Fourth Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons convenes in Vienna

The Austrian government convened the fourth conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (HINW) in Vienna one day before the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The meeting took place in a context of fear, but also of hope. Fear, because of recent threats of nuclear weapons use alongside continuing modernisation and expansion of nuclear arsenals, but also hope because of the TPNW. As noted by Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, this fourth conference follows in the proud tradition of the first three HINW conferences, which led ultimately to the negotiation and adoption of the TPNW in 2017.

A common thread throughout the conference was that the only way to eliminate the risk of nuclear weapons is to eliminate nuclear weapons. This refrain was repeated by panelists and participants throughout the day’s discussions, driving home both the necessity, urgency, and practicality of abolishing nuclear weapons. The data on impacts of past use and testing made the case for abolition most clearly: the consequences of nuclear weapons are horrific in the immediate and long-term. The models of potential future use are almost superfluous in this context, as are the wargaming scenarios to posit risk. The risks are clear enough from the very real and explicit threats and the lived experience of the nuclear age. As Zia Mian said in his closing remarks, the only rationale response to the grave dangers of nuclear weapons is to demand what is alleged to be impossible.

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