SRA Member Addresses Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Seth Baum, Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, attended this December 2014 international meeting, part of a larger initiative to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons use by highlighting humanitarian implications. 

Baum’s comments on the experience follow. To access his talk, with contact information, go here.  

This past December, I had the honor of speaking at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, hosted by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs. The conference was an international event attended by official delegations from 158 nations, plus experts, members of civil society, and the media. The conference featured expert presentations focused on educating the international community about the humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons use. Policy implications were also discussed. The conference was the latest event in an ongoing initiative on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. The initiative aims to study and highlight the humanitarian impacts as one means of reducing the risks of nuclear weapons use and promoting nuclear disarmament.

Risk was a major conference theme. I spoke in a session on “Risk Drivers for Deliberate or Inadvertent Nuclear Weapons Use.” My talk was titled, “What is the Risk of Nuclear War?” The talk introduced the concept of nuclear war and presented core themes from the risk analysis of nuclear war. I discussed both the probability and magnitude of nuclear war, explaining the state of the art knowledge and the uncertainty. Even though no major nuclear war has ever happened, and even though the Cold War has ended, the probability of nuclear war is not zero. Furthermore, the impacts could be so severe that it rates as a large risk even if the probability is low. Finally, the risk is per unit time (as in the annual probability of nuclear war), such that the more time that passes before action is taken to reduce the risk, the more likely it is that a nuclear war will occur first. With these points, I aimed to give the international community a sense of urgency for addressing this important risk.

The Vienna talk is the sort of stakeholder and policy engagement that is an important activity for my organization, the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute. GCRI conducts decision-relevant risk analysis of the major threats to global human civilization, including nuclear war, global warming, and dangerous emerging technologies. GCRI has close ties to SRA—my colleagues hosted our usual global catastrophic risk session at the 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver in my absence, as I was in Vienna at that time. We are proud to bring risk analysis expertise to these important research fields and policy debates.

Seth Baum, SRA Member and Executive Director, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute