Austrian Parliament hosts roundtable during the Vienna Humanitarian Conference

© Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik

In conjunction with the the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, Austrian Parliament hosted a roundtable in cooperation with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and PNND.

Christine Muttonen. Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik

On 9 December 2014, the Austrian Parliament hosted a Parliamentary Roundtable on Parliamentary Actions for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World in cooperation with the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND).

The Roundtable, held as a side event of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was based on the notion that Parliamentarians have a special responsibility to ensure that governments represent the common will of humanity for a nuclear-weapon-free world, and to ensure governments implement their obligations to achieve this.

The Roundtable focused on actions that can be taken by Members of Parliaments around the world to eliminate nuclear weapons in security doctrines and support negotiations for nuclear abolition. It brought together parliamentarians from over a dozen countries from Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, the Pacific and the Middle East, as well as representatives from NGOs. Participants shared examples of parliamentary action, and discussed ideas and strategies for further action.

The Parliamentary Roundtable was opened by the Chair and Member of the Austrian National Council, Ms. Christine Muttonen, who also serves as Co-President of PNND. Ms. Muttonen reminded the participants of the 21stUniversal Peace Conference which was planned to take place in Vienna 100 years ago and organized by the Austrian recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize Bertha von Suttner and Alfred Hermann Fried. However, because of the outbreak of World War I the conference never took place and today the world is still far from stability, security and peace. Ms. Muttonen especially mentioned the danger that over 16 000 nuclear weapons pose and urged parliamentarians to raise awareness of the issue, work with civil society and call on their governments to continue their engagement for a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Senator Laura Amgélica Rojas Hernandez. Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik

Senator Laura Angelica Rojas-Hernandez (Mexico) highlighted the importance of a security doctrine without nuclear weapons and how this can be achieved through nuclear-weapons-free zones. Ms. Rojas-Hernandez mentioned the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which created the first nuclear-weapon-free zone and to which all 33 countries in Latin American countries are signatories, as an example and called for the creation of similar zones in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Mr. Viktor Rogalev (Kazakhstan), Member of Parliament and Council Member of the PNND, reminded the participants of the nuclear weapons testing done by the Soviet Union in Kazakhstan and of the catastrophic humanitarian and environment impact of these tests on current and future generations. Mr. Rogalew also informed about the ATOM project, an international nuclear abolition campaign launched at the PNND Assembly in 2012 and led by citizens suffering from radiation exposure.

Martin Chungong, Secretary General of the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), highlighted the IPU resolution which was adopted in March this year, and which focuses on the contribution of parliaments to the achievement of a nuclear-weapon-free world. The resolution, which was supported by all IPU member States including those possessing nuclear weapons and under nuclear deterrence doctrines, calls for the elimination of the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and the start of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or package of agreements. Mr Chungong called on parliamentarians to adopt national laws prohibiting nuclear weapons, and he highlighted other ways in which parliamentarians can work towards a nuclear-weapon-free world. He noted that the IPU has sent to every parliament a Handbook on Nuclear Disarmament, co-produced with PNND to assist parliaments in this endeavour.

Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik

Mr. Rob van Riet, PNND UK Coordinator, Coordinator of the World Future Council's Disarmament Programme and co-editor of the PNND/IPU handbook, gave examples of how parliamentarians are engaging in nuclear disarmament, such as by adopting prohibition legislation, supporting initiatives at the United Nations and using their budgetary powers to cut funding for nuclear weapons programs or investments in nuclear weapons corporations.  Mr. van Riet also mentioned that PNND members are raising greater awareness by organising events and debates in parliament showcasing the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and nuclear accidents.

Matt Robson. Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik

Mr. Matt Robson, former New Zealand Minister for Disarmament, discussed New Zealand’s national prohibition legislation. He noted that extended nuclear deterrence used to be a cornerstone of New Zealand’s security policy – through the ANZUS military alliance, and that this had public support due to threat perceptions and history. However, the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear tests in the Pacific, and the strengthening of the UN cooperative security mechanisms, shifted this sentiment and has led to almost universal support for the non-nuclear policy. This is a good example of how other countries that are currently wedded to nuclear deterrence can change. 

