The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a historic resolution to begin negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. This decision heralds an end to decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts.
The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. Ireland, along with Austria, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, was one of the lead sponsors of the resolution.
A large majority - 123 nations - voted in favour of the resolution, with 38 against and 16 abstaining. Biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all explicitly prohibited under international law. But only partial prohibitions currently exist for nuclear weapons.
The Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament warmly welcomes the decision to start talks on a ban treaty, and, in particular, Ireland's role in promoting the resolution. The Chairperson of Irish CND, Dr David Hutchinson Edgar, stated, "A treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons would provide an important step towards the elimination of these horrific weapons of mass destruction. It would close the loopholes in the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty which a small number of states have exploited to avoid their clear obligations in relation to nuclear disarmament under that treaty.
"A nuclear weapons ban treaty would intensify the global stigmatisation of nuclear weapons, and would ramp up pressure on the nuclear weapons possessors to accept the abolition of nuclear weapons as a legal necessity. As this vote shows, it would reflect the will of a clear majority of the world's nations.
"Irish CND welcomes the key role played by officials of the Disarmament Section in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in framing and promoting the resolution. We also welcome the statement issued today by Minister Flanagan in support of the start of negotiations next year. It is very positive to see Ireland again taking the lead in attempts to rid the world of the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction."
The vote in favour of the resolution has been widely welcomed by campaign groups internationally. Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said, “Today’s vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament. This treaty won’t eliminate nuclear weapons overnight,” she continued. “But it will establish a powerful new international legal standard, stigmatizing nuclear weapons and compelling nations to take urgent action on disarmament.”