25 April 2013, Vol. 11, No. 4
With or without them
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will
“This issue is now firmly established on the international agenda,” said Ambassador Minty of South Africa to a packed Assembly Hall on behalf of the 77 countries* that signed the joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
If the intention of the P5 boycott of the conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Oslo was to try to dissuade such discussion, it completely failed. Even without the engagement of the nuclear weapon states, the humanitarian impact of any use of nuclear weapon dominated the agenda during the day.
Never in NPT history has such a large cross-regional group of states delivered a joint statement on one issue. 77 countries delivered one simple message: any use of nuclear weapons would cause unacceptable harm through the “immense, uncontrollable destructive capability and indiscriminate nature of these weapons.”
The statement also welcomed the recent conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Oslo, which reflected the recognition that it is a topic of concern and relevance to all. The statement also reiterated that no one can address the humanitarian emergency or provide any adequate assistance to victims of a nuclear weapons detonation. The 77 countries also warmly welcomed Mexico’s announcement to host a follow-up conference on this topic.
It is worth mentioning that several countries that chose to not sign it still highlighted similar concerns about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and welcomed the outcomes of Oslo and the coming conference in Mexico in national and group statements like the NPDI.
The joint statement also highlighted that civil society has “a crucial role to play, side-by-side with governments”. This was reinforced during the three hour session during which civil society traditionally delivers statements to the NPT. This year, through a keynote presentation, panel discussion, and statements, civil society repeatedly discussed catastrophic consequences, humanitarian impact, and lack of preparedness to deal with a scenario where nuclear weapons would be used. Civil society sent a clear message to governments at the NPT that only negotiations to outlaw nuclear weapons is an adequate way to address such problems.
As the closing speaker of the general debate, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also focused on the humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. The ICRC drew attention to the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies resolution from 2011 that called on states to ensure that nuclear weapons are never again used, and to conclude negotiations to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons and eliminate them.
With a large group of states, international organisations, and civil society all joining up to emphasize the unacceptability of any use of nuclear weapons, and the urgency in preventing such scenario through elimination, nuclear-armed states are starting to lose ground. A consistently growing movement is advocating for action on nuclear weapons based on humanitarian grounds.
Minutes before the joint statement was delivered, Ambassador Kmentt of Austria noted that the international community will only overcome the challenges posed by nuclear weapons if we move away from a “debate dominated by outdated military security concepts.” He said, “The discourse about nuclear weapons needs to be fundamentally changed”.
Today, that just happened.
*Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belarus, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Georgia, Grenada, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Samoa, Singapore, South Africa, Swaziland, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Yemen, and Zambia.