The University in the Global Age: Pt III

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Last month, I offered the view that universities in the emerging global age need to conceptualise themselves as centres of collaboration for the collective creation and dissemination of knowledge.

I believe that the future of higher education (HE) is, actually, remarkably bright. I feel, in fact, quite ‘jealous’ of our youth, as we live in what I believe to be, perhaps, the most exciting of time in human history.

Global problems abound of course, but with that come opportunities to do things differently for the advancement and well-being of humanity; indeed, all life with which we share an existence on this planet.

In this third article, I highlight the nature of transformational change in HE – a sector I feel privileged to be globally numbered among, as it transforms in collaboration with other sectors, to change the lives of entire communities and, as a result, our entire world.

Let me highlight some leading examples.

The most important precursor to transformational change is the existence of a consensus over the need for such change.

The challenges for HE, which I identified in Part I are, for some among us, simply not challenges at all. A $30 bn. endowment fund tends to influence the view one has about problems, challenges and opportunities.

Other institutions may recognize similar challenges, yet actively address them by focusing on their traditional methodology and approach to teaching, research and community contribution. Our university system has been around for many centuries, after all, and slow incremental development has served us pretty well, so far.

There is, of course, no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the modern university. It’s a misnomer to believe that without radical and revolutionary change, all HE institutions will tumble around our feet.  That is, I suggest, an unbalanced view.

Change in HE is not all about the preservation of our institutions. It is also about contributing to a collective approach in meeting community and global imperatives, in light of the fact that failure to address such imperatives will have disastrous consequences for humanity.  The current global pandemic emerging is the latest, and will not be the last, example.

We face, now, some imperatives which mean that, as a sector, we need to change – some institutions a great deal; others perhaps less so. The planet and humanity need our sector to embrace the truly great challenges before us, so as to ensure that we stand prepared to survive into the future.

I believe that real leadership in tertiary education requires this:

  • acknowledgement of the imperatives of our times,
  • understanding of the exact position of our individual institutions,
  • recognition of the ability of our institutions and communities to move, and
  • commitment to push the parameters of our comfort faster than that imposed by the imperatives.

I leave the ‘calls to action’ to those best-placed to have their voices heard.  For the rest of us, it is important to lead our communities on achievable transitions that successfully clothe the ‘revolutionary’ as ‘evolutionary’, resulting in tangible, sustainable and effective change.

Here, I would like to focus on particular aspects of transformational change that I encountered within the US education sector as part of my Eisenhower Fellowship. I structure these around the three elements of my project, enhancing engagement by leveraging digital and disruptive innovation, for the advancement of the imperatives and meta-narratives of our time.

Engagement, Recruitment & Retention 

Much has been written on the role of universities in perpetuating inequality and class divide. Predominantly, HE is expensive and inaccessible. Generally, we subscribe too readily to ‘human capital theory’ where we equate education with professional employment, with social mobility, with prosperity.

The system however, is far from linear and is more organic. For education to be truly liberating, universities need to be more cognizant of the organic factors that lead to community well-being, and shy away from a more binary system of analysis.  To focus first on mere wealth production – income from capital investment as outgrown wealth-creation from employment in the US, meaning societal, cultural and family position – is proving to be an increasing important factor in wealth-creation over employment.

A myopic concentration on employment as the only factor in the creation of wealth for example is, therefore, problematic for universities. Undoubtedly, education does equate to more and better employment outcomes, but it also provides many other important and tangible contributions to a healthy and wealthy society.

Examples of colleges that are starting to recognize this, and which are actively engaging communities in different ways to ensure universal student success, include Georgia State and Arizona State. In their use of student analytics, and from a foundation of institutional flexibility, these institutions seek to ensure student success through institutional movement rather than a reliance on a traditional deficit model in which student difficulty is seen as a problem with the student.

As a result of their efforts, their figures of student success across ethnic and class divides are most impressive. If colleges are to deal effectively with engaging all quarters of our communities, when swathes of professions are rendered extinct over the coming two decades, then significant advancements need to be made in engaging the disenfranchised now.

A recurring theme across the institutions I visited in the US was that we in HE need to learn how to engage more effectively with our communities. Surprisingly, universities are not hardwired to play nicely!  Our tendency is to tell communities (including industry) what we think they need. When we finish with them, we often leave them hanging in limbo, annoyed at what they believed was to be an ongoing and genuine partnership.

