By Ramesh Jaura* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis
BERLIN | OSLO (IDN) - There are miles and miles to go before a world without nuclear weapons becomes a reality. But a significant step towards banning atomic arsenal capable of mass annihilation has been taken in Oslo, the capital of Norway, which is an ardent member of the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Responding to President Barack Obama’s Prague speech in April 2009, NATO committed itself to “the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons”. But as part of a “strategic concept” endorsed at its Lisbon meeting in November 2010, it reconfirmed that, “as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance”.”
Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide does not perceive any contradiction between the NATO strategic concept and a ground-breaking intergovernmental conference he convened in Oslo on March 4-5 to focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. In fact, he is of the view that concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation have brought awareness of the continued risks all nukes pose more to the fore than at any time since the vast majority of states signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968.
Since the 2010 review conference of the parties to the NPT, there has been a growing, if still nascent, movement to outlaw nuclear weapons. The final document of the review conference notes “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and reaffirms “the need for all states at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”
This was followed by a resolution by the council of delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in November 2011, strongly appealing to all states “to pursue in good faith and conclude with urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement.”
Subsequently, at the first session of the preparatory committee for the 2015 NPT review conference held in May 2012, 16 countries led by Norway and Switzerland issued a joint statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament, stating that “it is of great concern that, even after the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation remains part of the 21st century international security environment.”
The significance of the gathering in Oslo lies in the fact that for the first time in the 67-year old history of official and informal discussions on nuclear disarmament, representatives of 127 nations met to discuss the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. They were joined by various UN agencies, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent movement as well as civil society and faith organizations such as the International Campaign for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and Soka Gakkai International (SGI).
The urgency of the humanitarian impact is underlined by the fact that 19,000 nukes which official and unofficial nuclear nations have accumulated since 1945, when the U.S. dropped the first atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are capable of destroying the world many times over.
This shocking fact motivated ICAN to organize a Civil Society Forum on March 2-3 with the Norwegian government’s support. Some 500 campaigners, scientists, physicians and other experts attended. The forum lent a vigorous dimension to a global campaign for outlawing all nuclear weapons.
ICAN representatives said they will work with governments, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other partners such as the Tokyo-based lay Buddhist organization SGI towards a new treaty banning nuclear weapons.
All the more so because SGI has been consistently pleading for abolition of all nuclear weapons. Originally inspired by second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda's 1957 anti-nuclear weapons declaration, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda publishes a peace proposal every year which casts a close look at the interrelation between core Buddhist concepts and the diverse challenges global society faces in the effort to realize peace and human security. He has also made proposals touching on issues such as education reform, the environment, and the United Nations.
In the 2013 Peace Proposal Ikeda urged non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and forward-looking governments to establish an action group to draft a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) outlawing nuclear weapons – which apart from being inhumane swallow some 105 billion dollars a year at current spending.
SGI vice president and executive director for peace affairs Hirotugu Terasaki, who attended the Oslo conference, said that both the ICAN forum and the Oslo government conference had lent significant momentum to ushering in a world without nuclear weapons.
SGI hopes that the G8 Summit in 2015 and the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would serve as milestones towards an expanded summit for a nuclear-weapon-free world.
The Oslo conference took place outside of the framework of the 65-member United Nations Conference on Disarmament. Though the ‘official’ nuclear powers USA, Russia, China, UK and France as well as the non-official nuke states Israel and North Korea refused to attend, India and Pakistan – said to be in possession of atomic weapons – and Iran, suspected of working on a bomb, joined.
The conference was a success not the least because Mexico announced that it would host the next meeting. A wide range of states and organisations agreed that an understanding of the global humanitarian consequences of nuclear detonations should be the starting point for urgent action to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.
As Dr Rebecca Johnson, co-chair of ICAN points out, the significance of this announcement should not be underestimated. “In 1967, at the height of the Cold War, Mexico was the driving force behind the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which prohibited nuclear weapons across the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean, she says. This “nuclear-weapon-free zone” led to further prohibition zones being established in Africa, the South Pacific, South-East Asia and Central Asia,” avers Johnson.
These zones, she adds, have proved more of a success than the painfully slow pigeon steps undertaken by some nuclear-armed states, which in recent years are constantly undermined by massive governmental investments to modernise, refine and renew the sizeable arsenals that they retain.
Some key points that emerged from scientific presentations and general discussions in Oslo are: No state or international body would be in a position to adequately address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation and provide sufficient assistance to those affected. In fact, it might not be possible to establish such capacities, even if it were attempted.
The effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of cause, will not be constrained by national borders, and will affect states and people in significant ways, regionally as well as globally.
As Dr Ira Helfand of ICAN and Physicians for Social Responsibility, who is author of a recent study on nuclear-induced famine, explained that a billion people could die of starvation following a limited regional use of nuclear weapons. The most vulnerable, mainly women and children, would suffer first.
Building on research by renowned climate scientist Alan Robock and others on the climate disruption and “nuclear winter” effects likely to follow a “small” or “limited” nuclear war, Dr Helfand said the widespread radioactive contamination would affect housing, food and water supplies. The financial costs in terms of property damage, disruption to global trade and general economic activity, and the impact on development in terms of the creation of refugees would enormous.
*Ramesh Jaura is global editor of IDN and its sister publication Global Perspectives, chief editor of IPS Germany as well as editorial board member of Other News. He is also executive president of Global Cooperation Council, board member of IPS international and global coordinator of SGI-IPS project for strengthening public awareness of the need to abolish nukes. [IDN-InDepthNews – March 10, 2013]
Image credit: ICAN