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Getting ready to develop proposals?

Beatrice Fihn & Gabriella Irsten | Reaching Critical Will

The second week of the open-ended working group (OEWG), established through UNGA Resolution A/RES/67/56, continued in the same manner as the week before. It addressed individual topics regarding the situation of nuclear weapons today and the discussions focused on questioning the traditional view and role that nuclear weapons have in international security and how this role can be re-structured and changed in order to lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Perspectives on the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a nuclear weapons free world

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament policy examined the historic role of a so-called “step-by-step” approach versus a “comprehensive” approach within nuclear disarmament processes. She concluded that the two approaches should not be seen as “rivals” or alternatives but complementary. Dr. Johnson specifically highlighted that isolated steps will not lead the international community anywhere unless they include a sense of direction and commitment to arriving at the agreed destination.

The discussion exchanged opinions on what kind of road map would be most sufficient to lead to the common goal, a world free of nuclear weapons. Some speakers noted that elimination of nuclear weapons would be more likely after a treaty banning nuclear weapons lead by non-nuclear weapon states, while others thoughts that a ban would not necessarily take the international community further towards elimination.

Some delegations supported the view that a “comprehensive” approach might not be a contradiction to existing initiatives, and several speakers stressed that it should include an agreed framework with universal commitments and must contain a timeline. Some delegations expressed concerns with what they called “a big bang” approach and warned that it might not be realistic. Concerns were also raised from one delegation that such an approach could disregard the confidence in NPT obligations.

The lack of discussion around nuclear reliance and nuclear umbrellas was also brought forward as one aspect that the multilateral disarmament keeps on missing. Questions were raised on how to move forward on the more comprehensive approach since the nuclear weapon states (NWS) are not in favour of this and consequently how do you move forward on nuclear disarmament without the NWS.

A conversation on International Law relevant to the use of nuclear weapons

The panel addressing international law applicable for nuclear weapons was commissioned(?) to in detail explain how the legal framework looks today and sort out some long term misunderstandings concerning nuclear weapons and international humanitarian law (IHL).

Mr Andrew Clapham, Director of the Geneva Academy, discussed the somewhat misunderstood concept of self-defence within IHL and how many seem to forget that even an act of self-defence needs to respect such laws.  He explained that even in an act of self-defence both traditional IHL concepts such as necessity and proportionality needs to be taken into consideration before an attack. He continued to clarify that proportionality does not mean in relation to the harm that was made to you, but what is needed to stop the next round of attacks.

Ms Louise Doswald-Beck, former Head of Legal Division of ICRC, touched upon additional IHL issues relevant to use of nuclear weapons, such as distinction between military and civilian targets, collateral damage and unnecessary suffering to combatants.

The discussion focused on new developments with international law, with a strong focus on the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Since so much has changed in global international security, the relevance of the ICJ opinion was raised and some discussed a new, updated advisory opinion that would take today’s security measures into account. In contrast to the Cold War, today’s international community has a stronger focus on human rights and humanitarian responsibility, which could change the analysis of a new ICJ Advisory Opinion. Other new international law tools and their relevance for nuclear weapons were also discussed, such as the International Criminal Court and it’s Rome Statute, human rights law in conflict, and the doctrine of responsibility to protect.

Approaching nuclear disarmament from different angles

This panel focused on the re-structuring of the role that nuclear weapons have possessed throughout the Cold War and beyond.  It discussed “new” arguments such as the humanitarian approach, economic arguments, legal arguments and military utility (generate security vs. producing insecurity). 

Dr. Patricia Lewis from Chatham House, questioned that if nuclear weapons have the magic role of deterring war why can’t all countries in the world have them? She also highlighted the changed environment within the NWS, where a greater discussion has started to question the value of these weapons and the cost they bring with them.

John Borrie from UNIDIR explained that just like in the landmines and cluster processes, the humanitarian approach is a hard approach rooted in a scientific and evidence based approach needed in order to change policy makers minds. Traditional arms control approaches focus on state security as the point of reference. Humanitarian approaches to security make a shift towards individual and community security- oft called human security- as the main reference point.

This was also echoed by Mr. Neil Buhne from UNDP that talked about the development imperative of nuclear disarmament.

The discussion afterwards focused on how such new angles can change the debate and what in particular non-nuclear weapons states could do to change the discourse and the ascribed value that nuclear weapons have had. Some questions were raised on how the humanitarian approach to nuclear weapons can assist in identifying building blocks towards a nuclear weapon free world, and how one can get nuclear possessing states on-board with this.

Many agreed that the impact of nuclear weapons cannot be dealt with by individual countries or regions but must be met by a global solution from the international community.

Roles and responsibilities for nuclear disarmament.

The fourth panel of the week discussed the different roles and responsibilities that states have. Mr. Tariq Rauf, former head of verification and security policy coordination at the IAEA, emphasized that while the nuclear possessing states have the main responsibilities to disarm, non-nuclear weapon states have the responsibility to seek delegitimisation of nuclear weapons - with or without the nuclear possessing states onboard.

He emphasising that the OEWG is a good example of an initiative that non-nuclear weapon states can promote. He also highlighted the responsibility that nuclear umbrella states have in order to seek the removal of tactical weapons from their territory and minimise the role of nuclear weapons in their shared military doctrines. However, Mr. Rauf did make it clear that nuclear possessing states carry a special role and that the end goal of a world free of nuclear weapons will be difficult if these states do not participate.

