More than 100 countries on Monday launched the first UN talks aimed at achieving a legally binding ban on nuclear weapons, as Washington led an international boycott of a process it deems unrealistic.

Before the conference had even begun, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, spoke out to reject the proposal in the light of current global security threats.

“As a mom and a daughter there is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” Haley, who represents the world’s largest nuclear power, said on the sidelines of the meeting.

“But we have to be realistic,” she added. “Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?”

Haley spoke in a group of some 20 ambassadors from US allies which are boycotting the negotiations, including Britain, France, South Korea, Turkey and a number of countries from eastern Europe.

The ambassadors of Russia and China were notably absent, but both major nuclear powers are also sitting out the General Assembly talks.

Haley estimated that “almost 40 countries” were not participating.

The push for a ban was announced in October by 123 UN members who say the threat of atomic disaster is growing thanks to tensions fanned by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and an unpredictable new administration in Washington.

Leaders of the effort include Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Sweden, supported by hundreds of nonprofit organizations.

But Britain, France, Israel, Russia and the United States all voted no, while China, India and Pakistan abstained — together accounting for most of the world’s declared and undeclared nuclear powers.

Even Japan — the only country to have suffered atomic attacks, in 1945 — voted against the talks, saying a lack of consensus over the negotiations could undermine progress on effective nuclear disarmament.

Japan’s ambassador, Nobushige Takamizawa, addressed the General Assembly to explain why.

“Efforts to make such a treaty without the involvement of nuclear weapon states will only deepen the schism and division” in the international community, he said.

‘Step-by-step’
Haley, while acknowledging the promoters of the treaty were acting in “good faith,” said: “You have to ask yourselves: Do they really understand the threats that we have?”

Britain’s ambassador Matthew Rycroft asserted that his country “is completely committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons” but does “not believe that those negotiations will lead to effective progress on global nuclear disarmament.”

“The best way to achieve the goal of global nuclear disarmament is through gradual multilateral disarmament, negotiated using a step-by-step approach and within existing international frameworks,” Rycroft added.

Haley noted that the United States had reduced its nuclear arsenal by 85 percent since the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) took effect, and added “we are going to continue to do that.”

But supporters of the UN process argue that little progress has been made in recent years despite commitments by the major nuclear powers under the NPT.

“We have been waiting for progress on nuclear disarmament since 1997,” Austrian ambassador Alexander Marschik said at the launch of the negotiations in the General Assembly.

“Whenever we asked, we were told that the time was not right.”

In 2009, then-president Barack Obama announced a drive to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and eventually eliminate them.

But his administration strongly encouraged NATO allies to vote against this year’s UN negotiations, saying a ban would obstruct cooperation to respond to nuclear threats from adversaries.

“There was disappointment with the Obama administration, which made some pledges, but then ignored most of them,” said Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, an international coalition of NGOs. “And now there are raised worries with the new US president.”

President Donald Trump threatened a nuclear arms race in a tweet shortly before he took office in January, saying “we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

Ban supporters point to successful grassroots movements that led to the prohibition of landmines in 1997 and cluster munitions in 2008 as a model for the future of nuclear disarmament.

Drawing on experience from those campaigns, Fihn believes there is a “good chance” a treaty will be adopted, though perhaps not necessarily after the first phase of negotiations ends in July.

  • Civil_Rights

    I wonder who will be the first nuclear armed country willing to ban owned nuclear weapons, or willing to become a sitting duck.

    • Nate

      That would be South Africa,
      When F W DeClerks party abdicated and the ANC won elections in S.A. the newly installed govt dismantled the 6 nukes it inherited and handed the constituent parts over to the US. They could afford to do so, as they have no natural enemy that could even potentially harm them.
      Ukraine post collapse of the Soviet Union. They had over 1000 nukes, under a treaty of mutual protection, the US and newly formed Russia guaranteed to protect Ukraine's borders on the provision they give their entire fleet of nukes to Russia.
      We've all seen how well thats worked out for the good people of Ukraine. One of its guarantors simply invaded it and annexed 1/10th of their country.
      This initiative is childish, simplistic and shows naïvety of the worst kind. In other words, its a mix of craplackistans and Leftist idealists with too much time on their hands.
      Ignoring the nonsensical nature of asking despots to give up highly effective weapons, it completely discounts the unprecedented era we live in now. Every year that passes without major powers going to war is a new record set for longest period of peace between large powers. War is simply too costly and there are no winners. Remove that paradigm from war, and I'm fairly sure we'd see the majors once again going at it.

    • Nate

      That would be South Africa,
      When F W DeClerks party abdicated and the ANC won elections in S.A. the newly installed govt dismantled the 6 nukes it inherited and handed the constituent parts over to the US. They could afford to do so, as they have no natural enemy that could even potentially harm them.
      Ukraine post collapse of the Soviet Union. They had over 1000 nukes, under a treaty of mutual protection, the US and newly formed Russia guaranteed to protect Ukraine's borders on the provision they give their entire fleet of nukes to Russia.
      We've all seen how well thats worked out for the good people of Ukraine. One of its guarantors simply invaded it and annexed 1/10th of their country.
      This initiative is childish, simplistic and shows naïvety of the worst kind. In other words, its a mix of craplackistans and Leftist idealists with too much time on their hands.
      Ignoring the nonsensical nature of asking despots to give up highly effective weapons, it completely discounts the unprecedented era we live in now. Every year that passes without major powers going to war is a new record set for longest period of peace between large powers. War is simply too costly and there are no winners. Remove that paradigm from war, and I'm fairly sure we'd see the majors once again going at it.

      • Civil_Rights

        I am not aware South Africa has nuclear weapons and that is new to me. Thank you for letting me know.

        • Nate

          *Had
          not has

          • Civil_Rights

            South Africa has dismantled nuclear weapons in 1989 and acceding to NPT in 1991 is not the answer to my question. My question is who among nuclear armed countries now a days are willing to give-up nuclear weapons?

          • Nate

            Maybe you didn't understand the gist of my reply.
            Anyone that had Nukes and was stupid enough in the past to start thinking of maybe giving them up needs to look no further than the Ukraine to see how truly stupid an idea that it.
            So, to recap, should those imbeciles on the British left, who dont understand what a deterrent is, and can't understand why they should pay for something they never intend to use, then we may see someone stupid enough to contemplate doing this insanity.
            Shy of Corbyn and UK Labour, i dont think anyone else thats already gone to the vast expenditure/trouble of getting nukes is stupid enough to give them up.