With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry invoking North Korea's latest nuclear explosion as a "reckless act of provocation," the U.N. Security Council on Friday approved a resolution urging quick global implementation of a treaty that would ban tests of such weapons.
Kerry said universal adoption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would result in a "safer, more secure, and more peaceful planet," as the United States and 18 other council members approved the resolution, with none opposed and Egypt abstaining.
Security Council approval comes as the Comprehensive Test Ban Organization set up to administer the treaty marks its 20th anniversary. CTBO chief Lassina Zerbo welcomed the vote, telling The Associated Press that "it will remind the international community ... that we have to finish what we started 20 years ago."
European Union foreign policy coordinator Federica Mogherini said approval is "an important step" toward global enactment of the treaty. The Washington-based Arms Control Association called it "a very important reaffirmation of the global taboo against nuclear weapon test explosions and strong call for ratification" by key nations.
Yet Friday's move was mostly symbolic.
The U.S. remains one of the holdouts among the 44 countries that are designated "nuclear capable" — the United States, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan — that still need to ratify the treaty for it to enter into force.
North Korean leaders appeared in no mood to ratify any time soon, with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho vowing his country will expand its nuclear capabilities in defiance of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, he condemned Washington for flying two supersonic bombers over South Korea earlier this week, vowing "the United States will have to face tremendous consequences beyond imagination."
North Korea, he said, "will continue to take measures to strengthen its national nuclear armed forces in both quantity and quality in order to defend the dignity and right to existence and safeguard genuine peace vis-a-vis the increased nuclear war threat of the United States."
Even without ratification, the U.N.'s CTBTO already polices the world for any sign of nuclear tests with a global network of monitoring stations that pick up seismic signals and gases released by such events. But until those eight countries embrace the treaty it is supposed to administer, it cannot go on site to inspect for tests.
The White House has lobbied Congress for support since anti-treaty minded Republicans rejected ratification 17 years ago under President Bill Clinton, with Senate approval falling far short of the required two-thirds majority. But opposition remains strong, although advocates say that computer modeling and other cutting edge techniques make real testing obsolete.
The treaty "should remain dead," Sens. Tom Cotton and James Lankford declared this year, arguing that it would allow U.S. rivals to cheat while diminishing America's security in an increasingly hostile world.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, whose country has already ratified the treaty, said he hoped the next U.S. administration will demonstrate "more strength" in pushing for ratification.
Kerry said the U.S. administration already is doing what it can to educate new members of the Senate that "in today's modern world of virtual capacity and of computerization and artificial intelligence, we don't need to blow up weapons to know what we can do."
He said global implementation remained possible, citing the nuclear deal with Iran as an example of an achievement that "everybody thought was ... improbable." And Kerry focused on this month's North Korean bomb test — "a dangerous and reckless act of provocation" — in arguing for the need of a universally honored test ban treaty.