Nuclear weapons ban is an antidote to cynical brinkmanship

Geneva Matthews
July 8, 2017

After protracted worldwide talks, an estimated 129 nations are prepared to sign a global ban on nuclear weapons, the first ever such treaty and the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than 20 years.

"It's been seven decades since the world knew the power of destruction of nuclear weapons and since day one there was a call to prohibit nuclear weapons", Elayne Whyte Gómez, president of the United Nations conference, told The Guardian.

"The adoption of the nuclear weapons ban treaty marks an historic turning point in the centuries-old battle to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction", said Jeff Carter, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"The world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years", since atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 at the end of World War II, she said.

Whyte Gomez, Costa Rica's ambassador to the Geneva, said she hoped the treaty would be adopted by consensus, but she said the rules of procedure for the conference also allowed for a vote.

Not part of the treaty negotiations, however, were the world's nuclear powers, including the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russian Federation - all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - who argued that the treaty was unrealistic and that countries like North Korea would not cooperate.

The U.S., Britain and France along with other nuclear powers instead want to strengthen the almost half-century-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of global nonproliferation efforts.

The treaty is based in humanitarian law and prohibits the development, testing, production, possession, or stockpiling of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, the transfer of such weapons, and also bans not only their use but the threat of their use.

It is a text unsuited to the global security context, characterized by growing tensions and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as shown, inter alia, by the North Korea nuclear threat.

Retired British Royal Navy Cmdr.

"This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the global security environment", they said.

That's because every single nuclear weapons-having nation on the planet has boycotted the effort, along with the entire NATO alliance except for the Netherlands, though it's not clear if even they are among the nations planning to sign the final treaty. It requires non-nuclear signatory nations to not pursue atomic weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five powers to move toward nuclear disarmament and to guarantee non-nuclear states' access to peaceful nuclear technology for producing energy.

The draft treaty does include various pathways for nuclear-armed States to join. For nuclear-armed nations that choose to join, the treaty outlines a process for destroying stockpiles and enforcing the countries' promise to remain free of nuclear weapons.

Beatrice Finn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has stated that "Nuclear weapons are morally unacceptable".

"There are many more steps to come in order to secure a world without nuclear weapons, but today the world took a step in the right direction", she continued.

She asked whether anyone thought North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons, arguing that Pyongyang would be "cheering" a nuclear ban treaty and Americans and others would be at risk.

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