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Proposals for the OEWG

Beatrice Fihn and Anina Dalbert | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
3 July 2013

The open-ended working group on “taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations” (OEWG) met on Thursday, 27 June for a half-day session in order to “collect proposals and ideas on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations that would serve as a basis for the consultations in the Group during its meetings in 19–30 August 2013.” Four official working papers were introduced by the Chair, Austria, Cuba, and Japan on behalf of 12 countries. Mexico and Austria circulated informal papers and the representatives of Switzerland, Iran, and Brazil on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition announced that they are planning to submit working papers before the session in August. In addition, Algeria suggested introducing the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention by Malaysia and Costa Rica (A/C.1/52/7) as an official working paper to the OEWG.

Summary of submitted working papers

Austria submitted Working Paper 1, “Perceptions and views on nuclear disarmament: addressing differences and bridging gaps” during the first part of the OEWG. It 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; and
  • what actually constitutes progress on nuclear disarmament and how it should be assessed.

The working paper recommends that the OEWG “seek ways of developing common ground” and “address these conceptual differences about the quality and status of obligations and commitments on nuclear disarmament.” It also suggested the OEWG should explore ways to reduce the apparent gap in perceptions on the status of non-proliferation obligations and nuclear disarmament commitments.

Cuba submitted Working Paper 2, “Proposal for practical actions to achieve nuclear disarmament”. Its non-exhaustive list of 20 practical actions includes:

  • Immediate establishment of an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament, with a negotiating mandate, within the Conference on Disarmament;
  • Immediate and permanent cessation of nuclear weapons testing of any kind, including that carried out by supercomputers and subcritical testing, and the closure of all nuclear weapon test sites;
  • Elimination of the role of nuclear weapons in military and security doctrines; and
  • Cessation by the nuclear weapon states of the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery and related infrastructure.

Working Paper 3 was put together by the Chair, Ambassador Dengo of Costa Rica. It lists ideas, elements, and proposals that were raised by all delegations during the May meetings of the OEWG. It also notes different avenues for moving forward that were elaborated on, such as:

  • Negotiating a treaty banning nuclear weapons, which would help delegitimize nuclear weapons and change the political environment surrounding them;
  • Developing and adopting a “building blocks-approach” as an alternative to the step-by-step or the comprehensive approach, noting that ssuch an approach should be legally-binding with clearly defined benchmarks and timelines, as well as backed by a strong verification system;
  • Clearly identifying the elements (treaty negotiation, implementation, and universalization) of the step-by-step approach;
  • Negotiating a no-first use treaty; and
  • Enhancing work on issues such as transparency, verification, and disarmament education.

Working Paper 4, “Building Blocks for a World without Nuclear Weapons”, was introduced by Japan on behalf of Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Sweden. It argues that “building blocks” can complement the step-by-step approach through actions such as:

  • Negotiations of an FMCT and pending that, ensuring a moratorium on the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes;
  • Entry into force of the CTBT;
  • A return to substantive work by the Conference on Disarmament;
  • Strengthening the IAEA safeguards system;
  • Universalizing the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism;
  • Reducing the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons;
  • Reducing the number of non-strategic and non-deployed nuclear weapons; and
  • Strengthening nuclear-weapon-free zones and creating new nuclear-weapon-free zones, including in pursuit of NPT universalization.

Mexico submitted an informal paper that contained some key questions for delegations to consider in the coming meetings of the OEWG, such as:

  • Which instruments are needed to maintain a world without nuclear weapons?
  • What is the role of nuclear weapons in the security context of the 21st century?
  • How does current international law help us towards the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons?

Austria also submitted a “food for thought” paper, which proposed several elements to be further deliberated, such as:

  • Addressing nuclear weapons as a humanitarian and human security issue;
  • Challenging the patterns of attaching value and special status to nuclear weapons; and
  • Building partnerships with a wide range of actors, such as civil society.

Comments from RCW

States seemed to take the suggestion from the Chair to “put things on paper” seriously, circulating several working papers for further consideration by the OEWG. While some of the proposals are quite similar to the NPT 2010 Action Plan, and a few included tired suggestions such as “resuming substantive work in the Conference on Disarmament,” all participating states expressed a sincere interest in moving forward. However, wide differences on how to proceed and what the OEWG should do continues to be seen in these papers.

The paper by NATO and other nuclear reliant countries suggests that “building blocks” could complement the “step-by-step” approach. However, the proposed building blocks appear to contain the same elements as the step-by-step approach. For example, negotiations of a treaty banning fissile materials production, ratification and entry into force of a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, universalization of the NPT, and increased transparency and reporting by nuclear armed states are all elements of the step-by-step approach that has been pursued unsuccessfully for decades. These steps all require action by nuclear-armed states, of which the majority are not participating in the OEWG. However, the paper interestingly notes that “building blocks” could be pursued simultaneously, rather than one at a time in a subsequent way as many have visualized the step-by-step approach before. This is a welcomed idea and it might encourage the participating states to think about which “building blocks” that can be achieved now, without waiting for the participation of all states in the world, as an alternative to waiting for progress on those steps that are currently blocked by one or a few nuclear-armed states.

Some suggestions stood out as new and “fresh”. In particular, Austria’s suggestion that the OEWG could challenge the patterns of attaching value and status to nuclear weapons could provide an interesting platform for discussion in August. In addition, Mexico’s suggestion that delegations discuss what legal instruments are needed to maintain a world free of nuclear weapons, and assess which of these currently exist and which would need to be developed, is also promising. These steps are something that could be realistically achieved by the OEWG and would contribute to creating a more conducive climate for achieving substantial progress on nuclear disarmament.

With two remaining weeks of meetings for the OEWG in August, it will be essential to utilize the time efficiently to get as much done as possible. A new momentum on nuclear weapons is taking place, and the OEWG represents an opportunity to capitalize on this movement.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the OEWG will be held on Monday, 19 August at 10:00.