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Treaty Banning the Bomb Takes UN Closer to its Prime Goal

By Somar Wijayadasa*

NEW YORK (IDN) - On July 7 2017, 122 member states of the United Nations voted to adopt a Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons that may eventually lead towards their total elimination.

All nine nuclear weapons states and the U.S. allies under its nuclear “umbrella” in NATO, Japan, South Korea, and Australia boycotted the negotiations. Netherlands attended the Conference but voted against the treaty, as it is a member of NATO.

The treaty emphasizes the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons. It forbids participating states to develop, test, use, threaten to use, produce, possess, acquire, transfer, test or deploy nuclear weapons.

It expresses compliance with existing laws relevant to weapons of mass destruction that have been adopted by the UN since 1946, and it emphasizes the "inalienable right" of nations of peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The treaty to be signed by member states on September 20 during the UN General Assembly, will become international law following its ratification by 50 members states.

This treaty does not create a global law prohibiting nuclear weapons because the countries that possess nuclear weapons may not sign the new treaty. 

It would, however, have the same effect as other UN prohibitions on weapons of mass destruction - i.e., all countries will be morally obliged to follow suit. Nonetheless, it marks an important milestone towards a nuclear-free world by banning the weapons under international law.

Nuclear Disarmament: Primary goal of the United Nations

The United Nations was founded in 1945 after the death and destruction of the Second World War. At that time, the United States was the only nation in the world to own and use nuclear weapons that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That proved the inhumanely destructive power of nuclear weapons.

At its first General Assembly meeting in 1946, the UN unanimously adopted a resolution to eliminate atomic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

During the last seven decades, the UN strived to abolish nuclear weapons to accomplish its noble goal “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. Among the significant UN Treaties towards achieving that goal are:

The 1970, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), ratified by 190 states including five nations that admitted to owning nuclear weapons: China, France, former Soviet Union (Russia), United Kingdom and the United States of America.

According to he NPT, “countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear technology.”

Despite NPT’s explicit provision that “countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them”, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea became nuclear states. Together, nuclear weapon countries possess more than 15,000 nuclear weapons. Ninety percent of those weapons are held by USA and Russia.

The 1972 UN ban on biological weapons and the 1993 UN ban on chemical weapons prohibited an entire category of weapons of mass destruction of developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining biological and chemical weapons.

The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) "prohibits any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion” and has been signed by 183 states, including the United States, Russia, the U.K. France, and China. 

In addition to these legally binding international treaties, there are several nuclear-weapons-free zones in the regions of: Latin America (the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco), the South Pacific (the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga), Southeast Asia (the 1995 Treaty of Bangkok) Africa (the 1996 Treaty of Pelindaba) and Central Asia (the 2006 Treaty of Semipalatinsk). 

These zones combined comprise 115 states, accounting for 60% of all UN Member States, and all states prohibit nuclear weapons in their respective regions. In 2013, the UN declared September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Nuclear nightmare

Nuclear weapons are the most inhumane and dangerous weapons on earth which can annihilate whole cities, potentially kill millions of people, and destroy the natural environment and lives of future generations through its long-term catastrophic effects.

Volumes have been written about the necessity, morality and consequences of the use of nuclear weapons but the power hungry war-mongers (the nuclear powers) do not care about the disastrous consequences of a nuclear war. They only want all other states to adhere to their diktats.

The fear of a nuclear war is once again on the rise. The ongoing U.S. wars in the Middle East, constant military skirmishes in the Baltic, Mediterranean and China Seas, the incessant threats by NATO and Russia, along with the confrontational U.S. military posture toward Russia, China and North Korea, are creating conditions that could all too easily trigger a catastrophic nuclear war.

Also, the threat of a nuclear exchange by accident, miscalculation or even intent by a deranged person is greater than ever.

Right now, North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program poses a serious threat to international peace and security of the entire world. The only way to stop and prevent North Korea or any other belligerent state brandishing the nuclear bomb could be the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

A nuclear-weapons-free world

In the past, American Presidents have spoken about the need to abolish nuclear weapons.

For example, John F. Kennedy said that these nuclear weapons “must be abolished before they abolish us”; Ronald Reagan said "We must never stop at all until we see the day when nuclear arms have been banished from the face of the Earth”; and in a 2009 Prague speech, Barack Obama vowed “concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons”.

Since those lofty words, the United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrade its nuclear weapons. 

In a recent article published in IDN, Alice Slater of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation wrote “President Obama, before he left office was planning to spend one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for two new bomb factories, new warheads and delivery systems.”

The United Nations has decided to hold a High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament in 2018 in order to enhance progress toward the achievement of a nuclear weapons convention – a global treaty to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

With conflicts and wars raging all over our world, all world leaders and peace loving citizens should focus on developing a new concept of international security under the auspices of the United Nations – to guide the world towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.

It's not just about peace. It’s about the survival of all life on earth. 

* Somar Wijayadasa, was a Delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly from 1985-1995, and was Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000. [IDN-InDepthNews – 31 July 2017]

Photo: Atomic bomb survivors from Japan and others activists march in New York to push for nuclear weapons abolition on April 26, 2015. Credit: OSV Newsweekly | Newscom

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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