Ireland blazes the trail for a nuclear-free world
2017-09-01 18:51:37 -

Michael McGowan

A historic United Nations agreement to ban all nuclear weapons is open for signing by member states from 20 September.


The Nuclear Weapons Treaty Ban is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons with the goal of leading towards their total elimination. It was passed at the UN in New York on 7 July, and in order to come into effect it requires the signature and ratification of at least 50 countries.


For those nations that are part of it, the treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. For nuclear armed states joining the treaty, it provides for a time-bound framework for negotiations leading to being verified and the irreversible elimination of its nuclear programme.


In the vote on the treaty text, 122 were in favour, one was against (The Netherlands), one abstained (Singapore) and 69 nations did not vote, among them all the nuclear weapons states and all Nato members except The Netherlands.


The signatures of at least 50 countries would place nuclear weapons on the world list of illegal weapons in the same category as chemical weapons, cluster bombs and landmines, and must surely be on the cards.


It was Ireland, Austria, Brazil, Mexico, Sweden and South Africa that took the initiative last year in submitting to the UN a resolution that started the process calling for a global nuclear weapons ban. This led to the first round of talks thus past spring, and the second with the historic resolution in July.


Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, a former MEP and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, said that the treaty “represents the successful outcome of the first multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations in over 20 years.


“Ireland has consistently been in the vanguard of the move for nuclear disarmament since we joined the UN over 60 years ago. Indeed it was the Irish Resolutions in 1958 which led to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in recognition of this Ireland was the first invited to sign,” he added.


The initiative behind the treaty ban was in part triggered by the frustration felt among many non-nuclear-armed nations over the lack of progress in efforts under the NPT regime.


As it happens, the main opposition to the new treaty comes from those nations that have failed to honour their responsibilities under the NPT regime. They include nations like the US and Russia in possession of nuclear arms, and most members of Nato because they are under the US nuclear umbrella.


They are the ones who find themselves behind the times. This month we can expect to clinch a landmark agreement for a UN ban on nuclear weapons, and the challenge now is for all countries to follow the lead of Ireland and work to persuade the nuclear-armed states to do the right thing.


Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.


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