Marit Nybakk, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), initiated a debate in Norwegian Parliament on June 5 with a formal question to the Foreign Minister on Norway’s role to promote nuclear disarmament.
In a debate spanning more than an hour, humanitarian consequences were cited, a constitutional ban was promoted, nuclear near misses were recalled, the groundbreaking Inter Parliamentary Union resolution was cited, and one parliamentarian burst into song!
In response to the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament negotiations, the Norwegian government in October 2012 co-sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution that established a new UN process to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations (the Open Ended Working Group), and in March 2013 hosted an international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.
However, following a change to a more conservative government in September 2013, there were concerns that the government was no longer so committed to nuclear disarmament. The debate in parliament was initiated in order to ensure the government continued to lead on such nuclear disarmament initiatives.
Nybakk opened the debate by highlighting the inhumanity and illegality of nuclear weapons, and by promoting an amendment to the Norwegian constitution that would ban the manufacture, importation, use, and deployment of nuclear weapons on Norwegian soil. Nybakk also supported the UN Secretary-General’s proposal for negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention, and called on NATO to adopt a no-first-use of nuclear weapons as a step toward the prohibition of any use of nuclear weapons.
Nybakk reminded parliament of the catastrophic humanitarian, environmental and economic consequences of nuclear weapons, and then challenged the Foreign Minister to answer a critical question “How will the foreign minister work on the humanitarian consequences track towards Austria in December (the next conference on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons), and before the NPT Review Conference in a year – and thus continue the initiative taken by Norway, which has resulted in a growing force in international efforts on disarmament and elimination of nuclear weapons?”
Foreign Minister Børge Brende responded to Nybakk by affirming that Norway will participate actively in the Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Consequences in December. ‘We are in constant dialogue with Austria on the alignment of the agenda for the conference. It is important that the conference in Vienna helps to consolidate the humanitarian initiative leading up to the NPT Review Conference.’
Brende also noted that an important focus of the humanitarian consequences initiative must be to engage the nuclear-armed States – most of whom stayed away from the Oslo conference. ‘It is also important that the conference has a structure that ensures broad participation and ownership. The humanitarian consequences of nuclear detonations affects all countries. Further progress requires the participation of both nuclear weapons states and other actors.’
Nybakk responded to the Foreign Minister’s comments by asserting that political attention to nuclear disarmament has to move to the adoption of a global agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons. ‘It is important that we emphasize that our goal is a world free of nuclear weapons, and that we can use the Non-Proliferation Treaty to work actively to bring about such a binding international instrument. It is also a challenge to the foreign minister here and now.’
Parliamentarians from all political parties spoke, emphasising different points on the issue.
Kåre Simensen (Labour Party) spoke of personal experience of the Russian nuclear test explosions in Novaya Zemlya (not far from Norway) and the close call when a research rocket fired from Andøya nearly triggered a nuclear war. He thus argued that the time has come to achieve a global ban on nuclear weapons. ‘Many countries have said that it is premature to initiate negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention. I say no more.’
Øyvind Halleraker (Conservative Party) noted that nuclear disarmament has to be achieved collectively – that ‘while other states possess nuclear weapons, NATO will also maintain nuclear weapons.’ Thus, to achieve nuclear disarmament Norway needs to continue to work in the NPT and UN frameworks. Indeed, ‘the UN framework, is essential for collaboration on issues that are vital to our common security.’
Christian Tybring-Gedde (Progress Party) noted that it was the destructive power of nuclear weapons which makes them effective in providing security through deterrence. “I share the view that it is important to become more aware of the potentially devastating consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. Indeed, such awareness is central to the deterrent value of nuclear weapons. The Progress Party is thus opposed to NATO countries unilaterally reducing nuclear capabilities as this would reduce deterrence and create greater uncertainty about the ability to prevent attacks on NATO member countries.”
Knut Arild Hareide (Leader of the Christian Democratic Party) noted that it was heartening that the Foreign Minister re-committed Norway to promoting the humanitarian consequences framework, but that what is important is to ‘achieve concrete results’, in particular the start of negotiations.
Jenny Følling (Centre Party) called for innovative action to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world, including action by the UN Security Council, transformation of the global military industrial complex, and ‘extending the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to include a binding treaty phasing out of nuclear weapons in countries that have them.’
Sveinung Rotevatn (Liberal Party) noted that ‘The probability that the current nuclear powers would use nuclear weapons against each other is fortunately very small. However, as long as nuclear weapons exist there is a frightening risk of such weapons falling into the hands of international terrorist organizations or unstable states. Thus, we must work for their complete elimination. Being in NATO should not prevent Norway from taking a lead in the global prohibition of nuclear weapons. There is no legal or political reason to stop Norway from taking such leadership.’
Bård Vegar Solhjell (Socialist Left Party) noted that ‘There are three weapons of mass destruction, two of them (chemical and biological weapons) are prohibited through an international convention, only nuclear weapons are not yet so prohibited.’ He thus challenged the Norwegian government to work for such a convention. ‘A world without nuclear weapons must have a law prohibiting nuclear weapons.’
Torstein Tvedt Solberg (Labour Party), perhaps one of the youngest parliamentarians speaking at 29 years old, argued that nuclear disarmament is sometimes perceived as an issue of past generations during the Cold War. But with nuclear tests still continuing and nuclear stockpiles still maintained ‘it is very much an issue of my generation…The picture that meets when one comes into my apartment in Stavanger, is a framed poster of Rolf Grovens “Atom Boy.’ Solberg commended the government for its commitment to nuclear disarmament – but said that in order to ensure progress ‘Parliament should and must continue to closely monitor this matter.’
Silvi Graham (Conservative Party) referred to the ground-breaking resolution adopted by the Inter Parliamentarian Union on March 20, 2014, in which the 164 IPU member parliaments (including the parliaments from most of the nuclear-armed and allied States) calls on parliaments to ‘work with their governments on eliminating the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines‘ and to ‘urge their governments to start negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or package of agreements to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world.’ Noting that nuclear possession leads to proliferation, she burst into a Tom Lehrer song ‘Who’s Next?’
First we got the bomb, and that was good,
‘Cause we love peace and motherhood.
Then Russia got the bomb, but that’s okay,
‘Cause the balance of power’s maintained that way.
France got the bomb, but don’t you grieve,
‘Cause they’re on our side (I believe).
China got the bomb, but have no fears,
They can’t wipe us out for at least five years.
Trine Skei Grande (Leader of the Liberal Party) did not follow Ms Graham with a rendition of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, but she did say that it was probably the most appropriate song to represent the horror of nuclear weapons. Ms Grande argued that one should not be limited by current political ‘realities’ as these can change quite suddenly. She cited as examples the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall that for many had seemed so permanent.
To see the official transcript of the debate (in Norwegian) click here and scroll down to Sak nr. 2 [10:50:03] Interpellasjon fra representanten Marit Nybakk til utenriksministeren
On May 7, in follow-up to the ground-breaking IPU resolution Toward a Nuclear Weapon Free World: The Contribution of Parliaments (see presentation of Silvi Graham above), PNND and the World Future Council launched a series of hearings, seminars and other events in parliaments around the world to implement the resolution. The first of these Security without Nuclear Weapons: Role of the Czech Republic and Czech legislators in international disarmament processes, was held in the Czech Senate on May 15. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.