United Nations adopts treaty banning nuclear weapons,
but no nuclear-armed nations are on board

A global treaty banning nuclear weapons was adopted by the United Nations on July 7 despite opposition from the nuclear powers. The treaty was adopted by a vote of 122 in favor with only one country — the Netherlands, which hosts nuclear weapons belonging to the United States — voting against.

None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons — the United States, 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 U.N. 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 United States, Britain and France rejected the treaty and said they have no intention of joining it. In a joint statement, the U.N. ambassadors from the three countries said, “This treaty offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary.”

Activists who worked to negotiate the deal said the fact that nuclear-armed countries do not support the agreement does not render it moot. “This treaty was really an initiative from states that don’t have nuclear weapons, and that have rejected nuclear weapons as a potential source of security, to do something about the situation,” said Ray Acheson of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, who helped negotiate the treaty.

Nuclear powers say they remain committed to the gradual approach to disarmament outlined in the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But the decades-old NPT, which seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, itself calls for “general and complete disarmament.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross hailed the treaty as a “historic step toward delegitimizing” nuclear weapons and declared the adoption “an important victory for our shared humanity.”

Welcoming “an important step” toward a nuclear-free world, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the treaty reflects growing “awareness of the catastrophic humanitarian conse-quences” of a nuclear war.

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

More than 70 years in the making, the treaty offers widely agreed principles, commitments, and mechanisms for ending the nuclear weapons age. Getting there was not easy, and achieving nuclear disarmament will still be a long struggle. But the new treaty creates space and means for a creative new disarmament politics based on law, ethics and democracy that go beyond well-trodden debates on the dangers and costs of nuclear weapons and traditional practices of arms control based on step-by-step reductions that limit only the size of arsenals.

The treaty’s foundational claims are that “any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, in particular the principles and rules of international humanitarian law,” and that “any use of nuclear weapons would also be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.”

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

– edited from Public Radio International, July 11, 2017, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 7, 2017
PeaceMeal, July/August 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

miguel_descoto.jpg (4989 bytes)Revolutionary priest to head next U.N. General Assembly

Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, Catholic priest, blunt critic of the United States, and longtime foreign minister of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, will preside over the United Nations 63rd General Assembly when it convenes in September. In March, D’Escoto won the backing of the 33-member Latin American and Caribbean contingent, and on June 4 the 192-member General Assembly elected him president. Both were by acclamation.

D’Escoto's chief political patron is Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, whose strident anti-Americanism has tested the assembly’s rules of decorum in the past. Nicaragua is a stalwart ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, whose antic fulminations during the 2006 general debate are believed to have cost his country a seat on the Security Council.

Observers say Nicaragua lobbied calmly and without fanfare, and the Latin American and Caribbean contingent, whether ideological allies or foes of the U.S., seemed anxious to avoid internal division after the defeat of Venezuela’s Security Council bid two years ago, which required 48 agonizing ballots to decide.

D’Escoto, the son of a Nicaraguan diplomat, was born in 1933 in Los Angeles, spent his childhood years in Nicaragua, then returned to the U.S. for religious training. In 1961, he was ordained in the Maryknoll missionary order of the Roman Catholic Church, based in upstate New York.

After ministering in Chile and receiving a doctorate from the University of Colombia, he helped found Orbis Books, the Maryknoll imprint specializing in liberation theology that emphasizes the church’s duty to bring social justice through political activism — often cited as a form of Christian socialism. He secretly joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front and helped engineer its gradual inclusion in politics. When the Sandinistas came to power in 1979, he was named foreign minister, and held the post until 1990.

When the United States funded, armed and trained the anti-government Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s, D’Escoto offered stinging critiques of U.S.-sponsored “terrorism” in both the General Assembly and the Security Council, and helped bring about a successful ruling against the U.S. at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.

After the death of former President Ronald Reagan in 2004, D’Escoto told Pacifica Radio he prayed that God forgive Reagan “for having been the butcher of my people, for having been responsible for the deaths of some 50,000 Nicaraguans ... crimes he committed in the name of what he falsely labeled freedom and democracy.”

D’Escoto is a senior advisor on foreign affairs to Ortega, the former Marxist comandante who regained the Nicaraguan presidency in 2006 after 16 years out of office. Addressing the General Assembly last fall, Ortega called the U.S. “the most gigantic and powerful dictatorship that has existed in all the history of humanity.”

Though D’Escoto remains a priest in good standing, he was banned from priestly duties by Pope John Paul II in 1983 for refusing to leave the Nicaraguan government.

As General Assembly president, D’Escoto will not be able to vote on resolutions, but will control debates and schedules. He did not opt for diplomacy in his acceptance speech, but criticized “acts of aggression” in Iraq and Afghanistan, without naming the U.S. directly. He said that meant the United Nations “lost credibility.” A spokesman for the U.S. mission retaliated, saying D’Escoto’s “crazy comments are not acceptable.”

The stage is set.

– The InterDependent, Journal of the United Nations Association-USA, Summer 2008
PeaceMeal, July/August 2008