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Beware, nuclear weapons are about to become illegal!

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Unnoticed, the United Nations on 23 December 2016 withheld the decision to draw up in 2017 an International Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. The stakes are high, especially at a time when the The NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) has amply demonstrated its inadequacies, since four nuclear-weapon states are not members of it (India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea).
 
L’The United Nations is definitely making headlines in these turbulent times. We know that a new Secretary General, Antonio Guterrez from Portugal, is taking office and that a Security Council resolution has been passed against the Israeli settlements. But who lingers on the historic vote on 23 December that paves the way for the negotiation of an International Treaty to ban nuclear weapons in 2017?
Yet the event is a major one because it revives the prospect of multilateral nuclear disarmament, which has been suspended for twenty years, at the very moment when Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin announce their desire to relaunch the nuclear arms race. And we have heard Pierre de Villiers, Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces, call for a renewal of the "oceanic and air components of the national nuclear arsenal" (see his platform The price of peace is the war effort. ).
 
This decision obtained by a majority of 76% of the voters (see details below) will result in meetings at the United Nations in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017, during which "a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination, is to be negotiated".

Where did this initiative come from?

This momentum began in March 2013 with Norway's initiative to organize a Conference in Oslo on the "Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear War", which brought together 127 States and several NGOs, and which was the beginning of a process that has since been growing.
Successively, Mexico took over in February 2014 with the Nayarit Conference of 146 States, followed by Austria in December 2014 with the Vienna Conference of 158 States and also 600 activists in the framework of the Great Campaign. ICAN-International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
 
Here two essential novelties have emerged: on the one hand, the analysis of the real risk that an explosion or nuclear war could break out, even by accident or by mistake (see Eric Schlosser, Command and Control, Penguin Press, New York (2013) and, on the other hand, the initiative of the Austrian Government to commit itself ("pledge")) in order to fill the legal vacuum for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. This commitment has gradually gained the support of 139 States.
 
In the wake of this movement, the United Nations General Assembly, on 7 December 2015, voted to set up an "Open Ended Working Group"This is a working group open not only to the delegations of the 195 States of the United Nations, but also to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), i.e. "civil society" (militant associations and organizations such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent), with a mandate to develop "concrete and effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms to achieve and maintain a world free of nuclear weapons.". With an important demand for the process: no unanimity requirement (so no veto possibility!).
 
Three working sessions in 2016, in Geneva, resulted in a final paper approved by a majority of 75% of the votes cast (68 in favour and 22 against). As a result of this work, the "First Committee" of the UN General Assembly in New York voted on 27 October 2016 with a majority of 76 % (123 votes "for" and 38 "against"). Resolution L41which implies the opening of negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty in 2017. This vote of the First Committee was then confirmed by the final vote on 23 December 2016, with the same majority of 76%. The programme is on track: two negotiating conferences will take place from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017 in New York. They will be open to all States, as well as to Civil Society and International Organizations.
 
 
On 27 October 2016 at around 6 p.m. (New York time), at the time of the "historic" vote in the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, which decided to open negotiations in 2017 for an International Treaty to ban nuclear weapons. 
From left to right: Beatrice Fihn, ICAN Campaign Director, Tim Wright, ICAN Director for the Asia-Pacific Region, Ray Acheson, WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) Reaching Critical Will Mission Director.

Non-equipped states revolt and gaps open up among the equipped states and within NATO

We are in fact witnessing a veritable "revolt" by the non-nuclear-weapon States - Latin American and African States, but also Austria and Ireland - against the multi-decade inertia in the disarmament process and the continuous modernization of the nuclear States' armaments!
Indeed, during the final vote on 23 December 2016 : 
- 113 countries voted "in favour", including Austria, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Senegal (despite pressure from France) and North Korea!
- 35 countries voted "against", including France, the United States, Russia, Great Britain, Israel, South Korea, Japan, Australia and NATO members, but with 4 notable exceptions: the Netherlands, which abstained, and Italy, Albania and Estonia, which voted "for"! (It should be noted that Italy and the Netherlands "welcome" on their soil several dozen nuclear bombs from the USA).
- 13 countries abstained, including China, India, Pakistan, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
(On the other hand, 21 States, which had previously spoken in favour, were not present at the time of this vote, no doubt because of its late date).

