About Our Program

What is the Critical Issues Forum?

Our Vision

By empowering youth through education, we envision a safer and more peaceful world free of nuclear weapons.

Students from Japan, Russia, and around the US in Monterey for the Spring Student Conference

Students from Japan, Russia, and around the US in Monterey for the Spring Student Conference

Our Purpose

The Critical Issues Forum (CIF) is a unique project-based education program facilitated by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. CIF aims to promote awareness of the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons through disarmament and nonproliferation education. Our goals are to help students 1) appreciate different national and cultural perspectives on complex international security issues and 2) contribute to international peace and security, disarmament and nonproliferation, and other social justice endeavors while developing their critical thinking and intercultural communication skills.

High school students from around the world including the United States, Japan, and formerly closed nuclear cities in Russia, participate in CIF with guidance from their teachers and CNS experts. To date, approximately one hundred schools and thousands of students have participated in the Critical Issues Forum. CIF is implemented in conformity with the Center’s diversity, equity, and inclusion framework.

We believe in preparing today’s youth to become the next generation of global leaders.

Our Activities

1. CIF Annual Projects

Russian high school students performing an original song about nuclear disarmament as part of a CIF Annual Project

Russian high school students performing an original song about nuclear disarmament as part of a CIF Annual Project

CIF organizes one major Critical Issues Forum Project every year. CIF Annual Projects include the following components:

  • New school outreach and recruitment
    • We reach out to new schools every year

       and encourage them to join us in whatever capacity they can.

  • Curriculum development
    • Every year, we select a timely topic in the field of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. We encourage teachers and students to conduct research based on CIF’s four interdisciplinary content domains: Scientific/Environmental, Social/Cultural, Economic, and Political/Geopolitical.
  • Online Teachers’ Workshop
    • CNS experts provide learning resources and introduce the CIF curriculum including Spring Student Conference guidelines to participating teachers.
  • Guided preparation for the Spring Student Conference
    • After the Teachers’ Workshop, we support students and teachers as they work on their semester-long research projects for the Spring Student Conference.
  • Spring Student Conference
    • Every spring, we host a Spring Student Conference where CIF Annual Project participants present the results of their studies, learn about other schools’ projects, and engage in cross-cultural activities.
  • Post-conference activities
    • We strongly encourage students who participated in the Spring Student Conference to share their experiences with their schools or local communities after the conference. Examples of post-conference activities include presentations at schools, city councils, or local libraries. We encourage students and teachers to be creative in this step!

2. Speaker Series Events

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to cancel our in-person CIF Spring Student Conference. In response, the CIF team pivoted to an online format to conduct the conference safely while maintaining its educational value.

COVID-19 increased the need for online education and decreased opportunities for students to interact with their peers. The CIF team wanted to create an accessible platform and expand outreach to make a space for students and teachers to interact and study peace and disarmament during this difficult time.

The Speaker Series has become a creative and innovative product of remote work during the pandemic with an aim to reach out to a wider audience.

Today, the Speaker Series is a part of outreach efforts to promote disarmament and nonproliferation education. The Speaker Series is open to anyone interested in international peace and security and youth education. We believe in the important role that youth can play to make progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons. In this regard, we are actively engaging young generations in our events, both as speakers and as participants.

The Pandemic has emphasized human interdependence and highlighted the urgent need for greater international cooperation, especially if we want to successfully tackle existential threats like nuclear weapons. We are convinced that tackling nuclear threats requires the concerted engagement of all citizens, especially youth.

Our History

In the summer of 1997, Dr. William Potter, Founding Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS),  spoke about issues surrounding the spread of weapons of mass destruction at a community organization in Monterey. After his presentation, a high school student asked Dr. Potter why information like this was never taught in high schools. The student explained that until that moment she had never heard of nuclear nonproliferation.

To meet the need evident in the student’s remark, CNS initiated the Critical Issues Forum (CIF) in 1998. The objective of the program was to provide curricula and instructional materials on weapons of mass destruction nonproliferation to secondary schools.

Originally, the CIF program modeled its activities on a previous nonproliferation education initiative developed in 1996 by the Science Education Team (SET) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. CIF partnered with the Science and Technology Education Program (STEP) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on nonproliferation education projects. In the fall of 1997, STEP sponsored three Bay Area high schools, one of which went on to attend the student conference on Terrorism in the Nuclear World held in May 1998 in Los Alamos. In 1998-99, CNS joined the CIF program by providing lectures at the Summer Workshop in Los Alamos and sponsoring a Winter Workshop in Monterey. In 1999-2000, CNS became the program leader while continuing to cooperate with other NGOs, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, and US and Japanese governmental agencies.

Moving Forward

Today, CIF is an organic educational outreach project which introduces students to the interconnected components of nuclear issues. The CIF team aims to continually improve our program by incorporating new technologies into our curriculum, by welcoming experts from various fields to discuss nuclear issues, and most importantly by reaching out to a diverse group of students to bring more youth voices to nuclear disarmament discussions.

Critical Issues Forum is currently supported by the SAGA Foundation, the Tom and Sarah Pattison Fund, Mr. Gregg Wolpert and many private donors. The Project was also supported by the United States – Japan Foundation between 2012 and 2018. The past donors include the Ford Foundation, US Department of Energy, Compton Foundation. Thank you.