Vienna. A day before the start of the UN conference on the nuclear weapons ban treaty, the State Department on Monday hosted an international conference on the humanitarian impact of these weapons of mass destruction. In his opening statement, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg called Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war “completely unacceptable”.
“Until now, the phantom of a nuclear war has appeared to most people as an abstract danger. But not anymore: in the past few weeks we have seen threats and blackmail with nuclear weapons,” said Schallenberg. Several speakers at the conference in the Austria Center Vienna recalled that recent developments of this kind have again increased the likelihood of a conflict also involving nuclear power. “What was once an unthinkable nightmare is now a terrifying possibility,” said former International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei.
Several witnesses reported on the effects of nuclear attacks and nuclear weapon tests, which continue to this day. Suechi Kido, a survivor of the US atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki in 1945, criticized the Japanese government for failing to sign or ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty despite Japan’s pacifist constitution.
Patricia Lewis of UK foreign policy think tank Chatham House recalled instances where during the Cold War, through a string of unfortunate circumstances, the world was on the verge of launching nuclear missiles at enemy targets. In the cases she cited, such as that of the Soviet air force officer Stanislav Petrov in 1983, those affected had decided on their own initiative not to pass on the information they had received about an apparently imminent nuclear attack, thereby single-handedly preventing the outbreak of a nuclear war.
From Tuesday, the states of the nuclear weapons ban treaty that came into force in January 2021 will meet in Vienna for their first conference. The UNO meeting will be chaired by Austria’s top diplomat, Alexander Kmentt. The conference serves to fill the contract with life, for example by adopting rules of procedure. 86 states have signed the text and 62 have ratified it. However, there are no nuclear powers among them, and massive pressure is also being exerted within NATO to stay away from the agreement. That’s why Vienna sees it as a success that two NATO countries, Germany and Norway, are present as observers.