ILPI’s 3rd Regional Roundtable on Nuclear Weapons was held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 10-11 July 2013. The meeting was organized in collaboration with the Institute for International Studies at the University of Gadjah Mada (IIS-UGM) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
A total of 22 participants from around Southeast Asia took part in the meeting, a third of which were government officials (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Laos, Philippines and Mexico) and the rest civil society actors and academics. The discussions at the roundtable focused on the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament and on the idea of a comprehensive prohibition treaty as the next step forward.
The principal objective of the roundtable meeting was to bring together key individuals from Southeast Asia, including state representatives, academics and civil society actors, in order to share thoughts and ideas on how states from this region can contribute towards strengthening the humanitarian approach to nuclear weapons, and towards the conference that will take place in Mexico as a follow-up of the Oslo-conference. A second ambition was to facilitate further discussions in the region on how to move towards a world without nuclear weapons, in particular the viability of a treaty to ban and eliminate all nuclear weapons.
As of 2013, there are still nearly 20 000 nuclear weapons in the world. The combined explosive yield of all these weapons is incomprehensible. A more comprehensible number is that of the 193 members of the United Nations, only nine states are armed with nuclear weapons. In other words, the overwhelming majority of the states in the world do not have nuclear weapons.
Southeast Asia is one of the declared nuclear-weapon-free regions in the world, as regulated under the Bangkok Treaty of 1995. All the Southeast Asian states, except East Timor are parties to this Treaty. As a whole, the group of nuclear-weapon-free zone states counts 115 countries, and includes the whole of Latin America, Africa, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Mongolia. This group of states have in fact already banned nuclear weapons, and could thus play an important role in bringing the humanitarian discourse on nuclear weapons forward. Moreover, any attempts to put in place an international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons should build upon the existing prohibitions on nuclear weapons set out in the NWFZ treaties and promote active participation from as many of these states as possible in all relevant discussions.
Any use of nuclear weapons would inevitably constitute a gruesome violation of the fundamental principles of humanitarian law – principles that all states have an interest in working to strengthen. Secondly, the effects of the use of nuclear weapons are not limited to the area where they are used. The effects cannot be contained in space or time. Even a ”limited” nuclear war would have devastating consequences for the whole world, with mass starvation estimated to affect up to a billion people. Despite having banned all nuclear weapons in the region, Southeast Asia cannot be shielded from the consequences, should these weapons one day be used.
In the context of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of the international legal framework on nuclear weapons, the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons was acknowledged for the first time at the 8th Review Conference of the Treaty, in May 2010. The outcome document of the meeting stated that, “The Conference expresses its 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”.
Since the adoption of this text in 2010, there has been a gradual shift in the debate on nuclear disarmament. In November 2011, the Council of Delegates of the Red Cross / Crescent movement adopted a resolution on the issue of nuclear weapons that served to consolidate this trend. This also became apparent within the NPT framework itself, when the parties met for the first time in two years in Vienna in May 2012. At the Vienna meeting, a geographically diverse group of 16 states made a joint statement to the conference focusing on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. At the same meeting in Vienna, it was also announced that Norway planned to organize an international conference on the same subject in the beginning of March 2013. The statement from the NPT was followed up in the UN General Assembly, now with 34 states associated with the statement. The statement importantly mentioned the word ‘outlaw’. Then, in March 2013, nearly 130 states met in Oslo to discuss and learn more about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The two-day meeting culminated in an open invitation by the Mexican delegation to host a follow-up meeting in Mexico. The intention is to continue the dialogue from Oslo and to further strengthen the humanitarian approach to nuclear weapons. Finally, at the Preparatory Committee of the NPT in April 2013, South Africa delivered a statement on behalf of nearly 80 states in which the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons were highlighted.
From the civil society side, there are also clears signs of consolidation both in terms of message and in terms of structure. Immediately prior to the diplomatic conference in Oslo, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) organized a civil society forum that brought together nearly 500 campaigners from around the world. The core objective of the meeting was to unite all the participating organisations under one clear message, namely that the talk of catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons must be translated into concrete action – that states must come together to fulfil their obligations under Article VI of the NPT to negotiate an international treaty banning all nuclear weapons.
Parallel to the recent shift towards a humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament, there has also been a tendency towards a strengthened role for the nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) on this issue. In 2005, the very first conference of States Parties and Signatories of Treaties that establish Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones was held in Tlatelolco, Mexico, which resulted in a declaration that inter alia reaffirmed that nuclear weapons constitute a threat to humanity. A follow-up summit was held in New York in 2010, and the NWFZ-states have also established a system of annual meetings of the zone-states in connection with the NPT review meetings.
