is contagious, making non-proliferation more difficult and raising new risks that nuclear weapons will be used.”

The Secretary General opened the May 2010 NPT Review Conference on a high note, and took a leading role throughout. He gave passionate speeches in both the formal and non-governmental events calling for agreement on a comprehensive programme for nuclear disarmament. He used the opening of the Second Conference of States Parties that established Nuclear Weapon Free Zones by encouraging the diplomats. He said:  My goal – our goal – is to make the whole world a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Nuclear-weapon-free zones are the success stories of the disarmament movement. You are leading by example.

On the eve of the NPT, he addressed the NGO Disarmament conference at the Riverside Church, where Martin Luther King had given his famous speeches. The crowd of nearly 1000 NGOs gave him 3 standing ovations – including after this rousing finale: “What I see on the horizon is a world free of nuclear weapons.  What I see before me are the people who will help make it happen. Please keep up your good work. Sound the alarm, keep up the pressure. Ask your leaders what they are doing … personally… to eliminate the nuclear menace. Above all, continue to be the voice of conscience. We will rid the world of nuclear weapons. And when we do it will be because of people like you. The world owes you its gratitude.”

At our Board meetings we have been encouraging him to speak out and take actions to implement the rhetoric. He has recently:

  • Visited Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Semipalatinsk as the first UNSG to do so;

  • Convened a Nuclear Security Summit and a High level meeting to revitalize the Conference on Disarmament in September 2010;

  • Addressed the Mayors for Peace and the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non Proliferation and Disarmament Panels at the NPT;

  • Been asked to facilitate a Conference on Middle East zone free of all WMD in 2012;

  • Opened exhibitions promoting disarmament in the UN, eg CTBTO, photo exhibition from Japanese hibakusha; and 

  • Promoted  Disarmament and Non Proliferation Education.

Last year the Board reviewed the United Nations Study on Disarmament and Non-proliferation Education which was adopted by consensus in the General Assembly in 2002. The Study requested the Secretary-General to prepare biennial reports to submit to the Assembly.  It was prepared by ten government experts with input from UN international organisations and agencies such as the IAEA, OPCW, UNIDIR, UNESCO, UNICEF, CTBTO, UNIFEM and the UNU.

The Study included 34 far-reaching recommendations including one which encourages municipal leaders, working with citizen groups, “to establish peace cities, as part of the UNESCO Cities for Peace network, through, for example, the creation of peace museums, peace parks, websites, and production of booklets on peacemakers and peacemaking.”

This recommendation provides a wonderful opportunity for the fast-growing Mayors for Peace network to declare Peace Cities and educate local citizens and policy makers about nuclear disarmament. The Exhibition organised by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been travelling all over the world – and was recently highlighted during a Press conference with Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange in London. In my own country, it has been shown in sixteen cities, and smaller photos displayed in many schools to mark Peace Week.  There have also been very successful exhibitions on Gandhi and Depleted Uranium munitions.

The twentieth anniversary of the passing of New Zealand’s historic nuclear free legislation in 2007 provided another opportunity for a major exhibition which showcased iconic peace movement memorabilia and highlighted the arguments challenging nuclear deterrence. The exhibition included the original 1963 petition calling for a Southern Hemisphere nuclear free zone, banners, posters, stickers, badges, photos, magazines, stamps, artwork and music. David Lange’s famous Oxford Union debate –in which he rubbishes nuclear deterrence – was available in the red phone box! There was also memorabilia commemorating the World Court Project which began in Christchurch.

On the anniversary of the legislation many of our elected representatives from all political parties joined together on the steps of parliament wearing ‘nuclear free nation’ tee shirts and badges. Some of them, including the former Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, had been members of the Peace Squadrons which had taken non-violent direct action in small boats to try and prevent US nuclear powered and probably armed vessels entering New Zealand ports during the mid 1970s and early 1980s. The politicians then returned to Parliament House to pass a unanimous resolution, resolving that New Zealand should continue to work for a nuclear weapon free world. 

Mayors for Peace

The Mayors for Peace movement is led by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1995 they addressed the International Court of Justice to present the views of the nuclear bomb victims of their cities.  Following the World Court Opinion in 1996, which called on all states ‘to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiation on nuclear disarmament in all its aspects’, they were inspired to renew their call for nuclear abolition and begin a membership drive internationally. To mark the 10th anniversary of the Court’s Opinion in 2006, Mayors for Peace launched the Good Faith Challenge reaffirming the meaning and importance of the World Court opinion.

At the city level, Mayors for Peace has launched the Cities Are Not Targets project. This encourages and assists cities and municipal associations in demanding assurances from nuclear-weapon states that cities are not and will not be targeted for nuclear attack. To quote the Mayors: Cities are homes and offices. They are not legitimate targets for bombs. To obliterate a city for any reason whatsoever is an illegal, immoral crime against humanity and not to be tolerated.

