50 Nations Declare an End to Nuclear Weapons

October 26th, 2020 - by Greg Mello / Los Alamos Study Group

Historic Milestone: Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty to Enter into Force in 90 Days

Greg Mello / Los Alamos Study Group

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (October 25, 2020) — Yesterday, Honduras formally joined 49 other states parties in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, triggering entry into force in 90 days. 

The Treaty prohibits signatory states from conducting or allowing a wide range of nuclear weapons activities, including: developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, and deploying; transferring to others or receiving from others; using or threatening to use nuclear weapons; allowing any stationing or deployment of nuclear weapons on national territories; and assisting, encouraging, or inducing anyone in any of these prohibited acts. 

This Treaty outlaws nuclear deterrence. 

The Treaty also requires signatory states to develop “legal, administrative and other measures, including the imposition of penal sanctions, to prevent and suppress” any of these prohibited activities. 

Treaty negotiations were concluded on July 7, 2017 with the endorsement of 122 of the 124 states involved. Negotiations had begun in March of that year over strident protests and a boycott from the Obama Administration which, along with its allies, had worked throughout the previous three years to prevent any such negotiation. The Trump Administration has recently followed in the same track, urging states to withdraw from the Treaty as entry into force drew near. 

The Treaty is the result of years of efforts by civil society and leading states, which in turn built upon decades of prior efforts. 

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a network of hundreds of civil society organizations including the Los Alamos Study Group, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for this achievement. 

In addition to the first fifty states parties, an additional 34 states have signed the Treaty, formally indicating their intent to ratify. 

The Treaty begins with a Preamble that reflects the moral, legal, and scientific concerns that brought nations together to produce this Treaty:

Basing themselves on the principles and rules of international humanitarian law, in particular the principle that the right of parties to an armed conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited, the rule of distinction, the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks, the rules on proportionality and precautions in attack, the prohibition on the use of weapons of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, and the rules for the protection of the natural environment,

Considering that any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, in particular the principles and rules of international humanitarian law,

Reaffirming that any use of nuclear weapons would also be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience,
Concerned by the slow pace of nuclear disarmament, the continued reliance on nuclear weapons in military and security concepts, doctrines and policies, and the waste of economic and human resources on programmes for the production, maintenance and modernization of nuclear weapons….

How Does This Ruling Affect the Nuclear States and NATO?

Greg Mello / Los Alamos Study Group

(October 25, 2020) — Many people not involved in this process might wonder how this Treaty could possibly affect nuclear armed states, which are unlikely to sign it. In a warning to NATO members, frantically urging a total boycott of Treaty negotiations, the United States expressed its fear that a Treaty such as this would undercut European and Western Pacific nuclear alliances. The primary purpose of this Treaty is indeed to stigmatize and dismantle structures of nuclear deterrence, as Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has long required. 

It is difficult to overstate the accomplishment represented by this Treaty. It makes a sea-change in nuclear affairs, the effect of which will be felt only over time and with further yeoman efforts. It is a real milestone accomplishment in support of human civilization, an historic step in bringing the age of nuclear terror to an end.

What follows now depends on many factors, but the Treaty, now about to enter into force, is a righteous thumb on history’s scales. It makes a sea-change in nuclear affairs. 

At American University on June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy called for ‘a new effort to achieve world law — a new context for world discussions,’ to end the Cold War and build the institutions of peace. 

This Treaty, from its very first day — and now, as it has passed this important milestone — is already a cornerstone in that law of peace. 

This Treaty, which finally bans the Bomb is part of that new ‘world law,’ that ‘new context.’ 

‘Our primary long range interest,” Kennedy went on to say, ‘is general and complete disarmament — designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms.’ 

That is our keen interest as well. 

‘It is no longer a choice, my friends,’ said Dr. King, ‘between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.’

This Treaty begins to fulfill, as no prior multilateral treaty has done, the mandate of the very first General Assembly resolution, in 1946 [text and supporting statements here]. 

First and foremost, the universal norms embodied in this Treaty are a political, legal, and moral counterweight against nuclear war. The danger of nuclear war is high and it is growing. 

For signatories, the Treaty establishes new treaty (“conventional”) law. For them it also reaffirms existing conventional law, for example in nuclear free zone treaties and in the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). 

