…in spite of Trump’s best efforts to derail it. The UN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has received its 50th ratification and will enter into international law after 90 days. It constitutes a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons and other related activity and its list of prohibitions includes the use, stockpiling, testing, production, manufacture, stationing and installation of nuclear weapons. This is a significant development – for the first time, legislation exists which rules nuclear weapons to be illegal. Previous international legal opinion which came from the World Court in 1996 indicated that under virtually all circumstances it would be illegal to use them – but not to possess them.
As we approached the critical number of 50 ratifications last week, it was widely reported that the US was urging ratifying states to withdraw their support, to prevent the Treaty coming into force. A letter to signatories obtained by The Associated Press said that the five original nuclear powers – the US, Russia, China, Britain and France – and America’s NATO allies, ‘stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions’ of the treaty. The letter repeated the mantra that has issued from hostile governments over the past few years – that the TPNW is a danger to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the supposed cornerstone of global non-proliferation efforts.
This is nonsense. The NPT calls for the complete disarmament of nuclear weapons but includes no practical plan to make that happen. In the 50 years of its existence, any initiatives towards disarmament have hit the brick wall of nuclear state opposition. It is precisely because of the failure of the NPT that much of the global community has brought forward the TPNW as a nuclear ban treaty. It’s a bit rich of the nuclear weapons states to claim to defend the NPT when they have effectively sabotaged it. And though they have been dismissive of the TPNW it’s clear they are now rattled by it.
The process that has led to this momentous achievement has been underway for almost a decade, to make nuclear weapons illegal under international law, to ban them in the same way that chemical and biological weapons are outlawed. This process has now come to fruition.
Of course, there are limits and obstacles to overcome before the Treaty fulfils its transformative capacity. Only those states that have ratified the Treaty are bound by it – although there are likely to be wider restraints as a result – and the nuclear weapons states largely boycotted its negotiating process. Indeed, the US and UK ambassadors went so far as to stand outside the UN conference room denouncing the talks that were underway and there is clear evidence that even before last week’s letter, the US and UK pressurised other states, notably including potentially sympathetic NATO members, not to engage with the TPNW.
Yet in the face of all these attempts to prevent it, the Treaty has achieved its 50 ratifications and will now enter international law in January.
So the TPNW and its imminent entry into force is very good news – for the collective determination of the global majority of peoples and states, and as a step towards dealing with the very real threat of nuclear annihilation that hangs over all our heads. It’s a welcome antidote to Trump’s trashing of treaties; now the real work commences to make it impact on the nuclear weapons states – including our own.