Membership in Mayors for Peace has grown exponentially in the last few years.  There are now 4,515 members in 150 countries and regions. The 104 capital cities, include the NWS of Russia (34), China (7), France (134), UK (65), India (16), Pakistan (13) and Israel (55). Japan leads with 901 members, the US has 168 members (including Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston) and Australia with 72. The capital cities of key NATO allies such as Germany (371 cities), Belgium (355), Spain (296), Italy (376), Turkey (11), Greece (30), Netherlands (55), Canada (90), Czechoslovakia (28) and Norway (88) are also signed up.  Citizens in these cities and countries have a special responsibility to challenge their local councils to push their governments to reflect public opinion in support of nuclear abolition.

One of the recommendations of the UN Study on Disarmament Education was to include NGOs (including Mayors) and politicians, on government delegations to UN disarmament conferences.  New Zealand has done this regularly since 1985 and last year included the chair of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non Proliferation and Disarmament, and a youth worker in our organisation as full members of their delegation to the NPT Review Conference. 

Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non Proliferation and Disarmament

In 2001, the Middle Powers Initiative established the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament. It was recently renamed Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non Proliferation and Disarmament and has over 780 members in 80 countries.   PNND has a regular newsletter, and the website is available in 12 languages. A few years ago its coordinator, fellow New Zealander Alyn Ware, produced a briefing book on disarmament which was distributed to all PNND and Mayors for Peace members, and all 550 members of the US Congress. This formidable network is now having a strong impact on government disarmament policies in key nuclear allied states where they regularly debate about nuclear deterrence.

In February 2010 the UNSG, at PNND’s instigation, sent a letter to all parliaments calling for action on his Five Point plan. PNND launched a campaign of support resulting in resolutions being adopted in the European Parliament; the national parliaments of Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Norway; and the Inter-Parliamentary Union which represents 152 parliaments (including France, Russia and the United Kingdom). There has also been support from the 3rd World Conference of Speakers of Parliament and a group of Nobel Laureates. Cross party coalitions of politicians in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey have signed a letter to President Obama calling for removal of US tactical nuclear weapons from their soil. 

Reports to the UN Secretary General on Disarmament Education

Every two years governments and NGOs report to the UNSG about disarmament education activities in their countries.   In Canada the government has helped fund the extremely popular Reaching Critical Will website coordinated by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the World Without Weapons website which provides a Teacher’s Guide and Student’s Manual for Secondary School Grades educating youth about disarmament, non-proliferation, landmines, SALW and human security issues.

Japan supports UN Disarmament Fellowship Programmes for government officials. It has held regional disarmament conferences since 1989 and published a booklet on Disarmament Policy in Japanese and English.

Sweden, like New Zealand (NZ), gives support to disarmament education (DE) activities by NGOs.  The NZ Ministry of Education distributed a Pamphlet on peace education to every school and the government supports Model UN Assemblies and gives regular briefings to NGOs. The Disarmament Education UN Implementation Fund  helps fund NGOs to implement the Study’s recommendations, such as the creation of Peace Cities, Museum exhibitions, and the production of educational material for schools, politicians and university students. NZ regularly includes NGO advisers on delegations to UN meetings on Landmines, Small Arms and nuclear weapons.  The Peace and Disarmament Education Trust  helps fund post-graduate scholarships for research on disarmament issues.

The Russian government helps fund academic institutions and NGOs to develop programmes and train specialists in disarmament education. Higher Education institutes have included a new speciality ‘Security and Non Proliferation of nuclear materials’. The PIR centre gives training for experts in relevant government ministries and has developed a manual on nuclear Non Proliferation which has been confirmed as a textbook for tertiary institutions.

Venezuela is setting up mass literacy campaigns to help prevent international trafficking in small arms and light weapons. Its constitution includes the fundamental values of ‘peace, integration, rejection of war, peaceful dispute settlement and establishing a fairer and more balanced world based on respect for cultural, ethnic and gender diversity.’ Bolivia also has a ‘profound commitment to peace’ arguing that all problems between States should be resolved through dialogue and mutual understanding. Mauritius has no history of war or civil insurrection and does not hold large stocks of arms and ammunitions. 

Cambodia has introduced a number of activities, laws and regulations such as providing training to technical military staff to enable them to safely control and store weapons and ammunition. It created a national committee on weapons and ammunition in 2006. By May 2008, in collaboration with Japan and EU, they destroyed over 212,735 units of arms.

Burundi’s Ministry of Defence has established a strict documentation mechanism for the verification and control of legally held small arms.  Qatar created the National Committee for the Prohibition of Weapons which includes a resolution to create and implement programmes to raise awareness of international arms control treaties.

Spain teaches disarmament education at all levels in the Ministry of Defence and the government regularly participates in seminars, lectures or post-graduate studies on disarmament education with the Spanish Strategic Studies Institute and the Centre for Advanced national Defence Studies.

UN Agencies

The revamped UNODA website  has a special section devoted to disarmament education. It links UN agencies focusing on UNDE and some NGO initiatives including films, teacher resources and other publications. 

The UN CyberSchoolBus site  has been named as one of the 101 best websites for teachers among 25 other complimentary reviews and prestigious awards. It is in 6 languages and is linked to a range of excellent websites such as the Model UN HQ, Peace Education,  and Voices of Youth. It has some examples of games and model units for teachers.

