Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

NPT - the nuclear disarmament pillar


Several recent postings on the joint UNIDIR/ILPI website may be of interest to those Disarmament Insight readers who are following the build up to the NPT Review Conference, and in particular the development of the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament.

The new posts can be found on the "Effective Measures" site under these links:

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

CD: Nuclear Disarmament

Just a quick reminder to followers of this website that its usual contributors are currently contributing to another site 'Effective Measures', in joint cooperation with ILPI. 

The latest posting on the UNIDIR/ILPI website comments on recent efforts to get negotiations underway in the Conference on Disarmament (CD). 

The posting also offers a suggestion for an approach that would use the CD's rule requiring a programme of work in the manner originally intended by the Rules of Procedure (rule 28). 

And the posting explains briefly the shortcomings of the ambitious, multi-mandated approaches of recent years.

By the way, the UNIDIR/ILPI website contains a glossary of terms in common usage on matters relevant to nuclear disarmament and to the 'effective measures' which parties to the NPT are required by that treaty to negotiate. (Hence the title of that website.)

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow

(Photograph: poster displayed in a temporary exhibition on nuclear disarmament in the Palais des Nations, Geneva)

Monday, 12 January 2015

Effective Measures: New Blogsite

While this is the first posting on this site for several months, readers should be aware of postings on an additional site.  The new site stems from collaboration between UNIDIR and ILPI, the International Law and Policy Institute of Norway.

The joint UNIDIR/ILPI site - http://unidir.ilpi.org/ - is entitled ‘Effective Measures’.  This is a reference to the legally binding commitment under article VI of the NuclearNon-proliferation Treaty (NPT) that obliges all NPT parties to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament …’.

The new site, thus, concentrates on nuclear disarmament.  Its principal objective is to offer analysis and thoughts on the development of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons.

To date there have been 5 postings on the UNIDIR/ILPI site. They can be accessed as follows:
UNIDIR’s Disarmament Insight blogsite will continue in existence – comments, views, critiques continue to be welcome.

Tim Caughley

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

“An Illusion of Safety: Challenges of nuclear weapons detonations for United Nations humanitarian coordination and response”: Findings

As mentioned in a previous posting, UNIDIR has just published its latest study on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.     “An Illusion of Safety: Challenges of nuclear weapons detonations for United Nations humanitarian coordination and response” is now available on the Institute's website.
The study’s main findings are as follows:

1. The current level of awareness within the humanitarian system is generally low about the specificities of nuclear weapon detonation events or its ability to respond to them.

2. For the UN to offer or be called on to coordinate humanitarian assistance suggests an event is already beyond the capacity of the state or states affected to respond effectively to assist the victims. Moreover, as a rule it would depend upon an affected state requesting it, or on the existence of appropriate international decision-making if the government of that state had been incapacitated by the event.

3. The UN is unlikely to be able to offer much humanitarian assistance in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear weapon detonation, and it would take time for the humanitarian system to deploy.

4. At present there are a number of foreseeable challenges to the prompt and effective use of the humanitarian cluster system in the event of a nuclear weapon detonation.

5. Threat or fear of further nuclear weapon detonation events could vastly complicate decision-making about the nature and scale of humanitarian coordination and response, let alone its delivery.

6. Prevention is the best approach to the possibility of nuclear weapon detonation events. Those humanitarian actors in a position to do so, such as the UN, should plan for the likely challenges of “lower end” nuclear weapon detonations even if such a response is palliative. Such planning would, in reality, also reinforce the need for action to reduce the risk of nuclear detonations happening in the first place.

