Conference in Oslo discusses Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

On Monday and Tuesday this week, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is hosting officials from 132 countries and civil society representatives in Oslo to discuss the humanitarian, environmental, developmental and economic consequences of nuclear weapon detonation. This follows on from the inclusion of the humanitarian impacts of nuclear use in the final documents of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the first time an NPT consensus document linked nuclear weapons use and possession with international humanitarian law. The goal of this conference is to change focus from the so-called ‘stabilising and deterring’ qualities of nuclear possession to the catastrophic humanitarian impact of their use, and thereby renew disarmament efforts to eliminate this danger.

This past Saturday and Sunday the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) gathered 400 people from 20 different countries for a civil society forum in Oslo on the eve of the official meeting. Experts from a variety of disciplines came together to shed light on some of the most fundamental outcomes of nuclear use and to challenge the idea that nuclear weapons bring a magical quality that banishes war between larger states. Speakers suggested that instead, nuclear weapons were a primitive and out-dated tool for mass destruction that lacked credibility.

The conference heard presentations on the humanitarian, environmental and developmental consequences of nuclear war with a particular focus on nuclear winter and worldwide famine as indirect outcomes. One of the panels discussed the limitations of nuclear weapons as a tool for preventing war, and victims from the bombings of Hiroshima gave personal testimonies.

One clear and significant challenge for all involved in the nuclear weapons debate remains the lack of awareness amongst the general public, and unfortunately it is unlikely that there will be widespread coverage of the official meeting this week. In her speech to the conference this weekend, Dr. Patricia Lewis, Director of International Security at Chatham House, challenged this apparent public complacency by asking: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

The Norwegian government is hoping that the official conference this week will kick start some form of intergovernmental process, though they are unclear what this process might look like. It will be interesting to see who might pick up the reigns and which direction they will take it.

These are the views of the author.

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