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A UN treaty banning nuclear weapons entered into force on Friday, after being ratified by at least 50 countries. But the ban is largely symbolic: the United States and other nuclear powers around the world did not sign the treaty.
“For the first time in history, nuclear weapons will be illegal under international law,” Elayne Whyte, Costa Rica’s former ambassador to the UN who oversaw the creation of the treaty, told Geoff Brumfiel of NPR.
The ban prohibits countries from producing, testing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. It also prohibits the transfer of arms and prohibits signatories from allowing any nuclear explosive device to be stationed, installed or deployed on their territory.
The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty was adopted in the summer of 2017, hoping to give new impetus to efforts to curb the world’s deadliest weapons. But even then, it was seen more as a moral statement than an enforceable ban.
The treaty is a 96-page reminder to nuclear-weapon states, Whyte said, that “they must move forward” with disarmament.
“How has the international community dealt with slavery, colonialism? Once you delegitimize that conduct, it completely impacts the policy-making process,” she said.
The problem with the ban, say global security analysts, is that while dozens of countries say an outright ban is the best way to advance disarmament, others – especially those who possess nuclear weapons – disagree. The new treaty was also seen as likely to undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which entered into force in 1970. But its supporters say non-proliferation has stagnated, decades after the United States and others have accepted this treaty.
“Supporters of the ban treaty say it serves to delegitimize nuclear weapons and bolster global standards against their use,” wrote Isabelle Williams of the Nuclear Threat Initiative in 2017. She added more later, “the new treaty is clear evidence of the disturbing polarization of states – polarization motivated, in part, by a perceived complacency among nuclear-weapon states and the refusal to take serious action to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons. nuclear weapons. “
The treaty currently has 86 signatories. It has been ratified in 51 of these Member States. The first signatories were the Holy See, New Zealand, Thailand and Austria. During the past year, countries like Belize, Benin and Ireland have ratified or approved the treaty.
The countries that have signed the treaty cite “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons”, including by accident or miscalculation, saying that these effects would transcend international borders.
Exploding a nuclear weapon, according to the signatories, “would have serious consequences for human survival, the environment, socio-economic development, the world economy, food security and the health of present and future generations, and would have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, especially as a result of ionizing radiation. “
The treaty sets the goal of achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world, claiming that it will serve “national and collective security interests”. Any use of nuclear weapons, he adds, “would be contrary to the rules of international law” in armed conflict.