122 countries at the UN approved a treaty banning nuclear weapons such as bombs.
After months of talks and opposition from nuclear-armed states and their allies, the treaty was endorsed by 122 countries at the United Nations headquarters. The only noteworthy country present who voted against were the Netherlands, although they took part in the talks.
This new treaty states that the signatory states must agree not to develop, test, manufacture or possess nuclear weapons, or threaten to use them, or allow any nuclear arms to be stationed on their territory.
The US was also a fervent critic as it pointed out North Korea’s nuclear programme. Indeed, the latter tested a new nuclear missile last week which could reach Alaska and threaten political stability between both countries and their deal-breaker, China.
The 10-page treaty will be open for signatures on 20 September during the annual UN General Assembly. While it is highly unlikely that countries possessing nuclear weapons will sign it in the near future, supporters of the treaty appear to be satisfied by this step towards nuclear weapons prohibition under international law. Still, the treaty would need the ratifications of 50 states to enter into international law.
Elayne Whyte Gómez, president of the UN conference told The Guardian “It’s been seven decades since the world knew the power of destruction of nuclear weapons and since day one there was a call to prohibit nuclear weapons. This is a very clear statement that the international community wants to move to a completely different security paradigm that does not include nuclear weapons.”
This is not the first time weapons have been banned through international treaties. Biological weapons were prohibited 45 years ago, while chemical weapons were proscribed 25 years ago.
Still, though unlawful, those practices are still used. Last April, suspicions about a chemical attack committed by the Syrian government, which killed 89 people in Khan Sheikhoun, a town in north-western Syria, arose.
Even if previous UN treaties like these have sometimes been boycotted by key nations, they were still effectively successful in the long term. Indeed, while the US refused to sign the landmines treaty, they still aligned their policies to comply.
The UK does not seem to be a fervent defender of the treaty. In spite of the government’s claimed support for multilateral disarmament, they did not attend the talks. They would prefer to enhance the 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT).
The NPT is a pact that aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons outside the US, Britain, Russia, France and China, the original five nuclear powers. This previous treaty required countries to hold down their nuclear programmes, whereas those five countries promised to move towards nuclear disarmament while providing access to peaceful nuclear energy technology. This new treaty proposal reflects the failure of the NPT and frustration among non-nuclear countries.
While this treaty has a long way to go before reaching a substantial nuclear weapons elimination, it is still a big step towards a prohibition recognised by the international law more than 70 years after one of the most devastating nuclear disasters the world has witnessed, Hiroshima.