Global Nuclear Weapons Ban Talks Open in Geneva

May 3rd, 2016 - by admin

Mia Gandenberger / Reaching Critical Will & Silene Theobald / ICAN France – 2016-05-03 23:48:16

NOTE:: The OEWG Report offers civil society perspectives on the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament (May 2-13, 2016). You can follow the developments daily at

Chair of the #OEWG receives ICAN’s appeal for a nuclear weapons ban, signed by 838 parliamentarians in 42 nations.

Opportunity for Progress: The Open-Ended Working Group Reconvenes
Mia Gandenberger / Reaching Critical Will

From Monday, May 2, 2016, the open-ended working group (OEWG) to take forward nuclear disarmament negotiations will meet for its second session in Geneva. During the May meetings, it is imperative that states focus their time on discussing elements for a treaty banning nuclear weapons and that they make concrete recommendations to the General Assembly in relation to moving forward with negotiations on such a treaty.

After a fruitful discussion in February, where the prohibition of nuclear weapons provided the key framework for debate and where states and civil society interacted in ways far superior to what we are used to seeing in most multilateral forums on disarmament, it is crucial that the next two weeks are used constructively.

The purpose of this body is to “substantively address” and make recommendations to the UN General Assembly about “concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms” to achieve and maintain a nuclear weapon free world.

With a significantly greater number of non-governmental organisations and academic institution participating this month, the bar for a fruitful and result-focused debate is raised and states will have to make use of this opportunity for a more focused debate defining elements and processes for the way ahead.

Chair’s Paper
Since the February session, which provided an opportunity for some exceptionally open and progressive discussions about the way forward for nuclear disarmament, the Chair presented his synthesis paper on 21 April 2016. In his paper, the Chair summarised his perceptions of the discussions so far and a summary of the working papers submitted until 7 April 2016.

The paper, after a brief introduction of the mandate and history of the OEWG, looks at suggestions and concrete legal measures discussed during the first session, namely a nuclear weapons convention, a prohibition treaty, a framework agreement, or a “progressive” building blocks approach.

Here he identified several elements that would be common for all options moving forward, which are compiled in Annex I of the paper. The paper goes on to examine various other measures suggested, e.g. regarding increasing transparency or building trust.

Here there seemed to be more convergence of views already during the February session. Finally, the paper summarises all the recommendations for the way ahead raised by delegations.

While this synthesis paper is a good summary of the February session and recommendations so far, it’s crucial that states focus in on the ideas with the most traction. The prohibition of nuclear weapons is a measure long past due, and as many NGOs and states agree, is the most feasible and practical approach under the current circumstances.

The French Disconnection
Silene Theobald / ICAN France

“France is fully engaged in nuclear disarmament. We have an exemplary record in that respect,” replied the French Minister of Foreign Affairs in Parliament three weeks ago when MPs questioned him about the French position with respect to nuclear disarmament and its participation in the future of multilateral negotiations.

The Minister pitted the French “pragmatic and responsible” approach against “the ideological approach of the defenders of a total prohibition of nuclear weapons … who rely on words, instead of action.”

France considers that the UN General Assembly resolution “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations” established the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) as a “radical approach, disconnected from the strategic context,” and believes that it will not lead to constructive discussions and concrete progress.

But one may ask: who is really disconnected from what? Last February, during the first session of the OEWG, 90 governments and dozens of civil society organisations gathered to discuss the legal gaps around nuclear weapons and proposals for filling these gaps, the urgency of action, transparency, confidence-building measures, verification, risks, and the question of the relevance of nuclear deterrence. As the name of the working group indicates, discussions were fully inclusive and extremely fruitful.

States that have been excluded for decades from the long-moribund Conference of Disarmament (CD), which denies membership to two-thirds of the world’s nations, were able to raise their voices and express their views. Concrete concerns that until now could never move beyond the stage of agenda items in the CD were explored for the first time in in-depth discussions.

And yet France, allegedly “fully engaged for disarmament,” voted against the resolution creating this working group and decided to boycott the discussions, along with China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

France keeps avoiding questioning the relevance of its continued reliance on nuclear weapons in its military doctrine and ignores any discussion that could help move forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

This is a country that has shown an incredible capacity to entirely disconnect itself from the international momentum that hundreds of nations have embraced, ignoring a fundamental issue, which in fact directly concerns France.

On the national level, former Defence and Prime Ministers (P. Quilès, H. Morin, M. Rocard) and high-ranked military officials (B. Norlain) have strongly questioned the concept of deterrence in the French military doctrine and the financial means it mobilises within the army. MPs regularly question the government and attempt to open the debate on nuclear weapons.

ICAN France, thanks to its ICAN Youth project on the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament, detected a strong will from French youth to obtain more information about the nuclear arsenal and nuclear disarmament initiatives on the international level. They wish to ignite public debate and voice the incomprehension of the young, post-Cold War generation towards the legitimacy of these “old weapons.”

And yet, this questioning is not reflected at high levels of the state. France unconditionally maintains its discourse about the necessity of nuclear weapons to ensure its peoples’ “freedom and independence;” it keeps investing billions of Euros in modernisation; and it continues praising the exemplary commitment of France in respect to disarmament, without providing any space for debate.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed it found this OEWG too accessible for civil society, arguing that the lack of shared aspirations between civil society and the Ministry prevents France from participating in these discussions constructively.

This gives a good idea of the level of French transparency when it comes to nuclear disarmament, if the only discussions the Ministry is willing to take part in are the ones in which it agrees on the interlocutors. This closed-mindedness causes France not only to be disconnected from international concerns, but also from the questions raised within its own borders.

This is why it is so important for French civil society to be present and audible during this UN working group, to show that the “consensus” often stated by the French authorities is a myth. And this is why it has been extremely encouraging for us to see so many states respond positively to the call of the OEWG in February, and to hear so many nations speak in favour of a ban on nuclear weapons.

French civil society needs the real “disarmers” to call upon France to shoulder its responsibilities and move towards this world without nuclear weapons it claims it wants to achieve, and to show they take action and do not only rely on words.

We are encouraging all states to participate in the OEWG and to engage urgently in the construction of the strongest legal norms possible. Our efforts must lead to the negotiation of a ban treaty to ensure the security of all in a world without nuclear weapons.

Coverage of the OEWG
Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament programme of WILPF, will provide full coverage of the OEWG proceedings through this daily report. It will provide analysis and advocacy, highlights from the discussions, and reports on side events.

You can subscribe to receive this report by email by going to and subscribing to the First Committee Monitor. On that website, you can also find statements, documents, archived OEWG reports, and more information. You can also follow the discussions on Twitter at #OEWG, #goodbyenukes, @RCW_, and @nuclearban, among others.