UN adopts treaty on nuclear weapons

The treaty was adopted by a vote of 122 in favour with one country — Nato member The Netherlands — voting against, while Singapore abstained. None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons took part in the negotiations of the vote

The video board showing the votes in favour and against, along with an abstention, is seen after a UN vote to adopt the first-ever treaty banning nuclear weapons on July 7, 2017. Mary Altaffer / AP Photo

UNITED NATIONS // A global treaty banning nuclear weapons has been adopted at the United Nations despite opposition from nuclear powers Britain, France and the United States which said the agreement disregards the reality of dealing with international security threats such as North Korea.

The treaty was adopted by a vote of 122 in favour with one country — Nato member The Netherlands - voting against, while Singapore abstained. The UAE voted in favour of the treaty.

None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons, the US, 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 a 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 US, 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 programme, 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 drive to develop nuclear weapons when it tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this week.

Nuclear powers argue their arsenals serve as a deterrent against a nuclear attack and say they remain committed to the gradual approach to disarmament outlined in 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 is growing among many non-nuclear states over the slow pace of disarmament, along with worries that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the wrong hands.

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 favour 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."

Welcoming "an important step" towards a nuclear-free world, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the treaty reflects growing "awareness of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences" of a nuclear war.

Disarmament campaigners say the treaty will increase the stigma associated with nuclear weapons and have an impact on public opinion.

"The key thing is that it changes the legal landscape," said Richard Moyes, director of the British-based organisation Article 36 which says it is "working to prevent the unintended, unnecessary or unacceptable harm caused by certain weapons".

"It stops states with nuclear weapons from being able to hide behind the idea that they are not illegal."

"It is beyond question that nuclear weapons violate the laws of war and pose a clear danger to global security," said Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

The treaty will be open for signatures as of September 20 and will enter into force when 50 countries have ratified it.