May session UN Open-ended Working Group ends with huge support for ban

The new UN working group on nuclear disarmament, the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), completed its second and most substantive session in Geneva today. 100 governments participated over the course of two weeks at the United Nations and many more contributed their support through a joint working paper from the Humanitarian Pledge group (now numbering 127 States).


By the end of eighth and final day, it had become clear, beyond a doubt, that the proposal to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons was the overarching focus of the debate. Several governments noted in their concluding statements that there now seem to be two sides – those who seek to preserve the status quo and those who want change. Participating governments were undeterred by the continued boycott of the working group by the nine nuclear-armed states and made substantial progress towards the negotiations of a new nuclear weapons ban treaty by listing the specific elements that should be prohibited by a new treaty and the normative and practical implications that it would have once completed.

A small group of countries, mainly consisting of states who claim reliance on nuclear weapons for their national security, continued their long practice of relabeling a repetition of various stalled or failed proposals – now dubbed “the progressive approach”. Despite the convincing presentations from experts on the huge risks inherent in the continued possession of nuclear weapons and the fallibility of “deterrence”, several states took the floor to defend the nuclear weapons as being integral for their security. These states were nevertheless unwilling to acknowledge the tension between this claim and their oft-repeated commitment to working towards world free from nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of states at the OEWG were united around the proposal for a new legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons even without the participation of the nuclear weapon states. Given the strong support expressed in the OEWG over these past few weeks, it is clear that states are gearing up to start negotiations on such a treaty.

The OEWG will reconvene in August for a final session to negotiate a final report with recommendations for the United Nations General Assembly.