UNITED NATIONS – A U.N. General Assembly committee on Thursday voted to launch negotiations on a new treaty banning nuclear weapons despite fierce opposition from the world’s nuclear powers.
A resolution presented by Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and Brazil was adopted by a vote of 123 to 38, with 16 abstentions, following weeks of lobbying by the nuclear powers for “no” votes.
The nonbinding resolution provides for negotiations to begin in March on the new treaty, citing deep concern over the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”
Four of the five U.N. Security Council nuclear powers — Britain, France, Russia and the United States — voted against the resolution, while China abstained, as did India and Pakistan.
Japan, which has long campaigned against the use of nuclear weapons, voted against it, as did South Korea, which is facing a nuclear threat from North Korea.
Opponents argued that nuclear disarmament should be addressed within negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, described the vote as a “historic moment” in the decades-long drive for a nuclear-free world.
“This treaty won’t eliminate nuclear weapons overnight. But it will establish a powerful, new international legal standard, stigmatizing nuclear weapons and compelling nations to take urgent action on disarmament.”
The measure is expected to go to the full General Assembly for a vote in late November or early December.
Although Japan voted against the resolution due to pressure exerted by the U.S., Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that Japan intends to join U.N. negotiations to outlaw nuclear weapons.
“At present, I hope to proactively join in the negotiations and firmly present our stance,” which stresses cooperation between nuclear and nonnuclear powers, Kishida told reporters, adding that the government as a whole will make the final decision.
Kishida said Japan opposed the draft resolution as it did not match the country’s stance to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons by “concrete and pragmatic measures” amid the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and the need for nuclear deterrence.
“The resolution further deepens the rift and encourages opposition” between countries possessing nuclear weapons and those that do not, Kishida said.
Japan also took note of the votes by other key countries in making the decision, Kishida said. All of the countries possessing nuclear weapons, including the United States, opposed the draft resolution, while North Korea voted in favor.
The resolution calls for talks to be held twice next year — the first round from March 27 to 31 and the second from June 15 through July 7 in New York — to negotiate a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
Despite the U.S. and other nuclear powers’ objection to the motion, Robert Zuber, director of Global Action to Prevent War, a nongovernmental organization, is upbeat about its prospects.
“We believe that a ban treaty could help contribute to a robust international framework to which the nuclear weapon states could eventually accede,” he said.
But the decision by Japan, the only country to have ever suffered a nuclear attack, to vote against the draft disappointed some anti-nuclear campaigners.
The government is “still captured by a very old-fashioned idea on security. They still believe nuclear weapons are necessary for their own security. However, it is already clear that it is nuclear weapons that are posing a threat to global security and survival of human kind, as testified by many survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” said Akira Kawasaki, director of Peace Boat Hibakusha Project.