Nuclear disarmament is not dead yet and interesting times are ahead of us. The UN General Assembly adopted, on 27 October 2016, a landmark resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. This historic resolution might mark the end of two decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts.
At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, with 38 against and 16 abstaining.
The resolution states that a UN conference will be held in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July. It will be open to civil society.
In the preambule of Resolution A/C.1/71/L.41, the UNGA consider itself deeply concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. It also reiterates that all the peoples of the world have a vital interest in the success of disarmament negotiations and that responsibility for managing worldwide economic and social development, as well as threats to international peace and security, must be shared among the nations of the world.
The preambule also recalls that States have the duty to engage in negotiations in good faith on effective measures towards nuclear disarmament.The UNGA also stresses that the current international climate makes increased political attention to disarmament and non-proliferation issues, the promotion of multilaterl disarmament and the achievement of a world without nuclear wapons all the more urgent.
In its operative part, the UNGA explicitly recognizes the work and contribution of international organizations and civil society to taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, as has been demonstrated, inter alia, in the Open-ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament held in Geneva during 2016.
In its operative part 8, the UNGA “decides to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negoatiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”
It furthermore calls upon States to make their best endeavours to conclude as soon as possible a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.
The Conference will take place in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society representatives.
From SAFNA’s point of view, this is a very positive development and the logical follow-up of the constructive outcome of the Open-ended Working Group of 2016. Nuclear weapons won’t be eliminated overnight and a new treaty is expected to be signed and ratified, first of all, by States that do not possess them anyway. But outlawing those weapons will put the Nuclear Weapons States under more pressure and might create some more positive momentum in favour of nuclear disarmament. It might also crystallize a customary rule prohibiting nuclear weapons, if such a rule does not yet exist. In case such a rule already exists, a new treaty will express and confirm it. There is no doubt: a treaty banning nuclear weapons will be only the beginning of long way towards a world free of nuclear weapons and will have to be followed by other measures, including actual disarmament. To bring the Nuclear Weapons States on board of a legally binding treaty will be the real challenge!
(Daniel Rietiker, President of SAFNA, Swiss Lawyers for Nuclear Disarmament)