The Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker Center for Science and Peace Research (Zentrum für Naturwissenschaft und Friedensforschung - ZNF) of the University of Hamburg started in the summer semester of 2008 a seminar entitled The UN Negotiations on Science and Technology Concerns with Role-play: A Journey to Geneva for the 2008 NPT PrepCom (Verhandlungen der Vereinten Nationen zu Wissenschaft- und Technikfragen mit Rollenspielen: Fahre zur 2008 NPT PrepCom nach Genf).
This seminar involved students from various courses to conduct interviews with diplomats attending the 2008 Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) held on April 28 to May 9 at the United Nations (UN) office in Geneva, Switzerland. The agenda of the interviews were to gather views and opinions about the NPT; to get more information about the actual position of a country on NPT issues; and how the challenges and problems concerning the treaty as well as peace and security are being tackled and addressed by the international community. Aside from the interviews, the participants were tasked to write the minutes of one PrepCom session which allowed them to witness how the PrepCom conducted its debates and learn something about UN’s working procedures.
The seminar provided the students with a hands-on experience through a unique setting, i.e. the UN in Geneva, and through their dealings with real diplomats about real and serious issues. For many, the task was conducive to learning and has offered them a life-changing experience. They have undertaken intensive preparations for the interview by doing research on their own about the NPT and country positions alongside the informative lectures given by the Head and Coordinators of the seminar. In addition, they learned some tips through a workshop on how to properly conduct interviews and dialogues; the interview was purposely a university-related task and therefore, it was strictly non-partisan. Thus, they kept in mind the need to display rational emotions and behavior and to avoid being judgmental and confrontational. As part of the preparations, they were asked to prepare their questions including the expected answers and their motivations for choosing those questions. These were then presented to class for discussions and criticisms which served as a simple brainstorming activity that guided them all throughout to systematically plan the interview. This also helped them set concrete objectives to come up with meaningful responses. As they pursued to get themselves in-depth into the issues related to the NPT, they became experts in their own right. Political issues like nuclear weapons that once appeared to be lacking significance in their day-to-day lives as students now created an impact on them shaping their views and understanding and availing them of new perspectives.