Coffee breaks and after party

A day full of workshops, talks and discussion lies ahead of us when we wake up in our Hostel in Geneva. The final day for the NGO’s to prepare for the NPT PreCom 2013.

By Alinta Geling*

We are not the only ones being a bit disappointed when we arrive at the meeting and there is no coffee. Turns out coffee is the lifeline of the ICAN community. It is the first thing mentioned in the opening statement and continues to be the reoccurring theme of the morning. Apparently its on their minds constantly and one joke follows after the other. “I won’t hold you from the coffee too long”, “always hard to be the last one standing before the coffee” and “I won’t mention coffee in my talk today,” are only a few lines in this coffee-free morning. Luckily the coffee does arrive soon after and all coffee-craving NGOers enter their favourite part of the day: the coffee break.

Hands, hugs and cards

The coffee break is a fascinating concept during the ICAN campaigners meeting. It does not matter how far we are behind schedule: no time is cut on this. The moment everyone has the coffee in their hands, the real meeting begins. Hands, hugs and cards are exchanged one after the other and everyone seems to know each other. Here I am, completely lost in the middle of this bunch of people. What do I actually have to contribute? I know no one, let alone have business cards to hand out.

Looking around and holding on to my fellow Crash Course students, someone just randomly comes up to me, asking where we are from, what we do and how we like the ICAN meeting. Surprised by this act of friendliness I happily use the opportunity to ask the questions that had popped up in my mind during the workshops yesterday. Before I know it more people join and I find myself in the middle of a discussion about why a ban on nuclear weapons would be better than taking gradual steps towards elimination. ICAN was specifically established to initiate and support negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons completely. From the start I had been in doubt about this. Considering the fact that it already proves extremely difficult to negotiate nuclear disarmament under article 6 of the NPT, it will be almost impossible to get a treaty on the complete ban. However, before the end of the lunch break the merit of such a treaty increasingly becomes clear to me. Not only would it provide the arguments to eliminate nuclear weapons with much more force, it would also place both nuclear and non-nuclear countries on equal footing.

Changing discourse

In addition, I even am becoming increasingly convinced that such a treaty acutally is possible. The discourse around Nuclear Weapons is changing. The focus on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences has been crucial in this. Everyone, nuclear and non-nuclear states alike will be affected when nuclear weapons are used. Civil society organisations, NGOs and governments alike contributed in showing how the use of nuclear weapons goes beyond borders. Apart from the immediate fatalities, there would be huge negative affects on the survivors and future generation. Different parties have contributed to showing what the consequences would be for agriculture, natural resources and climate change, to mention just a few affected areas.

Shared goal

It is during this discussion, in our coffee break, that I feel the strength of this network. This is the place, the moment and the day that inspiration, ideas and information is shared and distributed. This is the place where differences are allowed, discussed and appreciated. Where in the end everyone is working towards a shared goal: a world without nuclear weapons. It is inspiring and impressive to be with these people, to feel their energy and their endless commitment to this goal.


As the coffee break ends I am completely energized for the second part of the day, and this energy is does not come from the large amount of coffee fuelling. It are the people together that make the difference. When the first speaker starts her speech, I realize I still have so many questions and so many people I would like to learn from and talk to. Suddenly I find myself already looking forward to the next break, not to mention the after party tonight.

*Alinta Geling is Bachelor student Liberal Arts and Sciences: Global Challenges at Leiden University College and is one of the Nuclear Diplomacy Crash Course students of this year.