August 19, 2016
Known as the “Open-Ended Working Group” (OEWG), the talks have taken place in February, May and August of this year and have outlined a number of elements that should be included in a new legally binding instrument which prohibits nuclear weapons. The majority support for the ban treaty was clearly underlined by joint statements delivered by Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific as well as statements from several European states.
Resistance continued to come throughout the working group from a small group of states who continued to argue that nuclear weapons are essential to their national security. Despite threatening to block a report which contained a recommendation for a ban treaty, these governments did not have the leverage to thwart the successful outcome of the group.
After long deliberations, it seemed that States were going to agree to a compromised report which reflected the views of both sides of the ban treaty issue. However, after this agreement had seemingly been secured behind closed doors, Australia made a last-second turnaround and announced that it was objecting to the draft of the report and called for a vote. In spite of the opposition from Australia and several other pro-nuclear weapon states, the majority was able to carry the day. On that basis, the working group was able to recommend the start of negotiations on a new legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.
This breakthrough is result of the new global discourse on nuclear weapons. Bringing together governments, academia and civil society, a series of three conferences have uncovered new evidence about the devastating humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the risks of their use, whether accidental or intentional. The momentum generated by the “humanitarian initiative” has now culminated with the international community on the verge of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban.
Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited under international law, despite their inhumane and indiscriminate nature. A ban would not only make it illegal for nations to use or possess nuclear weapons; it would also help pave the way to their complete elimination. Nations committed to reaching the goal of abolition have shown that they are ready to start negotiations next year.
It is now up to the October meeting of the UN General Assembly First Committee to bring forward this process by issuing a mandate to start the negotiating process.
Photo: Xanthe Hall