UNITED NATIONS — More than 120 countries are expected to adopt the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons Friday despite a boycott by all nuclear-armed nations, including the United States, which has pointed to North Korea's escalating nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Elayne Whyte Gomez, president of the U.N. conference that has been negotiating the legally binding treaty, told reporters Thursday that "we are on the verge of adopting the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons."
"This will be a historic moment and it will be the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty to be concluded in more than 20 years," she said. "The world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years," since the use of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 at the end of World War II.
Whyte Gomez, Costa Rica's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said she hoped the treaty would be adopted by consensus, but she said the rules of procedure for the conference also allowed for a vote.
In December, U.N. member states overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for negotiations on a treaty that would outlaw nuclear weapons, despite strong opposition from nuclear-armed nations and their allies who refused to participate in the talks.
Whyte Gomez said 129 countries signed up to take part in drafting the treaty, which represents two-thirds of the U.N.'s 193 member states. But all nuclear states and NATO members have boycotted the negotiations except for the Netherlands, which has U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory and was urged by its parliament to send a delegation to the negotiations.
Following Wednesday's final review of the text after nearly three weeks of intense negotiations, Whyte Gomez said she was "convinced that we have achieved a general agreement on a robust and comprehensive prohibition on nuclear weapons."
"I am really confident that the final draft has captured the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of those participating in the conference, including civil society," she said.
The final draft treaty requires all countries that ratify "never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." It also bans any transfer or use of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices — and the threat to use such weapons.
Retired British Royal Navy Cmdr. Rob Green, who flew nuclear strike aircraft and is now co-director of the Peace Foundation's Disarmament and Security Center, said at a news conference Wednesday that "the heart of this treaty" was the prohibition on threatening to use nuclear weapons.
Richard Moyes, managing director of Article 36, a British-based organization that works to prevent harm from nuclear and other weapons, said it isn't plausible to think the world can maintain security based on mutually threatening to incinerate hundreds of thousands of people with nuclear weapons "when we know there have been near-misses, errors of judgment — there's been accidents — and there's a degree of instability in the political leadership in the world."
But not one of the nine countries believed to possess nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — is supporting the treaty.
The United States and other nuclear powers instead want to strengthen and reaffirm the nearly half-century-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of global nonproliferation efforts.
That pact sought to prevent the spread of atomic arms beyond the five original weapons powers — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China. It requires non-nuclear signatory nations to not pursue atomic weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five powers to move toward nuclear disarmament and to guarantee non-nuclear states access to peaceful nuclear technology for producing energy.
North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests, including its July 3 launch, have become a timely argument for proponents and opponents of the treaty to ban atomic weapons.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said 15,000 nuclear weapons around the world have not managed to deter Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions and a new approach is needed starting with prohibition as the first step to eliminate nuclear arms.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said March 27 when talks began on the nuclear weapons ban treaty that "there is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic."
She asked if anyone thought North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons, stressing that North Koreans would be "cheering" a nuclear ban treaty — and Americans and others would be at risk.