OEWG reconvenes in Geneva: What’s at stake?

United Nations nuclear disarmament talks have reconvened in Geneva for the third and final time. At this final session the group, known as the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), is tasked with producing a final report which will contain a summary of the discussions that have taken place in February and May of this year and a set of recommendations for future action by governments. This report will then be submitted to the UN General Assembly in the fall.

In defiance of the continued boycott of the talks by the nine nuclear-armed states, the overwhelming majority of governments throughout the OEWG’s meetings this year have nevertheless demanded the prohibition of nuclear weapons under international law. These calls have come in the form of national statements, joint statements and working papers submitted to the group for discussion. Many believe that the OEWG will, on this basis, recommend negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons as the most viable and effective route available to States to break the status quo in nuclear disarmament. These governments believe that such a treaty would have practical, political and normative impacts even if the nuclear-armed states refuse to participate.

However, a small group of States, mainly comprised of non-nuclear weapon states which claim to rely on nuclear weapons for their national security have sought to block any recommendation in the report which calls for a ban treaty. The German delegation delivered a statement on behalf of this group refusing to accept negotiations for the prohibition of nuclear weapons as recommendation since it did not “balance national security concerns, take heed of the international situation, and have buy-in from those states that actually possess nuclear weapons.” These States argued in favor of instead including recommendations on mainly non-proliferation measures that have been blocked for up to 20 years.

As ICAN said in its statement to the OEWG last Friday, August 5:

We are clear that the strong support for negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons expressed by the majority of states in this forum provides the necessary impetus and foundation for negotiations to commence in 2017.  We expect a mandate for such negotiations to be adopted this year – and that all states who are committed to preventing the devastating humanitarian risks and consequences of nuclear weapons will work together to prohibit and eliminate them, with the urgency that this demands.

The fair and accurate reflection of the will of the majority must be reflected in the OEWG’s final report. Nevertheless, if the support that the ban treaty has garnered at the OEWG is anything to go by, it seems likely that a resolution mandating the start of negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban will be tabled for a vote at the UN General Assembly in October.

The OEWG will continue its deliberations on August 16th, 17th and 19th at the United Nations in Geneva.