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The Austrian Pledge

December 9, 2014
Alexander Kmentt of the Austrian ministry, the Vienna Conference chair, reads the Chair's Summary.

Alexander Kmentt, the Vienna Conference chair, reads the Chair’s Summary.

The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons concluded today with a major step forward for ICAN and all those States that are now ready to join in a political process to ban nuclear weapons. The Austrian government closed the Conference with an unexpected and extraordinary pledge: to cooperate with all stakeholders “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” (which can only mean one thing), and “to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, States, International Organisations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements, parliamentarians and civil society, in efforts to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks” (which means exactly what it says).

“The Austrian Pledge” means that we can now begin the real work of bringing willing States together around a political process to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons. At least 42 States signaled their readiness to join such a process during the general debate today, and others are likely to do so once an actual process begins to take shape.

The first step defined by Austria will be to bring the conclusions of the three HINW conferences—Oslo, Nayarit, and Vienna—into the 2015 NPT Review Conference this May, and urge the NPT to take up the urgent and long overdue task of fulfilling Article VI as a humanitarian imperative on the basis of those conclusions. In the meantime, ICAN will be working with as many States as possible to ensure that the process goes forward regardless of the venue.

IPPNW co-president Ira Helfand (right) and Rebecca Johnson congratulate Ambassador Kmentt at the conclusion of the conference.

IPPNW co-president Ira Helfand (right) and Rebecca Johnson congratulate Ambassador Kmentt at the conclusion of the conference.

The Chair’s summary is a powerful and persuasive document, spelling out in precise language all of the evidence and key conclusions of the three HINW conferences. And while it reflects the full range of views that were expressed during the discussions about how to deal with this evidence, it also indicates which of those views had substantial support. By the end of the conference, more than enough States had taken up ICAN’s call for a legally binding instrument to ban nuclear weapons to make a start down that road.

Here are a few key excerpts from the Chair’s summary:

“Many delegates expressed concern about the limited progress in nuclear disarmament and stressed the view that humanitarian considerations should no longer be ignored but be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations.”

“Many delegations noted that the discourse on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons has revealed that nuclear weapons pose an unacceptable risk, that this risk is higher than commonly understood and that it continues to increase over time.”

“Many delegations reaffirmed that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the most effective way to prevent their use.”

“The majority of delegations underscored that the final elimination of nuclear weapons should be pursued within an agreed legal framework, including a nuclear weapons convention.”

“Many delegations stressed the need for security for all and underscored that the only way to guarantee this security is through the total elimination of nuclear weapons and their prohibition. They expressed support for the negotiation of a new legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons constituting an effective measure towards nuclear disarmament, as required also by the NPT.”

ICAN campaigners celebrate the outcome of the Vienna conference before heading home.

ICAN campaigners celebrate the outcome of the Vienna conference before heading home.

We had a short campaigners debriefing this evening, and came away confident that “the Austrian Pledge” completes the transition from learning about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons to acting upon the evidence and pursuing a ban treaty as the real “game changer” that will deliver a world without nuclear weapons.

I have to pack, get some sleep, and fly home tomorrow, but I don’t want to end this post without a few words about the really amazing campaign team ICAN has recruited. They are young (and not so young), smart, professional, full of energy, and more diverse than any group of nuclear abolition campaigners I’ve ever seen in 30 years of working on this issue. And there are lots of them. They worked the floor hard for two days, and it showed in the results. Nadja Schmidt of ICAN Austria delivered our final statement with conviction and composure. All of this was noticed by the States we’ll be partnering with over the next several months, and they now know that ICAN has delivered the civil society backing they need to take the next courageous steps.

Courage was the theme we brought to Vienna—the courage to ban—and it looks like there just may be enough courage to go around as we leave. Take the Austrian Pledge and run with it. The game is on.

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