Participants in the 27th UN Conference on Disarmament Issues (UNCDI) in Hiroshima lay flowers at the Cenotaph honoring those who died in the atomic bomb attack.
Full Written Remarks by Matthew Bolton, director of the International Disarmament Institute, for Session on “Education for the Next Generation on the Realities of the Atomic Bombings” at the 27th United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues (UNCDI) in Hiroshima, 29-30 November 2017.
I must admit that when asked to speak on this panel, I initially felt awkward about the request. I have no personal experience with the realities of the atomic bombings here in Hiroshima, or Nagasaki. I have not myself suffered the impacts of nuclear weapons testing in the places where I live. However, in preparing for this panel I have been reflecting on how I came to know about the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons.
I spent some of the first years of my life here in Japan. Though we left when I was only three-years-old, I still have memories of Tokyo and the friends my parents made there would often visit our home in Leicester, England. As a result, I grew up with a positive regard for Japanese people and so always felt disturbed when history classes debated whether the atomic bombings “ended the war.” I could not so easily dismiss the lives of Japanese people as “collateral damage.” I could imagine people in the casualty statistics.
Bishop Korir helps a family rebuild their house after the post-election violence of 2007/2008.
It is with great sadness that the International Disarmament Institute has learned of the passing of a dear friend and partner, Bishop Cornelius Korir of the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret in Kenya. At great risk to himself, Bishop Korir intervened personally to address violence in the North Rift region of Kenya, notably in conflict following elections in 1992, 1997 and 2007/2008. He was known to step between groups of fighters, mobilize care for wounded people, build connections across lines of hostility and encourage antagonists to seek healing and reconciliation.
“We wish to offer our deepest condolences to the family, colleagues and friends of Bishop Korir, as well as the Diocese of Eldoret,” said Dr. Matthew Bolton, Director of the International Disarmament Institute. “He was a courageous witness for peace, social justice and reconciliation in Kenya, but his voice also resonated far beyond East Africa, inspiring many of us around the world to work for peace at the grassroots level.”
ICAN’s strategy was primarily a discursive one. We aimed to change the way that people talk, think and feel about nuclear weapons, changing their social meaning from symbols of status to outdated, dangerous machines that have repulsive effects.
Representatives of the nuclear-states often marginalize those calling disarmament by dismissing them as deluded. In her protest outside the room where states were negotiating the TPNW, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley chided them, saying “we have to be realistic.” However, ICAN campaigners called attention to the discrepancies between these claims to “realism” and the mystification that surrounded these nuclear weapons.
To change how nuclear weapons were discussed, we brought nuclear weapons into new arenas where humanitarianism, human rights and environmentalism are regular conversations, and to inject these discourses into traditional nuclear forums.
We demanded from states the meaningful participation of survivors, affected communities, medical professionals, faith leaders, humanitarian agencies, activists and academics in the nuclear conversation. We pointed out when forums and panels excluded women, people from the Global South and those who have experienced nuclear weapons’ effects.
Erin Hunt of Mines Acton Canada offered insights on lessons learned for victim assistance from implementing such provisions in the landmine and cluster munition ban treaties.
Matthew Bolton, director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute provided a summary of his new report “Humanitarian and Environmental Action to Address Nuclear Harm.” He particularly urged on states to draw on lessons learned from implementing the clearance and demining provisions in other humanitarian disarmament treaties.
Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute launched a new report, co-edited by Article 36 and Reaching Critical Will, on the humanitarian impact of armed drones last Friday, in a side event during the UN General Assembly’s First Committee deliberations. With contributions from academics, legal analysts, and survivors of armed drones, this report aims to refocus the debate about drones on the harm caused to people by these weapons as specific technologies of violence. It examines the significant challenges raised by drones to international law, human rights, ethics and morality, peace and security, environmental protection, development, transparency, surveillance, privacy, policing, gender equality, and more.
Pace University students along with their professors Matthew Bolton, PhD, and Emily Welty, PhD, have been working intensely for three years on negotiations of a nuclear weapons ban treaty with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) that on 6 October was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017.
ICAN has led the way in recent years in campaigning for an international treaty to make nuclear weapons illegal. The Nobel Prize adds momentum to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adopted at the United Nations by more than 120 countries on July 7 of this year, and should help the process of ratification, with 50 more countries needed. The treaty makes nuclear arms illegal and calls for assistance to victims and remediation of environmental damage.
The development, production, testing and use of nuclear weapons has had catastrophic humanitarian and ecological consequences on people and environments around the world. ‘Nuclear harm’ – the damage caused by blast, incendiary and radioactive effects of nuclear weapons use, testing and production, as well as by other nuclear technologies – poses threats to the pursuit of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Due to advocacy by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), recognized by the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) established ‘positive obligations’ on affected states to assist victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and to remediate contaminated environments. To ensure that the burden does not fall unduly on affected states, the TPNW requires all states to engage in international cooperation and assistance to achieve these and the treaty’s other goals. While the TPNW does not explicitly cover all forms of nuclear harm, and the universalization of the treaty may take some time, its implementation offers the opportunity to build a normative framework and institutional architecture for humanitarian and environmental action to address nuclear harm.
The successful negotiation of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has provided new political and legal impetus for disarmament education. The preamble specifically recognises “the importance of peace and disarmament education in all its aspects and of raising awareness of the risks and consequences of nuclear weapons for current and future generations, and committed to the dissemination of the principles and norms” of the TPNW. It also stress the role of UN, “International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, other international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, religious leaders, parliamentarians, academics and the hibakusha” as representatives of the “public conscience” in pressing for nuclear disarmament. This framing represents a welcome turn toward a more vigorous approach to disarmament and nonproliferation education.
The majority of the world’s countries just adopted a new treaty banning nuclear weapons, placing them in the same category of international law as other weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological weapons) or that cause unacceptable harm (landmines and cluster munitions). Despite this being the most significant development in global nuclear politics since the end of the Cold War, discussion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is almost absent from the U.S. news media and often misunderstood in DC policy circles.
The treaty was approved by a vote at the UN on July 7: 122 countries voted in favor, the Netherlands against and Singapore abstained. The treaty will be available for countries to start signing it on September 20.
The successful adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017 was a significant step forward for efforts to stigmatise, and ultimately ban, the final weapon of mass destruction not addressed by a specific legal prohibition. Much has, and will continue to be written on the treaty’s potential impact on ossified state-centric debates about nuclear security. The Humanitarian Initiative on Nuclear Weapons intentionally posed a direct challenge to the rarefied world of nuclear experts and think tanks, particularly those captured by, and actively participating in, the prevailing state security discourse. However, beyond the conflict between the state and human security advocates, there was another story playing out, and it was a story that highlighted the fact that disarmament doesn’t really do “the environment” as effectively as it should. Addressing this weakness would strengthen future humanitarian disarmament initiatives.