NPT side event report: Unspeakable suffering – the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons
By Anina Dalbert | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
During Tuesday’s side event on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the room was packed with people. This argued the Chair of the event, Ambassador Benno Laggner of Switzerland, shows how utterly important this issue has become. He outlined some past events that have helped to place the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons on the international agenda, such as the 2010 NPT outcome document, the 2011 ICRC resolution, the Oslo conference, and last week’s joint statement by 78 states to the NPT. These developments clearly have reframed the debate on nuclear weapons.
Beatrice Fihn of Reaching Critical Will introduced the recent publication “Unspeakable Suffering: the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons”. The report focuses on many different aspects of this issue, but Ms. Fihn chose to talk about the specific effects of a nuclear detonation on the economy and development. As in other areas, it is clear that the challenges are not limited to the concerned area but will have national, regional, and possibly global impact on the economy. In order to estimate the costs of a nuclear detonation, many different variables, such as the size of the bomb, the nature of the incident, and the location of the detonation have to be taken into account.
Ms. Fihn talked about three categories of economic impact: cost of destruction, cost of disruption, and reactionary costs. She stressed that we must not forget how different the world is today in comparison to when nuclear bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and argued that the economic effects would spread much more rapidly today. She concluded that being a non-nuclear weapon state or a part of a nuclear weapon free zone does not shield one from suf- fering the consequences of a nuclear detonation. She argued that since all states have the responsibility to protect their citizens against such threats, all govern- ments should engage in this issue and commence work to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons.
Paul Eavis from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) crisis prevention section focused on the social and economic impact of a nuclear detonation and the challenges to restore the lives and livelihood both in and around the directly affected area. He noted that while UNDP fortunately has no first-hand experience of a nuclear detonation, it has experience from nuclear contamination and its effects. He noted that the Chernobyl disaster and nuclear testing in Kazakhstan have showed how profound the long-term consequences for human development in the affected areas are. Mr. Eavis stated that no adequate response capacity exists to deal with such a situation, and even less so in developing countries, which makes them particularly vulnerable. He also noted that developing countries would be discriminately affected from the impact that a nuclear detonation will have on food supply and food prices.
From Thomas Nash of Article 36 we heard encouraging words on how active civil society is and how the engagement of international humanitarian actors such as the ICRC has helped to create a new momentum on nuclear weapons. He focused on the way forward and argued that a new treaty banning nuclear weapons is needed. He believed it was possible to achieve such a treaty within the next few years, and argued a process towards this would help to end the unsustainable sta- tus quo. Mr. Nash argued that a future ban on nuclear weapons would fulfil already existing disarmament obligations, such as article VI of the NPT, and could build on the value of the existing nuclear weapon free zones.
The presentations were followed by an engaged discussion amongst the participants, and touched upon things like the importance of talking about nuclear weapons for what they really are: weapons with devastating consequences and not as some abstract symbol of power, value, and guarantee of security. The discussion also highlighted that a humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons is not only relevant for nuclear disarmament but also for preventing proliferation.
The side event clearly highlighted the importance that NPT states parties and civil society place on this topic.