Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is Adopted, Part 1

Long list of prohibitions, outlawing security policy of nuclear weapon states

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

A treaty that outlaws nuclear weapons was adopted on July 7 with the support of many non-nuclear nations after negotiations at United Nations headquarters in New York. The Chugoku Shimbun examines the significance of this agreement and subsequent steps for realizing a world free of nuclear arms.

The outcome of the vote was 122 in favor, one against, and one abstention. When the large screen in a conference room at United Nations headquarters in New York showed that the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons was adopted, people from civil society sitting in the gallery broke into loud cheers. A-bomb survivors from Hiroshima were moved to tears and shook hands with one another. Representatives of countries that supported the treaty stood up and applauded. Elayne Whyte Gómez, the president of the conference, looked around the floor and put her hands over her chest, expressing her delight.

Later, a tearful Ms. Whyte said at a press conference, “This is a historic moment.” She added that the treaty was crafted with the hope that the nuclear nations will join it and that the world will be free of nuclear weapons. While there were points of contention, the final draft of the treaty was the best compromise. The contents of the agreement nevertheless remain so strong that they are not compatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence long held by the nuclear weapon states, which did not attend the conference, and their allies which depend on the nuclear powers for their protection. Ms. Whyte said that the treaty will lead to a completely different security paradigm for the world in the 21st century.

However, the nuclear powers, including the United States and Russia, which advocate gradual nuclear disarmament, justify the idea of nuclear deterrence out of concerns over security. As long as this way of thinking persists, the abolition of nuclear weapons will not be realized. When the second round of treaty talks began on June 15, many of the participating nations expressed their wish to outlaw security policies that rely on nuclear arms.

The draft of the treaty was written this past May, and the preamble of the agreement refers to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of these weapons, including the harm and suffering to the A-bomb survivors, and states that any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of existing international law. Article 1 of the treaty bans the use of nuclear arms. In the advisory opinion it made in 1996, the International Court of Justice ruled that “The Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a state would be at stake.” This ruling, though, has been exploited as a loophole, and the treaty’s central pillar, which closes this loophole by banning any use of nuclear arms, prompted few objections.

Many nations, like Indonesia, demanded that the threat of using nuclear weapons must also be banned in order to convey stronger disapproval of nuclear deterrence policies. There were some negative views concerning the difficulty of defining threats, but this point was included in the treaty because Ms. Whyte said such threats constitute the basis of a security framework that depends on nuclear arms.

On the other hand, the treaty does not stipulate a ban on financing nuclear development programs or transporting nuclear weapons through a signatory’s territorial airspace or waters. But the prohibition on assistance will be interpreted as a way of banning these activities.

The longer list of prohibitions will be a boon to strengthening the efforts being made by civil society as well as nations.

Susi Snyder, the disarmament program manager for PAX, an antinuclear NGO based in the Netherlands, said that she was very pleased with the treaty and that this will give a boost to their activities. They are demanding that the banks and pension funds of 26 countries, connected to firms involved in the production of nuclear weapons, be made public and their financing stopped. But even banks that have guidelines which prohibit financing businesses that deal in inhumane weapons have often rejected PAX’s request, saying that nuclear arms are not illegal, according to Ms. Snyder.

Once the treaty takes effect, Ms. Snyder and others will point to the prohibition on assistance and urge treaty members to prepare domestic laws that will ban financing the production of nuclear weapons and other related activities and help spread these as a norm. She said that the celebration over the adoption of the treaty lasted only one day and that civil society resumed its hard work the very next day. Sharing their jubilation in the gallery, they were filled with deep feelings of accomplishment as well as a renewed sense of mission.

(Originally published on July 9, 2017)