With nuclear weapons you cannot say: I’m sorry, I was wrong, next time I’ll be more careful

November 5, 2013

Last week, in Famiglia Cristiana, one of Italy’s most widely circulated weekly periodicals, an article entitled “Disarmo Nucleare: “Italia, Perché Non Firmi?” (“Nuclear Disarmament: Why won’t Italy sign on?”) highlighted the efforts by Italian civil society in calling for its government to support the Humanitarian Initiative at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee. On 21 October 2013 New Zealand, on behalf of 124 member states and observer state the Holy See, delivered a Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons which expressed deep concern for the effects of the only weapon of mass destruction yet to be banned by international legal instrument. The article recounted that the New Zealand statement was the latest in a series of four joint statements on this topic, each building upon the support of the preceding, and none of which has been supported by Italy.

The disarmament network Rete Italiana per il Disarmo (which is comprised of over 30 civil society organisations) and Beati i costruttori di Pace sent a letter to Minister for Foreign Affairs Emma Bonino and Vice Minister Lapo Pistelli, asking them to support the initiative so that Italy could live up to its “long tradition of supporting and promoting multilateral initiatives in favour of disarmament” and to match the expectations of the “vast majority of Italians, who will strive to ensure that such weapons are never used”. The letter also called on the Italian government to confirm its attendance at the upcoming conference in Nayarit, Mexico on 13-14 February 2014 which intends to bring forward and build upon the discussions that were started at the successful Oslo conference in March 2013.

According to Lisa Clark of Beati Costruttori di Pace, “Avoiding another humanitarian catastrophe after Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been one of the core objectives of the UN: the first resolution approved in January 1946 encapsulated the concerns of the International community regarding a possible use of nuclear weapons.”

Last week, civil society received a response from Vice Minister Pistelli, who is the senior official responsible for UN-related activities and issues around international treaty regimes. The Italian deputy secretary for disarmament responded in support of the humanitarian approach, noting Italy’s participation at the Oslo conference and its signature of a statement delivered by Australia on behalf of 17 countries which also called for increased recognition of humanitarian consequences but was notably more muted in discussing real action to address the ongoing nuclear threat. As far as whether he recognised importance of the New Zealand statement: “Any initiative that brings attention to the issues of disarmament is positive. The bar never goes down.”

Pistelli continued by saying that Italy is committed to “seek to promote a broad consensus in our “team”, that is, in Europe. We welcome the holding of the next conference dedicated to the theme of the humanitarian impact next year in Mexico.” Italy is very concerned about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons as the minister Pistelli explained “ because with nuclear weapons you cannot say: I’m sorry, I was wrong, next time I’ll be more careful”. Although more work is needed to bring Italy onto the right side of history, the government’s recognition of the value of the humanitarian initiative and its commitment to promote the cause of disarmament among its EU neighbours provides a basis for future advocacy.

Looking forward, Lisa Clark of Beati Costruttori di Pace says, “Because of Italy’s tradition of engagement and support of several multilateral disarmament initiatives we expect the Italian government to take a clear stand against any future use of nuclear weapons and ensure a strong commitment against the use of these weapons of mass destruction under any circumstances. This pledge is what the majority of Italian people demands from this government.”

This should serve as encouragement to campaigners who find themselves in countries with seemingly intractable or uninterested governments when it comes to the issue of nuclear disarmament – keep chipping away at the wall of ignorance and you will start to see a light on the other side.

Photo credits: La Nazione

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