Education Key to Nuclear Disarmament

Jan 24, 2013

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon with students and staff of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
Credit Rob Ellis / courtesy of the Monterey Institute
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon speaking at the Monterey Institute.
Credit Rob Ellis / Courtesy of the Monterey Institute

The head of the United Nations recently visited to the west coast.  He spoke at Stanford and the Monterey Institute of International Studies where he made a call for progress on nuclear disarmament.  In the audience were students that may be able to make a difference. 

A packed auditorium at the Monterey Institute of International Studies greeted United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.  In his speech last Friday, he said nuclear disarmament is off track, and the longer procrastination continues, the greater the risk of weapons getting into the wrong hands.  “But our aim must be more than keeping the deadliest of weapons from falling into the wrong hands. There are no right hands for wrong weapons,” said Ban.

Sayaka Shingu sat in the audience.   She’s a student at the Monterey Institute who has thought about this issue her entire life.   Shingu grew up in Hiroshima, one of the two Japanese cities the United States attacked with an atomic bomb during World War II.   “Everyday life is surrounded by the tragedy of the attack. Once we go to shopping, we can witness the atomic bomb dome because it is located in the center of the city,” said Shingu. The atomic bomb dome she refers to is the shell of a building that partially survived the attack.  Today it stands as a memorial to the victims.  Shingu is also the granddaughter of survivors.   This combined with the events on 9-11 fueled her desire to do something.  “I was really shocked because I was able to do nothing at the time for the people I really sympathized with,” said Shingu. 

That eventually led to where she is today, pursuing a Master’s degree in non-proliferation studies at the Institute. It’s the largest major at the school.  Dr. Bill Potter is Director of the Center for Non-proliferation Studies where he says role playing is key to preparing students.  “They begin to appreciate how issues look to other countries, whether it’s an Iran, whether it’s a China, whether it’s a South Africa, a Norway or the United States. So I think it’s by expanding their horizons, their mindsets, acquiring greater empathy that we help to prepare them to play roles in international organizations, in national governments and think tanks,” said Dr. Potter.  It’s a technique Secretary General Ban praised in his speech. Education is a key part of his plan for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.   “The goal must be to learn how to think rather than what to think,” said Ban.  He added that the next generation of leaders is being encouraged not to think, and learning that  nuclear weapons have a role as a deterrent. “But education can help to refute the claim that nuclear disarmament is utopian,” said Ban.

Sayaka Shingu is ready to work toward a nuclear weapon free world.  She’s motivated  by the story of her grandparents who survived the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. She had hesitated asking them to relive the tragedy until she began her studies at the Institute.  “I decided to ask intentionally because we are the final generation who can hear the actual stories from the survivors, and I think this is my role,” said Shingu.  One day her role will be sharing their story.  She says she’ll do it when it can lead to a positive step forward in nuclear disarmament.  For now, she’s headed to the United Nations to start an internship in the Office of Disarmament Affairs.  She’ll join a long line of Institute alumni, about 150 work at the UN.