Disarmament Insight


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

Monday, 2 June 2014

Nuclear disarmament: CD informal meeting (3)

The work plan developed by Ambassador Dr Walid M Abdelnasser of Egypt, the Coordinator of the Conference on Disarmament's informal meetings on nuclear disarmament, raised for discussion some legal elements and approaches for achieving nuclear disarmament. On 22 May 2014, UNIDIR was asked to present a paper to the CD on that topic.  The paper was not a complete survey, but merely a sample of relevant initiatives, proposals and papers. The first and second parts of the paper appear in earlier postings on this site. The third and final part of the presentation - a brief mention of several rationales for nuclear disarmament together with a summary of the paper as a whole, is the subject of this third and final posting.

Rationales for nuclear disarmament.

Under this heading, it should be mentioned (even though its context here is related more to the NPT than the CD) that the rationales of the NPT are threefold: to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament as part of general and complete disarmament.

Finally, a rationale for nuclear disarmament that appeared in the agreed principles and objectives in the 2010 NPT action plan included, amongst others, deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.  Presumably, agreed principles and objectives such as this one are seen as offering a rationale for all the legal vehicles outlined in the first of the three postings in this series.

To summarise the paper as a whole:

- There is a reasonably clear list of legal obligations that will be required to secure nuclear disarmament on a multilateral basis.

- There is also a range of legal vehicles through which those obligations can be expressed.

- In the meantime, in order to get down to the task of actually negotiating those vehicles, various approaches or frameworks are possible and warrant consideration, whether they are of a legally or politically binding nature.

- In exploring the way forward – as in these informal meetings of the CD, a number of rationales for and approaches to nuclear disarmament are also in play. 

- Understanding and clarifying what is contemplated by the various approaches outlined here will be an important precursor to progress towards setting a legal course to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

- This forum – the Conference on Disarmament, which includes all nuclear weapons-possessing states, is an obvious starting point for clarifying objectives, mechanisms and vehicles, although the Open Ended Working Group and at least theoretically the NPT have potential in affording wider representation of states and the presence of civil society. Progress on nuclear disarmament – the oldest issue on the CD’s agenda – may be the touchstone of this body’s future.

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR

Nuclear disarmament: CD informal meeting (2)

The work plan developed by Ambassador Dr Walid M Abdelnasser of Egypt, the Coordinator of the Conference on Disarmament’s informal meetings on nuclear disarmament, raised for discussion some legal elements and approaches for achieving nuclear disarmament. On 22 May 2014, UNIDIR was asked to present a paper to the CD on that topic.  The paper was not a complete survey, but merely a sample of relevant initiatives, proposals and papers. The first part of the paper appears in an earlier posting on this site. The second and penultimate part of the presentation included these remarks: 

Approaches on how to achieve nuclear disarmament 

These can be categorised as follows:
a)        the legal vehicle or vehicles or means of achieving nuclear disarmament;
b)        a mixture - that is, a legally binding process describing agreed stages by which nuclear disarmament would be achieved and prescribing the legal form of them; and
c)         descriptions of possible processes for making progress in the interim towards the initiation of legally binding processes for achieving nuclear disarmament.

