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Ending nuclear lawlessness via The Hindu

The attempt at the UN to ban atomic weapons is based on the premise that all countries deserve equal security

In the last week of March, at the United Nations in New York, history was made as diplomats from about 130 countries started formal talks on an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons. The goal is simple: declare it illegal for any country to produce, possess, stockpile, deploy, threaten to use, or use nuclear weapons. The final treaty could be approved and ready for signature before the end of this year.

Not surprisingly, none of the nine nuclear weapon countries showed up, India and Pakistan included. Numbers are not on the side of the nuclear weapons states, however. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, staged a public boycott outside the negotiating hall but managed to rally only a ragtag band of about 20 diplomats, mostly from Eastern Europe.

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Resistance of the nuclear club

The end of the Cold War offered the hope of a new start for the world. The UN General Assembly asked the International Court of Justice to rule on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. In July 1996, the court issued an advisory opinion, with two key conclusions. First, “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.” And, second, “there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” The door opened to a nuclear weapons ban.

In the 20 years since the court issued its judgment, countries with nuclear weapons have simply refused to comply. Rather than starting “negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament”, they have sought to block them, choosing to launch long-term costly programmes to maintain, modernise, and in some cases augment their nuclear arsenals.

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Rather than waiting for that day, the nuclear weapon-free countries have decided to take matters into their own hands. Their first step is the ban treaty. It lays down a clear marker for what weapons the world thinks no state can seek, possess and use in wartime. This is how other weapons have been banned, be they chemical weapons, biological weapons, landmines, or cluster munitions.

Of course, as has happened in Syria with chemical weapons, there are occasional violations of the international laws banning weapons of mass destruction, but the world now condemns such actions and decent people everywhere would support efforts to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. The possibility of violations has never stopped countries from passing laws and agreeing on what should be prohibited. India, Pakistan, and all of the nuclear weapons states should prepare to give up their arsenals or be treated as outlaws.

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