(UNITED NATIONS) — More than 120 countries approved the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons Friday at a U.N. meeting boycotted by all nuclear-armed nations.
To loud applause and cheers, Elayne Whyte Gomez, president of the U.N. conference that has been negotiating the legally binding treaty, announced the results of the “historic” vote — 122 nations in favor, the Netherlands opposed, and Singapore abstaining.
“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, she said.
The treaty is “the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty to be concluded in more than 20 years,” Whyte Gomez said.
It will be opened for signatures in September and come into force when 50 countries have ratified it, she said.
In December, U.N. member states overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for negotiations on a treaty that would outlaw nuclear weapons, despite strong opposition from nuclear-armed nations and their allies who refused to participate in the talks.
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 and NATO members have boycotted the negotiations except for the Netherlands, which has U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory and was urged by its parliament to send a delegation to the negotiations.
The treaty requires of all ratifying countries “never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”
It also bans any transfer or use of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices — and the threat to use such weapons.
Retired British Royal Navy Cmdr. Rob Green, who flew nuclear strike aircraft and is now co-director of the Peace Foundation’s Disarmament and Security Center, said earlier this week that “the heart of this treaty” is the prohibition on threatening to use nuclear weapons.
Richard Moyes, managing director of Article 36, a British-based organization that works to prevent harm from nuclear and other weapons, said it isn’t plausible to think the world can maintain security based on mutually threatening to incinerate hundreds of thousands of people with nuclear weapons “when we know there have been near-misses, errors of judgment — there’s been accidents — and there’s a degree of instability in the political leadership in the world.”
None of the nine countries known or believed to possess nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — is supporting the treaty.
The United States and other nuclear powers instead want to strengthen and reaffirm the nearly half-century-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of global nonproliferation efforts.
That pact sought to prevent the spread of atomic arms beyond the five original weapons powers — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China. It requires non-nuclear signatory nations to not pursue atomic weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five powers to move toward nuclear disarmament and to guarantee non-nuclear states access to peaceful nuclear technology for producing energy.
North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, including its July 3 launch, have become a timely argument for proponents and opponents of the treaty to ban atomic weapons.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said 15,000 nuclear weapons around the world have not managed to deter Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions and a new approach is needed starting with prohibition as the first step to eliminate nuclear arms.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said March 27 when talks began on the nuclear weapons ban treaty that “there is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic.”
She asked if anyone thought North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons, stressing that North Koreans would be “cheering” a nuclear ban treaty — and Americans and others would be at risk.