The international treaty banning nuclear weapons was ratified by a 50e country, announced Saturday the UN, which allows the entry into force in 90 days of this text that its promoters consider historic. Although the treaty has not been signed by the main holders of atomic weapons, pro-abolition activists hope that its entry into force will be more than symbolic. It was Honduras that became the 50e country to have ratified the treaty, number from which the text enters into force.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres celebrated the event. It is “the culmination of a global movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons,” according to a statement from its spokesperson. “This represents an important commitment towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the top priority of the United Nations in the field of disarmament,” the statement added.
A “historic” progress
Non-governmental organizations also welcomed the event, including the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This NGO, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for its role in drafting the treaty, hailed “historic” progress. “Today is a victory for humanity and the promise of a more secure future,” said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a statement. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons prohibits the use, development, production, testing, stationing, stockpiling and threat of use of such weapons. It was approved by the United Nations General Assembly in July 2017 with the support of 122 countries. And it has now been signed by 84 countries.
Among those who have recently ratified are Nigeria, Malaysia, Ireland, Malta, Tuvalu. After the 50e ratification, that of Honduras, the treaty must enter into force on January 22, 2021, announced the UN. But the main countries with nuclear weapons, including the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, have not signed it. Pro-abolition activists hope its ratification will have the same impact as previous international treaties banning landmines and cluster munitions: stigmatizing the possession and use of nuclear weapons, which could lead to behavior change even from non-signatory countries.
Reluctance of the most armed
Nuclear-weapon states, for their part, claim that their arsenals serve as a deterrent and say they are committed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to prevent the dissemination of nuclear weapons to other countries. “Too many people accept nuclear weapons as inevitable components of the international security architecture,” said Peter Maurer. “The nuclear weapons ban treaty allows us to imagine a world free from these inhuman weapons as an achievable goal,” he added.
According to ICAN, “we can expect companies to stop producing nuclear weapons and financial institutions to stop investing in companies that produce nuclear weapons.” ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn hailed “a new chapter in nuclear disarmament”. “Decades of activism have achieved what many thought was impossible: nuclear weapons are banned,” she said. “With this success, we have taken an important step towards our goal of a world without atomic weapons”, wrote on Twitter the Austrian conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz, recalling the “decisive role” of his country alongside other nations for defend this text.
A symbolic step
This step, for the moment extremely symbolic, takes place in a context of strong tensions on the issue of disarmament. The Treaty on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) signed in 1987 between Washington and Moscow, which resulted in the destruction of around 2,700 missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, has been de facto dead since 2019, to the chagrin Europeans. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of it after accusing Russia of not respecting it.
Since then, the US-Russian New Start treaty concluded in 2010, which expires in early 2021, is considered the last nuclear deal still in force, containing the arsenals of the two countries below their Cold War peaks. The two countries have just agreed on the principle of a one-year extension, time to settle the substantive issues.