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Published on April 30th, 2015 | by Wilbert van der Zeijden

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Strategies for Abolition – ICAN and the Ban

Today at the NPT RevCon, I spoke at a wonderful side-event organised by IALANA and INES, “Strategies for Abolition.” This is a transcript of my talk – about the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN and the prospects of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Thank you Lucas,

Let me first answer one of the questions you asked in the introduction: What do I think of the tensions between Russia and the US that we all felt in the conference room in the first days. I think the rhetoric both sides use, proves beyond any reasonable doubt – if you still had any – that we cannot wait for the nuclear weapon states to show us the way to a world free of nuclear weapons. Nothing in what they said should lead us to believe that they are willing to disarm. But let’s face it, we knew that before the new tensions came about. The tensions are – what – one and a half years old? In the years preceding that, neither of these countries were particularly favourable to real measurable, time bound progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons. We’ve been waiting 45 years for that.

So these are dark days. It does not look good for nuclear disarmament, if you look at it from the perspective of action by the nuclear armed states. There are, however, several positive developments that have pushed the debate on disarmament in the right direction in the past few years. The court case by The Marshall Islands is one of them – Rick Wayman will speak about it later. The humanitarian initiative and the push for a ban treaty by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons, ICAN, is another one and I will focus on that one.

Since we’re here for the RevCon, let me do a bit of a review of ICAN in the past 5 years. The campaign grew tremendously. Five years ago, it was still a rather small campaign. During the past review cycle, it really matured and has grown to a campaign network with over 350 partner organisations in 95 countries.

Over the past five years, ICAN has proven it can organise large international conferences, like in Oslo and Vienna, that it can attract a whole new generation of activists, campaigners and thinkers, that it can develop and maintain strategic relations with key countries and that the core message- that nuclear weapons are unacceptable and should be prohibited because they are designed to cause indiscriminate, catastrophic harm – has  a real, measurable impact on the positions of countries which then influences proceedings in NPT and other UN forums.

And all the while, ICAN maintains a clear focus:

1: That any use of nuclear weapons will have catastrophic, unacceptable humanitarian consequences.

2: That states should negotiate a ban.

These objectives are shared by a growing group of states. And that is part of what makes ICAN such a strong campaign. The campaign does not operate in a vacuum but attunes its strategy to the diplomatic and political developments that shape the path towards a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

It is empowering to see how central the role of civil society is in this push for a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. ICAN has been part of the organising of the large conferences held in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna. It has played a key role in the lobbying efforts that made the support of the Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons grow from 16 in 2013, to 160 yesterday, when Austria read the statement. 160 countries – 80% of the NPT members,  actively agree that the use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable under any circumstances! ICAN is also instrumental in pushing countries to support the ‘Austrian Pledge’ and I’m happy to report that we’ll hit 80 states today. 80 states that share Austria’s desire to do what is needed to “fill the legal gap.” We are approaching ‘critical mass’. ICAN is convincing countries that have doubts. And where needed, ICAN tries to keep the countries that were on board from the beginning on track.

In support of the objectives I mentioned – prioritising the humanitarian perspective and getting countries to negotiate a ban treaty – ICAN and the organisations that make up ICAN have produced an enormous amount of background documentation, policy papers and analysis. In the run up to the Oslo and Nayarit conferences especially, many of these publications contributed to the growing body of evidence that nuclear weapons cannot be used without violating humanitarian norms and laws – concluding that no country can adequately prepare for the horror of a nuclear detonation and strengthening the understanding that no law is good enough, unless it bans all nuclear weapons, for everyone.

More recently, organisations part of ICAN, like RCW here in New York, ILPI in Norway, Article 36 in the UK, my own PAX in the Netherlands and IPPNW, have been starting to explore the concept of the ban itself. The content. What should the elements of a ban treaty be? Can it be done without some of the nuclear armed states? What are the arguments for and against? How – this is a little booklet we just released – how will a ban treaty affect NATO non-nuclear armed states specifically? What I’m trying to say is: We are getting prepared. We’re ready to support states when they sit down to business and negotiate a ban treaty.

It’s not only arguing and lobby that we do. ICAN Austria, maybe you’ve seen it in the hallway, is here with a very handy interactive world map that allows you to click on any country and see where they stand on the humanitarian initiative, the joint statements, the ban, the Pledge. ICAN made a couple of video’s as well, to explain the humanitarian initiative, as well as the concept of a ban. PAX is producing lists of financial institutions that refuse to invest in companies producing nuclear weapons, so we’re even giving people the opportunity to act individually and get their savings away from the nuclear industry. www.icanw.org, if you want to know more about all this, that’s a good place to start.

Let me end with saying something about the future as we see it. We are worried by the deadlock that is might not be overcome in this RevCon. The NPT is not in danger, I believe, I hope! But regardless of the question whether the states parties manage to reach a consensus outcome and what it will look like – it is already clear that the enormous frustration about the lack of effective measures leading to time-bound disarmament and a prohibition will not be eased by this conference.

We are pleased with the 160 states support for the Joint Statement and with reaching 80 states supporting the Austrian Pledge. We are thankful for the enormous number of states sharing their concerns about the humanitarian consequences in their national and joint statements and with the ever growing group of states that – in their statements – conclude from all this that it is time to negotiate a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. I’m also glad to see states acknowledging that this is fully in line with the obligations set out in Article VI of the Treaty.

We are confident therefore, that any final document of the NPT RevCon will recognise the importance of the humanitarian perspective and we are confident that the outcome document will repeat the need for effective measures to advance disarmament – as it always does. Taking these two certainties into account, we are confident that by the end of this year, we will see states come together for negotiations on a legal instrument that prohibits the making, having and using of nuclear weapons for all states.

Finally, I want to say this: This is an inclusive campaign. In fact, we need all help we can get to guarantee that we can bring all this to a successful end. So, if you’re not part of the ICAN campaign yet, please consider joining us. Look at the site to see what form of cooperation suits you best. This can range from becoming a member organisation to just showing the world that you are as ready to ban as ICAN, for example by wearing that little ICAN pin. Supporting a ban is really as simple as that.

Thank you.

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About the Author

Wilbert van der Zeijden is the senior researcher of the Security and DIsarmament team of PAX. Wilbert currently focusses on getting US nuclear weapons out of Europe; WMD out of the Middle East and your savings out of nuclear weapons producing companies. He graduated at the Vrije University in Amsterdam and previously worked for about nine years for the think-tank Transnational Institute, as their Peace and Security Programme coordinator. Wilbert’s research interests include humanitarian disarmament, NATO and European security, toxic legacies of war and developments in international military infrastructure.



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