The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and the ICAN Civil Society Forum (CSF), held from 6-9 December 2014, were both enormously successful. They should be considered milestones in our long march to a world without nuclear weapons and may actually have shortened that march considerably!

Civil Society Forum

There were more than 600 participants at the CSF, including hundreds of ICAN campaigners, representatives of other NGOs, Members of Parliament and other elected officials, representatives of several Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, journalists, and others. IPPNW had a strong delegation, most (but not all!) of whom are in the photo. Michael Baier of IPPNW Austria deserves our thanks for making sure that we all felt welcome in Vienna and could find our way around the spacious Aula der Wissenschaften, where the CSF was held.


IPPNW’s work was well represented during the CSF program. Ira Helfand made a powerful presentation on the medical and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons and nuclear war, including the latest climate and nuclear famine findings; I introduced IPPNW’s new campaign kit during a breakout session on Saturday; and Xanthe Hall spoke about divestment during a “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” session on Sunday. The newly redesigned “Hibakusha Worldwide” poster exhibition was on display in the CSF marketplace. Richard Moyes of Article 36—an ICAN partner organization—gave particular credit to IPPNW’s role in starting ICAN and providing much of the campaign’s medical and humanitarian impetus during his introduction to the closing session on political action. ICAN has grown far beyond its roots in IPPNW, but we remain very much at the center of the campaign we launched in 2007!


Vienna HINW Conference

The third HINW conference was attended by 158 States—at least a dozen more than were in Nayarit earlier this year—and hundreds of representatives of civil society, international organizations, Red Cross Red Crescent societies, academics, and the media. The US and the UK, which had boycotted the Oslo and Nayarit HINW conferences, were present in Vienna, though their interventions, as expected, were not constructive.


Rather than report on the conference program in detail, I refer you to the excellent summary and evaluation produced by Reaching Critical Will, and invite you to read the articles I posted to the Peace and Health Blog during the conference. I’ll just highlight a few things in this report.


  • IPPNW’s work was in evidence throughout the conference program. Several speakers referred to IPPNW research and publications during their presentations, including climate scientist Michael Mills, Mary Olson of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Helen Durham of the ICRC, and others. The findings about nuclear famine, in particular, are now a central part of the narrative about humanitarian impact, and were cited by many State delegations during the general debate.

  • The Chair’s strong summary of the conference (which also incorporated the outcomes of the two previous HINW conferences) was unambiguous in confirming every aspect of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons: the medical, environmental, and humanitarian disaster that would result from any use of nuclear weapons; the inability to mount any kind of meaningful medical or humanitarian response; and the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used if they are not eliminated.

  • The big—and most welcome—outcome of the Vienna conference was the “Austrian Pledge.” As I wrote on the Peace and Health blog at the conclusion of the conference, Austria has pledged to work with all willing States and international organizations and with civil society to “stigmatize, prohibit, and eliminate” nuclear weapons, and to close the legal gap that currently exists because there is no explicit prohibition. You will hear a lot more about the Austrian Pledge early in the new year, but for now I can tell you it’s real, that it means what it says, and that the Austrians will now be very methodical in building the core group of States that will be needed to take the next political steps emerging from the HINW initiative, either at the NPT (which, in our view, is unlikely to deal with it adequately), or in some alternative process that is not yet defined. In a sense, this is our step-by-step process for nuclear disarmament. Unlike the directionless steps promoted by the nuclear-armed States, however, we know exactly where our steps are taking us, and the next one is a ban treaty! This is not going to be easy, and our next big challenge will be to deliver a sufficient (and sufficiently influential) number of States who are ready to put a ban treaty on the table. That will be ICAN’s primary goal in 2105, and all of us in IPPNW must now do what we can to help achieve that goal.


(Forfatter: John Loretz, Program Director IPPNW)