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (UK), Member of Parliament and Vice-Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, welcomed the fact that the UK and the US for participating in the Vienna Conference and urged the other nuclear-weapon states to attend the next conference. Mr. Corbyn reported on questions and debates on the topic he and other PNND UK members introduced in the parliament to successfully push the UK government to attend the Vienna conference, as well as on other key issues such as challenging the planned renewal and extension of the Trident nuclear weapons system. Mr. Corbyn also called for parliamentarians to strengthen their actions in support of the establishment of a Middle East Zone Free from Nuclear Weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Mr. Jean-Marie Collin, PNND France Coordinator, focused on nuclear-armed states and called for an international mechanism to ensure that states comply with international treaties on nuclear disarmament.  Mr. Collin also noted that nuclear disarmament is politically difficult because nuclear weapons are often still seen a sign of power. Therefore, a change of mindset is needed to abolish nuclear weapons. The first step in France has been to open a discussion in the French National Assembly and Senate, which PNND has done through cross-party events. Mr Collin presented a letter to the Vienna Conference from 11 French parliamentarians from different parties. Herve Morin, former Defence Minister of France, was amongst the endorsers (statement in French, statement in English).

Mr. Yasuyoshi Komizo, General Secretary of Mayors for Peace, highlighted the importance of cooperation between parliamentarians and mayors as well as the power of public opinion. These aspects can help to ensure that the commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world, which is publically supported by all, is followed through.

Mr. Silvio Heinze, representative of the ICAN Civil Society Forum, focused on the cooperation between the civil society and parliamentarians, and called for a greater involvement of civil society in conferences and meetings.

Tarja Cronberg. Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik

Ms. Tarja Cronberg, Co-President of PNND, offered an outlook on future political opportunities for joint parliamentarian action to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world. Ms. Cronberg called on parliamentarians to work towards greater compliance with international nuclear disarmament treaties and to invest the money that is currently used for the development of nuclear weapons, in humanitarian projects and in combating climate change. 

The keynote presentations were followed by an open and constructive discussion among all participants. Mr. Angus Robertson (Member of Parliament, Scotland) presented a formal letter to the Vienna Conference from Ms. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. The letter noted that the entire UK nuclear fleet and their nuclear weapons are stationed in Scotland, despite the overwhelming opposition to nuclear weapons by the Scottish parliament and public..

Mr. Mayeen Uddin Khan Badal MP (Bangladesh), Chair of the PNND Bangladesh Section, mentioned Bangladesh's situation of being surrounded by nuclear-weapon states, the steps Bangladesh has taken nationally and internationally to support nuclear disarmament,  and the intention of the Bangladesh parliament to take further action with respect to the threat from nuclear weapons in the South Asia region. Mr Badal lamented the resources being dedicated to nuclear weapons, welcomed the SANE (Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditure) Act submitted to the US Senate by PNND Co-President Ed Markey, and suggested that the SANE Act slogan "freeze the nukes, fund the future," be used more widely to gather support among civil society.

Paul Dewar. Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik

Mr. Paul Dewar MP (Canada), PNND Co-President, called for an inventory of nuclear ‘hot spots’, including those where nuclear weapons were tested and used, those where they are deployed, and regions where there are conflicts which involve a risk of nuclear weapons use. He called for greater cooperation amongst parliamentarians worldwide to highlight these and to advance non-nuclear security.

Mr. Gholamreza Asadoloahi (Member of Parliament, Iran) noted that the possession, threat or use of nuclear weapons would be against the fundamental principles of Islam, and reassured Iran's commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world. Mr. Rahmatollah Norouzi (Member of Parliament, Iran) highlighted Iranian policy supporting a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.

Senator Abaca Anjain Maddison (Marshall Islands), former President of PNND, pointed out the Marshall Islands stands as a sad example of the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons – citing a huge increase in still-births, cancers and birth deformities, and the fact that this impact will continue for many generations. Senator Maddison also called on parliamentarians to ask their governments to support the Marshall Island's case before the International Court of Justice on the non-compliance of the nuclear armed States with their nuclear disarmament obligation.

Mr. Mustafa Ceric, representative of Religions for Peace, highlighted the need for religious differences and differences between countries be resolved through respect, understanding and common security rather than being maintained by the threat or use of force. He noted that Religions for Peace has published a Resource Guide on Nuclear Disarmament for Religious Leaders and Communities, authored by Alyn Ware, which highlights the connections between religious faiths and the need for nuclear abolition. He noted that religion should not dominate politics – but nor should it be separate – and therefore he encouraged closer cooperation between religious leaders and politicians.

