Toward effective nuclear disarmament measures

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Is the world still at risk from nuclear weapons? Why are so many of these weapons of mass destruction still in the arsenals of states almost 70 years after their invention, and 25 years after the cold war ended? What would happen if these arms were used today? And what can we do to prevent it? These are some of the questions this new website will explore in coming months—with particular focus on analysing the new political and diplomatic space the emergence of an international humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons has created since 2010. The ‘Effective Measures’ website is a collaborative effort between the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI), based in Oslo, Norway, and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva, Switzerland. As well as presenting research on the themes mentioned above, it will offer up-to-the-minute independent commentary and analysis on current and upcoming nuclear weapons-related developments. The intent is also to provide information on key issues arising from the humanitarian approach and to encourage debate. Our initial focus is on major events of relevance such as the December 2014 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, and the 2015 five-yearly Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and associated meetings. (We hope to post during those meetings, so bookmark this site and follow us on Twitter.) The Vienna conference follows two prior humanitarian conferences, in Oslo in March 2013, and Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014. These were important events because after the end of the cold war public awareness about nuclear arsenals was pushed into the background: it is perhaps no coincidence that momentum among states toward tangible nuclear disarmament measures has stalled. There are now nine states with nuclear weapons. Rather than reducing the roles of these arms in their strategic doctrines, all of these countries appear to be taking steps to modernize their arsenals. Nuclear weapons also remain central to the security doctrines of dozens more countries. Meanwhile, the last multilateral negotiation on legally binding measures on nuclear weapons delivered the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Two decades later the CTBT has yet to enter into force internationally, and the Conference on Disarmament has now been deadlocked for almost 20 years—unable to pursue further nuclear disarmament agreements. And despite significant reductions by the United States and the Russian Federation in the numbers of nuclear weapons they hold, both still routinely deploy more than 1,600 warheads on high-alert. It does not take a genius to see that this is not a sustainable situation, either in terms of safety (since accidents and misperceptions occur—with potentially catastrophic consequences) or for ensuring non-proliferation in the long run. Already, the humanitarian initiative has been key in underlining the continued risks that nuclear weapons pose, and this has begun to focus minds in states and in civil society on what kinds of measure would be effective and achievable in renewing momentum toward eliminating these. This is, after all, what states themselves have repeatedly promised—but largely failed—to do to date. In view of this, Vienna and the 2015 NPT review meeting are likely to be key opportunities. Vienna will contribute to better understanding of the risks and consequences of nuclear weapon use, and strengthening collective will toward pursuing effective measures for nuclear disarmament. As part of our contribution, we’ve produced six concise briefing papers aimed at helping to inform discussions at the Vienna Conference:

As well as these papers, we will post further insights in coming weeks, so keep coming back. John Borrie, Tim Caughley and Torbjørn Graff Hugo.