Nordic refreshments

The WMD Blog

The Nordic working paper to the NPT RevCon was a refreshing rejection of the security dimension of nuclear weapons—something more European countries would do well to follow

By Torbjørn Graff Hugo
30 June 2015

In NPT Working Paper 15, presented at the Review Conference in May, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) outlined their joint recommendations to the meeting, with a particular focus on the disarmament pillar. The paper covers a broad range of disarmament-related issues, but is notable for three aspects in particular.

First, the working paper is a clear call for putting the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (HINW) at the centre of the nuclear weapons debate. This is shown in part through a dedicated section on the importance of the rule of law, in which Team Nordic regurgitates language from the final document in 2010 on the ‘need for all States at all times to comply with international law, including international humanitarian law’. However, the support for the humanitarian perspective is primarily revealed in the section with the same name, where not only the catastrophic consequences are mentioned, but also the risks involved for all of humanity, as well as the joint responsibility of all states to prevent any use—‘accidental, unauthorized or deliberate’—of nuclear weapons.

Secondly, the paper is also notable for its treatment of effective disarmament. The specific recommendations (no’s 13-18) are not of the most mind-blowing sort, but the introductory text to that section is indeed worth a closer look. The Nordic countries ‘do not subscribe to a specific solution, but to the principle of effective disarmament’, yet they stress that ‘[w]here possible, we should seek new disarmament commitments and measures, in order to guarantee continued progress to achieve the goals of the Treaty.’ Apart from the seemingly misplaced word ‘guarantee’—reminiscent of an infamous op-ed by Australia’s Foreign Minister before the Nayarit Conference in 2014, this is very progressive language. It stresses effectiveness, with the connotations that invokes to Article VI and to Working Paper 9 by the New Agenda Coalition, and it signals a clear openness to new ideas and measures. If it could work, don’t dismiss it. For the humanitarian ‘pledgers’ and other stakeholders favouring the filling of the legal gap, these are very positive signals.

A number of European states have over the past two years proclaimed the importance of balancing the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons with a security dimension, thereby signalling that nuclear weapons provide a security benefit that somehow must be safeguarded before the imperative of the humanitarian dimension can take effect. The Nordic working paper includes nothing of the sort.

The third, and perhaps most significant aspect of the working paper, however, relates to what is not there. A number of European states have over the past two years proclaimed the importance of balancing the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons with a security dimension, thereby signalling that nuclear weapons provide a security benefit that somehow must be safeguarded before the imperative of the humanitarian dimension can take effect. The Nordic working paper includes nothing of the sort. On the contrary, it states that ‘[r]ecognizing the current challenges to security, including to the disarmament and non-proliferation regime, we are convinced of the need to implement disarmament and non-proliferation commitments of the Non-Proliferation Treaty with increased urgency’.

The Nordic commitment to full and urgent nuclear disarmament is presented as unconditional. More European states, and in particular the region’s nuclear umbrella states, would do well to follow the line of the Nordic countries on this. Nuclear disarmament cannot be a hostage of the security international context—it is a legal obligation requiring resolute normative leadership and effective measures to implement it.

 

The views set out in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI).