122 Nations -- Including North Korea -- Vote to Ban Nuclear Bombs
September 9, 2017
Alice Slater /The Nation & In Depth News & Pressenza
On July 7, 2017, a UN Conference mandated by the UN General Assembly negotiated a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, the only weapons of mass destruction yet to be banned. The US refused to sign, however, claiming a nuclear ban would cause "divisions at a time . . . of growing threats, including those from the DPRK's ongoing proliferation efforts." Ironically, North Korea is the only nuclear power to have voted for a treaty to ban atomic weapons.
Democracy Breaks Out at the UN as
122 Nations Vote to Ban the Bomb
We are witnessing a striking shift in the global
paradigm of how the world views nuclear weapons
Alice Slater /The Nation
(July 13, 2017) -- On July 7, 2017, at a UN Conference mandated by the UN General Assembly to negotiate a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, the only weapons of mass destruction yet to be banned, 122 nations completed the job after three weeks, accompanied by a celebratory outburst of cheers, tears, and applause among hundreds of activists, government delegates, and experts, as well as survivors of the lethal nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and witnesses to the devastating, toxic nuclear-test explosions in the Pacific.
The new treaty outlaws any prohibited activities related to nuclear weapons, including use, threat to use, development, testing, production, manufacturing, acquiring, possession, stockpiling, transferring, receiving, stationing, installation, and deployment of nuclear weapons. It also bans states from lending assistance, which includes such prohibited acts as financing for their development and manufacture, engaging in military preparations and planning, and permitting the transit of nuclear weapons through territorial water or airspace.
We are witnessing a striking shift in the global paradigm of how the world views nuclear weapons, bringing us to this glorious moment. The change has transformed public conversation about nuclear weapons, from the same old, same old talk about national "security" and its reliance on "nuclear deterrence" to the widely publicized evidence of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from their use.
A series of compelling presentations of the devastating effects of nuclear catastrophe, organized by enlightened governments and civil society's International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, was inspired by a stunning statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross addressing the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.
At meetings hosted by Norway, Mexico, and Austria, overwhelming evidence demonstrated the disastrous devastation threatening humanity from nuclear weapons -- their mining, milling, production, testing, and use -- whether deliberately or by accident or negligence.
This new knowledge, exposing the terrifying havoc that would be inflicted on our planet, gave impetus for this moment when governments and civil society fulfilled a negotiating mandate for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.
Perhaps the most significant addition to the treaty, after a draft treaty from an earlier week of talks in March was submitted to the states by the expert and determined president of the conference, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez of Costa Rica, was amending the prohibition not to use nuclear weapons by adding the words "or threaten to use," driving a stake through the heart of the beloved "deterrence" doctrine of the nuclear-weapons states, which are holding the whole world hostage to their perceived "security" needs, threatening the earth with nuclear annihilation in their MAD scheme for "Mutually Assured Destruction."
The ban also creates a path for nuclear states to join the treaty, requiring verifiable, time-bound, transparent elimination of all nuclear-weapons programs or irreversible conversion of all nuclear-weapons related facilities.
The negotiations were boycotted by all nine nuclear-weapons states and US allies under its nuclear "umbrella" in NATO, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. The Netherlands was the only NATO member present, its parliament having required its attendance in response to public pressure, and was the only "no" vote against the treaty.
Last summer, after a UN Working Group recommended that the General Assembly resolve to establish the ban-treaty negotiations, the United States pressured its NATO allies, arguing that "the effects of a ban could be wide-ranging and degrade enduring security relationships."
Upon the adoption of the ban treaty, the United States, United Kingdom, and France issued a statement that "We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it" as it "does not address the security concerns that continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary" and will create "even more divisions at a time . . . of growing threats, including those from the DPRK's ongoing proliferation efforts."
Ironically, North Korea was the only nuclear power to vote for the ban treaty, last October, when the UN's First Committee for Disarmament forwarded a resolution for ban-treaty negotiations to the General Assembly.
Yet the absence of the nuclear-weapons states contributed to a more democratic process, with fruitful interchanges between experts and witnesses from civil society who were present and engaged through much of the proceedings instead of being outside locked doors, as is usual when the nuclear powers are negotiating their endless step-by-step process that has only resulted in leaner, meaner, nuclear weapons, constantly modernized, designed, refurbished.
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. We still await Trump's plans for the US nuclear-weapons program.
The Ban Treaty affirms the states' determination to realize the purpose of the Charter of the United Nations and reminds us that the very first resolution of the UN in 1946 called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. With no state holding veto power, and no hidebound rules of consensus that have stalled all progress on nuclear abolition and additional initiatives for world peace in other UN and treaty bodies, this negotiation was a gift from the UN General Assembly, which democratically requires states to be represented in negotiations with an equal vote and doesn't require consensus to come to a decision.
Despite the recalcitrance of the nuclear-deterrence-mongers, we know that previous treaties banning weapons have changed international norms and stigmatized the weapons leading to policy revisions even in states that never signed those treaties.
The Ban Treaty requires 50 states to sign and ratify it before it enters into force, and will be open for signature September 20 when heads of state meet in New York for the UN General Assembly's opening session.
Campaigners will be working to gather the necessary ratifications and now that nuclear weapons are unlawful and banned, to shame those NATO states which keep US nuclear weapons on their territory (Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Netherlands, Italy) and pressure other alliance states which hypocritically condemn nuclear weapons but participate in nuclear-war planning.
