The humanitarian initiative at a glance

ILPI Publications > Background Papers

An overview of the most important meetings and events of the humanitarian initiative in the field of nuclear disarmament

By ILPI

A global discussion about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has intensified in recent years. This brief overview presents excerpts from key documents and statements in this discussion, and combines this with information drawn from the statistical report Counting to Zero about the role that different States have played in support of this initiative.

Background Paper No 5/2014 Published: April 2014

Introduction

The language of Realpolitik long dominated the field of nuclear weapons policy. Programmatically phrased by the founder of structural realism, Kenneth Waltz, the issue was framed in terms of national security and grand strategy: ‘Strategies may do more than weapons to determine the outcome of wars. Nuclear weapons are different; they dominate strategies.’[i] Since 2010, however, the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons have received increased attention. The term ‘humanitarian initiative’ is now used to describe both the reframing of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agenda, and the group pushing for such a change in perspective.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 remain the only nuclear weapons attacks to date. By implication, discussions about the military utility of nuclear weapons and the merit of nuclear deterrence theory are based on hypotheticals. On the other hand, the physical consequences of a single nuclear weapon detonation can be more authoritatively predicted. Numerous studies have documented both the impact of nuclear weapons detonations at nuclear testing sites and within the two cities targeted in Japan in 1945. Subscribers to the humanitarian perspective highlight the multifaceted consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. These include both short-term consequences, such as the effects of the shock wave, falling buildings, shattered glass, heat radiation, and initial radiation; and long-term consequences, such as radioactive fallout and effects on development, crops, birth defects, and increased incidences of cancer. Other issues include preparedness and response,[ii] the risk of nuclear accidents, the acquisition and use by a non-state actor, unauthorized use by representatives of a state, and misunderstandings or miscalculations that could culminate in use.

The outlines of the current focus on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons first became clear in the 2010 NPT Review Conference Final Document. The Document refers to the ‘catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons’.[iii] While this was news to few, it was the first such acknowledgement made by the NPT, and was instrumental in triggering what is now known as the humanitarian initiative. The term ‘humanitarian initiative’ thus refers both to the lens of analysis focusing on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, as well as the coalition of states and civil society working for the strengthening of this approach.[iv]

Since 2010, four joint statements on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament – with increasing numbers of supporters – have been submitted in established forums; two in the UN General Assembly and two at consecutive sessions of the preparatory committee to the 2015 NPT Review Conference.[v] In March 2013, 127 countries and numerous civil society organizations attended the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons hosted by Norway.[vi] Mexico hosted 146 states at the second conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in February 2014, picking up where the Oslo Conference left off.[vii] During the Nayarit Conference, Austria announced that it would hold a follow-up meeting in Vienna before the end of 2014.[viii]

Explanatory note

The following report offers evidence for the gaining traction of the humanitarian discourse in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Since 2010, all the major meetings on the issue have included references to the adverse humanitarian consequences the detonation of one or more nuclear weapons are likely to have.

Each of the boxes below represents a summary of the way in which the humanitarian initiative has found expression in the NPT Framework, the United Nations General Assembly First Committee, the Council of Delegates of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and the two Conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in Oslo and Nayarit.

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HI at a glance - Timeline

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‘The Conference expresses its deep concern at the continued risk for humanity represented by the possibility that these weapons could be used and the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons.’
‘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.’

Adopted by consensus among the 189 States Parties to the NPT

(NPT/CONF.2010/50. Vol. 1, pp 12 & 19)


NOV 2011
COUNCIL OF DELEGATES OF THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS AND RED CRESCENT MOVEMENT 

‘Emphasizes the incalculable human suffering that can be expected to result from any use of nuclear weapons, the lack of any adequate humanitarian response capacity and the absolute imperative to prevent such use’
‘Finds it difficult to envisage how any use of nuclear weapons could be compatible with the rules of international humanitarian law, in particular the rules of distinction, precaution and proportionality’
‘Appeals to all States:

  • To ensure that nuclear weapons are never again used, regardless of their views on the legality of such weapons
  • 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, based on existing commitments and international obligations.’

Adopted by consensus, co-sponsored by 29 national red cross/crescent societies (Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Kiribati, Lebanon, Malaysia, Micronesia, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Sweden, Switzerland, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu).

(26-11-2011, CoD Resolution 1)


MAY 2012
FIRST SESSION OF THE PREPARATORY COMMITTEE FOR THE 2015 REVIEW CONFERENCE TO THE NPT

1st Joint statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons
‘If such weapons were to be used again, be it intentionally or accidentally, immense humanitarian consequences would be unavoidable. In addition to the immediate fatalities, survivors of the horrendous effects of a nuclear explosion would endure immeasurable suffering. International organisations providing emergency relief would be unable to fulfil their mandates, as the ICRC has already concluded…’
‘Nuclear weapons have the destructive capacity to pose a threat to the survival of humanity and as long as they continue to exist the threat to humanity will remain…’
‘All States must intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons’

Delivered on May 2 by Switzerland on behalf of 16 states (Austria, Denmark, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Switzerland, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, Holy See, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa)

Download full statement


OCT 2012
67TH SESSION OF THE UNGA FIRST COMMITTEE

2nd Joint statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons
‘…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.’
‘It is of utmost importance that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances. The only way to guarantee this is the total, irreversible and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, under effective international control, including through the full implementation of Article VI of the NPT’

Delivered on Oct 22 by Switzerland on behalf of 34 states (Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Holy See, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, Uruguay)

Download full statement


MARCH 2013
1ST CONFERENCE ON THE HUMANITARIAN CONSEQUENCES OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS, OSLO, NORWAY 

Chair’s Summary
Some key points can be discerned from the presentations and the discussions:

  • It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected. Moreover, it might not be possible to establish such capacities, even if it were attempted.
  • The historical experience from the use and testing of nuclear weapons has demonstrated their devastating immediate and long-term effects. While political circumstances have changed, the destructive potential of nuclear weapons remains.
  • 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.

