Vienna conference: legislators vital to nuclear disarmament

Mock response to nuclear accident: radiation testing on all participants as they entered the conference.

Over 1000 delegates (government and non-governmental) meet in Vienna to discuss the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Parliamentarians from over a dozen countries participate. The Vienna Conference stresses the vital role of parliamentarians.

Over 1000 delegates representing 158 States, the United Nations and civil society met in Vienna from Dec 8-9 for the Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. The conference addressed the humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, including effects on human health, the environment, agriculture and food security, migration and the economy, as well as the risks and likelihood of the authorized or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, international response capabilities and the applicable normative framework.

Alexander Kmentt, Austrian Disarmament Ambassador, speaking at the Vienna conference
Alexander Kmentt, Austrian Disarmament Ambassador, speaking at the Vienna Conference

In summarising the two-day conference, Austria noted that No state or international body could address in an adequate manner the immediate humanitarian emergency or long-term consequences caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in a populated area, nor provide adequate assistance to those affected.’ Austria highlighted ‘The imperative of prevention as the only guarantee against the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use,’ and concluded that ‘The only assurance against the risk of a nuclear weapon detonation is the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Austria than called for States to ‘identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons’ and in particular for the 2015 NPT Review Conference, to ‘determine the next steps for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear-weapon-free world.’

Austria made a pledge to 'cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.' Austria concluded that ‘it is critical to sustain partnerships among States, the Red Cross Movement, international organizations, parliamentarians and civil society with a view to translating the widespread concerns about the risks and consequences associated with nuclear weapons into concerted steps to achieve a world without these armaments.’

Indeed, parliamentarians play critical roles in raising the public and political profile of nuclear disarmament, developing policy, adopting legislation, and promoting government action to ‘fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.’

Jeremy Corbyn MP (United Kingdom) speaking at the Roundtable in the Austrian Parliament.

PNND encouraged governments to participate in the Vienna conference - including those from nuclear-armed States - organised a roundtable in the Austrian parliament, facilitated the participation of parliamentarians in the main conference, and participated in various other side events (see below).

PNND will be actively involved in follow-up to the conference – advancing nuclear abolition in key parliaments and international forums including at the 2015 NPT Review Conference and in United Nations bodies (particularly through UNFOLD ZERO).

One promising proposal launched at the Vienna conference by the Global Security Institute was a draft UN resolution for the UN General Assembly and Security Council to affirm that the use of nuclear weapons against any populated area would be illegal (see U.N. Urged to Ban Nuke Strikes Against Cities, Inter Press Service). The proposal builds on the Mayors for Peace ‘Cities are not Targets’ campaign.

Parliamentary participation in the Vienna Conference

  • Civil Society Forum. PNND Co-Presidents Bill Kidd and Paul Dewar were keynote speakers at a special session on Parliamentarians held at a Civil Society Forum organised by ICAN just prior to the Vienna Conference. The session explored the critical roles that parliaments play in achieving disarmament treaties, and discussed ways in which civil society can work more effectively with parliamentarians.
Roundtable in the Austrian Parliament. Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik
  • Roundtable in the Austrian Parliament. On 9 December 2014, the Austrian Parliament hosted a 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 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.
  • Herve Morin, Leader of the New Centre Party and former French Defence Minister, endorses the French parliamentarian's letter to the Vienna Conference.
    French parliamentarians’ statement. A powerful statement by 10 French parliamentarians from across the political spectrum was delivered to the Vienna conference by PNND France Coordinator Jean-Marie Collin (statement in French, statement in English). The statement, which was presented during the roundtable in the Austrian Parliament, highlighted the difficulties in discussing nuclear weapons policy in France, but the fact that such debate is growing in the French parliament. The statement was endorsed by leading French parliamentarians (most of them PNND members) including M. Denis Baupin (Vice president of the National Assembly), M. Alain Bocquet (Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Committee), M. Jean-Jacques Candelier (Vice President of the Committee on National Defence and the Armed Forces), M. François-Michel Lambert, M. François de Rugy (PNND Council Member), Mme Cécile Duflot, Mme Michelle Demessine (Vice-President of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces), Mme Danielle Auroi (President of the Committee on European Affairs), M. Philippe Plisson, and Hervé Morin, (Leader of the New Centre Party, former defence minister).

The atomic bomb, unfortunately, remains a symbol of power in France. Speaking of France’s nuclear weapons is an extremely delicate topic, because it affects all principles of the power on which our Fifth Republic was created. However, we must be optimistic because although the parliamentary debates on this subject are rare in recent years, we hear voices - even if they are not opposite to the nuclear deterrence – that are questioning this arsenal. This phenomenon indicates the reflection is installed in our parliament.
Statement of French parliamentarians to the Vienna Conference.

  • Abacca Anjain Madisson (former Senator from the Marshall islands) and Paul Dewar MP (Canada) speaking at the roundtable in the Austrian Parliament.
    Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik
    Nuclear Zero Court case. Abaca Anjain Maddison a former senator and Co-President of PNND from the Marshall Islands, was invited to be a keynote speaker for the Vienna Conference. Ms Maddison was born on Rongelap, an island that has been completely evacuated and will remain uninhabitable for generations due to radioactive fallout from nuclear tests conducted hundreds of miles away. Ms Maddison  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 (Nuclear Zero case) challenging the nuclear armed States over the non-compliance of their nuclear disarmament obligation. At a special event in Vienna on December 5, the International Peace Bureau presented the prestigious Sean McBride Peace Award to Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, for leading the Nuclear Zero case in the ICJ.
  • Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) statement to the main plenary. Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary-General, presented a powerful statement to the main plenary of the Vienna conference, in which he outlined the work undertaken by the IPU to highlight the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons and to build parliamentary support for nuclear disarmament. He noted the workshops and deliberations within IPU assemblies that resulted in ground-breaking resolutions adopted in 2009 and 2014 – the latter of which specifically supported the humanitarian consequences conferences, called for the elimination of the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and supported the commencement of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or package of agreements. Chungong highlighted the valuable cooperation between IPU and PNND, in particular on the Handbook for Parliamentarians on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament which has been sent to every member parliament. And he reported on the cooperation with PNND and UNFOLD ZERO in parliamentary actions for the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, speaking at the Austrian Parliament roundtable.
Photo © Parlamentsdirektion / BKA / Georg Stefanik

Parliamentarians, as constitutionally mandated policy makers and legislators, have a responsibility to protect current and future generations from the impact of nuclear weapons.
Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary-General

  • PNND statement to the main plenary. Alyn Ware, PNND Global Coordinator, presented a statement on behalf of PNND to the main plenary of the Vienna conference, in which he outlined actions by PNND members around the world to highlight the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons and advance nuclear abolition through parliamentary action. Mr Ware noted that there are a range of actions parliaments and parliamentarians can take, and that some of these may differ depending on whether they are from non-nuclear States, nuclear-armed States or States under extended nuclear deterrence doctrines.

Parliamentarians are elected or appointed to represent their constituencies, and serve as the bridges between civil society and government. Indeed, in an increasingly interconnected world where we face existential threats to humanity – such as climate change or the risk of nuclear weapons use – parliamentarians have a responsibility not only to their constituents, their political parties and their countries… but also to the global commons and to future generations. PNND is here to ensure parliamentarians meet this responsibility.
Alyn Ware, PNND Global Coordinator