Remarks by Article 36 to the Open-Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament, 21 August 2013
Thank you Mr Chairperson,
The question about the different roles and responsibilities of nuclear-armed and non-nuclear armed states – and of civil society for that matter – is an important one.
We agree with you and others that eliminating nuclear weapons is a shared responsibility of all. In this context, I’d like to make some remarks today about the concept of a treaty banning nuclear weapons, which we see as an important next step on the road to abolition and within which the different sorts of countries will have a role to play.
I realise some of these comments might cut across the different clusters under discussion but I hope that will be acceptable.
Inherent in the concept of a ban is the idea that such negotiations will probably have to be initiated by states that do not possess nuclear weapons and that these states should not allow the opposition from possessors of nuclear weapons to prevent such negotiations.
Now, this is not meant to be aggressive towards or to exclude nuclear armed states – they are welcome to participate and we hope they will.
Also this doesn’t mean we are letting the nuclear armed states off the hook, this new treaty would be perhaps the most important new tool in our collective work towards eliminating nuclear weapons. As a campaigner based in a nuclear armed state, I can certainly say that it would be an extremely useful additional tool to challenge the possession of nuclear weapons, which the UK government has declared as entirely legitimate – for itself that is.
Very importantly, the ban treaty will be a new tool that can actually be achieved and that will not have to be stopped by the dynamics of existing mechanisms, where nuclear weapons possessors call the shots. If the nuclear armed states thought it would be letting them off the hook, they wouldn’t be putting up such stiff opposition to the idea.
It might also be the case that those officials and politicians within nuclear armed states that are pushing for more progressive disarmament policies, including parliamentarians, might find such a treaty helpful for their own work in convincing their own political parties and governments to accelerate their disarmament efforts.
While the idea of a ban treaty is getting increasing traction amongst states and organisations, some good questions have been raised. It is worth looking at the four questions raised by the Irish delegation yesterday.
1. Where would a ban leave existing treaties?
Treaties are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. The ban treaty would exert normative pressure towards compliance with and full realisation of the goals identified in the NPT, the UN Charter the CTBT and so on.
The ban treaty would strengthen and complement these existing mechanisms, which were conceived and developed in a different era and which have served and we hope will continue to serve very important purposes.
For those that dismiss the NPT as fundamentally inequitable because of the status of the 5 designated “nuclear weapon states” there would be no real reason not to join a ban treaty that is open to all on the same basis. At the same time we recognise that states wielding nuclear weapons would have particular obligations under a ban treaty to disarm.
2. What will happen between the entry into force of a ban without NWS and the elimination of nuclear weapons?
The ban treaty will set the framework for concerted diplomatic efforts toward treaty universalization, towards the extension of NWFZs, for multilateral and bilateral assistance and cooperation to help nuclear dependent states to move forward, and for other measures that diminish the role of nuclear weapons in the world and remove the value that certain states attach to them.
To be hardheaded though, the main difference between the world today and the world with a ban on nuclear weapons would be the broader international context in which these weapons are viewed. Nuclear armed states would be under no more obligation to disarm than they are already. If they wish to sidestep their responsibility to disarm then they will do so. But that should not stop the rest of us from asserting the illegal and illegitimate nature of these weapons, which the vast majority of people abhor.
3. Would a nuclear weapons treaty with, say, 44 non-parties be more harmful than the current NPT with 3-4 outliers only?
First of all the ban treaty would not be there to compete with the NPT, it would fulfil a complementary role. So it should not be judged on its universality vis a vis the NPT.
At the same time, we should not limit out ambition to a treaty with 44 outliers – things can change quickly during negotiations, especially with the level of public mobilisation one can expect on an issue of the magnitude and resonance of banning nuclear weapons. It might quickly become much harder to reject a ban treaty than it appears today. States may be more eager to participate when the ban treaty becomes a more and more realistic prospect. Once the treaty exists, diplomatic and economic pressure by states parties on non-state parties will also drive adherence to the ban.
Even if there were 44 states outside the treaty, though, it would still be a resounding statement from the international community that nuclear weapons are illegal and illegitimate weapons and that they must be eliminated. The process of negotiating the ban treaty would itself be a mechanism for states to reaffirm their rejection of the weapon and renew their determination to work towards their elimination.
The ban treaty is not going to happen in a vacuum, either. Its development will influence the world around it. NWFZ’s may expand or multiply. The pressure on nuclear armed states to fully implement their obligations will rise. Nuclear weapons will be less and less desirable. Nuclear dependency will be seen increasingly as weakness rather than strength.
4. Can we declare something illegal and at the same time engage in good faith negotiations about reductions and disarmament?
If the goal of those negotiations is security and peace in the sense of a nuclear free world through disarmament there should be no problem in having states declare nuclear weapons illegal. States have all agreed that the goal is a world free of nuclear weapons and that their use would cause catastrophic humanitarian consequences. States frequently adhere to different legal regimes and move at different speeds on the road towards the implementation of international norms. Having a strong standard helps pull others up towards it, especially if that standard is supported by the weight of most of the world’s nations.
We hope that the discussion of these and other questions will help to build the foundations for the negotiations that we expect to begin soon towards the treaty that will ban nuclear weapons and complete the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction around the world.
Thank you Chair.