The UN nuclear weapons ban treaty: how significant is it?

On 7th July, the United Nations adopted a Treaty banning nuclear weapons. Judith Eversley reflects on a milestone on the long road to disarmament.

Quakers in Britain have campaigned against nuclear weapons for more than 60 years. As early as 1955, Meeting for Sufferings minuted: “To rely on the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is faithless; to use them is a sin.”

My own parents were among the earliest anti-nuclear campaigners. I can remember being on one of the short ‘feeder’ marches as a child in Birmingham in the late 1950s: those with longer legs carried on marching to Aldermaston and then London.

There have been test ban treaties and non-proliferation treaties but they work rather gradually (if at all), and many countries have become impatient with the slow progress of these international agreements. They fear that the humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons would be so catastrophic that nothing but a total ban will do.

So it is huge step forward that now the United Nations has adopted a treaty to rid the world of nuclear weapons. At the vote in New York. 124 out of the UN’s 192 member countries voted: 122 in favour, one against (Netherlands) and one country abstained (Singapore).

Quakers in Britain have been observers at the UN in New York through these negotiations. They are delighted with the news – but the job is not over. The next step is for at least 50 countries to ratify the Treaty, though that should not be difficult given the overwhelming support from non-nuclear states. Making a practical reality of the ban will be tough, largely because nine countries that currently have such weapons stayed away from the talks – they did not contribute to them, did not vote and they will oppose it. The UK is one of those nine.

So the work continues, and local peace campaigners are planning events to inform and update you. Every year in August, Bath Stop War commemorates the 1945 annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This year the special event outside Bath Abbey will be on Saturday 5th August from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 pm. Please come along and add your message to the peace tree.

And at 7:30 pm on Thursday 26th October, in the lower room of our Meeting House, Bath & District United Nations Association is organising a public meeting about the Treaty. Paul Ingram, an expert on security and disarmament, is coming to speak on Multilateral nuclear disarmament in the era of the nuclear ban treaty.

Bath Stop War’s 2016 peace tree commemorating the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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