Nuclear weapons ban is an antidote to cynical brinkmanship

Posted July 08, 2017

Over 120 countries adopted the United Nations' first-ever global ban on nuclear weapons Friday, in a significant milestone in the push against nuclear proliferation.

The treaty was adopted by a vote of 122 in favor with one country - NATO member The Netherlands - voting against, while Singapore abstained.

"After our final review of the text yesterday, I am convinced that we have achieved a general consensus on a robust and comprehensive prohibition", said Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, who serves as the President of the conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.

Earlier, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's non-proliferation and weapons control department, Mikhail Ulyanov, said that Russia would not ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty since it runs counter to the country's national interests.

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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.

"We are opposed to the use, possession, production and transfer of nuclear weapons by any country, including permanent members of the UN Security Council, and so it was deeply disappointing to see that these, and other nuclear-armed states, failed to back the treaty".

"The theory only works if you are ready to use nuclear weapons, otherwise the other side will call your bluff", she said.

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".

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140 countries are working together to produce a treaty that will make nuclear weapons illegal under worldwide law. The Netherlands, which hosts US nuclear weapons, was the only exception and it voted against the treaty.

In response to questions, Ms. Whyte Gómez stressed the importance of putting an global legal norm in place as a first step towards achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world, explaining that when conditions later become ripe for those nuclear-armed States to join, an architecture by which to do so exists.

The United States called the treaty reckless.

"This treaty is a strong categorical prohibition of nuclear weapons and is really rooted in humanitarian law", said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a Geneva-based coalition of groups that advocated the treaty.

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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.