a)        The legal vehicle or vehicles or means of achieving nuclear disarmament
Under this heading, the most commonly mentioned treaty-based approaches are:
(i)        A comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention, an example of which is the model Nuclear Weapons Convention tabled in the UNGA by Costa Rica and Malaysia (A/C.1/52/7), discussed in the CD, Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) and in the NPT.  The Convention would prescribe prohibitions and general obligations for effecting a time-bound, irreversible and verifiable nuclear disarmament treaty, complementing the Biological and Toxin Weapons and Chemical Weapons Conventions. This approach more or less seeks to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons in a single, legally binding step, although it would supplement existing treaties such as the NPT and CTBT (when in force).  And while it would encapsulate nuclear disarmament in a single treaty it nonetheless entails a staged approach for elimination over five, time bound phases. Negotiating a comprehensive nuclear disarmament regime in one instrument would clearly be ambitious and complex, and its critics prefer to tackle the phases in separate legal instruments.
(ii)       A Convention Prohibiting the Use of Nuclear Weapons. In 1961, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 1653 declaring the use of nuclear weapons “a crime against mankind and civilization”. A Convention on the Prohibition of Use of Nuclear Weapons was proposed by India originally in 1978 and in a UNGA resolution in 1982 and in the CD (CD/1816) in 2007.  India argued that reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in strategic and security doctrines and policies was essential for realizing the goal of complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Alignment of nuclear doctrines to a posture of ‘no-first-use’ and non-use against non-nuclear-weapon states by all nuclear weapon states would, in India’s view, be an important step towards achieving that objective.  Critics of an approach that would only prohibit use argue that, on its own, it would still leave nuclear weapons in the hands of existing possessors unless it was coupled with binding commitments leading to time bound elimination. There is also the question, raised by the ICJ in its 1996 Advisory Opinion, as to whether use in self-defence would be outlawed by a prohibition on use.
(iii)     No First Use Convention. This approach envisages a binding legal commitment by nuclear-armed states that they would never, under any circumstances, be the first to use nuclear weapons. The International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament said that it was clear from the soundings they had taken that international civil society organizations were unlikely to be enthusiastic about a treaty “which (even if ‘no first use’ is acknowledged as a useful station on the way to zero) is not itself premised on the elimination of nuclear weapons” (www.icnnd.org).
(iv)      A Nuclear Weapons Ban Convention. Such a treaty would set out the prohibitions required for the pursuit, achievement and maintenance of a world free of nuclear weapons. It would prohibit the parties from engaging in any activity related to the use, development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, deployment, transfer or financing of nuclear weapons. This approach might explicitly or tacitly recognise that further legally binding steps would be needed to secure the elimination of nuclear arsenals. Detractors of this approach argue that it would be sustainable only if the nuclear weapons possessing states participated and became party to the resulting treaty. On the other hand, the case against proliferation of nuclear weapons – supported strongly by all countries including nuclear weapon states - rests heavily on their prohibition.  The recent paper of NGOs Reaching Critical Will and Article 36 on a legal framework for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons explores these issues further.

b)        A framework - that is, a legally binding process describing agreed stages by which nuclear disarmament would be achieved.
An interim step, pending the negotiation of an agreement of the kinds just outlined, would be to negotiate a legally binding framework under which nuclear disarmament would be achieved on a serial basis through completing the various stages set out in that framework – that it, a treaty-based recipe for the route to eventual elimination. Examples are the Convention on Conventional Weapons with its 5 Protocols and the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict with their Additional Protocols.
In his 5-point plan for nuclear disarmament, the UN Secretary-General described that approach as “a framework of separate, mutually reinforcing instruments”.  Recently, this point was expanded slightly in a paper tabled in the NPT by the New Agenda Coalition. That paper envisaged a step-by-step or building blocks approach within “clearly identified elements including a number of free standing instruments or treaties dealing with specific aspects of nuclear disarmament”.
In these examples, use of the word “instruments” could conceivably be interpreted flexibly to include non-legally binding frameworks. If so, it might be a matter for discussion in this Conference as to whether a framework covering something as complex and necessarily lengthy as the sequence of agreements leading ultimately to the elimination of nuclear weapons can be left to a non-binding arrangement.  On the other hand, the development of a framework without determining at the outset whether it was to be legally binding might be a useful confidence building measure, offering a new perspective to the CD deadlock over some of the individual components of a framework such as a Fissile Material Treaty, Negative Security Assurances and nuclear disarmament in general.