The Treaty goes farther than this, however. Its legal implications affect more than just its signatories. The Treaty references and explicitly applies to nuclear weapons a large and long-standing body of humanitarian law — both conventional law and universal “customary” law — stating that any use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons is illegal and forbidden — by implication universally and not just for signatories. In the language of its negotiators, the purpose of the Treaty is to eliminate, for all states, any alleged or perceived “legal gap” in existing law that would allow states to retain, use, or threaten with nuclear weapons. 

The process of state accessions, with renewed debate around the world about the role of nuclear weapons in human and environmental security, is not a process [that[ favors nuclear weapons. The nuclear ban is less a piece of paper than a process of developing new ways of thinking about security. 

“Now is the time to denuclearize if not abolish NATO and bring home US nuclear weapons — we are the only country that bases nuclear weapons on foreign soil. We must quickly reorient security debates toward the humanitarian and environmental crises engulfing the whole world, which could overwhelm and defeat all human purposes — and even human existence.

Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group, 2901 Summit Place NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106. 505-265-1200 office; 505-577-8563 cell

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The Signatories

  • Algeria 20 September 2017
  • Angola 27 September 2018
  • Antigua and Barbuda 26 September 2018
  • Austria 20 September 2017
  • Bangladesh 20 September 2017
  • Belize 6 February 2020
  • Benin 26 September 2018
  • Bolivia 16 April 2018
  • Botswana 26 September 2019
  • Brazil 20 September 2017
  • Brunei 26 September 2018
  • Cabo Verde 20 September 2017
  • Cambodia 9 January 2019
  • Central African Republic 20 September 2017
  • Chile 20 September 2017
  • Colombia 3 August 2018
  • Comoros 20 September 2017
  • Congo Republic 20 September 2017
  • Costa Rica 20 September 2017
  • Côte d’Ivoire 20 September 2017
  • Cuba 20 September 2017
  • Democratic Republic of Congo 20 September 2017
  • Dominica 26 September 2019
  • Dominican Republic 7 June 2018
  • Ecuador 20 September 2017
  • El Salvador 20 September 2017
  • Fiji 20 September 2017
  • The Gambia 20 September 2017
  • Ghana 20 September 2017
  • Grenada 26 September 2019
  • Guatemala 20 September 2017
  • Guinea-Bissau 26 September 2018
  • Guyana 20 September 2017
  • Holy See 20 September 2017
  • Honduras 20 September 2017
  • Indonesia 20 September 2017
  • Ireland 20 September 2017
  • Jamaica 8 December 2017
  • Kazakhstan 2 March 2018
  • Kiribati 20 September 2017
  • Laos 21 September 2017
  • Lesotho 26 September 2019
  • Libya 20 September 2017
  • Liechtenstein 20 September 2017
  • Madagascar 20 September 2017
  • Malawi 20 September 2017
  • Malaysia 20 September 2017
  • Maldives 26 September 2019
  • Malta 25 August 2020
  • Mexico 20 September 2017
  • Mozambique 18 August 2020
  • Myanmar 26 September 2018
  • Namibia 8 December 2017
  • Nauru 22 November 2019
  • Nepal 20 September 2017
  • New Zealand 20 September 2017
  • Nicaragua2 2 September 2017
  • Nigeria 20 September 2017
  • Palau 20 September 2017
  • Palestine 20 September 2017
  • Panama 20 September 2017
  • Paraguay 20 September 2017
  • Peru 20 September 2017
  • Philippines 20 September 2017
  • Saint Kitts & Nevis 26 September 2019
  • Saint Lucia 27 September 2018
  • Saint Vincent & Grenadines 8 December 2017
  • Samoa 20 September 2017
  • San Marino 20 September 2017
  • Sao Tome & Principe 20 September 2017
  • Seychelles 26 September 2018
  • South Africa 20 September 2017
  • Sudan 22 July 2020
  • Tanzania 26 September 2019
  • Thailand 20 September 2017
  • Timor-Leste 26 September 2018
  • Togo 20 September 2017
  • Trinidad and Tobago 26 September 2019
  • Tuvalu 20 September 2017
  • Uruguay 20 September 2017
  • Vanuatu 20 September 2017
  • Venezuela 20 September 2017
  • Vietnam 22 September 2017
  • Zambia 26 September 2019