So the 9 nuclear-weapon States are "fragmented" since: among them, 5 States voted "against" (USA, Russia, UK, France and Israel, which represent 8% of the world population); 3 States abstained (China, India and Pakistan, which represent 36% of the world population) and 1 State voted "for": North Korea!  
Moreover, as we have seen, major cracks are appearing within NATO!
 

Now the programme is well on track: two negotiating sessions will take place from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017 in New York. They will be open to all States, as well as to Civil Society and International Organizations.

The European Parliament on the same wavelength

Concurrently, the European Parliament voted on 27 October last year a resolution in favour of opening negotiations in 2017 for an International Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty by a majority of 77% (415 votes in favour, 124 against and 74 abstentions).
This shows a "divide" between the European Parliament on the one hand and a large part of the European Governments on the other. In particular, the Italian Euro-parliamentarian of the Democratic Party, Brando Benifei, in Strasbourg voted in favour of such a Treaty, asking the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, to "...ensure that the European Union's foreign and security policy is not undermined by the current crisis.work actively in preparation for the 2017 conference convened to negotiate a legal instrument for the abolition of nuclear weapons".

What are the consequences of such a treaty?

States hostile to an international treaty banning nuclear weapons consider that such a treaty would be "useless", "premature", "divisive", "counterproductive", "risky", etc. However, it must be made clear that the purpose of the treaty is not, initially, to obtain the accession of the nuclear-weapon states (or their allies), but to establish a new legal framework within which any subsequent negotiations for the effective elimination of those weapons would have to take place. It will no longer be a question of negotiating on weapons that are "simply" much more powerful than others, but of negotiating on weapons that have become illegal.
 
Moreover, such a Treaty, which stigmatizes even the mere possession of nuclear weapons, would not fail to change, even radically, the way in which nuclear weapons are still often perceived by public opinion, by political leaders, by researchers, by industrial, economic and financial operators and ... by the military!
 
January 23, 2017, Nuclear Disarmament Initiatives (IDN) is organising an international conference in Paris on the subject of the arms race, in the presence of many French and foreign personalities. The issue of the Nuclear Weapons Treaty will be addressed by Béatrice Fihn, Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
 
 
Paul Quilès, President of the IDN, former minister and polytechnicien specialising in nuclear and defence issues (author of "..."), will of course speak at the conference. Nucléaire, un mensonge français : réflexions sur le désarmement nucléaire " (Nuclear, a French lie : reflections on nuclear disarmament)Paris, Editions Charles Léopold MayerThe French government is working to ensure that France joins this movement (notably through the recent petition addressed to François Hollande: "Mr. President, France must vote at the UN to ban nuclear weapons!", which in one month gathered more than 25,000 signatures and many very relevant comments).
Here's his current message:"It is hard to imagine that France does not take part in this work and practices the empty chair policy, says Paul Quilès. By participating, France would be demonstrating its good faith with regard to its commitment to comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which it is a signatory, in particular article VI, which states that "each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control".
And the French seem to be very much in favour of this path towards total disarmament as The Opinion Way poll shows that.
 
In collaboration with Luigi Mosca, Physicist
 

Read: " Demand! Total nuclear disarmament" (Stock, 2012), an appeal launched by Stéphane Hessel and Albert Jacquar

 
Noteworthy
 
John Mecklin
 
John Mecklin is the editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Previously, Mecklin was editor-in-chief of Miller-McCune (since renamed Pacific Standard),...
 
The year now concluding was full of interesting and unpredictable news regarding nuclear weapons and their accoutrements; the year was, therefore, also continuously and enormously threatening to humanity. Below are 10 of the Bulletin's best articles from a frightening year, during which, in countries around the world-from North Korea to Pakistan to India to Russia and on to the United States-people who ought to know better suggested that more nuclear weapons should be built, and some might be used.
 
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The moral restraints that prevent Armageddon are flimsier than one might think, because humans have a self-destructive defect. They like to tickle the dragon's tail.
 
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The presidential candidates must do more than accept the possibility of a terrorist attack with an improvised nuclear device. They need to plan an effective response that reduces the mass morbidity and mortality such an attack inevitably will cause.
 
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There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the no-first-use debate. Unfortunately, there may be negative consequences for raising the issue publicly and then rejecting it. 
 
Even in this digital age there are many reasons to be careful about what we wish for when it comes to modernizing the nuclear command and control system. More technological capability will not necessarily create a more secure world.
 

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