By Matthew Maslen

Previously, I have written about when I was accepted onto the Youth for TPNW 1MSP (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – Meeting of States Parties) delegation, my thoughts just before our delegation took off for Vienna, and now I’m going to tell you my thoughts now that I’ve returned from it(hopefully you’re not totally sick of hearing from me)!
The first thing to say is that I was incredibly lucky to make it at all. Many in our delegation were unable to make it to the MSP in person due to difficulties in obtaining passports, visas, and funding. So once again I’d like to thank the Leeds J&P’s SPARK Project which funded my travel and made it possible for me to attend.
I’d never travelled abroad on my own before, and I haven’t been on a plane since pre-covid, and my mind was full of horror stories of people waiting in queues snaking outside the airport due to strikes, so I went a little bit (very) too early to the airport! But the journey was fine. So, other than a short delay to the flight and a slight panic in Vienna before I realised you could change the U-bahn ticket machine to English, I made it to the hostel unscathed by the start of my solo-travel.
By the time I made it to the hostel, it was already past 11. I met my roommate, who was also with YouthforTPNW, and went straight to bed, having set my alarm for 6am (not sure about you but that’s pretty much the middle of the night for me).
After a night of broken sleep in uncomfortable heat – although now that we’re experiencing this heatwave I think I may have been overly dramatic at the time – I set off for the UN.

Youth Delegates to TPNW

Now an expert at the U-bahn, I travelled across the city with the morning commuters. Unfortunately, though my public transport skills had improved, my map reading skills left me walking in circles around the Vienna Centre for a long time. Eventually, having discovered in the group chat that I was far from the only person to have befallen this fate, I followed someone else’s step-by-step instructions (literally) and found the entrance.
After passing through airport-style security, we were given our UN badges! We have all confessed that these have become prize possessions that we tell everyone about! And then… we were in!

Tuesday was our main day as YouthforTPNW. The founders of the group had put together an incredible day for us with very little time. The group was created a short 9 months ago and yet they have managed to arrange a full pre-MSP programme as well as a youth delegation to the TPNW 1MSP both in-person and online for those unable to make it. The whole week I was endlessly reminded that young people, when given the space to do it, are able to do whatever we put our minds to.
After the day was opened by Lucy Tiller, Chair of YouthforTPWN, we had our first event of the day. This was a talk from Miyata Takashi, a survivor of the Nagasaki bomb. This was an extremely powerful start to the day. It brought home to me, once again, that nuclear disarmament is not a theoretical discussion, it is has real-world consequences.
For the rest of the morning we took part in workshops. I attended one on grassroots educational movements, run by SGI (Buddhism in Action for Peace). And one on nuclear weapons and the climate crisis, run by Fridays for Future.
These workshops were a great opportunity to learn from each other and to highlight the intersectionality of issues such as nuclear disarmament and climate justice.

people in a workshopAfterwards, we heard from a panel of young women about what the future of youth engagement with the TPNW may, and ought to, look like. This was a very interesting discussion as the panel was very international and the work that each panel member did was very different. The resounding idea that was mentioned again and again was that we must continue to push for a seat at the table where discussions about our future are happening.
After lunch we had a group discussion of the policy document that we had created in the weeks leading up to the 1MSP. This discussion was a hybrid between those of us in person in Vienna, and those of us online via Zoom.
The final event of the day was Zoom conversation with Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor. She told us her story and about her inspiring journey as an activist.
We also watched a short video clip that Alexander Kmentt (President-Designate of the First Meeting of States Parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons) had filmed where he addressed us and our side-MSP events.
And so, my first day at the UN was over! It was an incredible day, I learned an enormous amount from everyone that I spoke to, both other youth delegates and people who had been invited in to run workshops and panels.

In the morning we met in Kaiserwiese Park for an Advocacy Action Forum. We sat in a circle in the shade and one at a time we said two of the main things we had taken from the experience so far, and one thing we would like the group to do in the future.
Afterwards, we made our way across Vienna back to the UN building. On this day, the informal discussion in the park was the only official Youth for TPNW event happening, so we were able to join in with the events of the main MSP.
A few others and I attended a panel discussion on Verifying Disarmament. This was a really interesting topic. The panel consisted of: Pavel Podvig, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, and Zia Mian. It was moderated by Maria Garzon Maceda and was opened by Lucy Duncan (New Zealand Permanent Representative to the United Nations).
They highlighted the importance of national identities in the disarmament conversation; that by asking nuclear-weapon-states to disarm is to ask them to entirely change their identity from a ‘nuclear-weapon state’, and also their world view from one where there is a distinction (and an entrenched hierarchy) between nuclear-weapon-states and non-nuclear-weapons-states.
In other words, as Zia Mian put it, we are asking for a paradigm shift whereby “nuclear weapons are no longer the centre of nuclear-weapons-states’ universe”.
But, despite the ideological difficulties the panellists highlighted, they were also clear in demonstrating that nuclear disarmament is possible. As Pavel Podvig said: there are “no insurmountable technical challenges here, it’s all politics […] all in their heads”.
After listening to this panel discussion, I went and watched the main MSP for a while. It felt incredibly cool to sit with the little headphones on which translated what each of the delegates was saying for you. At the end of each section that the delegates discussed, Alexander Kmentt would summarise what had been said and then announce “it is so decided” before tapping his hammer on the table!

I spent the daytime on Thursday being a tourist – Vienna is a beautiful city and I would definitely recommend a visit!
In the evenings Youth for TPNW had been meeting in a pub to have a chance to socialise and to talk to each other properly as the atmosphere in the UN was rather rushed.
But on the Thursday night there was the official ICAN party. This was an extremely surreal experience to be surrounded by hundreds of delegates and activists from around the world having a mix of social conversations and others having very in-depth conversations.
I spent this evening mostly getting to know more of the other people who had attended with Youth for TPNW. There were still people who I hadn’t had a chance to meet properly as the week had been so non-stop, but by the end of the evening I had met most people, learned a lot about the election process in Norway and the death of indigenous languages in Brazil!

So, as you can probably tell, my time in Vienna was without a doubt the coolest thing I have ever done! I learnt an incredible amount and met so many inspiring people.
SPARK Social Justice logoAgain, I would like to thank the SPARK Project for sponsoring me to attend in person and giving me this opportunity.