A global treaty banning nuclear weapons was adopted at the United Nations on Friday but nuclear powers Britain, France and the United States dismissed it as out of step with reality at a time when the world is grappling with the North Korea crisis.
The treaty was adopted by a vote of 122 in favor with one country — NATO member The Netherlands — voting against, while Singapore abstained.
None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — took part in the negotiations or the vote.
Even Japan — the only country to have suffered atomic attacks, in 1945 — boycotted the talks as did most NATO countries.
Loud applause and cheers broke out in the UN conference hall following the vote that capped three weeks of negotiations on the text providing for a total ban on developing, stockpiling or threatening to use nuclear weapons.
Within hours of its adoption, the United States, Britain and France rejected the treaty and said they have no intention of joining it.
“This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment,” said the UN ambassadors from the three countries.
“This treaty offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary,” they said in a joint statement.
North Korea marked a worrying milestone in its bid to develop nuclear weapons when it tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile this week.
Nuclear powers argue their arsenals serve as a deterrent against a nuclear attack and say they remain committed to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The decades-old NPT seeks to prevent the spread of atomic weapons but also puts the onus on nuclear states to reduce their stockpiles.
Impatience however is growing among many non-nuclear states over the slow pace of disarmament as are worries that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the wrong hands.
– Delegitimizing nuclear weapons –
Led by Austria, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand, 141 countries joined in drafting the treaty that they hope will increase pressure on nuclear states to take disarmament more seriously.
Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland voted in favor as did Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Kazakhstan and many African and Latin American countries.
“We have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons,” said Costa Rica’s ambassador, Elayne Whyte Gomez, the president of the UN conference that negotiated the treaty.
The International Committee of the Red Cross hailed it as a “historic step towards delegitimizing” nuclear weapons and declared the adoption “an important victory for our shared humanity.”
Disarmament campaigners say the treaty will go a long way in increasing the stigma associated with nuclear weapons and will have an impact on public opinion.
“The key thing is that it changes the legal landscape,” said Richard Moyes, director of the British-based organization Article 36.
“It stops states with nuclear weapons from being able to hide behind the idea that they are not illegal.”
“We hope that today marks the beginning of the end of the nuclear age,” said Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
“It is beyond question that nuclear weapons violate the laws of war and pose a clear danger to global security.”
The treaty will be open for signatures as of September 20 and will enter into force when 50 countries have ratified it.