Passion and Diversity at the 2019 CTBTO Science and Technology Conference

By Ilya Kursenko

The bi-annual Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Science and Technology Conference (SnT2019) took place June 24-28 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. The conference brought together over one thousand participants, representing the most diverse regions of the world, and gathered their ideas and perspectives at the conference grounds.

The first conference day highlighted several pertinent topics, such as: youth as the advocates of progress towards CTBT ratification, gender equality in the science and technology field, and the role of expert communities in arms control agreements. These conference discussions also corresponded to the growing global concerns focused around the future of CTBT in particular and global arms control efforts as a whole.

As a member of the CTBTO Youth Group I found the attention drawn to the youth particularly special. CTBTO Youth Group members were present at panel discussions both as speakers and also filled the audience, expressing sincere interest in the Conference discussions. Under the leadership of CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo, the CTBTO has championed this area and pioneered the path for bringing confidence to the youth. The fruits of these efforts are already realized, as the CTBTO Youth Group has expanded to 700 participants, a number achieved right at the beginning of the SnT2019 conference.

Over 20 years of CTBTO’s existence has allowed it to develop a wide expertise and network that allows it to not only accomplish its’ primary objectives relating to ensuring that no nuclear test goes undetected, but also opens the conversation for the CTBTO’s capacity to significantly contribute to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). It was evident at SnT2019 how much potential this direction has, and many experts prepared addresses on this matter during the conference. For example, several areas of linkage between the CTBTO & SDG’s are gender equality, access to education, life below water, peace, justice and strong institutions. It is particularly important to emphasize how broad the spectrum of CTBTO impact is, so that we can continue to expand the family of CTBTO supporters.

Gender equality was discussed on the main stage at the first night’s evening panel, the first of its kind in the history of these biannual science and technology conferences, and the discussion turned into a very sincere conversation that demonstrated what a strong role an international organization like CTBTO can play to invest in efforts towards it. As noted, another example of using the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System data for SDGs which were discussed was one idea to keep track on life below water. For example, another CYG member, Jaona Andriamampandry, a geophysicist from Madagascar, and I worked together on a project about keeping track of whales in the Indian Ocean, using CTBTO technology.

To move from the traditional approach—that the CTBTO is just a nuclear-test ban organization—to the one that corresponds closer to actuality, which is that the CTBTO is a global network that can also promote peace and sustainable development.

To sum up, there are three things that marked this Conference in making it so unique and worth remembering. First, it gathered a wide range of experts—from gender equality activists and impactful youth leaders, to scientific experts and established policymakers. This was a conference focused on CTBTO technology and bringing the CTBT into force to fully utilize that technology, but it was also approached by such a diverse range of participants who all shared the recognition of the importance of these instruments.

Secondly, the conference allowed for a lot of hands-on interactive exhibits, such as the “Race to Ratification” art installation set up at the CTBTO Youth Group corner, ongoing poster presentations throughout the entire conference on a broad range of issues that filled the rooms of the Hofburg palace (according to the conference organizers more than 500 poster presentations took place during the Conference week), field excursions for on-site visits to the newly inaugurated CTBTO Technology Support and Training (TeST) Centre.

And finally, the conference spirit was friendly and passionate. There was a unique feeling of empowerment that came from the diversity of the attendees and the topics that were discussed. These 3 things in particular have made the 2019 CTBTO Science and Technology Conference very notable, marking it as a milestone towards the growing global favor for the CTBT and the CTBTO.

Ilya Kursenko is a member of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organisation Youth Group organization and an arms control researcher. He is interested in innovative ways to implement public diplomacy objectives to commit to peace and security. He is currently writing the book “The Public Diplomat” to outline his experience in public diplomacy.