The U.N. Treaty
on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
On 7 July 2017 – following a decade of advocacy by ICAN and its partners – an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations adopted a landmark global agreement to ban nuclear weapons, known officially as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It will enter into legal force once 50 nations have signed and ratified it.
Prior to the treaty’s adoption, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to a comprehensive ban, despite their catastrophic, widespread and persistent humanitarian and environmental consequences. The new agreement fills a significant gap in international law.
It prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities.
A nation that possesses nuclear weapons may join the treaty, so long as it agrees to destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan. Similarly, a nation that hosts another nation’s nuclear weapons on its territory may join, so long as it agrees to remove them by a specified deadline.
Nations are obliged to provide assistance to all victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons and to take measures for the remediation of contaminated environments. The preamble acknowledges the harm suffered as a result of nuclear weapons, including the disproportionate impact on women and girls, and on indigenous peoples around the world.
The treaty was negotiated at the United Nations headquarters in New York in March, June and July 2017, with the participation of more than 135 nations, as well as members of civil society. It opened for signature on 20 September 2017. It is permanent in nature and will be legally binding on those nations that join it.
Why a ban?
Nuclear weapons are the most inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. That is why it is time to end them, before they end us.
Nuclear weapons are the most inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. They have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that span decades and cross generations; they breed fear and mistrust among nations, as some governments can threaten to wipe out entire cities in a heartbeat; the high cost of their production, maintenance and modernisation diverts public funds from health care, education, disaster relief and other vital services. Banning these immoral, inhumane weapons under international law was a critical step along the path to ending them.
With the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on July 7th, 2017, the world's majority took a critical step towards making that nuclear-weapon-free future a reality.
Today, Sunday, September 26, 2021, marks the United Nations International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. The United Nations has been working toward achieving global nuclear disarmament since the organization’s inception; it was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946, with a mandate to make specific proposals for the elimination of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction. The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons has been observed annually since 2014, serving as a tool to enhance public awareness and education about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons and the necessity for their total elimination. In 2013, the year the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons was introduced, the President of the General Assembly noted that a “renewed international focus on the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons has led to a reinvigoration of international nuclear disarmament efforts.”
April 30, 2021: Representative Ilhan Omar today submitted her signed ICAN Pledge to ICAN, becoming the eleventh member of the US Congress to sign the Pledge. Rep. Omar represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the US House of Representatives. Rep Omar also co-sponsor the H.R.2850 Nuclear Abolition and Economic Conversion Act of 2021 that Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton reintroduced on April 26, 2021.
“Remember that when your congressional members pitch expanding nuclear weapons production as jobs programs; you can respond that they are illegal. Tell them they should show visionary leadership and moral courage by helping to create cleanup and green energy jobs instead.”
By: / Santa Fe New Mexican
Jan. 22 will go down in history as the day when the tide turned against nuclear weapons. That was the day when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into effect, signed by 122 countries.
It specifically prohibits nations from developing, testing, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons and assisting others in doing so. It reinforces existing international law obligating all states not to test, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.
What immediate impact will it have here, given that the Los Alamos National Laboratory is the birthplace of nuclear weapons and now sole producer of plutonium pit triggers for the expanding U.S. stockpile? The brutally honest answer is no impact, not immediately.
But think about it. Nuclear weapons are now internationally illegal, just as horrendous chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction have long been. But nuclear weapons are the worst WMDs, potentially killing millions more while causing radioactive fallout and famine-inducing nuclear winter. Ask your New Mexican congressional members to explain why nuclear weapons shouldn’t be internationally banned just like chemical and biological WMDs, all of which cause agonizing, indiscriminate suffering and death.
“During my time serving in the Reagan administration, I came to realize that the only nuclear strategy we had was massive retaliation, which would have made the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem almost trivial.”
About three years ago, in November 2017, I was honored to be one of about a 100 people invited by the Vatican to an international symposium, “Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament.” It was the first global gathering conducted after 120 nations at the United Nations approved the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
This treaty, which is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, was adopted by the U.N. on July 7, 2017, and needed 50 countries to ratify it in order for it to come into force. The purpose for the treaty was to get world leaders and citizens to consider nuclear weapons as immoral and illegal as chemical and biological weapons, whose use the U.N had previously prohibited.
Pope Francis himself was very invested in the issue. He gave the keynote address in which he condemned not only the threat of their use, but also the possession of nuclear weapons and warned that nuclear deterrence policies offered a false sense of security. He also personally thanked each of the attendees individually.
On 7 July 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Just over three years later, the TPNW reached the 50 national ratifications needed to become international law. The treaty will enter into force on January 22, 2012, and nuclear weapons will become officially illegal under international law. This day will represent a culmination of years of campaigning for nuclear weapons to be reframed as a collective humanitarian problem, one which requires prohibition and elimination, rather than a national military defense asset that needs to be managed and even upgraded.
