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The European Union and the Humanitarian Initiative in the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Cycle

Non-proliferation Paper No. 41

Non-proliferation Paper No. 41

Publisher: SIPRI
December, 2014

The humanitarian initiative has gained significant momentum and seen broad engagement since the humanitarian dimension was first included in the Final Document of the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. The initiative is supported by an increasing number of states wishing to highlight and address the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. The discernible nuances of this support and the various aims of the initiative require closer analysis. Of particular significance is the variation in support within the European Union (EU), where 22 of its 28 member states are also members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

This paper identifies three groups of states within the EU with regard to the humanitarian initiative: (a) drivers of disarmament, (b) guarded supporters, and (c) nuclear weapon states. It shows that just as this divergence has precluded a strong and unified EU position on nuclear disarmament, so too has it delimited any unified EU support for the initiative. The paper concludes by assessing the merits of the humanitarian initiative and its implications for EU states, noting the difficulty of reconciling strong support for the initiative with a continued reliance on nuclear deterrence.


Jenny Nielsen is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland.
Marianne Hanson is Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Queensland.