Critical Issues Forum students and teachers participated in the 2017 CTBTO Science and Technology Conference in Vienna

Masako Toki

The Critical Issues Forum (CIF), an international disarmament and nonproliferation education project for high school students coordinated by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Middlebury Institute at Monterey, and sponsored by the United States-Japan Foundation, offered some of its dedicated participants another extraordinary opportunity.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) invited three CIF students to its Sixth Science and Technology (SnT) Conference, held at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, during the final week of June.

The conference provided the CIF students with the chance to interact and engage with policy experts, high-ranking officials, and science and technical experts in nuclear-test monitoring. The conference dedicated several special sessions to the need for involving young people in efforts to help promote the entry into force of the CTBT. As part of the CTBTO Youth Group, the CIF participants met other young professionals and students from around the world who are engaged in these issues.

Dr. Zerbo introduces Polina Kozhukhovskaya as the youngest CTBTO Youth Group member

These CIF students were well prepared to actively participate in the Vienna conference. For the 2016–17 academic year, CIF students from the United States, Japan, and Russia focused their research and debate on the history and concept of nuclear-test bans and their role in nuclear disarmament. Their studies considered various aspects of the issues, such as: how to facilitate the entry into force of the CTBT, the history of nuclear-weapons testing and efforts to stop it, the history of the CTBT negotiations, the treaty’s current status, challenges, and future prospects, as well as the its unique verification regime.

The students’ in-depth work on the subject was in full display at the CIF spring conference in Nagasaki, which featured a keynote address by Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, emphasizing the important role of younger generations in bringing the CTBT into force and eventually creating a world free of nuclear weapons. Through his active engagement with the students in Nagasaki, Dr. Zerbo expressed how impressed he was with the work of the CIF students, and he extended an invitation to three CIF students, one from each country, along with the CIF project manager, Ms. Masako Toki. The invited students are: Mr. Cristopher Cruz from Dr. Olga Mohan High School in Los Angeles, Mr. Arashu Onodera, Soka Senior High School in Tokyo, and Ms. Polina Kozhukhovskaya from School No 164, Zelenogorsk, Russia.

Dr. Zerbo warmly introduces Cristopher Cruz’s presentation at the CIF Nagasaki Conference

These CIF high school students participated in the conference as members of the CTBTO Youth Group. Andrew King, a young and passionate teacher and assistant principal of Dr. Olga Mohan High School, has been part of the CIF program for the past ten years and accompanied Cristopher to the conference. Mr. King became a member of the CTBTO Youth Group himself as well.

At the orientation session of the CTBTO Youth Group on the first day of the SnT conference, Dr. Zerbo highlighted the CIF students as the youngest participants in the SnT conference, noting with admiration their work he saw in Nagasaki. He also commended the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) for its continued leadership in nonproliferation and disarmament education and research, and for promoting youth engagement in important nuclear issues.

Arashu Onodera shares his school’s project to promote the CTBT

The Vienna conference was an exciting and inspirational opportunity for the CIF students, who were participating for their first time in a United Nations conference. The high-level opening session that included Dr. Zerbo, Princess Sumaya bint Hassan of Jordan, high-ranking officials from several countries, and eminent scholars including Dr. William Potter, CNS founder and director, was exceptionally impressive.

One of the highlights of the youth events was the “Advocacy Tombola” session, where selected CTBTO Youth Group members presented their creative ideas to promote CTBT and nuclear disarmament. Two CIF students were selected to present their projects. Cristopher Cruz presented his school’s initiative, “Nuclear-Free School.” His teacher, Andrew King, passionately conveyed the importance of the role of teachers, who impact hundreds or thousands of students. Arashu Onodera of Soka Senior High School presented his school’s project to promote nuclear disarmament among younger generations by using social media.

CIF students and teachers with Dr. Zerbo and other participants after the “Advocacy Tombola” session

An article by CNS Senior Research Associate Sarah Bidgood illustrated the participation of the three CIF students in Vienna, highlighting how their enjoyment and enthusiasm worked to energize the SnT conference and its participants in the shared endeavor of promoting the importance of CTBT.

At the CTBTO Youth Group mentoring session, CIF Project Manager Masako Toki introduced the CIF Project by discussing ways in which the CTBTO Youth Group and CIF project can collaborate to reach greater numbers of young people in many different countries.

Masako introducing the CIF at the CTBTO Youth Group mentoring session

This one-week experience had a significant impact on the CIF high school students, who are now more motivated than ever to promote the CTBT and nuclear disarmament among youth in a creative and innovative way.

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This year’s Critical Issues Forum Program was sponsored by the US-Japan Foundation, and The Tom and Sarah Pattison Fund.

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