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"Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don't believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty."- Jody Williams, Nobel laureate
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United Nations Negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty
The Historic UN Vote On Banning Nuclear Weapons
The very first resolution passed by the newly formed United Nations on January 24, 1946, established a commission of the UN Security Council to ensure: 1) that atomic energy is only used for peaceful purposes, and 2) the elimination of atomic weapons from the arsenals of nations.
That was 70+ years ago. Then there was the appalling Cold War nuclear arms race. Now, a quarter century after the end of that frozen conflict, the nations of the UN General Assembly have moved again to deal with the catastrophic danger of nuclear weapons, and have passed an historic resolution "to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination."
All nuclear weapons states, with the single exception of North Korea, voted against or abstained. The final vote was 123 for the resolution, 38 against, and 16 abstaining. (see country by country vote)
"There comes a time when choices have to be made and this is one of those times," said Helena Nolan, Ireland's director of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, "Given the clear risks associated with the continued existence of nuclear weapons, this is now a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility. Governance requires accountability and governance requires leadership."
The Obama Administration was in fierce opposition. It lobbied all nations, particularly its allies, to vote no. "How can a state that relies on nuclear weapons for its security possibly join a negotiation meant to stigmatize and eliminate them?" said Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. special representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
An interesting argument considering that the President himself had declared in Prague in 2009, "To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same." (ref)
US position "indefensible"
Ploughshares' Joe Cirincione wrote in a commentary for the Huffington Post: "The U.S. opposition is a profound mistake. Ambassador Wood is a career foreign service officer and a good man who has worked hard for our country. But this position is indefensible."
"The idea of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons is inspired by similar, successful treaties to ban biological weapons, chemical weapons, and landmines. All started with grave doubts. Many in the United States opposed these treaties. But when President Richard Nixon began the process to ban biological weapons and President George H.W. Bush began talks to ban chemical weapons, other nations rallied to their leadership. These agreements have not yet entirely eliminated these deadly arsenals (indeed, the United States is still not a party to the landmine treaty) but they stigmatized them, hugely increased the taboo against their use or possession, and convinced the majority of countries to destroy their stockpiles.
"The ban treaty idea did not originate in the United States, nor was it championed by many U.S. groups, nor is it within U.S. power to control the process. Indeed, this last seems to be one of the major reasons the administration opposes the talks.
"The movement reflects widespread fears that the world is moving closer to a nuclear catastrophe - and that the nuclear-armed powers are not serious about reducing these risks or their arsenals. If anything, these states are increasing the danger by pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into new Cold War nuclear weapons programs.
"There is still time for the United States to shift gears. We should not squander the opportunity to join a process already in motion and to help guide it to a productive outcome. It is a Washington trope that you cannot defeat something with nothing. Right now, the US has nothing positive to offer. The disarmament process is dead and this lack of progress undermines global support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty and broader efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
"The new presidential administration must make a determined effort to mount new initiatives that reduce these weapons, reduce these risks. It should also support the ban treaty process as a powerful way to build global support for a long-standing American national security goal. We must, as President John F. Kennedy said, eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us." See full post at HuffPo / See also Cirincione's updated and expanded post at The Bulletin:
The UN makes history on a nuclear weapons ban. Does the US care?
"The rest of the world is finally standing up to this threat to their survival and that of the planet. They are taking matters into their own hands and refusing to be held hostage by the nuclear nations. They will no longer be bullied into sitting back and waiting for the nuclear states to make good on empty promises."
- Robert Dodge,
Nuclear Weapons- The Time for Abolition is Now
The Vatican's ambassador to the UN, Archbishop Bernardito Auza declared, "Nuclear arms offer a false sense of security, and the uneasy peace promised by nuclear deterrence is a tragic illusion. Nuclear weapons cannot create a stable and secure world. Peace and international stability cannot be established on mutually assured destruction or on the threat of total annihilation. Lasting peace cannot be guaranteed by the maintenance of a balance of terror... The indefinite possession of nuclear weapons is morally wrong, an affront to the 'entire framework of the United Nations' and a contradiction to its vocation of service to humanity and the global common good." (ref)
And the Dalai Lama has stated: "By far the greatest single danger facing humankind- in fact, all living beings on our planet- is the threat of nuclear destruction. I need not elaborate on this danger, but I would like to appeal to all the leaders of the nuclear powers who literally hold the future of the world in their hands, to the scientists and technicians who continue to create these awesome weapons of destruction, and to all the people at large who are in a position to influence their leaders: I appeal to them to exercise their sanity and begin to work at dismantling and destroying all nuclear weapons." (ref)
And yet in spite of the clear opposition and condemnation of the vast majority of nations and of the people of the world, even of our "faith leaders", the nuclear weapons states, most particularly the US and Russia, are embarked on a "modernizing" production binge of new doomsday machines. This indeed can only be described as indefensible. Which of our 'leaders' will have the courage to lead the way in stopping this insanity?
IPPNW presentation explains why a medical response to the use of nuclear weapons would be impossible.
"Unlike the other weapons of mass destruction - chemical and biological weapons - nuclear weapons are not yet subject to an explicit legal prohibition. Now is the time to address this anomaly, which has been allowed to persist for far too long...
"Despite all this evidence about the horror, instability, and injustice generated by nuclear weapons, some insist that we will not see their elimination in our lifetime. That depends on whether we are willing to accept the risk we live with today. Unless we act, nuclear weapons will be used, either by accident, design, or miscalculation. The only questions are when, where, and how many."
- ICAN's Ray Acheson; closing statement.
"The whole pyramid of nuclear command is full of places where mistakes can be made. A lot of them are people mistakes- the system is so sophisticated, and the weapons so complicated, much of it covered with secrecy, that a human error can occur almost anywhere in the system."
-Vice Admiral Ralph Weymouth (Ret.) (ref)
Current nuclear stockpiles- for country reports and other details see original annotated infographic at Ploughshares.org.
Our Mission: Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities, mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs, greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex, and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.