On July 7, a group of more than 120 UN member nations reached an agreement on a treaty, which if fully implemented, would lead to the destruction of all nuclear weapons and permanently prohibit their use. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, was formally adopted during the final session of negotiations at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. It will be open for signature by any member state from September 20th and will come into force 90 days after being signed by 50 member countries. The 10-page treaty was finalized following extensive talks in the first half of the year.
The document represents the first multilateral legally-binding agreement for nuclear disarmament to be negotiated in more than 20 years. “The treaty represents an important step and contribution towards the common aspirations of a world without nuclear weapons,” the spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres’s spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarriic, said in a statement, following its adoption. “The Secretary-General hopes that this new treaty will promote inclusive dialogue and renewed international cooperation aimed at achieving the long overdue objective of nuclear disarmament.”
According to the UN News Centre, the treaty prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons. Supporters of the initiative, more than two-thirds of the UN membership, hope that the Treaty will be the first step in securing a nuclear-free world. Supporters involved in the negotiations included Hibakusha, survivors of nuclear weapons attacks, along with an alliance of anti-nuclear, environmental and indigenous rights groups.
Support for the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty has not been universal, however. No nuclear power was involved in the negotiations, and neither was North Korea. The U.S, France and the UK have dismissed the idea of a treaty out of hand. NATO, and others like Australia and Japan, who value the nuclear deterrent of their allies, have also spoken against the ban as unrealistic. A joint statement by the U.S, France and the UK released in the wake of the signing of the agreement outlined that “a purported ban on nuclear weapons that does not address the security concerns that continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary cannot result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and security.”
Thus, despite the difficulty of the negotiations, the hard work in achieving a ban on the nuclear weapons has only just begun. Hard-edged realism holds that the nuclear deterrent is the only reason relative peace has been held in Europe and North Asia since 1945. The current standoff on the Korean Peninsula emphasizes the difficulties in removing the nuclear deterrent, but also demonstrates the extreme dangers that it poses. One technical mistake, one over-zealous leader, and millions of lives are at risk. There is significant momentum against nuclear weapons, in public perception, if not military establishments. Progress at the international level will be slow and frustrating, but other agreements that are slowly moving towards universal acceptance, such as the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines, may provide a guide. In the world of disarmament, the greater the payoff, the harder the negotiation, and so it is important that efforts continue towards achieving the ban. If not, humanity risks being the only species in history, which invented the means of its own demise.
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