UN Votes to Begin Negotiations on a Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

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August 23, 2016 – UN member states in Geneva last week voted to adopt a report that recommended the General Assembly begin negotiations in 2017 on a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

The report by the Open Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament (OEWG) recommended a conference “open to all States, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

The OEWG was established following a General Assembly resolution in Dec. 2015 and the calls for a complete ban on nuclear weapons are supported by 107 UN member states.

Nuclear weapons are the only weapon of mass destruction not banned by international treaty and proponents of a ban want a treaty to prohibit the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and transfer of these weapons.

While a majority of states want a ban, crucially, the nuclear weapons states along with NATO members and countries under a US defense umbrella are against a ban, citing their security.

All African, Latin American, Caribbean, and Pacific countries support a ban but support among Western and European countries is not nearly as strong, with many belonging to NATO. Among the Western and European countries to support a ban are Austria, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Serbia and Ukraine.

There were 14 countries that were against the adoption of last week’s report: Australia, Poland, Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary, Italy, Belgium, Slovenia, Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Turkey, Lithuania, and South Korea.

In all, 138 countries voted to establish the working group last December.

Among the countries that abstained on last week’s vote are the Netherlands and Japan. The Netherlands hosts US nuclear weapons while Japan is under the nuclear umbrella.

Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, has long called for complete disarmament but has not yet come out in support of a complete ban. Other countries that have not outright called for a compete ban on nuclear weapons have suggested that a first step towards a complete ban should be a ban on the use of nuclear weapons.

The nine nuclear weapons states – Britain, France, China, US, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – did not participate in the OEWG.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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