The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) reached a milestone this week after drafting the final proposal of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after a 10-year effort to curate a document banning nuclear weapons. Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN, said in a press conference Thursday that this treaty provides the framework for removing the prestige and stigma about nuclear weapons for nuclear armed member states. Additionally, prohibitions in the document ensure that non-nuclear armed member states abide by a set of rules where they would not be allowed to produce, threaten, or assist other countries in the development of nuclear weapons. Fihn explained to the New York press corps that, “this is a big moment for the campaign because this document creates a pathway for other countries to join. Nuclear weapons states will join treaty when it’s in their interest, but at least now they will have the framework to do so.”
For the past 71 years, any efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons have been sidelined by the perceived interests of 9 governments that possess and threaten use of nuclear weapons, which has dictated the pace and extent of nuclear arms control and disarmament. According to the World Medical Journal, at the beginning of 2012, 16 member states participated in the NPT and UN General Assembly (UNGA) meetings; however, the number of member states grew to 144 in 2015. As of March 2016, 127 states endorsed this Humanitarian Pledge with an additional 22 states voting in favor of a resolution bringing the Pledge to the UNGA. Now, with the support of 450 non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) in over 100 countries, the adoption of the non-proliferation treaty would be the most significant development in nuclear disarmament since the end of the Cold War. Bonnie Docherty, Senior Clinical Instructor at Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic and Senior Researcher in the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, relayed that this treaty included a package of provisions that would protect victims of nuclear weapons under international humanitarian law and addresses the impact of nuclear weapons on the environment.
Even though there has been an incredible amount of support on the Non-Proliferation Treaty since March, important member states in NATO like Italy are not participating in signing the treaty and the nuclear armed member states like the US, UK, and France are still boycotting open meeting discussions and conferences on the treaty.
Jeff Carter, the Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said, “the US government’s boycott of the nuclear ban treaty negotiations is a profound disavowal of its basic duty to safeguard our health. This move undermines and ignores decades of rigorous scientific research and testimony from the medical community illustrating the devastating humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons.” However, Fihn saw the protests as a sign of progress that big nuclear armed countries felt threatened.
Fihn also believes that the North Korea’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile test raises the stakes on the agenda for the NPT and said, “North Korea should not set the standard for international law. We should aim higher than that. There needs to be more pressure from us and there needs to be more shame associated with these acts. We need to show them that they don’t have any real military utility.”
Nikki Haley, on the other hand, firmly believes that North Korea will never give up their nuclear weapons, so peacekeeping countries need to hold their nuclear weapons for leverage.
The US, UK, and France collectively agreed that using diplomacy will not, in practice, be realistic in stopping North Korea or cease the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a whole. Earlier in March, US Ambassador Nikki Haley boycotted an UNGA conference discussing the NPT. Haley said, “we have to be realistic. Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?”
In recent developments with North Korea’s ballistic missile test launched Tuesday, the US, Japan, and South Korea called for an emergency UNSC meeting in order to figure out how to deal with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) violations of UNSC resolutions. US Ambassador Nikki Haley stated that North Korea’s ballistic missile launch was a “clear and sharp military escalation” and said that US military action remained on the table. “The US is prepared to use the full range of our capabilities to defend ourselves and our allies,” Haley said. “One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction.”
Even though it took ICAN a decade to finally get their treaty on nuclear weapons to be taken seriously by the UNGA, perhaps the hard part is yet to come? Countries that represent more than 60% of the population still have not agreed to this and opposition from the US and UK are waging at full force. Yet, a UN High Level Conference set to take place in 2018 will provide a forum to review the NPT process as well as different processes for nuclear risk-reduction and disarmament. All UN member states can participate in the UN High Level Conference including those that are not Parties to the NPT, are not member of the Conference on Disarmament, and/or are not participating in the UN negotiations on a nuclear prohibition treaty. This “gift basket” approach provides the option for measures and statements to be adopted by some participants without requiring consensus, and without pushing those who cannot support into having to oppose. This option will be a crucial stepping stone in getting the ball rolling on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons as North Korea starts revealing itself as more of an international threat with their possession and continual high ranging tests of these catastrophic weapons.
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