Green Cross International and the Arms Control Association (ACA) co-hosted a roundtable discussion in Washington DC on Tuesday, June 21st, on “The New Nuclear Diplomacy: Breakthrough or Sideshow?” with Richard Lennane of Wildfire and Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association. Paul Walker, director of the Green Cross Environmental Security and Sustainability Programme, chaired the discussion. As Lennane has written: “This is a profound shift in a moribund diplomatic landscape that has changed little since the indefinite extension of the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] in 1995.”
The seminar addressed the recent May 2016 discussions, in Geneva, of the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on possibilities for a new international legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. This effort has grown out of the Humanitarian Pledge for the Prohibition and Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, which was issued at the December, 2014 Vienna Conference organized by the Austrian government. The Humanitarian Pledge was adopted a year later, in December 2015, at the 67th Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly by 139 of the 168 countries that voted (83 per cent) and became UN Resolution 70/48. It has now been formally endorsed by 127 countries, with another 22 having voted in favor of it – about three quarters of the world’s nations.
The Humanitarian Pledge emphasizes that nuclear weapons have exerted “unacceptable harm” on humanity, must never be used again, and that civil society needs to “stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in the light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks.” The UN General Assembly resolution:
“Urges all States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to renew their commitment to the urgent and full implementation of their existing obligations under Article VI, and calls upon all States to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons and to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.”
“Requests all States possessing nuclear weapons, pending the total elimination of their nuclear weapon arsenals, to take concrete interim measures to reduce the risk of nuclear weapon detonations, including by reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons and moving nuclear weapons away from deployment and into storage, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines and rapidly reducing all types of nuclear weapons.” (http://www.icanw.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/N1541140.pdf)
The OEWG will convene again in Geneva in August to finalize a report to the UN General Assembly for consideration at the 68th annual meeting this fall in New York. It will likely propose establishing a UN negotiating conference in 2017. This conference could produce an international convention abolishing nuclear weapons, not dissimilar to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which ban both biological and chemical weapons. The BWC today has 174 States Parties and the CWC 192 States Parties.
To date none of the nine nuclear weapons possessor states – China, India, France, Great Britain, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States – have joined the OEWG deliberations in Geneva. Ambassador Robert Wood, US representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, in fact stated that “we cannot support and will oppose any effort to move to an international legal ban on nuclear weapons.” Yet the three conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons held in Norway (March 2013), Mexico (February 2014), and Austria (December 2014) have drawn considerable international attention. Influential regional players such as Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, and South Africa have all spoken out in favor of a nuclear weapons ban.
Kingston Reif, who has written an analysis in Arms Control Today on the recent OEWG meetings entitled “Momentum Builds for Nuclear Ban Treaty,” stated that “this debate has been divisive” but pushes beyond the “moribund step-by-step approach” towards nuclear weapons reductions. Paul Walker remarked that “if the world can ban two whole classes of weapons of mass destruction, namely biological and chemical, why not try new approaches to ban the third and most dangerous WMD class – nuclear weapons?”
Richard Lennane’s PowerPoint is available below, along with two recent articles by the speakers.