United Nations adopts resolution to prohibit nuclear weapons in 2017
27 October 2016, New York
On 27 October, the United Nations adopted a resolution to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons in 2017.
123 states voted in favour of the resolution in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with issues related to disarmament and international security. 68 states voted against, and 16 abstained.
“The adoption of this resolution represents a meaningful advancement towards the elimination of nuclear weapons,” said Ray Acheson, Director of the disarmament programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). “It also represents a revolt of the vast majority of states against the violence, intimidation, and injustice perpetuated by those supporting these weapons of mass destruction.”
WILPF, the oldest women’s peace organization in the world, is a member of the International Steering Group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the leading civil society coalition advocating for a ban on nuclear weapons. Noting decades of activism against nuclear weapons around the world, Ms. Acheson argued that the pursuit of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons is transformative.
“By stigmatising nuclear weapons through legally codifying their prohibition, a treaty banning nuclear weapons will help facilitate nuclear disarmament,” she suggested. “It will be an essential legal tool to help compel nuclear-armed states to disarm by creating legal, political, economic, and social disincentives for the possession of nuclear weapons.”
Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts. Five of the nine nuclear-armed states are legally obligated to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, under the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Instead, however, all nuclear-armed states are investing billions of dollars in “modernizing” their nuclear forces.
Thus it has been non-nuclear-armed states leading the process for a nuclear weapon ban treaty. A total of 57 states co-sponsored the resolution in the General Assembly, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.
“This treaty will not eliminate nuclear weapons overnight,” explained Ms. Acheson. “But prohibitions of weapon systems have in the past proven to be essential to their elimination, from biological and chemical weapons to antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions. It’s past time nuclear weapons were subjected to the same type of prohibition under international law.”
Negotiations are set to take place 27–31 March and 15 June–7 July 2017 in New York. WILPF is calling for all states to participate constructively in the negotiations, but warns that the participation of any particular state or group of states must not be considered requisite for success. Any process to ban nuclear weapons must be open to all and blockable by none, and inclusive of civil society.
Ray Acheson, ray[at]reachingcriticalwill.org, 212-682-1265