International Disarmament Institute News

Education and Research on Global Disarmament Policy

January 29, 2022
by mbolton
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Human Rights Fallout of Nuclear Detonations: Reevaluating ‘Threshold Thinking’ in Assisting Victims of Nuclear Testing

The peer-reviewed academic journal Global Policy will soon publish an article by Dr. Matthew Bolton of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute examining the inadequacy of many current responses to the impact of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing on the human rights of people who were living downwind. The following is an abstract of the article and its policy implications:

Atmospheric nuclear test detonations conducted by USA, USSR, UK, France and China, 1945–1980, generated radioactive particles that were dispersed by weather patterns, returning to earth as fallout. People who lived ‘downwind’ face ongoing risks from their exposure to ionizing radiation, as well as psychological, social, cultural and political distress. However, testing states obscured these humanitarian consequences by claiming that fallout could be contained to specific spatial zones, that there are ‘thresholds’ below which radiation exposure has negligible health impacts and that socio-political forms of harm should be disregarded. While the scientific consensus concludes fallout circulates in complex, nonlinear patterns; there is no safe level of radiation exposure; and nuclear testing can generate tremendous anxiety, what Liboiron calls ‘threshold thinking’ continues to underlie policies ostensibly assisting victims of nuclear weapons. This article offers examples from responses to French Pacific nuclear testing, showing how access to compensation and other assistance has often been conditioned on threshold qualifications that function to limit downwind communities’ access to assistance and remedy. Victim assistance and environmental remediation obligations in the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons offer opportunities to move beyond reductive policy logics to multifaceted, human rights-based approaches to affected communities’ concerns.

Policy Implications

  • Policy making on assistance to victims of nuclear weapons testing must put the voices of survivors themselves – rather than the structures responsible for the test program – at the center of the conversation, taking seriously the disability rights slogan ‘Nothing about us, without us’.
  • Policy makers should avoid designing policies of assistance to victims of nuclear testing that limit eligibility to people living in pre-determined spatial zones, given the widespread dispersal and non-linear circulation of radioactive fallout.
  • Victim assistance policy making should start from the presumption that there is no thresh- old below which exposure to radiation is safe, or politically unimportant.
  • Decision-makers should not deny access to benefits based on qualifying threshold radiation doses; such policies may discriminate against women and girls; Indigenous Peoples; and those with genetic predispositions to cancer.
  • Global standards of ‘permissible doses’ of radiation protection – based on a trade-off for the claimed benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear energy – should not be used to evade responsibility for the harms of nuclear weapons activities.
  • Policy makers should design victim assistance programs that recognize and remedy the complex medical, psychological, social, political and economic harms of nuclear test programs.
  • Policy makers, associations of nuclear weap- ons survivors, civil society organizations and scientists should consider using the forums offered by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to build more holistic and human rights-based approaches to assisting victims of nuclear weapons activities.

October 24, 2017
by mbolton
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Analysis of ICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Advocacy Campaign

In an article for Just Security, Director of the International Disarmament Institute Matthew Bolton and two leaders of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Beatrice Fihn and Elizabeth Minor, examine the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning advocacy effort culminating in the negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

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.

To read the full article, click here.

October 8, 2017
by mbolton
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Humanitarian and Environmental Action to Address Nuclear Harm

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.

A new report from Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute explores possibilities for new global humanitarian and environmental action to address nuclear harm.

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.

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September 6, 2017
by mbolton
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Briefing Paper on Disarmament Education for UN General Assembly First Committee 2017

The International Disarmament Institute has provided an article on the disarmament education policy agenda for this year’s First Committee Briefing Book, which provides guidance to delegates and advocates attended the UN General Assembly’s meetings this coming fall 2017 on disarmament and international security.

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.

To read our article, click here.

July 28, 2017
by mbolton
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Guide to the New Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

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.

In an article for Just Security, director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute provides a brief guide to the treaty’s preamble and operative provisions. Click here to read it.

