OEWG Report, Vol. 2, No. 18

Majority again calls for negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons to begin in 2017
16 August 2016 

Mia Gandenberger and Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

On Tuesday, 16 August 2016, the open-ended working group (OEWG) to take forward nuclear disarmament negotiations met in Geneva to share general views on the Chair’s revised draft report. The latest draft had been circulated Monday afternoon, together with a letter by the Chair. The majority of states reiterated their support for the inclusion of a recommendation on starting a process in 2017 to prohibit nuclear weapons. Those states opposing this approach mostly encouraged informal consultations to “resolve differences”. 

Revised draft report

The revised draft includes some changes in sections III, “Proceedings of the Working Group,” and VI, now “substantive discussions”. Section V on conclusions and recommendations has not been modified as the Chair is still continuing his consultations on this part of the report.

In paragraph 13, the working group now recalls the encouragement of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) for all member states to participate in the meeting before regretting that the nuclear-armed states chose not to do so. A new paragraph 14 welcomes the participation and contributions of international organisations and civil society.

The use of numeric classifications such as “a number of,” “many,” “several,” etc. continue to be used in different contexts and have been exchanged or modified, e.g. in paragraphs 22, 24, 25, 26, and 27.

In new paragraph 20 (formerly 18), the phrase “expressed its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use” was deleted.

Paragraph 27 is new and focuses on collective and human security and the risk that the existence of nuclear weapons poses in this regard.

Paragraph 28 (formerly) now includes a reference expressing the concern with nuclear weapons modernisation.

In paragraph 29 (formerly), a reference to the environmental impact of nuclear weapons was included.

Section VI. B has seen some restructuring and rearranging of paragraphs, but also some additions, e.g. at the end of paragraphs 31, 32, 34, 35, and 37.

Point (viii) of paragraph 48 is an addition and refers to “information about plans, expenditures and number of facilities related to the modernisation of nuclear weapons; that could be shared by nuclear-armed states.”

Point 58 b) iv) was added to include a reference to awareness raising around nuclear testing.

The measures listed in new paragraph 60 all include some modifications to mainly reflect language of and references to existing instruments.  

The different measures listed in the “progressive approach” working paper were moved from paragraphs 33, 34, and 35 of section B into Annex I. The suggested elements for effective legal measures that could be included in an international legal instrument is contained in now Annex II.

General exchange

During the general exchange of views on the revised draft, Fiji speaking on behalf of Nauru, Palau, and Samoa; the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), African Group, Madagascar, Chile, Ecuador, Malaysia, Fiji, Ireland, Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, Malta, Austria, Liechtenstein (through Austria), Costa Rica, and South Africa reiterated their support for the inclusion of a recommendation for the UNGA to convene in 2017 an international conference open to all states, international organisations, and civil society to begin negotiations of a legally-binding prohibition of nuclear weapons leading towards their elimination.

Canada speaking on behalf of states supporting the so-called progressive approach took the floor to express the group’s concerns that the revised draft is does not take into consideration key elements of their suggested changes to the zero draft. In its current form, Canada stated, paragraph 62 (formerly 59) as an “agreed recommendation” is not acceptable. The group reaffirmed its readiness to negotiate on this point as well as on other problematic language in the report.

New Zealand noted that some states had contested the reference to the majority in paragraph 62. In order to test this out, Ambassador Dell Higgie suggested looking at the other side of the coin where there could not be disagreement with a description of this viewpoint as that of “the minority”.  Cuba in this context suggested that in order to clarify and avoid ambiguity, the Chair move the first sentence of paragraph 62 to section VI and delete the second part elaborating the majority view.

Canada also explained that the group doesn’t need to repeat established positions in the OEWG and its members are happy to suspend the plenary meetings in favour of informal consultations that can take key concerns forward. Japan remained the only member of that grouping to comment on the report, which it argued needs improvement before reaching consensus.

Few states, including Brazil and Austria, went into a more detailed review of the revised draft in the plenary setting, as the Chair will hold bilateral consultations over the remaining days.

Next meeting

The OEWG will meet again on Wednesday, 17 August 2016, at 3 pm in room XIX.


It is beyond clear at this point what the majority of states participating in the OEWG support. The demand for negotiations of a legally-binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, beginning in 2017 with a UNGA resolution, is undeniable. Yet those opposed to accepting any challenges to the perceived value of nuclear weapons are trying to argue that this is not clear.

These states opposing a prohibition treaty have for the past few years repeated their arguments against the utility of such a treaty, or about its perceived threat to the NPT and international stability. These arguments have been met with considered, practical, informed responses by other governments and civil society. Now, the oppositional states seem to be trying to diminish or disregard the support for this new treaty—support that has actually only been growing since the start of this OEWG session in February.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to view the oppositional states as good faith interlocutors. The frustration reflected in Wildfire’s statement about some of these countries actively lobbying the United States not to adopt a no first use policy of nuclear weapons—a step that they themselves have supported in the context of their NPT and OEWG positions—is surely being felt to some extent by many in the room. There has been good faith engagement in the step-by-step and now “progressive” approach for decades by the non-nuclear-armed states in this room. But that approach has failed to achieve results and now the majority is attempting a new effort to break the logjam that has persisted for so long. To be met with resistance that seems to seek to reinforce a sense of inevitability and importance of nuclear weapons is rather astonishing. Why do these countries support any approach to nuclear disarmament if nuclear weapons are so important and intrinsic to their security? Why are some of them actively lobbying against their own suggested measures behind closed doors?

A prohibition on nuclear weapons is going to be developed and adopted. The will of the majority, of states that reject nuclear weapons as a basis of security, is clear. Differences of opinion or strategy about how to best achieve nuclear disarmament have been aired; after years of thoughtful consideration, the prohibition approach is now supported by most states and civil society groups as the best option in our current context. The opposition to this approach is not based on the idea that there is a better way to set the stage for eliminating nuclear weapons; it actually seems to be based on preventing progress towards that end. It will be a difficult position for many of these states to maintain once negotiations on a prohibition have begun, but there will scope to welcome a new form of constructive engagement from these states once we reach that stage.