Towards a Nuclear Weapons Free World

Towards a Nuclear Weapons Free World

During the final session of the UN working group on nuclear disarmament in Geneva on August 19th, 107 nations expressed support for the convening of a conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. Following on from this, on Wednesday September 21st,  Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz (pictured above at the Vienna conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons), announced that his country would join with other UN member states in tabling a resolution next month to do just that .

Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, he said that “experience shows that the first step to eliminate weapons of mass destruction is to prohibit them through legally binding norms.” The Austrian-sponsored resolution will establish a formal mandate for negotiations. The deadline for tabling the resolution in the General Assembly’s First Committee, which deals with disarmament matters, is 13 October.

Following the tabling, nations will debate the resolution, then vote on whether to adopt it in the final week of October or first week of November. A second, confirmatory vote will take place in a plenary session of the General Assembly early in December.

An excerpt from Austria’s statement reads:

“In a world that is less and less secure and faced with more and more tensions between big powers, nuclear disarmament remains the number one unfinished business. The recent nuclear tests by DPRK [North Korea] should be a warning signal. We all agree that the humanitarian consequences of the explosion of nuclear weapons would be unacceptable, and therefore we have to finally get rid of all these nuclear weapons. Experience shows that the first step to eliminate weapons of mass destruction is to prohibit them through legally binding norms. Together with other member states, Austria will table a draft resolution to convene negotiations on a legally binding comprehensive instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons in 2017.”

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has welcomed Austria’s announcement and its executive director, Beatrice Fihn, said that “the proposed treaty will place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction, which have long been prohibited under international law. It will be a major step towards the goal of elimination.”

Bruce Kent, Vice President of CND and Pax Christi told Independent Catholic News that “this Austrian initiative is very positive. The majority of countries in the world, both people and leadership, want an end to nuclear weapon dangers.These instruments of mass murder provide, at great cost, not security but growing insecurity. “The United States White House defence expert, Robert McNamara, admitted at the end of his life that we have been saved from disaster only by ‘good luck.’ Luck does not last forever.

The next step would be a vote at the United Nations in October on starting negotiations next year (2017) for a treaty banning all nuclear weapons. This is the right time to press our Government to vote in favour of this common sense and humane Austrian resolution. Make your views known to your Member of Parliament and through the media, local and national.

Excerpts from the OEWG report
(The full report can be downloaded here)

Key recommendation:

67. The working group recommended with widespread support for the General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017, open to all states, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination …

Support for a ban treaty:

34. A majority of states expressed support for the commencement of negotiations in the General Assembly in 2017, open to all states, international organizations and civil society, on a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination, which would establish general prohibitions and obligations as well as political commitment to achieve and maintain a nuclear-weapon-free world. Representatives of civil society supported this view.

Description of a ban treaty:

35. Possible elements of such an instrument could include, inter alia, the following: (a) prohibitions on the acquisition, possession, stockpiling, development, testing and production of nuclear weapons; (b) prohibitions on participating in any use of nuclear weapons, including through participating in nuclear war planning, participating in the targeting of nuclear weapons and training personnel to take control of nuclear weapons; (c) prohibitions on permitting nuclear weapons in national territory, including on permitting vessels with nuclear weapons in ports and territorial seas, permitting aircraft with nuclear weapons from being entering national airspace, permitting nuclear weapons from being transited through national territory, permitting nuclear weapons from being stationed or deployed on national territory; (d) prohibitions on financing nuclear weapon activities or on providing special fissionable material to any states that do not apply IAEA comprehensive safeguards; (e) prohibitions on assisting, encouraging or inducing, directly or indirectly, any activity prohibited by the treaty; and (f) recognition of the rights of victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons and a commitment to provide assistance to victims and to environmental remediation. It was noted that the elements and provisions to be included in such an instrument would be subject to its negotiation.

36. A legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons would be an interim or partial step toward nuclear disarmament as it would not include measures for elimination and would instead leave measures for the irreversible, verifiable and transparent destruction of nuclear weapons as a matter for future negotiations. It would also contribute to the progressive stigmatization of nuclear weapons. States supporting such an instrument considered it to be the most viable option for immediate action as it would not need universal support for the commencement of negotiations or for its entry into force. It was suggested that the United Nations high-level international conference, to convene no later than 2018 pursuant to resolution 68/32, should review progress of these negotiations.