UN Votes to Begin Negotiations on a Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

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August 23, 2016 – UN member states in Geneva last week voted to adopt a report that recommended the General Assembly begin negotiations in 2017 on a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

The report by the Open Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament (OEWG) recommended a conference “open to all States, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

The OEWG was established following a General Assembly resolution in Dec. 2015 and the calls for a complete ban on nuclear weapons are supported by 107 UN member states.

Nuclear weapons are the only weapon of mass destruction not banned by international treaty and proponents of a ban want a treaty to prohibit the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and transfer of these weapons.

While a majority of states want a ban, crucially, the nuclear weapons states along with NATO members and countries under a US defense umbrella are against a ban, citing their security.

All African, Latin American, Caribbean, and Pacific countries support a ban but support among Western and European countries is not nearly as strong, with many belonging to NATO. Among the Western and European countries to support a ban are Austria, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Serbia and Ukraine.

There were 14 countries that were against the adoption of last week’s report: Australia, Poland, Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary, Italy, Belgium, Slovenia, Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Turkey, Lithuania, and South Korea.

In all, 138 countries voted to establish the working group last December.

Among the countries that abstained on last week’s vote are the Netherlands and Japan. The Netherlands hosts US nuclear weapons while Japan is under the nuclear umbrella.

Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, has long called for complete disarmament but has not yet come out in support of a complete ban. Other countries that have not outright called for a compete ban on nuclear weapons have suggested that a first step towards a complete ban should be a ban on the use of nuclear weapons.

The nine nuclear weapons states – Britain, France, China, US, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – did not participate in the OEWG.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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US Declares 4,804 Active Nuclear Weapons

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April 29, 2014 –  The United States has reduced its active nuclear arsenal by six percent under President Barack Obama with the number of warheads for delivery now less than 5,000.

At its height in 1967, the US had 31,255 nuclear weapons. The reduction under Obama is still far less than under his predecessor, President George W Bush, who reduced the active arsenal by 25 percent in the first six years of his presidency.

The US had 5,113 active nuclear weapons in 2009.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that as of September 2013, the number of nuclear weapons in the active U.S. arsenal has fallen to 4,804,” US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said at an NPT preparatory committee meeting held at UN headquarters on Tuesday. “This newly declassified number represents an 85 percent reduction in the U.S. nuclear stockpile since 1967.”

Gottemoeller hinted that recent divisions with Russia over Syria and Ukraine is hindering further cuts in the nuclear arsenal.

“Recent actions have significantly undermined mutual trust and that trust will take time to rebuild,” she said. “Still, no one should forget that even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union found it in our mutual interest to work together on reducing the nuclear threat.

Gottemoeller also said the US remains committed to ratifying the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. The treaty cannot go into force until it has been ratified by the eight remaining countries of the 44 that initially negotiated it – China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the US, which have signed the treaty, and North Korea, India, and Pakistan, which have not signed.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia

North Korea Tells US via UN to ‘Drop the Bad Habit’ of Arguing With Others

A model of the "Unha-9" missile on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang, July 2013 (credit: wikimedia)

A model of the “Unha-9” missile on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang, July 2013 (credit: wikimedia)

March 12, 2014 – North Korea has sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council to complain about the United States reaction to its recent missile tests.

The letter, transmitted  from Pyongyang’s UN ambassador, Ja Song Nam, said the missile tests from Feb. 21 to March 4 “were smoothly conducted with no slight impact not only on regional peace and security but on the international navigation order and ecological environment.”

The tests, which took place at the same time as joint US-South Korea military exercises, drew a complaint from the United States, who have asked the Security Council to “take appropriate action” as the launches “clearly used ballistic missile technology” which Pyongyang is banned from using under Security Council resolutions.

The United States and its followers should not dare make much fuss, terming the just rocket-launching drills of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ‘provocation’ and ‘ ‘threats,'” the letter says.

It adds that the only provocations were the joint US-South Korea military drills “and base remarks made by such a guy as United States Secretary of State Kerry, who labelled the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ‘closest closed country,’ ‘evil place’ and ‘country of evil.'”

The letter says its is “absurd” that the US says North-South relations can only be mended when Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program “is the self-defensive treasured sword to defend the whole Korean nation and preserve the regional peace and security from the increasing nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” the letter says.

“The United States had better coolly judge the situation and drop the bad habit 
of deliberately taking issue with others,” the letter concludes.

Full text of the letter is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

North Korea Letter to UN published by UN Tribune

The Nuclear Armed UN Security Council

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The UN Security Council discuss nuclear disarmament at this April 19, 2012 meeting (UN Photo)

May 3, 2012 – The current composition of the U.N. Security Council includes seven states who together possess 18,900 of the 19,000 nuclear weapons in existence today.

The vast majority of those weapons belong to two of the five permanent UNSC members, Russia (10,000) and the U.S. (8,000), according to a new report from Ploughshares.

The three other permanent members of the council – Britain, China and France – possess 775 nuclear weapons between them. (One of the arguments in support of the P5 veto power is that it prevented those states with a nuclear arsenal from attacking each other, though this is increasingly obsolete in a post-Cold War context.)

The two remaining countries on the council with nuclear stockpiles are non-permanent members India, (elected to UNSC for 2011-12) said to have 60-80 nuclear weapons, and neighbor Pakistan (2012-13), estimated to have a slightly higher number. 

North Korea, less than ten, and Israel, around 70, round out the countries that hold nuclear weapons. Neither is likely in the near future to garner enough support in the UN General Assembly to get elected to temporary membership of the council. 

While the P5 are among the 190 countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan have not (Pyongyang withdrew from the treaty in 2003).

South Africa, also a non-permanent member of the council, in 1989 became the first and only state to voluntarily give up its nuclear arms program – which at the time consisted of six weapons.

– Denis Fitzgerald