“The radioactive incineration unleashed by 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’s lives in jeopardy.”
On Saturday 24 October 2020, Honduras brought the number of nations ratifying the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (‘TPNW’) to 50. This milestone means that after 90 days have elapsed, on 22 January 2021, the treaty will enter into legal force, becoming international law and binding on the states that have ratified it, and all those which ratify in future. The treaty will, however, stigmatise nuclear weapons for all states, whether or not they join the treaty.
It is fitting that 24 October also marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN, ‘determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’. The very first resolution of the UN General Assembly, on 24 January 1946, established a commission to develop a plan for the elimination of atomic weapons.
This is a historic achievement and an enormous win for humanity and planetary health. Outlawing nuclear weapons is an essential step towards eliminating them, which is the only reliable way to prevent their use.
The amount of money spent in one year by the U.S. on nuclear weapons could instead provide 300,000 ICU (intensive care unit) beds, 35,000 ventilators and 75,000 doctors’ salaries, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)–a “coalition of non-government organizations promoting adherence to and implementation of the UN [United Nations} nuclear weapon ban treaty.”
In its recent report, the group stated that, according to armscontrol.org, the U.S. spent $35.1 billion on nuclear weapons in 2019. The costs are based on reported averages, but the study noted that the $35.1 billion in nuclear weapons spending would instead pay for “300,000 beds in intensive care units, 35,000 ventilators, and the salaries of 150,000 U.S. nurses and 75,000 U.S. doctors.”
“Today, all these years later, the Trump administration is much more focused on acquiring new nuclear weapons systems than constraining or eliminating them. And the White House seems all too eager to walk away from the treaties and tools that were built to reduce these weapons’ greatest risks.”
In late February, Adm. Charles Richard, head of US Strategic Command, told a House committee that the innovations going into a new nuclear warhead are what make him “proud to be an American.”
He was referring to the W93, a new nuclear warhead that will be used on submarine-launched ballistic missiles and that the Trump administration wants $53 million to start work on this year. While the design and timeline remain unclear, the administration forecasts that the price tag for developing and building this new weapon will reach over $1 billion per year in the next four years. The W93 would join or replace at least three other submarine-launched nuclear warheads that already exist and for which billions already have been and are still being spent to modernize.
The international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons on instagram (@nuclearban) tackling some of the more technical legal questions of the treaty: what does entry into force mean, what happens now? Joined with experts, they dive into international law and the TPNW (without getting too technical!) through instagram chats to help break it all down.
3 Oct 2020 – The United Nations General Assembly holds a high-level meeting to commemorate the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders speak by pre-recorded video to call for a nuclear-weapon-free world.
California State Legislature Passes Pro-Nuclear Disarmament Resolution
Sacramento–Assembly Joint Resolution 33 (AJR 33), introduced by Santa Barbara’s State Assembly member, Monique Limón, passed in the state Senate today by a vote of 22 to 8. This marks a huge step forward in California’s support of nuclear disarmament and puts the state at the forefront of this critical issue.
The resolution calls on federal leaders and our nation to embrace the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, make nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of our national security policy, and spearhead a global effort to prevent nuclear war. (More on the Treaty here.)
Rick Wayman, Deputy Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit organization headquartered in Santa Barbara whose mission is to create a peaceful world, free of nuclear weapons, was asked by Limón to testify in support of the Resolution.
- 6.36 – Address of Nobel Committee leader Berit Reiss-Andersen on the choice of ICAN for the 2017 Peace Prize (view transcript)
- 35.12 – Presentation of the award to ICAN’s Beatrice Fihn and Setsuko Thurlow
- 44.22 – ICAN Director Beatrice Fihn address (view transcript)
- 1.03.55 – Setsuko Thurlow address (view transcript)
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The organization is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons. We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time. Some states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, and there is a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea. Nuclear weapons pose a constant threat to humanity and all life on earth.”
The award was the lead story this morning on Germany’s Deutsche Welle with a video interview with Yanthe Hall of ICAN Germany.
Democracy Now, Oct. 6: Amy Goodman interviews Tim Wright, Asia-Pacific director of ICAN on the Nobel award and the ban treaty. (watch segment).
