A Diplomat?s Diary

Sensitive issues pass during crash course on nuclear diplomacy

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

IKV Pax Christi, a Dutch peace organization that focuses on disarmament issues, organized a crash course on nuclear diplomacy to raise nuclear weapons awareness. Eight students from Dutch universities were selected for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee negotiations in Vienna. Among them were two students of Leiden University – Anastasia Nikitinskaya (21, Political Science) and Mathew Truscott (27, Public International Law).

April 30: The UN emblem makes our heart beat faster 

It is hard to describe the feeling one gets upon entering the Vienna International Center on our first morning. For those with a passion for changing the world, the sight of the UN emblem is enough to get the heart beating a bit faster, but to know that we would actually be involved in a process of such crucial significance to humankind is quite phenomenal.During the crash course we had received training on various lobbying techniques (from elevator pitches to meeting diplomats on coffee breaks) but now we had to put it into practice. The state representatives at the conference are focused on the negotiations at hand. Because of this, they are quite detached from the civil society groups: they have their separate rooms, and even in the plenary rooms non-governmental organizations do not approach diplomats directly. Meeting high ranked officials who are in the very same building is therefore harder than we initially anticipated. However, we quickly found our way around it – diplomats may not have much time for individuals, but they are very enthusiastic to meet up with student groups to discuss their positions with the new generation. Thanks to the remarkable cooperation of the diplomats during the conference we managed to meet with representatives from over twenty countries.

May 1:  Meeting atomic bomb victims

The most extraordinary experience today is meeting Kodama Michiko and Yoshioka Yukio, survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb who are present. The impact of the 1945 happenings on the Japanese society can be measured by the fact that Japanese language has a special word for the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – they are called Hibakusha. It is hard to imagine, but Hibakusha were abandoned by the Japanese government for more than 11 years, and only in 1957 they started to receive state support. For a lot of the victims state support made little difference: the majority of Kodama’s and Yoshioka’s relatives died within three years after the bomb was dropped. Hearing their life stories and looking at the Yoshioka’s scars all around his body, it is astonishing that the Japanese government does not use them as an example in the fight against nuclear weapons. If everybody would hear their stories, nobody would still argue that nuclear weapons are in fact legitimate and necessary tools in states’ security policy. 

May 2:  A tour of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization

In between meeting diplomats there are also numerous side events organised for the participants of the conference. One of the most interesting events was a tour of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). The organisation’s objective is to monitor the entire world to ensure that there are no nuclear tests, be it at sea as well as underground. The CTBTO has hundreds of stations set up across the globe, in areas as remote as the South Pole, which provide round the clock real-time feedback to the central control room in Vienna. Even so-called “peaceful” nuclear tests spread dangerous amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. Not only is this radiation hazardous to human health, but for the largest test ever conducted the yield of the explosion was allegedly reduced for fear of the blast affecting the earth’s axis. CTBTO plays a crucial role in avoiding such dangers.CTBTO also serves as an excellent example of international co-operation. One of the ways to monitor nuclear tests is to use complex seismic and infra-sound scanners. These are now also used as global warning systems to detect earthquakes and tsunamis. The organization therefore not only monitors the agreement not to test nuclear weapons, but also shows what mankind can gain from putting aside the pursuit of destruction, and instead how to co-operate to make the world safer. 

May 3: Sensitive issues from Russia and the US

The highlight of the day is a briefing with the representatives of Russia and the United States on the implementation of the New START treaty – a bilateral agreement on the reduction of the number of deployed warheads in the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenal. The presentation of the latest report states that Russia now has 1492 deployed warheads and 881 launchers, the US has 1737 warheads and 1040 launchers. Some sensitive issues pass: when asked about the US Anti Ballistic Missile System in Europe, Russia’s representative reminds everybody that according to the OSCE principles, the safety of the country should not be achieved at the expense of the safety of other countries. Russia’s concern is whether NATO’s safety would be achieved at Russia’s expense, and whether Russia’s concerns would be taken into account. Additionally, he argues that it remains uncertain whether it is possible to create an anti-ballistic missile system in a way that does not interfere with other countries’ interests, because so far such goal has not been achieved anywhere else.

May 4:  The delicate issue of Iran’s nuclear program

No nuclear weapons conference would be complete without touching on the delicate issue of Iran’s nuclear energy program, which causes major controversy around the globe. On this final day of the conference several meetings with Iran are scheduled. During these meetings, as well as in the official statements, Iran expresses dissatisfaction with double standards in the implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In particular, Iranian representatives mention that the Nuclear Weapons States (five states that own nuclear weapons legally, in accordance with the agreement) do not undergo any kind of inspections, which the non-nuclear weapons states are subject to. Furthermore, Iran criticizes rather harshly the nuclear sharing policy of NATO, which states that US tactical nuclear weapons are placed temporarily in several EU countries that are not the legal owners of nuclear weapons.

All in all, it was an amazing experience.  In five days we learned more about nuclear weapons related issues than most people will in their entire life.

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