UNITED NATIONS -- More than 40 countries signed a landmark treaty banning nuclear weapons Wednesday, propelling forward the first multilateral disarmament agreement in two decades as world leaders take the stage of the General Assembly to address the North Korean nuclear threat.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the treaty as "a milestone," calling it "an important step toward the universally-held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons."
Noting that nuclear-armed states possess an estimated 15,000 nuclear weapons, Guterres expressed hope that the treaty would re-invigorate disarmament efforts.
"Now we must continue along the hard road towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals," Guterres told representatives from the 42 countries that, in signing, pledged never to acquire, develop, test, use or threaten to use such weapons.
But while further signatures are expected to come later in the day, no state possessing nuclear weapons, nor any country involved in a military alliance with a nuclear weapon state, is expected to sign.
"We need to keep working, we need to keep talking, and we need to do it in a way which takes into account our global security environment," General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak said at the signing, urging further disarmament efforts that include the nuclear-armed states as well.
Nuclear powers like the U.S. have argued that a ban on nuclear weapons is not feasible in the current security environment, holding that a strategy of nuclear deterrence is necessary to counter security threats.
At the start of nuclear ban negotiations in New York, America's U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley led a public protest against the talks, suggesting that a ban is unrealistic as North Korea would never give up its nuclear weapons.
North Korea has been subject to international condemnation for its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The U.N. Security Council agreed to fresh sanctions against Pyongyang after its sixth nuclear test earlier this month.
Many world leaders have dedicated a portion of their speeches to the General Assembly this week to addressing the North Korean nuclear threat. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump warned that the U.S. would "totally destroy North Korea" if forced to defend itself or its allies.
Japan, the only nation ever to suffer nuclear attacks, did not sign the document out of deference to the U.S., on which the country relies for military protection. Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, along with representatives of Japanese nuclear bomb victims, were at the signing.
The treaty is slated to take effect 90 days after at least 50 nations have ratified it. Only a few countries are expected to submit their ratification Wednesday.