IPPNW, PEAC Institute and CoNGO welcome 50 states ratifications and imminent entry into legal force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

16 November 2020

Always immoral, but now a new treaty bans nuclear weapons.

On October 24, 2020, exactly 75 years from the day the United Nations opened for business, Honduras became the 50th member state to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). By crossing the 50 ratifications threshold, this means that in 90 days, on 22 January 2021, the treaty will enter into legal force and become international law, binding on the states that have already ratified it and all those which subsequently ratify the treaty.

Outlawing these genocidal weapons, which International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Peace, Education, Art, Communication (PEAC) Institute have been working as partner organizations in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)—now joined by the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) in this statement, representing the will of nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations worldwide, is an essential step toward the prevention of nuclear war. The TPNW’s entry into force is a massive win for planetary health.

The growing danger

The treaty is especially needed in the face of the real and present danger of nuclear war climbing higher than ever. All nine nuclear-armed states are modernizing their arsenals with new, smaller, and more accurate weapons, and some of their leaders are making irresponsible explicit nuclear threats. The cold war is resurgent—hard-won treaties reducing nuclear weapons numbers and types are being trashed while nothing is being negotiated to replace them, let alone build on them. We expect that the incoming Joe Biden administration, in cooperation with the administration of Vladimir Putin, will not allow the New START Treaty to expire before 5 February 2021, narrowly averting a situation where, for the first time since 1972, there would have been no treaty constraints on Russian and US nuclear weapons. This close call demonstrates the risky environment we have entered.  Armed conflicts which could trigger nuclear escalation are increasing in a climate-stressed world.  Armed conflicts which could trigger nuclear escalation are increasing in a climate-stressed world. The rapidly evolving threat of cyber-warfare puts nuclear command and control in jeopardy from both nations and terrorist groups. Close to two thousand nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within minutes of a leader’s fateful decision.

The radioactive incineration unleashed by a nuclear war involving even less than 1% of the global nuclear arsenal targeted on cities in one part of the world would be followed by a worldwide nuclear ice age and nuclear famine, putting billions of people in jeopardy.

As medical organizations, including the World Health Organization, International Committee for the Red Cross, the World Medical Association, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, and the International Council of Nurses have confirmed, health and emergency services could not respond substantively to the needs of the victims of even a single nuclear weapon exploded on a city. When there is no cure, prevention is imperative.

Treaties work

A consistent lesson is provided by experience with biological and chemical weapons, antipersonnel landmines, and cluster munitions. Treaties that have codified the rejection of an unacceptable weapon in international law have provided a crucial basis and motivation for the progressive work of eliminating these weapons. Providing one legal standard for all nations has been essential to the substantial progress made in controlling banned weapons. All the weapons subject to treaty prohibition are now less often justified, produced, traded, deployed, and used. No indiscriminate and inhumane weapon has been controlled or eliminated without first being prohibited.

Nine nuclear-armed states, the 30 nuclear-dependent members of NATO, Australia, Japan, and South Korea, appear unlikely to join the TPNW soon. Yet they are already being affected by it, just as some have been influenced by the other treaties banning inhumane weapons, even if they opposed and haven’t joined them. Their hostility to the TPNW and shameful pressure on other states not to support or join it show that the treaty matters, stigmatizes nuclear weapons, and puts them on the wrong side of history. Already the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, major banks, and pension funds have divested from companies manufacturing nuclear weapons. Now that the treaty is entering into force, every responsible financial institution should do the same.

The TPNW fills a gap in international law that for far too long saw the most destructive weapon ever invented, the only weapon which poses an acute existential threat to all humanity and the biosphere, as the only weapon of mass destruction not expressly prohibited under international law.

In a dark time, the TPNW shines a light on the most promising path to free the world from the risk of indiscriminate nuclear violence. The treaty provides a comprehensive and categorical prohibition of nuclear weapons, and the only internationally agreed framework for all nations to fulfill their legal obligation to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Further, the TPNW obliges nations that join to provide long-neglected assistance for the victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and to undertake feasible remediation of environments contaminated by nuclear weapons use and testing.
The NGO community—including humanitarian, development, peace, and human rights organizations worldwide—calls on all states to add their signature and ratify the treaty as a matter of utmost urgency and to faithfully implement it. Time is not on our side, and the TPNW provides our best hope against our worst weapons.

Liberato C. Bautista, President
Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in
Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO)

Rebecca Irby, President
Peace, Education, Art, Communication (PEAC) Institute

Michael Christ, Executive Director
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)