As an initiative to train their institution to effectively engage and disengage with the external community, I was impressed by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University St Louis. They are doing credible work, built upon a focus on civics within the undergraduate academic curriculum. Seek them out for their wisdom and expertise in the area of collaborative community engagement. Staying with St Louis, I was also most impressed by Cortex in the heart of St Louis. Ravished by the Global Financial Crunch, the economy of this great city took a significant battering.

While innovation hubs are certainly not new or particularly novel, I found the foresight of Washington University St Louis, and its partners in establishing Cortex a number of years ago, both bold and visionary.

Digital & Disruptive Innovation

Here I focus on two aspects: digitally-enabled pedagogy and university funding.

There is a great deal of digital-teaching innovation in operation in the US.  But the success of Southern New Hampshire University, with their distance programme, is something to behold. With 90,000 online students (and growing) plus a sophisticated system of student support, analytic-driven intervention and guidance, and tailored career guidance, SNHU has shaken the traditional model of educational delivery.

Of course the EdX initiative of Harvard and MIT, with its 140 international partners, is similarly impressive, albeit with more work required to find a financially-attractive platform for the Humanities courses they provide.

Disruptive innovation is strongly evident at the borders of traditional HE as well, with private providers such as LaunchCode and General Assembly providing coding courses, and facilitating work placements, in order to meet the insatiable demand for coding and web development expertise within the US.

Clearly, in the context of the US, the mammoth size of the HE sector with its many thousands of providers allows for market correction, development and competition on a grand scale.  In the context of New Zealand, the sustainability of eight large, internationally-ranked universities, a struggling polytechnic sector, and a largely diffuse cohort of independent training-providers, is ripe for disruptive innovation.

The NZ market needs a more secure foundation of regulation and guidance within which the various levels of HE can operate and innovate. Digital innovation in all sectors, including pedagogical development, is a tool in the development of a mandate and mission. In the absence of the latter, either regulatory or institutionally-created, digital innovation can be seen as the answer to an unidentified problem, giving rise to increased chaos over clarity in the operation of the system.

Imperatives and Meta-narratives

For clarity in thinking, I think it best to divide imperatives from meta-narratives.

Community and global imperatives include global justice, sustainability, ideological intolerance, economic development, and multiple crises in biodiversity. These contribute to the creation of the meta-narratives of equality, inequity, entrepreneurialism, social enterprise, and all facets of sustainability.

While the provision of education for the purpose of fulfilling employment is important, and goes someway to fulfilling one imperative (economic development), it is certainly not the only pressing imperative of our time nor is it the only way in which education can contribute to their advancement.

In my travel, addressing imperatives separate to skill-provision and employability appeared largely isolated from the more traditional structures of university operation. Occasional niche programmes looking at systems thinking or complexity theory certainly exist, but little action has occurred for such programs to happen at scale.

Grand-challenge funding is starting to gain traction. But again, only a few universities are even contemplating novel ways of reconstructing the traditional Newtonian system of departments, programmes, faculties and colleges beyond traditional disciplinary lines.

What is needed is the servicing of more imperatives through the engagement of meta-narratives at scale. In this regard, I was most impressed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainable Development in HE (Philadelphia). Their system for the nurtured development of university sustainability means that institutions wanting to advance sustainability, not only in their operation but also in their teaching, research and outreach, are no longer alone in doing so.

From systems of top-down control, the creation of separate unencumbered university hubs/labs/incubators, to the seeding of bottom-up transformation, change comes in many shapes and sizes. Within the US, the size and diversity of the HE sector means that many institutions feel safe to sail above the challenges facing the sector as a whole, while others stand either ignorant or unable to move.

For a small band of universities however, which recognize the challenges and the opportunities of our times, great advancement has come in the development of the global university 1.5.

Our challenge, I suggest, is to envision the 2.0 of our sector in which the employment of education for the resolution of the imperatives, grand challenges, and meta-narratives of our time can be woven, at scale, into the fabric of our systems.

Our future requires HE to not only produce work read graduates, but also graduates skilled in the ability to change our community and global paradigms.

Prof Chris Gallavin is Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor at Massey University, and a member of the Centre’s Board.

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Strengthening Multilateralism through UN Reform

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Kennedy Graham

In his December column, former ambassador Colin Keating outlined the concept of a research project which the Centre is about to undertake on Strengthening Multilateralism through UN Reform.

