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.
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