Santa Fe, NM.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico strongly applauds the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (disclosure: NukeWatch is one of ICAN’s ~400 member groups around the world). This award is especially apt because the peoples of the world are now living at the highest risk for nuclear war since the middle 1980’s, when during President Reagan’s military buildup the Soviet Union became convinced that the United States might launch a pre-emptive nuclear first strike. Today, we not only have Trump’s threats to “totally destroy” North Korea and Kim Jong-un’s counter threats, but also renewed Russian fears of a US preemptive nuclear attack… Generally unknown to the American taxpayer, our government has quietly tripled the lethality of the US nuclear weapons stockpile…”
“So here is a question for all of us to think about: how will it change the global conversation when a treaty is affirmed by so many countries from all over the world? What will it feel like to know the clock is ticking down to nuclear weapons abolition . . . instead of worrying that the clock is ticking down to nuclear war? What will be different about the way people talk about the behavior of the states that still stubbornly hold on to nuclear weapons (and threaten each other with them)? In what light will it cast the countries that rely on the “nuclear umbrella” of countries like the US?”
“The next process is going to be signing on to the treaty. It’ll open for signature at the U.N. in New York on the 20th of September. And after that, they’ll have to go through a national ratification process in order for it to enter into force. But that should all happen within the next year or two, and then it will be international law that is binding on all of the countries that have adhered to it, which means, in some cases, they’re going to have to change their practices and policies that may enable or facilitate the use or the possession of nuclear weapons.
“There could be economic divestment, for example, from nuclear weapon-producing companies. There could be changes of national law that currently permit transit of nuclear weapons through territorial waters. There could be different shifts in policies and practices around military training exercises that currently involve the preparation to use nuclear weapons. And it will also be an iterative process of building up the stigmatization and the norm against nuclear weapons through the public policy, through parliaments and through national discourse.”
Ray Acheson is director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; she represents WILPF on the steering committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
“I think one of the most exciting things about this treaty process is the very deep and meaningful involvement of civil society, of my group, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Many of us were under the umbrella of an international campaign called the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. This voice really was unstoppable, but I also want to mention, to the credit of the nations that participated in this UN process, they gave civil society a big voice. It was really unlike any other UN process that I have been a part of before. I think that this, in many ways, revolutionized the way that international diplomacy and international treaties are made, so I’m very excited about that and very hopeful for the future.”
“The nuclear weapons states did not participate in this process and that’s been the root of the problem. They have not wanted to honor their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. The rest of the world has finally lost patience. They’re concerned by the overwhelming medical evidence that even a very limited nuclear war would be a worldwide catastrophe. The rest of the international community has issued a real challenge saying that they will no longer accept a situation in which nine countries hold the entire world, including their own people, hostage to these terribly dangerous nuclear arsenals.”
Read the full interview at The RealNews.com
Rick Wayman is the Director of Programs and Operations at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, and is Co-Chair of the ‘Amplify: Generation of Change’ network for nuclear abolition.
Ira Helfand is a co-Founder and Past President of Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-President of PSR’s global federation the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
The treaty prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of those activities. In addition, nations must not allow nuclear weapons to be stationed or deployed on their territory. (See FAQs on the treaty provisions at ICAN)
ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn: “We hope that today marks the beginning of the end of the nuclear age. It is beyond question that nuclear weapons violate the laws of war and pose a clear danger to global security… No one believes that indiscriminately killing millions of civilians is acceptable- no matter the circumstance- yet that is what nuclear weapons are designed to do. Today the international community rejected nuclear weapons and made it clear they are unacceptable.” (ref: ICAN)
Ray Acheson, director of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom disarmament program, ‘Reaching Critical Will’: “This is a treaty made by people. By diplomats who got inspired by an idea and went home to change their government’s positions. By activists writing, thinking, and convening, bringing together governments and civil society groups to figure out how to make things happen. By survivors who give their testimony despite the personal trauma of reliving their experiences… By campaigners who mobilize nationally to raise awareness and pressure their governments. By politicians who truly represent the will of their people and speak the truth in parliaments…” (Nuclear Ban Daily July 8)
Perry Project statement: UN Adopts New Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
Arms Control Assoc: New Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty Marks a Turning Point
Union of Concerned Scientists: Historic Treaty Makes Nuclear Weapons Illegal
Ploughshares Fund: A Stunning Rebuke To The Nuclear-Armed States
US, UK, France joint statement: “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”
Draft Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty View/download PDF
The International Association Of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms is calling for a a prohibition on “threat of use”. (ref)
Unfold Zero, the World Future Council, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and the Basel Peace Office are calling for a prohibition on the financing of nuclear weapons production. (ref)
We have a dossier on the background and trajectory of this initiative, and we’ll keep it up to date with news and developments: Ban Treaty dossier.
ICAN has posted a Flickr album of annotated photos of the UN Ban Treaty negotiations.
The Ban Treaty achievement was preceded by the three Conferences on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons.
“Many citizens, scientists and laymen alike, view nuclear-weapons abolition as an essential milestone in the development of human civilization, a moral, ideological and practical campaign that could catalyze the transformation of international relations and improve the outlook for civilization at a critical time.”