Analysis

Published on December 13th, 2014 | by Wilbert van der Zeijden

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Vienna conference brings us closer to a world without nuclear weapons

It will take time to digest all that is said during the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (HINW) but already before the end of the general debates, it became clear that a lot was won in the past days. We have again moved the humanitarian perspective more firmly to the centre and the front of the debate about nuclear disarmament. This is a victory for the Austrian organisers but also for the large majority of states that is standing ready to start discussions on a legally binding treaty banning nuclear weapons. The minority of states trying to derail or postpone such a development, such as Belgium or the UK are losing supporters, losing steam and continue to lose evidence based arguments as well as moral arguments. A ban on nuclear weapons is close, and closer now than it was three days ago.

There were more states present than ever before (158), more nuclear armed states (4), there were more statements calling for the start of negotiations on a legally binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and there were less states openly opposing such a way forward. Moreover, the ‘with us or against us’ atmosphere that as jeopardising fruitful discussions on these issues seems to have evaporated. With some exceptions, most notably the UK, states critical of the push for a ban on nuclear weapons chose their words carefully to not exclude the possibility of future negotiations on a ban. This is a large step for many of them.

The role of civil society, most notably ICAN, is regarded by most as constructive – and sometimes instructive. The path set out by ICAN and sympathetic states has paid off. It has changed the tone of discussion, the shared discourse and it has brought states to the table that before were dismissive of the HINW conference.

For PAX, the balance of the past days is positive too. As part of ICAN, PAX participated in planning and execution of the discussions with many states during the conference. In addition, PAX was very visually represented during the preceding Civil Society Conference, where PAX staff hosted or spoke at several sessions and presented its work on divestment in the Forum’s Marketplace.

After such a milestone conference, congratulations are in order. PAX would like to congratulate first and foremost the government of Austria for hosting such a timely and well attended conference and all those countries daring enough to state that they believe the time is right to start negotiations on a legal instrument banning nuclear weapons and leading to their elimination.

The absolute highlight of the conference happened at the end. The chair’s summary was lucid and strong and accompanied by a pledge by Austria to do whatever it can to advance nuclear disarmament, including striving for a legal instrument to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

At PAX, we are fully committed to achieving such a ban and we are convinced that such a ban is within reach. We will see a World without nuclear weapons. In Obama’s lifetime.

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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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