Guest article: Roles of key civil society actors in nuclear disarmament (part 2)

Epistemic communities in multi-track diplomacy fora

By Marzhan Nurzhan

Marzhan Nurzhan is a UNODA/OSCE Scholar for Peace and Security, and was Fellow at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Education and Research Center at the KAIST. She was also the Education/Outreach Coordinator for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s Youth Group in 2019-2020. In 2017, Nurzhan was chosen by the President of the UN General Assembly as the youth speaker for the United Nations High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament that was held that year.

In her article, Nurzhan argues that civil society can contribute to the progress in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation beyond the realm of armchair activism, by serving in the role of experts and providing expertise both in policy and in practice-oriented actions. This is the second part of Nurzhan’s article.

The role of civil society is associated with social activism and street demonstrations demanding their voices to be heard while tackling global challenges such as climate change and nuclear weapons. However, this representation about civil society actors and non-governmental organisations is different in the context of nuclear disarmament negotiations and multi-track fora activities. This paper applies epistemic communities’ lens in order to demonstrate that civil society in the field of nuclear disarmament can serve in the role of experts and provide expertise not only in the policy related but also practice-oriented actions. The piece showcases some of the instances of track 2 diplomacy activities through citizen and science diplomacy interactions.

It is noteworthy to mention that amid these citizen diplomacy initiatives, the doctors from the USA and the USSR founded an organisation called International Physicians for the Prevention of the Nuclear War (IPPNW) in 1980, which was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Despite the ideological divide, they demonstrated a common interest in preserving humankind from atomic warfare. They organised anti-nuclear protests to stop worldwide testing and to raise awareness of the public regarding the health, humanitarian and environmental consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.

In the meantime, another fact of citizen diplomacy was depicted by the decision of Soviet officer, Stanislav Petrov, to save the world from the nuclear conflict whereas his duty was to register external missile attack, when in one of the days in 1983 the Soviet Union early- warning systems elicited an incoming nuclear strike which must had been reported and he instead chose to dismiss it as a false notification.

All these examples of citizen diplomacy actions along with science diplomacy and track two diplomacy interactions led to more appearance and diversity of informed civil society actors, resulting in the rise of non-governmental organisations to participate in international deliberations and demanding nuclear disarmament. For instance, the NPT Preparatory Committee meetings and Review Conferences serve as a main forum for civil society actors and NGOs to officially take part in public meetings, deliver speeches and statements, organise side-events since 1994.

In 1995 at the Review Conference of the NPT, 195 NGOs attended as observers, where the indefinite extension of the Treaty was made. United in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and abolition of the nuclear arms, representatives of the NGOs jointly prepared a statement consisting of 11 points which called for a nuclear weapons convention that takes into account a verification aspect, the illegality of the use and threat to use nuclear arms, the completion of a truly comprehensive test ban treaty, a start of negotiations on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons within a specific timeframe and etc.

Since then, civil society actors actively participate in every NPT meetings at the United Nations and have the opportunity to address the delegations within given time, to make interventions at the official meetings, to organise briefings, to engage in a dialogue with the representatives of the governments and voice their issues. However, there are also some limitations related to the participation of the NGOs in the closed meetings between the States Parties due to security concerns given the confidential nature of arms control negotiations and mechanism of the NPT process. Nevertheless, there is a recent practice of including civil society actors, scientific or political researchers in most of the cases, members of the parliament into the States delegations at the table of negotiations to influence policy field to function as advisors, which is in line with the recommendation based on the UN Study on Disarmament and Non-proliferation Education (2002).

Thus, throughout time, activities of civil society in the nuclear field transformed from being seen as activists or protesters to becoming more professional as epistemic community representatives, and their role in multilateral negotiations was decisive in exerting pressure and influence by campaign work, advocacy initiatives and lobbying to adopt several agreements such as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, advisory opinion on the legality of threat or use of nuclear weapons by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued in 1996.

After a political stalemate at the NPT and absence of significant progress for years to fulfil the Article Six obligation by the States Parties, effective and democratic participation of the nuclear disarmament epistemic community at the multilateral forum of the United Nations OEWG (Open-ended working group) taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations in 2016 under imperative of the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapon”, which subsequently led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017 and entry into force in January 2021.

It is noteworthy to mention that this year marks the 30th anniversary of the closure of the Semey test site, the 76th anniversary of the United Nations, Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, of the first atomic testing Trinity, 51 years of the NPT, 25 years of the CTBT which is not entered into force, collapse of the INF and extension of New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) until February 2026

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. These occasions serve as a reminder to further continue pursuit of global nuclear disarmament in retaining negative peace implications and reinforce the need for more engagement on the topic of nuclear arms and international security through civil society empowerment, disarmament education, peacebuilding activities and mediation via multi-track diplomacy channels.

Read part 1 here

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