High School Students from Japan, Russia, and the US Tackle Nuclear Dangers

April 12, 2019
Masako Toki

On March 29 and 30, 2019, high school students from Russia, Japan, and around the United States joined local students of Monterey County at the Critical Issues Forum spring student conference to discuss nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

Coordinated by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), the Critical Issues Forum (CIF) aims to promote nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation education to high school students. This year’s topic, “Nuclear Risk Reduction: Crisis Prevention in a Time of International Turbulence,” situates nuclear-weapon policy within the current tumultuous international security environment. By studying this topic, CIF high school students learned the current challenges and crisis surrounding nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, nuclear risks threatening global and regional peace and security, and explored pathways to solve nuclear challenges.

Critical Issues Forum: Spring 2019

Critical Issues Forum 2019 Slide Show | View the full photo album on Flickr.

This year, all public high schools in the Salinas Union High School District joined the CIF program for the first time. Such widespread inclusion enhanced the diversity of CIF participants, an important component of any education program, particularly one that focuses on what is arguably the world’s most pressing issue: the risks posed by nuclear weapons.

Coursework and Presentations

Nuclear Risk Reduction:
Crisis Prevention in a Time of International Turbulence

The spring conference was a culmination of the students’ semester-long research guided by teachers at each school. After the online teachers’ workshop provided by CNS last November, each school studied the current nuclear risks in the world and considered approaches to address them. As they worked toward the spring conference, CNS assisted the students’ by providing educational resources, tutorials, online seminars, and other materials.

The conference offered students from five Japanese high schools, three Russian high schools in closed nuclear cities, and twelve US high schools from four different states the opportunity to present the conclusions of their research.

Each participating school presented their findings in a creative and innovative way. For example, a school from Zelenogorsk, Russia, focused their research on US-Russian cooperation in nuclear risk reduction, highlighting the importance of these two countries’ cooperation at a time when the relationship between these two countries is at a post-Cold War low. Hiroshima Jogakuin Senior High School—a CIF veteran school that has been actively promoting nuclear disarmament on a daily basis—presented their solution to accomplish a world free of nuclear weapons. The students from Hiroshima proposed to develop the Global Fund for Nuclear Free World to create incentives for nuclear abolition, while empowering young generations to take initiative. Alliance Dr. Olga Mohan High School from Los Angeles presented their research on the potential nuclear crisis between India and Pakistan, and how to de-escalate the current crisis.

First-time participants, Salinas Union High School District (the five high schools of the district presented together), offered a unique presentation titled “Building Empathy through Cultural Education.” Students from Salinas were all Japanese language learners, and they developed their deeper understanding of Japanese culture through language studies that led them to increase their interest in nuclear disarmament. With their presentation’s underlining theme, “The apathy that we had when learning about historical battles and events is instead replaced by empathy,” these students from Salinas proposed to create a Global Studies Class and a Global Citizenship Class where students can learn cross cultural understanding, peace, and disarmament.

Conference Speakers

In addition to each school’s presentation, the conference also enjoyed the panel discussion by CIF high school students moderated by CNS Senior Program Manager for Education and Training Jean duPreez. At the Panel Discussion, “The Role of Youth Education for Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation,” high school students on the panel candidly shared why they become interested in nuclear disarmament, and how they want to continue to engage on this issue. At the end of the panel discussion, David Bartoshuk, president of the SAGA Foundation which supports the CIF project, shared his impression of the students’ presentations and research. He expressed that he is more energized, optimistic, and hopeful after seeing these bright young minds at work.

During the Panel Discussion, “You Are the Future: Nonproliferation and Disarmament Education,” three graduate Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies students encouraged the high school students to do their best to accomplish their goals and shared their experiences and motivations for studying nonproliferation.

Students also heard from keynote speaker Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, an internationally recognized expert on North Korea’s nuclear program and director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at CNS. He highlighted his recent book, The 2020 Commission Report on the north Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States, that has received enthusiastic reviews from many critics. Dr. Mona Dreicer, deputy director of the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, served as keynote speaker on the second day of the conference. Students were inspired by her discussion of her rather untraditional career path, which brought her to a position where she can contribute to nuclear security.

CIF conference also welcomed Consul-General of Japan in San Francisco, Tomochika Uyama, to read a message from Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono. This year again, CIF students were designated as a Youth Communicator for a World without Nuclear Weapons by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, which further enhanced students’ motivation to continue studying the issues related to nuclear disarmament.

The CIF conference also received a special guest, Michiru Nishida, a MIIS/CNS alumnus who dedicates himself to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament through his work as a special advisor for nonproliferation and disarmament at the Japanese Embassy to the United States.

About the Critical Issues Forum (CIF)

This CIF conference clearly demonstrated that nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament is an urgent issue that younger generations can, and are willing to, tackle. These high school students will one day be responsible for the security of the world, and it is extremely important that they study this challenging and pressing global topic.

In her recorded video message, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations Izumi Nakamitsu encouraged the students by quoting UN Secretary General António Guterres’s An Agenda For Disarmament, “Your generation is the ultimate force for change. You are the leader for tomorrow.” There is no doubt that these high school students gathered at the CIF conference took these words to heart. Participants in the CIF project almost unanimously agree that youth education is key to promote disarmament and nonproliferation.

View more detailed information about the Critical Issues Forum, the 2018-2019 Project, and student presentation and videos.

This year’s CIF is made possible by generous support from the Tom and Sarah Pattison Fund and the The SAGA Foundation.

Participating Schools

United States

  • Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, CT
  • Alliance Dr. Olga Mohan High School, Los Angeles, CA
  • The Harker School, San Jose, CA
  • International Polytechnic High School (iPoly), Pomona, CA
  • Pacific Grove High School, Pacific Grove, CA
  • Punahou School, Honolulu, HI
  • Rock University High School, Janesville, WI
  • Salinas Union High School District, Salinas, CA
    (Alisal HS, Everett Alvarez HS, North Salinas HS, Salinas HS)
  • York School, Monterey, CA


  • Hiroshima Jogakuin Senior High School, Hiroshima
  • Kwassui High School, Nagasaki
  • Kaisei High School, Tokyo
  • Kansai Soka Senior High School, Osaka
  • Soka Senior High School, Tokyo


  • Lyceum, Lesnoy
  • School № 41, Novouralsk
  • School № 164, Zelenogorsk
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