At the end of October, over 60 participants aged 18-30 gathered in Paris for a four-day programme organised by the French ICAN Youth team. In panel discussions, workshops and a simulation game the participants were introduced to current developments in nuclear disarmament – just a couple of days before the UN General Assembly voted in favour of negotiations to ban nuclear weapons to be held in 2017.
The conference opened with an inspiring speech by former French Minister of Defense and President of the Association Initiatives for Nuclear Disarmament, Paul Quilès. Sharing the story of his very first contacts with France’s nuclear arsenal as a young military officer, he also shed some light on France’s complex and ambiguous stance on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament (France for instance has notoriously sold nuclear weapon delivery systems to India, which is not a recognised member state under the Nonproliferation Treaty NPT) and advocated for a reinvigoration of the public debate on nuclear weapons in France. As a matter of fact, the last official debate on France’s nuclear arsenal in the National Assembly dates back to 1996 and French officials have unabatedly claimed the existence of a “nuclear consensus”.
The fact that the conference took place in Paris, capital of the French nuclear power – and that 30 participants were French – is therefore a meaningful step:
One year ago, there was a little more than ten of us, a pile of stickers and a whole lot of energy. And now, because of the resounding success of the ICAN Youth Academy, we are almost out of stickers, but confident that the nuclear disarmament issue has moved a little bit further.
An impressive line-up of international speakers successfully addressed the full spectrum of participants – from workshops for newbies (i.e. “Quiz: Nukes from A to Z”) to skills for advanced campaigners (such as “Working with elected representatives” or “Argumentation Techniques”) and brainfood for geeks (“Nuclear Disarmament and Modernization Programmes”, “Political Influence & International Negotiations”).
After two days of input, it was the participants’ turn to take over the conference: in the simulation game, groups were assigned roles and had to concoct strategies on how to best lobby their interests in the international arena. Champion states, undecided states, nuclear weapon states as well as civil society delivered exiting performances, statements and unexpected actions…
Over the four days, a range of social activities were a welcome balance to the full programme – besides the compulsory visit to the Eiffel Tower, ICAN France’s very own guides Madeleine and Arnaud took participants on a tour through the Latin Quarter and on a sightseeing cruise.
About ICAN Youth
The ICAN Youth project was launched in 2015 with support from Erasmus + (a program of the European Commission). The project aims at raising awareness on the dangers of nuclear weapons, building expertise in the field of humanitarian disarmament, generating discussions and engaging young people to achieve a total ban.
The ICAN Youth steering committee consists of young professionals and students based in different cities across France, and includes: Clément Barthelemy, Elea Boureux, Marion Loddo, Jade Loucif, Marie Orset, Izia Royannez, Philine Scherer-Dressler, Arnaud Sologny, Silene Theobald, and Madeleine de Wispelaere.
As part of the ICAN Youth project a partnership with youth organizations based in Serbia and Turkey was also created to foster links between young European campaigners and share best-practices and lessons learned.