Nuclear disarmament open-ended working group (2)


This blog and an earlier one contain comments made by UNIDIR (Tim Caughley) on UNIDIR paper OEWG Brief No. 2 during the Open-ended Working Group meeting in Geneva on 22 February 2016.


After noting some confusion and overlap in the nuclear disarmament debate, the remaining comments were about possible approaches to nuclear disarmament (in the context of the guiding questions posed by the Chair in A/AC.286/WP.3).

“ ‘Step-by-step’ approach:

Supporters of the step-by-step approach often describe it as the only way forward noting that many steps remain to be taken along the road to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. Supporters of this approach also point to the entry-into-force of the CTBT and the negotiation of a ban on the production of fissile material (FM(C)T) as the logical next steps. But for various reasons these steps are blocked. This gives rise to several uncertainties about proceeding step-by-step in a negotiation involving all states, international organisations and civil society, for example,

  • whether logic also dictates that in the meantime it would be useful to identify for preliminary discussion one or more of the remaining steps, mapping them in sequence? These need not be confined only to those steps that are of a multilateral kind.

(A similar question could be asked in relation to the ‘building blocks’ and ‘full spectrum’ approaches.)

‘Framework’ approach:

The question just raised might be seen as foreshadowing—and overlapping with—the negotiation of a procedural skeleton or agenda or framework for pursuing the necessary steps towards, and including, the elimination of nuclear armaments. For instance, the United Nations Secretary-General envisaged in his 5-point proposal on nuclear disarmament a framework of ‘separate, mutually reinforcing’ legal instruments. This could comprise an umbrella agreement containing a commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons and anticipating that an agreed set of concrete steps would be pursued, perhaps in sequence, perhaps time-bound until elimination was eventually achieved. Questions that might help address this apparent overlap of approaches are:

  • whether there is scope and utility for amalgamating the step-by-step approach and a framework approach (i.e., procedural skeleton or umbrella agreement), and, if so,
  • how feasible the inclusion of a time-bound element would be?

‘Comprehensive’ approach(es):

In the debate to date, ‘comprehensive’ has been used in connection with the ambitious ‘draft Model Convention on Nuclear Weapons’ tabled in 2007 in the United Nations General Assembly by Costa Rica and Malaysia (an updated version of the original 1997 proposal). But ‘comprehensive’ has also been used to describe the range of prohibitions that might be concluded in a treaty banning nuclear arms. Thus, we sometimes hear the words ‘comprehensive prohibition of nuclear weapons’. This is confusing. As the latest NAC paper has expounded, a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons and a ban treaty (whether on possession and use (as sought by ICAN) or just use (as proposed by India)) can both be described as ‘standalone’ agreements. But that is where the similarity ends: they are likely to be significantly different in scope.

The manner in which these approaches have at times become blurred in the debate is complicating the assessment of the effectiveness of these proposed measures as steps towards nuclear disarmament. Challenges for the proponents of ‘standalone’ treaties include clarifying:

  • just how comprehensive their respective approaches are, and
  • the sequencing they envisage in relation to other possible steps leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Fulfilling the mandate of this OEWG by teasing out possible effective measures and narrowing them down may seem a daunting task in the face of current global uncertainties. But attaining and maintaining a world without nuclear weapons, as specifically envisaged by the OEWG resolution, is not a question of whether but when. If logic and principle and multilateralism count for anything, this United Nations working group should be equal to that challenge.”


This entry was posted in Comments. Last updated May 31, 2017.