The United Nations General Assembly will convene negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons during sessions scheduled for March 27‑31 and June 15‑July 7, 2017. Following those sessions, the General Assembly will review progress and decide on a path forward.
Although the UN General Assembly last October voted by a three-to-one margin in favour of convening negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban, four of the five nuclear-weapon states (NWS) that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom and France—with support from a number of U.S. allies, voted against the negotiations and indicated they will not participate. The fifth NWS, China, abstained--though in a speech to the UN in Geneva on January 18, President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s long-standing support for nuclear disarmament, so there is reason for hope that China will participate in the negotiations and lead the way for the other NWS to join.
The NWS that oppose the negotiations maintain that the pace of nuclear disarmament cannot be forced. They argue that the negotiations are unrealistic and a distraction from the sustained practical steps needed for effective disarmament. Ultimately, they say, the negotiations could damage the NPT. Against these objections, however, it must be pointed out that the NPT requires all parties to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures to achieve nuclear disarmament. Although the meaning of “pursue negotiations in good faith” is open to interpretation, a boycott of negotiations called for by the great majority of parties cannot be considered consistent with this obligation. It is the refusal to join the negotiations, rather than the convening of them, that risks damaging the NPT.