UN concludes productive first week of nuclear weapon ban treaty negotiations

New York, 31 March 2017

The first week of the UN conference to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons was a resounding success. At least 132 governments participated in the conference, despite opposition from the nuclear-armed states and their nuclear weapon-supportive allies. 

"This alone is transformative," noted Ray Acheson, Director of WILPF's disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will. "It is extremely rare, if not unheard of, for anything to get done at the UN if the P5 collectively oppose it. We were told it was impossible to get traction on any issue if faced with a united front of opposition from the 'powers that be,' yet we not only have traction but momentum."

Throughout the week states, civil society, and international organisations engaged in interactive dialogue together, highlighting the uniquely collaborative nature of these negotiations. Civil society organisations accredited to the conference were able to give interventions on each of topics discussed by states, and on Thursday experts were invited by the President to engage informally with states to discuss some of the most critical issues under consideration.

"The courage that brought states to the room to negotiate this treaty and the collaborative spirit of engaging with non-state actors have both been instrumental to the success of this initiative to ban nuclear weapons," said Ms. Acheson. "As we have said many times, the treaty to ban nuclear weapons is not an end in itself. It will be a catalyst for change, just as the process to negotiate it has been already. There is much work to be done ahead, and once the treaty is secured, there will be even more work to achieve its entry into force, its implementation, and of course, to achieve the overarching goal of nuclear disarmament and a nuclear weapon free world. But we have seen so far should give us great hope that this is possible, and that the process of banning nuclear weapons is bringing broader change to how things can be and will be done in international relations."

Based on the debates this week,  he President of the conference, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, will prepare a draft text for the treaty, to be circulated to participating states in the latter half of May or early June. Negotiations will resume at the UN for three weeks starting on 15 June, during which time governments will work their way through the draft text with the aim of concluding the treaty by 7 July.

This is an ambitious agenda, but with the good faith participation of states and others, it is certainly possible. There is broad agreement on most of the core prohibitions as well as the principles and objectives of the treaty. Outstanding issues include whether or not the treaty should prohibit threat of use, testing, and financing; how to best address victim and survivor rights and environmental remediation; and how to deal with stockpiling and verification. In the weeks ahead, it will be important for governments and civil society groups to work together to solve these remaining issues.

For daily updates from the conference, please see Reaching Critical Will's Nuclear Ban Daily. Statements and documents are also available on the RCW website. To stay updated with the next round of negotiations in June and July, please subscribe to WILPF’s ban treaty mailing list to receive daily updates. You can also follow us on social media with the hashtag #nuclearban and the Twitter accounts @RCW_ and @nuclearban.