OEWG Report, Vol. 2, No. 1

UN working group on nuclear disarmament to begin tomorrow
21 February 2016 

Mia Gandenberger and Ray Acheson

On Monday, 22 February 2016, the second open-ended working group (OEWG) will hold its first formal meeting in Geneva. It will meet daily for a week to substantively address concrete effective legal measures, provisions, and norms that will need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. As a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, all UN member states and civil society are invited to participate in the meeting and it will not operate under the assumption that consensus means unanimity.

The working group was established was established last December with a resolution that originated in the General Assembly First Committee. 138 states voted in favour of the resolution; those voting against or abstaining were nuclear-armed states and some allies that have nuclear weapons included in their security doctrines. Iran had put forward a separate resolution establishing such a body, with the specification that it would operate on the basis of consensus. Iran withdrew that resolution when it became clear it still didn’t have the support of all of the nuclear-armed states.

Since then parameters have been put in place to allow for a meaningful engagement during the limited amount of time available. Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi of Thailand, Chair-designate for the OEWG, has circulated a draft agenda for the first meeting and states have agreed to tentative dates for the meetings of the OEWG: the First session will be held 22-26 February (half day only on 23 and 24 February); the second session 2-13 May (no session on 5 and 6 May); and the third session 22 August (TBC).

This week, after a session on taking stock and reviewing developments since the meetings of the last OEWG in 2013, four panels will convene. These will focus on 1) concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that will need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons; and 2) recommendations on other measures that could contribute to taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations such as a) transparency measures related to the risks associated with existing nuclear weapons; b) measures to reduce and eliminate the risk of accidental, mistaken, unauthorized or intentional nuclear weapon detonations; and c) additional measures to increase awareness and understanding of the complexity of and interrelationship between the wide range of humanitarian consequences that would result from any nuclear detonation.

States and civil society organisations will have the opportunity to engage during the exchange of views following the panel presentations. This will provide the opportunity to discuss various options of legal measures and outline elements of such measures. Reaching Critical Will together with Article 36 has submitted two working papers based on our previous work outlining possibilities for a treaty banning nuclear weapons and an overview of the legal gaps such a treaty would fill. As partner organisations of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), we are encouraging states to put forward their ideas for a legal prohibition on nuclear weapons and to discuss related elements and measures. The OEWG is a great opportunity to move along the discussions that have stagnated in other UN disarmament forums with a focus on concrete outcomes—something that has been sorely lacking in other initiatives over the last two decades.

The reemergence of a focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons has initiated a process of stigmatising these weapons. The overwhelming majority of UN member states reject these weapons of terror and have pledged to fill the legal gap to prohibit and eliminate them. They need to use every opportunity to advance this agenda and develop new legal measures to prohibit these weapons as the other weapons of mass destruction have been prohibited.

As always, Reaching Critical Will will be in the room to provide live updates on Twitter during the meetings, to collect all documents, statements, and other relevant information on our website, and to circulate reports and analysis of what happened each day. Be sure to subscribe to the First Committee Monitor to stay up to date!