A treaty aimed at destroying all nuclear weapons and banning their use forever has reached an important benchmark. Honduras is the 50th country to ratify the treaty – the minimum required for it to come into effect as international law.
The United Nations announced late Saturday that the ratification threshold had been reached a little over three years after the conclusion of the treaty in negotiations at the organization’s headquarters in New York. Secretary General António Guterres said the 50th ratification was “the culmination of a global movement to raise awareness of the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons”.
The Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty is not binding on those nations that refuse to sign it. The United States and the eight other nuclear-armed countries in the world – Russia, China, Great Britain, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel – boycotted the negotiations that created the treaty and showed no inclination to accept it.
American officials have described the deal as a dangerous and naive diplomatic endeavor that could even increase the possibility of using nuclear weapons.
Nevertheless, the countries armed with nuclear weapons were unable to reverse the growing acceptance of the treaty, which comes into force 90 days after its 50th ratification, on January 22nd. Proponents of the agreement have cited it as the most far-reaching effort made on a sustained basis to avoid the possibility of nuclear war, a shadow that hangs over the world since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan 75 years ago in the last days of World War II to have.
“This is proof that we are in a completely different era,” said Elayne Whyte Gómez, the Costa Rican diplomat who led the 2017 treaty negotiations, on Sunday. “This is a strong message.”
To date, the governments of 84 countries have signed the treaty and the legislature of 50 of them has ratified it. Proponents expected the rest of the signatories to ratify it in the coming weeks and months.
“This treaty changes the legal status of nuclear weapons in international law and marks a historic milestone in a decade-long intergenerational movement towards the abolition of nuclear weapons,” said Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Washington-based group.
The agreement prohibits the use of nuclear weapons, the threat of use, testing, development, production, possession, transfer and stationing in any other country. For all nuclear-armed countries that decide to join, the treaty lays down procedures for destroying stocks and enforcing their commitment to remain free of nuclear weapons.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus asked for comments on the 50th ratification and reiterated the American opposition to the treaty.
“The TPNW will not lead to the elimination of a single nuclear weapon, improve the security of a state, or tangibly contribute to peace and security in the geopolitical reality of the 21st century,” she said in a statement.
The 50th ratification came just days after the Trump administration sent a letter to other governments that had signed or ratified the treaty asking them to reverse their decision.
“Although we recognize your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty (TPNW), we believe you made a strategic mistake,” read the letter, a copy of which was seen by the New York Times has been .
The letter, published by The Associated Press last week, alleged that Russia and China intend to increase their nuclear weapons, will never give them up voluntarily, and will only benefit strategically from the treaty by making other countries more vulnerable.
“Join us in publicly calling on Russia and the PRC to start trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States and to reduce, rather than increase, nuclear risks,” the letter said. “This will do more to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament than the TPNW will ever do.”
That call came as the Trump administration was negotiating with Russia to extend the START treaty, the main arms control deal to limit the size of the American and Russian nuclear arsenals, due to expire in February. China has long denied American claims that it would also sign a successor to the START treaty.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a group that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for their work, said Sunday that the Trump administration’s appeal had made the American government nervous about the implications of the treaty that bans it, betrayed.
She cited the effects of other treaties that banned weapons like chemical and biological ammunition, land mines and cluster bombs. While these treaties were not initially widely accepted, they have shamed other countries into joining them or at least curbing the use of heinous weapons.
“You know that it has an impact, even if it doesn’t legally bind you,” said Ms. Fihn. “Nobody is immune to peer pressure from other governments.”