Is a paradigm shift now underway on nuclear weapons at the United Nations? That was the question posed as about 130 nations gathered this past week to begin negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination. The treaty would prohibit development, possession and use of nuclear weapons, but would not contain detailed provisions relating to verified dismantlement of nuclear arsenals and governance of a world free of nuclear arms.
Since 2008, eloquent affirmations of the desirability and necessity of achieving a world without nuclear weapons have poured out from many quarters, not least from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US President Barack Obama. Yet the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has displayed an impressive immunity to the marked shift in rhetoric, remaining mired in deadlock. Operating under an absolute rule of consensus, the UN-affiliated body has conducted no negotiations whatsoever since it produced the text of the agreement banning all nuclear test explosions in 1996.