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.
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.
Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute presented research on norm promotion and dissemination provisions in disarmament treaties to the UN negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban treaty. Below is the written version of the statement delivered by Dr. Matthew Bolton. For more details on the research, see the Institute’s Working Paper.
Thank you Madame President,
This Convention aims to stigmatize nuclear weapons. However, normative change does not happen by itself; it requires action by states, international organizations, civil society, faith leaders and academia.
Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute has conducted research on provisions in relevant humanitarian and disarmament instruments regarding the universalization and promotion of norms they establish. Our detailed research can be found in Working Paper, number 36, submitted to the conference.
The current draft of Article 13 on universalization establishes important obligations to encourage other states to join the treaty. However, we encourage the conference to consider including provisions found in other instruments that provide additional avenues for diffusing norms.
The Draft Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (CPNW) is a groundbreaking opportunity for nuclear disarmament; however, the implementation of the CPNW will also contribute significantly to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The humanitarian framing of the draft CPNW provides the basis for the links between the Convention and the SDGs. The Preamble recognizes that the consequences of nuclear weapons “pose grave implications for […] socioeconomic development” and outlines the states parties’ commitment to contributing to “principles and the purpose of the Charter of the United Nations”.
The three Humanitarian Initiative meetings showed that the unacceptable humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and testing are not limited by national borders. The evidence clearly shows that any nuclear weapon explosion will have a global impact on our collective ability to pursue sustainable development.
The object and purpose of the proposed nuclear weapons ban treaty is to address and prevent the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons. As such, the political process that has led to the beginning of negotiations is rooted in humanitarian disarmament, which seeks to eliminate the suffering caused by problematic weapons.
A new report by the International Disarmament Institute, accepted as an official Working Paper of the UN negotiation conference on a nuclear ban, argues that the international community should seize the opportunity to achieve the humanitarian aims of this process by ensuring the nuclear weapons ban treaty includes strong positive obligations as well as prohibitions. Positive obligations would make the process of stigmatizing and limiting the harm of nuclear weapons the responsibility of all states, including those affected and not directly affected by nuclear detonations. Such provisions would encourage states to engage directly in extending and universalizing the norm, working toward a nuclear weapons free world.
Existing weapons treaties, especially humanitarian disarmament ones, provide important precedent for positive obligations. Their relevant provisions tend to fall in three categories:
Rights and remedial measures (e.g. environmental remediation, risk education, victim assistance),
Promotion of the treaty and of its norms (e.g. universalization and disarmament education),
International cooperation and assistance to implement the above two sets of obligations.
The working paper discusses each of these categories in more depth and argues that they offer a foundation on which to build positive obligations in the nuclear weapons ban treaty.
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.