This project has its genesis in a speech that Colin gave on the occasion of UN Day last October, in which he challenged New Zealand to undertake a project that results in recommendations for a lead role in restoring the credibility and effectiveness of multilateralism.

The Centre proposed to the UN Association of New Zealand (UNANZ) that the two bodies respond to this, and twin on a research project on the subject.  The governing bodies of both organizations endorsed the proposal.

Colin and I, as co-managers of the project, have been preparing the nature, timing, and product of the project.  Easier said than done, but of intense interest and, hopefully, some significance.

So, what of the details?

As Colin put it in his speech on UN Day:

“Don’t be naïve about the UN. Frankly, I think that one of the reasons why support for the UN is waning in New Zealand is because too many of its supporters in the past have sought to oversell its role and been slow to face up to its limitations and failings. It is time to be much more upfront about the need for reform.

Reform can be a great focus for lobbying politicians. There is a problem. The UN needs reform. New Zealand is ideally placed to be able to contribute hugely to a transformation. So, as a fourth challenge to you all, why not demand that New Zealand set up and properly resource a six-month project involving politicians from all parties, officials, the defence force and civil society to make recommendations on a role for New Zealand to take a lead in restoring the credibility and effectiveness of multilateralism.”

The details, developed in consultation with the Centre’s Board chair and the UNANZ President, are beginning to take shape.  The project was ‘launched’, more or less, this past week when its content was sent to a wide-ranging group of people, to ascertain their level of interest, and seek their engagement, in the work.

The background to the project is the increasing concern, held around the world, over what appears to be an undermining of the ‘multilateral rules-based order’ (MRBO), centred largely though not exclusively through the UN, that has formed the imperfect but comprehensible framework for international relations over the past 75 years.

Some national leaders, most notably from France and New Zealand, have articulated at the UN General Assembly in recent years, the need to preserve and revive the essence of the MRBO, lest the international community of states lose its way in grappling with the global problems that confront humanity in the new century.

Their speeches are both visionary and of rhetorical worth, but it does raise, not for the first time, the question of substance.  What does ‘strengthening multilateralism’ mean, in terms of serious and focused proposals for conceptual and institutional reform, and in which areas and at which level of analysis?

Addressing these substantive questions is the challenge of our project.

Lest we be seen to presume the answers, which we certainly do not pretend to have, we have compiled a questionnaire that surrounds the broad areas of UN reform.  This has gone out to a range of New Zealanders – former political leaders, former diplomats, academic experts, civil society representatives.  At the appropriate time, we shall consult with current parliamentarians and officials.

No doubt we shall convene some meetings on the project, or at least speak to the project at certain NZCGS and UNANZ meetings.  And the aim is, of course, to speak to, and listen to, everyone who is interested in the subject.

We hope to have the project wrapped up, within six to nine months.

More anon.

Dr Kennedy Graham is Director of the NZ Centre for Global Studies.  He is a former diplomat, UN official, university teacher and MP.

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Painting Australia’s Bushfires:

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Eco-grief and Artivism. Both are new terms to me, but they’re beginning to define my life in Australia.

As a wildlife artist and animal lover, I’ve been so deeply affected by the devastating bushfires that it’s been hard for me to focus on anything else.

Every day, I pour my heart into my art. In my Extinction Series, I’ve been painting the landscapes and wildlife incinerated by the flames: koalas, kangaroos, cockatoos, platypus, wombats, and wallabies; iconic Australian species, some endangered and even facing extinction.

‘The Long Sleep,’ ‘Goodnight, Koala’ and the other artworks shown in this article are part of my Extinction Series. The Northern Koala, shown sleeping here as fire approaches, was already endangered before this year’s catastrophic bushfires and its survival as a species is in doubt.

Koala Sleeping
Koala, shown sleeping here as fire approaches
Koala, shown sleeping here as fire approaches


My response to the tragic loss of over a billion animals in this season’s fires has been one of overwhelming heartbreak. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve cried endless tears of grief. I’ve been trying to channel these feelings into my art practice, trying to turn traumatic personal experience into a call for climate action. What I’m doing can be described as raw artivism: creating art in the heat of the moment; emotional art to soothe my broken heart; political art to push for change.

