Paving the way to nuclear disarmament

The UN treaty banning nuclear weapons is set to enter into force in January 2021. [Photo: KEYSTONE/AP RU-RTR Russian Television]

Honduras became the 50th state to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), on Saturday bringing the world one step closer to nuclear disarmament, according to the treaty’s backers. The agreement is to come into effect on 22 January, the UN said.

UN Secretary General António Guterres said it will be “the culmination of a worldwide movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”

Why is it important? The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US in 1945 killed around 215,000 people,  causing lifelong consequences for survivors and lasting effects on the environment due to radiation.

The TPNW attempts to completely ban nuclear weapons. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a global civil society coalition advocating for the treaty’s ratification, which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, “it prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities.”

A long way to go. Despite the treaty’s enactment being a milestone, none of the five main nuclear-armed states including the US, Russia, China, the UK, and France have signed the accord. India, Pakistan and Israel, which are known to have nuclear warheads, have yet to ratify it as well. In Europe, only Austria, San Marino, and Malta have ratified it.

The US is even leading efforts to urge signatories to withdraw from the agreement. According to a letter sent by the Trump administration to signatories and obtained by the Associated Press, the five nuclear powers and America’s NATO allies “stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions” of the treaty.

“Although we recognise your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), we believe that you have made a strategic error and should withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession,” the letter states.

While nuclear powers argue that these weapons serve as a deterrent, campaigners hope that the treaty’s enactment will have its own deterrent effect by stigmatising the acquisition or use of these weapons even in countries that have not signed the treaty.

“We can expect companies to stop producing nuclear weapons and financial institutions to stop investing in nuclear weapon-producing companies,”  ICAN said in a statement.