Parliamentary briefing to report on Vienna Conference
January 23, 2015
ICAN UK held a briefing in Parliament on January 21st 2015 with the All Party Group on Weapons and the Protection of Civilians (which is facilitated by ICAN partner Article 36), to report on the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.
The meeting was chaired by Martin Caton MP (Labour): “We can’t ignore the most horrible weapon of mass destruction ever created – especially after the Conference in Vienna and prior to NPT RevCon – this really is the time to tackle the agenda”.
Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons
“All the testimonies and evidence at the Vienna Conference add up to a devastating scenario of humanitarian crisis that nobody can imagine. Nuclear weapon states ought to understand what they are planning to do to this planet” - Joan Ruddock MP
Dame Joan Ruddock MP (Labour): praised the ICAN civil society forum, at which she was a speaker: “stunning – 600 participants, so many of them young people!”. Highlights of the government conference included the Austrian Red Cross testing delegates for radioactivity at the entrance wearing full protective gear; Eric Schlosser demonstrating just how many accidents were never brought to the public domain, now only by FOI – “this is new, and the scale of it”; hearing testimonies from victims of nuclear weapons testing from the Pacific Islands, Japan and the US, eg. one woman who described as a girl picking up what she thought was snow in the desert, when in fact it was radioactive fallout; evidence about nuclear winter, which uses new climate modelling to show an even worse situation than previously thought – use of UK’s nuclear weapons would result in true nuclear winter, with climate effects lasting a decade and 2 billion at risk from damage to agricultural production.
Thomas Nash (ICAN): was extremely encouraged by Vienna, both the civil society forum and the government conference. Ambassador Alex Kmentt and the Austrian MFA strengthened their commitment to the process. 2015 could be a decisive year – the NPT RevCon will be a focus for governments and media, as will the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki; hope is for a follow-up conference to Vienna that will take forward the Austrian Pledge, the starting point for a diplomatic process. In the UK, we should expose and challenge opposition to a ban treaty process; this also provides the rationale for first deferring Trident renewal and then scrapping it.
Austrian Pledge made at the end of the Conference
“Vienna was a very successful conference – 157 governments is an unusually high turnout, even in established meetings like the NPT. It is clear that the Humanitarian Initiative cannot be ignored – this whole discourse has been strengthened and is now the centre ground for many on nuclear disarmament“ - Thomas Nash, ICAN
Thomas Nash: The Austrian Pledge was delivered by the Austrian Foreign Ministry separately from Chair’s summary. Although given in Austria’s name only, the pledge is worded to be inclusive – Austria has sent out a diplomatic invitation (note verbale) to other countries to sign up to it. It acknowledges the rights and needs of victims – which has particular implications for the UK. It’s an excellent advocacy tool for us as campaigners, and for parliamentarians around the world.
Moving towards a treaty banning nuclear weapons
There was a discussion on how exactly a ban treaty can be achieved, and how it would sit with existing disarmament machinery such as the NPT (Nuclear Non-Profileration Treaty).
Martin Caton highlighted the precedent of landmines and cluster munition treaties, which both began as civil society campaigns.
“A ban treaty would have universal application, not just for NPT states. It would be open to all and block-able by none, adding to the mixture of obligations and treaties which coalesce around the NPT – an additional obligation on disarmament. A treaty could be negotiated in a couple of years, very quickly in diplomatic terms” – Rebecca Johnson (ICAN)
Thomas Nash: the NPT is problematic precisely because of the ambiguity on possession by the P5 countries. The Irish government points out that the NPT was never intended to be a permanent or final treaty, and that Article 6 could see its implementation with a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. The humanitarian imperative to ban nuclear weapons is mutually supportive with eg. Global Zero’s approach – a push for reductions and disarmament from nuclear weapon states can be complemented by non-nuclear weapon states reaffirming their rejection of nuclear weapons. A ban treaty is not antagonistic – why would the UK govt oppose 120 governments reaffirming their legal rejection of nuclear weapons? – but rather it creates the conditions both for disarmament and non-proliferation.
Sir Nick Harvey MP (LibDem): The UK government keeps saying the rest of the world is okay with us having nuclear weapons – but the Humanitarian Initiative shows this isn’t true.
Joan Ruddock: the Humanitarian Initiative enables a positive, non-partisan and multilateral approach. The pathway has been laid by the Austrian government towards a process leading to a ban. If the international community would move in this direction, there cannot be a veto from nuclear weapons states. “An international ban can be made law without the nuclear weapons states signing up – that’s what makes it incredibly important, different from the NPT – and the only way, in my view, that we will move towards elimination”.