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UN to adopt historic ban on nuclear weapons

Disarmament & Security Centre
Christchurch, New Zealand
United Nations Headquarters
New York
5 July 2017

UN to adopt historic ban on nuclear weapons

The United Nations is set to make history on Friday, when it is due to adopt a treaty banning nuclear weapons, breaking a 20-year-plus deadlock in nuclear disarmament. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was negotiated by more than 130 UN members, with input from international civil society and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement . The Treaty explicitly bans the use, development, testing, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, stockpiling and transfer of nuclear weapons, and also bans any signatory from assisting or encouraging others to undertake these activities. The Treaty also bans threatening to use nuclear weapons, which is highly significant, as it can be interpreted as challenging the nuclear weapon states’ doctrines of nuclear deterrence, which are based on an implicit threat to use nuclear weapons.

The nuclear weapons ban treaty further stigmatises nuclear weapons, putting them in the same category as other indiscriminate, inhumane weapons that are banned under international law, such as chemical and biological weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. New Zealand has contributed strongly to the process of banning nuclear weapons. It was among the leaders of the humanitarian initiative which helped build political will to pursue a new disarmament treaty, then co-sponsored the 2016 UN resolution that kick-started negotiations, and finally, has served as a Vice President of the UN conference to negotiate the nuclear weapon prohibition treaty.

Banning nuclear weapons is a vital next step towards a comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention that would provide for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, like the enforceable treaties that exist to eliminate other weapons of mass destruction. This is essential to ensure international peace and security, and indeed, human survival.

While public attention to nuclear threats has waned, such threats are actually expanding, leading some experts like former US Secretary of Defence William Perry to argue that the risk of nuclear war is higher now than it was during the Cold War. A recent UK Guardian report noted that the rise of cyberattacks has drastically increased the risk of nuclear war. There are still 15,000 nuclear weapons, with almost 2000 Russian and US weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready for launch within 30 minutes.

This situation has brought humanity to the brink of nuclear war several times already, through system failure, accident or miscalculation. In addition, recent research building on the climate models of the International Panel on Climate Change shows that even a “small” nuclear war using 0.1% of the current world arsenal would lead to radical, almost immediate climate change, leading to the starvation of up to 2 billion people.

Despite generally supporting bans on other inhumane weapon type, the five recognised nuclear weapon states and most of their allies, including Australia, have boycotted these multilateral treaty negotiations for a ban on the most inhumane weapons of all. Yet as the Canberra Commission stated in 1996, the possession of nuclear weapons by any state is a constant stimulus to other states to acquire them. Recent North Korean nuclear and missile tests underscore this point, and offer a further demonstration of why it is essential to move swiftly towards nuclear disarmament.

Background information / sources
1. " Nuclear Ban Dailies " (by expert disarmament organisation, Reaching Critical Will
a. especially, the latest version, " WE’VE GOT A TREATY BANNING NUCLEAR WEAPONS "
2. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons
a. http://www.icanw.org/campaign-news/negotiations/
b. This page has updates on government positions and statements, and excellent FAQs on how this treaty relates to international nuclear politics / law
3. Prof. Tilman Ruff of Melbourne University / IPPNW
a. has written an excellent blog post that summarises progress thus far on the draft
nuclear weapons ban treaty text.

b. https://peaceandhealthblog.com/2017/07/01/strong-ban-treaty/
4. In the NZ context, www.nuclearfreeNZ30.org.nz
a. Developed by New Zealanders Dr Lyndon Burford, and Lucy Stewart
b. blog posts and video interviews from the treaty, with survivors of nuclear testing, and with activists, academic experts etc.

c. Information about the 30th anniversary of NZ's nuclear free law (8 June 2017)
5. Official UN conference website
a. https://www.un.org/disarmament/ptnw/index.html

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