Chair Summary delivered by Espen Barth Eide, Foreign Minister of Norway, 5 March 2013
Meeting attended by 128 States (Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Democratic Rep of Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, The FYR of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe)

Statements delivered by 47 States (Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Guatemala, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Zambia)

See Conferene Website for more information

HINW13-participation

Overview of participation at the first Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, in Oslo, March 2013


APRIL 2013
SECOND SESSION OF THE PREPARATORY COMMITTEE FOR THE 2015 REVIEW CONFERENCE TO THE NPT

3rd Joint statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons
‘Our countries are deeply concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. While this has been known since nuclear weapons were first developed and is reflected in various UN resolutions and multilateral instruments, it has not been at the core of nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation deliberations for many years. Although it constitutes the raison d’être of the NPT, which cautions against the “devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war and to take measures to safeguard the security of peoples”, this issue has consistently been ignored in the discourse on nuclear weapons.’
‘Addressing the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons is an absolute necessity’

Delivered on April 24 by South Africa on behalf of 80 states (Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Samoa, Serbia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Yemen, Zambia)

Download full statement


OCT 2013
68TH SESSION OF THE UNGA FIRST COMMITTEE 

4th Joint statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons
‘It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances. The catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident, miscalculation or design, cannot be adequately addressed. All efforts must be exerted to eliminate the threat of these weapons of mass destruction.’

Delivered on Oct 21 by New Zealand on behalf of 125 states (Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic Rep of Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Fiji, Gabon, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, The FYR of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia)

Download full statement

Overview of support for all the four Humanitarian Initiative statements

Overview of support for all the four Humanitarian Initiative statements

Additional group statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons
‘welcome the statement to be delivered by New Zealand on behalf of a large number of countries on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons’
‘The devastating immediate and long-term humanitarian impacts of a nuclear weapon detonation are of clear concern, as was endorsed by all members of the NPT during the 2010 Review Conference final document’
‘we reaffirm with a sense of urgency our unwavering commitment to achieving and maintaining the shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons’
‘Banning nuclear weapons by itself will not guarantee their elimination’

Delivered on Oct 21 by Australia on behalf of 17 states (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey).

Download full statement


NOV 2013
COUNCIL OF DELEGATES OF THE RED CROSS AND RED CRESCENT MOVEMENT

‘reiterating its deep concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, including the unspeakable human suffering that their use would cause and the threat that such weapons pose to food production, the environment and future generations’
‘expressing its satisfaction that the concerns raised by the Council of Delegates in 2011 about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the lack of any adequate humanitarian response capacity and the international humanitarian law issues arising from their use, are increasingly being recognized and raised by States in national and international fora’
‘welcoming also the decision by the Government of Mexico to host a conference addressing the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in February 2014’

Adopted by consensus, and co-sponsored by the ICRC, IFRC and 40 national Red Cross / Red Crescent Societies (Algeria, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bulgaria, Canada, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, Fiji, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guyana, Iraq, Japan, Kiribati, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Micronesia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu )

(17-11-2013, CD/13/R1)



FEBRUARY 2014
2ND CONFERENCE ON THE HUMANITARIAN CONSEQUENCES OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS, NAYARIT, MEXICO 

Chair’s Summary
‘The effects of a nuclear weapon detonation are not constrained by national borders − it is therefore an issue of deep concern shared by all.’

‘Beyond the immediate death and destruction caused by a detonation, socio-economic development will be hampered and the environment will be damaged. Suffering will be widespread, the poor and vulnerable being the most severely affected.’

‘The Chair warmly welcomes the Austrian offer to host the Third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.’

Chair Summary delivered by Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of Mexico, 14 February 2014.

Meeting attended by 146 States (Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Côte D’Ivorie, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, São Tomé e Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, State of Palestine, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Zambia, Zimbabwe).

Statements delivered by 71 States (Algeria, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Holy See, Hungary, India, Indone- sia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozam- bique, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Republic of Moldova, Rwanda, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, The FYR of Macedonia, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Zambia).

See Conferene Website for more information

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ENDNOTES

[i] Kenneth Waltz, ‘Nuclear Myths and Political Realities’, American Political Science Review 84(3), (1990), p. 738.

[ii] ILPI, Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (2013), available at: nwp.ilpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/HINW-REPORT-by-ILPI-2013_WEB.pdf.

[iii] 2010 NPT Review Conference Final Document, para. 80, available at: www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/revcon2010/FinalDocument.pdf.

[iv] 2010 NPT Review Conference Action Plan from the Final Document adopted by 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

[v] Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Dimension of Nuclear Disarmament, by Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Holy See, Egypt, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, Switzerland, First Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (2013); Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Dimension of Nuclear Disarmament, 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly First Committee (22 October 2012); Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, delivered by South Africa on behalf of the Humanitarian Initiative (24 April 2013); Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, delivered by Ambassador Dell Higgie of New Zealand, 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly First Committee (21 October 2013.

[vi] Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Conference: Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons  (2013), available at: www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/ud/selected-topics/humanitarian-efforts/humimpact_2013.html?id=708603.

[vii] Mexican Foreign Ministry, Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, www.sre.gob.mx/en/index.php/humanimpact-nayarit-2014 (last accessed 17 March 2014).

[viii] See Austrian Foreign Ministry, Kurz: ‘Paradigm Shift in Nuclear Disarmament is Overdue’.

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