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A humanitarian approach to reshape the global nuclear order

For decades, nuclear weapons have been portrayed as essential to the security of the few states that possess them, and as a very ‘normal’ part of national and international security. These states have engaged in enormous programmes of acquisition and development, have disregarded the humanitarian implications of these weapons, and sought to persuade their publics that national security was dependent on the promise of killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of civilians. The term ‘nuclearism’ has been used to describe this era, and several elements of nuclearism are explored here to identify how these states have been able to sustain their possession of nuclear arsenals. By perpetuating a discourse of ‘security’ which avoided international humanitarian law, by limiting decisions on nuclear policy to small groups of elites, by investing vast amounts of resources in their nuclear programs, and by using the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to perpetuate their privileged status as nuclear states, despite their promises to disarm, the great powers have been able to sustain a highly unequal – and dangerous – global nuclear order. This order is now under challenge, as the Humanitarian Initiative explored the implications of nuclear weapons’ use. Its sobering findings led non-nuclear states, supported by civil society actors, to create the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, making these weapons illegal, for all states. The Humanitarian Initiative has posed a challenge to all the elements of nuclearism, and has resulted in a significant rejection of the existing nuclear order. The treaty will not result in quick disarmament, and it faces several hurdles. It is, however, a notable achievement, delegitimizing nuclear weapons, and contributing to the goal of a nuclear-free world.

Abstract only
Marianne Hanson

-, oriented. This challenge involved a programme of humanitarian advocacy, the imposition of a process of what is sometimes called ‘humanitarian arms control’, designed to stigmatize and delegitimize particular weapons as a vital step towards their eventual elimination. It was labelled the ‘Humanitarian Initiative’. This development was a significant one, because for the first time, at a widespread and state

in Challenging nuclearism
Drawing lessons from earlier disarmament campaigns
Marianne Hanson

This chapter introduces the practice of ‘humanitarian arms control’, and shows how this was applied to the cases of landmines in 1997 and cluster munitions in 2008. It argues that even as the nuclear states continued to hold fast to nuclearism, a process of ‘humanitarian disarmament’ was evolving. There were some notable aspects of these disarmament processes which would, in time, come to have an important bearing on the way in which non-nuclear states sought to achieve the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The experience of the landmines ban especially, together with fifteen years of reflection on the success of that process and its role in re-affirming the place of international humanitarian law in weapons control, provided states and civil society actors with useful experience and an important background against which the matter of nuclear weapons would henceforth be framed. The chapter argues that the utilization of humanitarian arguments and novel processes of diplomacy used to prohibit landmines (and later, cluster munitions) showed that there would be some value in applying similar arguments to nuclear weapons also, as a way of pushing for disarmament. These novel processes included the presence of new initiators, and new participants, especially non-state actors drawn from the humanitarian field, the creation of new diplomatic venues, the bypassing of the great powers, the choice to work on a single, clear goal of complete prohibition, staying with a solely humanitarian framework, and employing new methods for reaching agreement.

in Challenging nuclearism
Marianne Hanson

faith in what was being called the Humanitarian Initiative on nuclear weapons as an alternative means of framing the nuclear weapons debate, and that they aimed to shift the discourse on nuclear weapons – and nuclearism more generally – away from purely strategic concerns. For many of these states, building on the earlier processes of humanitarian arms control and disarmament

in Challenging nuclearism