A process is in the making
March 11, 2015
By Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN
Where we’ve been
Two years ago, the first conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons concluded in Oslo. Sometimes it seems like it was over a decade ago, so much has happened since then.
I remember how nervous we were in the months running up to the conference. We had high hopes, but also doubts. Would any governments show up? Would the humanitarian angle be at the center, or would it be ‘business as usual’? And of course, would this be a one-off conference? Or would it be the start of a process?
It’s still one of the most memorable moments of ICAN to me, when Mexico announced the decision to host a follow-up conference. Listening to the Mexican Ambassador reading out his statement convinced me that a ban on nuclear weapons was going to be possible. That ICAN could do this, get negotiations started.
Since that day, the ICAN campaigning machine has charged on, full steam ahead. And we’ve made more and more people believe that a ban on nuclear weapons can happen. We have grown to include over 400 organisations in our campaign, represented in 95 countries. We work on a national, regional, and international level. From the halls of the United Nations, to national parliaments and streets all around the world, campaigners and partner organisations are turning up the pressure on their governments every day.
The past few years have been intense, but our partner organisations and campaigners have achieved so much. By creating a timeline of the political developments, we wanted to remind and celebrate you all for the amazing work that ICAN has done. It doesn’t come close to reflect all of the work that has been carried out, but it attempts to highlight some of the results of our efforts.
Where are we going now?
A ban on nuclear weapons is within our reach. After three conferences examined the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the Austrian government pledged to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.
But what does this mean and what are the next steps?
I think one has to look at the Austrian pledge in light of the chair’s summary of the Vienna conference. Amongst many significant conclusions, the summary notes that the discussions about the humanitarian impact have recognized that: “there is no comprehensive legal norm universally prohibiting possession, transfer, production and use of nuclear weapons”. A legal gap exists.
With the pledge, Austria went one step further and committed to “pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”. In a short time, over 45 states have joined Austria in pledging to fill that legal gap.
The pledge to pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap does not automatically mean that all those states support a ban on nuclear weapons. But it seems reasonable to expect that they all agree that a legal gap should be filled with new law. So in ICAN’s view, all states that pledge to fill the legal gap are committing to work towards a new legally binding instrument for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.
This could be a treaty banning nuclear weapons, which would address the lack of a “comprehensive legal norm universally prohibiting possession, transfer, production and use of nuclear weapons”, as noted in the Vienna chair’s summary. But it could also take a different form. The pledge does not prescribe what kind of instrument is needed for prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons and the New Agenda Coalition has outlined a few different options in a working paper presented at the NPT last year.
So while a pledge to fill the legal gap does not commit states to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons, it does commit them to start working on a new legally binding instrument. Once a state has pledged to fill the legal gap, the next step should therefore be to decide how, when and where to carry out such negotiations.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As suggested in the Chair’s summary from Nayarit, this would be the appropriate time to start a process to negotiate a new legally binding instrument. ICAN supports this view strongly.
Now is the time to push your government to join the pledge to fill the legal gap. If you haven’t already, check out our action alerts to get your country onboard negotiations for a new legally binding instrument.
We have an opportunity to make 2015 the year when negotiations on a ban on nuclear weapons became a reality. Let’s seize it.