It gives me a temporary escape from grim reality. The technique I use is called ‘encaustic’ or ‘hot wax painting’ – an ancient Egyptian artform that involves burning layer upon layer of melted beeswax and raw pigments into wooden panels. Because (ironically) I’m using fire in the process, it demands my full attention. Even a tiny error, such as holding the flame above the substrate for a second too long can wreck an entire week’s work, which, as you can imagine, helps me focus.

painting australia's bushfires
painting australia’s bushfires


But the meditative effect of my paintbrush and torch is always short-lived. With each new report of suffering and loss, my head pounds, my heart races and my throat constricts. It’s partly grief, I realise, and partly fear. It might also be a physical reaction to the toxic smoke that blanketed us for weeks, day and night, indoors and out.

It’s also rage.

It’s all I can do not to scream at the limp response to the bushfires from our political leaders in Canberra. ‘Don’t overreact,’ they say. ‘Bushfires are part of Aussie life,’ they say. ‘Stop being so emotional!’ Then they turn around and give the green light for another coal mine, while warning us – including those who’ve lost everything in the fires – not to listen to ‘reckless’ climate activists.

How can anyone witness the Morrison government’s blinkered, blundering response to the climate crisis and not feel anger and rage?

Political frustration isn’t new to me, I must admit. I’ve spent my career working to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, and I’ve seen policies being implemented that are dangerous and delusional. I pinch myself every time I hear politicians and officials (including here in Australia) espousing the security benefits of these horrific weapons. We now know that only luck saved us from nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War, which makes today’s nuclear brinkmanship even more terrifying – proof that humanity sometimes dresses up heartless, selfish, and self-destructive decisions in the language of rational action.

It’s hard to ignore the parallels in our failure to address the existential threats of nuclear weapons and climate change. As a scholar and writer who studies and critiques nuclear policy decisions – decisions that are sometimes based on narrow self-interest, lack of knowledge, and a failure of vision and courage – I know how important it is to speak out. And as I’ve done this, I’ve begun to regard rage as a positive emotion, despite my training as a dispassionate academic. Why? Because without personal rage, individuals won’t be spurred into action. Until masses of enraged individuals come together to peacefully express their joint rage, governments will continue to downplay the science on climate change and feed the world’s irresponsible addiction to fossil fuels.  In other words, without rage, political leaders won’t be held accountable for what amounts to criminal negligence.

‘The Scorching Skies Above Us’, Encaustic Original (Triptych), December 2019

painting australia's bushfires
painting australia’s bushfires


My own rage is mounting daily. I can barely contain it. When it gets intense, my therapy is to pick up my paintbrush and mix another palette of fire-toned oils. I want as many people as possible to see the art that myself and other Australian artists are creating, partly because our profits are being donated to help wildlife injured in the fires, and because I want people everywhere to connect with our art on an emotional level, focus on the urgent need for change, and act on it. I want people to cry over our disappearing wildlife. I want people to rage over our fire-ravaged land. I want people to join the movement and stop sleepwalking into climate catastrophe; to realise what’s happening here will affect everyone’s future, not just Australia’s.

‘The Rescue’ and ‘The Scorching Skies Above US’ (detail)

koalabushfire2 roobushfire











Dr Tanya Ogilvie-White is senior fellow at Australian National University, adjunct senior fellow at Griffith University, Board member of the NZ Centre for Global Studies, and founder of Scorching Skies Art. 

To contact her about this article, please email [email protected] or call her on +61 466 465835. You can make direct contributions to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation via WIRES, WWF, Birdlife, RSPCA, National Parks Association, Humane Society International, The Wilderness Society, Nature Conservation Council, Animal Welfare League and IFAW.




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International aggression as a domestic crime

Prof Roger Clark

Earlier this month, the Director of the Centre lodged a submission to the NZ Parliament on the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Amendment Bill.

The Bill proposes amendments to NZ legislation to incorporate certain international amendments made in 2010 and 2017 to the Rome Statute (Art. 8) dealing with war crimes.

The submission endorsed the Bill, insofar as it dealt with the war-crime amendments.  But it recommended that the Bill should “include the other principal amendment outstanding, namely pertaining to the crime of aggression, which is one of the Statute’s four ‘most serious crimes of concern to the international community’.”

