By Ramesh Jaura
A global movement to outlaw nuclear weapons is in the making with significant support from Norway, which is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella as a member of the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This emerged from a two-day ICAN Civil Society Forum in Oslo.
Some 400 youthful participants gathered in the Norwegian capital on March 2 and 3 ahead of an ‘international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons’, which the five ‘official’ nuclear powers that are also permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council – United States, Russia, China, France and U.K. – have boycotted in a concerted move that surprised officials and non-governmental organizations at the ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) Forum.
The Forum concluded with a selection of young ICAN campaigners – from Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Germany and Sweden – vowing to mobilize massive public support to “ban the bomb”.
Their resolve was strengthened, they said, particularly after listening to harrowing testimonies of the survivors of the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. They also received a crash course on the medical, social, climate and nuclear famine consequences of nuclear weapons.
Dr Alan Robock explained that a small exchange of a few bombs between India and Pakistan would throw up enough smoke into the atmosphere to effectively block out the sun for a decade, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, reduce global temperatures to create a nuclear winter and cause famine for billions.
Dr Ira Helfand from Nobel Laureate International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) described the stark consequences of a bomb on New York, for a three kilometre radius around ground zero, temperatures would be greater than the surface of the sun after a millionth of a second, for the next 3 km the shock wave would cause destruction and death of everything living, the next zone of 3 km would experience a fireball as all flammable material would instantaneously combust and suck up all the available oxygen. Further out the devastation would be less but still significant. These would be the immediate effects without the subsequent radiation poisoning and climate effects, he said.
Tony Robinson, international spokesperson for the organisation World without Wars and Violence, noted that the scientists’ models were just that, models, but as they had stressed, their numbers were always underestimates of what the reality could be. There was no doubt however that planet Earth will experience a nuclear winter, crops will fail for years, and humanity will be brought to the edge of disaster. And in their models they work with the detonation of a small fraction of the world’s 19,000 nuclear warheads.
Wrapping up the Forum, Thomas Nash, a member of the steering group of ICAN said: “The government meeting hasn’t started yet but I feel like we have already achieved a lot. We’ve all been saying that governments need to focus on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and now 130 governments are gathering in this city to talk about just that.
“We made this happen. No matter what goes down during the conference we should remember that. We’ve also got the P5 on the run.”
Nash, now working at Article 36, which is part of ICAN UK, was an active campaigner for banning cluster munitions. A Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) was signed in Oslo in 2008 – underlining an important role played by Norway in preparing the ground for this international treaty.
The convention addresses the humanitarian consequences and unacceptable harm to civilians caused by cluster bombs, through a categorical prohibition and a framework for action. One third of all recorded cluster munitions casualties are children. 60% of cluster bomb casualties are injured while undertaking their normal activities.
Civil society mobilisation
Nash said the ICAN Forum had “felt like just the latest step in a history of effective civil society mobilisation to outlaw and eliminate weapons of mass destruction”. It had already prohibited two out of the three types of weapons of mass destruction, through the ban treaties on chemical and biological weapons. Nuclear testing had been banned as well.
“In these initiatives, civil society mobilised on the basis of the unacceptability of the humanitarian and health consequences of these weapons,” added Nash. He recalled that some 20 years ago as a young New Zealand high school student he took part in a delegation of activists who travelled to France to protest against French nuclear testing in the Pacific, hosted by Mouvement de la Paix.
The Forum also heard ICAN co-chair and director of Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, Dr Rebecca Johnson, set out why a ban treaty is practical, achievable and doable.
Gry Larsen, Norway’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, told participants that the elimination of nuclear weapons is not a utopia and that disarmament is about real people.
Martin Sheen, veteran actor and former President of the United States on TV’s The West Wing, told the Civil Society Forum that if Gandhi and Martin Luther King were alive today they would be part of ICAN. Sheen has been donating time and money to many charities and has received two awards for his humanitarian work.
Nash appeared to be expressing the predominant view at the Forum, when he said: “The only thing that can prevent us from getting a ban on nuclear weapons is if we don’t believe it is possible.”
But, he added: “If we stick together and build our campaign respectfully and inclusively over the coming weeks and months we will find ourselves in the midst of a process to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons before we know it. I think once we get going in that process, we could be pretty hard to stop.”
ICAN representatives said they will be working with governments, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other partners towards a new treaty banning nuclear weapons. In this context, ICAN project manager Magnus Lovold welcomed the 2013 Peace Proposal by Dr Daisaku Ikeda, President of the Tokyo-based lay Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International (SGI).
Dr Ikeda expressed the hope that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and forward-looking governments will establish an action group to initiate before year’s end the process of drafting a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) outlawing nuclear weapons, which are not only inhumane but also swallow some $105 billion year after year.
SGI participated in the Forum with an exhibition titled ‘Everything You Treasure – For a World Free From Nuclear Weapons’, which was launched in Hiroshima in August 2012 at the 20th World Congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The exhibition has been jointly created by SGI and ICAN.
It consists of a total of 40 panels that cover nuclear weapons issues from 12 perspectives: humanitarian, environmental, medical, economic, human rights, energy, scientific, political, spiritual, gender, generational and security.
SGI Executive Director for Peace Affairs Hirotugu Terasaki, who was accompanied by Program Director for Peace Affairs Kimiaki Kawai, said the exhibition also intended to commemorate the 55th anniversary of second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons made on September 8, 1957.