By Ramesh Jaura
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – In what was a “historic” and a highly emotional moment at the United Nations, member states adopted on July 7, 2107 a legally-binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
“The world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years,” since the use of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 at the end of World War II, said Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, president of the UN conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.
“We feel emotional,” she told a news conference at the UN Headquarters in New York, “because we are responding to the hopes and dreams of the present and future generations.”
It is the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years. With the Treaty, the world is “one step closer” to a total elimination of nuclear weapons, the conference president Whyte Gómez said.
The treaty – adopted by a vote of 122 in favour to one against (Netherlands), with one abstention (Singapore) – 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. The prohibitions also include any undertaking to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Whyte Gomez said 129 countries signed up to take part in drafting the treaty, which represents two-thirds of the 193 member states. But all nuclear states – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China, which are permanent members of the Security Council as well as India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea (DPRK) – and NATO members enjoying the nuclear umbrella have boycotted the negotiations.
The only exception was the Netherlands, which despite U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory participated because the Dutch parliament asked it to send a delegation to the negotiations.
The treaty will be open for signature to all States at UN Headquarters in New York on September 20, 2017, six days ahead of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, and enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries.
“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 said 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,” Stéphane Dujarric added.
In a joint press statement issued on July 7, the delegations of the United States, United Kingdom and France, however, said they “have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty… and do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”
“This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment,” they said. “Accession to the ban treaty is incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.”
Responding to questions on the joint statement, Whyte Gómez recalled that when the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was adopted, it did not enjoy a large number of accessions.
Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970. On May 11, 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely. A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States. In the beginning, it was unimaginable that those States would be parties to the NPT, Whyte Gómez. “But the world changes and the circumstances change.”
She added that the hibakusha, survivors of nuclear bombs, have been the driving force in the creation of the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. The experiences they have been sharing “touch the human soul,” she said, adding that the negotiations were a “combination of reason and heart.”
In a recent interview, the newly appointed High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, said in an interview with UN News that “nuclear-weapon States and some of their allies are not able to join the negotiations at the moment, but hopefully a treaty will be something they will be able to join eventually.”
She said that “the door must be open to all States, and this inclusiveness will have to be built into the treaty.”
The draft treaty does include various pathways for nuclear-armed States to join. For instance, a State must first eliminate its nuclear weapons programme prior to joining. That State would then need to cooperate with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in verifying the correctness and completeness of its nuclear inventory, thus following the same path as South Africa in the 1990s.
“Since this is a negotiation, no delegation can leave having gained everything they asked for from their national perspective,” noted Whyte Gómez in a news conference on July 6, while adding that she was confident that “the final draft has captured the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of those participating in the conference, including civil society, whose enthusiasm, knowledge and collective experience have been a key driver of this process.”
Responding to questions, according to UN News, Whyte Gómez stressed the importance of putting an international 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.
All humanity expects that nuclear-armed States join the treaty “sooner than later,” but “I have no dates,” she said. Responding to a question by IDN, Whyte Gómez said she would continue to dialogue with countries that had stayed away from the negotiations.
Asked about the impact on the negotiations of the current tensions over the DPRK’s nuclear programme and ballistic missiles activities, she said that having a norm in place does influence the behaviors of a State. It also plays a fundamental role in shaping a new security paradigm for the 21st century, she added.
“The treaty, no doubt, will compliment and strengthen the global architecture on nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation regime. This is a historic event for humanity.”
The origins of this event go back to the General Assembly resolution 71/258, convening in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.
The Assembly encouraged all member states to participate in the Conference and decided that it shall convene in New York, under the rules of procedure of the General Assembly unless otherwise agreed by the Conference, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society representatives.
The Conference was held at the UN headquarters in New York from March 27 to 31 and from June 15 to July 7.
The decision to convene the Conference followed from the recommendation of the open-ended working group on taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations, convened pursuant to resolution 70/33.
The open-ended working group, chaired by Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi (Thailand), specified in its report that a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons would establish general prohibitions and obligations as well as a political commitment to achieve and maintain a nuclear-weapon-free world.
The primary mandate of the open-ended working group was to address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that would need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. [IDN-InDepthNews – 7 July 2017]
Photo: Conference President Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica has tears in her eyes as the conference spontaneously rises to its feet in applause for consensus adoption. Afterwards, Netherlands called for a vote. Photo: Xanthe Hall | ICAN
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