The study suggests that the humanitarian system consider the following:
1. Giving focused attention to the issue in the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC);
2. Assigning responsibility to a new or existing IASC task team, and inviting the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies (IACRNE) to participate in the task team’s work;
3. Studying and simulating varied nuclear weapon detonation scenarios with a view to humanitarian response preparedness;
4. Including representative nuclear detonation scenarios in future revisions of humanitarian procedures for large, complex, sudden-onset disasters; and
5. Reviewing current capacities and plans.
For their part, states and the UN Secretary-General could consider:
1. Prompting relevant humanitarian agencies and specialized agencies such as the IAEA, WHO, and CTBTO to clarify their mandates, policies, roles, and capabilities with a view to responding to nuclear weapon detonations;
2. Accounting for how inter-state decision-making processes could impinge on timely activation of humanitarian coordination and response efforts in the event of nuclear detonation; and
3. Examining how eliminating the risk of nuclear weapon use can be better pursued through practical measures. While nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their detonation does too, whether caused deliberately or inadvertently.

Humanitarianism marks the broader mission of the United Nations, and since its inception the Organization has taken a strong stand in favour of nuclear disarmament. The initiation of specific planning for how to respond to a nuclear weapon detonation would appear to be logical and consistent with both these aims. The development of necessary understandings about decision-making and a protocol for planning can be based on existing humanitarian coordination practices and need not require sizeable resources. The rapid mounting of a well-coordinated response will have an impact in reducing the level of human suffering, even if it may not assist those directly affected in the immediate aftermath.

John Borrie and Tim Caughley

An earlier UNIDIR publication, “Viewing Nuclear Weapons through a Humanitarian Lens” edited by Borrie and Caughley, can also be found on the Institute’s website.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

An Illusion of Safety: Challenges of nuclear weapons detonations for UN humanitarian coordination and response

UNIDIR has this week published its latest study on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.    An Illusion of Safety: Challenges of nuclear weapons detonations for United Nations humanitarian coordination and response” is now available on the Institute's website.
The new study examines one of the conclusions of an international conference on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapon detonations held in Oslo, Norway, in March 2013 that it is "unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected. Moreover, it might not be possible to establish such capacities, even if it were attempted.”
UNIDIR’s study was carried out in cooperation with UNDP and OCHA and includes a foreword by Helen Clark and Valerie Amos, the heads of those two UN agencies respectively. The study describes the current humanitarian system, and considers challenges for its activation and operation in the face of a range of plausible, illustrative nuclear weapon detonation scenarios.
As a scoping exercise the study identifies specific issues that warrant further policy and operational attention in order to enhance civilian protection from nuclear weapons. It suggests steps the humanitarian system could take to better plan for such eventualities, and it reinforces the importance of preventing nuclear weapons from ever being used again in populated areas—whether deliberately or accidentally.
Even if the probability of a nuclear weapon detonation event is viewed as low compared with other sudden-onset disasters, it remains a real one. There are as many as 17,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of nine states, and growing evidence of accidents, mishaps, and near misses since their invention. The prospect of use of single or multiple nuclear weapons by a state, whether deliberately or inadvertently, cannot be excluded. A single nuclear detonation in an urban area by a non-state armed group is another possibility. 
Nuclear weapon detonations could occur in populated or remote areas, with differing implications in terms of harm to human life, infrastructure, and the environment. The consequences of even one nuclear weapon detonated in or near a population centre would be sufficiently disastrous that the United Nations-coordinated humanitarian system could be called upon to assist the victims.
UNIDIR’s study indicates that this would pose a number of serious practical and policy challenges for the humanitarian system. Problems range from the particular characteristics of nuclear detonations such as prompt radiation and radioactive fallout to large numbers of injured people with multiple trauma, serious burn injuries, and radiation-related illness, to widespread fear and disruption, and a low current level of awareness and planning for response. There are inadequate specific procedures and systems appropriate to nuclear weapon detonations compared to preparedness for civil nuclear accidents - from which such detonations differ in significant ways. Protection of humanitarian personnel is highlighted as a particular issue of concern.
In drawing attention attention to the immense challenges of preparedness and response to nuclear weapon detonations in populated areas, the study reinforces previous findings, such as those of the WHO in the 1980s, that the only really effective response to the public health effects of the use of nuclear weapons lies in preventing that use. 

