“Towards Global Peace:
Strengthening Youth’s Involvement in the Global Nuclear Dialogue”
Keynote Speech by Dr. Heinz Fischer
It is an honour to speak here today about the important topic of youth’s involvement in the global nuclear dialogue.
CTBTO, as you sure all know, works towards preventing the usage and further development of nuclear weapons through binding agreements and is thus working towards sustainable peace. I am proud that their headquarter is located in Vienna and happy that the Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo is here with us today. The Vienna office was founded in 1996 and counts more than 260 staff form over 70 countries.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you, Executive Secretary Zerbo, on your excellent work, professionalism and dedication for more than 5 years. Mister Zerbo is a key player in forwarding the CTBT efforts and was responsible for creating the CTBTO Youth Group.
Ever since the existence of humans on this planet, war was part of our history and shaped our history. There have never been long periods of time that war did not interrupt.
The second World War was one of the most devastating wars humanity has ever experienced – counting globally 80 near to million victims.
World War II, at its end in 1945, was the first and last war that saw the actual use of nuclear weapons – we all remember, or heard, or read, about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I think I do not need to mention, that the use of nuclear weapons results in an enormous number of casualties and in an unimaginable catastrophe.
So, as of 1945, a new chapter of history was born, the period of nuclear proliferation and the danger of nuclear war.
On the one hand, and here I am referring to Henry Kissinger’s argument, nuclear weapons could contribute to stability on a regional and global level, because nobody wants to carry the responsibility of actually using them. I want to mention the example of the so-called Cold War, where the two big powers, the Soviet Union and the United States, were in a constant nuclear arms race. But they have not been used against each other. The costs and risks of nuclear weapons are so high that it establishes the fear of mutual destruction.
On the other hand, we have no guarantee that this calculation is functioning in every possible situation. Nuclear weapons are the most destructive weapons on our planet and are becoming more and more sophisticated and dangerous. The only logical action should be to decrease, in the best-case scenario fully abolish, the development of nuclear weapons.
9 countries are currently in possession of atomic weapons – The US, Russia, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea. Each of these countries holds a very powerful tool and with this probably also the biggest responsibility in the world.
The security and nuclear dialogue amongst the international community has recently increased, with one of the reasons being the withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal by the United States under President Trump one year ago. This could have very dangerous consequences.
Another reason is the unsolved situation and ongoing tensions between North and South Korea and the unpredictable policy of President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
I personally think that everyone has the responsibility to contribute to a peaceful world without nuclear weapons. Women and youth play a particularly important role in the fight against war and against nuclear weapons.
I remember in 1953, when I was at the age of 15, we were discussing topics of peace and war and nuclear weapons at an international youth conference on peace and disarmament in Vienna. Some of my close friends, who were influenced by that period, later became high-level politicians in Europe.
When I look back at the youth movements of my time, I truly believe that young activists had a great influence on political actions against the Vietnam War, on the Peace Movement in the 70s, as well as on the negotiations about disarmament treaties in the Gorbatschow Era.
It would be wrong to think that these movements are not important anymore today. On the contrary! The fact is that the classical confrontation between the East and the West is behind us, but instead we experience many different violent regional conflicts, tensions and threats, so, I see youth involvement more important than ever!
Modern technology is supporting these movements by delivering different ideas and messages at high speed across the globe and connecting youth with similar interests. Social networks make coalition building easier. But also, conferences like this one today bring youth together to share ideas about how we can make peace sustainable.
Today we are discussing youth involvement in the global nuclear dialogue. Looking at a broader picture, it is however not only about nuclear weapons. Recent trends show that the world spent 1.7 trillion dollars last year on militaries and weapons in general. It is only normal that youth steps in and claims how much of this money could have been used for education, economic development and even for the implementation of the Agenda 2030.
Citing from the 2017 Youth and Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations in New York: “The maintenance and modernization of nuclear arsenals has a long-term impact on youth by diverting funding from activities that could make our future better to one that poses a real and concrete threat to humanity.”
As already mentioned above, nuclear threats are also highly linked to the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals, in which youth is greatly involved as well. First, and this is the most obvious connection, nuclear weapons disrupt peace and justice (SDG16).
Second, tensions occurring from the development of new nuclear weapons and its testing, could be turned into cooperation from joint verification of nuclear disarmament agreements. This could in turn lead to stronger partnerships in the implementation of the Agenda 2030 and give weight to SDG 17.
A third and crucial connection between nuclear disarmament and the SDGs is the impact of atomic weapons on our environment (SDG13, 14 and 15). The use of nuclear weapons would create such a catastrophic human and environmental consequences that achieving the SDGs would be out of reach.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having said all this, I want to thank everyone for participating in nuclear dialogues and making it inclusive by incorporating more and more women and youth.
I can tell you from my side that one of Austria´s top foreign policy priority is the achievement of a nuclear weapon free world. The construction of the Equipment Maintenance and Storage Facility (ESMF) in Seibersdorf near Vienna has further strengthened the link between CTBTO and Austria.
I hope that other countries will also soon acknowledge that (and here I quote) “the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded”.