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Nuclear Weapons : The United Nations

The United Nations was formed in October 1945 and the preamble to the UN Charter reads as follows:

We the peoples of the United Nations determined

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

And for these ends

  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

Have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims

The first meeting of the General Assembly (then of 51 countries) took place in London in January 1946. The very first resolution adopted called for the elimination of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction.

The Security Council (UNSC) is the body responsible for maintaining international peace and security. A representative from each member of the UNSC has to be present at the UN in New York at all times. This is the body that has to deal with international conflicts. When you hear of resolutions being put to the UN asking for support for military intervention, etc, this is where it goes. Under the UN Charter, all members agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the UNSC so it is a very important group.

There are 15 members of the UNSC, ten are elected by the General Assembly for terms of two years. The other five members are permanent. They are US, UK, France, Russia and China. These five also happen to be the world’s only possessors of nuclear weapons within the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. To many this sends out a signal that legitimises nuclear weapons. After all, it means that if you have nuclear weapons you get to make all the decisions. Particularly when voting on serious issues. For procedural matters, nine members need to agree. But on the far more serious issues like military action, those nine votes must include all five of the permanent members. Although this is known officially as the ‘great power unanimity’, it is, effectively, a veto.

So a country that has nuclear weapons can stop a resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Not surprisingly, there are many who want to see the UN reformed.

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