UN working group report sends a message to nuclear weapon enablers

There aren’t that many countries in the world that find nuclear weapons useful. There are the 9 that have them (China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States) and another couple dozen that either have bilateral agreements with the US (Australia, Japan, South Korea) for American nuclear bombs to be dropped on their behalf, or are part of NATO.[1] A series of UN meetings this year has shown that this minority is no longer in charge of the nuclear weapons narrative- and the majority is going to (finally) make the bombs illegal.

The first draft (the “zero draft”) of the report and recommendations from the Open Ended Working Group on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations (OEWG) was released last week and recognizes that “a majority of States supported the convening by the General Assembly of a conference in 2017, open to all States, international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”  That accurately reflects the discussions that took place, the majority of States made it clear- now is the time to negotiate a nuclear ban treaty.

Of course, not all countries participating in the working group discussions want to ban nuclear weapons- a few of them want to keep using nuclear weapons in their security strategies. They claim to support nuclear disarmament, but at the same time reiterate that they will keep relying on nuclear weapons as long as they exist. Their actions and their polices provide the enabling environment necessary for the nuclear armed to not only keep, but also modernise their nuclear arsenals.

Most UN meeting documents make only two distinctions- the nuclear have and the nuclear have-nots. The new category- the nuclear enablers- are getting more distinct attention as a result of these meetings.

The draft report puts this small group of states into their own category. In describing possible actions that countries can take to attain and maintain a nuclear weapons free world, it says these different approaches will “vary in their salience to nuclear-armed States, non nuclear- armed States and other States that continue to maintain a role for nuclear weapons in their security doctrines.”

Many of these countries call for transparency- on the part of the nuclear armed. They don’t talk publicly about their own role in keeping nuclear weapons around. Especially not at the UN. Instead, countries like the Germany or the Netherlands talk about their ambitions for a world without nuclear weapons while at the same time continuing preparations to use them as part of NATO. There are five countries that host US nuclear weapons (Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey). They all call for the nuclear armed to provide more information about their arsenals, but never provide any information themselves.  This was discussed a lot during these UN meetings. And the draft outcome document recognises this information gap.  It says:

Other States that maintain a role for nuclear weapons in their military and security concepts, doctrines and policies should also provide standardized information at regular intervals on, inter alia, the following:

(i) The number, type (strategic or non-strategic) and status (deployed or non deployed, and the alert status) of nuclear warheads within their territories;

(ii) The number and the type of delivery vehicles within their territories;

(iii) The measures taken to reduce the role and significance of nuclear weapons in military and security concepts, doctrines and policies.

It is great that this language appears in the report part of the draft, but the Chair should also have included it in the recommendations section. The parliaments in many of these countries have been calling for this type of information for decades. National resolutions get passed, and demands for information are met with silence. That silence is part of the problem, part of what enables nuclear armed countries to maintain their arsenals, their policies, their threats of massive nuclear violence.  By including a clear recommendation for these ‘Other states’ to begin providing some information on their own nuclear weapons policies and practices, the recommendation part of this report has the chance to make a significant impact on reducing nuclear risks.

At the end of the day, only a few countries think nuclear weapons have any use whatsoever. It is only this small minority that want things to stay the same. Only a small number that doesn’t yet recognize or admit they are part of the nuclear problem.

Right now, the security of the masses is at stake. Worsening relationships between nuclear armed countries and alliances only highlight the need to move as far as possible away from the most heinous weapons. Significant change comes at times of crisis. Everything that can be done to reduce and eliminate the risk these weapons pose to the world should be done. It is up to the minority to step up or step aside. The majority have spoken: now is the time to negotiate a nuclear ban.




[1] NATO Membership: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.