Norway reaffirms commitment to the humanitarian initiative

June 18, 2014

The humanitarian initiative has come a long way since former Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, announced that Norway would host the first conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in April 2012. The Chair’s Summary from the Nayarit Conference upped the ante by calling for a new legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons, and with a third conference on this topic coming up on Vienna in December 2014, more and more states are starting to draw the political and legal conclusion from the evidence showing the unacceptable nature of these weapons.

When the Norwegian red-green coalition was replaced by a conservative government after the Norwegian general elections in September 2013, many was wondering whether this would lead to a policy change from Norway’s side, questioning whether the Conservative Party would stay loyal to its political manifesto, which states “support for the establishment of a new legal instrument to strengthen existing nuclear disarmament treaties”.

On 5 June 2014, during a debate in the Norwegian parliament, Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende reaffirmed Norway’s commitment to the humanitarian initiative, saying that Norway “will participate actively in the run-up to and during the Vienna conference” and have “full focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons”.          

Brende affirmed that it is possible to have “a world free of nuclear weapons.” Brende also restated the Norwegian government’s commitment to pursuing nuclear disarmament, citing the past government’s leadership by hosting the first international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Oslo in 2013.

Other representatives in parliament identified Norway’s opportunity to lead the process on negotiating a nuclear weapon ban. Marit Nybakk, a Labour Party MP, pointed to Norway’s role in other arms treaties as a precedent for action. In negotiating agreements on cluster munitions, biological weapons, chemical weapons and small arms, “Norway has either been the initiator, promoter or active supporter,” said Nybakk.  “It is important that this initiative be continued, and that Norway maintains its leadership role.”

Sveinung Rotevatn, a Liberal Party MP, said that the humanitarian initiative “should lead to an international prohibition on nuclear weapons, after the model of the successful prohibition processes against landmines and cluster munitions.”

Though some MPs expressed cynicism about the feasibility of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban in the current international political climate, many other parliamentarians disagreed. “Someone must take the lead and drive the process forward,” said Bård Vegar Solhjell, MP for the Socialist Left Party. Solhjell spoke in favour of pursuing a nuclear weapons ban, even though some states continue to oppose it. “Even if one does not get all the countries on board from the start, getting the support of many countries is a way to create a political norm that affects the entire world,” said Solhjell. “It doesn’t take long to create momentum for a broad international process.”

Minister Brende restated the importance of the upcoming Vienna Conference in pursuing nuclear disarmament. “The vision is clear: Nuclear weapons are going to be abolished, and Norway will continue the work we have been doing since the Oslo conference.”

Civil society and non-governmental organisations are also showing their support for nuclear weapons ban, and are urging the Norwegian government to follow through on their stated plans. “From the debate, it is clear that the majority of the Norwegian parliament is in favor of an international ban on nuclear weapons,” said Liv Tørres, Secretary General of Norwegian People’s Aid. “We are proud of the leading role our politicians have taken so far, and expect them to uphold their active involvement in the humanitarian initiative both in Vienna and until a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons is achieved.”

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