Mexico Hosts Meeting on Nuclear Effects

Daryl G. Kimball

For the second time in two years, diplomats and civil society representatives gathered last month for a two-day conference on the medical and societal impacts of nuclear weapons use, with many governments calling for “new international standards and norms, through a legally binding instrument,” according to the chair’s summary of the meeting.

The agenda of the Feb. 13-14 conference in Nayarit, Mexico, included several presentations from survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and from experts on the effects of and responses to single nuclear detonations and large-scale nuclear attacks.

“It is a fact that no State or international organization has the capacity to address or provide the short- and long-term humanitarian assistance and protection needed in case of a nuclear weapon explosion,” concluded Juan Gómez Robledo, conference chair and undersecretary for multilateral affairs and human rights in the Mexican Foreign Ministry.

The Nayarit gathering brought together 146 government representatives—more than the 127 that met in Oslo, Norway, in March 2013 for the first such conference.

Representatives from India and Pakistan attended the Oslo and Nayarit conferences, but the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) did not. Officials from some of the five governments have expressed concern that the meetings are intended to lead toward talks on a convention on the elimination of nuclear weapons. (See ACT, April 2013.)

In a statement to The Hill Feb. 13, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. decision not to attend “does not indicate any lessening support for nuclear disarmament. We continue to take very seriously the consequences of nuclear weapons use.”

“It is in our interest, as well as the interest of all nations, to extend the nearly 70-year record of nuclear weapons non-use forever. We remain committed to practical step-by-step disarmament and will continue to take steps toward securing a world without nuclear weapons,” she said.

The Nayarit conference reflects the growing impatience of many states with the slow pace of action on nuclear disarmament. In his Feb. 13 opening remarks, Mexican Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade Kuribreña complained that “various UN disarmament fora have not produced any substantive work for almost two decades, leading to the frustration of the vast majority of countries.”

During the meeting, several government delegations emphasized that the multilateral focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the action steps on disarmament and nonproliferation agreed at the 2010 NPT Review Conference are mutually reinforcing.

Seeking to advance the discussion, Austria announced at the start of the Nayarit gathering that in Vienna “later this year,” it would host a third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use.

In a Feb. 13 statement, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that “[n]uclear disarmament is a global task and a collective responsibility” and that Austria “wants to do its share to achieve the goals” of the NPT by hosting the next conference.

Reflecting the view of many but not all of the delegations at Nayarit, Gómez Robledo’s summary statement said the meeting “has shown that [the] time has come to initiate a diplomatic process” with a “specific timeframe” to outlaw nuclear weapons.

But, expressing a view voiced by several delegations, Australia said that “banning nuclear weapons by itself will not guarantee their elimination.”

Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, the president of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, said the states gathered in Nayarit have a great deal of work to do to reach agreement on the nature on further diplomatic efforts and evaluate how to advance the disarmament action steps agreed at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

In a Feb. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Alexander Kmentt, director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, said the Nayarit participants were united in “the wish to firmly anchor the humanitarian imperative in the discussions about nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament” and in the conviction that the “only meaningful” strategy for preventing nuclear weapons use is eliminating and banning the weapons.

Nevertheless, Kmentt said, “different views still exist at this stage” about how to accomplish that goal.

“This discourse needs to be continued and also widened,” said Kmentt, who led Austria’s delegation in Nayarit.

He said he regretted the absence of the nuclear-weapon states from the meeting. “We will invite them to participate in the Vienna conference and hope that they will come,” he said.

Kmentt said the agenda for the Vienna conference is in the planning stages but the list of topics might include risk prevention and the implications of nuclear weapons use under different areas of international law.