Dr. Ute Finckh-Krämer spekaing at the parliamentary roundtable. Behind her are members of the Iranian parliamentary delegation.
Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik

Dr. Ute Finckh-Krämer (Member of Parliament, Germany) reported the debate on the role of nuclear weapons within NATO is mostly undertaken by government officials behind closed doors.  Parlamentarians are not invited to engage in the policy debates, nor even informed officially of the existence or deployment policies of nuclear weapons in NATO nuclear-sharing countries. Parliamentarians from NATO member states should raise nuclear deterrence issues and find ways to influence their governments more effectively to make progress on nuclear disarmament.

Mr. Duarte Pacheco (Member of Parliament, Portugal) noted that nuclear deterrence doctrines arise from genuine security concerns. He ask how countries that currently rely on nuclear deterrence could address these security concerns in other ways – including through cooperative security. He also asked how PNND was working with NATO and with parliamentarians from nuclear-armed States with respect to these issues.

Mr. Kulasegeran (Member of Parliament, Malaysia) noted the strong support of the international community for the proposal for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and asked about the relationship between this and other proposals.

Ms. Monica Willard, representative of United Religious Initiative, presented the URI Call to Conscience which notes that ‘The use of a nuclear weapon against any state is inhumane and useless against terrorists. We cannot hold life sacred and at the same time seek security by placing its entirety at risk.‘ Ms Willard supported the call of Mr Ceric that religious communities should work with Parliamentarians, especially through PNND, to build political traction for a nuclear-weapon-free world.  

Dr Vidya Shankar speaking at the parliamentary roundtable

Dr. Vidya Shankar, PNND Coordinator for India, suggested that the humanitarian impact dimension should logically lead to a ban on use of nuclear weapons as a step toward a nuclear weapons convention. He asked why countries like Austria, Ireland and Norway, who are at the fore-front of the humanitarian consequences initiative, are not supporting the Indian resolution at the United Nations calling for negotiations on an international convention to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Alyn Ware, PNND Global Coordinator, responded to some of the comments and questions. With regard to the Marshall Islands case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), he noted that the ICJ has sent a letter to every State Party to the NPT indicating that the Marshall Islands versus UK case involves the issue of implementation of the NPT, and thus all States Parties have a right to join the case through intervention.

In response to the questions from Mr Pacheco, Mr. Ware noted that PNND was indeed advancing cooperative security frameworks for addressing security issues. In regions such as North East Asia and the Middle East, this includes promotion of Nuclear Weapon Free Zones. Globally, this includes advancing the new platform UNFOLD ZERO, which highlights UN forums and approaches for resolving security issues and thus reducing the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines.

Mr. Ware reported that PNND is actively engaging with nuclear-armed States. PNND has co-presidents from France, India, UK and US, council members from Israel and Pakistan and a former Co-President from Russia. PNND has organised events and actions in the parliaments of many of the nuclear-armed States, including its annual assemblies.

In response to Mr Kulasegeran, Mr. Ware referred to the paper from the Basel Peace Office (circulated at the meeting) entitled ‘Making Sense of Abolition Initiatives’ which outlines the main proposals for negotiations (nuclear weapons convention, framework of agreements, ban treaty, building blocks, ban on use followed by elimination…) and which ones are being advanced by each of the main international campaigns/networks including Abolition 2000, Global Zero, ICAN, Mayors for Peace and UNFOLD ZERO.

In response to Mr Shankar, Mr. Ware highlighted the paper produced by the Basel Peace Office (and circulated at the roundtable), From nuclear taboo to a prohibition (ban) on use: The next step to a nuclear-weapon-free world, which supports the proposal for negotiations to prohibit nuclear-weapons-use.

In her closing remarks Ms. Christine Muttonen urged parliamentarians to better connect themselves for the benefit of a nuclear-weapon-free world, especially through PNND. Furthermore, Ms. Muttonen suggested the instalment of an international control mechanism for nuclear disarmament and asked parliamentarians to cooperate more closely on this issue within the framework of the IPU, OSCE-PA and NATO-PA and to also involve the civil society in the process.