The United States, Britain and France are among almost 40 countries boycotting talks on a nuclear weapons ban treaty at the United Nations, according to Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the world body.
With none of the participants – more than 100 countries – at Monday’s talks belonging to the group of states that possess nuclear weapons, the discussions were doomed to failure.
According to Haley, the countries skipping the talks “would love to have a ban on nuclear weapons, but in this day and time we can’t honestly say we can protect our people by allowing bad actors to have them and those of us that are good trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.”
Speaking as the debate at the UN headquarters in New York got under way, Haley also mentioned North Korea, which has recently has carried out missile tests that violate UN resolutions.
“We have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?” Haley said. “North Korea would be the one cheering and all of us, and the people we represent, would be the ones at risk.”
Haley spoke in a group of about 20 ambassadors from US allies who did not join the negotiations, including Britain, France, South Korea, Turkey and a number of countries from eastern Europe.
Britain’s UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said: “The UK is not attending the negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons because we do not believe that those negotiations will lead to effective progress on global nuclear disarmament.”
Deputy French UN Ambassador Alexis Lamek said the security conditions were not right for a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
“In the current perilous context, considering in particular the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, our countries continue to rely on nuclear deterrence for security and stability,” Lamek said.
The new US administration of President Donald Trump is reviewing whether it will reaffirm the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, a White House aide said last week, referring to an aim embraced by previous Republican and Democratic presidents and required by a key arms control treaty.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in a statement: “It is disappointing to see some countries with strong humanitarian records standing with a government which threatens a new arms race.”
The UN General Assembly in December adopted a resolution – 113 in favour to 35 against, with 13 abstentions – that decided to “negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination” and encouraged all member states to participate.
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.
Al Jazeera’s Rosilind Jordan, reporting from the UN headquarters, said that last year the administration of former US President Barack Obama opposed the resolution that authorised the UN conference on the nuclear weapons.
“It encouraged the NATO members to not take part in this year’s negotiations to try to establish what would be a legally binding treaty,” she said.
Leaders of the effort to ban the nuclear weapons include Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Sweden, supported by hundreds of NGOs.
They say the threat of nuclear disaster is growing thanks to tensions fanned by North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and an unpredictable new administration in Washington.
“There was disappointment with the Obama administration, which made some pledges, but then ignored most of them,” said Fihn. “And now there are raised worries with the new US president.”
Nevertheless, with experience from the campaigns against cluster munitions and landmines, Fihn believes there is a “good chance” a treaty will be adopted – if not necessarily after the first phase of negotiations, which will end in July.
And such a treaty would oblige major powers to revisit their policies sooner or later – even if, like Russia and the US, they’re currently modernising their nuclear weapons arsenal.
“Even if major [nuclear weapon] producers don’t sign it, they have a big impact,” Fihn said of global treaties. “Look at Russia denying using cluster bombs in Syria. Why? They did not sign [the cluster munition ban], but they know it’s bad.”