Nuclear-Weapon States Knock U.N. Nuke Ban Treaty

Several nuclear-weapon states vowed not to support or sign a new nuclear weapon ban treaty after it was adopted by a United Nations conference on July 7.

The U.N. conference on July 7 adopted its final text of the legally binding global nuclear weapons ban following months of negotiations, with 122 nations voting in favor, the Netherlands voting against, and Singapore abstaining.

Under the final text, parties would agree never to develop, produce, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; transfer, receive, or use those weapons; and conduct nuclear test explosions, among other related activities.

Nuclear-weapon states have boycotted the talks since they began in March; these include Russia, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

The permanent representatives to the U.N. of the United States, United Kingdom, and France released a joint press statement on the afternoon of July 7 saying they would not sign or ratify the treaty: “Therefore, there will be no change in the legal obligations on our countries with respect to nuclear weapons."

Such a ban treaty, the three nations said, would be divisive “at a time when the world needs to remain united in the face of growing threats, including those from [North Korea’s] ongoing proliferation efforts.”

Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ representative to U.N. said in a July 7 statement the nation could not sign “any instrument that is incompatible with our NATO obligations.” The country hosts U.S. nuclear weapons as part of NATO’s defense arrangement.

The Netherlands also said the treaty would not be reliably verifiable, as its safeguards standards fall of short of those required to draw conclusions about undeclared nuclear activities.

All of these countries’ reactions included reaffirmation of their commitment to a step-by-step, eventual nuclear disarmament approach.

The treaty will be open for signature on Sept. 20 in New York during the U.N. General Assembly’s 72nd session.

The Arms Control Association on July 5 released a list of recommendations to improve the draft text. Among those, it suggested adding language about the harm caused by the production – not just use – of nuclear weapons to acknowledge the workers involved in the manufacturing process as well as impacts on the people living near production facilities.

The ACA also objected to draft language on the right of states parties to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, saying this is already enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is therefore “superfluous.” The language could later be interpreted “as a license to pursue dual-use technologies for fissile material production and nuclear weapons development,” the ACA said.

The organization further called for discussions on new disarmament measures such as securing the necessary ratifications for entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; a revival of U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue; and rejection of new, “destabilizing” weapon systems.

The ACA said in a July 7 statement upon adoption of the treaty that the text “should have been stronger” in areas such as safeguards and inspection requirements.

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