ILPI roundtable discussion in Tagaytay, June 2014

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On 3–4 June 2014, ILPI’s Nuclear Weapons Project organized its 7th regional roundtable meeting near Manila, the Philippines, in collaboration with the Center for Peace Education (CPE) at Miriam College and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). A total of 17 individuals attended the conference, from eight countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Six of the participants were government officials, the rest from civil society and academia. The topic of discussion was the role of the Asia–Pacific region in the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons, and the road ahead in the field of nuclear disarmament. The meeting stretched from lunch to lunch, and was held at the Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay, near Manila.

Each of the four sessions was opened by introductory remarks from two pre-selected participants. The discussions were carried out under Chatham House rules, and moderated by ILPI and CPE.

Summary of discussions
In the first session, on June 3, the participants discussed the history and potential of the humanitarian initiative. The discussion quickly turned to the idea of a ban treaty, and whether it would be worthwhile to pursue such a treaty even without the nuclear-armed states on board. The participants came up with a range of arguments for why such an instrument would be relevant, and why it would serve the interests of Asia–Pacific states. In particular, a ban would help establish a clear international norm against nuclear weapons, sending a clear message to the nuclear-armed states that their continued reliance on nuclear weapons is unacceptable. This, it was argued, would put pressure on the nuclear-armed states to disarm and eliminate their nuclear stockpiles. Furthermore, a ban would solidify the non-nuclear weapon states’ non-proliferation obligations under the NPT, and close a loophole in international law. It was argued that it is a paradox that nuclear weapons are not explicitly prohibited, even on the national level in many states. A ban process driven by the non-nuclear weapon states was something that could actually be done. It was considered highly unlikely that the nuclear-armed states would take a the lead on a process to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.

The second session was devoted to a discussion of the role of the Asia–Pacific region in other disarmament initiatives, such as the Oslo Process on cluster munitions and the negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty. Several participants acknowledged the role that states in the region had played in these processes, and asserted that there was even greater room for cooperation on nuclear disarmament. Participants generally agreed that it would be useful for Asia–Pacific states to deliver both joint and individual statements at the Third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna in December 2014. Such statements could be organized either among likeminded states in Asia-Pacific, or through subregional groupings (e.g. the nuclear-weapon-free zones in Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific). It was also suggested that the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement could prepare subregional statements in the run-up to the Vienna conference, possibly in collaboration with interested governments. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was also mentioned as a possible vehicle for joint statements, though agreement in that forum was considered more difficult to achieve.

In the third session, the first of the second day, the participants turned their attention to the Vienna Conference and other forthcoming events and milestones. The dates and the outlines of the Vienna meeting were shared, though little was known about the details at this point. The Review Conference of the NPT, coming up in May 2015, was also discussed. Some doubt was expressed as to whether the Parties to the NPT Review Conference would be able to agree on an outcome document. If they did, it was argued, the outcome would probably fail to meet the expectations of most of the states concerned about the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons. It was mentioned that the NPT had been largely successful in ensuring non-proliferation, but that it had been an insufficient instrument in ensuring disarmament.

The third session also included some discussion on a possible fourth conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, which would most likely come after the NPT review conference. The question was raised as to whether a fourth conference would be the start of a process to negotiate a ban treaty. With regards to such a process, it was argued that a ban process should be ‘open to all and blockable by none’. With reference to the New Agenda Coalition’s (NAC’s) working paper 18 from the 2014 PrepCom, one of the participants went on to explain how one might distinguish between a ‘nuclear weapons convention’ and a ‘treaty banning nuclear weapons’, suggesting that while the former was typically seen as an instrument negotiated by the nuclear-armed states themselves, a ban-treaty process could be driven by the non-nuclear weapon states. In the latter case, prohibition could come before, and induce, elimination. With regard to the four options outlined in the NAC paper ((i) convention, (ii) ban treaty, (iii) framework, and (iv) hybrid), one of the participants opined that while any convention driven by the nuclear-armed states would be unlikely to materialize any time soon, an option should not be selected before a diplomatic process was underway.

Ahead of the Vienna conference in December, it was suggested that ICAN could meet with the NAM in New York, in order to discuss the humanitarian initiative and expectations for Vienna. That way, NAM countries would be more prepared for Vienna and beyond. Several participants urged Southeast Asian states to take larger roles in the nuclear disarmament process, in particular to facilitate further meetings and potentially a conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

The fourth session was devoted to planning the road ahead. One of the introducers forcefully called for a joint statement by states of the region. ASEAN was mentioned as a particularly viable unit for the coordination of such a statement. The participants identified the upcoming events in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, which were compiled in a calendar. It was also suggested that a similar roundtable meeting to this one could be organized in Thailand sometime between the Vienna conference and NPT Review Conference.

Regional Roundtable on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and the Prospects for a Ban, June 3-4, 2014

Group photo of the participants

A list of possible actions by governments, summarizing what had been discussed at the roundtable, was drawn up towards the end of the meeting:

Possible actions by governments
1. Request a meeting with a representative of the Austrian government (whether in Vienna, Geneva, New York or an embassy in your country) to be briefed on preparations for the forthcoming Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (8–9 December 2014), and convey your own ideas and expectations for the conference.

2. Organize a half-day meeting of disarmament officials from South-East Asian states in the sidelines of the UN General Assembly First Committee session this October in New York to discuss the possibility of a common regional position on the humanitarian initiative and the proposal for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Such a meeting could include presentations from the Austrian government and civil society experts.

3. On the eve of the Vienna conference, organize a gathering of Southeast Asian delegates to the conference to allow them to coordinate their efforts throughout the two-day conference most effectively. Further informal gatherings could take place during the conference to share new information and discuss any urgent matters that may arise. Where appropriate, these discussions could include civil society actors.

4. Beyond the Vienna conference, deepen the dialogue between governments and civil society actors (including the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement) on the humanitarian initiative and the prospects for a ban treaty. Meetings could discuss preparations for the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the conference of states parties to nuclear-weapon-free zones, and a possible fourth humanitarian conference in South Africa in 2015.

5. Determine whether any state in Southeast Asia, or Asia–Pacific more generally, would be willing to host an international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons or a negotiating conference for a ban treaty, which would help ensure strong regional buy-in to this process.

Relevant regional pages

Southeast Asia
Central Asia
South Pacific

Relevant ILPI publications

Humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons
Summarizing the presentations made at the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, this report presents some of the consequences that can be expected from any use of nuclear weapons, and explains in brief terms why the international community would struggle to provide adequate, timely and appropriate assistance to those affected by any such disaster.

Humanitarian initiative at a glance
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.

An introduction to the issue of nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia
This article 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.

Relevant legal documents

The treaty of Bangkok
The Southeast Asia Nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty or the Bangkok treaty was signed on 15 December 1995. The treaty came into force on 28 March 1997 and has been ratified by all ten signatory states.

Treaty of Semipalatinsk
The Central Asian Nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty or the treaty of Semipalatinsk was signed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on 8 September 2006. The treaty was ratified by all signatory states and came into force on 21 March 2009.

The treaty of Rarotonga
The South Pacific Nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty was opened for signature on August 6 1985. The treaty entered into force on 11 December 1986 and has been ratified by all 13 signatory states.