ICRC Commemorative Conference on the use of certain weapons in war

On 30 November 2018 the Pugwash Council member and Director of the Geneva Office, Amb. Sergey Batsanov, participated in the International Committee of the Red Cross International Conference in St. Petersburg: “150th anniversary of the Declaration Renouncing, in Times of War, the Use of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight: New Context, Undiminished Relevance.” This Declaration of 1868 was the first treaty prohibiting the use of certain weapons in war and led to the later Hague Peace Conferences that further developed the early norms of International Humanitarian Law.

Below are the remarks delivered by Amb. Batsanov to the Conference.

“It is a great honour and pleasure for me to be able to make these brief comments on behalf of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, as we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Saint Petersburg. It was the first formal international agreement prohibiting the use of certain weapons in war – namely, projectiles of a weight below 400 grammes, which are either explosive or are charged with fulminating or inflammable substances

“Just a few words about Pugwash. It is an organisation and, at the same time, network of natural and political scientists working to reduce the risk of war with weapons of mass destruction and  to achieve eventual prohibition of all such weapons. It owes its name to a tiny village on the east coast of Canada – Pugwash – where the first meeting of outstanding nuclear scientists of the time, most of whom who were key creators of nuclear weapons in the US, USSR and the UK, took place in 1957. In 1995 Pugwash received the Nobel peace prize for its contribution to the cause of nuclear disarmament. We are not an advocacy organisation, we do not conduct campaigns. We work carefully across political and other divides to create a better understanding among political, military and security decision-makers, understandings, based on objective  assessment of consequences of war and of the use of various categories of weapons, their characteristics and threats they represent both from the humanitarian perspective and from their potential role in increasing the likelihood of military conflict.

“It shouldn’t, therefore, come as a surprise that from our perspective, the St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868, has a lasting importance, far exceeding its relatively narrow scope of direct prohibition. In particular, it stipulates the cardinal principle that the necessities of war out to yield to the requirements of humanity. Furthermore, it is a remarkable and inspiring example of how quickly responsible individuals in the position of authority can – and, in fact, should – identify the nefarious consequences of the introduction of new weapons and weapons systems,  and take measures against them. In this respect the declaration is very much future-oriented, as it underlines the necessity to address future advancements of science and their consequences for armaments.  It is also noteworthy that behind the St. Petersburg Declaration there was an initiative of the military community, which – although not stipulated in the Declaration itself – should have a responsibility of subjecting the new instruments of war to thorough scrutiny and evaluation.

“These and other features of the St. Petersburg declaration have a particular importance today, when the world faces unprecedented scientific innovations in the military sphere, when our planet is still over-saturated with weapons capable of destroying the whole civilization, and, yet, there are increasing signs of a new dramatic arms race on a global scale. And when the whole system of existing agreements to limit and reduce armaments is under the threat of erosion our outright dismantlement. The divides are turning into ditches and trenches and, then, into abysses. In the meantime the art of building bridges is being lost. On the other hand, the boundaries dividing war and peace are being dissolved. The resulting challenges, including to the international humanitarian law, are huge. All this highlights the importance of such events, as our conference today. Many thanks to its organisers.”