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Nuclear Weapons ban treaty opens for signatures

September 20, 2017 - UNITED NATIONS

The long-awaited Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opens for signatures by United Nations member states, a largely-symbolic development in the 70-year-old effort to avert nuclear war.

The treaty can be no more than symbolic because ratification needs 50 countries and the nine known nuclear weapons states do not support the ban. The nine are the United States, China, France, Britain, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. The first five on the list make up the permanent veto-wielding UN Security Council.

The UN General Assembly voted in Dec 2016 to begin negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban, and the talks began in Mar 2017. The new accord would outlaw nuclear weapons use, threat of use, testing, development, production, possession, transfer and stationing in a different country. For nuclear-armed nations that choose to join, the treaty outlines a process for destroying stockpiles and for enforcing the country's promise to remain free of nuclear weapons.

The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, a still controversial attack that US history books explain as ending World War II. Other states began developing and testing the weapons over the ensuing decades.

According to Britain's Guardian newspaper, critics of the negotiations say that the ban cannot succeed without the participation of the states that actually possess nuclear weapons. Proponents argue that the ban will create moral suasion - in the vein of the cluster and land mine conventions - for nuclear weapons states to disarm. It would establish an international norm prohibiting nuclear weapons, they say.

The nuclear powers spend weeks of lobbying for No votes, yet it was adopted by a vote of 123 to 38, with 16 abstentions. Japan, which has long campaigned against the use of nuclear weapons, nonetheless voted against the resolution, as did South Korea, which faces a potentially existential threat from North Korea.

122 Nations Approve 'Historic' Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons (Atlantic Jul 2017)

Japan on the wrong side of nuclear weapons ban treaty (Japan Times Jul 2017)

UN committee votes to initiate process that would outlaw nuclear weapons (DW 28 Oct 2016)

Date written/update: 2017-07-13