By Alice Slater
This week, the Chair of an exciting UN initiative formally named the “United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination” released a draft treaty to ban and prohibit nuclear weapons just as the world has done for biological and chemical weapons. The Ban Treaty is to be negotiated at the UN from June 15 to July 7 as a follow up to the one week of negotiations that took place this past March, attended by more than 130 governments interacting with civil society. Their input and suggestions were used by the Chair, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the UN, Elayne Whyte Gómez to prepare the draft treaty. It is expected that the world will finally come out of this meeting with a treaty to ban the bomb!
This negotiating conference was established after a series of meetings in Norway, Mexico, and Austria with governments and civil society to examine the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. The meetings were inspired by the leadership and urging of the International Red Cross to look at the horror of nuclear weapons, not just through the frame of strategy and “deterrence”, but to grasp and examine the disastrous humanitarian consequences that would occur in a nuclear war. This activity led to a series of meetings culminating in a resolution in the UN General Assembly this fall to negotiate a treaty to ban and prohibit nuclear weapons. The new draft treaty based on the proposals put forth in the March negotiations requires the states to “never under any circumstances … develop, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices … use nuclear weapons … carry out any nuclear weapon test”. States are also required to destroy any nuclear weapons they possess and are prohibited from transferring nuclear weapons to any other recipient.
None of the nine nuclear weapons states, US, UK, Russia, France, China, Indian, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea came to the March meeting, although during the vote last fall on whether to go forward with the negotiating resolution in the UN’s First Committee for Disarmament, where the resolution was formally introduced, while the five western nuclear states voted against it, China, India and Pakistan abstained. And North Korea voted for the resolution to negotiate to ban the bomb! (I bet you didn’t read that in the New York Times!)
By the time the resolution got to the General Assembly, Donald Trump had been elected and those promising votes disappeared. And at the March negotiations, the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, flanked by the Ambassadors from England and France, stood outside the closed conference room and held a press conference with a number of “umbrella states” which rely on the US nuclear ‘deterrent” to annihilate their enemies (includes NATO states as well as Australia, Japan, and South Korea) and announced that “as a mother” who couldn’t want more for her family “than a world without nuclear weapons” she had to “be realistic” and would boycott the meeting and oppose efforts to ban the bomb adding, “Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?”
The last 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) five year review conference broke up without consensus on the shoals of a deal the US was unable to deliver to Egypt to hold a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone Conference in the Middle East. This promise was made in 1995 to get the required consensus vote from all the states to extend the NPT indefinitely when it was due to expire, 25 years after the five nuclear weapons states in the treaty, US, UK, Russia, China, and France, promised in 1970 to make “good faith efforts” for nuclear disarmament. In that agreement all the other countries of the world promised not to get nuclear weapons, except for India, Pakistan, and Israel who never signed and went on to get their own bombs. North Korea had signed the treaty, but took advantage of the NPT’s Faustian bargain to sweeten the pot with a promise to the non-nuclear weapons states for an “inalienable right” to “peaceful” nuclear power, thus giving them the keys to the bomb factory. North Korea got its peaceful nuclear power, and walked out of the treaty to make a bomb. At the 2015 NPT review, South Africa gave an eloquent speech expressing the state of nuclear apartheid that exists between the nuclear haves, holding the whole world hostage to their security needs and their failure to comply with their obligation to eliminate their nuclear bombs, while working overtime to prevent nuclear proliferation in other countries.
The Ban Treaty draft provides that the Treaty will enter into effect when 40 nations sign and ratify it. Even if none of the nuclear weapons states join, the ban can be used to stigmatize and shame the “umbrella” states to withdraw from the nuclear “protection” services they are now receiving. Japan should be an easy case. The five NATO states in Europe who keep US nuclear weapons based on their soil–Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Turkey– are good prospects for breaking with the nuclear alliance. A legal ban on nuclear weapons can be used to convince banks and pension funds in a divestment campaign, once it is known the weapons are illegal. See www.dontbankonthebomb.com
Right now people are organizing all over the world for a Women’s March to Ban the Bomb on June 17, during the ban treaty negotiations, with a big march and rally planned in New York. See https://www.womenbanthebomb.org/
We need to get as many countries to the UN as possible this June, and pressure our parliaments and capitals to vote to join the treaty to ban the bomb. And we need to talk it up and let people know that something great is happening now! To get involved, check out www.icanw.org
Alice Slater serves on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War