by Alexander Kmentt
On 25 February 2011, the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) was officially launched by the Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs and the renowned James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). The new Center will further strengthen the role of Civil Society in international disarmament efforts, and will provide independent expertise to international organizations based in Vienna.
Alongside New York and Geneva, Vienna belongs to the global centers of international dialogue and multilateral negotiations. Home to organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), the Austrian capital has assumed a crucial role in international disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation.
(left to right:)Yukiya Amano, William Potter, Michael Spindelegger, Sunder Ramaswamy, and Tibor Toth ©Bernhard J. Holzner, HOPI-MEDIA
The Austrian Government is committed to further strengthening Vienna as a center for a fruitful exchange between governments, international organizations and Civil Society. To foster debate on these crucial issues, the Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs has recently established the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) in cooperation with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), a leading think tank on international disarmament, arms control and nonproliferation issues.
The opening ceremony of the VCDNP on 25 February 2011 was attended by the Austrian Foreign Minister and initiator of the ambitious project, Michael Spindelegger. He was joined by Yukiya Amano, Director General of the IAEA, Tibor Toth, Executive Secretary of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission, CNS Director William Potter, and Sunder Ramaswamy, President of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. On behalf of the “Vienna Community,” both Yukiya Amano and Tibor Toth welcomed the Austrian initiative. The IAEA Director General used the opportunity to outline focal points for cooperation between the IAEA and VCDNP – including the fight against nuclear terrorism, nuclear security and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Mr. Amano also stressed the importance of education in fighting the nuclear threat bysaying that “it is vital that we educate the people of the world about how devastating nuclear weapons are and build awareness of the importance of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.” “There is a need to mass produce hundreds if not thousands of people who have an expertise in general on issues of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control but specifically on the issue of nuclear weapons prohibition,” seconded Tibor Toth, Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the Conventional Test Ban Treaty Organisation.
At the ceremony, Minister Spindelegger described his vision of "an open and transparent hub for independent expertise and opinion,” where representatives from governments, international organisations, and civil society can deliberate ways to curb the increasingly threatening spread of nuclear weapons across the globe. Professor Potter pointed out two major challenges that would be central to the work of the VCDNP: “public complacency and ignorance about nuclear dangers.” They required “to foster an informed and active civil society and to invest in disarmament and non-proliferation education and training.”
The Austrian Foreign Minister had first announced his offer at the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in May 2010. On that occasion, he emphasized that “the contribution of civil society in disarmament matters is vital. Many projects – such as the Mine Ban Treaty or the Convention on Cluster Munitions – would not have turned out as successful had it not been for the work of dedicated NGOs.” In many areas, substantial change had begun with a strong claim by civil society – the recent developments in the Middle East provide a spectacular example thereof.
The new Center joins an environment in which civil society organizations already play a very active role. The NGOs in Vienna do an outstanding job in raising awareness and advocating progress on non-proliferation and disarmament issues. Linking already existing initiatives and actors while attracting new ones, is thus one of the main objectives of the founders. One of the key strengths of the Vienna Center is its managing organization, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the renowned Monterey Institute of International Studies, a graduate school of Middlebury College. CNS is the largest U.S. NGO involved in research and training in areas such as non-proliferation and disarmament issues.
It is pro-actively committed to combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and makes a major contribution to the fight against weapons of mass destruction by training non-proliferation specialists and disseminating timely information and cuttingedge analysis. CNS had been chosen from a number of applicants who had proposed to partner with Austria on this project. On its part, the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs provides the premises and equipment at Andromeda Tower near the Vienna International Center (VIC), where the Center will be located, as well as other forms of financial and technical support.
CNS as the partnering organization has the task of managing and operating the Vienna Center. As their first step, the Ministry, CNS and Middlebury College adopted statutes for the VCDNP which guarantee its establishment as an independent, international NGO. The Center’s activities will initially consist of conferences and meetings among experts from governments, international organisations, and civil society; educational and training programmes for interested individuals at all levels and the broader public; and research on topics related to disarmament and non-proliferation.
A major objective is to create a network of relevant international, non-governmental and academic institutions to foster dialogue and cooperation. In the long run, the Center shall become “the place to turn to in Europe for cutting edge research and training on nuclear arms control issues,” as CNS Director William Potter explained at the opening ceremony. Only a few weeks old, the Center already hums with activity: An ambitious program for 2011 and 2012 is in the making. Elena Sokova, previously Assistant Director of CNS, has assumed her role as Executive Director of VCDNP. And in an effort to boost its standing as an international hub for a larger number of actors from Civil Society, both CNS and the Austrian Foreign Ministry are going to approach further NGOs to encourage their participation.
Andromeda Tower in Vienna, home of the VCDNP
At the opening ceremony, Minister Spindelegger presented Professor Potter with a special gift: a megaphone, “to ensure that the voice of civil society is heard loud and clear – in Vienna and around the world.” The VCDNP might not immediately serve as the gigantic megaphone its creators intend it to be, but as a facilitator of expert dialogue and training center, this institution might do the trick just as well. For now, the prospects look promising.
Alexander Kmentt is the Director for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non- Proliferation at the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affair.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs.