And it’s over. A month of revolving negotiations in New York, a month of reiterated statements, a month of diplomatic back and forth, a month of so called negotiations, and… if you were looking only at the NPT, we could have gone backwards. But this is about nuclear weapons, and over 100 countries have now pledged to go forwards.
If this were only about the nuclear armed states, then it would be as backwards as the draft document that was not adopted. This conference was different. This conference wasn’t about the nuclear armed countries, or about the Middle East (even if that was the reason the document didn’t get agreement), this conference is about the majority of the world rejecting nuclear weapons.
Twice over the course of the last month, the names of 159 countries were read out as countries that agree nuclear weapons should never be used again, under any circumstances. As of this writing, over 105 countries are ready to take action to make sure of it- and have signed onto the Humanitarian Pledge.
One could argue that this conference, and its lack of negotiations, has been nothing but a month of theatre. From the beginning the nuclear armed sought to legitimize their arsenals. The majority made it abundantly clear nuclear arsenals are not legitimate. Instead of basing negotiations on the majority position, no negotiations ever took place. Documents were produced with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. In the final week, the starting point for documents on disarmament was clearly the positions of nuclear armed states. The voice of the majority was silenced. This conference has been a month long theatrical effort where the nuclear armed countries defend their arsenals and refuse to answer questions while the majority demand more than words
Even nuclear armed countries not present were used in this theater. In rejecting consensus, the United States made it clear that they could not agree because not “all states in the region” would be able to agree to do what all NPT members agreed would be done years ago.
But the real story is the story of the disarmament discussions. From the opening statements it was clear that there was going to be a deep divide. This only got deeper during discussions in committee, and because there was no opportunity to actually negotiate any text on disarmament, there was never a sincere effort to find agreement. There was never an answer to the question of under what circumstances would it be okay to use nuclear weapons? There was never an honest discussion about the profound legal and policy questions that the new information on the consequences of any detonation (including the disproportionate impact on women and girls) would result in. There was never a willingness on the part of the nuclear armed to honestly engage.
During the final session, Austria on behalf of over 45 countries* said:
“The exchanges of views that we have witnessed during this review cycle demonstrate that there is a wide divide that presents itself in many fundamental aspects of what nuclear disarmament should mean. There is a reality gap, a credibility gap, a confidence gap and a moral gap.”
They then added, in their national capacity, that the humanitarian pledge has reached a level of support they previously not thought possible, and that the more that disarmament discussions have lost credibility and an urgent sense of direction in the last weeks, the more states sought an opportunity to move forward- now the number of on the pledge has reached 107.
Those governments have an opportunity to go forward. They have pledged:
“to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, States, international organisations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements, parliamentarians and civil society, in efforts to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks.”
As Costa Rica noted in their final statement: “We must aim for real change. Humanitarian pledge is the real outcome of this Review Conference. More states should endorse the humanitarian pledge, more states should join efforts to fill the gaps, and join efforts that will stigmatize, prohibit and ultimately lead to elimination of all nuclear weapons.” While Palau said the “The Humanitarian Pledge presented at this Review Conference provides a strong foundation from which to launch negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. It is, in essence, the outcome document of this conference. If we are to succeed in averting a nuclear catastrophe, we must work urgently together to fill the legal gap. Let the end of this conference mark the beginning of the end of the nuclear age.“
This year is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is no better time to start negotiations to finally prohibit nuclear weapons and end the nuclear age.
*The group of states that Austria took the floor on behalf of:
Afghanistan, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Kuweit, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Madagascar Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Swaziland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam