In Geneva, this week and next, the UN General Assembly’s Open Ended Working Group to take forward proposals for multilateral disarmament is meeting. While the name is a bit of a mouthful, the working group, or OEWG as many have initialized it, is actually a pretty cool thing.
The idea is any country in the UN is welcome to get together and talk about what needs to happen to rid the world of nuclear weapons. They’re not negotiating any treaties, but the governments that meet in Conference Room XXVIII are having a pretty free flowing discussion about what the world needs to do.
Some take the time to bemoan the fact that not all of the nuclear armed countries are there. France, China, Russia, the UK and the US are boycotting (and of course, Israel isn’t around – they almost never show up when people are talking about nuclear weapons. It’s really a pity that these countries aren’t in the room- because they could answer some key questions that the OEWG is talking about.
For instance, one part of yesterday’s discussion looked at what the role of nuclear weapons is in the 21st century. I admit that I missed a lot of the meeting, but when I did arrive, I heard repeated challenges to the concept of deterrence. One delegation even said that the language used by North Korea to justify its attempts at getting a nuclear weapon is almost verbatim the language we’ve heard from the nuclear weapons possessors in the past to justify keeping theirs. Deterrence is an excuse for proliferation. It’s not often that you hear these kinds of things said in UN meeting rooms, and it is rather refreshing.
The section on the role of international law in getting to a nuclear weapons free world was also quite interesting. The majority of delegations that spoke focused on the need to make nuclear weapons illegal- and the room got engaged in discussions about a ban treaty.
IKV Pax Christi is part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN), and we’re calling for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Such a treaty would create the necessary conditions leading to a nuclear weapons free world. Even if the nuclear possessing states didn’t sign up to the treaty immediately, it would change the game. Making nuclear weapons illegal- for everyone- would remove justifications for modernisation, for spending billions upon billions to keep the weapons. It would give incentives for nuclear alliance countries, or countries who live under a nuclear umbrella to reject the weapons from their security strategies, and it would add to the existing legal framework around nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. As the Algerian delegation said “We need to fill the gap in the NPT and have an explicit legal norm that provides for the prohibition of nuclear weapons in all dimensions”.
There are a lot of working papers and other documents related to the OEWG available online- you can find them here.