Fuller details of the main findings of UNIDIR’s study will be listed in a separate posting on this site.

An earlier UNIDIR publication, “Viewing Nuclear Weapons through a Humanitarian Lens”  can also be found on the Institute’s website.

John Borrie and Tim Caughley

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Anti-personnel mines: Signing up to the treaty

Last May, a series of events titled “Maputo+15” was held in Geneva to draw attention to key issues arising at the Maputo Review Conference (23 to 27 June 2014) of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention 15 years after the international community had first gathered in Mozambique to begin to implement that treaty.  One of the events in the Maputo+15 series was a panel discussion on 21 May that addressed the issue “Is the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention (APBMC) sufficiently universalised?” 

The object of universalisation is the acceptance of legally binding obligations under the Convention by the entire international community of nation states. The rationale is that the wider the acceptance of the obligations in the treaty the stronger will be the international law and norms it establishes.  The more widespread the acceptance of the law created by any treaty, the stronger will be the international rule of law.

By the time of the first Review Conference in Nairobi, Kenya in 2004 there were an impressive 143 parties to the APMBC. Between entry into force in March 1999 and the Nairobi Review Conference five years later, parties joined on average at the astonishing rate of almost 30 every twelve months. By the second Review Conference in Cartagena, Colombia in 2009 the number had risen by 13 to 156 parties. By the time of the third Review Conference in Maputo this June that number will have increased by a further 5 to 161 parties.

If results-based accountancy rules were applied to those outcomes, clearly we are experiencing the law of diminishing returns.  But it is significant nonetheless that the APMBC’s 161 parties constitute 84% of the international community of nation states. By comparison, there are 193 member states of the United Nations. In the arms control and disarmament field, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention each have 190 parties, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention 168, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty 162, the Convention on Inhumane Weapons 117 and the Cluster Munitions Convention 84 parties to date.

Of the 50 states that once produced anti-personnel mines, all but 16 are now party to the APMBC.  It is also significant that, conscious of the stigma now attached to the use of anti-personnel mines, some states not yet party to the treaty have reduced their reliance on these weapons or modified their approach to them. For example, the US has not produced anti-personnel mines since 1997 and has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the assistance of victims of those weapons.

In terms of the objective of universalisation, some of the questions that can be expected to arise at the Maputo Review Conference are:
- how content should the international community be that 4 in every 5 states are party to the APMBC? Should parties express their satisfaction and devote their energies instead to universalising other treaties such as the Cluster Munitions Convention and the Arms Trade Treaty?
- how far have we come in terms of the promise by the parties to mine victims to end the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines, for all people for all time?
- in view of the diminishing returns mentioned earlier, should we approach norm-setting in a different way, e.g., through securing political commitments from those states that are reluctant to enter into the legally binding commitments of the APMBC?

For the panel in the Maputo+15 event, the answer to the question with which it had been tasked - whether the APMBC was “sufficiently universalised” - was ‘no’.  The humanitarian imperative – the rationale of the APMBC – demands that strenuous efforts should continue to be made to sign up additional states. The focus should remain on the humanitarian impact of anti-personnel mines, not their perceived military utility.

Representations to each non-party should be pitched as having a practical purpose with an emphasis on enhancing the standing of that state in the international community as a measure of respect for international humanitarian law. It is important to demonstrate that the international significance of becoming party to the APMBC warrants the effort necessary at the domestic level to implement the obligations of the Convention.

Stressing that the rationale behind the proposed treaty action is in the national interest and will also promote regional solidarity are key ingredients in the campaign for universalisation. There should be a determination to reach the highest levels of Government, so that Ministers of parties use opportunities, for example at regional meetings, to lobby their non-party counterparts to join the treaty. 

These are important questions and messages on the issue of universalisation for the representatives of the 161 parties to the APMBC to weigh when they gather in Maputo on 23 June 2014.

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR