Article | Last updated: 2013-04-17 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The aim of the Conference is to provide an arena for the international community to have a facts-based discussion of the humanitarian and developmental consequences that would result from a nuclear weapon detonation.
International conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Oslo, 4-5 March 2013
The Government of Norway will host an international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
The aim of the Conference is to provide an arena for the international community to have a facts-based discussion of the humanitarian and developmental consequences that would result from a nuclear weapon detonation. The Conference will be focusing on what happens on the ground.
The Conference programme includes presentations by international experts concerning three key aspects:
The Conference will be held over two days, commencing with a brief opening session at 10h CET on Monday 4 March. There will be three substantive working sessions, followed by concluding remarks and a chair’s summary presented after lunch on 5 March.
The venue for the Conference is the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel in Oslo, Norway (http://www.humimpact2013.no/)
In addition, there will be a side-event on the evening of 4 March in Oslo City Hall hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
All interested states, as well as UN humanitarian organizations, the Red Cross Movement, representatives of civil society and other relevant stakeholders are invited to the Conference.
The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Espen Barth Eide, will open the Conference. The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, high-level UN humanitarian agency officials, Norwegian People’s Aid Secretary-General Liv Tørres, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) will also address the Conference’s opening session.
Participation in the work of the Conference is aimed at relevant senior officials and technical experts from national governments, international organizations and civil society.
Why is Norway hosting an international Conference on the humanitarian impacts of detonation of nuclear weapons?
A nuclear weapon detonation, whether intentional or accidental, could cause catastrophic short and longer-term humanitarian, economic, developmental and environmental consequences. Such a detonation would be likely to have global implications.
Recently, the notion of examining the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use has begun to gain renewed attention, along with the higher political profile given to the continued dangers nuclear weapons pose. For example:
- In his speech in Prague on 5 April 2009, United States President Obama said that “One nuclear weapon exploded in one city—be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague—could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be—for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.”
- Concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation have helped to bring awareness of the continued risks all nuclear weapons pose further to the fore than at any time since the vast majority of states signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 in recognition that the world would be a safer place without nuclear weapons.
- In its agreed outcome document, the 2010 NPT Review Conference expressed “deep concern at the continued risk for humanity represented by the possibility that these weapons could be used and the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons”.
- A number of other significant expressions of humanitarian concerns about the likely humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons detonation followed. In particular, in October 2011 the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement recently emphasized the immense suffering that would result from any detonation of nuclear weapons, as well as the lack of any adequate international response capacity to assist the victims. Many states at the 2012 UN General Assembly also expressed their concerns, including through a 34-nation joint-statement.
- In addition, there is accumulating scientific work indicating that the consequences of even small-scale detonation of nuclear weapons would be more serious than previously widely thought. [ i]
The consequences of a nuclear detonation are relevant to practitioners in such diverse fields as health services, development, environment, finance, and emergency preparedness. However, there has been no arena in which to begin to discuss this encompassing these perspectives. That is why Norway decided to organize this Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, and to invite a wide-range of stakeholders.
What will the Conference cover?
The Conference will focus on how states, relevant international organizations, and non-governmental organizations are prepared—or not—to handle the consequences of a nuclear detonation. This will entail some framing of what those likely consequences would be.
The Conference’s programme will feature presentations by experts and discussions around three key issues:
- What is the immediate human impact of a nuclear weapons detonation? Any meaningful discussion about preparedness must be based on a common understanding of the basic challenge the world would be facing. For that reason, leading experts in fields such as nuclear physics, medicine and disaster response will present on topics such as what a nuclear weapon detonation is, what the medical considerations will be in responding, as well as what lessons might be drawn in this regard from historical experience.
- What are the wider developmental, economic and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons detonation? These consequences are not always reflected in current the inter-state discourse about nuclear weapons. Yet in an increasingly interconnected world, these consequences may be broader than previously anticipated, for instance in terms of damage and disruption to the environment, societal infrastructure, the global economy, movements of people and public health.
- What is the state of affairs when it comes to preparedness among states, international organizations and others? Having discussed the kinds of human consequences from a nuclear weapons detonation, how would the international community deal with these? Can it handle these consequences, either currently or in the near future?
