The U.S. is leading a push to derail a United Nations conference aimed at negotiating a “legally binding” ban on nuclear weapons “leading toward their total elimination.”
Standing outside the U.N. General Assembly Hall where the conference was getting under way Monday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley led a group of envoys from U.S. allies including the U.K. and France to voice their opposition. “As a mom, as a daughter, there is nothing that I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” Nikki Haley said. “But we have to be realistic.”
For those participating, “You have to ask yourself, are they looking out for their people? Do they really understand the threats that we have?” she said, adding that almost 40 countries are boycotting the conference. She said North Korea would be “cheering” for such a ban and Iran also supports the move because both countries have no intention of complying with it.
Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize early in his presidency in large part for what the award panel called his “vision of, and work for, a world without nuclear weapons.” But he couldn’t deliver on that idealistic goal. While Obama reduced the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile in negotiations with Russia, he also announced a plan to modernize the nation’s nuclear bombs and missiles over 30 years, a move that may cost as much as $1 trillion.
A month after winning election, Mr. Trump said he wanted to increase the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, reversing a decades-long reduction.
“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Mr. Trump wrote in a Dec. 22 Twitter posting. Also in December, Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC, said Mr. Trump told her in a phone call: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
In October, a U.N. resolution calling for a global conference to find a legal process to ban the manufacture, possession, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons passed in a 123-38 vote with 16 abstentions. France, Israel, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S., which have nuclear weapons, all opposed it, while China and India abstained.
“We all believe in the nonproliferation treaty, we all want to move forward,” Haley said.
U.K. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said negotiations for the ban wouldn’t lead to “effective progress to global nuclear disarmament,” adding that instead there should be a “step-by-step approach.”
Japan, caught between its position as the only country to have suffered atomic attacks and its reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for deterrence, said it was sending bureaucrats to the meeting but wouldn’t take part in future negotiations. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan would focus on frameworks that bring together nuclear and non-nuclear states.
The world has already introduced bans on the use of biological and chemical weapons, land mines and cluster bombs, said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
“The fact that the Trump administration needs to protest this treaty is proof” it wants to legitimize “weapons designed to destroy whole cities,” Fihn said. “It is disappointing some countries are willing to stand with Trump and against the laws of war.”
Opposing the call for a nuclear-free world is awkward for world powers that are trying to curb the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.
“We would all love to see the day when nuclear weapons were no longer needed,” Haley said in a message on her Twitter account last week along with photographs of a meeting with like-minded ambassadors. “However, to ban nuclear weapons now would make us and our allies more vulnerable, and would strengthen bad actors like North Korea and Iran who would not abide by it.”