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The Berlin Sessions on Humanitarian Disarmament

Ingrid Rostad og Thomas Birkeland from the NPA Solidarity Youth share their experiences from the Berlin Session on Humanitarian Disarmament, held on 23-24 January.

Focusing on the humanitarian consequences of the use of inhumane weapons has led to the successful adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) and most recently, the Arms Trade Treaty. We have witnessed that cooperation between humanitarian practitioners and disarmament advocates can change the discourse on weapons and even change the rules of war. For two days in January, the Berlin Sessions gathered NGOs concerned with humanitarian disarmament for an exchange on the concepts, the challenges, and the lessons learned in the field. Both Norwegian People’s Aid and NPA Solidarity Youth participated in the event kick-starting another year working to ban nuclear weapons.

Through the campaign Atomkommisjonen (the Atomic Commission), NPA Solidarity Youth has been working to shift the opinions and attitudes on nuclear weapons from irrational indifference to rational fear among Norwegian youth. For too long the nuclear weapons states have been given the permission to dominate in discussions on disarmament, usually arguing that nuclear deterrence makes nuclear weapons “okay”, at least for the time being.

By shifting the focus of discussion from the military to the humanitarian argument, focusing instead on the actual, humanitarian consequences on the ground in event of a nuclear weapons detonation, non-nuclear weapon states and civil society are now arguing that nuclear weapons are not okay. This is very much in the general spirit of humanitarian disarmament, disarming on the basis of a humanitarian perspective.

The Berlin Sessions gathered campaigners and organizations that have been working to ban weapons for years. Some of these, NPA included, have been part of the victories of the MBT or the CCM, and could therefore share their success stories and some of the lessons learned. Others have been part of the movement to ban nuclear weapons for years, but finally seeing a ban within reach. Bringing the average age down quite a lot, the new generation of activists working to ban nuclear weapons, amongst them NPA Solidarity Youth, had also found their way to the venue in Berlin.

Governments need to be pushed from within when they are going into the processes of banning weapons, and by creating pressure, grassroots mobilizing is key. The Berlin Sessions created a forum for civil society actors to exchange experiences and inspire each other. Even if nuclear weapons are different from both landmines and cluster munitions, we can learn from the impressive work done leading up to the bans. Joining forces and sharing experiences with people working on campaigns to ban other inhumane weapons is also important to get new perspectives on how to build efficient campaigns. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) is gaining support, and an international ban on nuclear weapons is closer than ever before.

30.01.2014 | Ingrid Rostad & Thomas Birkeland