c)         Descriptions of possible processes for making progress on or achieving nuclear disarmament.
(i)        Sequential stages towards elimination.
There is not time or space here to list all the proposals, processes or means of making progress on nuclear disarmament favoured by states and groups of states.  Some of them are inherent in legally binding approaches just described.  The most commonly voiced involve the idea of sequential stages towards elimination.  These include general descriptions such as building blocks, step-by-step or phased approaches. In reality, such descriptions do not - on their own - take us very far.  Not only are the next steps deadlocked or unavailing (e.g., programme of work in the CD, entry into force of the CTBT), but also it is axiomatic that in something as complex politically and technically as the verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons a series of measures is inescapable. A challenge for those advocating a step-by-step or building blocks or phased approach is to articulate clearly the actual steps or blocks or phases and their sequence.
(ii)       Additional specific proposals or possible approaches. 
- Timebound: A Programme of Action was tabled in the CD by the Group of 21 in August 1996 calling for negotiations on a phased programme of nuclear disarmament for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons with a specified time frame as soon as the CTBT negotiations were concluded.
- Venue for negotiations: In 1998 South Africa proposed that the CD establish an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament to deliberate upon practical steps for systematic and progressive efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons as well as to identify if and when one or more such steps should be the subject of negotiations in the Conference.  That same year Canada proposed that the CD establish such a committee with a view to identifying if and when one or more nuclear disarmament issues might be negotiated multilaterally.
- “Effective measures”: The New Agenda Coalition recently tabled a paper in the NPT with a number of options for the development of “effective measures” drawing on the wording of article VI of the NPT. One of those options, as already mentioned, is a framework arrangement of mutually supporting instruments aimed at achieving and maintaining a world free of nuclear weapons.
- NWFZs: Another approach sometimes pondered in the margins might be to develop and expand nuclear weapon free zones, perhaps through focusing first on similarities amongst existing zones and then by exploring scope for synergies amongst them.
- And lastly among this small sample of approaches are action plans: In the case of the NPT, there are the 13 steps of the 2000 Review Conference, reiterated (though modified) in the more comprehensive 2010 action plan.

A third part of this paper, a brief mention of several rationales for nuclear disarmament together with a summary of the paper as a whole, will be the subject of a third and final posting.

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR

Nuclear disarmament: CD informal meeting (1)

The work plan developed by Ambassador Dr Walid M Abdelnasser of Egypt, the Coordinator of the Conference of Disarmament’s informal meetings on the CD's agenda item on nuclear disarmament, raised for discussion some legal elements and approaches for achieving nuclear disarmament. 
On 22 May 2014 UNIDIR was asked to present a paper to the CD on that topic.  The first part of the paper included these remarks based on Egypt's work plan:

Elements required to achieve nuclear disarmament: Key prohibitions

To be able to achieve nuclear disarmament, certain key prohibitions will need to be established through legally binding commitments.
These may include obligations:
- obligations not to retain, produce, develop, acquire, test, deploy, stockpile, maintain, transfer or finance the development of nuclear weapons, related nuclear materials, delivery systems and components,
- obligations not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons;
- obligations to destroy or convert for non-weapon purposes all production and development facilities, as well as delivery systems, command and control facilities; and
- obligations to place under international safety controls, materials for nuclear weapons (highly-enriched uranium, uranium-233, plutonium, tritium, etc.).

To implement these obligations, it will be necessary to agree on some or all of the following aspects:
- definitions;
- phases for implementation;
- verification;
- an implementing secretariat or international agency;
- individual declarations by nuclear weapon states on aspects of elimination specific to each such state;
- national implementation through new domestic legislation;
- cooperation, compliance and dispute settlement; and
- final clauses on entry into force, signature, ratification and accession, amendments, withdrawal, reservations, etc.

In addition to declarations by nuclear weapon states, there are likely to be – as in the Chemical Weapons Convention - various annexes and protocols on handling confidential information. Some details of verification, confidence building measures, nuclear activities, delivery vehicles and disposition of special nuclear materials may also be set out in annexes.

Further postings will cover points made during the same presentation under the heading “Approaches on how to achieve nuclear disarmament”. Those postings will list various legal vehicles or means through which the elimination of nuclear weapons may be pursued, as well as common rationales for those vehicles and processes for giving effect to them.

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR