Abolition 2000 – Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons
The road to nuclear disarmament

The road to nuclear disarmament

Reposted from the Basel Peace Office – see International lawyers group outlines the road to nuclear disarmament

With the 2015 NPT Review Conference just two months away, the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) has released a paper calling for cooperation amongst civil society on a realistic strategy to abolish nuclear weapons.

In Nuclear Disarmament: The Road Ahead, IALANA notes that the New Agenda Coalition has outlined options for establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free world in a Working Paper presented to the 2014 NPT Preparatory Committee. These are:

  • a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention, ratified by all nuclear-armed States, providing for the complete prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons;
  • a simple treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, generally referred to as a ban treaty, ratified by States willing to do so;
  • a framework arrangement of mutually supporting instruments;
  • a hybrid arrangement incorporating elements of all or any of the other three options, or new elements.
Peter Weiss, Co-President of IALANA, speaking at City University of NY on the illegality of nuclear weapons

Peter Weiss, Co-President of IALANA, speaking at City University of NY on the illegality of nuclear weapons

IALANA highlights the proposal for a nuclear weapons convention, which has been supported by over 130 countries, and the exploratory work that has been undertaken on this, including the drafting of a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention. Indeed, the Model NWC has been circulated by the UN Secretary-General to all UN Member States, and the Secretary-General said it is a ‘good point of departure’ for negotiations to fully implement Article VI of the NPT.

IALANA notes that the second proposal – for a simple ban treaty – has been promoted by some civil society organisations including Reaching Critical Will and ICAN, an international campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons. IALANA commends them for devoting ‘great energy and resources to alerting or re-alerting the world to the horrors of nuclear weapons. There have been very good results from this work both in the building of interest among youth and the re-energizing of states.’  IALANA notes that ‘proposals for a ban treaty have also helped to re-open the political space for discussing the legal framework for a nuclear weapons-free world.’ IALANA also recognises that a simple ban treaty would probably be easier to accomplish than a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention.

However, IALANA argues that a simple ban treaty is not an effective way to prohibit nuclear weapons for two main reasons: a) it is unlikely that nuclear armed States would be convinced or embarrassed to join such a treaty; b) it would have no legally binding force on States that do not join.

IALANA rejects the assertion that a simple ban treaty would create a new norm prohibiting nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear weapons is already illegal under international humanitarian law. And, as the International Court of Justice unanimously concluded, states are under an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations on nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control. IALANA argues that ‘it should be easier to persuade them [nuclear-armed States] to comply with existing laws than to create new ones.’ IALANA encourages further dialogue about the convention, ban treaty, and other options laid out in the New Agenda Working Paper.

IALANA recommends that civil society join together to urge States Parties to the NPT, including the nuclear-weapon States, ‘to launch a process of deliberation and negotiation on the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free world, with provision for participation by non-NPT states. Such a process would implement the disarmament obligation set out in NPT Article VI and the ICJ opinion, and is a logical outcome of the humanitarian initiative.’

IALANA recognises that the nuclear-weapon states may block such a proposal, as they did at the 2010 NPT Review Conference. In that case, there are options to take forward such negotiations, including through action by the UN General Assembly. An Open Ended Working Group, for example, similar to the one established by the UNGA in 2013, could commence deliberations or negotiations. IALANA notes that ‘If only non-nuclear weapon states participate in deliberations, they could produce a draft convention to present to the General Assembly prior to the 2018 UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament.’

The IALANA paper concludes by re-affirming the important role of civil society. ‘Ultimately the nature of a convention or treaty – and there is no significant difference between a convention and a treaty – will have to be formulated by governments. But civil society, the survival of which depends on nuclear disarmament, should have a role to play, as it has since Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima and Fat Man on Nagasaki.’