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Nuclear Energy - Nuclear Weapons

‘Humanitarian Diplomacy’ Fights Nukes

OSLO, Mar 7 2013 (IPS) - For the first time, ‘humanitarian diplomacy’ is being deployed to drive home the need for banning nukes – though under the self-imposed exclusion of the P5, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who own a crushing majority of the 19,000 nuclear weapons capable of destroying the world many times over.

A first step toward humanitarian diplomacy was taken in Oslo at a Mar. 4-5 conference convened by the government of Norway. Mexico will host a follow-up meeting “in due course” and “after necessary preparations,” Juan José Gómez Camacho, the country’s ambassador to the UN announced.

Participants in the conference included representatives of 127 states, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and civil society, with the International Campaign for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in the forefront.

ICAN organised a Civil Society Forum on Mar. 2-3 with the Norwegian government’s support. Some 500 campaigners, scientists, physicians and other experts attended. The forum lent a vigorous dimension to a global campaign for outlawing all nuclear weapons.

ICAN representatives said they will work with governments, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other partners towards a new treaty banning nuclear weapons. ICAN project manager Magnus Lovold welcomed the 2013 Peace Proposal by Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Tokyo-based Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International (SGI).

Ikeda proposed that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and forward-looking governments establish an action group to draft a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) outlawing nuclear weapons – which apart from being inhumane swallow some 105 billion dollars a year at current spending.

SGI executive director for peace affairs Hirotugu Terasaki said that both the ICAN forum and the Oslo government conference had lent significant momentum to ushering in a world without nuclear weapons.

SGI hopes that the G8 Summit in 2015 and the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would serve as milestones towards an expanded summit for a nuclear-weapon-free world.

A broad section of participants at the government conference expressed dismay at the decision of the P5 – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France – to stay away from the meeting without giving any reasons.

But many nevertheless expressed interest in further exploring the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons “in ways that ensure global participation,” said Norway’s Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, summarising the outcome of the conference. “States expressed their interest in continuing the discussions, and to broaden the discourse on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.”

Avoiding any caustic comments on P5’s decision to boycott the conference, Eide asserted: “It is the chair’s view that . . . broad participation (in the conference) reflects the increasing global concern regarding the effects of nuclear weapons detonations, as well as the recognition that this is an issue of fundamental significance to us all.”

These remarks were significant considering that Norway is a founding member of the U.S.-led 28-nation transatlantic military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). NATO announced a “strategic concept” at its Lisbon meeting in November 2010, which “commits NATO to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons – but reconfirms that, as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance.”

Answering a question by this correspondent, Eide insisted that Norway was committed to “creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.” In his view, concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation have brought awareness of the continued risks all nukes pose more to the fore than at any time since the vast majority of states signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968.

Since the 2010 review conference of the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), there has been a growing, if still nascent, movement to outlaw nuclear weapons.

Some key points that emerge from scientific presentations and general discussions in Oslo are:
No state or international body would be in a position to adequately address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation and provide sufficient assistance to those affected. It might not be possible to establish such capacities, even if it were attempted.
The effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of cause, will not be constrained by national borders, and will affect states and people in significant ways, regionally as well as globally.
Dr Ira Helfand from International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) explained that the widespread radioactive contamination would affect housing, food and water supplies. He said the financial costs in terms of property damage, disruption to global trade and general economic activity, and the impact on development in terms of the creation of refugees would be enormous.

The final document of the review conference notes “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and reaffirms “the need for all states at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”

This was followed by a resolution by the council of delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in November 2011, strongly appealing to all states “to pursue in good faith and conclude with urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement.”

Subsequently, at the first session of the preparatory committee for the 2015 NPT review conference held in May 2012, 16 countries led by Norway and Switzerland issued a joint statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament, stating that “it is of great concern that, even after the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation remains part of the 21st century international security environment.”

They stressed: “It is of utmost importance that these weapons never be used again, under any circumstances. . . . All States must intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.” In October 2012, this statement, with minor revisions, was presented to the first committee of the UN General Assembly by 35 member and observer states.

In line with broad sentiment, ICRC president Peter Maurer welcomed the Norwegian government’s initiative to convene the conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Although nuclear weapons have been debated in military, technical and geopolitical terms for decades, it is astounding that states have never before come together to address their humanitarian consequences, he said.

*Jamshed Baruah is a disarmament correspondent for IDN-InDepthNews (

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