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Nuclear weapons ban enters into force

Advocates of world peace celebrated "EntryIntoForceDay" as the first legally binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons finally became international law.

ICAN campaigners dress as nuclear bombs in 2016
ICAN campaigners dress as nuclear bombs in 2016 (AN/Tim Wright)

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — International organizations and other advocates of world peace celebrated "EntryIntoForceDay" as the first legally binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons, approved by 122 nations in 2017, became international law on Friday.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, known as the TPNW, gained the minimum 50 ratifications that it needed to take effect when Honduras ratified it a day after Jamaica and Nauru did the same in October. The 50th ratification also coincided with the 75th anniversary of the U.N. Charter’s ratification on October 24, 1945 — the day the world body was launched to prevent another world war.

That set in motion a 90-day countdown until the TPNW finally went on the books, though without the support of the world’s nuclear-armed nations, raising questions about its effectiveness. The TPNW now has 52 ratifications, most recently including Benin and Cambodia. Among those leading the celebrations were international organizations such as the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work pushing the treaty to passage.

"GOOD MORNING WORLD! Today, nuclear weapons are banned," ICAN'S executive director, Beatrice Fihn, said on Twitter. "There’s no going back from this point, the #nuclearban will only grow stronger from now on. The ban is the future." She said it was “a really big day for international law, for the United Nations and for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

In 2017, 122 countries in the 193-nation United Nations General Assembly approved the treaty, launching the process of ratification. Survivors of atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 at the end of World War II welcomed its passage, as did treaty proponents who described it as a useful policy signal towards humanitarian and peace goals in a world of rising nuclear arms risks.

Under the treaty, global peace advocates can for the first time argue that any nation possessing nuclear arms has aims incompatible with international law. The treaty requires all nations that ratify it to ban any transfer or use of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices, and to renounce taking any step to "develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

Honoring 'a moral force'

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also hailed the treaty‘s entry into force as a major milestone and tribute to survivors of nuclear explosions and tests. He called the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than two decades an important step towards the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, and "a strong demonstration of support" for multilateral approaches to nuclear disarmament.

"The survivors of nuclear explosions and nuclear tests offered tragic testimonies and were a moral force behind the treaty.  Entry into force is a tribute to their enduring advocacy," Guterres said in a videotaped message.

"Nuclear weapons pose growing dangers and the world needs urgent action to ensure their elimination and prevent the catastrophic human and environmental consequences any use would cause," he said. "The elimination of nuclear weapons remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations. I call on all states to work together to realize this ambition to advance common security and collective safety."

The TPNW will at least serve as a moral signpost even though none of the nine countries that are known or believed to have nuclear weapons — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States — joined or ratified it. The 30-nation NATO alliance also was opposed.

Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — all five permanent, veto-wielding members of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council — have voiced opposition to the treaty's potential legal repercussions on the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a cornerstone of global nonproliferation. Even Japan, which alone has borne the brunt of a nuclear attack, declined to join the treaty because it believes such a ban cannot realistically be imposed.

But while celebrating the entry into force of the TPNW, the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor, published by one of ICAN's partners, Norwegian People’s Aid, said that all nations must communicate "a clear no" to nuclear weapons. "Now starts the hard work of building consensus around the treaty," the Monitor tweeted.