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Education and Research on Global Disarmament Policy

Special Section of Global Policy: The Humanitarian Initiative on Nuclear Weapons


The academic journal Global Policy has published a Special Section on nuclear disarmament edited by Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, focusing on the Humanitarian Initiative on Nuclear Weapons. As states meet in Geneva this week for the UN Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament, it is clear that the  Humanitarian Initiative has created new openings for stigmatizing and prohibiting nuclear weapons.

Below are abstracts of and links to the articles, written by scholars and practitioners involved in the effort to change the way policymakers think about nuclear weapons, reframing them from instruments of security to a potential humanitarian catastrophe in the making.

1) The Humanitarian Initiative on Nuclear Weapons: An Introduction to Global Policy’s Special Section

By Matthew Bolton and Elizabeth Minor

The dominant paradigm of international relations theory has long seen influence over nuclear arsenals as the preserve of presidents, premiers and generals of the world’s great powers, not underfunded activists, feminist campaigners, radical nuns or even diplomats of small states. The approach of this special section could not be more different. In fact, we have intentionally curated a collection of articles that try to ‘de-center’ the academic conversation about nuclear weapons. The inspiration for our approach comes from the Humanitarian Initiative on Nuclear Weapons, which since its emergence after the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has dramatically reshaped the diplomatic discussions on nuclear disarmament, led by small states and middle powers. The shift in discourse has been accelerated by revitalized civil society action, represented by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a global NGO coalition, as well as renewed calls for disarmament from religious leaders – most notably Pope Francis. This special section, written from the perspective of scholars and practitioners associated with the Humanitarian Initiative, examines its dimensions and its potential impact on global policy making.

2) The Discursive Turn Arrives in Turtle Bay: The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ Operationalization of Critical IR Theories

By Matthew Bolton and Elizabeth Minor

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has aimed to reenergize global civil society activism on nuclear weapons through a discursive strategy, borrowing self-consciously from critical and post-positivist international relations (IR) theories. ICAN aims to generate a new disarmament discourse that establishes nuclear weapons as inherently inhumane. Alongside the state-led Humanitarian Initiative, ICAN campaigners are helping to reshape the conversation at certain international meetings on nuclear weapons. They have helped to contest the dominance of national security narratives and force even the nuclear-armed states to address the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. In supporting a reframing of the conversation, they have opened nuclear disarmament policy making to new voices. However, as with the transmission of many ideas from one arena to another – in this case from academia to global policy making forums – there is a translation process as ICAN campaigners selectively adopt from post-positivist IR to meet their political goals. It is possible that this translation of critical theorizing into the setting of multilateral forums has necessitated reducing the potency of the disruptive critique of the original ideas.

3) The Theological Landscape of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty: the Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches and the Bomb

By Emily Welty

Can religion bring something distinct, critical and useful to global politics? Or do the voices of religious actors mimic those of secular NGOs when given opportunities to speak truth to power in international diplomacy? This article examines these questions through the lens of nuclear disarmament, considering the role of the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches at the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. While faith communities have had a potent role in pushing for nuclear disarmament, the article argues that much more can be done by religious actors to argue that nuclear weapons are a stain on the moral conscience of people of faith.

4) Foregrounding Justice in Nuclear Disarmament: A Practitioner Commentary

By Ray Acheson

Injustice and inequity are fundamental to the possession of nuclear weapons. But these concepts have not been at the forefront of mainstream discourse surrounding these weapons, which has instead focused on concepts of ‘deterrence’, ‘strategic stability’, and ‘national security’. The Humanitarian Initiative (see the introductory essay in this Special Section for background) recaptures ground in terms of how nuclear weapons are discussed and perceived internationally. The reemergence of a focus on the physical effects of a nuclear weapon detonation has initiated a process of stigmatising these weapons. But this changing discourse, in order to effectively lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons, also requires the recognition that nuclear weapons represent an elite threat of terror and perpetuate inequity between countries, with broader implications for humanity.  Arguments about injustice help unmask additional aspects of the unacceptability of nuclear weapons. Within this broader critique, gender analysis is crucial, helping to illuminate and challenge structures of power that sustain nuclear weapons. This is not a theoretical exercise. It has practical implications for pursuing the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. A gender perspective challenges governments and people to act on moral, ethical, humanitarian, legal, political, and economic grounds without waiting for those benefiting from the status quo.

5) Non-Nuclear Weapons States Must Lead in Shaping International Norms on Nuclear Weapons: A Practitioner Commentary

By Maritza Chan

Nuclear weapons States continue to defy their responsibilities for achieving nuclear, as well as general and complete, disarmament while they simultaneously hold non-nuclear States to their non-proliferation commitments. Costa Rica is part of that non-nuclear armed majority. We take a firm stand that the lack of legal prohibition of nuclear weapons constitutes a legal anomaly among weapons of mass destruction. As such, Costa Rica is committed to encouraging negotiations towards a treaty establishing new legal obligations to ban nuclear weapons once and for all. The time has come for a new era of nuclear politics in which the non-nuclear majority of States can lead the way in charting the course towards a non-nuclear world.

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