In the nuclear-weapons states, there can be divestment campaigns from institutions that support the development and manufacture of nuclear weapons now that they have been prohibited and declared unlawful. See www.dontbankonthebomb.com
To keep the momentum going in this burgeoning movement to ban the bomb, check out www.icanw.org. For a more detailed roadmap of what lies ahead, see Zia Mian's take on future possibilities in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Alice Slater is the New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and serves on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War.
A Shift in the Public Conversation to Ban the Bomb
Alice Slater / In Depth News & Pressenza
(April 4, 2017) -- Last week (March 27-31) the UN General Assembly held the opening session of a ground-breaking conference "to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination" just as the world has already done to ban biological and chemical weapons as well as landmines and cluster bombs.
The historic conference began with a bizarre Trumpian boycott on its first day, when Nikki Haley, Trump's newly appointed US Ambassador to the UN, flanked by the ambassadors from the UK and France stationed in front of the closed doors to the UN General Assembly, where 132 nations were about to start negotiations, staged a press event, with no questions permitted.
She announced that "as a mother" who couldn't want more for her family "than a world without nuclear weapons" she had to "be realistic" and would boycott the meeting and oppose efforts to ban the bomb.
Some 20 other nations' representatives milled around in the hall behind her, primarily members of NATO in alliance with the US for its nuclear "protection" services. The Netherlands, which actually hosts US nuclear weapons on its soil under NATO's nuclear sharing policy, was the only member of the US nuclear alliance in attendance.
When it did take the floor however, it noted that despite its support for nuclear disarmament, it couldn't support a treaty that would prohibit nuclear weapons because that would violate NATO's nuclear deterrence policy in which the US promises to visit deadly nuclear annihilation upon any nation, which dares to threaten them with a nuclear attack.
And most shockingly, Japan, the only country in the world to have actually suffered the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war with over 210,000 people killed in the terror of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, came to the conference on the first day to announce that a ban treaty would undermine the existing disarmament machinery and deepen "the schism" between the nuclear have and nuclear have-not states and thus it would not participate!
Significantly, at the historic UN vote last fall, which established the current negotiating mandate to ban nuclear weapons as a result of three conferences between 2013 and 2014 in Norway, Mexico, and Austria to address the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war, all the nuclear powers were in attendance.
And while the western nuclear weapon states, including the US, Russia, UK, France, and Israel voted against the ban treaty negotiations, the Asian nations -- China, India, and Pakistan actually abstained on the vote while North Korea voted for the ban treaty! The Netherlands was the only US nuclear NATO ally to abstain.
The other allies in NATO as well as Australia, Japan, and South Korea voted not to negotiate. It was hoped there might be emerging Asian leadership for nuclear disarmament based on their votes -- an Asian pivot to ban the bomb. But it would seem that the current instability brought on by the disheartening US election of Trump, with his outrageous foreign policy and nuclear speculations tweeted out regularly to the dismay of the world, has probably given pause to any initiatives for new Asian leadership for nuclear disarmament at these opening negotiations which they all failed to attend.
Nevertheless, the talks by the rest of the world this week (March 27-31) have been moving forward at an astonishing pace, aimed at producing a treaty which would close the legal gap to eliminate nuclear weapons created by the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty which provides only that the five nuclear weapons states recognized in the treaty would make "good faith efforts" to eliminate their nuclear weapons.
In 1996, the International Court of Justice ruled that while the NPT required the nations to bring to a conclusion negotiations for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, it was unable to decide whether nuclear weapons were illegal in the "circumstances of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake", thus failing to hold that the doctrine of nuclear deterrence was illegal.
Nuclear weapons are predominantly viewed to date through this lens of the security needs of the nuclear weapons states and the doctrine of nuclear deterrence which holds the whole world hostage to devastating destruction, which could actually end all life on earth should catastrophic nuclear war occur, by design, or even more likely, by accident, in light of the many close calls that have been endured over the years.
This conversation is changing as the lethal weapons are increasingly viewed and discussed as an issue of urgent humanitarian concern, in no small part due to the humanitarian initiative launched by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2010 that has gathered enormous momentum in the past seven years.
Indeed Pope Francis once again restated his plea to the 2014 Vienna Conference on the Catastrophic Humanitarian Effects of Nuclear War when he called for the elimination of nuclear weapons and an end to the theory of deterrence, a position which the church had supported up to that time. And we heard heart-wrenching testimony from survivors of Hiroshima and of the Australian nuclear tests performed by the UK on aboriginal land.
Under the able Presidency of Ambassador Elayne Whyte of Costa Rica, the interaction between civil society's activists and academics with governments, assisted by the vibrant leadership of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, is setting a new model of genuine collaboration and mutual education.
There is a genuine give and take between the governments and the people as they explore the elements of the treaty which may well have a profound effect on the future environment at UN disarmament negotiations where citizens are often shut out of meetings while governments discuss critical issues behind closed doors.
There was general agreement in many of the discussions, organized in three parts after the initial high-level statements by governments presenting their views on what the ban treaty should provide, followed by discussions on principles and objectives and preambular elements, prohibitions and positive obligations, and institutional arrangements.
The ban treaty was viewed by all as the first step in a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons by first establishing a norm that these weapons of unimaginable devastating lethality are illegal and should be prohibited. Ambassador Whyte will prepare a draft treaty based on the five days of discussions and the parties will meet again from June 26 to July 7, to produce a treaty to finally ban the bomb.
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