The debate which followed stressed that nuclear disarmament should not be pursued only by nuclear possessing states, but that there are numerous things non-nuclear weapon states can do, like promoting stockpiles and verification in negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, remove tactical nuclear weapons, avoid nuclear energy deals with non-NPT states, and of course, non-nuclear weapon states can outlaw nuclear weapons to create the conditions for disarmament.

The role of parliamentarians in advancing nuclear disarmament

The last panel of this week consisted of Martin Chungong, Deputy Secretary General of the International Parliamentarian Union (IPU), Saber Chowdhury, President of the IPU Committee on Peace and International Security, Baroness Sue Miller, Parliamentarian from the United Kingdom, and Alyn Ware, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND).

The panel stressed the important role that parliamentarians play in the success of disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, including implementation of treaties and global agreements, adoption of legislation, enhancing transparency and accountability, promoting adherence to commitments. Sue Miller emphasised her concerned that many parliamentarians do not address nuclear disarmament enough but instead leave this issue as a matter of foreign affairs to government.

Martin Chungong introduced the handbook for parliamentarians “Supporting Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament,” which is a tool for parliaments and parliamentarians to advance national and international work on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

The way forward

The week ended with a concluding panel consisting of the six moderators from the previous panels that summarised the outcome from the two weeks.

While the mandate of the first two weeks concentrated on an exchange of ideas and views, the next meetings will need to move forward more concretely. The chair therefore proposed that working papers should be presented based on the discussions from these last two weeks. These working papers should help to move forward and will hopefully result in an exercise on more concentrated thinking on the topic discussed in the OEWG. The working papers could also help with establishing recommendations to the United Nations General Assembly and to map out some initial conclusions of working groups. So far, only one working paper has been submitted, by the delegation of Austria.

The paper summarizes the conflicting views standing in the way of multilateral disarmament, including;

-        “the extent to which nuclear disarmament and a world without nuclear weapons is a shared urgent priority for the international community;

-       the quality and status of nuclear disarmament obligations and commitments;

-       what actually constitutes progress on nuclear disarmament and how it should be assessed.”

The recommendations given to the OEWG included “addressing these differences and seek ways of developing common ground” and to further […] address these conceptual differences about the quality and status of obligations and commitments on nuclear disarmament […]“and explore ways on how the apparent gap in perceptions on the status of non-proliferation obligations and nuclear disarmament commitments could be reduced.”

Analysis from RCW

Throughout these two weeks, it has become clear that all delegations are frustrated with the lack of progress on disarmament but views are divided on how to address it.

The discussions during the two first weeks have been interesting and useful in elaborating new proposals. For several members of civil society, it has been an opportunity to discuss ideas such as a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The idea that negotiations of a treaty banning nuclear weapons could start in a near future, without the participation of nuclear possessing states, raised an interesting debate and certainly caught the attention of many delegations.

Some delegations chose to incorrectly refer to a treaty banning nuclear weapons as a “big bang” approach, and some even seemed to believe that it can undermine existing NPT obligations. To many in civil society, it is very strange to think that outlawing nuclear weapons somehow would undermine existing obligations to not develop nuclear weapons or obligations to disarm. Instead a ban would strengthen the norm against nuclear weapons and encourage nuclear possessing states to eliminate their arsenals. In fact, the absence of a clear prohibition on nuclear weapons makes it harder to implement a rational step-by-step process for either disarmament or non-proliferation. A ban on nuclear weapons it seems, is an obvious and necessary step to enable and accelerate the process of disarmament.

Attendance to the OEWG dropped during the second week, possibly because of the themes during these two weeks mainly involved taking stock and considering existing obligations and proposals. In order for small delegations with stretched resources to prioritize this forum, it is essential that the OEWG now move into a more action-oriented part.

On Friday afternoon, the chair encouraged delegation to produce working papers with innovative proposals to move forward so the working group could use them as basis for the coming discussions. These proposals could be presented at the June session and discussed more in-depth at the final session in August.

This suggestion to submit “innovative” proposals can be interpreted in many different ways. It is advisable to avoid vague concepts that proposes bridges or concepts that don’t really lead to anything in the end. Action oriented proposals could focus on what individual governments, or groups of like-minded states, could do.

Governments could, for example, use this opportunity to outline on paper in June what they as individual states can do to move towards a world free of nuclear weapons. For example, NATO states or states under a nuclear umbrella should outline which conditions they see necessary to take nuclear weapons out of their national and collective security doctrines. These states could also use the working group to report on what efforts they have taken to adjust NATO policy to come into compliance with, for example, NPT commitments, at that forum. They could elaborate on steps taken to remove nuclear tasks from non-nuclear weapons states members of the alliance forces. It could also be interesting to continue to elaborate how a treaty banning nuclear weapons can encourage and facilitate nuclear disarmament. 

Most important though is to start a more action-oriented discussion. Panels and interactive debates are interesting and necessary, but it is time to turn the discussion into something concrete. We encourage all delegations to table thoughts and proposals in June, so that all participating states are ready to develop proposals in the final two weeks of the OEWG in August.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the OEWG will be held on Thursday 27 June at 10:00.