UN Nuclear Ban Treaty One Ratification Shy Of Taking Effect

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Above photo: An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in August 2017. U.S. Air Force /Reuters.

A U.N.-adopted nuclear ban treaty is now just one step away from entering into force as 49 countries and regions have ratified the pact with a required threshold of 50, the United Nations said Friday.

Jamaica and Nauru are the latest countries to complete the ratification procedures, the United Nations said. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted in 2017, will enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries and regions.

Although the pact will not be able to legally require nuclear power states to get rid of their arsenals, the launch of the world’s first treaty banning nuclear weapons is likely to gain global momentum toward reducing stockpiles.

According to an official with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), another country is expected to ratify the treaty in the near future.

But some experts have questioned the potential effectiveness of the nuclear ban treaty, as it would not involve any of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, all of which are nuclear power states.

Japan, the only country to have suffered the devastation of atomic bombings when struck shortly before its surrender in World War II, has decided not to sign the treaty in consideration of its security ties with the United States.

Survivors of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki along with others are calling for the Japanese government to ratify the pact.

The United States is urging countries that have ratified the treaty to withdraw their support as the pact nears the needed 50 ratifications.

A U.S. letter to signatories, obtained by The Associated Press, says the five original nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — and America’s NATO allies “stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions” of the treaty.

It says the treaty “turns back the clock on verification and disarmament and is dangerous” to the half-century-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of global nonproliferation efforts.

“Although we recognize your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), we believe that you have made a strategic error and should withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession,” the letter says.

The treaty requires that all ratifying countries “never under any circumstances … develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” It also bans any transfer or use of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices — and the threat to use such weapons — and requires parties to promote the treaty to other countries.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning coalition whose work helped spearhead the nuclear ban treaty, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that several diplomatic sources confirmed that they and other states that ratified the TPNW had been sent letters by the U.S. requesting their withdrawal.

She said the “increasing nervousness, and maybe straightforward panic, with some of the nuclear-armed states and particularly the Trump administration” shows that they “really seem to understand that this is a reality: Nuclear weapons are going to be banned under international law soon.”

Fihn dismissed the nuclear powers’ claim that the treaty interferes with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as “straightforward lies, to be frank.”

“They have no actual argument to back that up,” she said. “The Nonproliferation Treaty is about preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and eliminating nuclear weapons, and this treaty implements that. There’s no way you can undermine the Nonproliferation Treaty by banning nuclear weapons. It’s the end goal of the Nonproliferation Treaty.”

The NPT sought to prevent the spread of nuclear arms beyond the five original weapons powers. It requires non-nuclear signatory nations to not pursue atomic weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five powers to move toward nuclear disarmament and to guarantee non-nuclear states’ access to peaceful nuclear technology for producing energy.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the nuclear weapons ban treaty “a very welcome initiative.”

“It is clear for me that we will only be entirely safe in relation to nuclear weapons the day where nuclear weapons no longer exist,” he said in an interview Wednesday with AP. “We know that it’s not easy. We know that there are many obstacles.”

He expressed hope that a number of important initiatives, including U.S.-Russia talks on renewing the New START Treaty limiting deployed nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers and next year’s review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, “will all converge in the same direction, and the final objective must be to have a world with no nuclear weapons.”

“That the Trump administration is pressuring countries to withdraw from a United Nations-backed disarmament treaty is an unprecedented action in international relations,” Fihn said. “That the U.S. goes so far as insisting countries violate their treaty obligations by not promoting the TPNW to other states shows how fearful they are of the treaty’s impact and growing support.”

The treaty was approved by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on July 7, 2017, by a vote of 122 in favor, the Netherlands opposed, and Singapore abstaining. Among countries voting in favor was Iran. The five nuclear powers and four other countries known or believed to possess nuclear weapons — India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — boycotted negotiations and the vote on the treaty, along with many of their allies, including Japan.

Fihn stressed that the entry into force of the treaty will be “a really big deal” because it will become part of international law and will be raised in discussions on disarmament, war crimes and weapons.

“And I think that over time pressure will grow on the nuclear-armed states to join the treaty,” she said.