31 March 2015

The ‘big tent’ provided by the HINW initiative is clear evidence that civil society groups and the majority of states have not yet given up on nuclear disarmament.


Dr Patricia Lewis

Research Director, International Security

Heather Williams

Former Chatham House Expert


Photo credit: Phil Augustavo/istockphoto


  • Growing understanding of the catastrophic impact of a nuclear weapon detonation on individuals, society, the economy and the environment has led to renewed efforts over the last three years, particularly by civil society and non-nuclear weapons states, to persuade governments to make nuclear disarmament a higher policy priority.
  • International conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons provide a unique forum for states and civil society to inject new urgency into nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation efforts. This forum operates in parallel with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conferences and the Conference on Disarmament, which has seen little progress in recent years.
  • Workshops organized by Chatham House, aimed at establishing a fact-based dialogue with a broad set of experts from civil society in different regions of the world, reveal that those working in the humanitarian sector consider that any nuclear weapons detonation in a populated area would result in an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. All rescue workers would be put at risk of unacceptable harm and there would be no practical immediate response they could implement.
  • Capacity for planning and resource constraints are two especially prominent obstacles facing humanitarian organizations and states, particularly in under-resourced countries.
  • Both experts and members of the public require access to new research on the impact of a nuclear detonation and response options, and states should declassify as much existing data and research as possible in order to inform the discussion.