This blog-post supports this proposal – namely, NZ ratification of the Kampala Amendments dealing with the crime of aggression, and the inclusion of aggression as a domestic crime in the draft legislation currently before Parliament.

Let me explain why.

International work on aggression as a crime

The Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided by consensus, in New York on 14 December 2017, to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, along the lines of the definition agreed upon, also by consensus, at the Kampala Review Conference in 2010.

Activation was effective from 17 July 2018, the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute. From that date on, the UN Security Council can refer cases of aggression to the Court, and the Court Prosecutor or another State Party can refer cases in certain situations – typically when both the aggressor State and the victim State have ratified the amendments.

I was honoured to be in Rome, and in Kampala, and again in New York, as part of the Samoa delegation. Samoa has ratified all the Kampala Amendments, and adopted legislation to give effect to them under domestic law.

In Rome in 1998, aggression was half-in and half-out of the jurisdiction of the ICC.  It was listed as one of the four crimes over which the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction.  But two challenging issues (definition of the crime and the conditions for the exercise of jurisdiction) required further work.

That work was subsequently carried out through the Court’s Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression and concluded in Kampala.  But success came with delaying procedural conditions, namely a requirement of 30 ratifications and a further ‘activation’ resolution no sooner than 2017.

The 30 ratifications (now 39) and the activation resolution have now been achieved.  Ratification by more States will help solidify the structure of international law as promised in Rome – and before that, in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

NZ on the crime of aggression

As a relatively small state whose main protection in an often ugly world is the rule of law, New Zealand has a stake in helping to embed the proscription of the crime of aggression in that piece of the architecture of international law represented by the ICC.

New Zealand has a history of involvement with the crime.

  • Prime Minister Massey was a member in Versailles of the Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War (1919) that considered the criminal responsibility of the Kaiser.
  • New Zealand was one of the 18 States, in addition to the four major signatories, adhering to the London Agreement setting up the Nuremberg Tribunal (1945).
  • It provided one of the eleven judges for the Tokyo proceedings against the Japanese leadership (1946); ‘crimes against peace, or ‘aggression’, were prosecuted in both Nuremberg and Tokyo.

More recently, New Zealand participated actively in the Special Working Group of the ICC on Aggression (2002-09) which paved the way for Kampala.  And it joined the consensus both in Kampala and in 2017 at the ASP in New York.  New York’s consensus included a renewal of the Assembly of States Parties’ call for all parties which have not yet done so to ratify the amendments on aggression.

In a statement made early in the morning after adoption, the NZ delegate “welcome[d] the activation of the Kampala amendments.”  She then explained that

“New Zealand’s treaty processes require Cabinet approval, Parliamentary treaty examination and the enactment of any necessary implementing legislation before New Zealand can be bound by a multilateral treaty or amendment.”

As a good international citizen and friend of the Court, it is time for New Zealand to go beyond merely ‘welcoming’.  Time to join the 39 others who have ratified, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Liechtenstein, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Samoa, and Trinidad & Tobago.

In 2016 in a lecture at the Parliament Theatrette,[1] I offered some thoughts about legislating the crime domestically, in the context of Kennedy Graham’s thoughtful 2013 International Non-Aggression and Lawful Use of Force Bill.  I shall not traverse, here, all the points I made there about the necessary legislation.

Dr. Graham’s Bill is still a good starting-point in drafting legislation. The bottom line is that, under NZ constitutional practice, a statute is necessary to penalize the crime as defined in the Kampala Amendments.

It would be unthinkable for New Zealand to become a party to the Amendments without making the crime punishable in domestic law.  New Zealand’s leaders are, one hopes, no more likely to commit aggression than to commit genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity – the other crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC.  But it is important to put a statement to that effect on the international record, by legislating and ratifying.

The Rome Statute is not a ‘suppression convention’ like the terrorism treaties and others explicitly requiring states to criminalize; but that they should do so is implicit in the Statute, in particular its provisions on ‘complementarity’ which indicate that States should exercise priority in prosecution.  Thoughtful states, including New Zealand and Samoa, have made the other crimes in the Statute criminal and prosecutable under domestic law by granting appropriate jurisdiction to local courts.

In terms of criminal law theory, strong arguments for so doing come from the deterrent and the expressive views of the law – emphatically spelling out, for a domestic and international audience, the illegality of aggression and the other crimes.

