The second round of talks at a United Nations conference to negotiate a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons is poised to begin at the U.N. headquarters in New York on June 15, without the participation of the nuclear powers or Japan. The accord is expected to be concluded by the time the talks end on July 7 to become the first treaty outlawing nuclear weapons since the atomic bombing of Japan 72 years ago. However, boosting the force of the pact without the participation of nuclear powers remains a pressing issue.
A draft of the treaty that will go on the negotiating table from June 15 bans the use, development, production, manufacturing, possession, storage, testing and deployment of nuclear weapons. It also prohibits countries from transferring them, accepting them or providing support for any of the banned items. Conference President Elayne Whyte Gomez of Costa Rica expressed optimism for negotiations, saying that the stance of the countries on the central banded items was close.
However, outstanding issues remain. First, the draft does not cover the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, and the test ban is limited to explosive testing, thereby excluding subcritical testing. As a result, anti-nuclear nongovernment organizations and some nonnuclear states that have called for a tougher ban may resist the treaty draft in its current form.
Another issue is the draft's ban on assisting any country with any of the banned items along with the deployment of nuclear weapons. Allies of the United States, including the various countries of NATO, which deploys the United States' nuclear weapons, would not be able to participate, and it seems this would be an obstacle to increasing the number of non-nuclear states joining the treaty. The U.S. science magazine Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says that this could become a point of confrontation during negotiations.
The treaty is expected to include a reference to "hibakusha," the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, mentioning the pain of the victims of atomic bombings and nuclear testing. The draft includes proposals for medical and financial support for survivors and measures to restore the environment, but avoids mention of "compensation." This could also be a point of contention.
The biggest issue will be how to maintain the treaty's effectiveness without the nuclear powers participating. The nuclear powers, such as the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, along with about 40 countries under the U.S. "nuclear umbrella," including members of NATO, have expressed opposition to a treaty that outlaws nuclear weapons, saying that nuclear disarmament should be carried out in stages. Those countries are expected to follow in the line of the first round of talks in March and again declare that they will not take part in the second round. During negotiations, parties will need to discuss measures to bring nuclear states into the treaty.
Yasuyoshi Komizo, chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, says that details on how to verify compliance with the treaty could be added later, and that the banned items could be amended with the consent of a certain number of participating countries. There are therefore measures that could be taken if nuclear states were to participate, he says.
"If it's adopted, we can engage in constructive discussion. But if we delay it this time, we won't make any ground for several years," he cautioned, calling for adoption of the treaty.
Michael Krepon, a co-founder of the Stimson Center, a U.S. think tank, expressed understanding for the idea that the treaty would contribute to the formation of an international standard against the use of nuclear weapons. However, he cautioned that if a limit for nuclear states to participate were included in the treaty, then its force would be weakened, and said that if nuclear powers couldn't keep to the time limit, momentum would be lost.