UN moves to outlaw nuclear weapons in 2017

The UN on Oct. 27 adopted a resolution—hailed by disarmament campaigners as an important landmark—to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. The resolution was approved at a meeting of the First Committee of the General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters. A total of 123 nations voted in favor of the resolution, with 38 voting against and 16 abstaining. The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a "legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination." Among the 57 co-sponsors of the resolution, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa took the lead.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner. Twenty years have passed since a multilateral nuclear disarmament instrument was last negotiated: the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which has yet to enter into legal force due to the opposition of a handful of nations. The new resolution, known as L.41 (PDF), acts on the recommendation of a UN working group   that met in Geneva this year to try to revive the nuclear disarmament process. 

There are still more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, mostly in the arsenals of just two nations: the United States and Russia. Seven other nations possess nuclear weapons: Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Among of the nine nuclear-armed nations, only North Korea voted for the resolution. The US, Russia, Britain, France and Israel voted against. China, India and Pakistan abstained.  The nations of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific voted overwhelmingly in favor.

"A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament," said Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Preliminary conferences in Vienna this year were attended by such figures as Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing and an ICAN supporter.

Also Oct. 27, the European Parliament adopted its own resolution—415 in favor and 124 against, with 74 abstentions—inviting EU member states to "participate constructively" in next year's negotiations. Japan, despite voting against the resolution, has issed a statement expressing its intention to participate in the conference. India, despite its abstention, also said it would consider participating. (Japan TodayThe Wire, India, Oct. 29; The Guardian, VOA, Japan Times, Oct. 28; ICAN, Oct. 27)

  1. UN conference adopts treaty banning nuclear weapons

    Countries meeting at a United Nations conference in New York on July 7 adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an unprecedented multilateral binding instrument for nuclear disarmament. Of nations particpating in the process, 122 voted in favor, with only the Netherlands opposed, and Singapore abstaining. 

    The treaty will be open for signature to all states at UN headquarters on Sept. 20, and enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries. However, 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. (UN News Centre, WaPo, Jurist)