Understanding the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons
In a month’s time the government of Norway will host a global conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. This will be the first time that governments meet to discuss the issue of nuclear weapons through a humanitarian lens. This conference, scheduled to take place in Oslo on 4-5 March, provides states with an opportunity to reframe the issue of nuclear weapons away from the prevailing perspective of national security and deterrence, towards a recognition of the unacceptable humanitarian consequences of these weapons. For the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a global coalition of NGOs, the next step beyond this recognition should be for states to start work towards a treaty that bans them outright.
On 5 February, Norway held an informal information briefing at the United Nations in Geneva to brief states, civil society and international organisations on the status of preparations for the Oslo conference. The conference is clearly generating significant interest with one month to go. There was widespread attendance with diplomats from Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East and the Americas. China, France, India, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the US were all in the room, indicating engagement from both nuclear-armed, as well as nuclear-free states. The ICRC, ICAN and UN humanitarian actors UNDP and OCHA will provide expert input into the conference.
At the briefing Norway noted that the conference is designed to create ‘an arena for facts-based discussion’ of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, a point that had been acknowledged by all States Parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the 2010 Review Conference. Norway also noted that this conference would not exhaust the discussions on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, leaving the door open for further international consideration of this issue.
At the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee in Vienna in May last year 16 states delivered a joint statement calling on all states to intensify efforts “to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons”. This was followed by a further 19 countries joining this call at the UNGA First Committee in October last year. Around the world, 115 countries have already joined nuclear weapon-free zones, outlawing the weapons within these zones.
Equally importantly, just ahead of the Oslo conference, civil society is mobilising through the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). ICAN is hosting a two-day Civil Society Forum that will take place immediately prior to the government conference. Around 400 members of civil society, including organisations working on a range of issues from disarmament, human rights, and the environment, are expected to participate in this event. It will be an important rallying point for NGOs and others as the humanitarian framing of nuclear weapons begins to consolidate amongst activists and momentum and pressure starts to grow for negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.