Disarmament education and the CTBTO

Posted by () on Nov 23 2012
VERTIC Blog >> Verification and Monitoring
Andreas Persbo, Vienna and London
In September, Angela Woodward wrote about the UN Secretary-General’s report on Disarmament Education (see UN document A/57/124). She also highlighted the subsequent updated reports of the Secretary-General, and in particular the July 2012 report (see UN document A/67/138). This report makes for an interesting read.
The Austrian government, for instance, highlights the establishment of the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, which is now running intensive policy courses on disarmament. Several other governments are mentioned, although the absence of a Norwegian contribution is striking, as it funds and supports a large portfolio of educational initiatives. I strongly suspect that this will be rectified in the updated 2014 document.
Amongst the intergovernmental organizations, the International Atomic Energy Agency reports on its fellowship programme and its sponsorship of various institutes and schools. These are worthwhile and important initiatives. However, the real gem in disarmament education is hidden in paragraph 54 and 55 in the report, namely the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization’s Capacity Development Initiative.
I remember clearly how the CDI started, and even had a very small part in its beginnings. I was invited into the room of a CTBTO staffer who had received directives from the Executive Secretary to make it happen. On his wall was a gigantic map full of boxes and arrows, ideas and topics, technologies and solutions. I gave only one piece of advice, to go for simplicity and to ‘think about scalability’ (a term I had borrowed from a good friend at the UK Ministry of Defence). I told him to implement one module at a time. The staffer reminds me of this advice every time I now meet him, and points to the massive gains that the organization has made in the time since. It is a remarkable accomplishment, and it has gained momentum as it has moved along.
There is plenty that the CTBTO can be proud of. I call the CDI a gem because the initiative wholly embraces the age of information that we live in. It is also somehow an embodiment of the forward-leaning and cutting-edge thinking that permeates the work of the organization. Hence, the initiative is fully networked, has an e-learning platform, and even publishes all lectures and modules on iTunes. There is even a live streaming feature (in high definition, of course) on the website when the course is running.
One particular aspect of the CDI is the high level of interactivity that the course offers those who participate. Back in August 2012, I wrote about the first ever simulation of the Executive Council, the body that eventually will decide on whether an ambiguous event constitutes non-compliance with the treaty. This was a learning experience not only for the students participating, but for me personally, and for the professionals that deal with on-site inspection issues within the organization. It turned out that there are many issues that need further consideration: how you present highly technical and scientific community to a diplomatic community, for instance. Less fundamental but nevertheless important issues centered on how much information the Director-General should include in his updates to the Council.
After this simulation, someone remarked that state parties would bring their own technical experts to such a meeting. Perhaps this may be the case, but that means that those governments with very little or no scientific expertise would need to rely on the technical pronouncements of those more endowed, or on the explanations of the CTBTO Technical Secretariat. In other words, education matters, as it allows for the free and accurate exchange of scientific views—and for greater understanding by all.
This model of high interactivity, simulations and the skillful use of modern communications technology, is, ultimately, an exceptionally refreshing experience in a field otherwise characterized by a rather dogmatic and old fashioned view of science. It certainly got me thinking about how to revitalize disarmament education, and how to bring it up-to-date with the world we presently live in.
It would be a great shame if the Secretary-General’s report in 2014 notes that the Capacity Development Initiative has been shut down. It would be a cause for deep satisfaction, though, if the report notes that this model of teaching has helped transform the field of disarmament education, and that there is a legion of young scholars from all walks of scientific life emerging, ready to take up a challenge where past generations failed.

Last changed: Nov 23 2012 at 4:22 PM