The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was the result of a decisive development within the nuclear disarmament regime. Since the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the international community has refocused its attention to the humanitarian dimension of and the risks associated with nuclear weapons. This evolution was reflected trough cross-regional humanitarian statements in UN fora and culminated in the organisation of three Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo (March 2013), Nayarit (February 2014) and Vienna (December 2014).
The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was attended by 158 States, a broad spectrum of international organisations from the UN system, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, many academics and experts and several hundred representatives of civil society. The Conference was opened by Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz; the UN Secretary General, the President of the ICRC and Pope Francis addressed the Conference though important statements and messages. Victims of nuclear explosions gave testimonies of their harrowing experiences. In four sessions, experts from various fields addressed the short and long-term consequences of nuclear weapons, the impact of nuclear testing, the risk drivers for deliberate or inadvertent nuclear weapons use, scenarios of nuclear weapons use and the associated challenges as well as an overview of the norms under existing international law pertaining to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons explosions.
The scientific results and the discussions which emerged in the Vienna Conference underscored that the humanitarian consequences and risks associated with nuclear weapons are far higher and graver than previously assumed, and that they should thus be at the center of global efforts related to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
Austria attempted to reflect the breadth of views that exist in the international community on the way forward in the Chair’s Summary, which was presented in her sole responsibility. The Chair’s Summary contains eight key substantive conclusions that have emerged in the humanitarian initiative of the past three years and the international conferences in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna. In addition, Austria issued a national pledge that goes beyond the Chair’s Summary that contains the conclusions that Austria drew from the humanitarian arguments.
The Vienna Conference, thus, consolidated the substantive discussions that had taken place in the three Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons into a set of substantive and strong conclusions with respect to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the risks associated with the existence of these weapons, as well as the legal and moral dimension of this weaponry. This was intended to provide key input for future work on nuclear disarmament, including at the 2015 Review Conference of NPT. Moreover, the Vienna Conference presented – through the line of argument contained in the “Austrian Pledge” – a set of conclusions that States could draw as a result of the humanitarian initiative and the new evidence that has emerged in this context.