Vienna conference on humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons to take up existing norms for nuclear arms

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

It was learned on September 12 that the third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, to be held on December 8 and 9 in Vienna, Austria, will take up existing international rules involving nuclear weapons for the first time. It appears that this agenda was shaped in response to growing international public opinion in favor of a nuclear weapons convention. Because the nuclear weapon states are cautious about moves which would potentially regulate nuclear arms, the conference and its developments will draw attention.

The foreign ministry of Austria, which is organizing the conference, has issued a draft of the conference program on its website. One of the four items on the agenda for this event is “a bird’s-eye view on international norms and the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.” Experts will describe the kind of norms already existing under international law which seek to prevent nuclear explosions and their impact on such areas as the environment and human health. The conference will also hold discussions on international humanitarian law as well as the humanitarian dimension through the lens of current disarmament and arms control efforts.

Akira Kawasaki, executive committee member of Peace Boat, a Tokyo-based NGO, is familiar with these issues. “This agenda deserves attention,” he said. “It’s possible that discussions will develop toward a new legal framework by reaching the conclusion that existing norms cannot prevent the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.” But Mr. Kawasaki also points out that the agenda was set with a degree of understatement in order to attract nations which depend on nuclear weapons and so are able to assert that current nuclear disarmament approaches are sufficient.

Other items on the agenda include “the impact of nuclear weapons explosions on such areas as health, climate and socio economic consequences,” “risk drivers for deliberate or inadvertent nuclear weapons use” and “scenarios, challenges and capabilities regarding nuclear weapons use and other events.” On the afternoon of December 9, when all items on the agenda have been concluded, a general debate will be held and the conference will end after the chair presents his summary.

A series of such conferences has been held in nations which hope to advance nuclear disarmament by using the inhumane aspects of nuclear weapons as leverage. The conference in Austria will be the third, following the conferences held in Norway in March 2013 and in Mexico in February 2014. The five major nuclear powers have not taken part in any conference to date. The Japanese government has already announced its intention to participate in Vienna. Japan also attended the previous two conferences.

(Originally published on September 13, 2014)