However one of the main areas where little has been done over the decade is the creation of effective computer and video games which teach non-violence and disarmament.  The interactive media Global Platform aggregate audience of over 550 million has huge educational possibilities especially for youth.  The UN Study recommended (No 18) that ‘efforts should be made by educators, parents and the business community devise and produce toys, computer games and videos that engender such attitudes’ (ie values that reject violence, resolve conflicts peacefully and sustain a culture of peace).


It is exciting to see young people emerging as leaders in disarmament. There were over 500 young people at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.  The NPT-TV was run by the Students Peace Bureau in Germany, and Disarm TV is a youth-led and produced citizen journalism project aimed at empowering young people as grassroots reporters and peer educators on the nuclear weapons issue. There were simulations for negotiating a Nuclear Weapons Convention, organised by the European youth network Ban all Nukes generation (BANg) and the International Network of Engineers and Scientists against Proliferation (INESAP), held every day which were observed by seasoned diplomats.  

The Million Pleas video, started by a group of school children from Hiroshima, is addressed to the 9 nuclear weapon states. They are asking people all over the globe to upload a video clip of themselves saying the word “please”. The “pleases” will then be edited into a long virtual chain letter, which will act as a petition to abolish nuclear weapons, worldwide. It is one of the many exciting campaigns being organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) based in Australia.

The International Network of Emerging Nuclear Specialists was established by a group of  young policy specialists concerned that constructive dialogue was largely absent from the ‘nuclear’ debate. They seek to include parties from across these fields and they will facilitate this dialogue.

In October 2010 the Youth Section of Religions for Peace presented a petition to UN High Representative for Disarmament  calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons – signed by over 20 million people. The petition is part of the Arms Down Campaign for Shared Security, and also calls for a reallocation of 10% of global military spending towards meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

UN Focus

I would like to finish by giving a couple of other examples of how the United Nations can create a forum and focus for healing, peace and disarmament.  In October 2000, after intense activity by five leading international NGOs working with UNIFEM, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. A landmark victory, this reaffirmed the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction. It also stressed the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.  The follow up Security Council resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889, empowered States to include more women in key decision making positions.  Last October the UN organised a ministerial review conference on women, peace and security to mark the 10th anniversary of Resolution 1325.
UN Days for Peace and Non-Violence are focal points for educating the general public. The UN International Day of Peace, 21 September, is observed annually as a ‘day of global ceasefire and non-violence’. It provides an opportunity for individuals, organisations and nations to create practical acts of Peace on a shared date. It also highlights the Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, 2001 to 2010. Their website contains many exciting examples of young and old, rich and poor from all difference religions and cultures working together to celebrate peace. 

Even the UNSG got in on the act using the latest technology to get his message out. On 13 June 2009, he launched a multiplatform campaign under the WMD-We Must Disarm slogan to mark the 100 day countdown to the International Day. He called for governments and citizens to focus on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and used Twitter, Facebook and MySpace to raise awareness particularly among young people. 

Last year 29 August was named the International Day Against Nuclear Tests   – which gives an opportunity to focus on the ongoing effects of nuclear tests on existing and future generations.  This month the Japanese Peace Boat  hosted nine hibakusha recently appointed by Japan as “Special Communicators for a World Without Nuclear Weapons” together with five Tahitians working on the impact of French nuclear testing, plus five Japanese high school student Peace Ambassadors and four Aboriginal women from uranium mining affected areas in Australia.  The Boat visited Tahiti where the students learned about the ongoing impact of French nuclear testing.

On 2 October 2009 (UN International Day for Non-Violence and Gandhi’s birthday) the World March for Peace and Non-Violence was launched in New Zealand to mark its position as the country at the top of the Global Peace Index. It attracted thousands of endorsements from former and current Presidents, Prime Ministers, politicians, Mayors, Nobel Laureates, celebrities, musicians, artists and leading NGOs from all over the world. Its colourful website in 30 languages covers the march through 90 countries over six continents in 90 days.  The UNSG met with the group’s leaders because they were promoting his 5 point plan for nuclear disarmament.

It is my firm belief that education is the key to changing mindsets and mobilising people to take action.  In the past few years we have seen the impact of leadership from the UNSG and retired military and politicians. But still the political will is weak and even Obama, with his fine rhetoric of nuclear abolition, is now saying he may not see nuclear weapons abolished in his lifetime.
It is indeed encouraging that 140 countries now support the UNSG’s Five Point Plan. However, he felt compelled to issue this challenge to the diplomats and government leaders at the NPT: 

“…we have a choice: to leave a legacy of fear and inaction, or to act, with vision and courage and leadership…..  we can, and must, do better.”

I know we can do better. We must keep up the momentum towards nuclear abolition. Whatever Obama thinks, the ordinary people of the world will make it happen in our lifetime. Future grandchildren of mine will be born into a world free of nuclear weapons. Together we can and must achieve this for all of humanity.