United Nations adopts treaty banning nuclear weapons despite opposition from nuclear nations – and Australia

While the posturing around Korea (here and use our Search engine) proceeded, the United Nations on Friday adopted the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. States will begin signing the treaty on 20 September. The treaty comes into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries. The vote in favour of the treaty was 122 to one (The Netherlands) with one abstention (Singapore).

The key political point, though, is that the nuclear weapons states – the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom – and their allies, including Australia, boycotted the negotiations and will take no notice of the treaty if – when – it comes into force. North Korea was not involved in the negotiations, either.

Australia foreshadowed its attitude long ago and has stuck to it: we reckon that nuclear deterrence (by the United States), has worked well and kept us safe. Along with other ‘nuclear weasel states’ we did our best to derail the progress towards the treaty (and more in similar vein) and we are taking little notice of the vote in New York. The UN presser quoted a statement from the United States, the United Kingdom and France that these countries

have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty … and do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it. This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment. Accession to the ban treaty is incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.

This is pretty much Australia’s view. We are happy enough with the existing non-proliferation treaty.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam criticised Australia’s stance, saying we are on the wrong side of history.

“We don’t have nuclear weapons but, for some reason, we’re against having them banned, which is directly at odds with what the government says that it wants,” he told the ABC on Saturday. It was an “enormous shame” Australia failed to play a part in shaping the treaty despite Labor and coalition governments insisting they supported nuclear disarmament, he said. He accused Australia of being “massively hypocritical” for supporting nuclear disarmament and opposing North Korea’s provocations while happily selling uranium “bomb fuel” to other countries.

There was also reaction to the vote from Amnesty International and the International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons. Ramesh Thakur in Pearls and Irritations (reprint from Toronto Globe and Mail). Richard Tanter in Pearls and Irritations (and again in November). Joe Camilleri in The Conversation. Sue Wareham in New Matilda.

The treaty is the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years. It prohibits undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.

9 July 2017 updated

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