Over 120 countries have voted in the UN to adopt the first-ever global treaty to ban nuclear weapons, even as India and other nuclear powers including the US, China and Pakistan boycotted the negotiations for the legally binding instrument to prohibit atomic weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years, was adopted yesterday amid cheers and applause by a vote of 122 in favour to one against (Netherlands) and one abstention (Singapore). India and other nuclear-armed nations — the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel had not participated in the negotiations. A substantive session was held in March this year to negotiate the legally binding instrument aimed at prohibiting nuclear weapons.
In October last year, more than 120 nations had voted on a UN General Assembly resolution to convene a conference to negotiate the legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. India had abstained from voting on that resolution. In its Explanation of Vote (EoV) given for its abstention on the resolution in October, India had said that it was “not convinced” that the proposed conference could address the longstanding expectation of the international community for a comprehensive instrument on nuclear disarmament.
India also maintained that the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) is the single multilateral disarmament negotiation forum. It had further said that it supports the commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a Comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention, which in addition to prohibition and elimination also includes verification. Underlining that international verification was essential to the global elimination of nuclear weapons, India had said it feels that the current process did not include the verification aspect. In line with its position that India articulated in the EoV, the country had decided not to participate in the negotiations for the treaty.
The treaty will be open for signature to all States at UN Headquarters in September and enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries. A number of countries stayed out of the negotiations, including the United States, Russia and other nuclear-weapon States, as well as many of their allies. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not join the talks either.
In a joint press statement, the Permanent Representatives of the US, UK and France, all veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, 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.” “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.” The UN envoys of the three nations also criticised the treaty for not providing any solution to the “grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear programme.”
They said a purported ban on nuclear weapons that does not address the security concerns which 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. “It will do the exact opposite by creating even more divisions at a time when the world needs to remain united in the face of growing threats, including those from the DPRK’s ongoing proliferation efforts,” they said, adding that this treaty does not address other security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary.
“A ban treaty also risks undermining the existing international security architecture which contributes to the maintenance of international peace and security,” they added. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the adoption of the treaty, saying it “represents an important step and contribution towards the common aspirations of a world without nuclear weapons.” “The impetus for the treaty reflects growing concerns over the risk posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, as well as awareness of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result if nuclear weapons were ever used again. The treaty represents an important step and contribution towards the common aspiration of a world without nuclear weapons,” the UN Chief said.
Guterres hoped that the new treaty will promote inclusive dialogue and renewed international cooperation aimed at achieving the long overdue objective of nuclear disarmament. The treaty 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, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.
“We feel emotional because we are responding to the hopes and dreams of the present and future generations,” said Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez of Costa Rica, who serves as the President of the conference that negotiated the treaty in response to a mandate given by the UN General Assembly. She told a news conference at UN Headquarters that with the treaty the world is “one step closer” to a total elimination of nuclear weapons.
In response to questions on the joint statement by the US, UK and France, Whyte Gomez recalled that when the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was adopted decades ago, it did not enjoy a large number of accessions.
Opened for signature in 1968, the NPT entered into force in 1970. Then in 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely. A total of 191 states have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States that are the permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.