the first time in the seven-decade effort to avert a nuclear war, a global
treaty has been negotiated that proponents say would, if successful, lead to
the destruction of all nuclear weapons and forever prohibit their use.
Negotiators representing two-thirds of the 192-member United Nations finalized the 10-page treaty after months of talks.
The document, called the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, was formally adopted at United Nations headquarters in New York during the final session of the negotiation conference.
It was opened for signature by UN member states starting on Sept. 20 during the annual General Assembly and would enter into legal force 90 days after being ratified by 50 countries.
In the words of Elayne G. Whyte Gómez, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, the world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years.
Some critics of the treaty, including the United States and its close Western allies, publicly rejected the entire effort, calling it misguided and reckless, particularly when North Korea is threatening a nuclear-tipped missile strike on American soil.
In a joint statement released after the treaty was adopted, the United States, Britain and France said, “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”
The statement said 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.”
Disarmament groups and other proponents of the treaty said they had never expected that any nuclear-armed country would sign it — at least not at first. Rather, supporters hope, the treaty’s widespread acceptance elsewhere will eventually increase the public pressure and stigma of harboring and threatening to use such weapons of unspeakable destruction, and make holdouts reconsider their positions.
This treaty is a strong categorical prohibition of nuclear weapons and is really rooted in humanitarian law.
A New York Times commentator said treaties that banned biological and chemical arms, land mines and cluster bombs have shown how weapons once regarded as acceptable are now widely, if not universally, reviled. That is the kind of outcome sought by proponents of the nuclear ban pact.
While the treaty itself will not immediately eliminate any nuclear weapons, the treaty can, over time, further delegitimize nuclear weapons and strengthen the legal and political norm against their use.
Nuclear weapons have defied attempts to contain their spread since the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, ending World War II.
The destruction wrought by those weapons helped give rise to the nuclear arms race and the doctrine of deterrence, which holds that the only way to prevent an attack is to assure the destruction of the attacker. Proponents of deterrence argue that it has helped avert a calamitous global war for more than 70 years.
Besides the United States and Russia, which are believed to have the largest nuclear arsenals, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea all have nuclear bombs.
Under the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, signed by nearly all nations, parties are required to “pursue negotiations in good faith” aimed at advancing nuclear disarmament.
The new agreement is partly rooted in the disappointment among non-nuclear-armed nations that the Nonproliferation Treaty’s disarmament aspirations have not worked.
Some experts see the treaty as an expression of the deep concern about the enormous risks posed by nuclear weapons and the growing frustration with the failure of the nuclear-armed states to fulfill their nuclear disarmament commitments.
The new accord would outlaw nuclear weapons use, threat of use, testing, development, production, possession, transfer and stationing in a different country. 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.
The basic premise, the treaty’s opening passage states, is a recognition of “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons,” and an agreement that their complete elimination “remains the only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances.”
“Nuclear weapons have defied attempts to contain their spread and a purported ban on nuclear weapons yet to address the security concerns .”