Skip to content
Event | 9 August 2021

ELN Policy Fellow Sahil Shah Accepts 2021 Gorbachev-Shultz Voices Youth Award

ELN Policy Fellow Sahil Shah Accepts 2021 Gorbachev-Shultz Voices Youth Award

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 4, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons selects Sahil Shah as the 2021 Gorbachev/Shultz, Voices Youth Award Winner in recognition of his outstanding efforts to help abolish nuclear weapons. The award was created by and honors the legacy of former U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev and former U.S.A. Secretary of State George Shultz in their efforts for nuclear disarmament. The first Voices Youth Award was given to Kehkashan Basu, President and Founder of Green Hope Foundation last year.

Sahil accepted the award on 6 August during a Voices webinar observing the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki where he gave remarks that can be viewed here and are attached below. 

Sahil Shah (26) currently works as a Policy Fellow at the European Leadership Network (ELN) in London. In this role, Sahil advises senior transatlantic government stakeholders on reducing strategic and nuclear risks and convenes international security dialogues. In particular, he leads the organization’s efforts to stabilize and strengthen nuclear and regional security diplomacy with Iran and its neighbors, and also advises widely on other non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control issues.

Separately, Sahil recently reprised his previously held role as a Policy and Outreach Consultant to the Office of the Executive Secretary at the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and is also a Policy Advisor to the Institute for Security and Technology (IST). He is part of the inaugural class of 2021 Aspen Strategy Group Rising Leaders, has worked closely with former US Secretary of Defense William J. Perry as a member of the Perry Project Advisory Board, supported the Nuclear Security Project at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), co-directed the Stanford US-Russia Forum (SURF), and helped create and chaired the CTBTO Youth Group (CYG).

Sahil has become well known at the most senior levels of security and defense circles across the world, leading multiple peer-to-peer, intergenerational, and expert/official Track 1.5/2 programs to stimulate creative, diverse, and inclusive thinking on nuclear weapons issues.

“Sahil is the brightest of the young people working to reduce the existential nuclear dangers we all face. Our future depends on the success of young people like him succeeding where my generation failed. I am proud to have been one of his teachers.” – Dr. William J. Perry, 19th U.S. Secretary of Defense

Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons is part of United Religions Initiative (URI) the largest grassroots interfaith network in the world: building bridges through working together on practical projects that enhance civil communities and understanding between people of different religious and cultural traditions.

Contact: Julie Schelling
P: 347.719.1518
Email: [email protected]


Thank you, Bishop Swing and the rest of the United Religions Initiative team, for having me today and to Isaac for the kind introduction. I am deeply moved to be presented an award that is in the namesake of such inspiring individuals – President Mikhail Gorbachev and Secretary George Shultz – who were truly diplomatic titans of their era and continue to inspire many that a nuclear-weapon-free world is a goal and a reality that can and should be achieved. If diplomacy was a sport, they would be as awarded as the United States’ Simone Biles or the Soviet Union’s Larisa Latynina, both now tied in Olympic and world medals, for their craft. I am grateful that they created this honour together to recognise young talent and look forward to connecting with the first and future recipients and forming a community.

When I was 18 years old, I had the pleasure of meeting Secretary Shultz for the first time after being introduced to him by Secretary William J. Perry. Before I could even grasp the magnitude of his presence, he began telling a story. Over the years, this became a familiar experience for those who had the pleasure of spending time with him. Secretary Shultz imparted knowledge through his remarkable life experiences in a way that resonated with your soul. Secretary Shultz would speak at length on the importance of strength of purpose, emphasising that one should never underestimate the power of small acts of kindness and bridge-building and that relationships based on trust and respect are integral to success.

As a soldier who had friends in arms killed next to him in battle, he had a deep awareness of the generational trauma of conflict. When he was the US Secretary of Treasury, Secretary Shultz went on a spontaneous trip to Leningrad with Soviet Minister of Foreign Trade Nikolai Patolichev after a routine meeting in Moscow. Secretary Shultz would often recount how the Minister took him to the Leningrad Cemetery, where they walked down the centre aisle as funeral music played in the background.

Tears streamed down the minister’s face as he described the toll that the Second World War had on practically every family in the Soviet Union. When they returned to the platform overlooking the cemetery, Secretary Shultz did what he considered any decent Marine should do. He faced the mass graves of over half a million lost souls, stood tall with his arms by his side, and honoured them with a long salute. Even years later, when he was negotiating nuclear arms control with the Soviets, many people mentioned this story. He always said that the lesson was to never hesitate to give respect where it is due.