June 30, 2017
by mbolton
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Op-Ed: Ensuring Respect for the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

Matthew Bolton, director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, published the following op-ed in the Nuclear Ban Daily on 29 June 2017 on ensuring respect for theNuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, currently being negotiated at the UN in New York. For more a detailed report on his research regarding positive obligations, including ensuring respect and promoting norms, click here.

A crucial purpose of the ban treaty process is to stigmatize nuclear weapons. To do so, it should undermine the policies and practices in nuclear-armed and nuclear-allied states that entrench the persistence of nuclear arsenals. This includes delegitimizing doctrines of nuclear deterrence and accepting the stationing of nuclear weapons on the territories of non-nuclear weapons states. Prohibitions on military preparations and planning, stationing, and financing of nuclear weapons are key elements in this effort, raising the costs—economic, social, political and diplomatic—of the nuclear weapons complex.

However, stigmatizing nuclear weapons will require more than negative prohibitions. It will also require states to take positive actions that cultivate, generate, and disseminate the norms of the treaty, both domestically and globally.

In this round of negotiations, states and civil society have begun to discuss potential provisions to this effect, including regarding universalization, norm promotion, disarmament education and awareness raising, and fostering a culture of peace. Others have suggested language that would require states to condemn violations of the prohibitions by states not party. Such obligations would help do the discursive work of delegitimizing nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence doctrines.

In building and strengthening this stigmatizing architecture, states should also consider augmenting it with the “respect” tradition in humanitarian law.

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June 23, 2017
by mbolton
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UN Side Event Highlights Importance of Victim Assistance and Environmental Remediation in Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

Roland Oldham, president of Moruroa e Tatou, an organization representing the rights of victims of nuclear weapons testing in Tahiti, presenting at the UN during negotiations of a Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.

Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute co-hosted a panel with the Irish Mission on positive obligations in the draft Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty at United Nations Headquarters on 21 June 2017. The event was also co-sponsored by Article 36, Mines Action Canada, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic.

We were honored to hear from His Excellency Ambassador David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Ireland and Deputy Permanent Representative Tim Mawe, who both expressed Ireland’s strong support for positive obligations of victim assistance, environmental remediation, disarmament education and international cooperation and assistance in the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. They suggested that similar provisions in the Convention on Cluster Munitions, negotiated in Dublin, could serve as useful models.

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June 23, 2017
by mbolton
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Op-Ed: Why Strong Victim Assistance and Environmental Remediation Obligations Matter

Matthew Bolton, director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, published the following op-ed in the Nuclear Ban Daily on 21 June, regarding positive obligations in the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, currently being negotiated at the UN in New York. For more a detailed report on his research regarding positive obligations, click here.

The stories and examples of victims and affected communities have been used as the justifying case for the nuclear ban treaty. For example, the second paragraph of the Humanitarian Pledge asserts that “the rights and needs of victims have not yet been adequately addressed.”

As a result, it is crucial that the nuclear weapon ban treaty include robust positive obligations on states to provide victim assistance and remediate the environment. The provisions in Article 6 and 8 of the current draft treaty enable states to seek and provide assistance for victims and in remediating environment contaminated by the use or testing of nuclear weapons.

But they must be strengthened to ensure that victims and affected communities are treated as people with rights, not objects of charity. In particular, the preamble should be bolstered with references to human rights and environmental law, particularly regarding the impact on victims, indigenous peoples, gender equality, and sustainable development.

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June 21, 2017
by mbolton
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Presentation of Research on Norm Promotion Provisions to Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty Negotiations

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.

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June 16, 2017
by mbolton
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The Draft Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and Sustainable Development

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.

In a new report by Erin Hunt, she shows how the CPNW will contribute to a number of SDGs and some recommended amendments to the draft CPNW could increase the links to the SDGs. The report is co-published by Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute and Mines Action Canada, supported by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

To read the full report, click here.

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