[The Key to a World without Nuclear Weapons]: The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty was adopted amid the global movement toward a nuclear-weapons-free world, but the Japanese government will not sign up to the treaty

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

The United Nations Conference to negotiate a legally-binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, held at U.N. headquarters in New York, closed on July 7. The conference adopted the first treaty ever to impose a total ban on nuclear weapons-related activities, including the use of or the threat to use nuclear weapons. Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez, the President of the conference, stressed that it is “a big step toward a world free of nuclear weapons.” However, Koro Bessho, a Japanese ambassador to the U.N., clearly stated on the day of adoption that Japan would not be signing on. Japan relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella and has opposed negotiations for the treaty.

Representatives from many countries involved in the conference mentioned the tremendous suffering of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki due to the nuclear bombing 72 years ago, and included a word of thanks to the A-bomb survivors in their remarks. Setsuko Thurlow, 85, originally from Minami Ward in Hiroshima and now living in Toronto, Canada, is an A-bomb survivor and a delegate from one of the non-governmental organizations. She said, “Nuclear weapons risk the lives of all humankind. If you love this planet, you will sign this treaty,” and received loud applause.

Chair Whyte Gómez at a news conference expressed her expectation that the international community would put pressure on nuclear weapons states to accede to the treaty. However U.N. ambassador Bessho announced the Japanese government’s decision not to sign to reporters outside a U.N. conference hall, saying, “the negotiations toward a nuclear-weapon-free world was not conducted with the cooperation of both nuclear- and non-nuclear nations.

The treaty has 20 articles in total. The preamble states that the treaty recognizes “the unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims of nuclear weapons (hibakusha)” and the A-bomb survivors’ efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. Concern over the slow pace of nuclear disarmament is also addressed in the preamble. Article One establishes prohibitions including the use, threat to use, possession, testing, or development of nuclear weapons. Nuclear powers can join the treaty if they accept inspections by competent international authorities and agree to eliminate their nuclear weapons within a fixed time frame. The treaty will be open for signatures as of September 20 and will enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 countries. One of the officials who led the negotiations said that it is likely to come into effect within 12 to 18 months after it becomes open for signatures.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution to start negotiations to ban nuclear weapons last year. U.N. conferences were held from March 27 to 31 and from June 15 to July 7 this year. More than 120 of the 193 member states joined the negotiations. The last day’s vote was 122 countries in favor of the treaty, with the Netherlands opposed and Singapore abstaining. None of the nine nuclear countries, including the U.S., Russia, and North Korea, took part in the negotiations.

Main Points of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

● Recognition of the unacceptable harm caused to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons (hibakusha)
● Recognition of the importance of education concerning peace and disarmament, and of raising awareness of the risks and consequences of nuclear weapons
● Prohibition on the development, testing, production, or possession of nuclear weapons
● Prohibition on the use or threat to use nuclear weapons
● Prohibition on the transfer of nuclear weapons
● Pledges to provide medical care and rehabilitation to those affected by the use of nuclear weapons
● The treaty enters into force after it has been ratified by 50 countries.

(Originally published on July 9, 2017)