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122 Countries Overcome U.S. Opposition and Pass Landmark U.N. Global Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons

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In a major development that has received little attention, 122 U.N. member states have approved a global treaty to ban the possession and use of nuclear weapons, despite the United States leading the opposition to the treaty. We speak with Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We wrap up today talking about what happened at the United Nations headquarters in New York this past weekend. A hundred twenty-two countries have approved a historic global treaty to ban the use and possession of nuclear weapons.

U.N. SECRETARY: Kindly confirm that your votes are accurately reflected on the screen. The voting has been completed. The machine is locked. [In favor: 122. Against: 1. Abstention: 1.]

AMY GOODMAN: Under the new treaty, signatory states agreed not to develop, manufacture, test or possess nuclear weapons. They also vowed not to threaten to deploy nuclear weapons or even permit any nuclear arms to be stationed on their territory. The historic vote last Friday came after months of talks in which the United States led the opposition to the treaty. In the end, all countries with nuclear arms ended up boycotting the negotiations.

In these last few minutes of the show, we’re joined by Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, which is the disarmament program of the Women’s International League [for] Peace and Freedom. She represents her organization on the steering group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, known as ICAN.

Ray Acheson, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of what took place.

RAY ACHESON: So this was a long effort to get countries to come together to develop new international law to prohibit nuclear weapons. And we’re working in a context, of course, where the nuclear-armed states are investing billions of dollars into modernizing their arsenals. We’re in the midst of a new arms race. And they boycotted these negotiations. They boycotted all of the processes leading up to these negotiations. The United States tried to encourage its allies around the world, particularly in NATO, to boycott the talks. But despite all of that, 122 countries, as you saw, voted yes for this treaty and came together at the U.N. over the course of four weeks to negotiate it.

AMY GOODMAN: So what does it mean that they have voted? A hundred twenty-two countries is a very big deal, but it’s none of the nuclear powers, so what does that mean?

RAY ACHESON: Well, the treaty is actually designed not to include them necessarily. It would have been great if they had have come along, and it would have looked like a very different treaty. But given that they weren’t engaged in the negotiations and that they aren’t interested currently in disarmament, we needed to create something that could attack the system of nuclear weapons sort of indirectly, getting around different economic, political, legal statures of nuclear weapons that keep the practices and policies of nuclear deterrence going currently.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, while this happened under the Trump administration, didn’t the Obama administration even vote against convening the talks that led to this treaty?

RAY ACHESON: That’s absolutely correct. And the Obama administration also sent a memo to its NATO allies telling them to vote against the start of the talks and to boycott these talks.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happens now? The treaty is signed. What does this mean for these 122 countries? And for the world?

RAY ACHESON: So, the next process is going to be signing on to the treaty. It’ll open for signature at the U.N. in New York on the 20th of September. And after that, they’ll have to go through a national ratification process in order for it to enter into force. But that should all happen within the next year or two, and then it will be international law that is binding on all of the countries that have adhered to it, which means, in some cases, they’re going to have to change their practices and policies that may enable or facilitate the use or the possession of nuclear weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: In what way?

RAY ACHESON: So, there could be economic divestment, for example, from nuclear weapon-producing companies. There could be changes of national law that currently permit transit of nuclear weapons through territorial waters. There could be different shifts in policies and practices around military training exercises that currently involve the preparation to use nuclear weapons. And it will also be an iterative process of building up the stigmatization and the norm against nuclear weapons through the public policy, through parliaments and through national discourse.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, also represents WILPF on the steering committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

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