The U.S. announced this evening that it will attend the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.
The Conference, set to take place on December 8-9, 2014 in Vienna, Austria, aims to strengthen the global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime, highlight the health and environmental dangers of nuclear weapons use, and underscore the urgency for progress on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) action plan.
Up to this point, the “P5” nuclear weapons countries (Russia, China, U.S., U.K., and France) have boycotted the conferences, fearing that they might be used as a forum to push for the elimination of their stockpiles. North Korea and Israel also skipped the two previous events, while India and Pakistan attended the second.
What the U.K. or the rest of the P5 will choose to do, however, is still an open question.
No other P5 countries have confirmed attendance at the December conference, but they could be influenced by the U.S. move. At an Arms Control Association event in October, Lord Des Browne, Secretary of State for Defence under the previous British Labour government, said that, “From the point of view of the United Kingdom, if the U.S. agrees to go, we will go.” He continued on to say that it was “no coincidence that we have not made up our mind for each of the last two conferences until immediately after the United States made its decision.”
For its part, the U.S. has made clear that its participation in no way implies that the country supports the beginning of a diplomatic process that would lead to a ban on nuclear weapons or a convention on their elimination. Rather, U.S. participation in the Vienna Conference will help to reaffirm American commitment to the process laid out in the NPT.