British parliamentarians at Vienna Conferences

December 15, 2014

As part of a strong delegation from British civil society – which included NGOs Scottish CND, Medact, WMD Awareness, Quaker Peace & Social Witness, Pax Christi UK, Christian CNDNFLA (Nuclear Free Local Authorities), Article 36 and Acronym Institute - it was fantastic to have the support of so many parliamentarians in Vienna for ICAN’s civil society forum on 6-7 December, and the 3rd Government Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons on 8-9 December 2014.

Addressing the packed plenary of 600+ people at ICAN’s civil society forum, Dame Joan Ruddock MP said, “We need to raise the spectre of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. A global ban treaty on nuclear weapons would present the greatest challenge to the UK’s renewal of Trident”.

Bill Kidd, Member of the Scottish Parliament said, “Nuclear weapons are an obscenity, but if a country has chosen to possess them then they simply cannot hide from the humanitarian consequences that come with the weapons. It is long past time that the UK faced up to this fact, and I hope that this conference will be the start of that process”. Mr Kidd later handed a letter of support to Ambassador Alexander Kmentt of Austria from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, which stated: ”The Scottish Government is firmly opposed to the possession, threat or use of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world”.

Julie Ward, Member of the European Parliament for the North West of England, said: “Whilst the UK and USA have been late in confirming their attendance, I welcome the presence of nuclear weapon states, including my own. We cannot afford to be absent from such an important gathering. I will take the conversations from the hugely valuable Civil Society Forum into the government conference with me and continue to work with other elected representatives from around the world to achieve a ban on nuclear weapons”.

“The humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons is incredibly important around the world, especially in countries like Scotland that have been made home to weapons of mass destruction” said Westminster SNP Leader Angus Robertson MP. Working with Scottish CND, Mr Robertson recently uncovered, through pressure on MoD, that there have been 261 nuclear safety events and 730 radioactive leaks and on-board fires in the Faslane area in the last 10 years.

Jeremy Corbyn MP wrote afterwards of ICAN’s civil society forum:  ”it was impressive in its attendance, but perhaps even more impressive was the youth and enthusiasm of people from all over the world who were campaigning for a global nuclear weapons treaty”. The presentations at the government conference were a stark reminder to him of how “nuclear weapons have killed countless numbers at the end of the second world war, but there’s also the whole ghastly legacy of testing, pollution and destruction that the weapons industry has bequeathed to the world”.

We didn’t get to speak to him, but heard that Mike Gapes MP was in Vienna for a parliamentary roundtable organised by PNND, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which discussed the need for  supporting a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons.

Councillor Mark Hackett and Sean Morris from Manchester Council and  NFLA, part of the international Mayors for Peace network, participated at ICAN’s Forum. Manchester became the world’s first nuclear free city in 1980, placing itself at the forefront of the campaign to ban nuclear weapons.

Lord Des Browne was in Vienna in his new role as Vice-Chair of NTI, Nuclear Threat Initiative, and wrote about the success of the government conference: ”countries with nuclear weapons for far too long have been ‘allowed to abdicate their responsibility’ to address questions about the destructive power of the weapons and the implications for humanity”.

Dr Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute, writes that the UK government’s “complacent statement was received glumly by British participants in Vienna…. they seemed unable to engage with the evidence demonstrating the security dangers and military uselessness of such weapons of mass suffering, choosing instead to underline their desperate reliance on nuclear weaponry for the foreseeable future”.

“As one of the few countries in the world that wields nuclear weapons, we are pleased to see the UK reverse its boycott and join the other 157 governments in Vienna”, said Thomas Nash of Article 36. “Anyone in Vienna can tell that something new is happening on nuclear weapons. We have had three conferences examining their humanitarian impact, and now with the Austrian Pledge we have everything we need for a diplomatic process to start”.

ICAN UK will continue to work with partner organisations to build support for the humanitarian approach and a ban treaty among parliamentarians from across the UK and in Europe.

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