Last year, the General Assembly voted by a large majority (Resolution 258 on 23 December 2016) to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination
. The vote was 113 in favour, 35 against and 13 abstentions. Four of the five nuclear-weapon States – France, Russian Federation, UK and US – all voted against along with the majority of the NATO States plus Australia, Israel, Japan and South Korea, all of which rely on US nuclear guarantees. Those abstaining included, among others, China, India, the Netherlands, Pakistan and Switzerland.
An organizational meeting was held at the UN in New York on 16 February 2017, attended by more than 100 States to plan for this conference. Ambassador Elayne Whyte of Costa Rica was selected as the president of the conference to be convened in March, and June-July pursuant to Resolution 258
. The meeting also agreed on the conference agenda and rules of procedure – the rules will be those of the General Assembly requiring two-thirds majority for matters of substance and simple majority for procedural matters, hence no State(s) will be able to block decisions on outlawing nuclear weapons and the majority will prevail bringing democratic representation of the world’s peoples who live in States that do not hold the world hostage with nuclear weapons
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This push by a large majority of non-nuclear-weapon States has opened up stark differences not only with States possessing nuclear weapons, but also within the ranks of the non-nuclear-weapon States. States in nuclear-armed alliances such as NATO and US’ Pacific allies, plus Russia, vehemently oppose any negotiations on a multilateral treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, while paying lip service to achieving a world without nuclear weapons through an undefined “step-by-step” or “phased” approach with no defined time line.
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Tariq Rauf is a director of Atomic Reporters; Director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and former Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination at the International Atomic Energy Agency.