Universal jurisdiction

New Zealand and Samoa have claimed universal jurisdiction for the other Rome crimes; and Samoa has added aggression to its list of crimes over which it exercises universal jurisdiction.

Samoa’s universal jurisdiction is, however, the moderate form which applies if the alleged aggressor is, after the commission of the offence, present in Samoa. Since universal jurisdiction may be controversial in respect of the crime of aggression, I add a few thoughts on jurisdictional issues.

No-one suggests that it is improper for a State to exercise jurisdiction over what its own leadership does (at home or abroad), that is to say ‘aggressor state jurisdiction’, based on territoriality or the nationality of its leadership.  The International Law Commission (ILC), however, recommended against universal or victim state jurisdiction for aggression in its Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind.

There is debate whether aggression, as opposed say to genocide, gives rise to universal jurisdiction under international customary law, even though it was adjudicated in international forums in Nuremberg and Tokyo. My impression was that most members of the SWGCA were comfortable at least with victim state (‘effects’ or ‘objective territorial’ jurisdiction), which was espoused in Dr. Graham’s Bill.  But practice is somewhat thin, and one of a batch of ‘Understandings’ adopted in Kampala mildly discourages what it calls the exercise of “domestic jurisdiction with respect to an act of aggression committed by another State.”

I certainly do not read the Kampala Understandings, the weight of which is debated, or customary law, as clearly prohibiting victim state or universal jurisdiction as a matter of law.  In fact, a recent study of the work-product of the first twelve States to legislate on the crime of aggression[2] since Kampala indicates that all twelve of them have adopted both aggressor-state and victim-state jurisdiction.  Four of them, Austria, Samoa, Luxembourg and North Macedonia, appear to have some form of universal jurisdiction.  This practice suggest that New Zealand has choices. Personal jurisdiction, then, is an issue to be decided.


Now is the time to forge ahead with the necessary legislation leading to ratification and resolve issues such as those on jurisdiction.

New Zealand can then join the ranks of State Parties to the Rome Statute which are bound among themselves to apply Kampala.

Roger Clark is professor of law at Rutgers University (Camden, NJ).  A former NZ university lecturer and diplomat, he has contributed extensively to the advancement of international law in many areas, including nuclear disarmament and international criminal law.  He is a member of the Centre’s International Advisory Panel.

[1] “Making Aggression a Leadership Crime in 2017: The Rome Statute and the Kampala Amendments”, NZCGS, Visiting Lecture, 2016.

[2] Annegret Hartig, “Post Kampala: The Early Implementers of the Crime of Aggression 17 Journal of International Criminal Justice (2019) 485.  (Not all countries are as diligent in legislating before ratification as New Zealand is, and many of the 39 ratifiers have not yet adopted their legislation.)

Understanding Nuclear Disarmament

Renee Moorjani

Following the drafting of the Civil Society Youth Pledge at the Hui in September, and while contemplating what is to follow, Jayden van Leeuwen (YGSG) and I locked in on two key elements of the pledge.

The first was the Treaty’s Article 12 obligation to take the pledge to a state that has not yet ratified the Nuclear Ban Treaty (TPNW 2017). This became a reality when our Australia trip was finalized.

The second- uncovering the inherent ties between the need for nuclear disarmament and mitigating climate change.

This would not only be on our agenda, but we would realize it is a key method to reduce the noise and pique interest in a campaign that some youth feel quite disconnected from in the 21st century.


From 1944-73, Australia played ping pong with its nuclear regime before foregoing the nuclear route by signing the NPT owing to a geo-political change in Asia in the 70s. The myth of US deterrence and nuclear protection were and are still integral to Australian security and the trickle-down effect can be felt from the older generations who protested the revival of the nuclear arms race in the 80s to some of the younger generation, who tend to either be unaware of the disproportionate and indiscriminatory nature of nuclear weapons, and believe that nuclear energy is the best supplement to renewable energy sources, or willing to discuss the movement but fall victim to an education gap on the matter.

We will be able to mobilise groups including youth for nuclear disarmament once there is a realisation of the existential threat of nuclear weapons, in a way that has been realised for climate change recently. We report that the way forward for the movement can be summarised according for 4 key aspects coupled with the realisation of an existential threat, I term them E2P2: Existential threat and Experience, Education, Political ideology and Perspective.

