Inside, the nations of the world convened in the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations for the opening session of the conference to negotiate a legally binding ban on nuclear weapons. In a moment that was as symbolic as it is depressing the US ambassador to the United Nations stood outside the meeting room to deliver a statement to the media explaining that the United States had to be “realistic” about nuclear weapons.
Haley began by introducing herself first as a mother, then proceeded to deliver a message that would consign her children to life in a world that stands two and a half minutes from midnight, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock. Haley had no choice; she was speaking for a government that is determined to maintain the world’s largest stockpile on thermonuclear weapons.
Haley reiterated a long-standing and ever less credible assertion that the US wants a world free of nuclear weapons before declaring the United States did not support the ben treaty negotiations. Haley cited North Korea as an example of the threats the United State must be prepared to counter with its nuclear arsenal. Ironically, in taking the position that the United States will not join the ban treaty conference, it joins North Korea outside the community of nations.
The idea of a ban is anathema to the US and other members of the nuclear club for whom nuclear weapons do not meet a defensive military requirement but serve the political purpose of maintaining a status of unchallengeable power. Even more challenging is the idea of the non-nuclear nations feeling empowered to challenge the moral and political right of the nuclear nations to maintain stockpiles of thermonuclear weapons of mass destruction.
The US was joined in its press statement by Britain and France, allies in the nuclear-armed club.
Immediately following Ambassador Haley’s statement, Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), responded with a quick press conference in Conference Room B, headquarters for Nongovernmental Organizations at the UN.
“This press event indicates how threatened they feel,” said Fihn. “We are sorry to see countries with such strong human rights records take this stand with regard to nuclear weapons.
“The nuclear ban treaty will make it clear that the world has moved on. The ban treaty is backed by most countries, by scientists, by religious leaders, backed by civil society. These three states, the US, Britain and France should not stand against this treaty.
“The consequences of nuclear weapons will spread beyond borders. States without nuclear weapons are also concerned about their security. We want to prohibit nuclear weapons to protect our security.
“As long as you argue that you need nuclear weapons for your security—if they important for the most powerful countries in the world, why wouldn’t they be important for other countries? As an international community, we are moving beyond that kind of defense. It is no longer acceptable to level entire cities and destroy their citizens. In NATO, each country is free to formulate its foreign policy. NATO is committed to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons; we believe participating in this conference is a way for responsible states to address this increasing threat.”
Ira Helfland, speaking for International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said, “These weapons do not provide security even to the nations that possess them. These are suicide bombs. If these weapons are used, the nation that uses them will suffer a response that destroys them.”
Responding to a reporter’s question, Fihn said, “We do not require unilateral disarmament; it is a long process; we see this as a necessary first step.