It is not anticipated that a two-day Conference can settle the questions raised by these thematic discussions. But they represent a starting point for framing the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, and what needs to be done to deal with—or better yet, avert—nuclear weapons detonation.
Is there really much risk of detonation of a nuclear weapon?
This Conference is not concerned with the level of likelihood of a nuclear weapons detonation. But it is grounded on awareness that, as long as the probability of a nuclear weapons detonation exists, the very high consequence nature of such an event means it must be of humanitarian concern. While the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has fallen since the end of the Cold War, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of states. [ii] Meanwhile, the number of states with access to these arms has risen. This, combined with continued documented nuclear weapons accidents and the ever-present risk of nuclear theft or diversion, mean that the dangers cannot be considered to be negligible.
In view of this, Norway believes that it and the international community bear a responsibility to confront the ramifications of a nuclear weapons detonation.
How does this Conference relate to treaties and other regimes on nuclear weapons at the international level?
This Conference is a freestanding event, although of course it does complement Norway’s international commitments to contain the spread of these arms and eventually eliminate them. Norway is a State Party to the NPT, for instance, and in 2010 the NPT’s Review Conference’s expressed “deep concern at the continued risk for humanity represented by the possibility that these weapons could be used and the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons”.
Nevertheless, Norway is also conscious that not all states belong to the NPT. Addressing the humanitarian consequences of use of nuclear weapons detonation concerns all of the international community, and a freestanding event such as the Conference reinforces the notion that none are excluded from such dialogue.
What is participation in the Conference expected to be?
Norway anticipates a good level of participation from states from all regions of the world, and has already received confirmation from many that they will send representatives to the Conference. These confirmations continue to trickle in, so it is difficult to be precise about numbers, although around 100 state delegations are expected. UNDP has established a sponsorship program for the Conference to assist participation from those states requiring it.
The United Nations has already confirmed that it will be strongly represented at the Conference by personnel from field-oriented agencies including the High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UNDP. In addition, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will feature, including several national societies. The ICRC’s role will also be significant in view of its careful work in recent years analysing the state of international preparedness for a nuclear weapons detonation. Civil society will also be well represented at the Conference.
What is the Conference’s intended outcome?
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will produce a concise summary of proceedings to be presented in the final session of the Conference on 5 March. An agreement or negotiated document is not the objective of the Conference. Nevertheless, it is hoped that this Conference will represent one contribution to raising awareness and the state of knowledge about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and that such dialogue will continue after 5 March.
What is the Conference’s relationship to ICAN’s civil society Oslo Forum?
Norway’s partner for the purposes of civil society participation in the 4-5 March Conference is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). ICAN is responsible for coordinating the many non-governmental organizations with an interest in nuclear weapons issues, including their credentials and civil society statements and presentations in the Conference.
Separately, ICAN has organized its own civil society Forum on 2-3 March (www.Oslo2013.org), the weekend preceding the international Conference. ICAN describes this Forum as an open event, and invites participation from state representatives, the media and indeed anyone interested in attending. The Norwegian government welcomes ICAN’s decision to hold a Forum: believe that greater public interest and pressure is important to ensuring the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons receive sufficient international treatment. Nevertheless, the Forum and the Conference are not formally related.
[i] Studies include Toon, O. B., A. Robock, R. P. Turco, C. Bardeen, L. Oman and G. Stenchikov, L. (2007). "Consequences of Regional-Scale Nuclear Conflicts." Science 315: 1224-1225.
[ii] “More than two decades after the Cold War ended, the world's combined inventory of nuclear warheads remains at a very high level: more than 17,000. Of these, some 4,300 warheads are considered operational, of which about 1,800 US and Russian warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice. Despite significant reductions in US, Russian, French and British nuclear forces compared with Cold War levels, all the nuclear weapon states continue to modernize their remaining nuclear forces and appear committed to retaining nuclear weapons for the indefinite future. The exact number of nuclear weapons in each country's possession is a closely held national secret.” Source: Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project. Cited online, 7 February 2013.