Nuclear weapons are the only weapon of mass destruction not yet explicitly banned by an international treaty, unlike chemical and biological weapons. But that could soon change.
Today, Thursday 27th October, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on a draft resolution starting negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
The draft resolution would convene a UN conference to “negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination” and would take place in 2017. The adoption of this resolution would mark a major breakthrough for nuclear disarmament.
Nearly 25 years after the end of the Cold War there are still estimated to be 16,300 nuclear weapons at 98 sites in 14 countries. Rather than disarm, the nine nuclear-armed states continue to spend a fortune maintaining and modernising their arsenals. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of accidental or deliberate use will be present.
If used, nuclear weapons would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences, and in the case of a detonation, no state or humanitarian organisation could provide any meaningful relief.
Past processes suggest that a treaty to ban nuclear weapons would even affect the behaviour of those states outside the treaty. The existence of the treaty would require states to decide if they support nuclear weapons or not. This pressure would influence other international forums, as well as debates at the national level.
A ban on nuclear weapons will establish an international norm against the possession of nuclear weapons, which will help to reduce the perceived value of such weapons. It will draw the line between those states that believe nuclear weapons are unacceptable and illegitimate and those states that believe nuclear weapons are legitimate and able to provide security.
A growing number of governments have indicated they will vote Yes. Earlier today, the European Parliament has taken a clear stance in support, calling its member states to “support the convening” and “participate substantially’ in the negotiation of a treaty. This however, is a non-binding recommendation and does not guarantee how EU governments will vote.
Greenpeace supports the call for all governments to vote yes to the resolution and participate in negotiations of a new legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.
Jen Maman is the Peace Adviser for Greenpeace International.