Youth Advocates: Building Positive Peace in Northeast Asia
Engaging youth in making and building peace should be a given. They are just as affected by conflict and instability and will, after all, have to live for more time with any decisions taken by their elders. The Security Council recognized the importance of meaningful participation of young people in peace and security processes via resolution 2250 (2015) on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS). In that seminal text, the Council defined an all-encompassing framework for the role of young people in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.
In 2020, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) and the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA) backed a regional effort to engage youth leaders in Northeast Asia in a series of webinars on peace and security issues and regional identity. Some of the youth leaders who took part shared with us a few perspectives and insights, collected below.
Different Life Paths Met at the Crossroads
“Living in countries unaffected by domestic war, peace was something I once took for granted. This misconception was totally reversed when I witnessed firsthand hundreds of thousands of Syrians forced to migrate to Turkey due to the long-lasting civil war and heard the stories of how the lives of Syrian refugees, particularly children and youth, had been irreversibly changed, and often ruined. I realized that peace does not simply exist by itself, unless we fight for it. And that there was much more I could do. In June 2019 I participated in a Northeast Asia regional Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) workshop1 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to discuss the YPS agenda and perspectives for dialogues with other young people from the region. This experience left a lasting impression and I promised to take part in more such opportunities.” HE Manjiang, from the People’s Republic of China, is a graduate student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore pursing an MA in Public Policy
“Disarmament was a topic I had never considered to approach, a field managed by professionals and government officials far beyond my little pocket of the world. However, when I was presented with the opportunity to create a space to engage with young people on matters of peacebuilding, no matter how distant the topic seemed, I was more than eager to participate. We are eight young people from Japan, Mongolia, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of Korea. We come from academia, politics and civil society organizations with various backgrounds, study, experience, and most of us had never met before. But everyone had one thing in common: the wish to bring together youth to discuss peace for our homes. We have been working together for more than eight months now, through online courses and webinars to catalyze youth-led initiatives. The last several months were challenging but also inspirational and empowering.” KIM Ijun from the Republic of Korea (RoK), is an undergraduate student studying English Literature and Business Administration at Sungkyunkwan University, RoK.
Online Training: From Overwhelmed to Excited
HE Manjiang: “Various aspects of disarmament and non-proliferation were discussed through the online education process, such as Gender Perspectives on Disarmament, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), UNSC Resolution 1540, Cyber Diplomacy, etc. The jargons and treaties were difficult to keep up with and it took a while to wrap our heads around the complicated nature of the UN organizational structure. There were times, especially in the beginning, when we felt overwhelmed by the influx of information. However, as the learning process went on, we slowly grew in confidence. The most exciting part of the online training was to be given opportunities to talk with experts from various fields. Some of them were UN officials working on disarmament for decades, others - activists from gross roots organizations contributing to disarmament and peacebuilding in Northeast Asia.”
Transition: Learners Become Advocates
KIM Ijun: “After the webinars and training sessions, we were asked to come up with proposals and recommendations from youth perspectives to further disarmament and non-proliferation, in the form of a policy paper. We worked on three different topics: Disarmament Education, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Emerging Technologies and Cyber Security. By brainstorming and analyzing “what connects us” and “what separates us”, we found that despite our uniqueness and the complicated history of our region, we could come together and build a shared identity, based on similar socio-cultural values, geographical proximity, economic cooperation, and more. We then proposed that building a shared regional identity could contribute to promoting nuclear disarmament and peacebuilding.
My group addressed cyber security, an increasingly relevant topic these days. If disarmament was a vaguely familiar field, cyber security was an entirely new concept. Conducting research and drafting a paper about it made us realize how tightly interwoven technology is in our lives. Disarmament was already a complex matter. Emerging technologies added another layer to this intricate web. On a brighter note, discussing what cyber security looks like now and what can be done about it, especially by young people, opened our eyes to a world of possibilities. As a young Chinese and a Korean, we had gotten used to thinking about peace in the context of our own nations. But the conversations with our teammates, the journey we shared, expanded and deepened our understanding of peace and disarmament, specifically in the Northeast Asian region. Taking part in these discussions reminded us that it is crucial for young people to have spaces where they can exchange freely and learn through interaction. We believe this is the first step to building a shared identity, and to foster cyber security and promoting disarmament and peacebuilding in this region.”