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Digging into the negotiating details

March 30, 2017

Thea Katrin Mjelstad presents ICAN’s views on core ban treaty prohibitions.

Ban treaty negotiations day 3:

Ray Acheson summed up the principal goal of the ban treaty yesterday in WILPF’s statement to the ban treaty negotiators: “In order to be effective as a prohibition treaty that leads to the elimination of nuclear weapons, the core prohibitions of the treaty should be as clear and comprehensive as possible.”

As State delegations dug into the details of what to prohibit in the new treaty and how to shape the language in which those prohibitions will be expressed, some differences began to emerge that will test the negotiating skills of all the participants.

ICAN has said that the treaty should prohibit development, production, testing, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, deployment and use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance, financing, encouragement, and inducement of prohibited acts.

Most of those elements found their way onto the lists of numerous States who spoke during the morning and afternoon sessions on day three. A few seemed controversial, or at least are going to have to be defined more clearly.

There was little or no objection to a prohibition on nuclear testing, for example, but a few States thought testing would be covered by a prohibition on development, and a few others said it was already prohibited by the CTBT and should be left out of the ban treaty entirely in order to avoid the appearance of “undermining” the CTBT or setting up a “competitive” regime.

There was more concern expressed than most of us had anticipated around prohibitions on transfer, which would include transit and stationing, and how such prohibitions would be verified. Verification came up as a concern in a number of interventions, and while we had anticipated this, it became clear yesterday that the role of verification in a prohibition treaty will have to be further discussed and argued out. Most States seemed to agree with ICAN’s view that little if any verification is required to implement normative prohibitions, but that it will be essential during the elimination of nuclear weapons and that the treaty language should anticipate this in some way.

A number of States—more than I would have expected—said they thought the treaty should explicitly reassert the so-called inalienable right to the “peaceful” uses of nuclear energy enshrined in the NPT. Nuclear energy, as many of us have argued for decades, is already the poison pill in the NPT. Regardless of its role in the NPT environment, it has no place in a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and I can only hope this very red herring will be thrown back into the water.

The most serious issue that came up yesterday was over whether to include a prohibition against threat of use in the treaty. A few States suggested that threat of use is already prohibited in principle under Article 2 of the UN Charter. A few others expressed concerns that such a prohibition would be an obstacle to inclusivity and universalization, presumably because nuclear-armed and nuclear-reliant states would be unable to join a treaty that was incompatible with extended deterrence relationships.

Quite a few States put threat of use on their lists of core prohibitions, and a few argued strongly that outlawing deterrence was a very important goal of the treaty. Those arguments were reinforced in civil society interventions by Ray, John Burroughs of LCNP, Zia Mian of Princeton, and Anna Ikeda of the Amplify youth network. This is a really important issue for IPPNW, and we’ll be following it closely throughout the negotiations.

That unforgettable smile!

Yesterday ended on a bittersweet note, with a memorial event for Bob Mtonga hosted by Anna Macdonald of Control Arms and attended by some 40 or 50 people, including a representative of the Zambian Mission to the UN. Several of us reminisced (sometimes tearfully) about times we had spent with Bob, and we listened to a lovely rendition of the Zambian national anthem before calling it a night.

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