​New anti-nuclear treaty legitimises the fight for disarmament

French and German anti-nuclear activists gather to form a giant STOP with umbrellas in front of the Strasbourg cathedral in France in October 2012. (Frederick Florin, AFP)

French and German anti-nuclear activists gather to form a giant STOP with umbrellas in front of the Strasbourg cathedral in France in October 2012. (Frederick Florin, AFP)

The international community took a historic step on July 7, when it adopted the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, after a negotiating process that would not have been possible without the leadership of Brazil, South Africa, Austria, Ireland, Mexico and Nigeria.

These countries were joined by a great majority of the UN member states, which understood the humanitarian dimension of the initiative and actively participated in the negotiating conference with constructive spirit and responsibility, to fill an unacceptable legal gap in the field of disarmament.

Legally binding instruments had already banned chemical and bacteriological weapons. But nuclear weapons, capable of destroying life on the planet, lacked a prohibition treaty. This gap, which we now begin to fill, will cease to exist when the instrument reaches the required 50 ratifications for its entry into force.

The agreement was a victory for the UN and multilateralism, according to which dialogue among states is the most adequate and legitimate way to find solutions to global problems.
The instrument draws on previous conferences, which helped raise awareness among governments and society of the effect of detonating a nuclear weapon, the indiscriminate destruction that is inconsistent with the rules of humanitarian law that govern the way states conduct hostilities and with the very notion of human dignity.

Despite resistance from states with nuclear weapons, it was possible to adopt a treaty that reflects the aspirations of most of the international community: to ban the existence of such weapons. It is an important complement to article 6 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which established the obligation of nuclear disarmament.

This unprecedented step must be ascribed to the persistence of those who, for the past 70 years, have kept alive the hope of a world without nuclear weapons. They are a diverse coalition of governments and civil society actors who did not resign themselves to the existence of such weapons. Brazil is proud to integrate this coalition, including in view of the constitutional mandate. It helped convene the negotiating conference and has undertaken efforts to overcome obstacles that could have thwarted the initiative.

Today we can celebrate this victory. It is a moment of rejoicing rather than self-congratulation. We are aware the path to universalisation of the treaty is long and will require enduring efforts of persuasion.

In addition to constituting an ethical and moral duty, the prohibition of nuclear weapons will help undo the justification for maintaining current arsenals. Therefore, it has a clear political significance: it legitimises the fight for disarmament, particularly by nuclear-armed states.

In a world marred by conflicts and tensions, the treaty is a breath of fresh air. It demonstrates that with courage and goodwill, it is possible to build a better, fairer, more rational and secure world for present and future generations.

Aloysio Nunes Ferreira is the foreign affairs minister of Brazil.

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