Three new resolutions to watch out for at this year’s session of the First Committee
October 8, 2015
At the 2015 session of the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee, three new resolutions are on the table, which aim to consolidate the humanitarian initiative. For ICAN, they reflect a momentum for starting negotiations on a new treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
The joint statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons that has been delivered regularly by an increasing number of states since 2012 has turned into a resolution for this First Committee. The text of the resolution remains largely the same as the statement. Making it a resolution will mean that the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons – which has grown to be the central consideration in nuclear disarmament discussions – can be formally adopted by the UN General Assembly. The resolution calls for nuclear weapons never to be used again under any circumstances, and decides to put the issue of humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons on the agenda of the First Committee next year.
Surprisingly, some from the original group of 16 states that drafted this statement have not yet signed up to co-sponsor this resolution. Previously supportive states like Denmark and Norway seem to be feeling pressured by NATO “commitments” to maintain nuclear weapons. It is also remarkable that Switzerland – the state that first initiated the joint statement in 2012 – has not signed on. Does this suggest that such countries are now less concerned about the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear detonation? Or do these decisions indicate a reluctance to show leadership and act upon the evidence that has been presented?
The second important resolution is related to the humanitarian pledge. At the time of writing, 119 states have endorsed this commitment to take action towards filling the “legal gap” for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Austria has decided to submit the text of the pledge as a resolution, thereby seeking to anchor the pledge in the UN General Assembly. This will press governments that have so far avoided taking a decision on endorsing the pledge to make up their minds on this key international commitment and the need to fill the legal gap.
The third text is a new version of the resolution “Taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations”, led by Mexico. This resolution includes a mandate for an open-ended working group (OEWG) in Geneva to “negotiate with a view to reaching agreement on concrete effective legal measures to achieve nuclear disarmament, in particular new legal provisions and norms to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons”.
Civil society has consistently called for the start of negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, which is the natural next step that should follow from the evidence provided during the Oslo, Nayarit, and Vienna conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. This diplomatic process must be open to all, blockable by none, and inclusive of civil society.
There will most certainly be attempts to weaken the mandate to a discussion or to include consensus rules. If this resolution is to have any value, governments must reject such weakening, as it would then risk repeating the failed discussions from the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the 18-year deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament, or the unfocused discussions of the OEWG in 2013. Such actions will not be able to adequately address the urgent humanitarian concerns that nuclear weapons cause. It is therefore imperative that governments indicate clear support for starting negotiations towards a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.
A moment to make history
With these three resolutions and other initiatives and announcements, October will be an intensive period where governments have the opportunity to place negotiations on a new legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons on the table for the first time.
It is crucial that committed states have the conviction to undertake such negotiations even without the participation of those armed with nuclear weapons. It is time for those that have spoken out about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons to establish an international legal instrument that would prohibit the development, production, testing, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, deployment, threat of use, or use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance, financing, encouragement, or inducement of these prohibited acts.
In addition, such an instrument could suggest a framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons, as well as include positive obligations on states to ensure the rights of victims and survivors. Faced with the indisputable evidence presented over the past three years, wasting more time on pointless discussions cannot be justified by those which have recognized the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament.
While the nuclear-armed states are ramping up the modernization of their nuclear arsenals at an alarming rate, the number of near-accidents and security failures at nuclear weapon facilities are on the rise and investments to secure those facilities fail to adequately address the security gaps.
With increasing tensions between Russia and Western states, experts say that the risk of nuclear weapons use is on the rise – higher than it has ever been since the end of the Cold War.
So far 159 states have recognized the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and 117 have committed to work towards filling the legal gap in relation to the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. With the world having just commemorated the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the moment has come to start the process to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
This article appeared in the preview edition of the 2015 First Committee Monitor of Reaching Critical Will.