I remember being at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference in Vienna last year when Norway announced that it would be hosting a conference on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. I also remember the excitement that got a hold of me when I heard the news.
Focussing on the humanitarian consequences meant a new perspective on the nuclear disarmament issue. Rather than approaching it from a theoretical and legalistic point of view this new perspective meant that there would be a focus on the actual consequences of a nuclear detonation. How many people will get killed or get sick? How can we save these people? Can we even save them at all? (The answer, obviously, is no, we can’t) This new perspective offered a new momentum to address nuclear disarmament and to actually get rid of nuclear weapons, because how can you possibly argue that nuclear weapons are necessary if the consequences of their use are of a catastrophic nature?
Preceding the Norwegian conference on humanitarian consequence was the ICAN Civil Society Forum. Over the course of two days numerous speakers addressed the catastrophic humanitarian consequences from different perspectives. We learned how a nuclear detonation would lead to a huge number of people dying, not only those in the near vicinity of the bomb, but also those much further away, because the blast is so intense. We also learned how a nuclear detonation will lead to a drop in temperature and cause a failure of harvests. As a result, crops will not only become contaminated but due to the extended winter period it will be harder to actually grow crops, with food scarcity as result.
More importantly, we learned how civil society can make a difference. If we keep putting pressure on States to recognize the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the position to maintain an arsenal becomes untenable. As Gry Larssen, Norwegian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs said, the partnership between civil society and States is of great importance. Without such a partnership the common goal of nuclear disarmament cannot be reached.