Event ReportsPublished on Jan 15, 2015
At a conference on "Civil Society and Nuclear Weapons Policy", organised by ORF and Chatham House in Bangkok, there was a general consensus among participants that the emphasis should be given on raising awareness on the various hazardous impacts of the nuclear weapons explosion, especially in the nuclear weapons states.
Civil society and nuclear weapons policy
Observer Research Foundation and the Chatham House co-hosted a workshop on "Civil Society and Nuclear Weapons Policy" on January 15-16 in Bangkok, Thailand. The workshop focussed on various impacts and consequences of nuclear weapons, including humanitarian, environmental and medical. The agenda of the workshop was to make a realistic assessment of these impacts and identify the role the civil society could play in addressing these impacts and formulising appropriate response measures.

The workshop saw participation from various civil society organisations, think-tanks and universities from South and Southeast Asia. Participants included Dr. Balkrishna Kurvey (Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament & Environmental Protection), Ms. Corazon Valdez Fabros (Nuclear-Free Philippines Coalition), Dr. Farid Shufian Shuaib (International Islamic University, Malaysia), Ms. Hannah Bryce (Chatham House), Dr. Happymon Jacob (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India), Mr. John Abo (Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, Thailand), Mr. Muhadi Sugiono (Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia), Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy (Forman Christian College, Pakistan), Prof. R Rajaraman (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India), Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (Observer Research Foundation), Mr Abhijit Iyer Mitra (ORF), Mr. Roman Majcher (EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), South-East Asia and Pacific Region), Mr. Saiful Izan bin Nordin (Malaysian Red Crescent), Mr. Sasan Aghlani (Chatham House), Mr. Stephen Donnelly (International Committee of the Red Cross), and Ms. Valentina Bernasconi (International Committee of the Red Cross, Thailand).

The workshop essentially dealt with two critical aspects of the debate. One was to look at the disastrous impacts that nuclear weapons have, both from a medical and environmental perspective. While Fukushima incident was sited to give an idea of the possible impact a nuclear weapon explosion may have, some participants argued that there cannot be an analogy between a nuclear weapon explosion and a nuclear accident, such as in Fukushima. This is primarily because the impacts of a nuclear weapon explosion will be far more devastating. Various effects of a nuclear weapon explosion were discussed including the blast effect in the vicinity, thermal impact, the effect of the electromagnetic pulse disrupting all electronic and communication devices, fallout of radioactive particles and on climate and the larger eco-system.

Second was to look at the possible humanitarian response measures that state governments and civil society organisations take with regard to developing ways to minimise damage to human lives in case nuclear weapons are detonated. It was acknowledged that there is no effective way to minimise the dangers from not just the explosion per se, but also the spread of the radiation, at least in the near vicinity of the site of explosion. There was a general consensus among participants that the emphasis should be given on raising awareness on the various hazardous impacts of the nuclear weapons explosion, especially in the nuclear weapons states.

In the same effort, outcomes of the third International Conference on Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons, held in Vienna on December 08-09, 2014 were discussed. This conference, for the first time, saw participation of Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) - including the United Kingdom and the United States of America, as much of the process of elimination of nuclear weapons has to start from NWS. The representative from the US, however, did mention that the decades during which the US has evolved its nuclear weapons’ policy, humanitarian impacts were indeed taken into account.

It was also highlighted that the conference, which is hosted voluntarily upon interest of a participating nation, saw no other nation coming out offering to continue the discussion for the fourth time. This raises concerns over the lack of seriousness with which these discussions take place. There was also no clear consensus on devising way forward in moving towards complete nuclear disarmament. It could be either through a nuclear weapons convention that calls for the complete elimination of these weapons at once or through a step by step process that leads to gradual elimination of nuclear weapons. There was also a call for consideration of security situations of some of the nations before moving towards nuclear disarmament - an argument that again necessitates the examination of the context of nuclear deterrence in certain regional contexts.

This led to an extensive debate on the relevance of nuclear weapons in the security thinking of a state. Here, the regional perspectives from South Asia and Southeast Asia varied significantly. Participants from Southeast Asia perceived nuclear weapons as weapons of Cold War and argued that their relevance and role in security of a nation had diminished in the present century. Whereas experts from South Asia called for an examination of the relevance of nuclear deterrence, in trying to assess, for instance, whether nuclear weapons have helped India and Pakistan avoid a major war or not.

While calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, some participants also argued that, with rapid modernisation, conventional weapons systems have much greater utility in so far as deterrence is concerned, in comparison with nuclear weapons, as the latter have become outdated. This, however, does not take into account the varying levels of conventional modernisation that prevails among different nations. The gap in technological advancements could make the option of war for conventionally superior nations much more feasible.

(This report is prepared by Arka Biswas, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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