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Nuclear weapons and humanitarianism: How to avoid the next global catastrophe


In 2010, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference concluded by adopting a consensus document which stated that “the Conference reaffirms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law [….] to delegitimize the indiscriminate and disproportionate effects of nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence.”

Further depicting this attention to humanitarianism, a group of 16 states within the framework of the NPT, coordinated by Switzerland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, started to draft the statements of the so-calledHumanitarian Initiative. This initiative’s main focus is to gear the discussion within the 2015 NPT Review Conference toward the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament. The Humanitarian Initiative was later joined by 80 states, making it the largest mono-thematic congregation in the history of the NPT.

Failures of previous approaches to disarmament

This new focus on the humanitarian effects of WMDs bodes well for global disarmament, particularly since past approaches to disarmament have had little success. In fact, as stated last April by the South African delegation to the 2015 NPT Review Conference, most NPT members remain seriously concerned about the lack of urgency with which these solemn undertakings continue to be approached.

The development of new categories of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems provides a clear indication that some countries intend to continue pursuing an indefinite retention of these instruments of destruction, contrary to their legal obligation under the NPT.

Truth be told, NPT states have been highly inefficient and burdened by controversies in their approaches to disarmament up to this point. Some worry about how to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation by countries which are “latent” nuclear weapons states.

These countries are increasing uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities in order to meet the global demand for fuel for nuclear power reactors. Others focus on the fear that deep nuclear arms reductions may threaten the national security of U.S. allies under the, “U.S. nuclear umbrella,” inadvertently leading them to engage in nuclear proliferation.

Humanitarian approach includes all states

These legitimate concerns must be addressed in an all-inclusive manner if significant progress is to be made toward the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world. The current nuclear disarmament effort must be transformed from a debate among leaders in the nuclear weapons states to a coordinated global effort of shared responsibilities between them and non-nuclear weapons states.

This organized effort between nuclear and non-nuclear states is already underway, as their interests align in focusing on the humanitarian effects of an explosion. On Oct. 21 at the UN General Assembly in New York, the government of New Zealand presented a joint statement regarding the effects that a nuclear  detonation would have on human health.

This statement was based on the conclusions reached during the first summit on the social aspect of nuclear disarmament, held last March in Oslo and attended by 128 states. The joint statement, the third and last follow-up of the Swiss declaration, “The humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament,” underlines the international community’s deep concern for the catastrophic consequences that any use of nuclear weapons would entail.

The statement was co-sponsored by 124 governments, including EU members (Ireland, Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Luxembourg and Malta), NATO partners (Iceland and Norway), and several Middle-East and Central Asian countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Jordan, Qatar and UAE).

Focus on humanitarian effects gains momentum

Consequently, at the end of the second session of the preparatory committee to the 2015 NPT Review Conference, and despite resistance from nuclear-armed and nuclear umbrella states, the delegation of Mexico announced a second summit to be held in Nayarit in February in order to continue the discussion.

In order to ensure effective and significant participation of civil society at the conference, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a campaign coalition with more than 300 members in 80 countries, is working closely with the UN and the Mexican government.

New Zealand, Switzerland, South Africa and Norway’s statements, along with the initiative shown by non-nuclear-weapon-states (including some U.S. nuclear-umbrella countries) show promise in reaching disarmament thanks to this new global focus on the humanitarian threat posed by WMDs.

After all, most countries agree that banning and eliminating nuclear weapons will avoid catastrophe in the future.




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July 2018
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Roma - Sala “Massimo Paolicelli” Palazzo Teodoli, Piazza del Parlamento 19
Date :  2018-07-05


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