First day of UN nuclear disarmament talks

February 23, 2016

The new UN working group on nuclear disarmament met in Geneva yesterday for the first time and laid out the legal gaps in the current framework governing nuclear weapons, along with proposals for filling those gaps. Discussion almost immediately zeroed in on the key proposal: a nuclear weapon ban treaty. It was on everyone’s lips – whether they were for or against – with delegates debating the merit and feasibility of such a treaty.

Full analysis by ICAN partner Reaching Critical Will →

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan opened the day’s proceedings by declaring that the status quo of disarmament inaction is unacceptable and unsustainable. “The [working group] should aim to galvanize international public opinion and, I sincerely hope, break through the paralysis which has characterized and stymied the debate on nuclear disarmament in recent decades,” he said.

After compelling presentations from non-governmental experts, including ICAN’s Rebecca Johnson, diplomats exchanged views on pathways forward. Several nations voiced their support for negotiating a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. Malaysia noted that this treaty could be negotiated now and be part of a wider framework that later includes provisions for the verified elimination of stockpiles.

Brazil argued that a ban treaty would have the merit of being “open to all and blockable by none”. It proposed that the UN working group consider elements to include in such a treaty. Switzerland observed that nuclear weapons remain the one weapon of mass destruction not yet comprehensively prohibited under international law.

Delegates at the UN working group in Geneva on Monday 22 February.


Mexico, which played a key role last October in establishing the UN working group, questioned whether the doctrine of “nuclear deterrence” is compatible with international law. It argued that prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons is in the security interests of all nations, and urged delegates to focus on substance rather than procedure.

“With only one day of discussions concluded, the ban treaty stood out as the most reasonable and feasible way forward. It dominated the conversation, whether speakers were in favour of pursuing it or not,” reported Mia Gandenberger and Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will, a member of ICAN’s international steering group.

ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn (centre) speaks at a morning press conference.



  • aiweiwei

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    Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

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