Lessons from Vienna – abolish nuclear weapons

My friend Ros and I went to Vienna to attend the ICAN Civil Society Forum  to debate the compelling need to abolish nuclear weapons with activists from all over the world. This is what I learned.

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Casper van de Zijde, Roslyn Cook, Elizabeth Chappell and Gina Langton

Unjustifiable suffering from weapons is too cruel (land mines, cluster and chemical weapons have already been banned), and nuclear weapons are even more cruel.

It is difficult to understand how use of these weapons could ever be considered compatible with International Humanitarian Law. I heard time after time at the conference that none of the humanitarian services (the Red Cross or Medecins sans Frontieres for instance) would have the capacity to help people affected by nuclear weapons being detonated either on purpose or by accident. Even in cooperation with the army, there would be inadequate support on the ground to help survivors.

We are not talking about another Hiroshima or Nagasaki. We’re talking about the smallest bomb being up to 38 times more powerful than that, and the effects on the rest of the world would be absolutely catastrophic.

In the event of a major attack on one of our cities – imagine London for instance – it would immediately destroy our hospitals and their staff, render our ambulances useless. There would be no supply of blood products due to high radiation levels, and combined with the shortage of protective clothing for our staff, it would be very difficult for any of those who survived to stay in the city, putting yet more stress on the survival services.

As no one on the planet has the resources for such an emergency – we have to see to it that nuclear weapons are eliminated once and for all.

I was particularly touched by what one of the speakers, Werner Kerschbaum, said.

He said: Why should we care?  Why must we care?  It is the most serious threat to life on this planet. How could we not care? I absolutely fail to understand the logic behind keeping nuclear weapons.  This definitely qualifies as irresponsible behaviour. I owe it to my grandchildren that I must do this – that I must care.  How could we not care?Gina Langton ICAN badge

Everything I heard reconfirmed more strongly than ever what I already suspected – the urgent need for a movement for peace through the arts. 80,000 Voices is essential. And sharing my vision with amazing activists like David Krieger and Rick Wayman, from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, was encouraging to say the least. Not only are they completely behind the idea, but they are so excited about it that they have offered to write guest blogs in the new year.

I was fortunate enough to meet Tony de Brum, the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands. The government and inhabitants of the islands are suing the nine countries with nuclear weapons at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, arguing they have violated their legal obligation to disarm. 

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Our friend Rebecca Sharkey, the ICAN UK Co-ordinator, sent through these fascinating links after the conference which I’d like to share with you. There is a wealth of information here.

Rebecca has written here about the positive presence of British parliamentarians and civil society at the ICAN forum and government conference. There are plenty of interesting reports to read reflecting on the Vienna Conference. Rebecca recommends these bite-sized Storify links for starters: Austrian MFA – ICAN – WMD Awareness.

For more detailed analysis:

Reaching Critical Will – We need to fill the legal gap, but we also need morality, compassion, responsibility & accountability.

Acronym Institute – The Austrian pledge will go down in history.

International Law and Policy Institute – Vienna blurred the distinction between “idealist disarmers” and “nuclear realists”.

And lastly, you can sign up to receive campaign updates from ICAN international here.

Gina Langton

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