A group of governments have submitted a draft UN General Assembly resolution to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The document was circulated on Wednesday by its lead sponsors Austria, Mexico, South Africa, Ireland, Brazil and Nigeria and follows on from the recommendation of a UN Working Group, at which the overwhelming majority of states supported the call for ban treaty negotiations in 2017.
The draft resolution would convene a UN conference to “negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination” and would take place over 2 sessions comprising a total of 20 days in 2017.
The adoption of this resolution would mark a major breakthrough for nuclear disarmament. Nuclear weapons are the only weapon of mass destruction not yet explicitly banned by an international treaty, unlike chemical and biological weapons. In recent years this has come to be considered an anomaly and an obstacle to progress on nuclear disarmament.
Announcing the resolution at the UN General Assembly in New York, Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz said that “experience shows that the first step to eliminate weapons of mass destruction is to prohibit them through legally binding norms”.
Opposition to the resolution from the nuclear-armed states is expected to be fierce. Already they have sent “démarches”, or diplomatic instructions, demanding that governments withdraw their support for ban treaty negotiations. Many expect this pressure to continue behind closed doors during consultations on the resolution in New York.
The negotiations of the ban treaty will pose very uncomfortable questions to the group of non-nuclear weapon states in nuclear weapons alliances with nuclear-armed states. Several of these governments have already faced significant domestic pressure for their opposition to the negotiation of a prohibition of nuclear weapons. Australia was widely criticized for attempting to thwart the recommendation of a ban treaty at the recent UN Working Group in Geneva, while the governments of the Netherlands and Norway have also been rebuked for their opposition to the ban by the political majority in their own national parliaments.
“This is an historic breakthrough in global efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. A treaty banning nuclear weapons will be of enormous importance in establishing a clear, legal rejection of these weapons by the majority of the international community and has the potential to jump start the nuclear disarmament movement – even in the face of resistance from the nuclear-armed states,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN.
The voting on the resolution will take place at the end of October or early November.