Existential threat and Experience 

PND Australia started their Nuclear campaign in 1960. Their objective is to inspire and mobilize public opinion in support of nuclear disarmament through campaigning against the American hegemony and Australia’s involvement in American nuclear efforts. The group is of the opinion that no real distinction can be made between the nuclear weapons, nuclear power and nuclear research industries. One of their values in particular, that there will be no lasting peace without justice for all- including inter-generational justice, ties in with the Centre’s values for international peace and security.

The key revelation from this discussion was that an existential threat can be realized through experience or education. The main point of discussion here was the experience element. Young people today living in regions largely unaffected by nuclear catastrophe feel distant from the issue owing to either a lack of experience or because they feel they do not have the ability to make a difference. Several surveys on millennials suggest that as the 2010s have progressed, awareness of the use of atomic bombs in World War II has declined. Coupled with this is the notion that nuclear disarmament is not a main security challenge facing their nations. There is some realization that recent nuclear testing and unravelling of international cooperation make nuclear weapons a major security threat; and some worry that nuclear arsenal stored in umbrella states makes the issue critical in today’s political environment.

Existential threat and Political ideology 

The current security landscape in Australia propagates the idea that nuclear weapons are necessary to protect its borders. They remain deeply embedded in strategic political thinking in ways that assign powerful socio-political values to the weapon. A recent call for Australia to acquire nuclear weapons from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) is one of many fearmongering incidents that raise
suspicion that nuclear disarmament is conducive to international peace. In making these calls, there is no regard to the fact that Australia has an NPT and South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty obligation to not obtain nuclear weapons. There is also an ignorance that a nuclear weapons program would be visible for years before there are any viable nuclear weapons, heightening the threat of insecurity resulting in usage before Australia is capable of retaliation. The cost of a weapons program would also push their military budget far beyond their 2% GDP goal and this does not include the social cost of raising tensions with other international players. Despite these facts, the existing political ideology places a major constraint on the progression of disarmament efforts.

Existential threat and Perspective 

Meeting with AIIE served as a valuable tool to educate ourselves on how to approach those dependent on nuclear weapons including Nuclear-Weapon states (NWS) and non-NPT states to start a meaningful dialogue and not debate on the potential for disarmament. The Secretary-General called for total elimination in October 2019 while he acknowledged a reversal in achieved disarmament owing to a growing mistrust between NWS. The expiration of the INF Treaty could mean a spiral into old habits of holding the world hostage to the threat of nuclear annihilation. Among several calls were ones for dialogue on unity, finances for nuclear weapons being invested in climate change mitigation and strengthening multilateralism for disarmament decision-making. Challenges to the NPT regime are aplenty with the modernization of nuclear arsenals and with the JCPOA hanging by a thread, calls for a Nuclear Free Europe and Middle East are becoming louder. Calls from the Global South for NWS to fulfill their explicit obligations under the NPT are also gaining traction. The Director of AIIE equipped us with methods to open conversation with these states on nuclear proliferation, agenda and disarmament.

Existential threat and Education 
This trip solidified the importance of education and the trickle-down effects of politics on a movement. In Australia, there is a tangible gap in knowledge on the implications of nuclear weapons and where there is no gap, politicians seem willing to accept the logic and need to disarm privately but feel pressured to stay
pro-nuclear umbrella publicly. We found that owing to the noise and hopelessness that engulfs 21st century issues, some youth tend to steer them away from being mobilized on issues they do not feel close to, or feel incapable of making a difference to. The ability of the Climate Crisis to mobilize youth drew our attention to the idea that existential threat is realized from experience or education. Youth that had experienced the effects of climate change (NSW Bushfires) felt responsible to question their government and capable of making a difference. There are spikes in youth engagement in regions where their environment has been affected by, or they are descendants of those affected by nuclear warfare. The question of education becomes vital when there is a realization that we cannot afford to have tomorrow’s policy-makers, voters and leaders who think nuclear weapons or the climate crisis do not deserve urgent action.


The political landscape and resulting disarmament ideology are tinted by Australia’s US alliance and the consequence is found in the trickle-down inertia in disarmament matters. For our movement to gain traction, the next steps must
engage youth in the realization of the existential threat of nuclear weapons through E2P2- Experience, Education, Political ideology and Perspective. Phase II of this project will commence in 2020.

Renee Moorjani has just completed a law degree at University of Auckland.  She is Secretary of the Centre.