Agenda for cutting nuclear weapons paralysed

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The recent UN conference on the control of nuclear arms is another missed opportunity to prevent a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented scale, according to Irish Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Advocacy officer Louise Sarsfield Collins.

The five-yearly review of progress on international commitments to curb nuclear weapons proliferation ended without agreement in New York recently after nearly a month of talks among 189 countries including Ireland.

"Previous review conferences have produced agreed positions which haven't been properly acted upon but the failure to set recommendations in an agreed document in New York has left the disarmament and non-proliferation agenda in a state of paralysis," Ms Sarsfield Collins said.

The deadlock at the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) arose over a failure to agree terms for convening a conference to make the Middle East a region free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The conference was an opportunity for members of the New Agenda Coalition – which includes Ireland, New Zealand, Mexico and others – to persuade the international community to take seriously the humanitarian consequences of the more likely scenarios arising from a nuclear-armed world.

"The greatest danger from nuclear arms is accidental detonation. There have been dozens of near misses since the US dropped the first nuclear weapons in Japan in 1945.

"The Red Cross and the United Nations have conducted modelling studies showing there is no possibility of humanitarian and relief agencies meeting the needs of survivors and no way to adequately protect those delivering assistance in the event of a detonation accidental or otherwise," Ms Sarsfield Collins said.

"Alas, the development of newer and more sophisticated weaponry has, contrary to the logic of the NPT, continued, which is hardly surprising considering the 13 Practical Steps agreed at the Review Conference in 2000 remain largely unimplemented," she added.

However, some 107 states, including Ireland, have now joined the so-called ‘Austrian Pledge’ which includes a call to “identify and pursue effective measures to fill the gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”. The Austrian Pledge was made at the close of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons last December.

Many of these states came on board in the closing days of the conference.

Louis Maresca, Senior Legal Advisor in the Arms Unit of the International Committee of the Red Cross said that following the failure to agree a position in New York, the next steps on nuclear weapons at the multilateral level are unclear.

However, he said the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in August this year "will be an occasion to recall that concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament have still not been taken". "The NPT failure will likely also be discussed in the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly," Mr Maresca added.