It is this image of Secretary Shultz that will be emblazoned in my mind as we carry his legacy forward in particular. He lived unapologetically in pursuit of bold visions for what we can achieve through dialogue. While he always saw strength as a key component to success, trust borne out of respect, empathy, and friendship was really the “coin of the realm” – an idea that he touched upon in his last op-ed before passing away at the remarkable age of 100, as sharp as ever, earlier this year.

Today, which marks the 76th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima, is a somber occasion for many reasons. In particular, the context in which both this and last years’ commemoration is occurring is a planet riddled with the continued dire consequences posed by the global pandemic. The world is quite simply embroiled in mass suffering with various dimensions of the global geometry of inequality on full display. As we strive to pick up the pieces and build back better, it is clear that we will all be weighed down with grief for some time.

As Malkia Devich-Cyril wrote in a beautiful piece recently: “…all social justice and human rights work is a collective act of gloried mourning. To have a movement that breathes, you must build a movement with the capacity to grieve.” I could not help but to think of the hibakusha – the Japanese term for those affected by the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki three days later – when reading that quote. They have fought tirelessly over the last near eight decades to raise awareness of why nuclear weapons should have no place in our world whilst also in a state of perpetual grieving. As they grow old — their average age now almost reaching 85 — many feel an extreme urgency. The question remains how to educate the world of the immense nuclear risks that continue to remain and grow in many ways due to the complex relationships between the nine nuclear weapons states in existence today and inspire them to call for change.

If I were to have one suggestion, it would be that we must think critically about not only who speaks on these issues but who is heard on them. I am very thankful to ReThink Media for allowing me to share some new statistics today that have not been made public yet.

In looking at a representative sample of all US media coverage on nuclear weapons issues so far in 2021, ReThink Media found that 86% of the sources quoted were men and just 14% were women. Zeroing in on quotes from members of the disarmament and arms control community, the numbers improve slightly. Quotes are 69% men and 31% women for 2021, with 28% of the quotes coming from people of color, while 72% came from white speakers. And of the total quotes from the disarmament and arms control community in US media from 2018 to 2021, 7% were from women of color, 15% men of color, 16% white women, and 62% white men.

It is very obvious that gender and race play a large role in who shapes nuclear weapons discussions, but so does geography. Nuclear weapons states have relegated the trauma tied to nuclear weapons often to the margins and peripheries of their own countries and the world. For example, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which still awaits entry into force. If you were to aggregate the amount of atmospheric testing alone conducted until today, it would be the equivalent of exploding two Hiroshima-sized bombs in open air every day for 35 years straight.

The words of a 20-year-old Fijian military officer present for the British nuclear tests conducted off the shore of Kiritimati, then called Christmas Island have always stuck with me. He said: “We went to Christmas Island and when we got there, we found out – they told us – that they were going to test their nuclear weapons. We didn’t even know what a nuclear weapon was. There was no word for nuclear in the Fijian language, there was no word for radiation. We didn’t know what it was until we were told to follow orders and they tested them”.

It reminds me of when Audrey Lorde asked: “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?”

We must reframe how people think and talk about nuclear weapons. We must elevate more diverse voices, especially young people and those who have seen, heard, and felt the generational suffering and trauma associated with the use of these weapons not only in Japan but around the world. I am consistently impressed by the level of young global talent contributing to the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament community but we need to make sure that their ideas are heard, as they will be the ones inheriting these problems and the potential perils they embody.

I would also like to thank my family, friends, and colleagues for their undying support. I am proud to be a first-generation American whose grandparents grew up in the humble villages of Gujarat, India and whose parents grew up in Nyeri, a rural town on the foothills of Mount Kenya, and Kericho, a small town nestled in the rolling emerald highlands of tea plantations. My family has worked immensely hard to provide me with the opportunities I have today, travelling continent to continent and taking risk to risk. In the words of Naomi Osaka: “I would like to thank my ancestors because every time I remember their blood runs through my veins I am reminded that I cannot lose.” The greatest award to be is being their son and grandson because they have given me a voice that has been shaped by all of their experiences, and I hope to continue to use it to make the world a better, more equitable, and safer place.

Thank you again for this honour and to URI for all the work you do, especially to educate young people about nuclear issues.