All states have a responsibility to create the conditions for the elimination of nuclear weapons and to implement Article 6 of the NPT. States within NWFZs have a particular responsibility and opportunity to promote a global treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons as a logical supplement to existing mechanisms including the NWFZs, NPT and CTBT. This should be a key focus in the meeting in Yogyakarta.
About the organizers
Institute of International Studies (UGM)
IIS UGM is a research development unit administered under the Department of International Relations at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada. IIS UGM covers three main activities: research and policy advocacy; training, seminar and conference; and publications. The institute puts a great concern toward humanitarian issues, and since 2011 has dedicated one program cluster named Program on Humanitarian Action to specifically deal with humanitarian issues. IIS UGM, through its Program on Humanitarian Action, has been engaging on various humanitarian issues; among others are issues surrounding landmines, refugee, peace and conflict, disaster management and humanitarian diplomacy. Nuclear weapon, specifically the campaign and effort to eliminate nuclear weapons through humanitarian approach is of particular importance for IIS UGM, which is the reason why IIS UGM welcomes the opportunity to host and facilitate the roundtable discussion.
International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI)
ILPI is an independent institute based in Oslo, Norway, with a particular focus on good governance, peace and conflict, and international law. ILPI’s approach to global challenges is based on the integration of law and social sciences and on bridging the gap between academia and politics. ILPI provides research, analysis, process support and training to clients ranging from private companies and institutions to governments and international organisations. ILPI is currently undertaking a project focusing specifically on nuclear weapons, and on the prospects for full elimination of these weapons. The facilitation of roundtable discussions such as the one planned for Yogyakarta in June is one of the activities undertaken by this project.
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
ICAN is a global campaign coalition working to mobilize people in all countries to inspire, persuade and pressure their governments to initiate negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The campaign has brought together humanitarian, environmental, human rights, peace and development organizations in more than 70 countries to seize the historic opportunity that exists to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons. Prominent individuals such as anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, artist Yoko Ono, actor Martin Sheen and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams have lent their support to the campaign. ICAN promotes a humanitarian-based approach to nuclear disarmament, focusing on the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons on health, the environment and societies.
The meeting in Yogyakarta is part of a series of regional roundtables aimed at strengthening the role of nuclear-weapon-free zones in the work to eliminate nuclear weapons. The first meeting in this series was held in Addis Ababa in June 2012 and the second was held in Uruguay in December 2012.
Summary of discussions
The discussions during all the four sessions (lunch-to-lunch) were lively and constructive, and there was a keen interest in and support for the idea of a convention on nuclear weapons. One of the early introductions (each session started with two introductions by the participants) stressed that if one had to wait for the nuclear-armed states to start negotiations a convention, it could take a century before any real progress would be made. There was broad agreement among the participants on this point, along with a general frustration with the established multilateral disarmament machinery. This led to the conclusion that a prohibition on nuclear weapons would have value even if the nuclear-armed states did not join from the beginning. The negotiation of such an instrument was described as one of the few things that non-nuclear-armed states could actually do, and states that formed part of regional prohibition treaties (nuclear-weapon-free zones) had a special moral and political role to play in this regard.
There was also some discussion about the humanitarian approach to nuclear weapons, and specifically on the plans for the meeting in Mexico in February 2014 (follow-up of the Oslo conference in March). The MFA of Mexico was present to provide information and respond to questions. The second session, which was dedicated to the humanitarian approach, drew somewhat less interest from the participants than the other sessions, possibly due to a lack of information or understanding of what the intention of the humanitarian approach was. But it was made very clear that the meeting in Mexico did not aim to start a process on a prohibition of nuclear weapons. The Mexico-meeting would only deal with the humanitarian consequences, with a view to expanding the fact-finding mission started in Oslo. There would be a particular focus on long-term consequences. Mexico encouraged all states to participate and to engage in the discussion at the Mexico-conference. It was not necessary to bring presentations and long speeches. Asking questions to the panel was mentioned as a very useful way of interacting.
The meeting ended with a discussion on how nuclear-weapon-free zones, and in particular Southeast Asian states and civil society, can contribute to moving the agenda forward, both within the region and in different international fora. The Red Cross / Crescent / ICRC (three participants) shared plans for stronger regional cooperation and coordination and suggested engaging humanitarian response agencies and other relevant bodies in the region. One specific target discussed was to make sure all the states in the region (11 states) participated in Mexico, and that this was something both civil society and governments could contribute to.
Annotated agenda for the Roundtable. Circulated to participants before the the meeting as basis for the discussions.
An introduction to the issue of nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia
This background paper provides an overview of the issue of nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia, with particular emphasis on the establishment of the Southeast Asia nuclear-weapon-free zone (SEANWFZ). The paper also considers the role of Southeast Asian states in the humanitarian discourse on nuclear disarmament and in international efforts to prohibit and eliminate all nuclear weapons.