The importance of including young people in discussions of issues of peace and security – and even in peace negotiations – is now beyond question. On 3 and 4 June, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, the UN team in Mongolia, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY) brought together young people from all around Northeast Asia to discuss the youth, peace and security agenda and perspectives for dialogues in the region. Khishigjargal Enkhbayar, a former Coordinator at the UN Youth Advisory Panel in Mongolia, wrote about the experience:
Excitement over the number of young and diverse people and pleasant surprise that they were active participants. Those were sentiments I heard from many participants at the regional workshop on Youth, Peace and Security: Perspectives for Dialogues in Northeast Asia, held in Ulaanbaatar recently. It should not be something extraordinary, but we have become accustomed to seeing men in suits as experts in panels. From the beginning, the event challenged stereotypes and made a strong statement through its choice of speakers and participants from all over the region and beyond.
Diversity was yet another constructive factor in the workshop: young people hailed from all corners of Asia and the West. We had young diplomats, youth activists, scholars, students, civil society workers, an Instagram celebrity and even a podcast enthusiast. I was impressed by the number of young influential leaders and experts in the field, including Samuel Goda, the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office on Youth and Security, Lumi Young, Coordinator at Alliansi, National Youth Council of Finland, which became the first country in the world to adopt the National Action Plan to implement the historic UN Security Council Resolution 2250, and Mridul Upadhyay of UNOY Peacebuilders, who passionately talked about how the Resolution can be implemented in different parts of the world.
With stimulating discussions on traditional and non-traditional challenges to security, youth leadership and networks in prevention and peacebuilding, and challenges in advancing the Youth, Peace and Security agenda, this two-day event challenged and empowered youth to have open dialogues about issues that we are not too comfortable discussing. The panel on identity, for example, was one of much debate and discussion. What does it mean to be Northeast Asian? Can or should these countries have a shared identity? From food to films, the participants sought ways to connect the countries under a shared identity. Despite quite advanced economic cooperation, the persistence of historic grievances in the region was frequently brought up as a challenge needing to be discussed in order to move forward. As one expert said, “Dealing with the past is important to build and sustain peace in any region. Opening wounds may be painful, but it is needed to heal”. These words resonated with many in the room.
As a young Mongolian, vaguely familiar with the history of my neighboring countries, I appreciated the honesty and sincerity of the speakers, who shared their emotional experiences of struggle and identity. These stories expanded my worldview and brought nuance to the topic of identity in peace and security. They also showed me that youth is best placed to unpack uncomfortable topics, drawing on shared culture and history, as well as innovation. I was left speechless when a participant from Seoul shared her vision of a united Korea through the smart use of available technology. Based on her experiences she provided an example of overcoming one of the toughest borders in modern history with the help of something as simple as radio.
It was both inspiring and empowering when Mongolia’s Foreign Minister Tsogtbaatar Damdin personally welcomed our youth participants at the Sixth Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asian Security, an annual regional dialogue platform, which took place back-to-back to the regional YPS workshop. It was a reminder that young people have the full right to be at the table to take part in the discussions on peace and security issues. And we showcased that by leading a special session on Youth, Peace and Security with an all-female panel!
The two-day workshop, the first of its kind in Northeast Asia, was an important event that brought people and ideas together from all over the world to foster understanding and form the basis of future dialogue and networks in the region. It reaffirmed commitments from the government and the international community as well as from young people to work together for peace and security. For me, the workshop provided an opportunity to share my culture with new friends, expanded my views on my neighbors, and provided concrete tools to utilize in my future work. It provided us with more questions than answers, but it is these questions that will propel all 1.8 billion of us forward to explore, discover, and shape lasting peace.